How not to fight Judge Roy Moore

14 November 2017

Judge Roy Moore, the Republican candidate for US Senate in the December 12 special election in Alabama, is a diehard reactionary and enemy of the working class. He has a long record of ultra-right politics as a law-and-order prosecutor and a judge who claimed that the Bible and not the Constitution was the supreme law of the land. He is a political reactionary who would turn the clock back a century, if not more, in terms of the rights of women, blacks, gays and other minorities.

His campaign for the Republican nomination for US senator from Alabama, to fill the vacancy created by President Trump’s appointment of Jeff Sessions as attorney general, had the backing of openly fascistic elements such as former White House aides Sebastian Gorka and Stephen Bannon, the chief executive of Breitbart News. Opposing Moore in the runoff election is a right-wing Democrat, former US Attorney Doug Jones, who advocates increasing US military spending even beyond the stratospheric levels set by Trump and the congressional Republicans, in part to benefit the array of US military bases across Alabama.

The challenge in fighting against this choice of two reactionaries is to expose the politics of both capitalist parties: the ultra-right populism of Moore, who claims to be fighting for the predominantly rural population of Alabama against the “Eastern establishment,” and the mainstream corporate agenda of Jones, who has overwhelming support in the most affluent areas of Birmingham, Mobile and Montgomery, where he is seen as a more reliable and respectable defender of propertied interests.

Something very different is happening now, however, with the intervention of the corporate media, beginning with a lengthy article in the Washington Postlast Friday depicting Moore as a sexual predator who attacked at least one victim when she was 14 and he was 32 and a county prosecutor. After a weekend media frenzy sparked by the initial report, another accuser has come forward charging that Moore assaulted her decades ago, when she was 16.

The media campaign has touched off a wave of declarations by leading congressional Republicans that Moore should withdraw as the party’s candidate and the election should be postponed so that a new candidate can be substituted. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said Monday that Moore had been disqualified by the charges against him.

The conduct alleged against Moore is repugnant. But there has been no criminal indictment, no trial, no judicial procedure of any kind in which the accounts of his accusers, and Moore’s denials, can be tested in accordance with the rules of evidence. Given the nearly 40 years that have elapsed since the alleged offenses, there never will be such a legal proceeding since the statute of limitations has long since expired.

Even if the allegations against Moore did lead to a trial, one of the requirements of due process is that there remains a presumption of innocence for the defendant until a jury returns a finding of guilty. This is an axiomatic democratic principle that has been completely forgotten in the current atmosphere. In the wake of the torrent of accusations of sexual misconduct against numerous Hollywood figures, charges of sexual abuse and even rape are treated as indisputably true as soon as they become public.

Those on the American “left” who have embraced the anti-Moore charges, and the “me too” sexual abuse campaign more broadly, must confront the serious implications of the abandonment of the principle of “innocent until proven guilty.”

It is not quite 20 years since allegations quite similar to those now rocking Hollywood and the Alabama US Senate race were leveled against a sitting president of the United States. The World Socialist Web Site was implacably opposed to the politics and policies of Bill Clinton, who as US president was the leader of world imperialism, waging a criminal war against Serbia, bombing Iraq, attacking Somalia and Sudan, and threatening war against North Korea and China.

But we opposed the witch hunt organized by the Republican right wing, using the investigation by Independent Counsel Kenneth Starr into Clinton’s sexual relationship with Monica Lewinsky. We denounced the impeachment of Clinton as an attempted political coup, an effort by the Republican right to use issues of personal sexual behavior to overturn the results of two presidential elections. (In the event, the Republicans failed to obtain the necessary votes in the Senate to convict the impeached president, and Clinton remained in office.)

If we were transported back in time 20 years, knowing what we know about the subsequent evolution of the Clintons and the Democratic Party, we would take the same position that we took in 1998. Although it must be said, in the current atmosphere of sexual witch-hunting, Clinton would never have been elected in 1992 (in the face of the Gennifer Flowers scandal), and he would certainly have been impeached in his first term (when the Paula Jones lawsuit was filed), rather than winning reelection.

Those who wish to apply the principle of “guilty as soon as accused” to Judge Roy Moore must consider what precedent is being established for the future. What happens when a nominally left-wing candidate for president, say, Bernie Sanders in 2020, faces similar allegations and salacious reports? It is not difficult to imagine Breitbart, Fox News and the Wall Street Journal leading the charge, producing women to allege misconduct by Sanders in his college days or during his bohemian existence as a carpenter in Vermont before he turned to politics. In the present environment of hysterical piling-on, Sanders could expect mass desertions from his campaign and overnight political collapse.

The presumption of innocence is a democratic principle with far-reaching implications. If Roy Moore were to be removed as the Republican candidate by means of such allegations, after winning a clear victory in the party primary, how would this develop the political consciousness of working people in Alabama, or in the United States as a whole?

Those working people who mistakenly support Moore and the Republican Party, against their real class interests, would see rank hypocrisy, as a candidate was driven out of the race for offenses that were both unproven and not much different from those alleged against several presidents, including Clinton, Trump and even, most recently, the 93-year-old ex-President George H. W. Bush.

The successful use of such charges to achieve a political result would only encourage the proliferation of such mudslinging. American political life is already debased: Donald Trump is, after all, the elected president. To turn elections into a referendum on the alleged sexual practices of the candidates would only debase it further. And what debases political consciousness and drives public debate into the gutter aids only the right wing, which thrives in an atmosphere of ignorance, prejudice and slander.

