Are American Voters Actually Just Stupid?

NEWS & POLITICS

 A New Poll Suggests the Answer May Be Yes

ABC News poll suggests that if we ran the election all over again, Trump would still win—by more. What gives?

Photo Credit: George Sheldon / Shutterstock.com

Are tens of millions of Americans really this stupid? If the findings from a new poll are any indication, then the answer is yes:

There’s no honeymoon for Donald Trump in a new ABC News/Washington Post poll but also no regrets: He approaches his 100th day in office with the lowest approval rating at this point of any other president in polls since 1945 — yet 96 percent of those who supported him in November say they’d do so again today …

Among those who report having voted for [Trump] in November, 96 percent today say it was the right thing to do; a mere 2 percent regret it. And if a rerun of the election were held today, the poll indicates even the possibility of a Trump victory in the popular vote among 2016 voters.

This is despite all the lies Donald Trump has told and all the campaign promises he has betrayed: He has not “drained the swamp” of lobbyists and corporate fat cats, has not built his “huge” and “amazing” wall along the Mexican-American border, has not returned jobs to the United States and has not repealed the Affordable Care Act. Indeed, as of day 100 of his presidency Trump has fulfilled few of his main campaign promises.

Moreover, that 96 percent of Trump’s voters would make the same decision again despite overwhelming evidence that Russian President Vladimir Putin interfered in the 2016 presidential election with the goal of installing Trump as a puppet candidate raises many troubling questions about how tens of millions of American voters were “flipped” by a foreign power to act against their own country.

It is easy to mock Donald Trump’s voters and suggest that their loyalty reflects poorly on their intelligence and capacity for rational thinking. Before doing so, one should consider the following data about Hillary Clinton’s voters:

Among surveyed Americans who say they voted in the 2016 election, 46 percent say they voted for Hillary Clinton and 43 percent for Trump — very close to the 2-point margin in the popular vote. However, while Trump would retain almost all of his support if the election were held again today (96 percent), fewer of Clinton’s supporters say they’d stick with her (85 percent), producing a 40-43 percent Clinton-Trump result in a hypothetical redo among self-reported 2016 voters.

That’s not because former Clinton supporters would now back Trump; only 2 percent of them say they’d do so, similar to the 1 percent of Trump voters who say they’d switch to Clinton. Instead, they’re more apt to say they’d vote for a third-party candidate or wouldn’t vote.

Donald Trump is the antithesis of what Hillary Clinton’s voters desired in a candidate. And in many ways Donald Trump’s incompetent, ignorant, reckless, racist, demagogic and cruel behavior in office is worse than even his most concerned and cynical critics predicted. This outcome should motivate Clinton’s voters to be more engaged and more active, instead of as making a hypothetical decision, in a hypothetical election, that might actually give Trump a victory in the popular vote.

The findings from this new poll are troubling. But they should not come as a surprise.

Political scientists and other researchers have repeatedly documented that the American public does not have a sophisticated knowledge of political matters. The average American also does not use a coherent and consistent political ideology to make voting decisions. As Larry Bartels and Christopher Achen demonstrate in their new book “Democracy for Realists: Why Elections Do Not Produce Responsive Government,” Americans have identities and values that elites manipulate, which voters in turn use to process information — however incorrectly.

While some groups of voters may apply decision-rules based on either single issues or concerns about their community and its progress (African-Americans fit this model, for instance), American voters en masse are not rational actors who seriously consider the available information, develop knowledge and expertise about their own specific political concerns, and then make political choices that would maximize those goals.

These matters are further complicated when considering right-wing voters. While Trump may have failed in most of his policy goals, he has succeeded symbolically in terms of his racist and nativist crusade against people of color and Muslims. Given the centrality of racism and white supremacy in today’s Republican Party specifically, and movement conservatism more generally, Trump’s hostility to people of color can be counted as a type of “success” by his racially resentful white voters.

American conservatives and right-leaning independents are also ensconced in an alternative news media universe that rejects empirical reality. A combination of disinformation and outright lies from the right-wing media, in combination with “fake news” circulated online by Russian operatives and others, has conditioned Trump voters and other Republicans to make decisions with no basis in fact. American conservatives do however possess a surplus of incorrect information. In that context, their political decisions may actually make sense to them: This is a version of “garbage in, garbage out.”

Republican voters also tend to be have more authoritarian views than the general public. As a type of motivated social cognition, conservatism is typified by deference to authority, group-think, conformity, social dominance behavior, and hostility to new experiences and new information. These attributes combine to make Trump voters less likely to regret supporting him and in some cases — because of a phenomenon known as “information backfire” — to become more recalcitrant when shown that Trump’s policies have failed in practice.

This ABC News/Washington Post poll also signals a deeper problem. In different ways, both Trump and Clinton voters appear unable to connect their personal political decisions to questions of institutional power and political outcomes. This is a crisis of civic literacy that threatens the foundations of American democracy.

For example, many of Trump’s voters know that his policies will hurt people like them. Yet they still support Trump anyway. The Clinton supporters who reported that they either would not participate or would choose a third candidate if they were able to vote again are making a decision that would make matters worse, by effectively guaranteeing that Trump — the candidate they claim to reject — would be elected.

This is but one more reminder that Donald Trump’s victory was not a sudden crisis or unexpected surprise. The neofascist movement that Trump represents was an iceberg of sorts — one that was a long time in the making. If this new poll is correct, many millions of Americans would make choices that would steer the ship of state into that same iceberg all over again. Such an outcome is ominous. The thought process that would rationalize such a decision is deranged.

