Twenty years since Clinton’s welfare “reform”

NASHVILLE, :  US President Bill Clinton clinches his fist during a 27 October speech on welfare reform at Vanderbilt University Medical Center in Nashville, Tennessee. The US general election is two weeks away on 05 Novemeber.  (ELECTRONIC IMAGE) AFP PHOTO Paul J. RICHARDS (Photo credit should read PAUL J. RICHARDS/AFP/Getty Images)

23 August 2016

Twenty years ago yesterday, on August 22, 1996, President Bill Clinton signed bipartisan legislation that ended the federal guarantee of welfare assistance to the poor.

The Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Reconciliation Act of 1996 was the first repeal of a major provision of the 1935 Social Security Act, which made relief to the old, the disabled, the jobless, single mothers and poor children a federally funded and guaranteed “entitlement.” Eligibility for what would become Aid to Families with Dependent Children (AFDC) was expanded in 1962.

Instead of providing a safety net of minimal benefits, the new Temporary Assistance for Needy Families program (TANF), which replaced AFDC, imposed a lifetime limit of five years, plus mandatory work and school requirements. The federal government sent a fixed amount of money, in the form of block grants, to the states, which were free to impose even harsher eligibility restrictions and cut off benefits once the money ran out, no matter how many people were left destitute.

As a result, millions of poor people lost all cash assistance and were bereft of any income. While AFDC benefits were always woefully inadequate, TANF assistance in all states currently provides less than half the income deemed necessary by the government to avoid poverty. In one-third of the states, the benefits are less than 20 percent of the official poverty level.

The 1996 law also cut food assistance to the poor. The tightening of eligibility for food stamps, now called the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), has had devastating consequences. As a result of the lowering of maximum benefits enacted at that time, a working household of three people today receives nearly $400 less a year—or $33 a month—than it would have received had the “reform” not been enacted.

So draconian were Clinton’s measures, they were denounced by Senator Patrick Moynihan, a Democrat who had been reviled for joining the Nixon administration and initiating the first efforts to cut back on social programs. Moynihan denounced both parties for “making cruelty to children an instrument of social policy.”

In announcing that he was “ending welfare as we know it,” Clinton cynically claimed that his bill would help welfare recipients find work and attain economic self-sufficiency. That was a lie. The measure freed up billions for corporate tax cuts and military programs, while forcing millions of workers into low-wage, part-time jobs. The funneling of the desperately poor into the labor market contributed to the suppression of wages that continues to this day.

The corporate-controlled media has marked the anniversary by hailing its “success” and fondly recalling the bipartisan support for the measure. Media commentators suggest that the cross-party cooperation that succeeded in destroying welfare should be a model for laying siege to even more basic entitlement programs such as Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security.

A series of recent reports has detailed the human impact of Clinton’s cuts:

  • The number of US children living in families with monthly incomes below $2 per person per day doubled from 1996 to 2011, according to a 2013 analysis published by the National Poverty Center.
  • While 76 families received cash assistance through AFDC for every 100 poor families with children in 1995, by 2014, only 23 percent received TANF cash assistance. Because fixed benefit levels lost value due to inflation, cash payments for a family of three in July 2015 were at least 20 percent below their 1996 level in 35 states and the District of Columbia.
  • A 2015 review of the law by the National Bureau of Economic Research concluded that “declines in welfare benefits arising from leaving welfare often cancel out the earning increases, leaving income relatively unchanged.” In addition, “a significant number of single-mother families appear to have been worse off and to have higher deep poverty rates,” defined as living below half the federal poverty line.
  • During the first decade of welfare “reform,” incomes fell by 18 percent for the poorest tenth of children of single mothers, and the share of children living in deep poverty rose from 2.1 percent to 3.0 percent—from 1.5 million to 2.2 million—according to the Center for Budget and Policy Priorities. While the percentage of children in deep poverty was reduced to 2.6 percent in the following decade, this was largely due to the temporary extension of unemployment benefits and food stamps after the Great Recession, which has largely dried up.
  • The cancellation of welfare payments to legal immigrants through the imposition of long-term residency requirements led to a fall in high school graduation rates by as much as 17 percent, according to a recent article in the Washington Post.

In destroying welfare, President Clinton had the enthusiastic backing of his wife, Hillary Clinton, who is now the Democratic candidate for US president. The ex-president emphasized her role in a 2006 op-ed piece in the New York Times titled “How We Ended Welfare, Together.” In the article, Clinton boasted that welfare rolls had been reduced from 12.2 million to 4.5 million in the first decade of his “reform.”

