The Pentagon has never been audited. That’s astonishing

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A Last Chance for Resistance

Posted on Mar 19, 2017

By Chris Hedges

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Robert Reich:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Trump and Mussolini: 11 Key Lessons from Historical Fascism

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

1. Fascism rechannels economic anxiety

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

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

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

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

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

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

2. Liberal institutions have already been fatally weakened

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

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

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

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

3. Internal strongmen tussles don’t mean anything

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

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

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

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

4. Fascism keeps mutating

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

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

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

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

5. Fascism is eternally recurring

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

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

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

6. Of course it’s a minority affair

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

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

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

7. There is an ideology behind the chaos of ideologies

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

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

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

8. Its cultural style makes no sense to elites

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

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

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

9. Fascism leads inexorably to suicidal war

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

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

10. Racism is inherent to fascism

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

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

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

11. No form of resistance works

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

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

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

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

Some final thoughts

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

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

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

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

 

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

Open borders are the only way to defeat Trump and build a better world

Everyone’s wrong on immigration:

This entire debate is built on cruel and false assumptions. Here’s the truth: Immigrants’ rights are human rights

Everyone's wrong on immigration: Open borders are the only way to defeat Trump and build a better world
(Credit: Getty/John Moore)

There were other immigrants who came here in the bottom of slave ships, who worked even longer, even harder, for less, but they too had a dream that one day their sons, daughters, grandsons, granddaughters, great-grandsons, great-granddaughters might pursue prosperity and happiness in this land.
— Housing and Urban Development Secretary Ben Carson, March 6, 2017

The immigration debate has become mired in myths, falsehoods and half-truths, with little clarity among liberals or conservatives alike. Conservatives think there’s nothing wrong with Trump defending America to keep “the bad ones” out because, after all, every sovereign nation should have that right. Liberals concede the point, but modify it a bit by claiming exception for the “good ones,” such as the Dreamers (those who were “brought” here at a young age “due to no fault of their own”). Immigrants’ rights advocates seek an elusive middle ground, even as the terrain of immigration has shifted from morality or economics or even national identity to the spectacle of crime and punishment.

Most Americans who have no direct experience with the immigration system are easily misled by xenophobic claims that often sound commonsensical, such as the (false) notion that immigrants drive down wages and make those who are native-born lose their jobs. They may not want to go to the extreme of taking up arms to defend the nation — as do the Minutemen on the southwestern border — but they passively accept the myths. What many don’t realize is that each time a right is taken away from immigrants, with implied consent, it eventually affects citizens’ rights, too. To remain distant from the issue is no longer an option for any of us. Secretary Ben Carson’s comment above had less to do with our past history with slavery than our future ideal for immigrants.

We want to shut ourselves up behind a wall — paid for by Mexico, of course — as we turn citizenship into a privilege derived from exaggerated notions of loyalty. Such self-disciplining consciousness is the other side of the overt criminalization of immigrants. American citizenship has become the sole passage to a utopia of freedom by way of crushing the undeserving other, the poor immigrant.

What is going on? Why has the country turned so anti-immigrant (despite hollow claims from politicians that we remain “a nation of immigrants”)? Did 9/11 cause this? Is it because of President Donald Trump? Or is there something predating terrorism or the authoritarian upsurge? Is changing sentiment toward immigrants rooted in rational anxieties, such as concern about jobs? Or does it represent a free-floating, pessimistic discourse that is as much a part of our self-construction as the optimism we’re more used to hearing?

Here are some of our most damaging misunderstandings in this defining area of national policy:

1. There is no line to get into.

Americans seem to think that if you are a capable person somewhere in the world, you just need to get in line, and if everything checks out, you’re in. Or if you have relatives who have spent their life in America and you want to join them, you’d join the line. The idea that people should “get in the back of the line,” a mantra we hear every time the topic of so-called comprehensive immigration reform comes up, doubles down on the nonsense.

There is no line. There is only a nightmarish engagement with an immigration bureaucracy for those lucky enough to deal with it.

Perhaps there is a theoretical line. If you are a sibling of a Filipino citizen, you may wait up to 20 years to get in — if your family member will take full financial responsibility, at the risk of being pursued in court if an emergency compels you to seek public assistance. If you are a high-skilled immigrant in demand by Silicon Valley, you may seek an H-1B visa. But you must be the type of person who fits corporate America’s vision of a good citizen in every aspect of your life. Immigrants with technical skills arrive on a presumed pathway to citizenship, even if theoretically they are temporary immigrants.

