Donald Trump may have violated the Constitution

A Harvard doctoral candidate writes that Trump is misclassifying Steve Bannon, who should have Senate confirmation

Donald Trump may have violated the Constitution, Harvard doctoral candidate says

(Credit: Getty/Mandel Ngan)

It may have been more than merely disturbing that White House chief strategist Steve Bannon overruled a Department of Homeland Security finding about how President Donald Trump’s Muslim travel ban would impact green card holders, or that White House chief of staff Reince Priebus asked the FBI to discredit reports about the Trump campaign’s alleged contacts with Russian officials. If Harvard doctoral candidate in history Nikolas Bowie is to be believed, it may have also been unconstitutional.

There are three types of executive appointments covered by the Constitution’s Appointments Clause, Bowie writes. Principal officers are those who exercise significant authority over departments and agencies and report directly to the president, thereby necessitating Senate confirmation. Inferior officers are appointments who are supervised by the principal officers, with the Senate being allowed to decide whether or not their confirmation should be required. Anyone else is known by the Supreme Court as “employees,” which include everyone from postal workers to “assistants to the president” like chief of staff Reince Priebus and chief strategist Steve Bannon. They do not require Senate approval.

“Over the years, these ‘assistants to the president’ have grown in number and in status to take on some of the most important advisory responsibilities in the White House,” writes Bowie. “But even though these assistants now wield tremendous informal clout, they have always remained ’employees’ for constitutional purposes. And every president since Roosevelt has generally adhered to the Appointments Clause by restraining their employees from exceeding the constitutional limits on their statutory authority.

“Until now.”

Bowie cites several examples of White House “employees” overstepping their authority in unconstitutional ways. This includes the aforementioned examples of Bannon overriding a Homeland Security finding on green-card holders and Priebus trying to instruct the FBI on how to publicly discuss the Russia investigation. Other examples are senior adviser Stephen Miller reportedly telling a U.S. Attorney how to defend Trump’s Muslim travel ban and taking charge of a National Security Council meeting and White House counsel Don McGahn telling the Homeland Security Department how to interpret Trump’s executive orders.

“I think some of the Trump administration’s employees are exceeding the Appointment Clause’s limit on Congress’s grant of authority,” Bowie argues. “The purpose of the clause is to ensure that the people who exercise significant authority on behalf of the president are first vetted in full view of the American public. But President Trump’s employees appear to be exercising the same authority informally and without Senate confirmation. At the very least, their requests straddle the line between informal clout and formal command in a way that suggests the Trump administration lacks due regard for the constitutional and statutory limits on its employees’ official duties.”

Although Bowie acknowledges that “it’s difficult to distinguish between an employee’s take-it-or-leave-it advice, which the Appointments Clause tolerates, and the sort of direction and supervision that the clause prohibits,” he points out that “some of the officers have complied with employees’ directives, as when the Department of Homeland Security stopped letting in green-card holders because of the order by employees Bannon and Miller.”

In light of the various other scandals swirling around the Trump administration, it is unclear whether Bowie’s observation will gain traction.

Matthew Rozsa is a breaking news writer for Salon. He holds an MA in History from Rutgers University-Newark and his work has appeared in Mic, Quartz and MSNBC.

Trump’s voucher plan and the right-wing campaign to destroy public education

Part one

By Esther Galen
21 March 2017

President Trump’s budget proposal released Thursday cuts $9.2 billion from Department of Education funding. But there is one funding boost, the only increase in funding for domestic social programs in the entire Trump budget: a $1.4 billion increase for “school choice” programs. This includes $1 billion for the promotion of school vouchers, where families are given a set amount of money, which they can spend on private, charter, religious or even online schools.

Trump proposed $20 billion for school vouchers during his campaign last fall. He did not present any details except to say the funds would come from existing federal dollars spent on education. During his inaugural address, Trump denounced the public school system, saying it was “an education system, flushed with cash” that “leaves our young and beautiful students deprived of knowledge.”

The president is determined to accelerate the decades-long campaign, pursued by Democratic and Republican administrations alike, to dismantle public education and funnel even more money into the hands of private business interests. In choosing billionaire Betsy DeVos for secretary of education, Trump has selected someone with a clear record of seeking to destroy public education.

The United States government is in the process of turning back the clock for public education. CEOs of the largest corporations, the Democrats and Republicans, and the courts all agree that society does not have an obligation to provide all students with a high-quality education.

The mantra of “school choice” means that the capitalist market should determine how—and whether—students get educated. Parents, as “consumers,” will have a choice as to where they send their children to be educated and evaluate what they bought. If they’re not happy with the school giving the education they purchased, they can look for another one, as though they were buying a pair of shoes. And of course, just as when people shop, those who are wealthier can afford better products, in this case, schools. The working class and poor will not be able to afford quality education.

While private schools choose what students to admit and keep enrolled, public schools are legally bound to serve all children, including special education, English as a Second Language (ESL) and low-income students. The purpose of vouchers is to starve the public schools of desperately needed resources to finance private and parochial schools.

Trump says he plans to take the $20 billion for vouchers from already existing funds. Will the federal government end Pell Grants to low-income students to go to college ($22 billion in 2016)? Will it cut Title I state grants ($14.9 billion) that help improve learning of low-income elementary and secondary students and provide them with school lunches? Will special education state grants ($11.9 billion) be hit, or Head Start ($9.2 billion), which is technically funded by the Department of Health and Human Services and provides preschool and other family health services to low-income families?

There are many other federal grants to states that may be cut, including funds for School Improvement, Striving Readers, Math and Science Partnerships, and Rural Education.

Currently, public school funding comes from the federal government (10 percent), local government (45 percent, mostly through property taxes) and state government (45 percent). Much of federal funding has been for programs to assist low-income or disabled students. When these funds are ended, it will devastate whole working class communities.

As to state funding, the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities notes, “Most states provide less support per student for elementary and secondary schools—in some cases, much less—than before the Great Recession.”

But far from increasing funds to public schools, vouchers will destroy them. States have been implementing voucher programs since the early 1990s, starting with the first Bush administration and continuing with Clinton, Bush and Obama. All these administrations passed legislation on public education used to undermine public schools.

