Will Trump and Bannon drag us into another big ground war?

It could happen sooner than we think

Our president wants to “knock the hell out of ISIS” and “take the oil”; his key adviser longs for World War III

Will Trump and Bannon drag us into another big ground war? It could happen sooner than we think
(Credit: Getty/ Chip Somodevilla/everlite/Salon)

On Wednesday NBC News released a poll reporting that 66 percent of Americans surveyed were worried that the United States will become involved in another war. One might think that’s surprising since President Donald Trump has famously been portrayed as an old-school isolationist, an image mostly based upon his lies about not supporting the Iraq War and his adoption of the pre-World War II isolationist slogan “America First.”

As I laid out for Salon a few weeks ago, that assumption is wrong. Trump is anything but an isolationist. He’s not much on alliances, preferring to strong-arm other nations into supporting the U.S. “for their own good.” But if they are willing to cough up some protection money, he might agree to fulfill our treaty obligations. His adoption of the phrase “America First” reflects his belief that the U.S. must be No. 1, not that it should withdraw from the world.

In other words, while Trump has no interest in perpetuating the global security system under which the world has lived since the dawn of the nuclear age, that’s not because he believes it hasn’t worked. He doesn’t know what it does, how it came to be or why it exists. He simply believes other countries are failing to pay proper respect and he is aiming to make sure they understand that America isn’t just great again; it’s the greatest.

This has nothing to do with American exceptionalism. Trump is happy to admit that American pretenses to moral leadership are hypocritical, and he’s openly contemptuous of anyone who believes that the U.S. should try harder to live up to its ideals. If you want to understand what Trump believes, “to the victor goes the spoils” pretty much covers it. He means it in terms of his family, which continues to merge the presidency into its company brand all over the world, and he means it in terms of the United States, believing that this is the richest and most powerful nation on Earth and we can take whatever we want.

One of his goals is to “defeat ISIS.” And when he says defeat, he means to do whatever it takes to ensure it does not exist anymore. That does seem like a nice idea. After all, ISIS is an antediluvian, authoritarian death cult and the world would be better off without it. The question, of course, has always been how to accomplish such a thing.

Thoughtful people rationally understand that “defeating” radical extremism of any kind isn’t a matter of killing all the people. Indeed, the more extremists you kill, the more extremists you tend to create. But while Trump simply sees the world by playground rules, his consigliere Steve Bannon sees the threat of ISIS as a preordained apocalyptic confrontation between Western countries and the Muslim world. In a notorious speech he gave at the Vatican in 2014, Bannon put it this way:

We’re at the very beginning stages of a very brutal and bloody conflict . . . to fight for our beliefs against this new barbarity that’s starting, that will completely eradicate everything that we’ve been bequeathed over the last 2,000, 2,500 years.

He has called Trump his “blunt instrument” to bring about this global conflagration. Bannon is now a member of the National Security Council and is said to be running a parallel national security agency called the Strategic Initiatives Group, which he has stacked with kooks who share his views. He is a powerful influence.

Trump has promised to take the gloves off, and I think we all know exactly what he meant by that. He said it many times during the campaign: He favors torture. And he reiterated it just last month in his interview with ABC’s David Muir saying, “When ISIS is doing things that nobody has ever heard of since medieval times, would I feel strongly about waterboarding? As far as I’m concerned, we have to fight fire with fire.”

And Trump went on to grudgingly promise that he would listen to the secretary of defense and hold back on torture if that was his recommendation. But Trump also claimed that he’s talked to people at the highest levels of the intelligence community who told him that torture works like a charm. So we will have to see if the president is really able to restrain himself. (His CIA chief, Mike Pompeo, has been all for it in the past. Maybe they’ll simply decide to leave Defense Secretary Jim Mattis out of the loop.)

But what about Trump’s promises to “bomb the shit out of ’em” and “take the oil?” What about Bannon’s desire to bring on WorldWar III? Will that really happen? It might, and sooner than we think.

The New York Times reported on Wednesday:

More American troops may be needed in Syria to speed the campaign against the Islamic State, the top United States commander for the Middle East said on Wednesday.

“I am very concerned about maintaining momentum,” Gen. Joseph L. Votel, the head of the United States Central Command, told reporters accompanying him on a trip to the region.

“It could be that we take on a larger burden ourselves,” he added. “That’s an option.”

