The Pentagon has never been audited. That’s astonishing

The president proposes a $52bn increase in military spending while reports of waste and abuse pile up. An investigation must scrutinise spending

A portion of President Donald Trump's first proposed budget, focusing on the Department of Defense
The gap between lawmakers’ calls to blindly increase spending at DoD versus those of internal auditors to curtail its waste isn’t a new problem.’ President Trump’s budget proposals focusing on the Department of Defense. Photograph: Jon Elswick/APMonday 20 March 2017 Last modified on Monday 20 March 2017
On Thursday, Donald Trump released a preliminary budget proposal that calls for a $52bn increase in military spending. But just last December, a Washington Post investigation found that the Pentagon had buried a report that outlines $125bn in waste at the Department of Defense. That gap between lawmakers’ calls to blindly increase spending at DoD versus those of internal auditors to curtail its waste isn’t a new problem, and it’s one that, without pressure, won’t be resolved any time soon.

That’s because although it’s required to by law, the DoD has never had an audit, something every American person, every company and every other government agency is subject to. The result is an astounding $10tn in taxpayer money that has gone unaccounted for since 1996.

“Over the last 20 years, the Pentagon has broken every promise to Congress about when an audit would be completed,” the director of the Audit the Pentagon coalition, Rafael DeGennaro, told the Guardian. “Meanwhile, Congress has more than doubled the Pentagon’s budget.”

Legislation in the early 1990s demanded that all government agencies had annual audits, but the Pentagon has exempted itself without consequence for 20 years now, telling the Government Accountability Office (GAO) that collecting and organizing the required information for a full audit is too costly and time-consuming.

In the meantime, the GAO and Office of the Inspector General (IG) have published an endless stream of reports documenting financial mismanagement: $500m in aid to Yemen lost here, $5.8bn in supplies lost there, $8,000 spent on helicopter gears that really cost $500.

As reports and news articles about waste and abuse at the Pentagon pile up, prominent voices from across the political spectrum – from Bernie Sanders to Ted Cruz to Grover Norquist – are expressing support for a full audit of DoD. In a 2013 video message to the whole of the defense department, then secretary of defense Chuck Hagel told employees that the department’s non-compliance was “unacceptable”. During this past election cycle, both the Democratic and Republican platforms called for the Pentagon’s audit.

But despite broad support, the issue has remained stagnant in Washington. “I really can’t figure it out,” Democratic party representative for California Barbara Lee told the Guardian. When legislators get around to tackling waste, they “go after domestic agencies and community organizations, but they never go after the Pentagon,” she said. Since 2013, she has introduced bipartisan legislation that would financially penalize DoD for not receiving a clean audit.

“Quite frankly, they should have been audit-ready decades ago, after Congress passed the initial audit law in the early 90s,” Republican representative for Texas Michael Burgess, co-sponsor of the Audit the Pentagon Act along with Lee, told the Guardian. People have “accepted that the Department of Defense is expensive and that that’s how business has to be done. But I don’t accept that.”

Others say the problem goes beyond bureaucracy. William Hartung is the director of the Arms and Security Project at the Center for International Policy, and he says private contractors have found a way to make use of the Pentagon’s struggle to get its books in order. Contractors, he says, will “periodically intervene to try to stop practices that would make them more accountable”.

Specifically, the defense industry has sought to weaken the office of the director, operational test and evaluation (DOT&E) at the Department of Defense, which evaluates weapons systems before they’re manufactured on a larger scale. “It’s one of the few places that’s revealed a lot of problems,” says Hartung. The DOT&E, for example, has uncovered flaws in Lockheed Martin’s F-35 fighter jet program among a slew of other contracts. “The concept is: benefit from a dysfunctional system because they can charge however much they want and there’s not a lot of quality control,” says Hartung.

Another issue is the proximity between DoD and the private sector, something that appears to touch even the department’s inspector general’s office. In 2014, the Pentagon celebrated the Marine Corps’s success at being the first military agency to pass an audit. But a year later it was found that the private accounting firm hired to carry out the audit, Grant Thornton, had not been thorough. The Marine Corps had desperately wanted to achieve a “clean” status, due to pressure from then defense secretary Leon Panetta to get its books in order.

In a scathing response to the debacle, Republican senator for Iowa Chuck Grassley said that the actions of the DoD IG showed a “lack of independence and flagrant disregard for audit ethics”, calling the deputy IG for auditing “a Grant Thornton lapdog”.

Washington’s revolving door also touches the agency, with a number of high-profile individuals moving to the private sector after leaving their jobs, something that is perfectly within the law and government regulations.

In the end, Hartung says that the military’s stature and almost holy status make focusing on accountability difficult. If lobbying doesn’t work, he says, they can always “wrap themselves in the flag and say this is necessary for defense. But if people don’t poke into the details,” they won’t “find out that, in fact, not every penny being spent is sacrosanct”.

https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2017/mar/20/pentagon-never-audited-astonishing-military-spending?CMP=fb_us

A Last Chance for Resistance

Posted on Mar 19, 2017

By Chris Hedges

  President Trump exits Air Force One at Andrews Air Force Base on Sunday, following a weekend trip to Florida. (Jose Luis Magana / AP)

The crawl toward despotism within a failed democracy is always incremental. No regime planning to utterly extinguish civil liberties advertises its intentions in advance. It pays lip service to liberty and justice while obliterating the institutions and laws that make them possible. Its opponents, including those within the establishment, make sporadic attempts to resist, but week by week, month by month, the despot and his reactionary allies methodically consolidate power. Those inside the machinery of government and the courts who assert the rule of law are purged. Critics, including the press, are attacked, ridiculed and silenced. The state is reconfigured until the edifice of tyranny is unassailable.

Alexander Solzhenitsyn in “The Gulag Archipelago” noted that the consolidation of Soviet tyranny “was stretched out over many years because it was of primary importance that it be stealthy and unnoticed.” He called the process “a grandiose silent game of solitaire, whose rules were totally incomprehensible to its contemporaries, and whose outlines we can appreciate only now.”

Czeslaw Milosz in “The Captive Mind” also chronicles the incremental expansion of tyranny, noting that it steadily progresses until intellectuals are not only forced to repeat the regime’s self-praising slogans but to advance its absurdist dogmas. Few ever see the tyranny coming. Those who do and speak out are treated by the authorities, and often the wider society, as alarmists or traitors.

The current administration’s budget proposes to give the war industry, the domestic policing agencies, the fossil fuel industry, Wall Street, billionaires and the national security and surveillance agencies more than they could have imagined possible before the election. These forces, as in all fascist states, will be the pillars of the Trump regime. They will tolerate Donald Trump’s idiocy, ineptitude and unbridled narcissism in exchange for increased profits and power. Despots are often buffoons. Appealing to their vanity and ego is an effective form of manipulation. Skilled sycophants can play despots like musical instruments for personal advancement.

Trump, like all despots, has no real ideology. His crusade against Wall Street, including Goldman Sachs, and the billionaire class during the presidential election campaign vanished the moment he took office. He has appointed five former Goldman Sachs employees to high posts in his administration. His budget will bleed the poor, the working class and the middle class and swell the bank accounts of the oligarchs. He is calling for abolishing the Corporation for Public Broadcasting and the National Endowment for the Arts and the cutting of programs that provide legal service to low-income people and grants to libraries and museums. If Trump’s budget is approved by Congress, there will not even be a pretense of civil society. Trump and his family will profit from his presidency. Corporations will profit from his presidency. Wall Street will profit from his presidency. And the people will be made to pay.

Despots demand absolute loyalty. This is why they place family members in the inner circles. The Romanian dictator Nicolae Ceausescu, whose vanity rivaled that of Trump, and Iraqi strongman Saddam Hussein filled their governments with their children, siblings, nephews, nieces and in-laws and rounded out their inner courts with racists, opportunists and thugs of the kind that now populate the White House.

“President Trump’s point man on Israeli-Palestinian negotiations is a longtime Trump Organization lawyer with no government or diplomatic experience,” reads the opening paragraph of a New York Times article headlined “Prerequisite for Key White House Posts: Loyalty, Not Experience.” “His liaison to African-American leaders is a former reality-TV villain with a penchant for résumé inflation. And his Oval Office gatekeeper is a bullet-headed former New York City cop best known for smacking a protester on the head.”

Despots distrust diplomats. Diplomats, often multilingual and conversant with other cultures and societies, deal in nuances and ambiguities that are beyond the grasp of the despot. Diplomats understand that other nations have legitimate national interests that inevitably clash with the interests of one’s own country. They do not embrace force as the primary language of communication. They are trained to carry out negotiations, even with the enemy, and engage in compromise. Despots, however, live in a binary universe of their own creation. They rapidly dismantle the diplomatic corps when they take power for the same reason they attack intellectuals and artists.

Trump’s proposed cut of nearly 29 percent to the State Department’s budget, potentially eliminating thousands of jobs, is part of the shift away from diplomacy to an exclusive reliance on violence or the threat of violence. The militarization of the diplomatic corps, with the Central Intelligence Agency and military intelligence operatives often taking over embassies, especially in conflict zones, began long before Trump took office. But Trump will deal the coup de grâce to the diplomatic corps. Despots replace diplomats with sycophants with no diplomatic experience, such as Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, who promise to impose the despot’s will on the rest of the world.