State voucher programs

Today, 27 states and Washington, D.C., have some sort of voucher program, and some have more than one type, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures. The vouchers are also called Education Savings Accounts (ESAs), Tax-Credit Scholarships, Individual Tax Credits and Individual Tax Deductions.

  •  Fourteen states and Washington, D.C., have vouchers that give private schools state funding to pay tuition for students, primarily those who are low-income, have special needs or attend so-called poor-performing schools.
  •  Seventeen states, including Indiana and Florida, have tax credit scholarship programs. A nonprofit scholarship-granting organization is formed to collect donations from individuals and/or corporations, who then get a tax credit; the nonprofit gives private school scholarships to eligible students.
  •  Eight states give tax credits or deductions to parents who send their kids to private schools, according to EdChoice. In Indiana and Louisiana, families can deduct tuition on their taxes, while Illinois and Iowa let parents claim a tax credit for their children’s private school tuition.
  • In five states, including Arizona and Mississippi, education savings accounts let parents choose how to spend the state’s per-pupil allotment for their child’s education—whether it’s putting them in private school or paying for tutoring.

Vouchers in Milwaukee

The Milwaukee Parental Choice Program is America’s longest-running private school voucher program, begun in 1990. About 28,200 Milwaukee students now use vouchers to attend private schools. A big spike in attendance occurred in 1998, when the Wisconsin Supreme Court ruled that families could use their state vouchers at religious schools.

The program has shifted public spending on education in the city. Milwaukee Public Schools will see a $52.1 million loss this school year to pay for its share of the Milwaukee Parental Choice Program. By 2014, it was expected the total amount of public money spent on vouchers in Milwaukee would surpass $1.7 billion.

Public school enrollment has declined and a fifth of the students who remain are classified as having disabilities, from learning to emotional to physical. Forty-one percent of all private schools that participated in the Milwaukee private school voucher program between 1991 and 2015 have closed.

Milwaukee Public Radio aired a series with many interviews on the voucher program’s 25th anniversary. Milwaukee School Board member Larry Miller, who has been involved with the district for the voucher program’s entire history, said, “It’s transformed the landscape in the sense of it becoming a free-market competition. This program, in my opinion, started as a program for low-income students and has turned into a movement now to dismantle public education. … I feel that the results that we’re seeing now are the results of a failed experiment.”

Barbara Miner, who wrote Lessons from the Heartland, about the history of education in Milwaukee, is a leading critic of the voucher program, saying it blurs the separation of church and state and leaves Milwaukee Public Schools facing the highest hurdles. “Private schools operate by completely different rules than public schools,” she told Milwaukee Public Radio. “They do not have to follow the federal special education law. They do not have to provide bilingual education,” Miner said. “They can kick kids out and there’s no constitutional right to free speech or due process.”

Alan Borsuk, a senior fellow at Marquette Law School and long-time education reporter, reviewed several sets of studies. He was asked, what have the scores shown since 2010? He responded, “The notion that the voucher program would lead to a major step forward for all students in the City of Milwaukee, unfortunately, has not been true.”

The New York Times recently reviewed research assessing student progress in voucher programs compared to public schools. In 2015, researchers published their assessment of the Indiana voucher program, which involved tens of thousands of students under Mike Pence, then the state’s governor. “In mathematics,” they found, “voucher students who transfer to private schools experienced significant losses in achievement. They also saw no improvement in reading.”

More negative results

Researchers found similar results when they studied Louisiana’s voucher program and released the results in February 2016. “Students in the program were predominantly black and from low-income families. They came from public schools that had received poor ratings from the state department of education, based on test scores. For private schools receiving more applicants than they could enroll, the law required that they admit students via lottery, which allowed the researchers to compare lottery winners with those who stayed in public school. They found large negative results in both reading and math.”

Martin West, a professor at the Harvard Graduate School of Education, calls the negative effects in Louisiana “as large as any I’ve seen in the literature—not just compared with other voucher studies, but in the history of American education research.”

In June, the Thomas B. Fordham Institute, a conservative think tank, released a third voucher study financed by the pro-voucher Walton Family Foundation. It focused on a large voucher program in Ohio. “Students who use vouchers to attend private schools have fared worse academically compared to their closely matched peers attending public schools,” the researchers wrote.

Part two

By Esther Galen
22 March 2017

Billionaires set the education agenda

Billionaires and their foundations see opportunities to increase their wealth through school privatization. They’ve gotten a lot of experience already with setting up charter schools, many of which accept vouchers. For example, the New Markets Tax Credit that was initiated by President Bill Clinton in the late 1990s combines “the private sector and the federal government—to bring economic and community development to low-income communities” (Treasury Department).

The tax credit gives hedge fund managers and wealthy investors opportunities to make money from charter schools. They get a 39 percent tax credit that more than doubles the returns on these investments in about seven years.

David Brain, head of the real estate investment firm Entertainment Properties Trust, appearing on CNBC in 2012, said charter schools are “probably the most profitable sector in real estate investment. … I think it’s a very stable business, very recession-resistant. It’s a very high-demand product.”

That’s not how school reformers described schools 87 years ago. What we today describe as public schools began in the 1830s as the Common School movement. The reformer Horace Mann proposed a system of free, universal and nonsectarian schools for all children, regardless of religion or social class. Students would gain knowledge, while learning how to be productive democratic citizens.

Today, the ruling class wants to indoctrinate students with free market propaganda. Kevin K. Kumashiro analyzed this agenda in an article for the journal of the American Association of University Professors in May-June 2012, titled, “When Billionaires Become Educational Experts: ‘Venture philanthropists’ push for the privatization of public education.”

His article traces the influence of the business sector in education and how it has changed, noting, “In recent years a handful of millionaires and billionaires have come to exert influence over educational policy and practice like at no other time in American history.”

“Venture philanthropists” seek to develop a layer of students who embrace capitalism and conservative ideologies, produce research that makes conservative ideologies accessible and can take leading positions in government and advocacy organizations.

To do this, they had to destroy public education. As Kumashiro writes, “At the top of the chopping block was public education, considered by some to be a drain on the government and a crutch for society not only because it was the most expensive of domestic enterprises but also because it exemplified what they considered to be a socialist enterprise. Conservatives called for the entire school system to be privatized, made into a free enterprise, and the conservatives’ strategy of choice was school vouchers.”