What if you are a bright young person with a visitor visa but want to study and live in the United States? Adjusting your status may not be easy, and if you run afoul of any technicalities, you’re out of luck and “illegal.”

What if your visa has lapsed, yet you found the resources to establish a life here, marrying a citizen and having children? Can you correct your status? You’d have to prove hardship of a kind that would satisfy the immigration bureaucracy, a fantasy of torture and devastation for yourself and your family, rather than any realistic definition of hardship.

The line is a fantasy. Those whom corporate America desires go straight to the front anyway, their papers awaiting them and their families. For those who have ever struggled in life, who may be from poor backgrounds but want to better themselves through education and civic participation, the options are limited.

Many of us know someone who may be an outstanding citizen in every respect, even a prominent member of the community, except for the lack of technical legality. They may even have the money to pursue a legal avenue. Have we ever considered why these people choose to remain “illegal”? If there were a line for accomplished immigrants who desired to fix their status, wouldn’t they join in?

Shouldn’t the immigrant, without having to be tied to an absurd mythology of hardship, be able to fulfill the desire to stay, based on equities built up that would be lost with the finality of deportation? Isn’t that what most people imagine when they say those who want to stay should “get right with the law,” that they should pay the fines and “get their citizenship”? Our immigration practices have become so distorted that such possibilities do not really exist.

2. The distinction between legal and illegal is meaningless.

Both restrictionists and reformists love to say, “I’m for legal immigration but against illegal immigration.” The current regime’s most prominent nativists love to make this claim, even as their intent is to end legal immigration, just as we did, more or less, during the 1920s.

Yet a more absurd proposition is difficult to imagine, given a government that encourages underground migration and suppresses official migration with every resource at its disposal. An immigrant is always in a tenuous situation — as our predecessors knew well before we formalized whom we wanted and whom we didn’t — as he or she moves from temporary to permanent, denizen to resident, illegal to legal, or in the reverse direction, with ambiguity clouding the definition at any given time.

Before neoliberalism reshaped immigration policies in the 1990s, professional workers used to be in an extended limbo because their status, once they were sponsored by an employee, wasn’t exactly clear. They were not supposed to be here, but they were and already working for their sponsor, based on the probability that their labor certification would be approved. We never had a problem with “illegality” in the case of professionals, though we have cleared things up in their favor quite a bit since then.

On the other hand, what is your status if you applied as a refugee from, say, Central America 20 or 30 years ago? Your application was provisionally approved, but has fallen into limbo; a deportation order has not been issued, but your status has lapsed. We wanted you when there was a “Soviet-sponsored” Marxist insurgency that we were fighting, but we don’t care about you when we’ve decided to leave homegrown turmoil alone. Meanwhile, you’ve gone to school, had children, started a business, employed workers and paid taxes. Your children are allowed to sponsor you when they come of age. Shortly before they are able to do so, are you legal or illegal? Do you become legal the day they apply for you or do you have to wait until approval? In the years it might take immigration officials to decide your case, are you legal or illegal?

Many of us know of such ambiguous situations, which apply to all migrants, except those whom corporate America has desired unreservedly over the last 30 years, since we brought immigration into line with neoliberal economic needs. Our federal immigration laws consist of layers upon layers of irrational, inconsistent, even bizarre and inexplicable exceptions, preferences, loopholes, punishments, waivers, mandates and discretions that render the division between “legal” and “illegal” meaningless.

3. Immigration law is by nature exclusionary and racist.

We didn’t always have a federal immigration bureaucracy. The idea began in the 1870s and 1880s, when we had finished building the railroads and accomplished enough developmental goals to feel that we could dispense with cheap imported labor. The presence of large numbers of Chinese and other Asians on the West Coast led to the complaints about unfair job competition that we hear today, buttressed by similar inflammatory rhetoric. The racist Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882 was our first immigration law, setting the tone for our federal bureaucracy ever since then.

For Justice Stephen Johnson Field, who ruled on the first important case upholding exclusion, Chae Chan Ping v. United States in 1889, Chinese people “remained strangers in the land,” forever alien and unassimilable. We went from individual states setting the conditions for immigration to a federal bureaucracy founded on excluding a subpar race from tainting our racial stock.