Despite his unfounded reputation for isolationism, it’s obvious that Trump is itching for a war. Responding to a debate question about whether he would follow a military commander’s advice to put troops on the ground, Trump said, “We really have no choice; we have to knock out ISIS. We have to knock the hell out of them.” When asked how many troops he thought might be needed, he replied that the number he had heard was 20,000 to 30,000.

Nobody thought much of Trump’s bluster at the time. But now he’s in the White House with an apocalyptic crackpot whispering in his ear and generals on the ground talking about taking on “a larger burden.” Whether his administration’s military advisers, Defense Secretary Mattis and his newly installed national security adviser, Gen. H.R. McMaster, are as eager for this battle remains to be seen. But it appears that the two-thirds of Americans who are worried that we’ll be dragged into another war are anxious for good reason.

 

Heather Digby Parton

Heather Digby Parton, also known as “Digby,” is a contributing writer to Salon. She was the winner of the 2014 Hillman Prize for Opinion and Analysis Journalism.

History shows Trump will face legal challenges to​ detaining immigrants

The long history of detention has an equally long history of legal challenges

History shows Trump will face legal challenges to detaining immigrants
FILE – This 1924 file photo shows the registry room at Ellis Island in New York harbor, a gateway to America for millions of immigrants. The American self-image is forever intertwined with the melting pot _ a nation that embraces the world’s wretched refuse, a nation built by immigrants. But America’s immigration history is complicated. ()(Credit: AP Photo/File)

This article was originally published on The Conversation.

President Donald Trump has followed through on his promise to ramp up immigrant detention as part of immigration enforcement. His executive order on border security and immigration describes a “new normal” that will include the detention of immigrants while they await removal hearings and removal.

Trump’s order expressly announces the end of “catch and release” of undocumented immigrants after their apprehension, which allowed them to post a bond and be released from detention while their removal proceedings moved forward.

Rather than doing something new, President Trump is simply expanding the use of immigrant detention. Immigrant detention has long been a tool in the arsenal of the U.S. government in immigration enforcement. It goes as far back as the detention of Chinese immigrants on Angel Island in the San Francisco Bay, which began processing immigrants in the late 1800s. Detention of immigrants as a method of immigration enforcement saw an upswing at the tail end of the 20th century. In the 1980s, President Reagan’s administration used detention to discourage Central Americans, thousands of whom were fleeing civil wars, from migrating to the United States.

Other groups have also been detained on a broad scale. Several U.S. presidents responded to mass migrations of Cubans in the 1980s, who came in the Mariel boatlift, and Haitians fleeing political violence, with detention.

The Obama administration still allowed for noncitizens to bond out of custody while their removal proceedings were pending. But it also employed immigrant detention liberally – including the mass detention of Central American families. Obama set records for the number of removals during his first term.

The long history of detention has an equally long history of legal challenges. These are likely to continue in the Trump administration, which has made detention a cornerstone of its immigration enforcement plan.

History of immigrant detention

Courts have regularly been asked to intervene to curb the excesses of immigrant detention.

In 1989, during the administrations of President Ronald Reagan and later George H.W. Bush, a class action lawsuit was brought against the U.S. government by asylum applicants from El Salvador and Guatemala in Orantes-Hernandez v. Thornburgh. In class actions, a group of similarly situated persons band together to challenge a policy or practice.

In this case, the asylum applicants challenged mass immigrant detention and various policies that violated their right to counsel. The court found that the U.S. government had been transferring Central American asylum seekers from major urban areas where they could readily secure counsel to remote locations where they could not. The Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed a broad injunction barring the U.S. government from restricting access to counsel.

The Orantes-Hernandez decision was the culmination of a coordinated litigation strategy pursued by public interest lawyers to challenge the U.S. government’s treatment of Central American asylum seekers. Leading immigrant rights advocates, along with private law firms doing the legal work pro bono, planned the suits and divided up the work.

In a 1991 case, American Baptist Churches v. Thornburgh, the executive branch settled a suit brought by Salvadorans and Guatemalans. The plaintiffs claimed the U.S. government was biased against their asylum claims because the U.S. was allied with the governments in power in those countries. The settlement required the U.S. government to hear again the asylum claims of more than 100,000 Central Americans.

This line of litigation ultimately contributed to legislative reform.

In 1990, Congress passed legislation that created Temporary Protected Status for noncitizens who fled the violent conditions in El Salvador, and additional countries designated by the president. Temporary Protected Status has permitted thousands of noncitizens to remain in the United States until the violence has calmed.