It is noteworthy in this context that leading Republicans who have condemned Moore have done so on an explicitly antidemocratic basis. The 2012 Republican presidential candidate, Mitt Romney, declared, “Innocent until proven guilty is for criminal convictions, not elections.”

Roy Moore is a despicable right-wing bigot who supports the criminalization of homosexuality and has twice been removed as chief judge of the Alabama Supreme Court for refusing to abide by such constitutional norms as the separation of church and state (as when he refused to move a three-ton monument to the Ten Commandments from the grounds of the state’s highest court), and for instructing probate court judges to continue to enforce a state law banning same-sex marriage that had been overturned by the federal courts.

But the struggle against such a political figure requires the political education and mobilization of the working class, including the impoverished white workers of Alabama to whom Moore addresses his appeals based on religious fundamentalism and social backwardness. A campaign against Moore based on unproven—and admittedly unprovable—allegations of sexual impropriety contributes nothing to—in fact, cuts across—the political education of working people.

Patrick Martin

http://www.wsws.org/en/articles/2017/11/14/pers-n14.html

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Behind the opioid crisis: Republicans and Obama cleared the way for corporate murder

By Patrick Martin
16 October 2017

Leading Republican and Democratic members of Congress and top Obama administration officials collaborated to shut down efforts by the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) to stem the flow of prescription opioids that have killed 200,000 Americans over the past two decades, according to a devastating exposure published Sunday by the Washington Post and broadcast Sunday night on the CBS news magazine “60 Minutes.”

The joint investigation by the Post and “60 Minutes” made use of extensive whistleblower revelations by former officials of the DEA, which has the main responsibility for halting the flow of illegal narcotics, including prescription drugs like oxycodone and hydrocodone diverted into the black market.

Three major companies, all in the top 20 of the Fortune 500 and hugely profitable, dominate the distribution of these opioids: McKesson, Cardinal Health, and AmerisourceBergen, with combined revenues of more than $450 billion. McKesson chairman and CEO John Hammergren has the largest pension fund of any US corporate boss, a $160 million personal nest egg.

These gigantic revenues and huge personal fortunes were accumulated by means of what can only be termed a massive social crime: the flooding of impoverished working-class neighborhoods with high volumes of opioids, narcotics that were being prescribed in vast quantities by doctors and pharmacists and illegal “pain centers” and “pill mills” that were a constant presence in the affected areas.

The consequences have been felt in a historic reversal in the long-term rise of life expectancy in the United States. For middle-aged whites, particularly those living in rural areas, life expectancy is declining and death rates soaring, in large part because of the impact of opioid abuse and addiction.

Appalachia is a center of the opioid crisis. The figures presented in the Post/”60 Minutes” report are staggering—and damning. To Mingo County, West Virginia, an impoverished former mining area on the state border with Kentucky, population 25,000, the mid-sized Ohio-based drug distributor Miami-Luken shipped 11 million doses of oxycodone and hydrocodone in a five-year period: enough to give two pills a week to every man, woman and child in the county.

In the county seat, Williamson, population 2,938, Miami-Luken shipped 258,000 hydrocodone pills in one month to a single pharmacy. The city of Williamson has filed suit against the company and other drug distributors, charging them with deliberately flooding the city with pain pills to supply the black market. A document filed in the suit charges, “Like sharks circling their prey, multi-billion dollar companies descended upon Appalachia for the sole purpose of profiting off of the prescription drug-fueled feeding frenzy.”

Post reporters Scott Higham and Lenny Bernstein and “Sixty Minutes” reporter Bill Whitaker conducted dozens of interviews for their exposé, but the principal whistleblower is Joseph T. Rannazzisi, who headed the DEA’s Office of Diversion Control for a decade until he was forced out in 2015.

The Office of Diversion Control oversees the flow of prescription drugs produced by the major US pharmaceutical companies and shipped to hospitals and pharmacies and other prescribers by distributors, including the big three. By targeting unusually large and unexplained sales—for example, several Walgreen’s pharmacies in Florida sold more than one million opioid pills in a year, compared to a nationwide average of 74,000—the DEA unit could force companies to pay substantial fines.

These big three and smaller distributors paid more than $400 million in fines over the last decade as the result of the DEA, but this is a pittance compared to their gross revenues during that same period, well over $5 trillion. One former DEA official told the Post this sum simply represented “a cost of doing business.”

A more serious problem for the industry was the issuance of “freeze” orders, in which the DEA could use its authority to order a distributor to halt a shipment if there is “imminent danger” to the community. According to Rannazzisi, there was increasing resistance from top-level DEA officials, from 2011 on, to approving such “freeze” orders against opioid distributors. During this period, the drug distributors hired 46 DEA officials either directly or through law firms or lobbying groups representing them.

In 2014, industry lobbyists produced a bill, written by a former DEA lawyer, and introduced by Republican Representative Tom Marino, that substantially raised the threshold of proof for a DEA order to halt a shipment. Instead of “imminent danger,” such an order required proof of “a substantial likelihood of an immediate threat,” a standard so strict that, once adopted, there were no further DEA orders to halt drug distribution.

Marino’s bill was initially blocked by DEA opposition, but it was reintroduced with Democratic cosponsors and passed the House of Representatives by a voice vote, without opposition, in April 2015. In October 2015, Rannazzisi was pushed into retirement at the DEA, after previously being removed as head of the Office of Diversion Control by means of heavy pressure from congressional Republicans on the Obama Justice Department. In March 2016, the Senate passed a modified version of the Marino bill, and the House accepted the changes the following month. The DEA was now handcuffed, and the drug distributors could proceed without any concern about federal oversight.