From our country’s foundation until our first immigration laws, our openness allowed us to successfully assimilate immigrants of diverse origins, all of whom had at first been looked upon suspiciously, such as the Germans and the Irish. Once we established a federal bureaucracy, it needed continuous rationales to sustain itself and grow. After excluding Chinese people, the country moved on to Japanese people, and then Eastern and Southern Europeans including Jews, followed by subversives during the cold war and finally Muslims and Arabs as the latest targets for exclusion.

Some of us may be under the illusion that we follow objective criteria to decide who comes in and who stays, observing standards that make moral, economic or political sense. That has never been the case since the beginning of federal immigration policy.

The targets have varied, but the logic remains the same. At the beginning of the 20th century, progressives, trade unionists, eugenicists and respectable politicians of all stripes were angered by large numbers of “inferior,” disease-carrying, non-English-speaking Southern and Eastern Europeans, so we shut them out with the 1924 national origins quota system and decided instead to unofficially bring in large numbers of Mexicans.

We preferred Mexican immigrants persisting in limbo to European immigrants we would have to accommodate as citizens. We just had to make sure to periodically evict them from territorial assertion, as we did during the Great Depression, and as we did when we followed up the Bracero Program (importing guest workers) with Operation Wetback (involving mass deportation), a pattern that repeats to this day. We might say that we had an unofficial bracero program since the beginning of the North American Free Trade Agreement until today, but we now want to expel that labor force.

Our history of exclusion is inherent in the nature of the bureaucracy and in all the laws that have been passed to empower it. During World War II we decided not to admit Jews seeking refuge from the European inferno. The logic of Asian exclusion easily led to the internment of Japanese-Americans by our most progressive president. Today we willfully exclude some of the best and brightest amont us, if they happen to be Latino or Muslim or Arab. Exclusion affects whole classes of people and causes great national damage each time.

4. The contemporary havoc goes back to the 1996 law.

But the repugnant national origins quota system, the internment of a whole race of people and the persecution of individuals because of political beliefs are all things in the past, right? We don’t do these things anymore, do we? After all, what was the great liberalization of the 1960s all about, if not to end such practices?

In reality, some of the most barbaric practices we as a nation have followed in terms of removal, slavery and exclusion have come back in full force due to a reconceptualization of immigration under the 1996 law called the Illegal Immigration Reform and Immigrant Responsibility Act. The key word here is “responsibility,” used in a twisted neoliberal manner, placing burdens that are not so much responsibilities as refusals of humanity.

Though Trump’s so-called travel ban has been getting all the attention, the infinitely greater area of concern is his targeting of every immigrant as potentially a “criminal alien” subject to “expedited removal.” The authority that Trump needs to put his genocidal plan into action was gifted to him under the 1996 law. It vastly expanded the definition of crimes and included everything from shoplifting to child neglect as “aggravated felonies” that could lead to deportation without appeal. “Expedited removal” means that the traditional safeguards offered to those under deportation proceedings are gone, and prosecutorial discretion is limited to the point of nonexistence.

The distinction between legal and illegal is intentionally blurred in such laws. “Aggravated felonies” retroactively subject not just undocumented people but legal permanent residents to deportation. Countless permanent residents have fallen under the net of this repressive law, one of the worst in our nation’s history. Years or decades ago someone may have copped a guilty plea to a misdemeanor to get a lighter sentence, as is common in our criminal justice system. An encounter with the police, bringing the earlier “crime” to light, may abruptly destroy that person’s life.

The 1996 law severely curtails the chances for refugees to have a fair hearing, while asylum seekers are presumed guilty when making a claim and put in a mandatory detention that can last for years. Families who have experienced torture in countries that the U.S. has often had a hand in destabilizing are then placed in detention among hardened criminals and made to wait for years before knowing their fate.

The 1996 law was part of the same movement toward “personal responsibility” — a euphemism for blaming victims for social crimes against them and then punishing them — that also resulted in “welfare reform” and expanded the reach of counterterrorism in a law that became a precursor to the Patriot Act. These three laws — on immigration, welfare and terrorism — overlap in some respects, for instance in curtailing judicial review or ending public assistance for legal immigrants.

5. Neoliberal economic policies are the main cause of “illegality.”

So-called illegality is a self-created bureaucratic problem, which is convenient for the neoliberal state to address as a criminal matter. It comes in handy because it keeps the lid on demands for democracy across racial lines, and it maintains a permanent underclass without rights, acting as a counterweight against universal fairness in the workplace.