Despite these successful challenges, the use of detention in immigration enforcement increased with the immigration reforms of 1996. Immigrant detention continues to be criticized – and litigated. For example, in response to an increase in women and children fleeing widespread violence in Central America, the Obama administration began detaining thousands of unaccompanied minors and entire families.

In Flores v. Lynch in 2016, the Ninth Circuit stated the detention of Central American minors was not required by law. However, the court did not protect parents from detention in the same way.

Class action for reform

U.S. immigration agencies have proved resistant to change. In an empirical study of immigration litigation in the 1980s, Professor Peter Schuck of Yale and attorney Theodore Wang concluded that the success of immigrants in class actions suggest the U.S. government’s immigration agencies are uncompromising. They are enforcement-oriented to a fault, they said.

Recent years have continued to see challenges to immigration detention. In Jennings v. Rodriguez, the Supreme Court currently has before it a class action raising the question of whether immigrants, like virtually all U.S. citizens placed in criminal detention, must be guaranteed a bond hearing and possible release from custody. This case challenges, on constitutional and statutory grounds, lengthy immigration detentions without any opportunity for release.

Detention appears as if will be an important part of Trump’s immigration enforcement plan. As historically has been the case, legal challenges will almost certainly follow.The Conversation

Kevin Johnson, Dean and Professor of Public Interest Law and Chicana/o Studies, University of California, Davis

http://www.salon.com/2017/02/09/history-shows-trump-will-face-legal-challenges-to%E2%80%8B-detaining-immigrants_partner/?source=newsletter

Steve Bannon’s war with Islam

Trump may not even understand his adviser’s apocalyptic vision

Bannon has long yearned for a civilizational conflict between the West and the Muslim world. Now he may get it

Steve Bannon's war with Islam: Trump may not even understand his adviser's apocalyptic vision

(Credit: Getty/Win McNamee/AP/Evan Vucci/Muhamed Huwais)

There seems to be considerable urgency right now to enshrine Donald Trump’s Islamophobia into law. Talk of an immigration ban, a Muslim registry and even internment camps once sounded like the machinations of a spray-tanned salesman looking to indulge the electorate’s need for a good villain narrative. Amid an atmosphere of overwhelming chaos, the early days of Trump’s reign have made clear, however, that Islam is Public Enemy No. 1 and serves as the centerpiece of Steve Bannon’s ethno-nationalist agenda. (Trump’s ban on immigration and travel from certain Muslim-majority nations is currently on hold, thanks to a Friday federal court order. That does nothing to resolve the larger questions.)

Bannon called Trump “a blunt instrument for us” in an interview last summer with Vanity Fair. He added, “I don’t know whether he really gets it or not.” That the former Breitbart executive editor would have an outsized role in a Trump administration should have been evident long ago. In Trump, Bannon found a petulant Twitterphile and a manipulable tool who has minimal interest in policymaking and little insight into his own limitations. As he sought an upheaval to remake an America rife with perceived threats, Trump was, as Lawrence Douglas wrote, “the proper vehicle to carry the fight forward.”

For Bannon, the fight is against Islam. There are echoes of Samuel Huntington’s 1993 essay in Foreign Affairs called “The Clash of Civilizations?” Huntington wrote of a world that had been divided along “fault lines” such as culture, which could spur conflict between Islamic civilization and the West. Bannon speaks of the current war with “jihadist Islamic fascism” in apocalyptic terms and sees it as the latest iteration, as Uri Friedman wrote, “of an existential, centuries old-struggle between the Judeo-Christian West and the Islamic world.”

Further, Muslim immigration gnaws at Trump’s foremost consigliere. He evinces ignorance in his ideas about sharia, yet uses the term frequently when discussing Muslim immigrants, who “are not people with thousands of years of democracy in their DNA.” Though roughly 100,000 Muslims have entered the United States in each of the last few years, he claimed in December 2015 that 1 million would be entering in each of the next two years.

These statements were a prelude to Trump’s “Muslim ban,” an executive order that was signed shortly after inauguration (and is now on hold, at least for the moment). Its swift enactment was the first sign that Bannon’s war on Islam had begun. He hastily crafted the ban without regard for the Department of Homeland Security — or for that matter the State, Defense and Justice departments. Soon court orders were being defied and acting attorney general Sally Yates was fired for her refusal to enforce Bannon’s opening salvo. Christian refugees would be given priority over others to enter the country, as an individual’s religious identity is apparently the only indicator of his or her suffering.