The destruction of the federal welfare system was part of a social counterrevolution by the American ruling class initiated in the last years of the Democratic administration of Jimmy Carter in the late 1970s and escalated during the Reagan years of the 1980s. It marked the complete abandonment of the policy of liberal reform associated with Roosevelt’s New Deal in the 1930s and Johnson’s War on Poverty in the mid-1960s.

The Clintons were leading figures in the Democratic Leadership Council, which renounced such reforms and helped transform the Democratic Party into the leading party of Wall Street.

Following the debacle of Hillary Clinton’s pro-corporate health care “reform,” the Democrats suffered a rout in the 1994 mid-term elections, which gave the Republicans, under the leadership of arch reactionary Newt Gingrich, control of both houses of Congress. The response of the Clintons was to shift further to the right.

The tossing of millions of welfare recipients into destitution was a calculated effort to curry favor from the ruling elite and reactionary sections of the upper middle class. In the current presidential campaign, Clinton’s wife has adopted a similar strategy, except even more reactionary.

The war on the poor, with its denunciations of “generations of dependency” and demands for “personal responsibility,” coincided with a bipartisan program of unlimited government welfare for corporate America and the super-rich. These were the days of “irrational exuberance” on Wall Street, the Clinton administration’s repeal of the Glass-Steagall Act and other Depression-era banking regulations, the destruction of millions of better-paying manufacturing jobs, the growth of financialization, and the rise of a new financial aristocracy to the pinnacle of the American economy.

Over the last seven-and-a-half years, the Obama administration has intensified this social counterrevolution, slashing the wages of autoworkers, shifting the burden of health care and pensions onto the backs of workers, and funneling trillions to Wall Street and trillions more to the Pentagon to wage nonstop war.

Various pseudo-left and Democratic Party advocates of identity politics characterize Clinton’s welfare “reform” as a racist measure. Typical is a recent piece in the New Republic titled “The Racist Roots of Welfare Reform.”

This only serves to conceal the class character of the Democratic Party-led attack—whose victims include all races and nationalities, the majority being poor whites. In opposition to all such reactionary attempts to divide the working class, the Socialist Equality Party and our presidential and vice presidential candidates, Jerry White and Niles Niemuth, fight for the unity of the working class in a struggle against the capitalist system, the source of war, poverty and repression.

Jerry White

WSWS

The Illusion of Freedom By Chris Hedges

Posted on Aug 18, 2016

By Chris Hedges

  A Donald Trump campaign rally. In the 2016 presidential contest, a frustrated white working class has been receptive to anti-democracy messages. (Carlos Osorio / AP)

The seizure of political and economic power by corporations is unassailable. Who funds and manages our elections? Who writes our legislation and laws? Who determines our defense policies and vast military expenditures? Who is in charge of the Department of the Interior? The Department of Homeland Security? Our intelligence agencies? The Department of Agriculture? The Food and Drug Administration? The Department of Labor? The Federal Reserve? The mass media? Our systems of entertainment? Our prisons and schools? Who determines our trade and environmental policies? Who imposes austerity on the public while enabling the looting of the U.S. Treasury and the tax boycott by Wall Street? Who criminalizes dissent?

A disenfranchised white working class vents its lust for fascism at Trump campaign rallies. Naive liberals, who think they can mount effective resistance within the embrace of the Democratic Party, rally around the presidential candidacy of Bernie Sanders, who knows that the military-industrial complex is sacrosanct. Both the working class and the liberals will be sold out. Our rights and opinions do not matter. We have surrendered to our own form of wehrwirtschaft. We do not count within the political process.

This truth, emotionally difficult to accept, violates our conception of ourselves as a free, democratic people. It shatters our vision of ourselves as a nation embodying superior virtues and endowed with the responsibility to serve as a beacon of light to the world. It takes from us the “right” to impose our fictitious virtues on others by violence. It forces us into a new political radicalism. This truth reveals, incontrovertibly, that if real change is to be achieved, if our voices are to be heard, corporate systems of power have to be destroyed. This realization engenders an existential and political crisis. The inability to confront this crisis, to accept this truth, leaves us appealing to centers of power that will never respond and ensures we are crippled by self-delusion.

The longer fantasy is substituted for reality, the faster we sleepwalk toward oblivion. There is no guarantee we will wake up. Magical thinking has gripped societies in the past. Those civilizations believed that fate, history, superior virtues or a divine force guaranteed their eternal triumph. As they collapsed, they constructed repressive dystopias. They imposed censorship and forced the unreal to be accepted as real. Those who did not conform were disappeared linguistically and then literally.