The modern problem of illegality began in 1994 with the passage of NAFTA. That agreement offered a set of advantages to American big business and agriculture, creating tremendous pressure on Mexican small industry and farms and leading to the displacement of millions of workers, and many of them headed north. NAFTA freed capital movement at the same time as it restricted labor movement. So on the one hand, we created dire pressure for migration northward — to call it “push and pull” seems disingenuous, as if referring to inexorable laws of economics — at the same time as we cut off pathways to legal migration.

Before the 1990s, we always had a pattern of circular migration from Mexico. Migrants came and went; they didn’t necessarily want to stay for good. Almost 30 million Mexicans entered the country between the start of the Bracero Program and the 1986 immigration law, but most of them went back. But the neoliberal regime made the price of mobility prohibitive. Border controls became so repressive, and the price of re-entry so high, that many migrants decided to put down roots. The children of these migrants have become the Dreamers we now claim are the immigrants worthiest of our compassion.

When we wanted cheap agricultural labor we willfully let in large numbers of immigrants whom we did not want to assimilate. Now that the latest phase of globalization has run its course, the Trump regime wants to repatriate these people, long resident in our country, back “home.” We can always crack the wall open a bit when we need a new burst of cheap labor.

Under neoliberalism, we shuffle off unwanted labor to our private detention system, which daily commits horrors on a scale worthy of history’s worst nightmares. Our policy preference is to put immigrants in detention for long periods of time before expelling them, so that they become revenue-earners for private prisons. Under Trump we are about to witness a massive resurgence of the private prison industry, which lobbies for criminalization of immigrants.

6. Comprehensive immigration reform is a boondoggle.

In every version it appears, comprehensive immigration reform, a favorite prescription of both parties, is nothing but a Trojan horse to sneak in and formalize existing inhuman practices. Each immigration reform bill has been increasingly regressive, starting with the one that actually passed, Ronald Reagan’s 1986 Immigration Reform and Control Act.

Every comprehensive immigration reform proposal attempts to do three things: 1. It further criminalizes and delegalizes growing categories of people, reducing pathways to citizenship, while offering some sort of legal status to those few who qualify within increasingly narrow boundaries. 2. It seeks to convert immigrants into guest workers to the extent possible, implementing a regime that strays from linear outcomes. 3. As a bargaining chip to sway restrictionists, who may have problems even with limited forms of legal status, it implements new policing measures to harden the already militarized border.

Comprehensive immigration reform is no solution. The 2006, 2007 and 2013 bills were each more draconian than their predecessors. The last one, under Obama, was much harsher than the ones Bush wanted. Militarization, which already stands at mind-boggling levels, with more than 20,000 border patrol agents, would have gone up drastically in each immigration reform bill. To the extent that a wall can exist, it already does. Each time an immigration reform bill is proposed, its legalization provisions don’t become reality, but its militaristic provisions come true by other means.

Ever since the 1970s — with the arrival of Southeast Asian and Caribbean refugees, and the growing visibility of Asians in our population — sharply restrictionist moves have been packaged as comprehensive immigration reform. Environmentalist John Tanton has been at the fount of most recent anti-immigrant advocacy. His Federation for American Immigration Reform, along with associated organizations such as the Center for Immigration Studies and NumbersUSA, seeks to end legal immigration. Immigration reform bills have moved this goal closer and closer in sight, until Trump can almost smell victory. FAIR and its affiliated organizations are consulted by the press on every policy move and given equal footing with the vast array of pro-immigrant groups.

7. The Dreamers have been a destructive wedge issue.

This relates to my point about how some immigrants who are offered ambiguous legalization, rather than universal access to citizenship being offered to everyone under predictable conditions. The Dreamers are the splinter group artfully deployed to silence the demand for rights for all other immigrants.

The concept of the Dreamers arose in the early 2000s (Sen. Dick Durbin was an early proponent), once the 1996 legislation had had time to do its work. Instead of welcoming the immigrant, as we had done through all our history, we would welcome only the Dreamer. Anyone not certifiably a Dreamer would not belong.