As Rannazzisi told “60 Minutes”: “The drug industry—the manufacturers, wholesalers, distributors and chain drugstores—have an influence over Congress that has never been seen before. And these people came in with their influence and their money and got a whole statute changed because they didn’t like it.”

The protection of the giant drug distribution companies—amid a nationwide epidemic of drug overdose deaths caused by the products they were distributing—was a bipartisan affair. Congressional Democrats cosponsored the legislation, and a former top Clinton administration official, Jamie Gorelick, was a lead attorney and lobbyist for the distributors. Attorney General Loretta Lynch approved the legislation, and President Obama signed it into law, with the White House issuing a one-page press release to mark the occasion.

None of those involved, including Lynch and Obama, would comment to the Post or “60 Minutes.” According to the Post, “The DEA and Justice Department have denied or delayed more than a dozen requests filed by The Post and ‘60 Minutes’ under the Freedom of Information Act for public records that might shed additional light on the matter,” indicating that the Trump administration is continuing the stonewalling tactics begun under Obama.

When a “60 Minutes” camera crew came to Marino’s office, his aides called Capitol Hill police to have them removed.

Trump has rewarded the darling of the drug distributors, Representative Marino, by nominating him last month to become the next White House “drug czar,” in charge of coordinating federal efforts against the opioid crisis. Representative Marsha Blackburn of Tennessee, the main cosponsor of the bill, is now favored to be the Republican nominee for US Senate in Tennessee in 2018. Both representatives come from districts ravaged by the opioid crisis. According to the Post account, 106 people have died in Lycoming County, Pennsylvania, the largest in Marino’s district, since he first introduced his anti-enforcement legislation.

The following exchange from the “60 Minutes” program sums up the reality of corporate domination of American life, and the catastrophic impact on working people:

BILL WHITAKER: You know the implication of what you’re saying, that these big companies knew that they were pumping drugs into American communities that were killing people.

JOE RANNAZZISI: That’s not an implication, that’s a fact. That’s exactly what they did.

… These weren’t kids slinging crack on the corner. These were professionals who were doing it. They were just drug dealers in lab coats.

http://www.wsws.org/en/articles/2017/10/16/drug-o16.html

Is the 25th Amendment a Solution to Trump Madness?

And maybe Mike Pence’s lifeline for 2020?

Photo Credit: USA Today

The 25th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution provides for the succession of power when the president is “unable to discharge the powers and duties of his office.” It empowers the vice president and a majority of the Cabinet to remove an incapable president, over his objections, with the approval of two-thirds of both houses of Congress.

As alarm about Trump’s mental state ripples from the 30 percent of Americans who think it is “poor” to the 62,000 mental health professionals who have signed a letter of warning to Sen. Bob Corker (R-Tenn.)—who worries about Trump starting World War III—to the White House staffers who think he is “unraveling,” the 25th Amendment is now getting attention previously devoted to the Constitution’s provisions for impeachment.

This talk is no longer confined to the president’s enemies. When adviser Steve Bannon told President Trump that the real danger to his presidency was not impeachment but the 25th Amendment, Trump reportedly said, “What’s that?”

As Trump and the rest of the country come to understand the 25th Amendment, they may come to agree with Bannon that it poses the greatest threat to Trump’s tenure in office.

Choose Your Remedy

The 25th Amendment and impeachment are remedies for different problems. While the impeachment process controls a president who acts irresponsibly by committing “high crimes or misdemeanors,” the 25th Amendment applies to a president who is incapable of acting responsibly.

Ever since Trump’s unhinged speech in Phoenix in August, his erratic behavior has shifted attention from his political actions to the underlying question of his mental competence.

“I really question his ability to be—his fitness to be—in this office,” former director of national intelligence James R. Clapper Jr. said after Trump’s rambling speech to a crowd of supporters who grew bored and puzzled by his ranting.

That view seems to be gaining credence within Trump’s own camp.

In August, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson called a Trump a “moron” after the president demanded a 10-fold increase in the size of the U.S. nuclear arsenal.

Numerous reports from the White House indicate that Chief of Staff John Kelly is tightly controlling access to Trump in order to curb his self-destructive behavior. One former official even speculated to Vanity Fair’s Gabriel Sherman that Kelly and Secretary of Defense James Mattis have discussed what they would do in the event Trump orders a nuclear first strike. “Would they tackle him?”

Even a close Trump friend and ally has said he is “shocked” by Trump’s recent outbursts.

Such worries are elevating the 25th Amendment process from a liberal fever dream to a distant yet real possibility.

If Trump’s extreme behavior grows more extreme, more obvious and more detached from politics, senior officials like Kelly, Tillerson and/or Mattis might feel obliged to invoke the 25th Amendment publicly. Then the Cabinet would have to decide if Trump was capable of holding office. If a majority of the Cabinet and Vice President Mike Pence agreed, and two-thirds of both houses of Congress agreed, then Pence would become acting president.

The 25th Amendment gives Congress a role in the process. Section 4 states that while the Cabinet must issue a written statement, Congress may create a body to issue “a written declaration that the President is unable to discharge the powers and duties of his office,” which would elevate the vice president to acting president, if approved by two-thirds vote in both Houses.

Rep. Jamie Raskin (D-Maryland) has introduced legislation to create a panel on presidential incapacity. So far 28 Democrats have signed the resolution.