The dismantling of a diplomatic corps has dangerous consequences. It leaves a country blind and prone to wars and conflicts that could be avoided. Leon Trotsky called Josef Stalin’s foreign minister, Vyacheslav Molotov, who negotiated the disastrous 1939 Nazi-Soviet nonaggression pact that left the Soviet Union unprepared for German invasion, “mediocrity personified.” The other signatory of the pact, Joachim von Ribbentrop, was a former champagne salesman. Ribbentrop, as Molotov did with Stalin, parroted back to Adolf Hitler the leader’s conspiratorial worldview. Ribbentrop, again like Molotov with Stalin, knew that Hitler always favored the most extreme option. Molotov and Ribbentrop unfailingly advocated radical and violent solutions to any problem, endearing themselves to their bosses as men of unflinching resolve. This is what makes Steve Bannon so appealing to Trump—he will always call for Armageddon.

There are three institutions tasked in a functioning democracy with protecting the truth and keeping national discourse rooted in verifiable fact—the courts, the press and universities. Despots must control these three to prevent them from exposing their lies and restricting their power. Trump has not only attacked the courts but has also begun purges of the judiciary with his mass firing of U.S. attorneys. The Trump White House plans to fill 124 judgeships—including 19 vacancies on federal appeals courts—with corporatist lawyers such as Supreme Court nominee Neil Gorsuch who are endorsed by the reactionary Federalist Society. By the time Trump’s four-year term is up, Federalist Society judges could be in as many as half of the country’s appellate seats.

Trump has continued to attempt to discredit the press. During his rally in Nashville, Tenn., on Wednesday, he told the crowd, “Some of the fake news said I don’t think Donald Trump wants to build the wall. Can you imagine if I said we’re not going to build a wall? Fake news. Fake, fake news. Fake news, folks. A lot of fake.” He went on to say in an apparent reference to the reporters covering the rally, “They’re bad people.”

The attacks on universities, which will be accelerated, are on display in the budget proposal. The Department of Health and Human Services, the National Science Foundation, NASA, the Department of Education, the Commerce Department, the National Institutes of Health, the Energy Department and the Department of Veterans Affairs all give grants and research money to universities. Colorado State University, for example, gets about 70 percent, or $232 million, of its research budget from federal sources. In February, Trump suggested he might attempt to cut federal funding for universities such as UC Berkeley. His comment was made after a riot at the California school forced the cancellation of a speech there by the far-right ideologue Milo Yiannopoulos, who has called Trump “Daddy.” A university will of course be able to get corporate funding for research if it casts doubt on the importance of climate change or does research that can be used to swell corporate profits or promote other business interests. Scientific study into our ecocide and the dangers from chemicals, toxins and pollutants released by corporations into the atmosphere will be thwarted. And the withering of humanities programs, already suffering in many universities, will worsen.

It will be increasingly difficult to carry out mass protests and civil disobedience. Repression will become steadily more overt and severe. Dissent will be equated with terrorism. We must use the space before it is shut. This is a race against time. The forces of despotism seek to keep us complacent and pacified with the false hope that mechanisms within the system will moderate Trump or remove him through impeachment, or that the looming tyranny will never be actualized. There is an emotional incapacity among any population being herded toward despotism or war to grasp what is happening. The victims cannot believe that the descent into barbarity is real, that the relative security and sanity of the past are about to be obliterated. They fail to see that once rights become privileges, once any segment of a society is excluded from the law, rights can instantly be revoked for everyone.

There is a hierarchy to oppression. It begins with the most vulnerable—undocumented workers, Muslims, poor people of color. It works upward. It is a long row of candles that one by one are extinguished. If we wait to resist, as the poet C.P. Cavafy wrote, the “dark line gets longer” and “the snuffed-out candles proliferate.”

http://www.truthdig.com/report/item/a_last_chance_for_resistance_20170319

Trump is forcing Americans to participate in an orgy of unnecessary cruelty

Robert Reich:

Trump’s actions violate every ideal this nation has ever cherished — and we have a moral responsibility to stop it

Robert Reich: Trump is forcing Americans to participate in an orgy of unnecessary cruelty
(Credit: Reuters/Jonathan Drake)
This originally appeared on Robert Reich’s blog.

The theme that unites all of President Donald Trump’s initiatives so far is their unnecessary cruelty.

1. His new budget comes down especially hard on the poor by imposing unprecedented cuts in low-income housing, job training, food assistance, legal services, help to distressed rural communities, nutrition for new mothers and their infants, funds to keep poor families warm and even Meals on Wheels.

These cuts come at a time when more American families are in poverty than ever before, including one in five children.

Why is Trump doing this? To pay for the biggest hike in military spending since the 1980s. Yet the United States already spends more on its military than the next seven biggest military budgets combined.

2. His plan to repeal and “replace” the Affordable Care Act will cause 14 million Americans to lose their health insurance next year, and 24 million to lose it by 2026.

Why is Trump doing this? To bestow $600 billion in tax breaks over the decade to wealthy Americans. This windfall comes at a time when the rich have accumulated more wealth than at any time in the nation’s history.

The plan reduces the federal budget deficit by only $337 billion over the next ten years — a small fraction of the national debt, in exchange for an enormous amount of human hardship.

3. His ban on Syrian refugees and reduction by half in the total number of refugees admitted to the United States comes just when the world is experiencing the worst refugee crisis since World War II.

Why is Trump doing this? The ban does little or nothing to protect Americans from terrorism. No terrorist act in the United States has been perpetrated by a Syrian or by anyone from the six nations whose citizens are now banned from traveling to the United States. You have higher odds of being struck by lightening than dying from an immigrant terrorist attack.

4. His dragnet roundup of undocumented immigrants is helter skelter and includes people who have been productive members of our society for decades, as well as young people who have been here since they were toddlers.

Why is Trump doing this? He has no compelling justification. Unemployment is down, crime is down, and we have fewer undocumented workers in the United States today than we did five years ago.

Trump is embarking on an orgy of cruelty for absolutely no reason. This is morally repugnant. It violates every ideal this nation has ever cherished. We have a moral responsibility to stop it.

Robert Reich, one of the nation’s leading experts on work and the economy, is Chancellor’s Professor of Public Policy at the Goldman School of Public Policy at the University of California at Berkeley. He has served in three national administrations, most recently as secretary of labor under President Bill Clinton. Time Magazine has named him one of the ten most effective cabinet secretaries of the last century. He has written 13 books, including his latest best-seller, “Aftershock: The Next Economy and America’s Future;” “The Work of Nations,” which has been translated into 22 languages; and his newest, an e-book, “Beyond Outrage.” His syndicated columns, television appearances, and public radio commentaries reach millions of people each week. He is also a founding editor of the American Prospect magazine, and Chairman of the citizen’s group Common Cause. His new movie “Inequality for All” is in Theaters. His widely-read blog can be found at www.robertreich.org.

Trump and Mussolini: 11 Key Lessons from Historical Fascism

Italian fascism provides a better model for our moment than Nazi Germany—and the comparison is not encouraging.

Photo Credit: By Muzej Revolucije Narodnosti Jugoslavije (USHMM Photograph #89908) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Fascism is a religion. The 20th century will be known in history as the century of fascism.
— Benito Mussolini

I’d like to draw some comparisons and contrasts between our present situation and that of fascist Italy between 1922 and 1945. I choose fascist Italy rather than Nazi Germany because it has always seemed to me a better comparison. Nazi Germany was the extreme militarist, racist and totalitarian variant of Italian fascism, which was more adaptable, pragmatic, rooted in reality and also more incompetent, ineffectual and half-hearted, all of which seem true to our condition today. Italy was the original form, while Germany was an offshoot. Although there have been many European and some Latin American varieties of fascism since then, the Italian model was the first and the one that has had the most lasting influence.

Mussolini drew on strong existing left-wing European currents such as anarcho-syndicalism, wanting to offer the world an alternative to what he saw as the failures of the Western democracies. His was a revolutionary agenda, designed to turn the world order upside down, rooted deeply in romantic and even avant-garde sensibilities. To see fascism as stemming ultimately from liberalism might sound surprising, but this is true of both socialism as well as fascism, because finally it is liberalism’s principle of human perfectibility from which these impulses derive. Fascism, we might say, is liberal romanticism gone haywire. In its healthy state, liberalism gives us constitutional democracy, but in its unhealthy state we end up with totalitarianism.

Futurism, one of the leading modernist movements of the time, fed easily into fascism. F.T. Marinetti, who believed in war as “hygiene,” was a keen Mussolini supporter, as was the playwright Luigi Pirandello, though he had a different aesthetic tendency. Many philosophers, academics and artists were already sick of the mundane, transactional, enervating nature of democracy under leaders like Giovanni Giolitti, prime minister several times in the two decades preceding fascism.