The vast disconnect between the official narrative of reality and reality itself creates an Alice-in-Wonderland experience. Propaganda is so pervasive, and truth is so rarely heard, that people do not trust their own senses. We are currently being assaulted by political campaigning that resembles the constant crusading by fascists and communists in past totalitarian societies. This campaigning, devoid of substance and subservient to the mirage of a free society, is anti-politics.

No vote we cast will alter the configurations of the corporate state. The wars will go on. Our national resources will continue to be diverted to militarism. The corporate fleecing of the country will get worse. Poor people of color will still be gunned down by militarized police in our streets. The eradication of our civil liberties will accelerate. The economic misery inflicted on over half the population will expand. Our environment will be ruthlessly exploited by fossil fuel and animal agriculture corporations and we will careen toward ecological collapse. We are “free” only as long as we play our assigned parts. Once we call out power for what it is, once we assert our rights and resist, the chimera of freedom will vanish. The iron fist of the most sophisticated security and surveillance apparatus in human history will assert itself with a terrifying fury.

The powerful web of interlocking corporate entities is beyond our control. Our priorities are not corporate priorities. The corporate state, whose sole aim is exploitation and imperial expansion for increased profit, sinks money into research and development of weapons and state surveillance systems while it starves technologies that address global warming and renewable energy. Universities are awash in defense money but cannot find funds for environmental studies. Our bridges, roads and levees are crumbling from neglect. Our schools are overcrowded, decaying and being transformed into for-profit vocational centers. Our elderly and poor are abandoned and impoverished. Young men and women are crippled by unemployment or underemployment and debt peonage. Our for-profit health care drives the sick into bankruptcy. Our wages are being suppressed and the power of government to regulate corporations is dramatically diminished by a triad of new trade agreements—the Trans-Pacific Partnership, the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership and the Trade in Services Agreement. Government utilities and services, with the implementation of the Trade in Services Agreement, will see whole departments and services, from education to the Postal Service, dismantled and privatized. Our manufacturing jobs, sent overseas, are not coming back. And a corporate media ignores the decay to perpetuate the fiction of a functioning democracy, a reviving economy and a glorious empire.

The essential component of totalitarian propaganda is artifice. The ruling elites, like celebrities, use propaganda to create false personae and a false sense of intimacy with the public.

The emotional power of this narrative is paramount. Issues do not matter. Competency and honesty do not matter. Past political stances or positions do not matter. What is important is how we are made to feel. Those who are skilled at deception succeed. Those who have not mastered the art of deception become “unreal.” Politics in totalitarian societies are entertainment. Reality, because it is complicated, messy and confusing, is banished from the world of mass entertainment. Clichés, stereotypes and uplifting messages that are comforting and self-congratulatory, along with elaborate spectacles, replace fact-based discourse.

“Entertainment was an expression of democracy, throwing off the chains of alleged cultural repression,” Neal Gabler wrote in “Life: The Movie: How Entertainment Conquered Reality.” “So too was consumption, throwing off the chains of the old production-oriented culture and allowing anyone to buy his way into his fantasy. And, in the end, both entertainment and consumption often provided the same intoxication: the sheer, endless pleasure of emancipation from reason, from responsibility, from tradition, from class and from all the other bonds that restrained the self.”

The more communities break down and poverty expands, the more anxious and frightened people will retreat into self-delusion. Those who speak the truth—whether about climate change or our system of inverted totalitarianism—will be branded as seditious and unpatriotic. They will be hated for destroying the illusion. This, as Gabler noted, is the danger of a society dominated by entertainment. Such a society, he wrote, “… took dead aim at the intellectuals’ most cherished values. That theme was the triumph of the senses over the mind, of emotion over reason, of chaos over order, or the id over the superego. … Entertainment was Plato’s worst nightmare. It deposed the rational and enthroned the sensational and in so doing deposed the intellectual minority and enthroned the unrefined majority.”

Despair, powerlessness and hopelessness diminish the emotional and intellectual resilience needed to confront reality. Those cast aside cling to the entertaining forms of self-delusion offered by the ruling elites. This segment of the population is easily mobilized to “purge” the nation of dissenters and human “contaminants.” Totalitarian systems, including our own, never lack for willing executioners.

Many people, maybe even most people, will not wake up. Those rebels who rise up to try to wrest back power from despotic forces will endure not only the violence of the state, but the hatred and vigilante violence meted out by the self-deluded victims of exploitation. The systems of propaganda will relentlessly demonize those who resist, along with Muslims, undocumented workers, environmentalists, African-Americans, homosexuals, feminists, intellectuals and artists. The utopia will arrive, the state systems of propaganda will assure its followers, once those who obstruct or poison it are removed. Donald Trump is following this script.