The right-wing economist and free-market advocate Milton Friedman first proposed school vouchers to “denationalize” education more than half a century ago. He wrote, “Parents would then be free to spend this sum and any additional sum they themselves provided on purchasing educational services from an ‘approved’ institution of their own choice. … The role of government would be limited to insuring that the schools met certain minimum standards, such as the inclusion of a minimum common content in their programs, much as it now inspects restaurants” (Capitalism and Freedom, 1962).

This appreciation of education delivered like fast food is promoted today by the top-giving venture philanthropies, which include the Broad Education Foundation, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, the Walton Family Foundation, the Michael and Susan Dell Foundation, the Donald and Doris Fisher Fund, and the Lynde and Harry Bradley Foundation.

And they don’t just sit on the sidelines. They participate actively in setting up the very structures to destroy public education. They have every level of government—federal, state and local—assisting them.

On January 23, 2017, a bill sponsored by the Republican congressman from Iowa, Steve King, was introduced to the House Committee on Education and the Workforce. While having little chance of passing now, the bill gives an idea of what the most rabid anti-public-school forces would like to see.

A summary the Choices in Education Act of 2017 on Congress.gov states:

“This bill repeals the Elementary and Secondary Education Act of 1965 and limits the authority of the Department of Education (ED) such that ED is authorized only to award block grants to qualified states.”

The bill sets up an education voucher program whereby the federal government funds block grants to states for distribution to parents who elect to enroll their child in any public or private elementary or secondary school in the state or to home-school their child.

The role of the courts

Right-wing demagogues like Trump present the federal courts as a bastion of liberalism and routinely denounce the courts for “legislating from the bench.” In reality, the courts are a bastion of the capitalist state and follow the lead of the ruling class, in education as on every other issue. When public school advocates go to court to try to defend education, they find the courts rule to advance the privatization agenda. While there continue to be numerous lawsuits against voucher programs, the courts have ruled overwhelmingly to support them, as described in the examples below.

Ruling: There is no fundamental right to education guaranteed in the Constitution:

Texas: The Supreme Court made a significant decision related to education in 1972 in San Antonio Independent School District v. Rodriguez. The San Antonio Independent School District in Texas was funded in part by local property taxes, as were many school districts. The District sued the state on behalf of its students, arguing that since property taxes were relatively low in the area, students at the public schools were being underserved compared to wealthier districts.

The district argued that the Equal Protection Clause of the 14th Amendment mandates equal funding among school districts. But the Court ultimately rejected their claim, ruling that there is no fundamental right to education guaranteed in the Constitution, and that the Equal Protection Clause doesn’t require exact “equality or precisely equal advantages” among school districts.

Ruling: Using state funds to pay for religious schools does not violate state or federal constitutions:

Wisconsin: The Wisconsin constitution requires the state to provide uniform and free district schools to all children and states that “no sectarian instruction shall be allowed therein.” In a case challenging Wisconsin’s voucher program, Davis v. Grover, 1992, the Wisconsin Supreme Court stated: “The legislature has fulfilled its constitutional duty to provide for the basic education of our children. Their experimental attempts to improve upon that foundation in no way denies any student the opportunity to receive the basic education in the public school system.”

Ohio: The US Supreme Court in Zelman v. Simmons-Harris, 2002, reviewed Ohio’s program to decide if it violated the First Amendment’s Establishment Clause prohibiting the government from making any law “respecting an establishment of religion.” More than 90 percent of the financial aid was going to parents with students in religious schools. The court’s ruling upheld Ohio’s voucher program in Cleveland.

Supreme Court Chief Justice Rehnquist wrote, “The Ohio program is entirely neutral with respect to religion. It provides benefits directly to a wide spectrum of individuals, defined only by financial need and residence in a particular school district. It permits such individuals to exercise genuine choice among options public and private, secular and religious. The program is therefore a program of true private choice.”

Nevada: Most private schools in Nevada are run by religious institutions and include religious curriculum. Nevada was the first state to pass a law allowing any parent to remove a child from public school and take tax dollars with them to pay for private or parochial school. Nevada’s constitution does not allow public funds of any kind to be used for sectarian purposes.

However, Las Vegas District Court ruled in 2016 that the program did not violate the constitution: “The state has no influence or control over how any parent makes his or her genuine and independent choice” to spend that money, the judge wrote in his ruling. “Parents, and not the state, direct through their own independent decision the funds to religious education schools.”

Education is a social right

President Trump and Education Secretary Betsy DeVos are making sure the elites can accomplish their goals for education. Trump has said that public schools “allow the progressives in the Department of Education to indoctrinate, not educate, our kids. What they are doing does not fit the American model of governance. I am totally against these programs and the Department of Education.” DeVos has said her goal is to displace public schools from the center of communities, so that religious institutions can resume their rightful role.

The teachers’ unions, which were built in the course of major struggles to defend and expand public education, particularly in the 1950s and 1960s, have suffered the fate of all the other so-called labor organizations in America. They have become nothing more than business operations, run by a privileged layer of bureaucratic officials, who rake in huge salaries, administer billion-dollar pension and benefit funds, and willingly support charter schools and other privatization efforts providing the American Federation of Teachers (AFT) and the National Education Association (NEA) and their local affiliates can still collect dues from the underpaid, superexploited teachers whom they hire.

An affordable, high-quality education is a social right of every working-class child and youth, but this right is being destroyed by the operation of the profit system. The struggle to defend education means a struggle against capitalism. Parents, teachers, and students, and every section of the working class must take up the fight to defend the right to an education, against the capitalist class, its political representatives in the Democratic and Republican parties, and their servants in the unions. This means building a political movement of working people based on a socialist perspective.

http://www.wsws.org/en/articles/2017/03/22/vch2-m22.html

Our Two Party System is Dead

The philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche (1844-1900) famously proclaimed the death of God.  Following this far more momentous precedent, it would now be fair to proclaim the death of the debilitating, semi-established duopoly party system that disables progressive politics in the United States.

The analogies are many.

Nietzsche claimed that it would take centuries for the Divine body to decompose.

By this, he did not just mean that it was no longer possible, without self-deception, to believe that there is an omnipotent, omniscient, perfectly good being who created all that is and with whom human beings can have personal relationships.  Materialist philosophers a century earlier could have said that, albeit not in as colorful a way. Nietzsche took it for granted.