Benedetto Croce, on the other hand, was the great Italian idealist philosopher, an optimistic Hegelian who believed that liberal constitutionalism was forever on the move, boosted by the Italian Risorgimento (unification) of the mid-19th century, even if its progress couldn’t always be detected. Mussolini never openly persecuted Croce, partly for reasons of credibility — some internal criticism had to be allowed, to preserve the façade of diversity of opinion — but mostly because, with a slight twist, Croce’s Hegelian logic can easily lead to fascism.

To discuss Italian fascism in the context of Trumpism is not to draw silly one-on-one comparisons, because many material factors are different today, but to understand current developments there must be some historical basis for analysis. What this exercise attempts is to show that the myth of American exceptionalism is just that, a myth, and that we have traveled so far from our national founding impulses that other tendencies, namely forms of what used to be considered peculiarly European anxieties, have now become the defining features of our polity.

1. Fascism rechannels economic anxiety

The German condition in the 1920s, with the economic instability then prevalent, is well known, but this was also true of European countries in general in the wake of World War I. Especially after the Russian Revolution, the urgent question for all of Europe became: Was socialism the right path, or capitalism? And in either case, was a new political order required?

In Italy, socialism became quite popular after the war, making industrialists and large agriculturalists very worried. The fascist squads, which at first had arisen spontaneously, came in handy to break the back of socialist cooperatives, both in industry and agriculture, particularly in northern Italy which was more advanced than the south. In the early part of his career, the opportunist Mussolini was anti-war (he didn’t want Italy to join the war), as were socialists in general. But during the course of World War I he changed his tune. Evidence shows that he was financed by oligarchic foreign interests who wanted Italy to get into the war, which of course it did.

For the same money men, the question became, after the war, what to do with the mobilized energy of the arditi, or the squadrists? The original fascists, Mussolini included, were very socialist in inclination, and their manifestos reflected that. Mussolini’s initial program for fascism could pass, with some changes, as an egalitarian dream. The founders of fascism were big on workers’ rights, expropriation of leading industries and even women’s right to equality. The violent contest between socialists and fascists in the countryside had already abated by the time Mussolini came to power. Yet the oligarchic powers sought, in Mussolini, a figure to permanently channel and mobilize the violent social energy on behalf of capitalism.

The most recent phase of globalization, which took off during the 1990s, has created similar anxieties around the world as the class dislocations did following World War I. For the elites who propagated the “Washington consensus” in the 1990s, supported by such popularizers as New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman, there was nothing complicated about globalization: Incomes would rise around the world, inequality would fall and liberal tolerance would flourish. This rosy picture is so far from reality as to be laughable, and it is a truth evident to the world’s peoples, except for the transnational elites still beholden to the abstract propositions. Thus the question arises again, with as much urgency as in the aftermath of the Russian Revolution: What shall be the world’s economic order? Is it possible to conceive, at this late date, of globalization with a human face? Or is something more revolutionary needed?

The problem today is that socialism, unfortunately, became discredited in the eyes of liberals in the West because of the failed Soviet experiment. Socialism did not have to go the authoritarian route, but that is sadly how it turned out. So today we have a clear problem, i.e., burgeoning inequality on an almost unprecedented scale, and no ideological solution in sight, at least not one that majorities of liberals can agree on.

Into this vacuum, fascists all over the Western world are entering to redirect the majority white population’s nervousness into xenophobic and imperialist aims. Each country, depending on its power structure, will pursue these aims, once it succumbs to the fascist virus, differently. It is worth remembering, however, that it was liberalism, with its absurd triumphant mentality in the wake of the collapse of the Soviet Union, that took away movement toward any form of socialism as a legitimate path, and therefore made the rise of fascism inevitable.

2. Liberal institutions have already been fatally weakened

We are currently lamenting Trump’s evisceration of the media and other institutions of democracy, but he would not be having such success, at least with half of the population, if those institutions were not already seriously compromised. It is easy to dismiss his mockery of the “fake media,” but before Trump did anyone take the media, with some venerable exceptions, seriously anyway? The mass media have never been interested in the nuances of policy, and are focused instead on personality, celebrity and spectacle. Most of the print media are also compromised because of loyalty to American exceptionalism.

It is no coincidence that Trump has merged his critique of the “fake media” with exceptionalism, because it allows him to present the media as tools of a discredited ideology. Before Trump, the media were tied, as a general rule, to the consensus on neoliberalism, and their bias became all the more evident during the last campaign. When it comes to telling the truth about power, the media have not been interested in doing so for a long time. They may now be reacting viscerally against Trump, because of the crude way in which he takes on their shallowness, but it doesn’t mean anything to his supporters. Trump’s critique of the media applies to all our liberal institutions prior to his arrival on the scene.

Mussolini’s fascist program landed in the middle of deep disillusionment with liberal institutions. Italy had experienced a rapid spurt of growth due to industrialization in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, but the rewards weren’t equally distributed. The south was poor and undeveloped, overcome by feudal values, while the north was unsure about empowering labor to share the fruits of growth. The strong labor movement started shading into anarcho-syndicalism, quite similar to the original fascist manifesto. The situation is not exactly comparable today, because ours is a mature economy with declining traditional industrial sectors, while Italy’s was an emerging economy with growing industries. But the sense that the institutions of democracy were failing to support a fair standard of living was widespread.

The Italian parliamentary system was marked by a tendency toward transformismo or “transformism,” to which our strongest parallel would be Bill (or Hillary) Clinton’s triangulation. In many ways Clinton can be seen as a parallel to Giolitti, with the same ability to throw doubt on the health of liberal democracy, even as deals are cut right and left). Transformismo, or triangulation, appeals to career civil servants, politicians and media people, but its chameleon-like tendency to absorb the ideas of the opposition and to neutralize them and make them invisible leaves a profoundly disillusioning aftertaste. Ideology desperately wants to make a comeback, which was true in transactional Italy, and is certainly true of America now.

3. Internal strongmen tussles don’t mean anything

In the beginning Mussolini didn’t seem the most obvious choice to lead the fascist movement. Italy’s best-known provocateur, Gabriele d’Annunzio, a flamboyant writer with a continental reputation, beat him to it by organizing a militia to lay siege to Fiume, a small territory on the northeast coast, part of the unredeemed lands claimed by the irredentist movement. In his short-lived siege, d’Annunzio perfected a fascist style — harangues prompting back-and-forth exchanges from balconies overlooking vast public squares, the symbolic elaboration of the myth of martyrdom in the cause of the nation and the articulation of an emotional method for communicating reality — that Mussolini, and all later fascists, would adopt. D’Annunzio — a legendary womanizer and decadent — was one of the most colorful of all Europeans, and his peculiar interpretation of Nietzschean values has become a permanent challenge to liberal democracy.

But when push came to shove, Mussolini was seen as the more pliable agent of fascist change by his corporate benefactors, and Mussolini was quick to sideline d’Annunzio’s claim to leadership. There were always more assertive fascists around than Mussolini — for example, Roberto Farinacci, the ras (or leader) of Cremona, who later became fond of Hitler’s henchmen — but Mussolini was able to keep them in check. He was a master at playing one competitor against another, exploiting their vulnerabilities to always stay in power. The squadrist militias under control of the provincial ras, like Farinacci and others, were at first used by Mussolini to send terror into the hearts of wavering capitalists and later, in different stages, were controlled and even neutralized as competing power centers, all of them absorbed in the mostly subservient National Fascist Party (PNF).

At the moment, Trump is our Farinacci, the most assertive of the ras, compared to whom all the Cabinet secretaries — even the ones who most frighten us for their racism (Attorney General Jeff Sessions) or Islamophobia (Homeland Security Secretary John Kelly) — seem tame in comparison. No matter the insanity of the secretaries in charge of the environment, education, energy or other departments, none seems as willing to openly flout the rule of law as Trump. Or we can say that in our case the showman d’Annunzio has taken power, rather than a more grounded journalist-turned-politician like Mussolini. We confront the speculative exercise of trying to imagine how it would have turned out for fascism had d’Annunzio, not Mussolini, been the leader.

Nonetheless, we ought not to be swayed by the temporary ascendancies of this or that group within the fascist hierarchy, whether it is Steve Bannon or Michael Flynn who rises or falls. Fascism is greater than the individuals who make up its core at any given moment. Fascism requires the strongman at the center to make it move, yet if a given personality fails to do the job, another can be found as replacement.

4. Fascism keeps mutating

Before fascism was formalized by Mussolini in 1919, organizing the scattered energies of the displaced combatants, it was in many ways an aesthetic movement. It was certainly radically socialist in orientation, with a strong attraction to equality for workers. Then, just before taking power, it became a movement for capitalist law and order, suppressing the demands of socialists. Once in power it adopted some of the modes of parliamentary behavior, but with great irritation, as it sought to preserve a democratic façade. After the consolidation of the dictatorship in 1925, it became almost a developmental state, strongly interested in Italy’s economic growth. A corporatist state, with strong autarkic goals (such as the “Battle for Wheat,” to make Italy self-sufficient, or the reclamation of the Pontine Marshes), was clearly articulated, eliciting approval from the world’s leading capitalist powers.