The German psychoanalyst and sociologist Erich Fromm in his book “Escape From Freedom” explained the yearning of those who are rendered insignificant to “surrender their freedom.” Totalitarian systems, he pointed out, function like messianic religious cults.

“The frightened individual,” Fromm wrote, “seeks for somebody or something to tie his self to; he cannot bear to be his own individual self any longer, and he tries frantically to get rid of it and to feel security again by the elimination of this burden: the self.”

This is the world we live in. The totalitarian systems of the past used different symbols, different iconography and different fears. They rose up out of a different historical context. But they too demonized the weak and persecuted the strong. They too promised the dispossessed that by subsuming their selves into that of demagogues, or parties or other organizations that promised unrivaled power, they would become powerful. It never works. The growing frustration, the ongoing powerlessness, the mounting repression, leads these betrayed individuals to lash out violently, first at the weak and the demonized, and then at those among them who lack sufficient ideological purity. There is, in the end, an orgy of self-immolation. The death instinct, as Sigmund Freud understood, has a seductive allure.

History may not repeat itself. But it echoes itself. Human nature, after all, is constant. We will react no differently from those who went before us. This should not dissuade us from resisting, but the struggle will be long and difficult. Before it is over there will be blood in the streets.

http://www.truthdig.com/report/item/the_illusion_of_freedom_20151227

For real progressives, Jill Stein is now the only choice

In a CNN town hall, Green party candidate Jill Stein showed that Clinton’s brand of liberalism does not represent the tone or spirit of the Sanders campaign.

Green Party presidential candidate Jill Stein speaks during a rally of Bernie Sanders supporters outside the Wells Fargo Center on the second day of the Democratic National Convention in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, July 26, 2016. REUTERS/Dominick Reuter
‘Stein and Baraka did not merely tell voters what to vote against, they also gave them something to vote for.’ Photograph: Dominick Reuter/Reuters

This was perhaps the only opportunity the presidential candidate I have endorsed – Jill Stein – and her running mate, Ajamu Baraka, to have the ear of a large portion of the mainstream American electorate. There was little room for error.

They spent little time directly criticizing Donald Trump. This was a wise move, since virtually no one among Stein’s potential base of support is considering Trump as a viable option. Instead, she focused on Hillary Clinton.

At a moment where the Clinton campaign is still attempting to secure the support of frustrated Bernie Sanders primary voters, Stein demonstrated that Clinton’s brand of liberalism does not represent the tone or spirit of the Sanders campaign. By highlighting Clinton’s pro-corporate politics and active role in hawkish foreign policy, Stein raised considerable doubt about Clinton’s leftist bona fides.

“I will have trouble sleeping at night if Donald Trump is elected,” Stein said. “I will also have trouble sleeping at night if Hillary Clinton is elected.”

Throughout the event, both Stein and Baraka rightly refuted the idea that superficial identity politics are enough to constitute a progressive movement. Stein destroyed the notion that a vote for Clinton is a feminist move, as Clinton’s pro-war stances and neoliberal economic policies have compromised the lives and prosperity of women and families around the globe. Baraka drew from Barack Obama’s presidential record to show that electing a black president has not signaled a turn away from anti-black racism at the systemic or interpersonal levels.

Stein also raised doubts about Clinton’s trustworthiness. While these arguments are not new, they carried a different level of veracity when separated from the hypocritical and sexist “crooked Hillary” rhetoric of the Trump campaign. Drawing from Clinton’s own anti-Trump playbook, Stein used Clinton’s email scandal and missteps abroad as a springboard to question Clinton’s judgment.

Of course, such critiques would have been more effective if the possibility of a nuclear armed Trump weren’t lingering in the back of voter’s minds, but they nonetheless focused appropriate scrutiny to the secretary’s actions.

But Stein and Baraka did not merely tell voters what to vote against, they also gave them something to vote for.

Throughout the night, the candidates used their time to articulate the Green party’s vision for the future. Specifically, Stein talked about workable plans to create peace in the Middle East, a plan that includes nuclear disarmament, a call to end the Israeli occupation of Palestine and a loosening of the International Monetary Fund, World Bank and World Trade Organization’s economic strangleholds on the globe’s most vulnerable nations.

Baraka offered a workable vision of a nation without state violence, inner cities without police as occupying forces and vulnerable citizens not viewed as enemy combatants. For the first time since Bernie Sanders stepped out of the Democratic race, the American public was given an opportunity to dream out loud for a few hours about freedom, justice and true democracy.