Yale historian Timothy Snyder has argued that a democracy has approximately one year to reverse course if it has succumbed to fascism and authoritarianism. America’s civic literacy crisis may mean that the country has even less time than Snyder’s prediction suggests.

Chauncey DeVega is a politics staff writer for Salon. His essays can also be found at Chaunceydevega.com. He also hosts a weekly podcast, The Chauncey DeVega Show. Chauncey can be followed on Twitter and Facebook.

http://www.alternet.org/news-amp-politics/poll-suggests-american-voters-are-stupid?akid=15477.265072.Yuqo-Z&rd=1&src=newsletter1076084&t=8

Separating fact from fake news

Danny Katch, author of Socialism…Seriously: A Brief Guide to Human Liberation, considers how the left can analyze the world in the Trumpian era of “alternative facts.”

White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer

White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer

ALL GOVERNMENTS lie, as the independent journalist I.F. Stone once said. But not all governments lie as proudly as those led by Donald Trump.

This guy started his presidency issuing an easily disprovable falsehood about the size of the crowd at his inauguration, a typically Trumpish blend of silly and creepy, like a dictator declaring that from this day forward the sky is officially orange (or climate change is a hoax). He lies so often that a whole category of his lies are denials of previous lies.

Corporate-owned media outlets generally obey the unwritten rule that the spokespeople for government sources should be treated as credible–regardless of how many times they’ve been caught lying–but the new president’s obvious disdain for the truth pushed many of them to adopt a more Stone-like stance of skepticism.

But Trump only needed to lob some missiles and bombs in enemy lands to restore the press back to its natural state of blind trust in authority. The Pentagon announced that it dropped the “Mother of All Bombs” in eastern Afghanistan, and there was little mainstream questioning of the government’s claim that this monstrosity with a mile-wide blast radius managed to only kill bad guys.

Clearly the left has to take a different approach, and treat the word of the U.S. government as we would that of any individual with a similarly long history of murder and mendacity.

But if we don’t trust the government–and, by extension, many of the mainstream news reports that simply repeat government talking points–then how do we get our information?

The left doesn’t have the resources to replicate all of the bureaus and investigative reporting of media corporations. Progressive media like Democracy Now! and Truthout (or even your humble correspondents at SocialistWorker.org) can sometimes deliver important scoops, but radicals have no choice but to rely on larger outlets for much of our information.

The defining difference between the left and the corporate media is not that we have different facts–because we often don’t–but that we have different frameworks for interpreting and drawing conclusions from those facts. That’s important to keep in mind at a time when “alternative facts” are becoming a growing problem on the left as well as the right.

– – – – – – – – – – – – – – – –

OUR STARTING point at SocialistWorker.org is that, as mentioned, we don’t trust “our” government.

But we should be consistent like I.F. Stone and be suspicious of all governments–especially those like the regime of Bashar al-Assad in Syria, which has tortured and murdered hundreds of thousands of people and lied about its crimes with a boldness that would make Sean Spicer bow down in admiration.

This is unfortunately not a universal method across the left. Like the closed circuit of right-wing websites passing the same fabrications back and forth about disease-spreading immigrants and “black-on-black crime,” there are a growing number of websites recycling dubious speculations about “false flag” operations in Syria designed to discredit the Assad government.

These conspiracy theories not only suck a few people down the “truther” rabbit hole, but they also create a deliberately muddled atmosphere on the left that can make new activists think they need to read detailed studies of the property of sarin gas just to have an opinion on something that couldn’t be more clear: the Assad government is monstrous.

SocialistWorker.org has drawn that conclusion not because the U.S. government says so, but because millions of Syrians have said so–including those who have been killed, jailed and exiled in the process.

That gets to the next element of our framework for evaluating facts and understanding the world. We may not trust governments, but we listen closely to ordinary people, particularly when they are organized in large-scale protest movements.

Protesters can lie, of course, and protest movements are subject to manipulation, whether by foreign agents or homegrown opportunists. But our starting assumption when hundreds of thousands or millions of people take to the streets is that they are not mere puppets of a foreign power.

– – – – – – – – – – – – – – – –

HERE’S THE thing about government lies: They’re usually not very effective–and in reality, they don’t need to be.

When the cops kill another unarmed African American and claim he was charging at all five of them with a pair of scissors, they don’t get away with it because we all believe them–certainly not those of us who live in the neighborhood. They get away with it because cops are allowed to murder unarmed Black people. The lie is just a formality.

Or take the lies that the Bush administration told about Iraq having “weapons of mass destruction,” which some now cite as “precedent” for the U.S. lying about Assad using chemical weapons.

There are two false assumptions that have developed in recent years about the big WMD lie.

The first is that most people were tricked by the lie into supporting the war. In fact, the U.S. population was pretty much split down the middle, and the protests against the Iraq invasion before it happened were some of the largest in U.S. history. Like killer cops, the Bush administration went to war with Iraq not because they were able to fool us, but because they had the power to disregard popular will.

The second myth is that the WMD lie was essential for the war. In fact, it wasn’t necessarily the belief in WMDs that led people to support the invasion, but the other way around. Just as people who want to drill for more oil find a way to not believe in climate change, people who wanted the invasion to happen convinced themselves that Saddam Hussein had his finger on the button of an arsenal of WMDs.

As for our side, while we certainly didn’t believe the Bush’s lies–especially when they were contradicted by the person charged with inspecting Iraq for WMDs–many of us wouldn’t have been surprised to learn that Iraq did indeed hide chemical or biological weapons. After all, the U.S. had considered Saddam Hussein an ally until he became an enemy.

Our opposition to the war wasn’t based on believing that Iraq didn’t have WMDs, but on the anti-imperialist understanding that the United States isn’t a force that would protect the world from those weapons.