With the onset of worldwide depression, however, fascism realized the intractability of economic problems and turned its attention to imperialism. The PNF, which had become relatively quiet during the period of capitalist development, was revived as a harsh ideological force, with growing tentacles in every part of Italian society. This phase began in the early 1930s and lasted until defeat in World War II. Fascism was not particularly racist to begin with, as Mussolini, like most Italians, took exception to Nazi anti-Semitism; but as Italy threw in its lot with Germany in the late 1930s, “scientific” racism became a central fascist platform. After Mussolini was overthrown by his own Grand Council in 1943, for the last two years of the war he held fort in the Republic of Salò, in the northern part of Italy, supported by Hitler’s fading power. The Republic of Salò backtracked to the original socialist principles enunciated at the formation of fascism.

What this shows is that fascism is highly adaptable to different needs and conditions, just as its opposite, democracy, is similarly flexible. This also suggests that fascism is a viable ideology just like democracy, because it can appear in different guises at different times, even under the same leadership, without losing credibility. In considering Trump and the movement he has sparked, we would be better off looking at the overall aims of the regime, rather than get carried away by feints in one direction or another. Their aim, it should be clear, is to end democracy, since that is the energy fascism feeds on.

Trump is fully capable of showing an apparently “presidential” side, for example in his first speech to Congress. The priority has shifted from eradicating immigrants to passing the neoliberal agenda on taxation, social spending, education, energy and the environment, so a slightly modified relationship is needed with the corporate world and the media for the immediate future, which Trump should easily be able to accomplish. Mussolini, though an inveterate atheist, made peace with the Vatican, in the famous Lateran Accords of 1929, abandoning his most cherished beliefs in order to gain the complicity of the Catholic church. Earlier in the 1920s, he installed corporate-friendly ministers to work with Italy’s industrialists to enact an agenda they could be comfortable with. Such mutations are par for the course for fascists, they’re nothing to get excited about.

5. Fascism is eternally recurring

Just as democracy is eternal, so is fascism. There have always been authoritarian or dictatorial responses to democracy since the beginning of modern civilization, but fascism, with its imprint of spectacle, theater and mass communication, was a particular permutation that arose once the Western democracies had been consolidated. Italy and Germany were two of the late bloomers, but democracy had mostly been attained by the time they turned to fascism. Fascism could not have arisen were democracy still an evolving condition, as was true of parts of the West in the 19th century. So fascism is an indication of maturity, once democracy’s initial bloom is off.

Many historians were eager to write off Italy’s fascist experience as an aberration, as something so abnormal that it did not properly belong to Italian culture, but the opposite is true. Fascism will often borrow the symbolism, legal architecture and academic norms of pre-existing society, rather than throw them overboard. In Italy’s case, all the existing tendencies of aesthetic modernism came in handy, as well as the legacies of socialist, anarchist and syndicalist cultures. In northern cities like Turin and Milan, fascism flourished side by side with avant-garde political and cultural thinking. Once the dominant liberal culture succumbed, it wasn’t as difficult to impose fascism’s content upon the less democratic south’s institutions.

Fascism was not an aberration for Italy, nor is this the case anywhere it occurs. It is inherent in the DNA of any given culture, an authoritarian side that goes along with, and is even a necessary prop for, democracy. The interwar years marked industrialization’s maturity in the Western world, which had been preceded by a huge burst of globalization, leading up to World War I. A fascism drawing energy from the masses employed in industrialized occupations, as was the case between the wars, is going to manifest very differently than the post-industrial environment of 21st-century America. But the differences are more stylistic than foundational.

6. Of course it’s a minority affair

To note that Trump did not win the popular vote (as was true of George W. Bush in 2000), does not take away from the power of fascism. Given civilized norms in a democratic society, it is always going to be difficult for fascists to muster an outright numerical majority. The point is their relative strength in terms of raw power. Moreover, in periods of emergencies (such as Bush after 9/11 and in the lead-up to the Iraq war), more than a majority can usually be cobbled together. This speaks strongly to the hidden patriotic foundation of what passes for liberalism, its inherent weakness which can so easily be converted to mass militarism.

Mussolini, though he established his regime on the myth of the March on Rome, was actually appointed by King Victor Emmanuel III when Mussolini seemed like the only figure, compared to the discredited liberal politicians, who could bring order to the country. Trump too is trying to make predictions of chaos and violence a self-fulfilling prophecy, but this is a staple of all fascist regimes: They bring about and thrive on the disorder that they then claim to be the only ones to be able to suppress. There was actually no such thing as the March on Rome; the king had already invited Mussolini to Rome to come and form the government when the march took place. Had the king given the order — and this looked possible until the last fateful moment — the army would easily have crushed the ragtag bunch of nobodies who had showed up from all parts of Italy.

Only a small minority need give overt consent. The rest can be quiet, or complacent, or complicit, unless they feel their personal security threatened, for example because of war that might spin out of control. That is all that’s needed for fascism to go on its merry way, so it’s quite beside the point to argue its minority status. Most bloody revolutions are minority affairs.

7. There is an ideology behind the chaos of ideologies

Just as Italian historians after the fact claimed that fascism was an aberration that didn’t belong to Italy’s history proper, contemporary observers often insisted that there was never a fascist ideology. Partly this is because of the mutational aspect of fascism. But primarily this is due to intellectual laziness. Liberal scholars, after all, are not likely to credit their mortal opponent with ideological clarity. We too, lazily, ascribe the same lack of ideology to Trumpism, and interpret events in terms of personality and contingency. I would say that fascist ideology has always, since its inception a hundred years ago, been so strong that it takes democracy an extremely favorable environment, and a huge amount of luck, to sustain itself.

Fascist ideology aims for nothing but to weaken and end democracy. It is democracy’s successes, whether in Weimar Germany, or in a strange way in Giolitti’s Italy, or in countercultural America of the 1960s, that breed the opposite tendency which wants to swallow it up.

Mussolini pursued imperialistic goals in wanting an empire in North Africa, East Africa and the Balkans, but was his pursuit of empire (the New Rome) the same as Britain’s, for example, in the 19th century? For Britain, the empire made financial sense. For Italy, all its wars were financially ruinous (and this has been true of our own wars after 9/11 as well), exerting unsustainable pressures. To the extent that the wars undermined democracy, breeding fascism at home, they were certainly successful. In our present and future wars, that is the criterion we must keep in mind. It’s not what a particular policy is doing to the budget or our diplomatic standing or the state of the culture, but how a policy serves to undermine democracy.

8. Its cultural style makes no sense to elites

This is where I felt the Bush incarnation of fascism fell short, and this is where Trump too is having a difficult time. Milo Yiannopoulos proved in the end to be too exotic even to his sponsors at Breitbart, and the campy, decadent d’Annunzian style, of which Milo is an heir, has its limits in evangelical America, committed to bourgeois verities despite the fascistic overlay. Our homegrown brew of Fox News, Breitbart, Alex Jones, border militias like the Minutemen, millenarian Christianity, the Tea Party and gun culture, combined with simplistic beliefs in “free market” capitalism and American exceptionalism, seems to me a particularly tame cultural concoction. It doesn’t have traction with anyone with the least amount of liberal education. Mussolini was working with more resonant cultural stuff, as the emergence of industrial capitalism since the Risorgimento had set up a cultural platform that was malleable enough to work for fascism.

Trump and his successors will have to work with less potent stuff. So-called conspiratorial thinking is a unifying strand — I already mentioned Alex Jones — which connects many of the strands of ultra-conservative ideology throughout the past century. The Reds become Jews and then Muslims; the substitutions are not that difficult to make. But although the elites will remain incredulous toward fascism’s cultural style, there seems to be enough of a momentum, with all the tendencies beginning to attain critical mass together. Thus the successful transition from Bush to Trump, which suggests that our homegrown fascist style is strong enough now not to need a leader.

Masculinity — or shall we say faux masculinity — is an important part of this cultural style, perhaps the principal reason why Yiannopoulos couldn’t last. It is a reaction to the perceived effeminacy of liberalism, and is a blast (along with racism) against what is seen as the failed order. Fascism relies on activation of our most atavistic, violent and primitive selves, by wanting to return women to invisibility, along with condemning the darker races. Needless to say, Italian fascism reconstructed women as facilitators of warrior-masculinity in all the active fields of life, depriving women of organizational visibility even when they were outstanding fascists.

9. Fascism leads inexorably to suicidal war

It’s possible to argue that Mussolini was sucked into World War II against his will, He knew it was going to end his regime since Italy was not prepared. We might credit it to Hitler’s powers of manipulation over Mussolini that Italy entered a disastrous war. The truth is that from the beginning Mussolini had been biding his time to exert Italian power abroad. He had no respect for diplomats, exactly like Trump, and chose to go his own way, believing himself to be a master strategist. He made increasingly assertive forays into war-making, from the little adventure in Corfu in 1923, all the way to the massive commitment to the Ethiopian war in 1936, along the way proclaiming himself “protector of Islam.”