Despite the town hall’s success, the Green party has a long way to go to snag a significant slice of undecided, Independent and Clinton-leaning voters. The challenge of the Stein-Baraka campaign will be to convince voters of a long-term political vision, one that isn’t prisoner to our collective obsession with individual elections or hyperbolic fear of particular candidates.

They will have to persuade voters to believe that the two-party system, when underwritten by endless corporate money, does not offer the “lesser of two evils” but a fundamental threat to democracy itself. Surely, they have a long way to go to achieve these goals. But they’ve made an incredible start.

https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2016/aug/18/progressive-voters-jill-stein-green-party-candidate?CMP=fb_us#link_time=1471546668

With Trump certain to lose, you can forget about a progressive Clinton

What seems most plausible from the current standpoint is a landslide for Hillary Clinton, and with it the triumph of complacent neoliberal orthodoxy.
What seems most plausible from the current standpoint is a landslide for Hillary Clinton, and with it the triumph of complacent neoliberal orthodoxy. Photograph: UPI / Barcroft Images

And so ends the great populist uprising of our time, fizzling out pathetically in the mud and the bigotry stirred up by a third-rate would-be caudillo named Donald J Trump. So closes an era of populist outrage that began back in 2008, when the Davos dream of a world run by benevolent bankers first started to crack. The unrest has taken many forms in these eight years – from idealistic to cynical, from Occupy Wall Street to the Tea Party – but they all failed to change much of anything.

And now the last, ugliest, most fraudulent manifestation is failing so spectacularly that it may discredit populism itself for years to come.

Two weeks ago, I wrote in this space about how the Trump phenomenon had reconfigured the conventional geometry of the two-party system. Trump was riding high in the polls at that moment, and there was reason to believe that his criticism of trade deals – one of several Trumpian causes long associated with the populist left – might play havoc with the Democrats’ happy centrist plans.

Now let us ponder the opposite scenario. In the intervening two weeks, Trump has destroyed himself more efficiently than any opposition campaign could ever have done. First, he heaped mounds of insults on the family of a US soldier killed in Iraq, then prominent journalistsraised doubts about his mental state, and then (as if to confirm his doubters) he dropped a strong hint that gun enthusiasts might take action against Hillary Clinton should she appoint supreme court justices not to his liking.

His chances, as measured in the polls, went almost overnight from fairly decent to utter crap. For much of this year, populism had the gilded class really worried. There was Bernie Sanders and the unthinkable threat of a socialist president. There was the terrifying Brexit vote. Just a short while ago the American national newspapers were running page-one stories telling readers it was time to take seriously Trump’s followers, if not Trump himself. And on 3 August, New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman actually typed the following: “It scares me that people are so fed up with elites, so hate and mistrust [Hillary] Clinton and are so worried about the future – jobs, globalization and terrorism” that they might actually vote for Trump.

Yes, it scared Friedman that the American people didn’t like their masters any longer. As it has no doubt scared many of his rich friends to learn over the past few years that the people formerly known as middle class are angry about losing their standard of living to the same forces that are making those rich people ever more comfortable.

Well, Friedman need be frightened no longer. Today it looks as though his elites are taking matters well in hand. “Jobs” don’t really matter now in this election, nor does the debacle of “globalization”, nor does anything else, really. Thanks to this imbecile Trump, all such issues have been momentarily swept off the table while Americans come together around Clinton, the wife of the man who envisaged the Davos dream in the first place.

As leading Republicans desert the sinking ship of Trump’s GOP, America’s two-party system itself has temporarily become a one-party system. And within that one party, the political process bears a striking resemblance to dynastic succession. Party office-holders selected Clinton as their candidate long ago, apparently determined to elevate her despite every possible objection, every potential legal problem. The Democratic National Committee helped out, too, as WikiLeaks tells us. So did President Barack Obama, that former paladin for openness, who in the past several years did nearly everything in his power to suppress challenges to Clinton and thus ensure she would continue his legacy of tepid, bank-friendly neoliberalism.

My leftist friends persuaded themselves that this stuff didn’t really matter, that Clinton’s many concessions to Sanders’ supporters were permanent concessions. But with the convention over and the struggle with Sanders behind her, headlines show Clinton triangulating to the right, scooping up the dollars and the endorsement, and the elites shaken loose in the great Republican wreck.