Bannon’s temerity was on full display as he sought to engineer the civilizational crisis that he has clearly relished for years. His consolidation of power was complete when Trump took the unprecedented step of offering Bannon — a man with no experience or background in national security, foreign policy or the military — a permanent seat on the National Security Council. (Yes, Bannon was once a Navy officer. He left the service in 1983.) Now the man who admires darkness, Satan and Darth Vader will influence major decisions of war and peace.

All this unrestrained jingoism risks causing a conflagration at a time of isolated fires that are being managed and contained adequately. As Robin Wright of the New Yorker noted, the Obama administration “has turned the tide on jihadism over the past two years. The two premier movements — the Islamic State and Al Qaeda — are both on the defensive.” In the United States, attacks by Muslims were responsible for only one-third of 1 percent of all murders in 2016.

Even Bernard Lewis, who fathered the phrase “clash of civilizations” when he wrote of the Arab world’s need to expunge Islam from its politics, cautioned against an exaggerated response to the Judeo-Christian world’s ancient rival. “It is crucially important,” he noted, “that we on our side should not be provoked into an equally historic but equally irrational reaction against that rival.”

But Bannon desires carnage.

Through the immigration ban and its associated rhetoric, jihadists and at least seven Muslim-majority countries have been given notice of the Trump administration’s intentions. This is a not a U.S. government that will call Islam a religion of peace, as George W. Bush did. Or one that will be reluctant to use the term “Islamic” to prevent giving groups like ISIS legitimacy, as Barack Obama did.

Yet ISIS is emboldened now because Bannon’s undaunted pursuit of a clash will help its goal to “eliminate the gray zone” of coexistence between Muslims residing in the West and their non-Muslim neighbors. ISIS hopes that Bannon’s stark intentions will make Muslims in the West disillusioned about its acceptance and tolerance, boosting recruitment and sympathy for their deranged cause. As Abu Omar Khorasani, a senior Islamic State commander in Afghanistan, said, “This guy [Trump] is a complete maniac. His utter hate towards Muslims will make our job much easier because we can recruit thousands.”

In addition, as Dan Byman, a staff member of the 9/11 commission, noted, Muslims in the United States may become more disenchanted “and thus easier to recruit or inspire to be lone wolves. In addition, it may make communities feel they are suspect and decrease vital cooperation with law enforcement. The hostile rhetoric that goes with these bans makes all this more likely.”

Muslims both within and without the United States will likely become collateral damage amid the tumult Bannon seeks. The hopes and aspirations of Muslims for years have been scuppered within the mere seconds it took Trump to sign his executive order. In fairness, these are not fires started by President Trump, who seems only to be carrying the torch handed him by an insidious, ingenious adviser who wants to set the world ablaze.

SALON 

Jalal Baig is a physician and current Hematology/Oncology fellow based in Chicago. Follow him on Twitter at @jalalbaig

‘America First’ Could Bring the World Closer to a Nuclear Holocaust

Posted on Feb 1, 2017

By Robert Reich / RobertReich.org

Before joining Trump’s inner circle, Steve Bannon headed Breitbart News, a far-right media outlet that has promoted conspiracy theories. (A.Davey / CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

Donald Trump has reorganized the National Security Council – elevating his chief political strategist Steve Bannon, and demoting the Director of National Intelligence and the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.

Bannon will join the NSC’s principals committee, the top inter-agency group advising the President on national security.

Meanwhile, the Director of National Intelligence and the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff will now attend meetings only when “issues pertaining to their responsibilities and expertise are to be discussed,” according to the presidential memorandum issued Saturday.

Political strategists have never before participated in National Security Council principals meetings because the NSC is supposed to give presidents nonpartisan, factual advice.

But forget facts. Forget analysis. This is the Trump administration.

And what does Bannon have to bring to the table?

In case you forgot, before joining Donald Trump’s inner circle Bannon headed Breitbart News, a far-right media outlet that has promoted conspiracy theories and is a platform for the alt-right movement, which espouses white nationalism.

This is truly scary.

Former National Security Adviser Susan Rice calls the move “stone cold crazy.” Former Defense Secretary Robert Gates, who also served under George W. Bush, says the demotions are a “big mistake.”

Republican Sen. John McCain, chairman of the Armed Services Committee, told CBS News, “I am worried about the National Security Council. … The appointment of Mr. Bannon is a radical departure from any National Security Council in history.” McCain added that the “one person who is indispensable would be the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, in my view.”