His deeper claim was that ways of thinking and being – and forms of civilization — that rested on belief in God were finished as well.

This included quite a lot – not literally everything, but nearly everything of fundamental importance.  In his view, prevailing notions of truth and morality were among the first casualties.

He insisted, however, that it would take a long time for all the consequences to take effect. Therefore, the churches would likely remain full for generations.  The synagogues too, though Nietzsche’s view of synagogues was, to put it mildly, ambivalent; and, though he knew little and cared less about them, the mosques as well.

They might even seem to thrive.  But they would not be what they were because, with the divine corpse decomposing, their foundations were gone.

That, from time to time, there would be periods in which parts of God’s decomposing body would flourish therefore does not embarrass Nietzsche’s claim.  Church, synagogue, and mosque attendance might rise from time to time; and, for any number of reasons, some people some of the time might rally around the old, essentially defunct, religions.  But, at its core, it would all be a sham because, whether “believers” know it or not, superseded ways of thinking and being cannot be replicated except in ironic ways.

The implication was that the sooner people realize this, the sooner they see the world as it is and not as they would like it to be, the better the world will be.

It will be better not because people will be happier or because they will have an easier time navigating their way through life’s tribulations, but because it will be more honest.  Like Aristotle, Nietzsche was what we would today call a “virtue ethicist.” Honesty – and authenticity more generally – was high on his list of virtues.

He was also a critic of democracy and egalitarianism and other emanations of Enlightened thought.

And he was a master ironist.   It was in that capacity that — to use a word that Stephen Bannon and other Trumpists have besmirched — he called for the “deconstruction” of the God idea and all that rests upon it.  This was how he would have humanity realize the goal of Enlightened thinking, as described by Immanuel Kant and philosophers in the classical German tradition: it would free humanity from its “self-imposed nonage.”

***

It is impossible, of course, to say exactly when God died.  That death – so consequential for humanity and so irrelevant to everything beyond human control — was a process, not an event.

The death of the two party system in the United States is a process too.  But the consequences are so much more limited, and the time frame so much shorter, that it could look to future historians very much like an event — if there are future historians, that is; in other words, if, despite Democrats and Republicans and Donald Trump, we somehow survive environmental devastation and avoid nuclear war.

If our luck holds to that extent, the 2016 election season could well come to be seen as the moment when the duopoly died or, rather, when the process that did it in reached a culminating point.

For anyone with an even vaguely Nietzschean sense of the order and value of things, it can only seem grotesque to liken the demise of something as inherently base as America’s party system to the death of an idea as foundational and sublime as the Christian  — and Jewish and Muslim — God.

Nevertheless, the similarities are plain and the comparison is instructive.

Enlightenment thinking began to undo the God idea more than a century before Nietzsche came on the scene; and decades before he declared God dead, there were philosophers in Germany – for example, the Young Hegelians (as a very young man, Karl Marx was one of them) – who thought that the question of God’s existence had been settled and that the pertinent philosophical and political questions had to do with why the belief persisted nevertheless.  To probe those questions, the Young Hegelians sought to uncover the human meaning of ideas of God.

The duopoly system in American politics was also mortally ill before the duopoly died – not for nearly as many years, of course, but nevertheless, for a long time, as political settlements go.

The beginning of the end came in the late seventies, when Jimmy Carter was President, and when the political economic order that had been in place since the end of the Second World War seemed suddenly to have become stuck in a permanent crisis – with economic growth impeded and inflation on the rise.

Creditors found the situation intolerable; they also found themselves more empowered than they had been when the ambient economic scene was more robust.

Under these conditions, they were not shy about throwing their weight around in Washington.   Leading capitalists favored the Republican Party, of course; that was in their DNA.  But they channeled money to Democrats too.  Where there is influence to be purchased, they have always been bipartisan.

Within leading academic and policy circles, neoliberal political economists had been marginalized since the time of the New Deal.  Suddenly, their standing changed one hundred eighty degrees as the ruling class, and therefore the political class, took up the neoliberal cause.

The idea was to disencumber markets, capital markets especially, from regulations enacted to save capitalism from the capitalists, and also to give manufacturers relief from regulations that protect the environment.  Another major objective was to diminish the countervailing power of organized labor and other civil society groups, giving capitalists freer rein.

Under the cover of “supply side” economic theories, they also wanted to reform the tax code – effectively robbing from the poor to give to the rich.

And so, a political regime took shape that aimed to undo the progress of preceding decades.  The neoliberals set out not just to stop progress in its tracks, but also to turn back the clock as best they could.

On the Republican side, this led to purging the party of its liberal wing, attacking unions, resurrecting laissez-faire economic policies, and revving up Richard Nixon’s “Southern strategy” and related efforts to bring “the silent majority” on board.  It led, in a word, to the “Reagan Revolution.”

The Reaganites did all they could to set Wall Street free to make money with other peoples’ money, and they encouraged the exportation of jobs to parts of the world where labor was cheap.  They reset the political agenda.  But, at first, they were not able to implement much of the agenda they established – in large part because Democratic majorities in the House and Senate wouldn’t allow it.

It therefore fell to opportunists in the Democratic Party to consolidate and expand the Reagan Revolution by bringing the opposition along.  This is the principal “legacy” of the Clinton presidency.

Bill Clinton was the best Reaganite President ever, better than Obama, better than both Bushes put together, better than the villainous old Gipper himself.   He did it because he could; not because he believed in “trickle down” economics or other Reaganite nostrums.  He did it to help himself and his paymasters, by working both sides of the street.

It was a slow process but, in time, on the Republican side, the inmates took over the asylum; while, over the course of the eighties and nineties, the Democrats became Republicans in all but name.

However, to this day, the old duopoly structures, like the churches and synagogues and mosques, have remained more or less unchanged.  In recent years, they even seem to have thrived.

Throughout the long nineteenth century – from, roughly, the War of Independence to World War I – the American party system was comparatively fluid; the Republican Party itself was a product of its transformations.

Since World War I, third party activity has played a far less significant role in American politics.  Third party organizing, on both the left and the right, has come to very little; indeed, most efforts have failed outright.   Even parties that have survived for several election cycles – the Greens, for example, or the Libertarians – have never had more than a marginal impact on the larger political scene.