While the 25th Amendment solution now seems highly unlikely, it was highly unlikely nine months ago that any Cabinet member would disparage Trump’s intelligence (and not publicly deny that he had done so), or that Bannon, of all people, would see the 25th Amendment as a threat to Trump’s presidency.

A year from now, things could be very different. If Trump has failed to pass tax cuts or tax reform; stumbled into war in North Korea or Iran; and alienated more GOP allies with his “malignant narcissism,” the feeling that he is simply incapable of carrying out the duties of office may well grow and spread within his own administration.

One attraction of the 25th Amendment as a solution to the problem of Trump’s mental instability is that the criteria for removal from office is not the abuse of power but the inability to exercise it. The issue is less political than clinical.

Pence’s Lifeline?

If current trends continue, this might eventually make the 25th Amendment attractive to Trump’s supporters. In the event of obviously deranged presidential behavior, Pence and the Cabinet could invoke the 25th Amendment without accusing Trump of abuse of power or renouncing his political agenda.

Indeed, Pence & Co. could advise Trump to take a medical leave of absence in the best interests of the presidency, his family, and his supporters. Trump could declare victory over the “Swamp” and retire to Mar-a-Lago, giving his political heirs a clearer path to power. The 25th Amendment might turn out to be the vehicle that carries Pence (and Bannon) into the 2020 presidential campaign unburdened by Trump’s madness.

In short, if the problem is that the president is clinically incompetent, the solution is the 25th Amendment. If the problem is that the president is constitutionally dangerous, the solution is impeachment. If the president is both—and there is plenty of evidence that he is—the country will have to choose between the political remedy and the medical remedy.

The 25th Amendment beckons as impeachment-lite, a constitutional method of forcing the president out of power without passing judgment on his politics. It’s that hardy Washington solution: an attractive cop-out. Which is why we will be hearing more about it.

Jefferson Morley is AlterNet’s Washington correspondent. He is the author of the forthcoming biography The Ghost: The Secret Life of CIA Spymaster James Jesus Angleton (St. Martin’s Press, October 2017).

https://www.alternet.org/25th-amendment-impeachment-lite?akid=16220.265072.5otosB&rd=1&src=newsletter1083836&t=6

Trump’s threats against North Korea signify real danger of war

9 October 2017

Donald Trump continued his campaign of incendiary statements over the weekend, threatening to launch a war with North Korea that could unleash a nuclear catastrophe.

On Saturday afternoon, the US president tweeted that past administrations “have been talking to North Korea for 25 years.” This “hasn’t worked,” he wrote, adding: “Sorry, but only one thing will work!” Asked later to elaborate on what he meant, Trump replied, “You’ll figure that out pretty soon.”

These threats came three weeks after Trump’s tirade at the United Nations General Assembly September 19, when he declared that the US was “ready, willing, and able” to “totally destroy” North Korea, a country of 25 million people. Four days later, Trump threatened to assassinate the North Korean leader. If the North Korean foreign minister’s speech at the UN “echoes thoughts of Little Rocket Man [Kim Jong-Un],” Trump wrote, “they won’t be around much longer!”

On Thursday, Trump organized a White House dinner with US military leaders, which had all the hallmarks of a meeting of a war cabinet. During a photo op before the dinner, Trump, surrounded by generals in military uniform, likened the moment to “the calm before the storm.” Asked what storm he was talking about, Trump would only say, “You’ll find out soon.”

To the extent that Trump’s words are interpreted as a genuine expression of the policy and plans of the United States government, the inescapable conclusion is that the world stands on the brink of the most devastating military conflict since the outbreak of World War II. Were language and reality in correct political alignment, the present situation would be described officially as an “Imminent danger of war.”

Republican Senator Bob Corker of Tennessee, embroiled in a political conflict with Trump, warned that the president’s reckless threats were leading the United States “on the path to World War III.” But despite Corker’s statement on Sunday, there is, within the ruling elite and its media, a staggering disconnect between consciousness and reality. The public declarations emanating from the White House are being reported by the media as if they will have no consequences. The thinking seems to be that Trump doesn’t mean what he says. The consequences of a war would prove to be so catastrophic that Trump is simply bluffing.

But what if he isn’t? What if the North Korean government takes the threats of the American president, as it must, seriously? With Trump having publicly declared that he will destroy North Korea and that the doomsday hour is fast approaching, how will the Pyongyang government interpret American military actions near the borders of its country? With only minutes to make a decision, will the regime view the approach of a US bomber toward North Korean airspace as the beginning of a full-scale attack? Will it conclude that it has no choice but to assume the worst and initiate a military strike against South Korea? Will it fire missiles, as it has threatened, in the direction of Japan, Guam, Australia, or even the United States?

From a purely legal standpoint, North Korea can claim, in light of Trump’s threats, that such action on its part would be an act of self-defense, a legitimate response to an imminent military threat.

Aside from the calculations of Pyongyang, one must assume that the regimes in Beijing and Moscow are also looking at the unfolding developments with increasing alarm. While the American media, as is its wont, responds complacently and thoughtlessly to Trump’s threats, the Chinese regime cannot avoid viewing them with deadly seriousness. Trump is, after all, the commander in chief of the American military. He has the power—which Congress has shown no interest in challenging—to order military actions.

A US attack on North Korea would pose an overwhelming threat to China. As in 1950, a war against North Korea would—even if it did not rapidly escalate into a nuclear exchange—lead inexorably to an American incursion across the 38th Parallel. The last time the US military crossed the border into North Korea, the Chinese responded with a massive military counterattack. There is no reason to believe that the present-day regime in Beijing would remain passive in the face of a new US invasion of North Korea. It would view an American invasion as an unacceptable violation of a geopolitical arrangement on the Korean peninsula that has been in existence for nearly 65 years.