Here’s the big worry. Trump is unhinged and ignorant. Bannon is nuts and malicious. If not supervised by the Joint Chiefs of Staff, their decisions could endanger the world.

In Trump’s and Bannon’s view, foreign relations is a zero-sum game. If another nation gains, we lose. As Trump declared at his inaugural: “From this day forward, it’s going to be only America First.”

Some of you are old enough to recall John F. Kennedy’s inaugural, when the young president pledged to support any friend and oppose any foe to assure the success of liberty.

But Trump makes no distinction between friend and foe, and no reference to liberty. As conservative commentator Charles Krauthammer observes, Trump’s view is that all other nations are out to use, exploit and surpass us.

Not incidentally, “America First” was the name of the pro-Nazi group led by Charles Lindbergh that bitterly fought FDR before U.S. entry into World War II to keep America neutral between Churchill’s Britain and Hitler’s Reich.

Trump’s and Bannon’s version of “America First” is no less dangerous. It is alienating America from the rest of the world, destroying our nation’s moral authority abroad, and risking everything we love about our country.

Unsupervised by people who know what they’re doing. Trump and Bannon could also bring the world closer to a nuclear holocaust.

http://www.truthdig.com/report/item/donald_trump_steve_bannon_america_first_world_nuclear_holocaust_20170201

The mass protests against Trump and the role of the Democratic Party

ap_17011606362212-e1484173002912

1 February 2017

On Tuesday, protests continued for a fourth day against the Trump administration’s cruel and extralegal executive order banning entry to the US for citizens of seven predominantly Muslim countries ravaged by the US military and barring refugees from around the world.

Hundreds of thousands of people have demonstrated in airports and city centers in the United States and around the world in opposition to this draconian measure and in defense of basic democratic and social rights. These protests are part of a political radicalization that is emerging in response to the coming to power of the most right-wing government in American history. After 16 years of the unending “war on terror,” waged under Democratic and Republican administrations alike, the protests demonstrate that masses of people have rejected the anti-Muslim chauvinism and militarism that have been promoted to justify imperialist aggression and war crimes.

Millions are outraged by the brutality inflicted on men, women and children who suddenly find themselves forcibly barred from returning to their homes, families and jobs.

Democratic politicians such as Barack Obama and Senate Minority Leader Charles Schumer are associating themselves with the protests in an effort to keep them within politically harmless channels. There is, however, a vast gulf separating the humane and democratic sentiments animating the protests and the fundamentally reactionary aims underlying the Democratic Party’s response to the Trump administration.

During the election campaign, the Democrats and their presidential candidate Hillary Clinton ran as the party of Wall Street and the military-intelligence complex, concentrating their criticism of Trump on his supposed “softness” toward Russia. They launched a neo-McCarthyite campaign claiming, without ever providing substantiation, that the government of President Vladimir Putin had manipulated the US election to support Trump. It was this reactionary theme, combined with the promotion of identity politics and indifference to the interests and concerns of the working class, which enabled Trump to demagogically pose as an opponent of the establishment.

While the first 10 days of the Trump presidency have aroused popular anger and revulsion over the threat of a mass anti-immigrant dragnet, the Muslim ban, bellicose threats of war and Trump’s open promotion of torture, the Democrats have by no means abandoned the reactionary themes of their election campaign.

Thus Paul Krugman, the economist and New York Times columnist who unconditionally backed Clinton, begins his latest column: “We’re just over a week into the Trump-Putin regime, and it’s already getting hard to keep track of the disasters.”

The differences between the Democrats and Trump do not reflect divergent class interests—both represent the same ruling oligarchy—nor are they about democratic principles. Rather, they center on the implementation of policies to advance the strategic interests of American imperialism. The overriding issue for them is how the Muslim ban and other policies pursued by Trump will affect the preparations for confrontation with Russia and China as well as the ongoing US military operations in the Middle East.

This is exemplified by a piece published Tuesday in the New York Times by columnist David Leonhardt entitled “Make China Great Again.” The tone for the entire column is set by its opening sentence: “America’s rivals and enemies have enjoyed a very good 10 days.”

Writing unabashedly as a partisan of US imperialism, Leonhardt goes on to warn that while ISIS will undoubtedly exploit the Muslim ban, “it is not a serious rival to the United States. The ultimate beneficiary is instead likely to be America’s biggest global rival, China.”

Among those brought forward to challenge the Trump administration’s executive order is the most unlikely champion for refugees and Muslim immigrants, Michael Morell, the former acting director of the CIA. A Clinton supporter, he was among the most vehement in denouncing alleged Russian interference in the US election and casting Trump as Putin’s agent.