It could have been different last year.  Disappointed Sanders supporters could have either brought the Greens out of the margins or forged a new electoral presence on their own.    It never happened, however; thanks, at least in part, to Sanders’ defection to the Clinton camp.

And so for the time being, same as it ever was, Democrats and Republicans are all we have.  Nevertheless, the two party system is defunct.  The party machines remain, the apparatchiks are still there, and “politics,” for most Americans, is still about electoral contests between Democrats and Republicans.   But like Christianity, on Nietzsche’s telling, it is all built on a foundation of bad faith.

Those who think otherwise are deceiving themselves; trying, in vain, to defy historical currents that are bound to prevail.  This is happening even now, before our eyes. It can sometimes be hard, as it were, to see the forest for the trees, but the evidence is there: each year, the ranks of “independents” grow, and levels of satisfaction with the major parties declines.

Where, not long ago, people identified as Democrats or Republicans, hardly anyone does nowadays; not even people who can be counted on to vote reliably for candidates from one or the other side.

***

As the electoral results from 2016 came in, it looked, for a moment, as if at least the Republicans were riding high.  No one thinks that any longer – not as their decomposition proceeds apace, just as palpably as the Democrats’.

Even on a worst-case scenario, a few more electoral cycles should suffice for both Republicans and Democrats either to dissipate entirely into the ether or else to survive as historical remnants only, hanging on by the skins of their teeth.

Entrenched institutional structures are keeping them both alive for now, but as the parties themselves become increasingly irrelevant, those institutions will be unable to go on playing that role.

Therefore, in not too many more years, the duopoly system will exist in historical memory only – in much the way that, in Nietzsche’s view, the God of Christianity, Judaism and Islam will, in due course, join the gods of Greek and Roman antiquity.

Had events played out in 2016 as most informed people thought they would, we would be at that point already.  Trump had, in effect, run against the Republican Party and defeated it; and Hillary Clinton was set to finish both him and the Republicans off.

Many voters hated her (mostly for the wrong reasons), and hardly anyone genuinely liked her, but at least she wasn’t a raving embarrassment.  More important by far, the political, social, economic and media “power elite” was behind her a thousand percent.

But she was such an awful candidate that she managed to lose to a billionaire buffoon.

Having decided that blaming elderly white working class voters in rural areas was unwise, influential Democrats and their media flacks now blame the Russians – with every breath they take.  Could they be that intent on starting World War III?  Or is it just that were they to face up to their own ineptitude, they fear they would lose their grip on the institutional power they still enjoy thanks to the duopoly’s continuing existence?

Whatever the reason, there is comfort in the realization that they, like the Republicans, are doomed.

Republicans need Trump to get their agendas through; Trump needs them because neither he nor his people are capable of governing.   It is a marriage made in hell.

But, sooner or later, as scandals surrounding Trump mount and as more and more Trump voters realize that they have been conned, Republicans will come to the realization that they are better off without the Donald, after all.

And Trump, desperate to hold onto his credibility by keeping, or appearing to keep, the promises he made while campaigning, will find it expedient that he would be better off without Republican deficit hawks tearing those promises to pieces.

Many, probably most, Trump voters could care less about the Republicans’ several agendas.  They didn’t vote for Trump because they were pro-Republican or even because they liked him.   They voted for Trump because they were fed up with the Democratic Party, and because they were inclined to think that a rich businessman who says whatever is on his mind would be a better “change agent” than a money-grubbing Washington insider who talks in weasel words.

Being in thrall to unjustifiable and patently false, but quintessentially American, beliefs about the essential goodness of rich businessmen, they thought that Trump was beyond feathering his own nest, and that he would know how to shake things up and make change – for the better — happen.

Boy, were they wrong!

As a rule, people resist admitting their mistakes.  But with Trump and his band of dunces calling the shots, it should not take much to convince the voters Trump duped that the man is more like the Wizard of Oz than the Ayn Rand hero they imagined him to be.

The problem, though, is that those voters were right last November about Clinton and the Democrats; and, except for some hand wringing about the need to be less dismissive of the sad sacks Trump duped, nothing much in that department has changed.

What has changed, however, is that, outside the Democratic Party and at its fringes, an anti-Trump resistance movement is taking shape.

As long as Trump and his minions remain preposterous, that movement will not subside the way that, for example, Occupy Wall Street did.  That condition is sure to be fulfilled; Trump and the people around him were born preposterous.  They cannot help themselves.

If the Democratic Party holds fast to its ways, the anti-Trump resistance will sweep them aside – either directly, by leading voters out of the morass that the Democratic Party has become, or, on the Tea Party model, by taking the Party over and transforming it beyond recognition.

Either way, the Democratic Party’s days are numbered.

The Republicans’ days are too.   Indeed, it is a miracle that the GOP has survived for as long as it has under the weight of its cultural contradictions.  And yet, that jumble of yahoo theocrats, rightwing libertarians, conformist suburbanites, High Finance buccaneers and well-heeled members of the Country Club set has so far managed to hang together.  Could that hideous mélange long survive Trump and the Trumpists too?  The chances are slim.

Nietzsche asked: “what are these churches now if they are not the tombs and sepulchers of God?”

We could ask, with similar justification, what are the duopoly’s institutional structures and engrained habits of thought and practice now if not the final resting place of a party system that would long ago have passed away, but for the efforts of Democrats and Republicans to maintain their stranglehold over the body politic?

The duopoly is dead; and the sooner this fact registers, the better off everyone who stands to gain from (small-d) democracy will be.

ANDREW LEVINE is the author most recently of THE AMERICAN IDEOLOGY (Routledge) and POLITICAL KEY WORDS (Blackwell) as well as of many other books and articles in political philosophy. His most recent book is In Bad Faith: What’s Wrong With the Opium of the People. He was a Professor (philosophy) at the University of Wisconsin-Madison and a Research Professor (philosophy) at the University of Maryland-College Park.  He is a contributor to Hopeless: Barack Obama and the Politics of Illusion (AK Press).

http://www.counterpunch.org/2017/03/17/our-two-party-system-is-dead/

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.

https://embed.theguardian.com/embed/video/us-news/video/2017/mar/10/bernie-sanders-on-the-resistance-movement-in-trumps-america-video

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.

http://www.alternet.org/news-amp-politics/bernie-sanders-trump-and-resistance-despair-not-option?akid=15290.265072.MwBSbX&rd=1&src=newsletter1073711&t=6

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/

How the movement brought down a president

Eric Ruder describes how the movement against the U.S. war on Vietnam gained strength, handing the empire its most bitter defeat.