Fascism, like all forms of government not based on the consent of the majority, requires more and more energy to keep the population under control as time goes by. Once the façade of virile domesticity starts getting exposed, war becomes the only option to keep the regime going. Fascism always claims that war is not of its choosing, that it is forced into war by others, but it is a voluntary, even eager, action to perpetuate the regime. At some point, the boomeranging negative energy — violence inflicted upon the fascist power in return — is so great that the tide of opinion turns. Even if war might be fought to an end, the internal consensus, including among fascist believers, is gone. We are, obviously, a long way from that.

10. Racism is inherent to fascism

It is absolutely key that Trump began his campaign by proclaiming a genocidal manifesto against Mexicans — and then Muslims and Arabs — and has continued to keep it as his central point of action. Because fascism is not competing on an even ideological terrain — most people in any civilized country are not given to violence — it must imagine enemies powerful enough to sustain a majority reaction.

Mussolini and his lieutenants used to mock Hitler’s racial animus, both before and after he became chancellor, holding that Italians had no anti-Semitic sentiment, which was quite true. Some of Mussolini’s most ardent early supporters were Jewish, and he had prominent Jewish lovers, like his biographer Margherita Sarfatti. But after the goodwill from the Ethiopian war started fading in the late 1930s, and a closer alliance with Germany became inevitable, Italy turned around and instituted an official anti-Semitism that deprived Jews of their honor, property and basic rights. The situation never got as bad as in Germany, with most Italians harboring deep suspicions toward the newfound anti-Semitism and the construction of Italians as a superior Aryan race, but the damage was done.

Just as war is inevitable, so is virulent racism. Both go together in fascism. One provides an external enemy while the other provides an internal enemy. If they can be linked together — the worldwide Jewish banking conspiracy, or the worldwide Islamic terror conspiracy — so much the better. War becomes more comprehensible, for fascist supporters, when the internal enemy is attached to the endless cycle of wars abroad, which is said to stem from the same root threat to virile nationalist probity.

11. No form of resistance works

Finally, how do you fight fascism? Is there a magic formula, has anything ever worked? Or are we, too, assuming that we are launched on our own fascist cycle, doomed to repeat the familiar pattern until the end? Can liberalism awaken itself in time, once it recognizes the mortal danger, to defeat fascism? Will the citizenry in a liberal democratic nation, once prompted to the threat, find resources it hadn’t counted on before to invalidate and eventually suppress fascism? Can violence, in short, be defeated by nonviolence? We would have to presume this to be true, unless we accept that liberals would take up arms to defeat fascism, which is not likely and probably defeatist anyway.

The Italian press, when Mussolini took over the country, was extremely vigorous. Political parties of every persuasion were highly energized, and they all had their vocal newspapers. Mussolini himself had run socialist newspapers — first Avanti! and then Il Popolo d’Italia — for the majority of his adult career, and knew that to neutralize the press was his first order of business. He did so in stages, eventually ushering in a regime of complete censorship after 1925, particularly after failed assassination attempts gave him the excuse. He installed fascist stooges at all the newspapers and carefully monitored their every word for the rest of his regime. Loyalty oaths were likewise instituted everywhere, from higher education to civil service. The institutions appeared the same; they were not abolished, but they had been hollowed out.

The press went underground, numerous political activists went into exile, particularly in France, and the communists, socialists, conservatives, liberals, monarchists and Catholics bided their time, engaging in resistance when they could, hoping for an awakening of mass consciousness. Neutralizing the church with the Lateran Accords, and thereafter depoliticizing Catholic Action — the organization competing with Mussolini’s numerous social and leisure organizations — was important, and the church never regained its full voice. Exiles abroad were killed or injured in large numbers; many died in the Spanish Civil War. It was not until Mussolini’s own Grand Council deposed him in 1943, when it was clear that Italy had lost the war, that the country divided into two and the partisans emerged to slowly recover Italian democracy in stages.

Italians tried every form of resistance we can imagine, including getting themselves and their families killed or imprisoned, as countless lives were lost in the fascist tyranny. Nothing worked. Nothing ever works until fascism’s logic, the logic of empire, stands discredited to the point where no denial and no media coverup is possible anymore.

Some final thoughts

The thing to notice is that fascism, in all the places it’s been known to arise, converts an admittedly minority point of view into a mass energy that soon overwhelms every civilized instinct. Perhaps Trump doesn’t need to do this footwork; perhaps much of this foundational work was already accomplished in the Bush era. What should really concern us is that fascism now seems to have a certain stability that we have not seen in earlier models that relied on a single charismatic leader. Despite the Obama interlude, Trump has resumed where George W. Bush in his most feverish mood had left off. This suggests that fascism has become permanently stabilized in this country. It is the most worrisome aspect of the present situation.

Fascism would never have gotten such traction here had liberalism not already succumbed, over the course of 40 years, to various abridgments of rights in the name of community or security or risk-aversion, which defines much of liberal discourse today. Fascism cannot thrive on true individualism, which is inherently opposed to mass delusions, but liberalism took the lead long ago in giving up individualism for forms of imagined community. This is ultimately the breeding ground for fascism, and this is why it is an affair that envelops all of us, not just a certain segment of the population that we can condemn as fascist and be done with it.

One remarkable similarity — among many others — between Trump and Mussolini is their total preoccupation with coverage in the media. Trump regularly consumes the “shows,” apparently getting most of his news and information from TV, and has little use for time-consuming memoranda and policy documents. He obsessively monitors what the media says about him. Mussolini, it could be said, was almost a full-time journalist during his 23 years of power. Just as Trump’s Oval Office desk is littered with the “papers,” so was Mussolini’s time taken up with controlling every word that was printed about the regime. Obsessively detailed veline went out every day to the country’s newspapers, instructing them on how to interpret every event. There were to be no pictures of Mussolini appearing in less than heroic posture, no mention of crime or poverty or violence, no disparagement of the fascist regime.

The inordinate amount of time Mussolini (and Trump) spent cultivating his image does not have anything to do with a personality disorder. It has to do with democracy’s failure to live up to its egalitarian ideals, so that the lie about equality becomes more important than actual equality. The liberal democratic and fascist authoritarian versions of this lie have much in common. It is futile to look for tanks on the street as a marker of fascism; there were no tanks in the streets in fascist Italy either. What is important to notice are the weak spots of liberal democracy, which fascism exploits, such as the gradual loss of faith in our voting and electoral systems. What is important to notice is the symbolic order, which becomes more and more different until one day it becomes a vehicle for a different ideology than the majority ever bargained for.

 

Anis Shivani’s books in the last year include Soraya: Sonnets and Whatever Speaks on Behalf of Hashish: Poems. His book Assessing Literary Writing in the Twenty-First Century comes out in early 2017. 

Bernie Sanders on Trump and the Resistance: ‘Despair Is Not an Option’

NEWS & POLITICS

The senator talks about taking progressive populism to the heartland in order to topple Trump.

Photo Credit: Scott P / Flickr

When Donald Trump delivered his first address to Congress 10 days ago, sticking dutifully, for once, to the teleprompter, the media praised him for sounding statesmanlike and presidential. But one person, sitting in a front-row seat just a few feet away, thought differently.

Bernie Sanders was growing more aghast with every sentence. Then, when Trump began to talk about the environment, the 75-year-old independent senator from Vermont nearly laughed out loud. Earlier that day, the president signed an executive order that gutted federal controls against the pollution of rivers and waterways. Now he was standing before US legislators pledging to “promote clean air and clear water”.

“The hypocrisy was beyond belief!” says Sanders, still scarcely able to contain himself. “To talk about protecting clean air and water on the same day that you issue an order that will increase pollution of air and water!”

Sanders’ Senate office in DC has an untouched quality, as though the rocket launcher that propelled him last year from relative obscurity to credible contender for the White House has left no trace. The office walls display quaint photographs of his home state – a field of cows labeled Spring in Vermont – and there’s a bookshelf stacked with distinctly Bernie-esque titles such as Never Give In and The Induced Ignorance of Power.

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Sanders sweeps into the room wearing a casual sweater. His white hair is tousled, and he has the distracted look of someone dragged away from concentrated study. But when we start talking, he is immediately transfixing. In a flash, it is clear why so many have felt the Bern: because he feels it so intensely himself.

“These are very scary times for the people of the United States, and … for the whole world. We have a president who is a pathological liar. Trump lies all of the time.” And Sanders believes the lying is not accidental: “He lies in order to undermine the foundations of American democracy.” Take his “wild attacks against the media, that virtually everything the mainstream media says is a lie.” Or Trump’s denigration of one of George W Bush’s judicial appointees as a “so-called judge”, and his false claims that up to 5 million people voted illegally in the election. Such statements, which Sanders calls “delusional”, are meant to lead to only one conclusion, he says: “that the only person in America who stands for the American people, who is telling the truth, the only person who gets it right, is the president of the United States, Donald Trump. That is unprecedented in American history.”

He travels even deeper into dystopian territory when I ask what, in his view, Trump’s endgame might be. “What he wants is to end up as leader of a nation that has moved a significant degree towards authoritarianism; where the president of the United States has extraordinary powers, far more than our constitution has provided for.”