Morell, who has publicly defended the torture and drone assassinations he oversaw, played no small role in turning millions into refugees and taking the lives of hundreds of thousands of others through the CIA-orchestrated wars for regime change in Libya and Syria. Interviewed on CBS News’ early morning program on Monday, he denounced Trump’s ban not for trampling on democratic rights, but for “playing right into the ISIS narrative,” i.e., disrupting US efforts to secure hegemony, by means of military violence, over the oil-rich Middle East.

Among Morell’s principal concerns was the inclusion of Iraqis who collaborated with the US military in the travel ban, saying that this would create “a disincentive for people to work closely with the US military.”

Morell also expressed sharp opposition to Trump’s executive order naming his “chief strategist,” the former Breitbart News boss Stephen Bannon, to the Principals Committee of the National Security Council (NSC), while limiting the participation of the chairman of the joint chiefs of staff and the director of national intelligence.

In its Tuesday editorial, the Times sounds this same theme. Entitled “President Bannon” and published together with a sinister-looking graphic imposing half of Bannon’s face on top of Trump’s, the editorial objects not so much to the fascistic politics of Trump’s White House strategist as to the danger that his appointment to the NSC will “politicize” national security and diminish the power of the military and the intelligence apparatus.

“Imagine tomorrow,” the editorial concludes, “if Mr. Trump is faced with a crisis involving China in the South China Sea or Russia in Ukraine. Will he look to his chief political provocateur, Mr. Bannon, with his penchant for blowing things up, or will he turn at last for counsel to the few more thoughtful experienced hands in his administration, like Defense Secretary Jim Mattis and General Dunford?”

The concern here is that the escalation of military threats to both Russia and China initiated under the Obama administration may be disrupted. These matters, the Times argues, must remain in the “experienced hands” of the Pentagon and the CIA.

Among the most revealing statements along these lines is a commentary posted Tuesday by the Atlantic magazine under the headline “Are Trump’s Generals Mounting a Defense of Democratic Institutions?” It states that when Trump nominated ex-military commanders as the secretaries of Defense and Homeland Security as well as to the post of national security adviser, “some progressives worried that…the heavy presence of brass would undermine the cherished civilian control that is a hallmark of the United States government.”

Instead, the article suggests, “the generals could serve to constrain Trump,” adding that military officers are “well-versed in the law and their own obligations” and “care deeply about following rules and procedures, and for instilling a sense of order.”

The article goes on to note approvingly that it is “not unheard of for generals, usually active-duty ones, to play the role of a check on elected leaders, in various forms. In Turkey, the military has tended to view itself as the guardian of secular norms, and has repeatedly stepped in to topple civilian governments that generals feel have strayed from national principles.”

Apparently catching himself, the author adds, “Even if one thinks Trump is acting lawlessly, a de facto coup is also lawless. There’s no good option.”

Such is the logic of the policies of the Democratic Party and the breakdown of American democracy, under the weight of decades of war and ever-widening social inequality, that the rule of the military is posed as an alternative to the rule of Trump.

The crisis of US and global capitalism confronts the working class with grave dangers of war and dictatorship. It can defend its basic social and democratic rights solely by means of an irrevocable break with the Democratic Party and the mobilization of its independent strength in a political struggle to put an end to the capitalist system.

Bill Van Auken

http://www.wsws.org/en/articles/2017/02/01/pers-f01.html

Week one of the Trump administration: A government of war and social reaction

ap_17011606362212-e1484173002912

28 January 2017

It is one week since the inauguration of Donald Trump as president of the United States, and the actions and orders of the new government make clear what the working class can expect from the next four years.

At the center of Trump’s “America First” agenda is a massive escalation of military violence. At a swearing-in ceremony at the Pentagon Friday for the new secretary of defense, retired general James Mattis, Trump signed an executive order to begin a major “rebuilding” of the military. The order directs Mattis to prepare a policy to upgrade the US nuclear arsenal and prepare for conflict with “near-peer competitors,” a term that traditionally refers to China and Russia.

The action follows Trump press secretary Sean Spicer’s reaffirmation of a statement by incoming Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, the former CEO of ExxonMobil, that the US would seek to bar Chinese access to islets in the South China Sea, implying military actions that would amount to a declaration of war.