Beijing’s reaction would be influenced by the already tense conditions that exist in the Asia-Pacific region. For years, the US has been systematically building up its military forces in the South China Sea under the “Pivot to Asia” initiated by the Obama administration. The purpose has been to militarily encircle China, which dominant sections of the ruling class consider the major competitor to US interests. Over the weekend, China’s main regional competitor, Japan, declared that it fully backed Trump’s threats against North Korea.

Thus, the outbreak of war between North Korea and the United States would inevitably involve China, which, in turn, would draw all of Asia, as well as Australia, into the bloody maelstrom. Nor would it be possible for Europe and Latin America, which have their own interests in Asia, to stand aside.

Little has appeared in the American media about the consequences of war with North Korea. An article in Newsweek in April concluded that a war would leave one million people dead, assuming that it did not involve the use of nuclear weapons or any other outside powers. In a comment in the Los Angeles Timeslast month, retired Air Force Brigadier General Rob Givens calculated that 20,000 South Koreans would die every day in a war on the peninsula, even without the use of nuclear weapons.

If the war were to develop into a nuclear exchange—as the Trump administration has threatened—the consequences would be catastrophic. In addition to the millions or tens of millions killed outright, climate experts warned in August that even a regional nuclear war would cool the planet by up to 10 degrees Celsius, potentially sparking a global nuclear winter that would wipe out agricultural production.

Despite all the evidence that war could break out at any time, the American media persists in its refusal to take the events seriously.

The New York Times epitomized this media effort at chloroforming the population in its October 6 article on Trump’s remarks before the generals, which stated that Trump has a “penchant for provocative statements” and takes “an obvious delight in keeping people guessing.” Writing as if what was involved was merely a matter of White House gossip and intrigue, the Timesstated that the “timing” of the “calm before the storm” statement was “particularly tantalizing.”

“But it is equally plausible,” the article concluded, “that Mr. Trump was merely being theatrical, using the backdrop of military officers to stir up some drama.”

The efforts of the media to downplay the danger are contradicted by signs of serious divisions within the Trump administration. There are rumors that Secretary of State Rex Tillerson will be forced out or could resign, following statements from Trump last month directly undermining Tillerson’s moves to resume negotiations with the North Korean government. Thursday’s meeting of top advisers in the White House, decked out in their uniforms, may have been an effort by Trump to ensure that he has the military on his side in advance of war.

These divisions, however, are tactical in character. In the final analysis, Trump speaks not simply for himself, but for the US ruling class. The dominant factions of the ruling oligarchy are united on the basic strategy of using its military force to maintain its hegemonic position abroad.

Trump uses exceptionally crude and brutal language to justify American foreign policy. But he is not the author of Washington’s hegemonic strategy. The United States has been at war almost continuously for more than 25 years. This weekend marked the sixteenth anniversary of the invasion of Afghanistan. The Pentagon is conducting military actions all over the world, usually without the American people being informed of the deployment of military personnel. The death in combat this past week of four American soldiers in the African country of Niger came as a total surprise to the public.

A war with Korea could break out at any time. This is the reality of the situation. Rather than speculating idly over whether Trump is merely bluffing, the critical task is the building of a powerful movement, based on the working class, against the drive to war. The very fact that the American president smirks and laughs as he threatens millions with annihilation is itself sufficient proof that the US political system is terminally sick and capable of any crime.

Joseph Kishore

A society built on violence

There is an all-too-often-ignored problem with a society that breeds so much violence, and the solution isn’t as simple as restricting guns, writes Elizabeth Schulte.

A candlelight vigil for the victims of the massacre in Las Vegas

A candlelight vigil for the victims of the massacre in Las Vegas

DAYS AFTER the horrific mass shooting in Las Vegas that left 59 dead and more than 500 injured, people everywhere are left with the same shocked question we had from the first hours of the tragedy: What can explain a retired accountant bringing an arsenal of murderous weapons to a 32nd-floor hotel suite and firing them into a packed crowd gathered for a country music concert?

While the horror is fresh whenever a violent event like this happens, the media and political commentary afterward sounds the same old themes: Questions about the motives of the perpetrators, especially the loaded issue of “terrorism” as it is defined, and not defined, in the “war on terror” era; frantic calls for intensified security; debates about how to keep guns out of the hands of people who commit violence.

The deeper questions about the society where these nightmares take place–seemingly worse and more often as the years go by–go unanswered.

Leave it to the Trump administration to respond with a sickening political cynicism that, among other things, highlighted its cozy relationship with the gun lobby.

White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders chastised a reporter who asked about gun control measures by insisting it was a “day of mourning,” and not the time “for that policy discussion to take place.” Sanders then went on to discuss “that policy”: “I think one of the things that we don’t want to do is try to create laws that won’t create–or stop these types of things from happening.”

If the companies that make and sell guns had any fears about whether the Trump administration is still on their side, Sanders settled them–on a “day of mourning.”

– – – – – – – – – – – – – – – –

THE MEDIA reaction to the shooting in Las Vegas was utter confusion at a white 64-year-old man who appeared to have millions of dollars at his disposal carrying out mass murder.

This was especially true for Fox News, since Stephen Paddock didn’t fit their well-worn script for “Islamic terrorists” or even a disaffected white working-class person with “an ax to grind.”