Who exactly is a Dreamer? A Dreamer is the postmodern version of a slave, embodying the idea of the pliant immigrant with which we seem most comfortable. The Dreamer is brought here against his will (evoking the rhetoric of slavery), yet harbors no resentment toward the white majority who have enslaved his people. The Dreamer is not expected to mind that his parents may not be recognized as people, even if they have present in the community for decades. The Dreamer willingly pays for college out of pocket, putting up with all the obstacles strewn by anti-immigrant states, particularly in the South and Southwest. The Dreamer is unashamedly invested in the capitalist dream that he or she will have to purchase, as a consumer but not a citizen. The Dreamer is expected to be grateful for grudging symbols of identity, a temporary work permit or a driver’s license. The Dreamer begs to be granted the least token of recognition in return for partaking in our collective dream.

What about elderly and disabled people, the creative and artistic, the bohemian and nonconformist, all those not employed in the professions that neoliberalism elevates? What about the parents of Dreamers? What about those who have committed any transgressions? They don’t count as Dreamers;, they are “criminal aliens.”

The Dreamer is seen as accepting exclusion as a principle in return for being made a provisional part of our nationhood. No doubt Trump will use the Dreamers to split the rest from this small slice, to whom he might grant minimum concessions on the road to ending legal immigration. The Dreamers would be expected to go along, because all comprehensive immigration reform bills, former President Barack Obama’s included, have separated the “good” from the “bad.”

8. Immigrant rights are human rights.

There is a debate whether constitutional rights extend to all “persons” present in the United States or only to citizens. The Constitution clearly says that rights belong to persons, not just citizens. Today the rights of noncitizens are being abridged as perhaps never before, and there’s a paramount need for the defense of the idea that immigrants have all constitutional rights.

Are freedom of speech and association, due process and equal rights limited to citizens? Such would not seem to be the case if we look at much of our judicial history. Yet there is plenty of judicial precedent for those who want to construct a vision of constitutional rights applying to all people.

When the Chinese Exclusion Act set up the federal bureaucracy, states such as California and Arizona started passing legislation discriminating against immigrants. The courts held at the time that equal protection applied to persons, not just citizens, for example in striking down laws that discriminated against Chinese owners of laundries in California. And in the Truaux v. Raich decision, the Supreme Court held in 1915 that Arizona could not restrict the employment of immigrants.

The important recent landmark case is the Plyler v. Doe decision of 1982, when the Supreme Court held that Texas was obligated to provide access to kindergarten through grade 12 education to all people, regardless of status. In succeeding years, the precedent set by the Plyler decision, when it comes to immigrants’ right to public services necessary for a fulfilling life, has not been consistently applied. Also, if kindergarten through grade 12 access is vital, then isn’t the same true for higher education?

We tend to assume that people present on our soil have access to constitutional rights, at the very least the right to due process and habeas corpus (which was stripped from immigrants in the 2005 REAL ID Act). In reality, we have intentionally created a vast population of essentially stateless or displaced people, refusing to extend constitutional rights to them, regardless of the letter and spirit of our founding documents.

Once we go down that path and create two regimes of law, one for citizens and one for everyone else, then it is inevitable that the regime created for immigrants will start affecting citizens as well, and constitutional rights will become restricted for all, as indeed has been the case over the last few decades. We cannot pretend anymore that what happens to “them,” as immigrants, does not affect “us,” as citizens. In every area of law, from the rights of consumers against corporations to the rights of citizens against the police, we have seen a drastic diminishment. Much of that has to do with our callousness toward immigrants.

9. The president has almost unlimited powers.

To the extent that Trump will be able to have his ban against Muslim immigration approved by the courts (and we seem to be headed toward extension to more Muslim countries), it will be because of the plenary power doctrine.

Ever since the federal immigration bureaucracy came into being, the courts have ceded vast powers to the executive to set the guidelines for immigration. Trump will make full use of this authority, some of it latent, some of it used by other presidents.

The Chae Chan Ping decision of 1889 was the first case, soon after the Chinese Exclusion Act, where the plenary power doctrine became inscribed, justifying the government’s power to exclude. After World War II, several landmark cases that were decided amid an atmosphere of Cold War paranoia — Knauff v. Shaughnessy (in 1950), Harisiades v. Shaughnessy (in 1952) and Shaughnessy v. Mezei (in 1953) — reaffirmed plenary power. Immigrants trying to return to the country were stopped or detained, based on alleged subversive views. Granting such unlimited powers is only asking for trouble when an unscrupulous administration comes along to take undue advantage.