Members of Vietnam Veterans Against the War on the march

Members of Vietnam Veterans Against the War on the march

THE OPENING weeks of Donald Trump’s presidency have been a whirlwind of reactionary executive orders, revelations about contacts between Trump’s campaign and Russian officials, open warfare between the White House and U.S. intelligence services, and Trump’s furious attacks on the media for printing leaks from his administration.

And then there are the protests.

There was the Women’s March on Washington, with sister demonstrations across the country and around the world. In the following days, there were spontaneous eruptions in opposition to Trump’s bigoted executive orders targeting Muslims and the undocumented.

As Trump’s approval ratings sink further, there’s speculation that Trump could be impeached. It’s still far-fetched–but not as far as it used to be, according to British bookies, who doubled the likelihood to nearly 50 percent that Trump would be out of office before his first term was up.

All this begs the question: What would it really take to bring down Donald Trump? To answer it, it’s worth looking back four decades to the last–and only–time a president was forced to resign. What factors compelled Richard Nixon to leave office in disgrace in 1974?

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THE IMMEDIATE crisis that triggered Nixon’s eventual resignation was the attempt by the White House to cover up its role in the burglary of the Watergate office complex in Washington, D.C.,

Five men carrying bugging devices and a large wad of cash were caught in the middle of the night in the Democratic Party’s national headquarters in the Watergate complex. Four of the men had ties to the CIA and had also taken part in the Bay of Pigs invasion of Cuba in 1961.

When the ties between the burglars and Nixon’s Committee to Re-Elect the President (CREEP) became public, the wheels were set in motion toward impeachment.

But the larger context of the Watergate scandal is essential to understanding Nixon’s downfall.

In his book The War Within: America’s Battle Over Vietnam, author Tom Wells cites the recollections of Roger Morris, a National Security Council staffer under Nixon. “Watergate–the whole generic beast–is a product of the administration’s insecurity and paranoia fed by the war in Southeast Asia and by an inability to cope with that dissent, and [by] these perceptions of dissent widening around it in an almost conspiratorial way,” said Morris.

In fact, the scandal was driven by “excessive concern over the political impact of demonstrators,” a desperate bid to stem leaks from the White House (sound familiar?), and “an insatiable appetite for political intelligence,” according to the testimony by John Dean, a Nixon operative, before the Senate committee that investigated Watergate.

The same men who broke into Watergate also broke into the home of Daniel Ellsberg, the Pentagon employee who leaked the Pentagon Papers exposing U.S. war strategy in Vietnam, in an unsuccessful bid to stop further leaks to the press from him.

Thus, a full recounting of Nixon’s downfall must start with the story of how an antiwar movement that had begun as a tiny minority barely a decade earlier grew to involve practically every strata of American society.

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THOUGH THE antiwar movement began in the mid-1960s with handfuls of activists debating what if anything could be done to protest the war, the Black freedom struggle of the previous decade served as a beacon of inspiration.

The civil rights movement had already shown that dedicated masses of people had the power to arouse public outrage and mobilize sufficient pressure to bring change, even in the face of government intransigence.

There were three main elements that ultimately led to the U.S. defeat in Vietnam and Nixon’s unraveling: the Vietnamese resistance to the U.S. military machine, the revolt of U.S. soldiers and sailors within the military machine itself, and the popular mobilizations that spread from campuses into society at large.

In a 1965 speech, Malcolm X captured in his typically blunt style the bravery and resilience of the Vietnamese resistance to the American war drive. “Little rice farmers, peasants, with a rifle–up against all the highly mechanized weapons of warfare–jets, napalm, battleships, everything else, and they can’t put those rice farmers back where they want them,” he said. “Somebody’s waking up.”

As Joel Geier explained in a 2000 article “Vietnam: The Soldiers’ Revolt” in the International Socialist Review, the U.S. military couldn’t devise a strategy to defeat Vietnam’s guerrilla fighters, who carried out hit-and-run on American targets by night and melted back into the countryside and their roles as peasant farmers during the day.

In this form of guerrilla war, there were no fixed targets, no set battlegrounds, and there was no territory to take. With that in mind, the Pentagon designed a counterinsurgency strategy called “search and destroy.” Without fixed battlegrounds, combat success was judged by the number of NLF [National Liberation Front] troops killed–the body count…For each enemy killed, for every body counted, soldiers got three-day passes and officers received medals and promotions. This reduced the war from fighting for “the hearts and minds of the Vietnamese” to no larger purpose than killing.

In January 1968, the NLF and the North Vietnamese Army deployed a combined force of some 70,000 and fought to win the national capital of Saigon, along with the capital cities of 34 provinces. Relying on broad popular support to maintain the element of surprise, the Tet Offensive dealt a major political blow to the American war effort, even if it failed to achieve lasting military results.

The scale of the uprising against the U.S. military and the South Vietnamese government demonstrated before the eyes of the world that all the talk out about collapsing support for the NLF and a war effort on the verge of breakthrough success was simply lies.

Though the U.S. eventually rebuffed the offensive, the military relied on the utmost brutality to do so, using the same scorched-earth tactics in the cities that it had used to crush resistance in the countryside.

According to Nick Turse’s Kill Anything That Moves, the U.S. counteroffensive left more than 125,000 homeless in Saigon and unleashed “an astonishing 600 tons of bombs, plus barrages from artillery and tank cannons” in the southern city Hue, destroying 80 percent of its built structures. More than 14,000 civilians were killed, mainly by U.S. fire, and some 627,000 became homeless.

Though it didn’t become public until a year and a half later, the My Lai Massacre, in which a company of U.S. soldiers massacred hundreds of unarmed villagers, came to stand as the most shocking atrocity in a war full of shocking atrocities. It was carried out six weeks into the U.S. counteroffensive against Tet.