She is reaching out to the foreign policy establishment and the neocons. She is reaching out to Republican office-holders. She is reaching out to Silicon Valley. And, of course, she is reaching out to Wall Street. In her big speech in Michigan on Thursday she cast herself as the candidate who could bring bickering groups together and win policy victories through really comprehensive convenings.

Things will change between now and November, of course. But what seems most plausible from the current standpoint is a landslide for Clinton, and with it the triumph of complacent neoliberal orthodoxy. She will have won her great victory, not as a champion of working people’s concerns, but as the greatest moderate of them all, as the leader of a stately campaign of sanity and national unity. The populist challenge of the past eight years, whether led by Trump or by Sanders, will have been beaten back resoundingly. Centrism will reign triumphant over the Democratic party for years to come. This will be her great accomplishment. The bells will ring all over Washington DC.

In this ironic and roundabout way, Trump may prove to be a disaster for the reform politics he has never really believed in. Indeed, it would be difficult to find a leader who could discredit populism more thoroughly than this compassion-free billionaire. For Friedman’s beloved “elites”, I predict that Trump will come to serve an important symbolic purpose. Trump loves to boast that he is immune to the scourge of money in politics, that he’s nobody’s puppet, and from his coming ruin and disgrace we will no doubt be told to draw many lessons about how money in politics actually helps prevent the rise of people like Trump and makes the system more stable.

For decades, the Davos set have told us that doubt about “globalization” was a species of racism, and soon Trump, as a landslide loser, will confirm this for them in overwhelming terms.

My friends and I like to wonder about who will be the “next Bernie Sanders”, but what I am suggesting here is that whoever emerges to lead the populist left will simply be depicted as the next Trump. The billionaire’s scowling country-club face will become the image of populist reform, whether genuine populists had anything to do with him or not. This is the real potential disaster of 2016: That legitimate economic discontent is going to be dismissed as bigotry and xenophobia for years to come.

https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2016/aug/13/trump-clinton-election-chances-moderate-policies-economy

The Day After Election Day

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In an effort to demonstrate united establishment support for Hillary Clinton Democrats are trotting out the reanimated corpse of serial war criminal Henry Kissinger, neocon debacle-monger Robert Kagan and a veritable who’s who of everything wrong with America over the last half-century. Were Donald Trump other than the uncensored id of the residual Republican pissed-ocracy pretending to be an economic populist the choice for or against the status quo would be clear. In neither case will a political direction be found to resolve the material circumstances driving current political disaffection. Perhaps Milton Friedman’s corpse could join Hill and Hank on the Democrats’ ‘fresh ideas’ team.

The thread linking Mrs. Clinton to Mr. Trump is economic struggle being carried out under the cover of politics. The American ruling class and its water-carriers in the bourgeois near-precariat have concluded that times are great to passable in descending order of place in the economic order. These are the people for whom stock prices and house values suggest that all is right with the world. The other 80% or so of the population, the recently dispossessed now struggling to get by alongside those who never had a dream that comported with bourgeois fantasy, seems to have concluded that it is Hillary Clinton’s establishment that put them where they are. Mr. Kissinger’s presence will no-doubt move the pro-genocide crowd toward the Democrats’ camp.

naftaclinton1

Graph: Following sequential Republican failures to pass NAFTA, the North American Free Trade Agreement, liberal Democrats Bill and Hillary Clinton used identity politics and the temporary boom created by deregulation of Wall Street to convince gullible Progressives that their antique capitalist blather hadn’t already been disproved by the Great Depression. The predictable result was unmitigated calamity for manufacturing workers. But hey, stock prices are up. Source: St. Louis Federal Reserve

Those frightened at the prospect of Donald Trump being elected need to explain precisely where they were when Democrats launched their three-decade-long class war against the great majority of the American people. The Clintons passed NAFTA in 1994 after Republicans had been unable to get it passed because of (righteous) opposition from organized labor. They ‘freed’ Wall Street from social accountability while making it more dependent than ever on government bailouts. They cut social spending while increasing the economic vulnerability of the poor. Both the dotcom stock bubble and the housing bubble began under the Clintons and were caused by their finance-friendly policies. The Clintons are singularly responsible for the Democrats’ turn toward finance capitalism that has dispossessed the middle class, immiserated the working class and left the poor to fight over the crumbs that fall to them.