Instead, in the early days of the investigation, Paddock was found to have passed every background check to purchase weapons–and law enforcement seemed to have no clue about a possible motive.

The confusion on the part of the media and politicians reinforces the general sense of fear that many people feel already as incidents of mass shootings, carried out with deadlier weapons, are on the rise.

According to a database created by Mother Jones of mass shootings–defined as indiscriminate rampages in public places resulting in four or more deaths, excluding shootings stemming from more conventional crimes such as armed robbery–the numbers have increased drastically over the last decade.

The database reported some 91 public mass shootings between 1982 and 2012, with nearly two-thirds taking place since 2006. More than half of the cases happened at schools or workplaces–with the majority of those at workplaces. More than three-quarters of the guns used in these shootings were obtained legally.

Rather than ask what social factors might be involved, the mainstream discussion crams the conversation into narrow, pre-defined parameters, most of the time focusing on gun ownership: Should there be restrictions of various kinds or the unfettered right to bear arms as the Founding Fathers allegedly intended?

This only shows how incapable the current political system is of solving real problems.

Once again, the Trump administration takes the prize for hypocrisy and cynicism.

In April, Trump became the first sitting president since Ronald Reagan to address the National Rifle Association, where he told the crowd: “The eight-year assault on your Second Amendment freedoms has come to a crashing end.”

At the same time, Trump can’t stop berating Chicago for gun violence–last year, he proposed sending in the National Guard. So much for the sanctity of “Second Amendment freedoms.”

When politicians, whether Republican or Democrat, talk about African American neighborhoods, the conversation isn’t about freedom, but how to fund more police–which, by the way, means more guns in the neighborhood and more gun violence.

At the same time, they peddle the myth of a Black pathology that needs special treatment and special punishment. For Trump, it’s sending the National Guard to patrol the South Side of Chicago. But before him, it was Hillary Clinton’s “super-predators”–the fable of the young Black teenager who doesn’t value human life, told in order to sell tougher sentencing laws.

Historically, gun laws have been used to target Black communities, not protect them–like many other mechanisms of the state, from sentencing laws and prisons to the occupying armies of poor neighborhoods in U.S. cities, otherwise known as police. These are the institutions that don’t value life.

– – – – – – – – – – – – – – – –

ACCORDING TO a Harvard/Northeastern survey released last year, some 55 million Americans own guns, with nearly half owning just one or two guns. A small fraction of owners, around 3 percent, are “super-owners” like Stephen Paddock, with eight or more weapons.

In many ways, the gun control measures put forward so passionately by Democrats after tragedies like Las Vegas seem like common sense: Why do we guns need silencers or other weapons modifications that make them more deadly?

But even on their face, these measures wouldn’t address the biggest tolls from gun violence. Two-thirds of gun deaths every year are suicides. As former FiveThirtyEight journalist Leah Libresco wrote in a Washington Post op-ed article, “Almost no proposed restriction would make it meaningfully harder for people with guns on hand to use them” in these tragic cases.

And it is much too narrow to view the question in these terms. Even if they could be made effective, gun control measures won’t come close to solving the problem of violence in an unequal society, divided between haves and have-nots, where providing for human need isn’t even on the short list of priorities.

Here are a few statistics to underscore the brutality of life in the U.S. where guns play no part:

— Every day, 10 people die from asthma–3,615 in 2015 alone. Most of these death would have been avoidable with proper treatment.

— Every week, 93 people die on the job in the U.S.–4,836 in 2015.

— One estimate, probably too low, of the number of people killed by police in the U.S. is almost 1,100. Add to this the violence meted out by an ever-expanding prison system, where 2.2 million people are currently behind bars.

This is a small taste of the violence that millions of people in the U.S. face every day–and it is compounded by the violence inflicted on people around the world by the most powerful military machine history has ever known.

To approach the question of gun violence as if it is a special case, disconnected from the other forms of violence in society, is to underestimate the scope of the problem.

– – – – – – – – – – – – – – – –

OVER THE last year, the U.S. has felt like an even more dangerous place–because it is. On the campaign trail, Donald Trump used his message of hate and bigotry to play to a base of right-wing supporters who, on more than one occasion, physically attacked protesters.

Since he has taken office, the Trump administration’s support for anti-women, anti-Muslim, anti-immigrant and anti-worker policies has fueled the far right and helped create a more violent and terrifying atmosphere, producing both an increase in hate crimes and an intensified attack on anyone who dissents.

After the far right’s carnival of hate in Charlottesville, Virginia, culminating in the murder of an anti-racist protester, there can be no mistaking the fact that Trump’s hateful rhetoric has opened a Pandora’s box of hateful action.

Add to this Trump’s drumbeat of war threats from North Korea to Venezuela, and all of this contributes to an even more violent and even more dangerous society.

There is something wrong with a society that has such a proliferation of guns and gun violence. But these are symptoms of a deeper disease: ultimately, the fact that the state and the system cannot maintain the status quo–abroad and at home, with all its obvious inequalities–without overwhelming levels of violence.

There are measures that could alleviate the everyday suffering of everyday people–above all, money for quality schools, food and housing instead of police, prisons and deportations–and have a huge effect on decreasing crime and interpersonal violence in society.

But the U.S. government and the capitalist system it serves would prefer this unequal situation to flourish, no matter how much violence it breeds, rather than change it.

https://socialistworker.org/2017/10/05/a-society-built-on-violence

The social pathology of the Las Vegas Massacre

3 October 2017

In yet another eruption of savage impersonal violence, at least 59 people were killed and 527 people wounded as an outdoor music festival on the Las Vegas Strip, attended by more than 20,000, was suddenly converted into a war zone.