Sanders is well into his stride by now, conducting the interview with great waves of his arms, punching out words in that distinctive Brooklyn-Vermont growl. It’s impossible not to be drawn in by a man who comes across as this authentic.

Sanders occupies an exalted pedestal in American politics today. In 2016 he won 23 primary and caucus races to Clinton’s 34, notching up 13 million votes. Given the odds stacked against him – Clinton’s establishment firepower; the skewed weighting of the “superdelegates” that tipped the primaries in her direction by reserving 15% of the votes for the party establishment; and the cynical efforts of the party machine through the Democratic national convention to undermine Sanders’ campaign by casting aspersions on his leadership abilities and religious beliefs, as revealed in the Russian-hacked WikiLeaks emails – that was no mean achievement.

If he had won the nomination, would he have beaten Trump? I feel a blowback to the question even as I pose it. Sanders’ body language expresses displeasure as crushingly as any verbal putdown: his face crumples, his shoulders hunch, and he looks as though someone is jabbing him with needles. “I don’t think it’s a worthwhile speculation,” he says. “The answer is: who knows? Possibly yes, possibly no.”

Moving swiftly on. Did he anticipate the result on election night, or was he as shocked as many others when Trump began to sweep rust belt states such as Michigan and Wisconsin – states, incidentally, in which Sanders also defeated Clinton in the primary/caucus stage? “I wasn’t expecting it, but it wasn’t a shock. When I went to bed the night before, I thought it was two-to-one, three-to-one that Clinton would win, but it wasn’t like, ‘Oh, there’s no chance Trump could do it’. That was never my belief.”

Sanders’ sanguine response was rooted in his familiar critique of modern capitalism – that it has left the US, alongside the UK and other major democracies, vulnerable to rightwing assault. This is how he connects Trump with Brexit, and in turn with the jitters gripping continental Europe ahead of elections in France and Germany – common manifestations all, he believes, of the ravages of globalization.

“One of the reasons for Brexit, for Trump’s victory, for the rise of ultra-nationalist rightwing candidates all over Europe, is the fact that the global economy has been very good for large multinational corporations, has in many ways been a positive thing for well-educated people, but there are millions of people in this country and all over the world who have been left behind.”

I tell him that last September I had an epiphany as I watched Trump tell a ballroom of billionaires at the Waldorf Astoria in Manhattan that he would get all the steelworkers back to work. Steelworkers? How on Earth did the Democratic party, the party of labour, cede so much political ground that a billionaire – “phoney billionaire”, Sanders corrects me, firmly – could stand before other billionaires at the Waldorf and pose as the champion of steelworkers?

“That is an excellent question,” he says, needles turning to roses. “Over the last 30 or 40 years the Democratic party has transformed itself from a party of the working class – of white workers, black workers, immigrant workers – to a party significantly controlled by a liberal elite which has moved very far away from the needs of … working families in this country.”

He goes on to lament what he sees as an unnecessary dichotomy between the identity politics favoured by those liberal elites and the traditional labour roots of the movement – steelworkers, say. He is so incensed about this false division that it even dictates his self-perception: “I consider myself a progressive and not a liberal for that reason alone,” he says.

I ask him to flesh out the thought. He replies that the liberal left’s focus on sectional interests – whether defined by gender, race or immigrant status – has obscured the needs of a shrinking middle class suffering from huge levels of income inequality. It didn’t need to have been that way. “The truth is, we can and should do both. It’s not an either/or, it’s both.”

Does he see a similar pattern in the trajectory of Britain’s Labour party? His face starts to crumple again, UK politics apparently also being on his list of undesirable discussion topics. “I don’t want to say I know more than I do,” he says, adding, after a beat, “but obviously I am somewhat informed.”

There is a cord that ties Sanders to the UK, in the form of his elder brother, Larry, who lives in Oxford and who ran unsuccessfully last October as a Green party candidate for the Witney seat left vacant by the departure of former prime minister David Cameron. Sanders has described Larry as a large influence on his life, though he says they haven’t been in touch lately. “We talk once in a while.”

Add family matters to the needle category. He’s reticent, too, about discussing Jeremy Corbyn, deflecting a question about the current travails of the Labour leader by again saying: “I don’t know all the details.”

But he is happy to take an implicit poke at Tony Blair and New Labour, which he suggests fell into the same profound hole that the current US Democratic party is in. “Corbyn has established that there is a huge gap between what was the Labour party leadership and the rank-and-file Labour party activists – he made that as clear as clear could be … Leadership has got to reflect where working people and young people are in the UK.”

It’s all starting to sound pretty depressing. Much of the modern left has detached itself from working people; the vacuum created has in turn permitted that Waldorf moment where steelworkers turn to (phoney) billionaires for salvation; in the ensuing melee we see the rise of Trump, Brexit and the far right, hurtling the world’s leading democracies into the abyss.

Thankfully, that’s not the end of the narrative. Sanders is too driven a person, too committed to his own worldview, to leave us dangling in a dystopian fog. And with reason: he remains a formidable force to be reckoned with. Though he’s less in the conversation these days than he was at the height of his epic battle with Clinton, no one should make the error of thinking that Sanders is done.

Technically still an independent, he is busily lobbying to reform the internal rules of the Democratic party to give more clout to rank-and-file voters and less to party insiders, in order, he says, to tighten that gap between liberal elite and steelworker. He also continues to use the force of his grassroots activism to push the party towards a more radical economic position, based on regulating Wall Street and taxing the wealthy – and claims some success in that regard.

“The platform of the Democratic party doesn’t go as far as I would like,” he says, “but I worked on it with Clinton and it is far and away the most progressive platform in the history of American politics.”

In the Senate, too, he’s active in the confirmation process for Trump’s nominations. In particular, he vows to give the president’s pick for the vacant seat on the US supreme court, Neil Gorsuch, a rough ride over his stances on abortion and the Citizens United campaign finance ruling, which unleashed corporate money into elections.

Gorsuch hasn’t ruled on abortion directly, but he has indicated that he believes that the “intentional taking of human life is always wrong”, and on campaign finance he has hinted that he would open up the political process to even more private cash.

I ask Sanders why he isn’t minded to go further with Gorsuch. Why not take a leaf from the Republican book and just say no – after all, they refused even to consider Obama’s supreme court choice, Merrick Garland, effectively stealing the seat from the Democrats.

“There are reasons to say no. You don’t say, ‘I’m going to vote no before I even know who the candidate is.’”

But that’s what the Republicans did, I press.

“I think it’s more effective to give a rational reason,” he replies with finality.

But the real work of Sanders and the resistance begins when the lights of his Senate office are turned off, the squabbles of DC are left behind, and he takes his brand of progressive populism out to the American heartlands. He’s doing it largely unnoticed – not stealthily, but quietly, without much fanfare. But it’s happening, and with a clear goal: to rebuild the progressive movement from the bottom up.

There are shades here of the Tea Party movement, the disruptive rightwing grassroots group that in two short years destabilized Obama’s presidency and paved the way for everything we are witnessing today. So, is that it? Is that what Sanders is doing when he travels the country, attends rallies, addresses his legions of still adoring young supporters and urges them to resist? Is he putting down the foundations of a progressive Tea Party – as influential voices, such as the three former congressional staffers who co-authored a guide to resistance called Indivisible, have implored?

Unsurprisingly, Sanders fails to embrace the concept. But much of what he is doing, amplified by the network that grew out of his presidential campaign, Our Revolution, does follow a similar playbook: start local, shift the debate to a more radical posture, one primary election at a time.

“My job is to substantially increase the number of people participating in the political process. We’ve been quite successful in this, getting more and more people to run for office. That’s what I’m focusing on.”

Here’s where a shaft of light pierces through the gloom: he is convinced that the resistance is already working. In a 14-minute video posted to Facebook Live immediately after Trump’s joint session to Congress, Sanders went so far as to say that Republicans were on the defensive.

Really? Defensive? That seems a bold statement, given the daily stream of executive orders and the bonfire of regulations coming out of the White House. As evidence, Sanders points to Trump and the Republicans’ much-touted plan to scrap the Affordable Care Act, also known as Obamacare.

“Well, a funny thing happened,” the senator says. “Millions of people have been actively involved in saying, ‘Excuse me, if you want to improve the Affordable Care Act, let’s do it, but you are not simply going to repeal it and throw 20 million people out on the streets without any health insurance … Now the Republicans are scrambling, they are embarrassed, and that tells me they are on the defensive on that area.”

He gives another, more lurid, example. Republican leaders holding regular town hall meetings across the country have been accosted in recent weeks by angry, banner-wielding protesters opposing the repeal of the healthcare law, and in some cases police have been called. In the wake of the feisty encounters, conservative leaders demanded more security at such events, which Sanders finds indicative: “When Republicans now are literally afraid to hold public meetings – some of them are arguing, ‘Oh my God, we are afraid of security issues!’ – that tells me they know that the American people are prepared to stand up and fight.”