Similarly today, opposing the U.S. waging war on the Syrian government doesn’t require us to believe the Assad regime didn’t carry out the recent poison gas attack (which it almost certainly did)–any more than protesting the Ferguson police murder of Mike Brown required us to know that Brown hadn’t first robbed cigarillos from a convenience store (which he almost certainly didn’t.)

– – – – – – – – – – – – – – – –

THE LEFT that needs to grow into a force that can challenge Donald Trump has to be one that doesn’t create its own alternative facts to fit into our alternative politics. On the contrary, we have to do our best to gather and interpret new information from all available sources in order to keep up our understanding of a constantly changing world.

This dynamism is another element of our political framework, and it’s admittedly more complicated than simply trusting what the leaders of protest movements say more than governments. Assessing the changes in inter-imperial rivalries and the competing political tendencies inside opposition movements is not an exact science, and it requires a willingness to debate and change one’s mind.

But there’s a basic outline for understanding the U.S. role in the Middle East that’s clear. For years after the 9/11 attacks, the U.S. goal was regime change to install puppet governments across the region. Those plans were laid to waste, first by the failed occupations in Iraq and Afghanistan and then by the 2011 Arab Spring rebellions, which turned “regime change” into a revolutionary demand that the U.S. government instinctively opposed.

That’s why the Obama administration was very cautious about backing rebels in Syria even as Assad turned the country into a killing field that sprouted both ISIS and a mass exodus of refugees to the surrounding region and some to Europe. And it’s why Trump came into office talking even more openly about working with and not against the Syrian regime.

Yes, the U.S. government has lied to go to war, and it will undoubtedly do so in the future. But we can assume that it isn’t lying about Assad’s sarin attack, not because Trump of all people is a trustworthy president, but because he didn’t want to go to war against Syria.

(Of course, reports like this New York Times article make it unclear if the Trump administration is even competent enough to know whether or not it’s lying.)

Fifteen years ago, the 9/11 conspiracy cult did damage, not good, to the antiwar cause, and more than a few decent leftists were sucked into the abyss of all-night Internet sleuthing and “you must be in on it, too” paranoia.

Their problem wasn’t that they were wrong that the U.S. government was probably hiding details about 9/11–like the involvement of Saudi Arabia. The problem was the illusion that if only they could uncover the “truth” and bring the conspiracy to light, we could get back to the normal decency of American capitalism and empire.

Today, it’s critical that the left exposes Trump’s lies, rather than counter them with our own. Otherwise, instead of winning millions of new people to our side, we’ll just add to the general cynicism that you can’t trust anything you read anywhere.

http://socialistworker.org/2017/04/20/separating-fact-from-fake-news

Why Aren’t Bernie Sanders-Style Democrats Getting More Support from the Party Leaders in Washington?

NEWS & POLITICS
In Kansas, the Democrats barely lifted a finger to help James Thompson, a progressive who came painfully close to winning. That’s a losing strategy.

Photo Credit: Screenshot / YouTube

Since losing the presidency to a Cheeto-hued reality TV host, the Democratic party’s leadership has made it clear that it would rather keep losing than entertain even the slightest whiff of New Deal style social democracy.

The Bernie Sanders wing might bring grassroots energy and – if the polls are to be believed – popular ideas, but their redistributive policies pose too much of a threat to the party’s big donors to ever be allowed on the agenda.

Even a symbolic victory cedes too much to those youthful, unwashed hordes who believe healthcare and education are human rights and not extravagant luxuries, as we saw when the Democratic establishment recruited Tom Perez to defeat the electorate-backed progressive Keith Ellison for DNC chair.

The Democrats demonstrated this once more this week when, in a special election triggered by Trump’s tapping of Mike Pompeo for CIA director, a Berniecrat named James Thompson came painfully close to winning a Kansas Congressional seat that had been red for over two decades, and his party didn’t even try to help him.

If Thompson’s picture is not on the Wikipedia page for “left-wing populism,” it really should be. Following a difficult upbringing during which he was homeless for a time, he joined the Army and attended college on the GI bill. He went on to graduate from Wichita State University and Washburn University before going into practice as a civil rights lawyer. He owns guns and looks natural in a trucker hat.

In a Reddit AMA, Thompson said he was “inspired to run by Bernie” and talked about “progressive values” like universal healthcare, education, and a $15/hour minimum wage. He also spoke in favor of taxing and legalizing marijuana, regulating Wall Street and overturning Citizens United. It’s no surprise he received the endorsement of Our Revolution, the progressive political action organization spun out of Sanders’ candidacy.

After beating an establishment Democrat in the primary, Thompson promised to take on Trump and the Republicans, as well as the state’s unpopular Republican governor Sam Brownback and Kansas-headquartered oligarchs the Koch brothers.

In one campaign ad, Thompson shoots an AR-15 rifle at a target before delivering a broad, class-based appeal: “People of all colors, all races, all religions, they want the basic same thing … they want to be able to provide for their family, provide a good education for their kids. We’ve got to get back to this country being about the working class family.”

While his candidacy initially seemed like a long shot in a district that had re-elected Pompeo just last year with 60.7% of the vote, in the weeks before the election, the race grew unexpectedly close.

This led to a sudden infusion of cash from the National Republican Congressional Committee to Thompson’s opponent Ron Estes, who in the end raised $459,000, $130,000 of it from the NRCC. He also received massive donations from representatives of big business and help from such national figures as Paul Ryan, Mike Pence, Ted Cruz, and the president himself, who tweeted about the race.

Estes spent much of his money on TV attack ads, like the one that claimed Thompson supports using tax dollars to fund late term abortions, as well as abortions performed because parents don’t like the gender of their baby.