The alleged gunman, Stephen Paddock, used multiple semi-automatic weapons that had been converted to fully automatic use, through an attachment known as a bump-stock device—available for a mere $40 per weapon—as he opened fire on the helpless crowd from his vantage point on the 32nd floor of the Mandalay Bay hotel and casino. He took his own life after the rampage.

Paddock could lay down a field of fire on a military scale, nearly 100 rounds per minute. He was found in possession of about 20 weapons, many of them high-powered semi-automatics, along with additional ammunition. The first minutes of gunfire triggered a smoke alarm that allowed police to locate Paddock far more quickly than through a search of the huge 3,300-room hotel, a fact that suggests that the toll of death and injury could have been much higher.

The gunman’s motives are unknown, and his identity sheds little light on what drove him on this murderous course. Paddock was 64 years old, shared a comfortable home with his female companion, and was, according to some reports, financially well-off. One of his brothers described Paddock as a real estate multi-millionaire. He had a pilot’s license and owned two small planes. He had no known associations with any political or religious group.

There is a family history of mental illness—Paddock’s father, Richard Hoskins Paddock, was a bank robber and diagnosed as a psychopath. He was on the FBI’s 10 Most Wanted List for nearly a decade. But Stephen Paddock had no contact with his father after he was seven years old, and there are no reports that he exhibited mental illness or received any treatment for it.

As in virtually all such shootings, the gunman knew none of the wounded and killed. They did not exist for him as individuals. Paddock saw the concert-goers packed below him in a parking lot not as fellow human beings, but as objects to be destroyed. The victims were the random targets of the uncontrolled and impersonal hatred of a gunman indifferent to their fate and the lifelong suffering that awaits their surviving family and friends.

Clearly, this was not the act of a normal person. Some form of mental illness, even if not previously diagnosed, must be involved in Paddock’s crime. But there is certainly a socially induced element in this terrible event. The frequency of these occurrences cannot be explained in purely individual and personal terms. The Las Vegas massacre is a peculiarly American crime, arising out of the social pathology of a deeply troubled society.

What is the social context of this latest episode of domestic mass killing? The United States has been at war more or less continuously for the past 27 years. The US government has treated tens of millions of people in the Middle East, Afghanistan, and Africa as targets for extermination through bombs, bullets, and drone-fired missiles. These wars have penetrated deeply into American culture, celebrated endlessly in film, television, music and even sport.

Social relations within the United States, characterized by the growth of economic inequality on a scale that exceeds any previous era in American history, fuel a culture of indifference, and even outright contempt for human life.

One telling detail: on the day that the media was filled with reports about the worst mass shooting in American history, the stock market continued its relentless march upwards, with new records for the Dow-Jones Industrial Average and other indexes. Wall Street is celebrating in anticipation of the Trump administration pushing through the biggest tax cut for corporate America and the super-rich in history.

The damage inflicted on American society by constant war and deepening social inequality has found expression in an endless series of events like the mass shooting in Las Vegas. With only 5 percent of the world’s population, the US accounts for 30 percent of the mass shootings. And the scale of such horrors is increasing: the four worst mass shootings, in terms of casualty toll, and six of the seven worst, have taken place since 2007.

Corporate media pundits and government officials are incapable of more than perfunctory expressions of shock and dismay over such atrocities, which recur with appalling frequency in the United States. Even uttering such rote statements seems to be too much to ask of President Trump, whose remarks Monday morning were both banal and palpably insincere. How can anyone take seriously a foul-mouthed misogynist and pathological liar as he begins a sentence with the words, “Scripture teaches us”?

As for his moronic statement that the killings in Las Vegas were “pure evil,” such a characterization explains nothing. It doesn’t even explain Trump himself, who gave a speech two weeks ago at the United Nations where he threatened to use nuclear weapons to incinerate the 27 million inhabitants of North Korea. Yet CNN, ever the sycophant, described his televised remarks on Las Vegas as “pitch perfect.”

Trump is to visit Las Vegas Wednesday, one day after an equally stage-managed and bogus display of compassion set for Puerto Rico. There he will view the devastation inflicted by Hurricane Maria, while pursuing his Twitter feud with local government officials who have dared to criticize the poorly executed federal response to the catastrophe.

During the 16 years since the 9/11 attacks, during which the US government has been supposedly engaged in a “war on terror,” an average of one American per year has been killed by a foreign terrorist. During the same period, at least 10,000 Americans have been killed every year by other Americans. Mass shootings like Virginia Tech, Newtown, Orlando and now Las Vegas have killed six times as many Americans as all the terrorist attacks in that period.

Further investigation into the circumstances of the Las Vegas tragedy is vital. But one conclusion can surely be drawn: what happened late Sunday night outside the Mandalay Bay hotel was a manifestation of a deep sickness in American society.

Patrick Martin

http://www.wsws.org/en/articles/2017/10/03/pers-o03.html

Trump to Puerto Rico: Your lives don’t matter

 (AP Photo/Evan Vucci)

30 September 2017

Almost two weeks after Hurricane Maria hit Puerto Rico, all basic forms of social infrastructure in the US territory have completely collapsed.

Addressing the press yesterday, San Juan Mayor Carmen Yulín Cruz said that she watched in horror as Department of Homeland Security (DHS) Acting Secretary Elaine Duke called the government’s response to the hurricane a “good news story.” Duke added that she was “very satisfied” with the government response and praised the “limited number of deaths.”