Stand up and fight: it’s classic Bernie Sanders. And it brings us back to the original quandary: how to respond to the authoritarian threat that is Trump. What word of advice would he give a young person, a twentysomething who is scared and who feels that their country is moving against them? What should they do?

“This is what they should do,” he says, pumping out the Bern. “They should take a deep reflection about the history of this country, understand that absolutely these are very difficult and frightening times. But also understand that in moments of crisis, what has happened, time and time again, is that people have stood up and fought back. So despair is absolutely not an option.”

Ed Pilkington is the chief reporter for Guardian US. He is a former national and foreign editor of the paper, and author of Beyond the Mother Country.

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The WikiLeaks exposures and the CIA’s threat to democratic rights

FBI director: “No such thing as absolute privacy in America”

10 March 2017

Speaking at a cybersecurity conference at Boston College Wednesday, FBI Director James Comey said, “there is no such thing as absolute privacy in America.” Every activity that Americans engage in, including conversations between spouses and with members of the clergy and attorneys, is within “judicial reach.” He declared, “In appropriate circumstances, a judge can compel any one of us to testify in court about those very private communications.”

The FBI director did not add, although he could well have, that a judicial order is completely irrelevant to the US military-intelligence apparatus. The US government has far more direct methods than court orders to learn what its citizens are thinking and talking about, through the use of sophisticated cyberweapons. These include the thousands of hacking tools whose existence was made public Tuesday by WikiLeaks, in a data release exposing efforts by the CIA to turn millions of ordinary electronic devices, from cellphones and smart TVs to the computer systems running most cars, into spy weapons.

The FBI director’s declaration that there is no right to privacy was greeted with a yawn by the corporate media, which barely reported his comments, and by Democratic and Republican party politicians. This is in keeping with the overall treatment of the WikiLeaks revelations, which has been one of indifference to the threat to democratic rights exposed in the CIA cyberweapons cache.

As far as the media is concerned, anyone who raises concerns about the right to privacy, or other democratic rights, being threatened by the national-security apparatus is an agent of Russia. This position was put most bluntly by the Washington Post, in its lead editorial Thursday, headlined, “WikiLeaks does America’s enemies a big favor.”

The editorial begins with a flat-out, 100 percent defense of the CIA, declaring, “The first thing to say about the archive of cyberhacking tools stolen from the CIA and released by WikiLeaks is that they are not instruments of mass surveillance, but means for spying on individual phones, computers and televisions. There is no evidence they have been used against Americans or otherwise improperly …”

The editorial continues, “It follows that the targets of the hacking methods, and the prime beneficiaries of their release, will be Islamic State terrorists, North Korean bombmakers, Iranian, Chinese and Russian spies, and other U.S. adversaries.” The editorial goes on to smear WikiLeaks as a tool of Russia, and denounces “privacy zealots” who “are, in effect, advocating unilateral U.S. disarmament in cyberspace.”

In response to such a brazen defense of the CIA, one is tempted to ask, why doesn’t the Washington Post simply announce that it is a propaganda arm of the U.S. government, tasked with the ideological and political defense of the military-intelligence apparatus? There is not a shred of an independent, critical attitude in this editorial. The newspaper swallows whole the CIA’s assurances that its agents are “legally prohibited” from spying on Americans. And it denounces WikiLeaks for acting as real journalists do, collecting information about government misconduct and making it public.

This from a newspaper that, 46 years ago, in conjunction with the New York Times, published the Pentagon Papers, over the vehement objections of the Nixon White House and the CIA and military leaders of the day, who raised the same cry of “national security.” One can only conclude that if someone brought the equivalent of the Pentagon Papers to the Post (or the Times ) today, the editors would immediately call up the FBI and have the leaker arrested.

The line of the Post has been repeated in innumerable forms in newspapers and on television. Former director of the CIA and the NSA Michael Hayden has been brought forward on nearly every news program to deliver the official government line. None of the major broadcasters adopt a critical line or seek to interview anyone who supports WikiLeaks and its exposure of CIA crimes.

A concrete demonstration of the relationship between the media and the military-intelligence apparatus is provided by a report posted on the web site of the New York Times earlier this week by David Sanger, the newspaper’s principal conduit for information that the CIA and Pentagon wish to make public.

Sanger wrote about how he and another Times reporter, William Broad, prepared last Sunday’s front-page report on US efforts to counter North Korean missile launches, headlined, “Trump Inherits a Secret Cyberwar Against North Korean Missiles,” which suggested that the US military had developed methods for causing North Korean missile launches to fail. The main thrust of this article, splashed across the newspaper’s front page, was that the countermeasures were insufficient, and more drastic actions were required against the supposed threat of a North Korean nuclear strike against US targets.

In a remarkable paragraph, Sanger describes “the sensitive part of these investigations: telling the government what we had, trying to get official comment (there has been none) and assessing whether any of our revelations could affect continuing operations.” He explains, “In the last weeks of the Obama administration, we traveled out to the director of national intelligence’s offices,” where, Sanger says, it was “important to listen to any concerns they might have about the details we are planning to publish so that we can weigh them with our editors.”

In plain English, the New York Times’ front-page “exclusive” was nothing more than a press release from the military-intelligence apparatus, aimed at spreading fear of North Korean nuclear capabilities in the upper-middle-class readership of the Times, and setting the tone for national media coverage of the issue. The political goal was to shape public opinion to support a preemptive US military attack on North Korea, an impoverished country the size of the state of Mississippi.

The main significance of the media response to the WikiLeaks revelations is that it demonstrates the complete erosion of democratic consciousness in all the institutions of the American ruling elite. In any serious accounting of the threats to American democracy, the CIA would be in first place: America’s own Gestapo, what even President Lyndon Johnson described as a “damned Murder Incorporated” for its brutal methods of assassination and provocation across the Caribbean and Latin America.

There is no greater danger to the democratic rights of the American people than the military-intelligence apparatus of the American government itself, the last line of defense for a crisis-stricken and historically doomed ruling elite.

Patrick Martin

 

WSWS

The Deep State and the Dark Arts

There’s a superb scene in the movie Syriana where CIA bureaucrats distance themselves from one of their agents, Bob, played by George Clooney, who has become a troublesome asset for the agency. Terry, the pack leader, begins to extemporize a narrative to his subordinates. With cool detachment, he tells them: “Put some space between us and Bob. Bob has a long history of entrepreneurial operations. We haven’t really had a handle on Bob for years. After 9/11, some people got a lot of leeway, let their emotions get the best of them. These are complex times. There’s already an active investigation into Bob’s activities in…help me out here.”

At this point, the group flesh out the details of how they’re going to burn the agency’s connection to Bob, painting him as an agent gone rogue, slipping the net of agency supervision, defying protocol, and ultimately selling himself to unsavory elements that want a U.S. asset killed. In this way, the leviathan spits out a loyal servant, rendering him obsolete with a fable and a slander, sanctified by the imprimatur of the officialdom.

We should note the importance of the media in all this storyline, albeit fictional. The dark arts of propaganda aren’t overtly mentioned, but they are the pivotal tools that will animate the destruction of Bob’s career. All sound strangely familiar? It should. It’s pretty much the script the intelligence community uses as its modus operandi when it needs to deal with an inconvenient public servant.

Theater of the Absurd

With rumors of detente crackling through the ether, the imperialist machinery of anti-Russian foreign policy has cranked into high gear, leveraging leaks and the press to mute Trump’s overtures of peace. Leaks to the The Washington Post were leveraged in last month’s excommunication of National Security Advisor Michael Flynn. Flynn was rather easily vanquished by a leak from within the American intelligence community outing him as a confabulator and, in pundit spin, a man vulnerable to blackmail by the Kremlin.

After Flynn’s unceremonious ouster, Attorney General Jeff Sessions was the next target, pilloried by Democrats for his contacts with the Russian ambassador Sergey Kislyak, something he declined to mention in his confirmation hearings. A third interaction has now been surmised, with tantalizing rumors Sessions was in the same room as Kislyak during a cocktail party. Did they conspire over canapes? Smuggle thumb drives wrapped in prosciutto? Exchange piquillo peppers stuffed with nuclear codes? The possibilities blossom like a mushroom cloud. Can you feel the frisson of treason?

Of course, the FBI has been investigating more mundane contacts between the Trump team and Moscow, a project that will either result in Trump’s impeachment for some manner of treason or his complete and utter subjection to the foreign policy whims of the foreign policy establishment. A Times article reported that the Obama administration furiously laid the foundation for this investigation by disseminating innuendo that Trump was under Russian influence during the peace laureate’s last days in office. Typically, the unofficial commentariat in the comments thread praised Obama’s patriotism, as though this wanton Wall Street servant was doing anything other than performing last-minute janitorial services for his venal party.