Given our current political climate, you’d think the Democrats would have jumped at the chance to take back a Congressional seat and demonstrate opposition to Trump, but you’d be wrong. While Thompson managed to raise $292,000 without his party’s help, 95% of which came from individuals, neither the DNC, DCCC, nor even the Kansas Democratic Party would help him grow that total in any substantial way. His campaign requested $20,000 from the state Democratic Party and was denied.

They later relented and gave him $3,000. (According to the FEC, the Party had about $145,000 on hand.) The national Democratic Party gave him nothing until the day before the election, when it graced him with some live calls and robo-calls. He lost by seven percentage points.

In an interview with The Washington Post, Perez confirmed the DNC would not be giving Thompson a dime. “We can make progress in Kansas,” he said. “There are thousands of elections every year, though. Can we invest in all of them? That would require a major increase in funds.” Fact check: the DNC has a fund just for Congressional elections, of which there are just ten this year.

Contrast this with what Perez said just a few months earlier when he promised “a 50-state strategy” complete with “rural outreach and organizers in every zip code.” In a post-victory interview with NPR, he specifically name checked Kansas as a place Democrats could win. Why the sudden about face?

In defending their decision, party mouthpieces have taken the absurd line that giving Thompson money would have actually hurt his chances of winning, because then everyone would have known he’s a Democrat, and Kansans hate Democrats. (Let’s take a moment to appreciate these are the same people who keep saying the party doesn’t need a new direction.)

“You do not get to the single digits in a district like this if you’re a nationalized Democrat,” DCCC communications director Meredith Kelly told The Huffington Post. “End of story. That’s just the way it is. There are just certain races where it is not helpful to be attached to the national D.C. Democrats.” End of story, idiot.

Nobody must have told Kelly that Thompson was already attached to the “national DC Democrats” by virtue of being in their party, a fact Estes was happy to exploit in an attack ad that showed him waist deep in a literal swamp he hoped to drain.

“The liberals are trying to steal this election by supporting a Bernie Sanders backed lawyer, because they know he will vote how Nancy Pelosi tells him to,” he claimed. Seems Thompson got all the bad parts of being a Democrat this time around, and none of the good ones.

One person the party does not think will be hurt by their help is Jon Ossoff, who is running in a similarly red, but much wealthier, district in Georgia. To date, the DNC has raised some $8.3m for him and has committed to sending nine field staffers to organize on-the-ground efforts.

Although he is young, he’s an acolyte of the Democratic establishment, having worked for Representatives John Lewis and Hank Johnson, and he endorsed Hillary Clinton in the primary. He went to Georgetown followed by the London School of Economics and speaks fluent French. He has the support of several Hollywood celebrities.

Democrats think Ossoff is just the guy to bring his affluent suburban district back into the fold. (Clearly, losing a national election was not enough to reverse course on that most doomed of 2016 strategies: trading blue collar whites for wealthy, suburban ones.)

Georgia Democratic Party spokesman Michael Smith said this is the state organization’s chance to “deliver the White House its first electoral defeat.” Liberal bloggers are wetting their pants over this “weather vane” of early Trump backlash. It’s like Thompson’s campaign never even happened.

By refusing to fund the campaigns of anyone but centrist, establishment shills, the Democratic Party aims to make the Berniecrats’ lack of political viability a self-fulfilling prophecy: starve their campaigns of resources so they can’t win, then point to said losses as examples of why they can’t win.

If that means a few more red seats in Congress, so be it. The more they do this, though, the less of Bernie’s “political revolution” will be absorbed by the Democratic Party and the more will go shooting off into third parties and direct action.

Feel free to keep eating your own, Democrats. At this rate, we’ll have a socialist party in no time.

*The original version of this article referred to Joe Pompeo. It has since been changed to Mike Pompeo.

 

ALTERNET

What Happened to Russiagate?

Posted on Apr 18, 2017

By Robert Parry / Consortiumnews

Democrats, liberals and some progressives might be feeling a little perplexed over what has happened to Russiagate, the story that pounded Donald Trump every day since his election last November—until April 4, that is.

On April 4, Trump fully capitulated to the neoconservative bash-Russia narrative amid dubious claims about a chemical attack in Syria. On April 6, Trump fired off 59 Tomahawk missiles at a Syrian airbase; he also restored the neocon demand for “regime change” in Syria; and he alleged that Russia was possibly complicit in the supposed chemical attack.

Since Trump took those actions—in accordance with the neocon desires for more “regime change” in the Middle East and a costly New Cold War with Russia—Russiagate has almost vanished from the news.

I did find a little story in the lower right-hand corner of page A12 of Saturday’s New York Times about a still-eager Democratic congressman, Mike Quigley of Illinois, who spent a couple of days in Cyprus which attracted his interest because it is a known site for Russian money-laundering, but he seemed to leave more baffled than when he arrived.

“The more I learn, the more complex, layered and textured I see the Russia issue is—and that reinforces the need for professional full-time investigators,” Quigley said, suggesting that the investigation’s failure to strike oil is not that the holes are dry but that he needs better drill bits.Yet, given all the hype and hullabaloo over Russiagate, the folks who were led to believe that the vague and amorphous allegations were “bigger than Watergate” might now be feeling a little used. It appears they may have been sucked into a conspiracy frenzy in which the Establishment exploited their enthusiasm over the “scandal” in a clever maneuver to bludgeon an out-of-step new President back into line.

If that’s indeed the case, perhaps the most significant success of the Russiagate ploy was the ouster of Trump’s original National Security Adviser Michael Flynn, who was seen as a key proponent of a New Détente with Russia, and his replacement by General H.R. McMaster, a protégé of neocon favorite, retired Gen. David Petraeus.