Trump will test the limits of the plenary power doctrine with a range of executive orders and legislative initiatives. The only check on his power to do with immigrants as he wishes is for the courts to return firmly to precedents where limits on plenary power have been acknowledged — and for the courts to take a stand against the existence of this power in the first place.

10. Open borders are the only way to go.

We are in a situation of chaos, breeding technical illegality, because federal regulations have become too complex. Comprehensive immigration reform of any type would make these laws even more cumbersome by drastically curtailing family unification (our quotas, even after the 1965 liberalization, have always been vastly insufficient to the needs) and thus inviting more illegality. I don’t want to rest my case for open borders on the economic justification, but studies in the 1980s noted that world economic output would double if open borders prevailed everywhere, and studies in the 2000s showed even greater gains for the world economy.

Americans often compare the nation to a house, arguing that immigrants who enter without inspection or overstay their visas are like robbers whom we have every right to detain and expel. But a country or even a state or a city or a neighborhood is not a house (just as it is simplistic to compare a country’s budget to a household’s). The nation is dynamic and includes all of us. The nation is an abstraction is only as good as the operation of freedom within it. The same is even truer of the world. If the world cannot be put inside a border, then a country trying to do the same is foolish.

A wall is a fantasy, not a reality, that makes us economically and politically weaker. None of the moral grounds for exclusion make any sense, despite our knee-jerk resort to national sovereignty. Imagine if America had kept admitting Asians throughout the 19th and 20th centuries, instead of allowing them in only after 1965. Imagine if we had continued allowing Southern and Eastern Europeans after 1925. Would we have been a more progressive country, less likely to have succumbed to the burdens of an empire, with a more global outlook in the crucial midcentury years?

Today immigrants are treated as criminals for their violations, with deportation as the ultimate life-altering penalty, and yet immigrants are not provided the rights due to a criminal defendant. Immigration is and always has been a civil matter; it is not a crime to be present without authorization. We have in essence two sets of laws, one for immigrants, who do not have the rights of defendants when charged with “crimes,” and one for everyone else. The only solution to this anomaly is to cease treating immigration violations as crimes and to completely end detention for immigration. If an immigrant commits a crime, he or she should be prosecuted under normal laws, as a criminal defendant not as a “criminal alien.”

Ultimately, the only solution is to reduce the complexities, to end the web of regulations and exceptions — which, just as in corporate law, favor the powerful at the expense of the weak — and to finally shed immigration laws altogether.

Immigration should become a purely voluntary affair, no different than filing taxes. We trust citizens to do that, reporting millions of dollars in income. So why can’t we trust people to report their status and file for changes based on equities they have built in our community? As soon as a person steps on our soil, he or she should have full constitutional rights, so as to not be subject to exploitation. Why can’t we visualize immigration without government regulation? We certainly did very well with that regime until the federal bureaucracy emerged in the 1880s, and with revived global understanding we can do so again.

President Donald Trump is taking advantage, for white nationalist purposes, of a legacy of tragically unfair rules that have defined our immigration system ever since it has existed. We are now bearing the full fruits of a system that was begging to end in catastrophe.

In the first six months of 2011, more than 46,000 immigrants with at least one U.S. citizen child were deported by the Obama administration. In the 10 years following the passage of the 1996 law, more than 12 million people were forced to agree to voluntary departure. Though Immigration and Customs Enforcement under Trump is dramatically apprehending immigrants in public venues — a theater of cruelty meant to terrorize everyone — and causing great consternation, this exact process of splitting up families has been going on for two vicious decades, in numbers that classify as one the world’s major human rights calamities.

Countless numbers of immigrants, even legal permanent residents, have been hauled away from their families, their communities, everything they know and love, based on some minor misdemeanor they may have committed decades ago, which has suddenly been reclassified as an “aggravated felony,” and is cause for their deportation to places they have no memory of. Such immigrants do not have the right to be heard by a judge except in a perfunctory manner, with little room for clemency based on individual circumstances.

We do not call our immigrant detention facilities concentration camps, but at any given time we have about 34,000 immigrants serving time in prisons far from home, waiting to be deported. Is this any different than the prison regimes of the most brutal governments we have protested?