To the contrary, Cruz warned, “something close to a genocide” is unfolding in Puerto Rico due to the government’s failed response. She “begged” Trump to fix the botched relief effort, adding, “We are dying here.”

That such a state of affairs could exist in a territory of the world’s wealthiest country is another unanswerable indictment of American capitalism, which has proven itself again and again incapable of addressing the most basic social needs of the population.

The financial aristocracy has responded with total indifference to the immediate needs of millions of desperate, impoverished people fighting for their lives on the island territory. Its primary concern is not saving lives in Puerto Rico but passing tax cuts in Washington. To the extent that Puerto Rico registers on its political radar, it is for the purpose of using the disaster to secure debt payments for the island’s Wall Street creditors and advance its austerity regime both in Puerto Rico and on the US mainland.

President Trump called the response “amazing” on Thursday and added on Friday, “It’s been incredible the results we’ve had with respect to loss of life. People can’t believe how successful that has been, relatively speaking.”

The contrast between these callous statements and the terrible reality exposes the oligarchic character of American social life. Aloof from and unconcerned with the needs of the masses of people, the ruling elite evinces a total disdain for human life.

Details of the disaster zone are beginning to emerge more clearly. One hundred percent of the power grid is inoperable and will not be fixed for six months. Ninety percent of homes are damaged. Forty-four percent of the population of 3.5 million is without drinking water.

Most of the island has no cell phone reception. Hospitals are running out of medications, diesel for generators and clean water. Food reserves are running low. Pumps for toilets and bathing have failed. Eighty percent of crops were destroyed.

The sewage system is broken and floodwaters have spread human and chemical waste across the island. Instances of waterborne diseases are growing and the mosquito population is exploding. Officials and relatives have not been able to make contact with many impoverished villages inland. ATMs and credit cards do not work, making it practically impossible to buy food without cash.

The relief effort has been a grotesque display of indifference and incompetence. A government capable of moving trillions of dollars worth of manpower and equipment across the world to wage war has proven unwilling and unable to mobilize emergency aid to an island less than three hours from New York City by plane. The American ruling class is far better at killing than at saving lives.

The government blocked the delivery of tons of foreign shipments of food and medical aid on the basis of the Jones Act, which restricts foreign ships from transporting goods between US ports. Only on Thursday—a week and a half after the storm hit—did the Trump administration waive the Jones Act restrictions for Puerto Rico, and even then only for a brief ten-day window.

Up to 10,000 shipping crates full of food, fuel, water and medical aid have sat for days in Puerto Rico’s ports. The Department of Homeland Security, the agency responsible for dispersing the goods through the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), had no plan to disburse these items.

Many roads, long neglected by cuts to infrastructure spending on the island, are impassible. The wind wiped out aboveground phone lines and cell towers and destroyed Puerto Rico’s power plants, which are a median 44 years old. Trucks cannot deliver fuel to power generators because they do not have enough fuel to make the drive.

Local officials in rural towns complain that the government is not delivering necessary relief even where the roads are intact. Roberto Ramirez Kurtz, Mayor of Cabo Rojo, told National Public Radio, “The Roads are open. I’ve been able to come here. So why haven’t we used this to [transport goods]?”

As a result, the death toll continues to rise. Though the official total is between 15 and 19, the Center for Investigative Journalism (CPI) wrote that this drastically underreports the number of fatalities. It puts the figure in the hundreds or higher. Sources told the CPI that “bodies are piling up” at morgues and hospitals across the island.

Again and again, storms and natural disasters lay bare the irreconcilable antagonism between the social needs of the population and the money-grubbing parasitism of the rich. While trillions are made available for war, surveillance, police militarization and corporate giveaways, the ruling class claims there is “no money” to protect the poor and working class from being killed en masse by wind and rain.

Never letting an opportunity go to waste, Trump shrugged off the growing death toll and threatened to withhold emergency funding as a bargaining chip to demand that Puerto Rico pay a higher proportion of its debts to Wall Street creditors in ongoing bankruptcy proceedings.

In a speech Friday before a room of corporate CEOs salivating over his proposed tax cuts, Trump said: “Ultimately, the Puerto Rican government will have to work with us to determine how this massive rebuilding effort [that] will end up being one of the biggest ever will be funded and organized. And what we will do with the tremendous amount of existing debt already on the island.”

Trump expresses in a more explicitly thuggish form what the financial aristocracy is thinking. While the Democrats raise token opposition to Trump’s handling of relief efforts on the grounds that the administration is moving “too slowly,” it is not just one presidential administration that is to blame, but the entire for-profit capitalist system.

Though the military is ostensibly being mobilized to help with the relief effort, the real purpose is to intimidate or crush social opposition fueled both by the storm and the austerity plan imposed by Wall Street in the island’s bankruptcy proceeding. This has been the US military’s basic role for 119 years as an occupation force on the Island.

The destruction of Puerto Rico raises the need for the immediate expenditure of billions of dollars to save the lives of those at risk of death and disease, and hundreds of billions more to provide resources such as food, water, fuel and medical supplies and rebuild and modernize the social infrastructure. All those who have lost their homes or jobs must be fully compensated and made whole.

This cannot be accomplished under capitalism. It requires confiscating the wealth of the financial aristocracy, nationalizing the banks and corporations to place them under public ownership and democratic control, and reorganizing the US and world economy not for profit, but to meet the needs of the human race.

Eric London

WSWS