McMaster was viewed as the key player in arranging the April 6 missile strike on Syria and in preparing a questionable “intelligence assessment” on April 11 to justify the rush to judgment. Although McMaster’s four-page white paper has been accepted as gospel by the mainstream U.S. news media, its many weaknesses have been noted by actual experts, such as MIT national security and technology professor Theodore Postol.

How Washington Works

But the way Official Washington works is that Trump was made to look weak when he argued for a more cooperative and peaceful relationship with Russia. Hillary Clinton dubbed him Vladimir Putin’s “puppet” and “Saturday Night Live” portrayed Trump as in thrall to a bare-chested Putin. More significantly, front-page stories every morning and cable news segments every night created the impression of a compromised U.S. President in Putin’s pocket.

Conversely, Trump was made to look strong when he fired off missiles against a Syrian airbase and talked tough about Russian guilt. Neocon commentator Charles Krauthammer praised Trump’s shift as demonstrating that “America is back.”

Trump further enhanced his image for toughness when his military dropped the GBU-43/B Massive Ordnance Air Blast Bomb (MOAB), nicknamed the “mother of all bombs,” on some caves in Afghanistan. While the number of casualties inflicted by the blast was unclear, Trump benefited from the admiring TV and op-ed commentaries about him finally acting “presidential.”

But the real test of political courage is to go against the grain in a way that may be unpopular in the short term but is in the best interests of the United States and the world community in the longer term.

In that sense, Trump seeking peaceful cooperation with Russia—even amid the intense anti-Russian propaganda of the past several years—required actual courage, while launching missiles and dropping bombs might win praise but actually make the U.S. position in the world weaker.

Trump, however, saw his fledgling presidency crumbling under the daily barrage of Russiagate, even though there was no evidence that his campaign colluded with Russia to interfere with the U.S. election and there wasn’t even clear evidence that Russia was behind the disclosure of Democratic emails, via WikiLeaks, during the campaign.

Still, the combined assault from the Democrats, the neocons and the mainstream media forced Trump to surrender his campaign goal of achieving a more positive relationship with Russia and greater big-power collaboration in the fight against terrorism.

For Trump, the incessant chatter about Russiagate was like a dripping water torture. The thin-skinned Trump fumed at his staff and twittered messages aimed at changing the narrative, such as accusing President Obama of “wiretapping” Trump Tower. But nothing worked.

However, once Trump waved the white flag by placing his foreign policy under the preferred banner of the neoconservatives, the Russiagate pressure stopped. The op-ed pages suddenly were hailing his “decisiveness.” If you were a neocon, you might say about Russiagate: Mission accomplished!

Russiagate’s Achievements

Besides whipping Trump into becoming a more compliant politician, Russiagate could claim some other notable achievements. For instance, it spared the national Democrats from having to confront their own failures in Campaign 2016 by diverting responsibility for the calamity of Trump’s election.

Instead of Democratic leaders taking responsibility for picking a dreadful candidate, ignoring the nation’s anti-establishment mood, and failing to offer any kind of inspiring message, the national Democrats could palm off the blame on “Russia! Russia! Russia!”

Thus, rather than looking in the mirror and trying to figure out how to correct their deep-seated problems, the national Democrats could instead focus on a quixotic tilting at Trump’s impeachment.

Many on the Left joined in this fantasy because they have been so long without a Movement that the huge post-inaugural “pussy hat” marches were a temptation that they couldn’t resist. Russiagate became the fuel to keep the “Movement” bandwagon rolling. #Resistance!

It didn’t matter that the “scandal”—the belief that Russia somehow conspired with Trump to rig the U.S. presidential election—amounted to a bunch of informational dots that didn’t connect.

Russiagate also taught the American “left” to learn to love McCarthyism since “proof” of guilt pretty much amounted to having had contact with a Russian—and anyone who questioned the dubious factual basis of the “scandal” was dismissed as a “Russian propagandist” or a “Moscow stooge” or a purveyor of “fake news.”

Another Russiagate winner was the mainstream news media which got a lot of mileage—and loads of new subscription money—by pushing the convoluted conspiracy. The New York Times positioned itself as the great protector of “truth” and The Washington Post adopted a melodramatic new slogan: “Democracy Dies in Darkness.”

On Thanksgiving Day, the Post ran a front-page article touting an anonymous Internet group called PropOrNot that identified some 200 Internet news sites, including Consortiumnews.com and other major sources of independent journalism, as guilty of “Russian propaganda.” Facts weren’t needed; the accused had no chance for rebuttal; the accusers even got to hide in the shadows; the smear was the thing.

The Post and the Times also conflated news outlets that dared to express skepticism toward claims from the U.S. State Department with some entrepreneurial sites that trafficked in intentionally made-up stories or “fake news” to make money.

To the Post and Times, there appeared to be no difference between questioning the official U.S. narrative on, say, the Ukraine crisis and knowingly fabricating pretend news articles to get lots of clicks. Behind the smokescreen of Russiagate, the mainstream U.S. news media took the position that there was only one side to a story, what Official Washington chose to believe.

While it’s likely that there will be some revival of Russiagate to avoid the appearance of a completely manufactured scandal, the conspiracy theory’s more significant near-term consequence could be that it has taught Donald Trump a dangerous lesson.

If he finds himself in a tight spot, the way out is to start bombing some “enemy” halfway around the world. The next time, however, the target might not be so willing to turn the other cheek. If, say, Trump launches a preemptive strike against North Korea, the result could be a retaliatory nuclear attack against South Korea or Japan.