Migration is a human right. A person anywhere in the world has the right to migrate, just as there is a right to free speech or association. In fact, most other rights follow from the right to migrate. If governments are allowed to lock up people behind walls, then it’s only a matter of time before other rights will dissipate, too. If we do not recognize migration as an inviolable human right, and if we do not give up the idea of the wall, we are bound to lose human rights for all of us.

American citizenship, by having become associated with the hypernationalist project, will at first look enviable and untouchable, but ultimately will be so cheapened as to be worth nothing. For the courts, as they face the Trump assault, the challenge is clear: Do away with the plenary power doctrine and extend full constitutional rights to immigrants. Rights should depend on personhood not citizenship, as some of our best legal minds have recognized throughout our history.

One thing that would strongly push the country in the opposite direction than the one Trump intends is for individual states, particularly progressive states in the West or Northeast, to pass laws as favorable to immigrants as the ones in Arizona, Georgia and Alabama have been unfavorable. What if, say, California were to pass legislation extending full human rights to all people present in the state? That would set up a historic confrontation, bringing out all the anomalies in our inhuman immigration regime for due public consideration. “Sanctuary” would become a constructive, constitutional, universal concept, not a purely reactive one against police powers.

Every time we say that we should let immigrants stay because they do the dirtiest work that native-born folks aren’t willing to do, we should remember that we do not justify our ancestors’ arrival with that logic. We deserve to be here because we have a human right to be, just as we accepted this in the centuries preceding racist federal bureaucracies. We are here because we are humans, not because of our utility toward someone else’s comfort.

 

Anis Shivani is at work on a novel called “Abruzzi, 1936.” His most recent books are “Karachi Raj: A Novel,” “Whatever Speaks on Behalf of Hashish: Poems” and “Soraya: Sonnets.” “Literary Writing in the Twenty-First Century: Conversations” comes out in April 2017.

An increasingly connected world needs hackers more than ever before

Internet security expert Justin Calmus explains why bug bounty programs are so important

An increasingly connected world needs hackers more than ever before
(Credit: Getty/welcomia)

As the world around us becomes more connected to the internet, the number of ways that hackers can infiltrate our lives becomes increasingly multifarious. Today data breaches are taking place in ways that were unheard of just a decade ago — from remotely hacking cars to infiltrating “smart” teddy bears.

The threats have grown so quickly that companies are overwhelmed by the increasing number of attacks, security experts say. This is not just because of the growing number of opportunities to infiltrate a network or device, but also because these attacks are increasingly automated and launched from low-priced computer hardware using open-source tools that require relatively low coding skills to deploy. Defending against such attacks can require well-paid and highly trained experts.

“We believe that cybersecurity is a correctable math problem that, at present, overwhelmingly favors the attackers,” Ryan M Gillis, vice president of cybersecurity strategy for enterprise security company Palo Alto Networks, said at a House Homeland Security Committee meeting last week about protecting the private sector from hacking. “Network defenders are simply losing the economics of the cybersecurity challenge.”

One increasingly popular way for a company or government agency to root out vulnerabilities is through a big bounty program, a policy that invites hackers to try to infiltrate its connected networks. Hackers receive financial compensation for identifying entry points that could be exploited for malicious purposes. The idea has been around since at least 1995, when internet browser pioneer Netscape initiated its “bugs bounty” program with a $50,000 budget. Today such programs are common among major companies, including United Airlines and Tesla Motors, and can be lucrative projects for the most talented hackers who can earn from $10 to tens of thousands of dollars depending on the severity of the vulnerability identified.

Last week Google and Microsoft increased their top rewards for people who can expose the most serious threats, like when code can be remotely injected and executed through network defenses. This underscores the growing popularity of bounty programs as companies compete for the attention of the most talented ethical hackers. Apple, which has resisted compensating people for identifying flaws, last year succumbed to the trend and now offers bounties of as much as $200,000.

Justin Calmus, vice president of hacker success for San Francisco-based HackerOne, which has a bug-bounty platform whose clients include the U.S. State Department, Uber Technologies and General Motors, spoke with Salon about the role bug bounties play in boosting network security.

Bug bounties have been around for about 20 years. Talk about the most recent innovations in the practice and where it might be headed.

I’ll start with the problem first. If we go back 15 years, companies would be able to recruit engineers because they were focused on specific technologies. You would have a few issues from most likely Python, [a high-level general-purpose programming language,] and you would have a website and some people who knew HTML, [the standard language for building websites]. Today we have so many different programming languages and we have different infrastructure components, like running in the cloud versus on premise, we have [Amazon Web Services, a widely used cloud-computing platform] and we have all these different operations.