The counteroffensive also produced an especially harrowing turn of phrase that captured the essence of the U.S. war strategy. The commanding officer in charge of recapturing Ben Tre in Kien Hoa province explained the absolute devastation of the town to reporters by saying, “We had to destroy the town to save it.”

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U.S. SOLDIERS also absorbed the meaning of Tet, stepping up their own resistance to the U.S. war drive in response. After all, if the war wasn’t winnable, why should any soldier risk his life to fight it?

If U.S. soldiers had, prior to Tet, turned their officers’ commands to “search and destroy” into missions to “search and avoid,” many turned to outright disobedience after the invasion.

By June 1971, the Armed Forces Journal reported that the ranks were in a state of open revolt:

Our army that now remains in Vietnam is in a state approaching collapse, with individual units avoiding or having refused combat, murdering their officers and noncommissioned officers, drug-ridden, and dispirited where not near-mutinous…[C]onditions [exist] among American forces in Vietnam that have only been exceeded in this century by…the collapse of the Tsarist armies in 1916 and 1917.

Whole units began discussing and debating the war among themselves, and some ended up deciding en masse to refuse to go on patrols. Black soldiers–emboldened by the civil rights movement, yet assigned to the most dangerous tasks by racist commanding officers–were particularly drawn to the growing revolt within the U.S. military.

As disaffection grew, some soldiers targeted gung-ho officers looking to enhance their opportunities by upping their number of kills with aggressive patrols rather than the Vietnamese resistance. By some estimates, 25 percent or more of the officers and noncommissioned officers killed in Vietnam lost their lives to “fragging”–which took its name from the fragmentation grenades rolled under a commanding officer’s bunk.

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THE REVOLT in the ranks of the U.S. military was decisive in U.S. military leaders reaching the conclusion that they couldn’t continue to prosecute the war. But that revolt would have been unthinkable without the massive civilian antiwar movement, which helped to expose the doublespeak of the American government and military.

The movement also built GI coffeehouses and an entire counter-narrative to the lies regularly emanating from the Pentagon to show soldiers who refused to fight that they could find a whole community ready and willing to support them.

The first acts of the antiwar movement had been a series of teach-ins on college campuses in the spring of 1965 that drew thousands of students into discussions about the war just as Democratic President Lyndon Johnson ordered stepped-up bombing of North Vietnam and the first U.S. ground troops landed in South Vietnam.

At the teach-ins, which initially featured debates with Johnson administration officials until the officials stopped showing up because they failed to convince anyone, antiwar faculty and students engaged thousands of students.

The teach-ins focused attention on the many contradictions of the U.S. war effort–killing poor peasants in the name of peace, propping up despised dictators in the name of “spreading democracy,” destroying villages in order to save them.

On October 15, 1969, some 2 million people participated in hundreds of local actions across the U.S. Many large cities had rallies of tens of thousands, while students wore armbands on campuses. A month later on November 15, the largest demonstration in U.S. history up to that point took place in Washington, D.C., drawing between 500,000 and 750,000 people.

The White House carefully managed media perceptions, asserting that Nixon paid no attention to the protests and had spent the afternoon watching college football. But as later investigations by journalists and historians revealed, Nixon was distraught over the size of the mobilizations.

“The demonstrators had been more successful than they realized, pushing Nixon and his National Security Adviser Henry Kissinger away from plans to greatly escalate the war, possibly even to the point of using nuclear weapons, and back toward their ‘Vietnamization’ strategy of propping up the Saigon regime,” author Gerald Nicosia wrote in Home to War: A History of the Vietnam Veterans’ Movement.

The protests grew even more intense in response to the U.S. invasion of Cambodia in early 1970, which sparked a student strike. The police and National Guard were called out to confront student protesters.

On May 4, the National Guard killed four and wounded nine students at Kent State University in Ohio. Ten days later, city and state police killed two students and wounded 12 at Jackson State, a historically Black college in Mississippi.

Rage at the killings of unarmed students further accelerated the outpouring of antiwar protests. All told, some 8 million students took part in strikes that affected 1,350 colleges in May alone. “Faculty and administrators joined students in active dissent, and 536 campuses were shut down completely, 51 for the rest of the academic year,” wrote Wells in The War Within.

Two years later, Nixon would win reelection in the 1972 election, driving the antiwar movement and other activists into a state of near-total despair. Yet the internal strife and generalized sense of crisis surrounding the administration led a paranoid president to embrace a scorched-earth war strategy–in Vietnam, against the press and against his political rivals, both real and perceived.

Combined with the lack of any strategy to avoid military defeat, the U.S. war in Vietnam metastasized a Cold-War era confrontation with a marginal player into a military and political crisis that dealt a defeat to the world’s main superpower–and ultimately brought down the world’s most powerful head of state.

https://socialistworker.org/2017/03/07/how-the-movement-brought-down-a-president

Trump’s “America First” policies and the global eruption of economic nationalism

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By Nick Beams
21 February 2017

While the battle in Washington between the intelligence agencies, the media and the Trump administration over the question of Russia and Trump’s supposed ties to Putin is attracting most of the headlines, a conflict on the economic front is of no less significance.

Earlier this month, in response to Trump’s “America First” agenda and what it called his “divisive delusions on trade,” the Financial Times, the voice of British and to some extent European finance capital, warned that if the Trump administration continued on its present course, it would represent a “clear and present danger to the global trading and monetary system.”

The immediate cause of this unusually strong language was the claim by the Trump administration that the euro was significantly undervalued, operating to the benefit of Germany, which enjoys a trade surplus with the US.

The editorial called for other countries to “stand ready to resist bullying and not to let the US drive wedges between them.”

The Financial Times did not go any further, but the logic of this position is clear. If countries are to stand together to combat what are seen as American attacks, then the next step is the development of trade and economic agreements directed against the US—in short, a major step down the road to the kind of economic and currency blocs that exacerbated the 1930s Depression and played a major role in the drive to a second world war in the space of two decades.

No one has yet put forward the formation of such alliances, but the issue is assuming a larger presence in public pronouncements and no doubt in discussions behind closed doors.

Last month, speaking to the New York Times on the sidelines of the Davos summit of the World Economic Forum, Jeroen Dijsselbloem, the president of the euro group of finance ministers, pointed to possible major shifts in orientation. “We’ve always said that America is our best friend,” he said. “If that’s no longer the case, if that’s what we need to understand from Donald Trump, then, of course, Europe will be looking for new friends.