Or, if the neocons push ahead with their ultimate “regime change” strategy of staging a “color revolution” in Moscow to overthrow Putin, the outcome might be—not the pliable new leader that the neocons would want—but an unstable Russian nationalist who might see a nuclear attack on the U.S. as the only way to protect the honor of Mother Russia.

For all his faults, Trump did offer a more temperate approach toward U.S.-Russian relations, which also could have tamped down spending for nuclear and other strategic weapons and freed up some of that money for infrastructure and other needs at home. But that was before Russiagate.

Investigative reporter Robert Parry broke many of the Iran-Contra stories for The Associated Press and Newsweek in the 1980s. You can buy his latest book, “America’s Stolen Narrative,” either in print here or as an e-book (from Amazon and barnesandnoble.com).

Obama lives it up in the lap of luxury

By Niles Niemuth
18 April 2017

Photographs published over the weekend show former US President Barack Obama and former First Lady Michelle Obama in the lap of luxury, frolicking in Tahiti on holiday with rock musician Bruce Springsteen, Hollywood star Tom Hanks and media tycoon Oprah Winfrey on the Rising Sun, a super-yacht owned by billionaire entertainment magnate David Geffen.

The response from the entertainment press to the brief glimpse into the Obama’s lavish getaway was unabashedly glowing: “American Royalty Gathered in the South Pacific” gushed Vanity Fair, “Barack and Michelle Obama Are Hanging Out With Oprah, Tom Hanks, and Bruce Springsteen on a Yacht,” squealed New York Magazine.

Geffen’s superyacht The Rising Sun in 2006

All of those among the aristocratic coterie who gathered around Obama on the world’s sixth largest motor yacht are either multi-millionaires or billionaires. Oprah has an estimated net worth of $3.1 billion; Hanks has a net worth of $350 million; Springsteen, with a net worth of $345 million, had an income of $60.5 million in 2016.

Geffen, an early backer of then Senator Obama’s campaign for the presidency in 2007, is among the richest people in the world, with an estimated net worth of $6.5 billion, placing him in the highest echelons of the top 0.01 percent.

The former president has spent much of the first three months since he left office in January hobnobbing with the elite of the elite. In February the Obamas traveled with an entourage of 100 secret service agents and aides to British billionaire Richard Branson’s private Caribbean island.

While the Obamas’ combined net worth, estimated at a measly $24 million, pales in comparison to their travel companions, the 44th president and his wife have wasted no time in cashing in on his eight years in the White House, which saw a stock market boom and record corporate profits, making the already fabulously wealthy even richer.

A $65 million deal announced in February for two books from the couple is only an initial down payment for services rendered. It is expected that they could earn nearly $300 million off of book deals, speeches and pensions.

This is not the end of the former president’s earning potential. He will have help from his wealthy friends in his efforts to become one of the wealthiest ex-presidents in American history. Billionaire director Steven Spielberg has been working with Obama to develop a “narrative” for his life post-presidency.

Those overseeing the construction and operation of the Obama presidential library and foundation have set a fundraising floor of $800 million for the center, which will be built on Chicago’s Southside.

In the waning days of his presidency, Obama openly fantasized about the possibility of joining the highly profitable world of professional sports and taking part ownership of a professional basketball team, something well within the realm of possibility given his wealth and connections. If he decides to go this route, Obama would join other celebrity NBA team owners like Michael Jordan and Mark Cuban, both billionaires. One should not be surprised to someday see an Obama-branded Nike high-top shoe.

While there never was a golden age—many presidents, including George Washington, Teddy Roosevelt, FDR and JFK were quite wealthy—things have come a long way. Thomas Jefferson had to sell his personal library to pay off his creditors. Visitors could walk up to the door of Harry S. Truman’s home in Independence, Missouri and share tea with the former president and his wife, Bess.

Today, the former president vacations at exclusive $3,000-a-night Tahitian resorts and travels the world on the yachts and private jets of billionaires. The Obamas are paying $22,000 a month to rent a “quasi-mansion” in the exclusive Kalorama neighborhood of Washington, DC. They will share a neighborhood with billionaire President Donald Trump’s multi-millionaire daughter and son-in-law and chief advisers, Ivanka Trump and Jared Kushner, as well as billionaire Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos.

While always a bastion of corruption, there is a new and distinctive odor emanating from the White House and the halls of Congress. Extreme wealth is not only the outcome of holding public office, it has in fact become the rule for holding office; most Congressmen are now millionaires.

Those who hold office, and the corporate executives at whose pleasure they serve, live in a separate world from the vast majority of Americans. They have access to the best medical care the world has to offer; can skip humiliating security screenings at the airport and fly first class or in private jets without fear of being dragged off the plane; eat the best food; and drive or get driven in the most expensive cars.

The presidency and a spot in the administration are seen as tickets to even greater wealth. Filled with billionaires and multi-millionaires from the outset, the Trump administration has taken this process to its logical conclusion. Trump and his associates no doubt see their time in the White House as a shrewd business maneuver and expect to follow in the footsteps of the Obamas.

WSWS

A Brief History of Activism That Has Made a Big Difference in Society

ACTIVISM
History is shaped through all kinds of activism.

Photo Credit: Eric Crama / Shutterstock

When we reflect on the activists who changed the course of history, we often think of those who showed up and made their presence known: the Civil Rights activists who took to the streets, despite the very real threat of police brutality; the protesters amassing by the hundreds of thousands, signs in hand, like those who participated in the recent Women’s March; the canvassers tirelessly knocking on doors, getting out the vote to shape the future of American politics.

But history has not always been made by those who are so visible.