Trump has also pledged to establish “safe zones” in Syria, which will be coupled with a temporary ban on all immigration from a number of majority Muslim countries. While Democrats have denounced Trump for being “too soft” on Russia, during the elections the Clinton campaign called for the setting up of “safe” no-fly zones, policed by US military aircraft, as part of an effort to counter Russian backing of the Syrian government of Bashar al-Assad. In a speech at CIA headquarters, Trump also said that the US should have “taken the oil” in Iraq, and pledged that the CIA would have another chance to do so.

On domestic policy, Trump signed a series of executive orders that freeze hiring on all federal workers, freeze all pending government regulations and remove all obstacles to the completion of the Keystone and Dakota Access oil pipelines. Early in the week, he held meetings with the CEOs of the largest US manufacturing companies and with US auto companies, promising to “cut regulations 75 percent” and shift the business climate from “truly inhospitable to extremely hospitable.”

On Wednesday, Trump announced that his administration would proceed with the construction of a wall along the US-Mexico border, while launching a crack-down targeting millions of immigrant workers for detention and deportation. The same day, he said that the White House would seek a “major investigation” into completely unfounded allegations that “voter fraud” by millions of people cost him the popular vote in November—a claim aimed at creating the conditions for a further assault on the right to vote.

As part of a policy of extreme economic nationalism, early in the week Trump signed an executive order blocking US entry into the Trans-Pacific Partnership and pledged to renegotiate the North American Free Trade Agreement.

Many of the policies of the incoming administration were outlined in Trump’s interview Wednesday night with ABC News anchor David Muir, during which Trump interspersed lying claims about his own popularity and the size of his inauguration with casual threats of war, torture and repression. The overall impression of Trump during the interview was that of a gangster in the Oval Office, the assumption of power by an underworld reflecting all that is corrupt and filthy in American capitalist society.

On torture, Trump proclaimed that if Mattis and incoming CIA Director Mike Pompeo “want to do [waterboarding], that’s fine. If they do wanna do, then I will work toward that end.” A draft memorandum is circulating in the White House that would reopen secret CIA prisons and torture centers overseas.

And this is only the first week. With the support of Democrats, Congress is moving rapidly to approve Trump’s cabinet of billionaires, former generals and corporate CEOs, and it has already approved Mattis, Pompeo and the head of the Department of Homeland Security, retired Marine Gen. John Kelly. Trump’s other cabinet picks are committed to a policy of destroying public education, eliminating basic social services and slashing Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security.

There is no doubt that the election of Trump marks a watershed in American politics. However, when future historians examine this period, they will inevitably direct attention to what preceded it, to the conditions and climate out of which the Trump presidency arose. Many factors could be pointed to—the extraordinary decay in the political culture of the United States, the domestic consequences of unending war and violence abroad, the extreme growth of social inequality and the rise of a parasitic financial oligarchy.

Rather than a complete break, the Trump presidency represents a transformation of quantity into quality. He is, in the final analysis, the product of the desperate crisis that afflicts American and world capitalism.

For four decades, the ruling class in the United States has been engaged in a campaign of social counter-revolution, systematically eliminating all the gains won by workers through bitter struggles in previous decades. The Obama administration accelerated these processes. Obama’s White House continued and expanded the bank bailouts initiated under the Bush administration and helped funnel trillions of dollars to Wall Street through the Federal Reserve’s “quantitative easing” programs, while working, as in the 2009 auto restructuring, to slash wages for the working class.

The results are expressed in the extraordinary growth of social inequality. According to a recent report by University of California Berkeley economists Thomas Piketty, Emmanuel Saez and Gabriel Zucman, between 1980 and 2014, the share of pre-tax national income going to the bottom 50 percent of the population fell from 20 percent to 12 percent, while the share going to the top 1 percent increased from 12 percent to 20 percent. The gains for the top .1 and .01 percent of the population are even more extreme.

The foreign policy of the Trump administration likewise does not arise out of nowhere. For a quarter century, the American ruling class has been engaged in a desperate project to reverse its economic decline through military force—in the Balkans, North Africa, the Middle East and central Asia. Fifteen years of the “war on terror” have metastasized into an ever more direct conflict with larger competitors. Trump’s focus on China is in fact in continuity with the Obama administration’s “pivot to Asia,” which has seen the deployment of US military resources throughout the South Pacific and East Asia.

What Trump adds to these processes is the distinct odor of fascism, of extreme nationalism and the threat of violent repression of opposition. His declaration in his inaugural address that the “bedrock of our politics will be total allegiance to the United States of America” is a threat to criminalize dissent, which will be associated with treason.