“China is a very strong candidate for that. The Chinese involvement in Europe in terms of investment is already very high and expanding. If you push away your friends, you mustn’t be surprised if the friends start looking for new friends.”

So far as the Trump administration is concerned, China, and to some extent Germany, is the main economic opponent and threat to the economic pre-eminence of the United States. This orientation is one of the reasons for its conflict with the sections of the military and intelligence establishment that are pressing for a more open confrontation with Russia.

Trump has variously threatened to brand China a currency manipulator and impose tariffs as high as 45 percent on its exports to the US. While he has yet to announce any concrete policies and his positions so far have been set out only in tweets and similar remarks, the underlying position of the administration and the economic processes that are driving it were set out last September in a paper on the Trump economic plan authored by the then-business professor at the University of California-Irvine, Peter Navarro, and equity investor Wilbur Ross.

Since the election Navarro has become the head of Trump’s National Trade Council and Wilbur Ross has become commerce secretary.

The paper began by noting that in the period from 1947 to 2001, US gross domestic product grew at an annual rate of 3.5 percent a year, but from 2002, that average had fallen to 1.9 percent, representing a 45 percent reduction in the US growth rate from its historical pre-2002 norm.

The authors dismissed the claims of the Obama administration that lower growth was a “new normal,” labelling that position “defeatist” and claiming that low growth was the result of higher taxes, increased regulation and the “self-inflicted negative impacts from poorly negotiated trade deals,” including NAFTA and China’s entry into the World Trade Organisation (WTO).

The latter, they wrote, negotiated under Bill Clinton, “opened America’s markets to a flood of illegally subsidized Chinese imports, thereby creating massive and chronic trade deficits.”

China’s accession to the WTO, they argued, “also rapidly accelerated the offshoring of America’s factories and a concomitant decline in US domestic business investment as a percentage of our economy.” They noted that from 1999 to 2003, US investment flows to China were stable at around $1.6 billion per year, but jumped in the period 2004–2008 to an annual average of $6.4 billion a year.

In other words, according to their argument, the flow of investment funds to China, made possible by its accession to the WTO, is one of the chief causes of the long-term slowdown in US economic growth.

The authors also hit out at WTO rules, saying that the exemption of exports to the US from value added taxes (VAT) imposed by European governments and the fact that US exports to Europe are subject to these taxes was a form of discrimination against US firms. These conclusions form the basis for the discussion within the Trump administration on the possible imposition of taxes on imports.

They wrote that unequal treatment of US exports was an example of “VAT gaming,” and that the US should have demanded equal tax treatment for US exports.

“Since the WTO would be meaningless without the presence of the world’s largest importer and third largest exporter, we had the leverage then—and we have the leverage now—to fix this anomaly and loophole,” they asserted, adding the implied threat that “without the US as a member, there would not be much purpose to the WTO.”

The Trump administration’s denunciations of China as a currency manipulator have attracted most of the media attention. But Navarro and Ross were no less strident when it came to the European Monetary Union.

“While the euro freely floats in international currency markets, this system deflates the German currency from where it would be if the German Deutschmark were still in existence,” they wrote. This was the reason, they claimed, that the US had a large trade in goods deficit with Germany, some $75 billion in 2015, even though German wages were relatively high.

The paper gave a clear summing up of where the Trump administration sees the position of the US in regard to the struggle for global markets. Answering critics of the “America First” agenda, they wrote: “Those who suggest that Trump trade policies will ignite a trade war ignore the fact that we are already engaged in a trade war. It is a war in which the American government has surrendered before engaging.”

They held out the prospect that in pursuing a policy of what they termed “more balanced trade,” the US would be able to secure cooperation because US trade partners were more dependent on American markets than America is on their markets.

As with so many of Trump’s policies, the trade war agenda outlined by Navarro and Ross represents not so much a break from the policies of the Obama administration as a continuation of their basic thrust and, at the same time, a qualitative escalation.

The underlying strategy of the Trans-Pacific Partnership and its counterpart for Europe, the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership, promoted by the Obama administration, was that privileged access to the vast American market for those countries that signed up would enable the US to force concessions upon them.

Both proposed trade investment deals specifically scrapped the system that had governed trade relations since World War II under the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade (GATT) and then the WTO, which maintained that concessions offered to one country should be offered to all. This policy was in recognition of the damage done to the world economy and trade system through the formation of exclusivist blocs in the period of the 1930s.

Outlining the rationale for the proposed agreements in 2014, Obama’s trade representative Michael Froman wrote in a major Foreign Affairs article that “trade policy is national security policy,” and that the aim of the agreements was to “place the US at the center of agreements that will provide unfettered access to two-thirds of the global economy.”

He went on to explain that the post-war system was no longer adequate and that the US no longer held “as dominant a position as it did at the end of World War II” and had to build new “trade coalitions working toward consensus positions.” In other words, the development of new mechanisms whereby the US could counter its economic decline vis-à-vis its rivals.

The Trump policy is being driven by this same agenda, albeit in a different form. The underlying driving forces can be clearly seen.

First, there is the contraction in economic growth not only in the US but internationally. It has been estimated that the economic slowdown since the financial crisis of 2008 means that developed economies are one sixth smaller than they would have been had pre-crisis growth trends been maintained.

The contraction is even more pronounced in world trade. Since 2012, world trade has advanced by little more than 3 percent per year, less than half the average expansion of the preceding decades. As the International Monetary Fund has noted, between 1985 and 2007 real world trade grew on average twice as fast as global gross domestic product (GDP), whereas over the past four years it has barely kept pace. “Such prolonged sluggish growth in trade volumes,” it concluded, “relative to economic activity has few precedents during the past five decades.”

Even before the accession of Trump, the WTO noted the rise of protectionist measures. It pointed out that members of the G20 group—all of which pledged to eschew 1930s style measures—had, in the five months leading up to last October, been implementing an average of 17 trade constraints a month, a situation it described as a “real and persistent concern.”

In other words, the accession of Trump and his “America First” agenda of economic nationalism and a war of each against all is not some aberration, but the qualitative development of a trend that has been building up within the world capitalist economy over the past decade, but which is now coming to the surface with explosive force.

WSWS