Martin Luther King Jr. is best remembered for his “I Have a Dream” speech at the Lincoln Memorial — but many are unaware that these most famous lines were reportedly inspired by Baptist minister Prathia Hall, who used the phrase in a public prayer honoring those lost in the Mount Olive Baptist Church arson.

Similarly, “Queen of Gospel” Mahalia Jackson, who performed the last musical act before King’s iconic speech, used her public platform from behind the podium to interrupt King partway through his oration and advise him to “tell them about the dream,” a phrase she had heard him use in previous speeches. At her request, he instantly improvised the next section, which began:

And so even though we face the difficulties of today and tomorrow, I still have a dream. It is a dream deeply rooted in the American dream.

I have a dream that one day this nation will rise up and live out the true meaning of its creed: “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal.”

Mahalia Jackson (Credit: Wikimedia Commons)

These kinds of behind-the-scenes actions are often overlooked in favor of more visible activism. But it’s both inaccurate and problematic to dismiss this brand of social justice advocacy—in part because for many, highly visible activism simply isn’t possible.

In January, my Instagram feed was filled with images of friends, family, and acquaintances participating in the Women’s March all over the country, with the highest turnout in my current city of Los Angeles. I got out of bed hopeful that we can make a difference — but I say “we” even though I slept through this monumental event. That’s because I have dealt with many health conditions, including sleep apnea, which can cause severe exhaustion.

Those with visible disabilities often need to work against obstacles and have crucial needs that are frequently overlooked. At the same time, we must also acknowledge those with invisible illnesses — like anxiety, a sleep disorder, or depression — that may hinder their ability to be present for marches, protests, canvassing, and other in-person engagements.

For inspiration and wisdom, we can glean much from examining the history of social change, which has long been shaped in part by those behind the scenes.

The Power of the Pen

As is true today, writers, editors, publishers, and everyday folk were instrumental in the success of the pre-Revolutionary War and Civil Rights Movement, even when they weren’t on the front lines of protest.

Leading up to the American Revolution, the British Stamp Act required “government-issued stamps be placed on all legal documents and newspapers, as well as playing cards and dice,” according to historian Carol Berkin in Revolutionary Mothers. In protest, a group of women in New York City made a public announcement in the newspaper, refusing to marry their fiancés if they applied for a stamped marriage license. This act of opposition was a bold feat at a time when women were discouraged from participating in print dialogue.

In another prime example, this year marks the 50th anniversary of Loving v. Virginia, the Supreme Court case that abolished anti-miscegenation laws. Mildred and Richard Loving, black and white respectively, were not allowed to return home to their state of Virginia after marrying against Virginia law. Mildred, though highly unassuming, wrote a letter to Attorney General Robert Kennedy asking for assistance, which she then received from the ACLU. This simple letter ignited change that has altered marriage laws country-wide and was the inspiration for same-sex marriage equality in the 21st century.

Mildred Loving’s letter launched one of the most important Supreme Court cases in history. (Credit: flickr/Freedom to Marry)

In a different historic Supreme Court case, Daisy Bates, co-publisher of the black newspaper the State Presschronicled the fight for school integration following Brown v. Board of Education in Little Rock, Arkansas. In addition to using her pen to document civil rights issues, Bates acted behind the scenes to protect and support the first nine black students integrating Little Rock Central High School — a group commonly referred to as the “Little Rock Nine.” Bates even penned a letter to President Eisenhower, asking for reinforcements to combat the violence she and other activists experienced as a result of upholding the new legislation. She ingeniously placed “spies” on campus to report both positive and negative truths about what happened inside the school, in order to combat misinformation from both sides.

Bates has inspired me in my own efforts to contribute in part by writing words — words about Gabrielle Gorman and Jesse Williams, about black NASA trailblazers, and about the biased American captivity narrative. This, too, matters.

Boycotting Goods

The Montgomery bus boycotts and the Boston Tea Party are of course the most widely recognized boycotting efforts in the U.S. But other boycotts past and present have played significant roles in the country’s progression.

After the dissolution of the Stamp Act, the colonies began boycotting other British imports, especially luxury items. Sugar, mirrors, silk, lace, and even pickles were renounced in 1769 by the Virginia House of Burgess. It took several years for the boycotts to gain momentum, but we know how the story ends: America was able to release itself from British rule following the Revolution. This type of activism was performed by everyday men and women, all of whom relied on goods and services for their daily needs. While the boycotts themselves became a public force, individuals were able to contribute in small ways with a big impact.

Today, boycotts against companies that financially back Trump and his family have also proven effective. Lyft downloads surpassed Uber for the first time after a recent boycott, resulting in Uber pledging a $3 million defense fund to help drivers with immigration issues. Additionally, following a recent boycott of Nordstrom, the clothing company decided to no longer carry Ivanka Trump’s brand, citing a significant drop in sales due to the boycott as its motivation. Other retailers, such as Neiman Marcus, T.J. Maxx, and Burlington, have followed suit.

Taking Care of Loved Ones

We each have different roles in the current fight for the preservation of our country. While my aunt and uncle (a Democratic county representative and legislative district chair, respectively) participated in the Seattle airport protests against the immigration ban, my cousin, who participated in the Women’s March with my aunt, contributed to the cause that night by watching over our ailing grandmother. My sister, who was well into her third trimester and recently had her baby, sat out the march but contributed to the ACLU.

While we must all push ourselves to do more during this horrific presidency, we should also take advantage of enacting change within our individual spheres of influence and power. Though I cannot participate in everything, I have been able to not only use my writing to speak power to truth, but also to sign petitions and send emails (though still not as much as I should).