In the abstract, but never-the-less relevant, terms of economic theory the Clintons separated claims on economic production from that-which-was-produced. The claims went to one group— connected financiers, as the task of economic production remained with a freshly diminished working class. This politicized money system can be seen most clearly in the distance between those who received ‘free’ money in the Wall Street bailouts and those who didn’t. Bankers, hedge funds and private equity received billions in low interest ‘non-recourse’ loans while the American political establishment urged austerity as the moral antidote appropriate for the rest of us. The spectacle of bankers, with the support of leading figures in the Obama administration, claiming that their clearly defrauded borrowers presented a ‘moral hazard’ to them would be as implausible in fiction as it was true in fact.

naftaclint2

Graph: the liberal economists who support Clinton-Obama-Clinton-omics have long claimed that job losses in ‘low value-added’ occupations like manufacturing would be made up for in the high value-added industries. In fact, employment for the prime-age workers who must work to live has plummeted since NAFTA was passed as low-wage and increasingly contingent service sector jobs have replaced manufacturing employment. This has required the robots-stole-their-jobs fallacy as productivity (the ‘benefit’ of automation) has fallen to five-decade lows. Source: St. Louis Federal Reserve.

The political establishment now circling the wagons around Hillary Clinton feeds at the trough of money creation and depends on the misdirection that in ‘normal’ circumstances nature ties its distribution to economic product produced. Upon his election in 1992 Bill Clinton claimed to have inherited an ‘unexpectedly’ large budget deficit that tied his hands with respect to social spending. The result was that Mr. Clinton abandoned his political program except inasmuch as the ‘private’ economy that included Wall Street, arms manufacturers, pharmaceutical and telecommunications companies and the insurance industry were ‘freed’ from social accountability as government funds and privileges continued to be directed to them. The money was somewhere ‘found’ to bomb Iraq for eight years but that needed to keep the poor living indoors and eating regular meals had to be cut because the Federal budget deficit required it.

Upon election Barack Obama did essentially the same thing claiming a fiscal emergency in 2010 that required cutting Social Security and Medicare as he spent $6 trillion – $14 trillion to save Wall Street. That unlimited funds were found for Wall Street but none could be found to restore the fortunes of the victims of Democratic ‘trade’ agreements and the predatory finance of Wall Street renders evident the class-war being perpetrated by the Democrats. Liberal economists— court jesters dressed in the garb of storied academics, prattled on about the ‘zero-lower bound’ (cartoon monetary economics) as the Clintons and Barack Obama forewent the power of the public purse that FDR used to create the Federal jobs programs that brought tens of thousands of desperate citizens out of the misery of the Great Depression.

When Hillary Clinton outlined her ‘economic’ program she claimed that upon election she would direct Congress to create ten million jobs rebuilding infrastructure without explaining how this jibed with her public career as a deficit hawk, how rebuilding infrastructure would create ten million jobs when Mr. Obama’s program created at best a few thousand and why this wouldn’t be just one more Clinton scam to shove public resources to their cronies? As the Wall Street bailouts demonstrated, the public purse is virtually bottomless when social emergencies require rectification. The problem is that Hillary Clinton has spent her career poisoning the well for public expenditures in the public interest through both the misdirection that taxes are a binding constraint on public expenditures and by corrupting the public realm to the point where nothing works as advertised.

naftaclin3

Graph: The Clinton’s state-capitalism works for their Wall Street patrons by transferring a larger piece of an economy in decline to it while using identity politics to divide working class interests. Liberal economists understood that resurgent capitalism would redistribute income and wealth upward but argued that ‘we all benefit’ from the rich being made richer. This was derided as ‘trickle-down’ economics when Ronald Reagan re-introduced the concept. As history has it, the actual result is broad economic decline where the already wealthy use state power to immiserate the ‘bottom’ 80% – 90% of the population. Source: St. Louis Federal Reserve.

Bill Clinton and / or Barack Obama could have created government jobs programs to employ dispossessed workers at living wages just like FDR did. They could have even claimed the economic emergencies they helped create as reasons for doing so. Mainstream economic theory has ‘free-trade’ beneficiaries compensating those displaced by it. However, the Clintons and Mr. Obama chose instead to promote the right-wing lie of a binding budget constraint to limit and / or preclude increased social spending more effectively than the old-line Republican misery squad could have ever imagined possible. So the question for Hillary Clinton is: will she prove her husband and Barack Obama to be ruling class tools for lying about Federal budget constraints on social spending or will she maintain the lie to renege on her promise of creating ten million jobs?

Jay Gould once speculated that he “could hire one-half of the working class to kill the other half.” Rising liberal vitriol directed against working class supporters of Donald Trump pits the near-precariat with ‘private’ health insurance, pensions and recovered home equity against those without them with little apparent understanding of the broadly declining circumstances for all but the very rich (graph above). Democrats sold trade agreements, deregulation, privatization and balanced budgets as ways to ‘grow the economic pie.’ With history having demonstrated otherwise, the Party leadership now wants to change the subject. Barack Obama is selling the TPP (Trans-Pacific Partnership) ‘trade’ agreement as a geopolitical endeavor. Hillary Clinton now claims she will recover the ghost of FDR that national Democrats spent the last forty-years exorcising. In the parlance: whatever.