The problem of security is getting bigger and bigger. How do you control your security? If you run a startup, how do you control your security as you build your business? That’s an even harder problem to solve because you don’t necessarily have the funding to hire tons of security resources. You have to figure out “How do I continue to stay secure while I scale?” That’s one of the problems bug bounties solve for.

For the most part, if you have a company, and it could be any company, you tell hackers, “Hey, I want you to do anything it takes to get access to our data and report it to us.” If you do that, you then have thousands of eyes looking into your specific programs to help you scale and help you secure your business.

Are there hackers that just do this as full-time jobs?

Yeah, we have a gentleman in Vegas that does this full-time, making a half a million dollars a year doing this. You can make a significant income from bug bounties. It’s a fantastic way to make extra income and to potentially go full-time.

Google and Microsoft recently announced big increases in their bug bounty rewards. Why do you think bug bounties are becoming more lucrative?

Imagine if Salon.com is trying to recruit the best reporter in the world, but that reporter must have specific knowledge about security — and it also wants a little bit of software engineering background because the reporter needs to talk technical, and it wants the reporter to be located in this area, and the reporter must be willing to travel. Suddenly you’re moving your needle so small that there might be three people in the world who fit the criteria.

Google is starting to have this problem. They’ve developed a lot of their own tools and they’ve developed their own [programming] language. It’s not easy to find a Google bug because there isn’t external training on what Google does, how they do it, all the different types of infrastructure. There are pretty good resources to figure this out, but to go deep on such a massive problem you need to spend hours and days and months getting to know the infrastructure to find a bug. So to dedicate all of your time and resources into Google you need to be very incentivized to look because at the end of the day you might not find anything.

We’re entering an era of the internet of things [that] connects cars, smart cities, toys with Wi-Fi connections. Are bug bounties being implemented for things like this?

We’re getting to the point to where the [makers of] hardware and the internet of things components are starting to be asked those very questions. As a hacker myself, I want to see them participate in bug bounty programs because I use Alexa, I use some of the apps connected to [the internet of things] and it’s my job to understand how the software and hardware that I buy works. Doing due diligence and being able to reverse engineer to take a look deep into a product, you may find issues and vulnerabilities; some of them may even give you access to other customers’ data. Companies need to be able to responsibly disclose all of that. For hackers to put in the time and effort to find some of these vulnerabilities — it would be fantastic if companies would reward the hackers so that they continue looking into their programs.

We’ve read a lot about how automakers are encouraging white hat hackers to root out these vulnerabilities. But is this happening with other makers of internet-connected products, like internet-connected home appliances or “smart” teddy bears?

It’s absolutely a slow roll. The tech companies get it. They have to deal with security issues day in and day out. The hardware companies don’t necessarily understand it as much as they need to. It’s a problem we’re solving for. We do have some hardware companies on board. We do have internet of things [companies] on board. But we do need to get the word out that security is a fundamental piece of everybody’s life. You need to be able to understand the security outcomes of making life more efficient or easier or whatever it may be. So do I think that we need to spread the word? Absolutely. Do I think they get it yet? Not 100 percent.

The Information Technology and Innovation Foundationrecently said that a significant number of federal government websites failed basic security benchmarks. Is the federal government falling behind in this effort to entice ethical hackers?

The Department of Defense has a bug bounty program and we’re starting to see efforts to secure all of our government services. Just speaking to higher-ups on the government side I hear them talking about “Hey, we need to find these hackers and reward them and incentivize them, see what we can do to continue to have them continue to look at our programs and even eventually hire them.” The U.S. has its own hiring criteria, but the [Defense Department] is open to anybody today, not just U.S. citizens looking to work for them.

HackerOne recently announced a platform for the open-source coding community, which is free. What inspired you to go in that direction?

We’re absolutely huge open-source fans. Open source powers our platform. It powers many platforms. We see the mission as making the entire internet safer and make sure that everyone is taken care of. We’re better off doing that for all of the open-source projects out there. We want to make sure we’re on top of that. This also helps us branch out to the best hackers out there. We’re able to leverage our ability find vulnerabilities [in open-source software] while we’re getting more connected to the hacker community.

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

NEWS & POLITICS

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

Photo Credit: Scott P / Flickr

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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