However, here too Trump is giving naked expression to the long-term decay of democratic forms of rule. It was, after all, Obama who will go down in history as the president who proclaimed the power to assassinate US citizens without due process. Guantanamo Bay, Abu Ghraib, drone assassination, NSA spying—this is the toxic mix out of which Trump’s particular contempt for constitutional norms emerges.

In July, as Trump was formally nominated as the candidate of the Republican Party at the Republican National Convention, the WSWS noted that “Trump’s particular fascistic personality was forged not in the beer halls of Munich and the trenches of World War I, but in the real estate market of New York City. With his casinos, his fictional universities and his endless stream of failed businesses, this personification of corporate fraud could hardly be a more fitting symbol for the state of American capitalism.”

There are sharp and bitter divisions within the American ruling class, but these divisions are over tactics, not basic class policy. It will not take much for Trump to bring on board many of his present critics within the political establishment and media, or, for that matter, more privileged sections of the upper middle class.

It is not from such forces that enduring opposition to the new administration will develop, but from the working class, in the United States and internationally. Trump’s absurd posturing as a defender of the “forgotten man” will, sooner rather than later, give rise to bitter class conflict as the impact of the new administration’s policy are felt. It is to the broad mass of the working class that socialists must now turn, and, through systematic organization and education, forge a political leadership to prepare for the struggles on the horizon.

Joseph Kishore

WSWS 

Chinese Billionaire Says US Wasted Trillions on Wars and Wall Street

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Alibaba founder Jack Ma said the U.S. should stop blaming other countries for stealing jobs and, instead, invest in ‘your own people’

"In the past 30 years, America had 13 wars spending $2 trillion," said Alibaba founder Jack Ma. "What if the money was spent on the Midwest of the United States?"(Photo via CNBC)

“In the past 30 years, America had 13 wars spending $2 trillion,” said Alibaba founder Jack Ma. “What if the money was spent on the Midwest of the United States?” (Photo via CNBC)

Speaking at the World Economic Forum in Switzerland on Wednesday, Chinese billionaire Jack Ma accused the United States of spending too much money on foreign wars and risky financial speculation and not enough money “on your own people.”

The founder of the world’s largest retailer, Alibaba, was addressing a question posed by CNBC‘s Andrew Ross Sorkin about the U.S. economy in relation to China.

In response, Ma said the U.S. should stop blaming other countries and look at its own spending priorities:

“It’s not that other countries steal jobs from you guys,” Ma said. “It’s your strategy. You did not distribute the money and things in a proper way.”

“It’s not that other countries steal jobs from you guys. It’s your strategy. You did not distribute the money and things in a proper way.”He said the U.S. has wasted over $14 trillion in fighting wars over the past 30 years rather than investing in infrastructure at home.

Ma said that when Thomas Friedman published the 2005 pro-globalization tribute The World is Flat, taking advantage of the world economy seemed like “a perfect strategy” for the U.S.

“We just want the technology, and the IP, and the brand, and we’ll leave the other jobs” to other countries like Mexico and China, he said, according to Business Insider. “American international companies made millions and millions of dollars from globalization.”

“The past 30 years, IBM, Cisco, Microsoft, they’ve made tens of millions—the profits they’ve made are much more than the four Chinese banks put together,” he continued. “But where did the money go?”

“The money goes to Wall Street. Then what happened? Year 2008 wiped out $19.2 trillion in U.S. income,” he said. What’s more, he added, “In the past 30 years, America had 13 wars spending $14.2 trillion…no matter how good your strategy is you’re supposed to spend money on your own people.”

“What if the money was spent on the Midwest of the United States?” he asked. “What if they had spent part of that money on building up their infrastructure, helping white-collar and blue-collar workers? You’re supposed to spend money on your own people.”

While he did emphasize that globalization is a good thing, according to CNBC, Ma reportedly noted that it “‘should be inclusive,’ with the spoils not just going to the wealthy few.”

Ma’s critique came weeks after he attended a meeting in New York City with President-elect Donald Trump, who has threatened to impose punitive tariffs against the Asian superpower.

When asked about that conversation, the internet tycoon “said the consequences of a trade war between the world’s biggest and second-largest economies would be too grave for both countries to bear and they should do everything to avoid it,” reported the South China Morning Post, which Ma owns.

“It’s so easy to launch a war. It’s so difficult, almost impossible sometimes, to terminate that war,” he said. “The Iraq war, the Afghanistan war, are those finished?”