Those with invisible illnesses, or who otherwise can’t engage in in-person actions, may fear they can’t do their part. But as essayist Michel de Montaigne so wisely put, “We are all patchwork, and so shapeless and diverse in composition that each bit, each moment, plays its own game.”

ALTERNET 

It’s not an attack on the arts, it’s an attack on communities

Art and architecture critic March 16 at 3:03 PM
Things could get worse, much worse. The president’s proposed budget eliminates much of the government’s long-standing commitment to the arts, to science, to education, to culture, to public broadcasting and community development. It calls not only for the elimination of the National Endowment for the Arts, the National Endowment for the Humanities, the Corporation for Public Broadcasting and the Institute of Museum and Library Services, but also proposes the elimination of groups such as the Woodrow Wilson Center, a highly respected think tank that studies national and international affairs and just happens to be hosting a program Thursday called “The Muse of Urban Delirium: How the Performing Arts Paradoxically Transform Conflict-Ridden Cities Into Centers of Cultural Innovation.” It’s almost as if someone tried to fit as many dirty words — dirty in the current administration’s way of thinking — into one evening: Arts, Cities, Culture, Paradox, Innovation.

These cuts aren’t about cost savings — they’re far too small to make even a ding in the federal budget. They are carefully calculated attacks on communities, especially those that promote independent thinking and expression, or didn’t line up behind the Trump movement as it swept to power through the electoral college in November. But the president’s proposed budget also includes attacks on communities that did indeed support Trump but that are too powerless to resist. Among the independent agencies set for elimination: the Appalachian Regional Commission, which supports things such as job training, economic diversification (including the arts), tourism initiatives and Internet access in states like West Virginia, Alabama and Kentucky.

The strategy, perfectly calculated for a new era of rancor and resentment amplified by social media, is to focus people not on what will be lost, but who will lose. Why attack communities that support you? Because losing isn’t just a question of what side, what arguments, what ideology prevails in the political debate. Rather, losing is a stigma, a scarlet letter to hang on the necks of people who are losers. Losers are essential to the project of building a new political coalition, a coalition that celebrates winning. Winners are strong; losers are sad. If your aversion to being branded a loser is strong enough, you may even embrace policies that cause you harm.

President Trump’s proposed budget calls for the elimination of the National Endowment for the Arts, the National Endowment for the Humanities, the Institute of Museum and Library Services, and the Corporation for Public Broadcasting. Small and rural programs would be hit hardest. (Erin Patrick O’Connor/The Washington Post)

Read through The Washington Post’s coverage of the budget proposal, and you hear what begins to sound like a broken record: These cuts will primarily affect marginalized or minority communities, people on the losing end of the American Dream. From an article about the Interior Department: “Historic-sites funding is important,” according to one expert, “because it supports tribal preservation officers and provides grants to underrepresented communities.” Or from the Labor Department: “The Trump administration proposed $2.5 billion in cuts for the Labor Department in a plan that would significantly reduce funding for job training programs for seniors and disadvantaged youth.”

Just in time for today’s announcement is an op-ed by Washington Post columnist George Will, who also calls for the elimination of the NEA. Will’s article would be a risible period piece — he is still seething over culture-war debates from more than a quarter century ago — if his hostility to the arts were not politically empowered by the democratic peculiarities of the last election, which brought into office a deeply unpopular president allied (for now) to a Congress pursuing deeply unpopular policies because many of its members are protected by gerrymandering.

Will rehashes the usual arguments: He reminds readers of a handful of grants that were deemed offensive by some in the early 1990s; he asserts that people will pay for the arts if they want the arts, and that state and local arts agencies will step up if the federal government (which helps fund these agencies) forsakes them; and argues that the arts are no different, no more a social good, have no more utility or spiritual value than “macaroni and cheese.” He not only fails to understand the nature of the arts, he also fails to understand the uniquely American three-legged stool system of federal stimulus allied to state and local support and bolstered by private donations that has enriched the arts and the country for more than half a century.

“The myriad entities with financial interests in preserving the NEA cloyingly call themselves the ‘arts community,’ a clever branding that other grasping factions should emulate,” he writes, cloyingly. “The ‘arts community’ has its pitter-patter down pat. The rhetorical cotton candy — sugary, jargon-clotted arts gush — asserts that the arts nurture ‘civically valuable dispositions’ and a sense of ‘community and connectedness.’ And, of course, ‘diversity’ and ‘self-esteem.’ ”

The arts have a powerful economic effect on our society and employ vast numbers of people, but the arts community is hardly an assemblage of cynical, self-interested, deep-pocketed financial interests (for that, look to the president’s Cabinet). The “pitter-patter” of this rapacious arts juggernaut is indeed well practiced by now, but only because attacks on the arts are now a seasonal performance from a determined minority political faction. The arts do indeed foster a sense of “community and connectedness” . . . in places like Nebraska, Alaska, Missouri, Nevada, Georgia, Tennessee and Alabama. And the other 43 states of the Union. And not only do they nurture diversity, they also express and preserve the variegated richness of culture celebrated in that musty old Latin phrase “E pluribus unum” (it’s on the money, if you want to check).

But the most jejune moment of Will’s extraordinary performance is this: “What, however, is art? We subsidize soybean production, but at least we can say what soybeans are.” For a few centuries now, it has been the nature of art to wonder what art is. That’s how the arts think, how they operate, how they define the parameters of aesthetic experience. And for the entire history of the species, art has been fundamentally different, less tangible, less utilitarian in its function, than soybeans. These things are obvious, if you’ve ever spent time with the arts community, which in fact exists and adds immeasurably to the stability, cohesion, intelligence, beauty and resilience of the nation.