A few weeks ago, a Congressman (Rep. Darrell Issa) obscurely called for the appointment of a special prosecutor. But now Lindsey Graham has embraced the call, suggesting one be named if contact between Trump aides and Moscow were found, regardless of the content of that contact. It reminds one of the proverb that Caesar’s wife must be above even unfounded suspicion, let alone actual wrongdoing. In any event, Graham and his monomaniacal bedmate, John McCain, continue their lurid press junket, now looking to subpoena intelligence agencies for wiretaps of Trump phone calls, though former Director of National Intelligence (DNI) James Clapper refuted the wiretap rumor, as did FBI Director James Comey, albeit by the oblique means of asking the Justice Department to do so. In any event, the banishment of Flynn, the tarring of Sessions, and the net of suspicion cast over the Trump administration are fierce warnings from a rattled foreign policy community, a modern equivalent of the severed heads of Roman soldiers set on pikes as a message from Visigoth hordes.

The enveloping of the president in a cacophony of innuendo is likely a collaborative effort between the Justice Department, the National Intelligence Agency, the CIA, and crucially, the mainstream press. Beyond the corridors of the Capitol Hill, civil-society organizations like the George Soros-funded MoveOn.org and Barack Obama’s robust Organizing for Action (OFA) are turning up the heat on the streets, creating the visible signs of unrest, sometimes violent, that have capsized governments from Venezuela to Ukraine at the behest of Western oligarchs.

In recent weeks, President Donald Trump’s appointment of delusional hawk H.R. McMaster as National Security Advisor, a call for an unnecessary $54 billion dollar expansion of the military budget, his sudden demand for the return of Crimea to Ukraine, his fulminant echoes of Bush administration hysteria over Iran, among other hawkish developments, can be read as an unsettled president’s efforts to appease a foreign policy establishment that is ruthlessly using the media to undermine, and reign in, a wayward steward of empire.

Full-Spectrum Dominance vs. Clear-Headed Detente 

But why is Russia such a perennial target of Washington’s? Why are peaceful overtures toward Moscow so scorned? As the Trump administration found out, de-escalation is a no-no in Washington. Russia, along with China, are the leading targets of American long-term foreign policy. They represent the only two nations that might seriously rival the U.S. in Eurasia, which is considered the fulcrum of the 21st century global economy. Preventing the rise of new rivals is long-standing U.S. policy, most explicitly articulated by Paul Wolfowitz on behalf of the Clinton administration in early 1990s.

None of this should come as a surprise. Consider what was at stake. At the macro level, the entire program for global hegemony is under threat. Outlined over decades by foreign policy luminaries such as George Kennan, Allen Dulles, Wolfowitz, and Zbigniew Brzezinksi, the general plan is for full-spectrum dominance, meaning control of land, sea, air, and space, on a planetary basis, with a special emphasis on “Eurasian landmass,” as the ghoulish McMaster called it in a recent anti-Russian speech.

If history is any guide, it is unacceptable for a U.S. president to thaw relations with Russia unless that thaw consists of Russia capitulating to American demands. Mikhail Gorbachev’s trusting dismantling of the Soviet Union and the Warsaw Pact led to a decade of Western looting of Gorbachev’s country. Vladimir Putin has since restored a measure of Russia’s economic and military strength. Where Gorbachev was exploited, Putin is proving resistant to such entreaties, except on the economic front, where he appears to have bought into some of Western neoliberal policy.

Instead, Putin is posing a threat to the forward progress of Washington’s neoconservative foreign policy. He has actively promoted a variety of pipeline projects that would speed Russian oil and gas to Western Europe, undercutting profits of Western multinationals and addicting NATO nations to the energy teat of the Russian Federation. And he has conducted a few military maneuvers that have enraged the Washington elite, which are used to being conciliated by effete comprador elite in developing nations. This is different. A nuclear nation that can’t be overrun or bombed into submission. And it shows.

After successfully dismembering Yugoslavia, Congo, Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya, Yemen, the West-led spread of chaos across the Middle East stalled in Syria. After happily expanding NATO throughout Eastern Europe with little opposition, expansion hit a wall in Ukraine. In both instances, it is Moscow behind the holding action preventing the American project of global dominion from advancing. That’s why Putin has replaced Hugo Chavez as the West’s most demonized public figure.

Worryingly for covetous D.C. schemers, there’s a lot of new economic activity afoot in Eurasia, little of it involving the U.S. This activity includes plans for a Eurasian Union headed by Russia, a metastasizing Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO), and the rapidly advancing One Belt, One Road vision of the Chinese. The latter would effectively be a New Silk Road stretching from Vladivostok to Lisbon, animating Chinese and Russian economic influence across the Asian and European continents, and lifting countries like Kyrgyzstan, Kazakhstan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, and Uzbekistan. This is Washington’s nightmare scenario, since no serious geo-strategist believes global hegemony is feasible short of dominion in Central Asia. This understanding fuels the underlying animus toward Moscow and Beijing. It has nothing to do with ceaseless repeated lies about Russian aggression in Eastern Europe and Chinese aggression in the South China Sea. And it has nothing to do with lies about Moscow rigging the election for Donald Trump or Michael Flynn lifting sanctions in a nefarious quid pro quo.

The Deep State vs. the Nation State

Long-time Congressional staffer Mike Lofgren refers to the murky agencies at work to ensure this planetary plan stays on track as the “deep state,” in his book of the same name. He writes that it includes key elements of the national security state, which ensure continuity of policy despite the superficial about-faces from one administration to the next. The deep state is effectively a warlike oligarchy, hell-bent on full spectrum dominance, driven by a lust for wealth and power, and anxious to inscribe its name in history. Specifically, Lofgren says, the deep state includes the Department of Defense, the State Department, the National Intelligence Agencies, Wall Street, the defense industry, and the energy consortium, among other major private players. They share common agendas, operate a revolving door of employees, and have a collective distaste for democracy, transparency, and regulation. The deep state is the link between military interventions and trans-pacific trade deals, between sanctions and IMF loans. All of these tools, be they arms or loans or legal structures, serve a single purpose: the overarching control of world resources by a global community of corporate elites. One can also see how these three instruments of policy and power all do tremendous damage to a particular entity, the nation-state. It is the nation-state that is considered by elites to be the sole remaining barricade between populations in nominal democracies and their unfettered exploitation by multinationals, although one might reasonably argue that the state more often abets exploitation rather than deters it.

The Dystopia to Come

So where is this all headed? Aside from the theatrics of the Trump presidency and its sequestration or removal. What would full-spectrum dominance look like? Probably something like a one-world market, populated by enfeebled states, ruled by a worldwide raft of interlocking investor rights agreements that allowed private capital to plunder natural resources free of state restraints, such as labor safeguards, environmental protections, reasonable tax regimes, capital controls or border tariffs. Faceless multinationals would pillage the planet, their anonymous appointees manning the joysticks of power behind the reflective glass of their cloud-draped spindles, unreachable and unelected by the armies of the destitute that prowled the wastelands below. The amalgamated forces of corporate elitism would coolly play labor arbitrage across continents, threaten and destroy defiant economies through currency flight and commodity manipulation, and continue to consume an outsized percentage of the world’s resources. This would fulfill the hegemonic dreams of former State Department Director of Policy Planning Kennan, who once argued that we must dispense with humanitarian concerns and “deal in straight power concepts,” the better to control and consume an outsized portion of the world’s resources, presumably a privilege reserved for elite whites, and a selection of mandarins from other ethnicities with special clearances.

A criminal corporate commonwealth, supported by a fiat dollar as global reserve currency enforced by threat of war and economic collapse, will be deaf to protest from below, its weaponized satellites aimed at populations like sunlit magnifiers at a column of ants. Currency itself would be wholly digitized. This move would be sold as a positive advance as it would provide better tax accountability and therefore fund future programs of social uplift. Rather it will be employed as a means of totalitarian financial control over populations. Their wealth will be institutionalized. The concept of withdrawal will fade along with the fiction of ownership.

Terrorism will become the chosen tool of this elite power (insofar as it isn’t already). Surgical strikes, be they military, economic, or news-driven, will “keep the rabble in line” as all societies become subservient to the portents of war, the fear of inaccessible funds, and the black smears of an amoral media. The ‘deep state’ will become an obsolete term, as the nation-state will recede in memory as a relic of a strife-ridden dark age.

After all, the laissez faire cult of the beltway actually believes the planet would prosper sans nation-states. As another scene from Syriana reminds us, elite capital has a very different worldview from the majority of labor, who continue to believe the state has a role to play defending their interests. At one point in the film, Texas oil man Danny Dalton lectures lawyer Bennett Holiday on the true definition of corruption, “Corruption!? Corruption is government interference in market efficiencies in the form of government regulation. That’s Milton Friedman! He got a goddamn Nobel Prize!” The U.S. already practices free-market militarism, refusing to recognize borders, legal constraints, or geostrategic jurisdiction. Why not free-market finance and trade?

The good news is that, if you can clamber into the top one percent of the U.S. population, for instance, serving as a parasite on the grizzled hide of the corporate beast, you might yet partake of unimaginable luxuries, high in the clouds, sipping Mimosas as you transit between the ring-fenced metropoles of the world, where stateless elites intermingle.

Jason Hirthler is a veteran of the communications industry and author of The Sins of Empire: Unmasking American Imperialism. He lives in New York City and can be reached at jasonhirthler@gmail.com.

http://www.counterpunch.org/2017/03/10/the-deep-state-and-the-dark-arts/