The day after Election Day will be like any other in the sense that the problems of looming environmental catastrophe, gratuitous wars and long-term economic decline will remain profit-generating ‘opportunities’ in the realm of official concern. The American political establishment is calcified and out of ideas. The problem is that the residual rationales and institutional tendencies lean toward catastrophe generation. Democrats saved Wall Street in particular, and finance capitalism more generally, to kill again. The most destructive militarists in modern history have attached themselves to Hillary Clinton and the American war machine. Unless functional politics are recovered and asserted outside the electoral system more of the same is the outcome that Western political economy is designed to produce.

Rob Urie is an artist and political economist. His book Zen Economics is published by CounterPunch Books.

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Hate Trump? You should still hold Clinton’s feet to the fire

Democratic Presidential Candidate Hillary Clinton Campaigns In IowaDES MOINES, IA Ð AUGUST 10: Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton greets supporters after her talk about her economic plan, August 10, 2016 in Des Moines, Iowa. It was Clinton’s first trip back to Iowa since winning the Iowa Caucus. (Photo by Steve Pope/Getty Images)
‘She is clearly the more capable person suited to preside over this corrupt, country. But let’s not act like Clinton is a dove when it comes to matters of life and death.’ Photograph: Steve Pope/Getty Images

Here’s a news flash: if you’re a progressive, you can and should critique Hillary Clinton right now – and that doesn’t have to mean that you want Donald Trump to be president.

It means we are still using our brains, “That we are not checkmated,” as Michelle Alexander puts it, that engaging in discourse is not just possible, but necessary in a race with less than terrific choices. No matter who you ultimately vote for, don’t stop demanding a candidate endorse policies that benefit you in order to get your support, even if you vote for them.

Clinton should be pushed relentlessly by the left on her economic policies and history, for starters. While she made fun of Trump on the stump for having “a dozen or so economic advisers he just named: hedge fund guys, billionaire guys, six guys named Steve, apparently,” she is living in a glass house funded by Goldman Sachs and should be throwing no stones. We’ll see whether she does in the big economic policy speech she is due to give on Thursday.

They’re not named Steve, but Clinton’s been courting endorsements from billionaires Meg Whitman, Warren Buffett and Michael Bloomberg. Her own son-in-law is a “hedge fund guy”, and the Wall Street Journal reported that “hedge fund money has vastly favored Clinton over Trump” to the tidy sum of $122m. Being bothered by what this portends for our economic future this is not a vote for Trump.

And though Trump is hinting to his supporters that they might want to use the second amendment to possibly assassinate Clinton or justices of the supreme court is disgusting, let’s not forget Clinton saying in May 2008 that she had to stay in that primary because “Bobby Kennedy was assassinated in June in California” and, ho hum, you never know what might happen to presumptive nominee Barack Obama.

I bring this all up not to draw parallels between Clinton and Trump. She is clearly the more capable person suited to preside over this corrupt, perpetually and criminally violent enterprise known as the United States of America. But let’s not act like Clinton is a dove when it comes to matters of life and death.

She has embraced the endorsement of neocon John Negroponte and is even reportedly courting the endorsement of Henry Kissinger. As secretary of state, Clinton controversially supported not designating the 2009 ouster of Honduran president Manuel Zelaya as a coup , even though he was woken up by armed soldiers and forced onto a plane and out of his country in his pajamas. She has since defended her role in that situation, which has led to hell for women, children and environmentalists, including the assassination of indigenous activist Berta Cáceres. And as senator, Clinton supported the Iraq war, a vote which helped lead to the death of US army captain Humayun Khan.

Captain Khan’s parents have valiantly and admirably taken on Trump and his ugly Islamophobia. But turning a critical lens on the presidential candidate who supported the war that killed their son does not equate supporting her opponent.

So if you’re in what can broadly called the left, you a few have choices how to spend the next three months. You can scream “Yaaaaaaas, I’m with her!” and do your part to elect Clinton without thought or critique. That’s fine if her positions on war and economics don’t bother you, and there is value in shutting down Trump’s malarkey as quickly as possible.

But there is something perhaps more valuable in withholding your support and not giving it away too early, if at all. As James Thindwa wrote of the Congressional Black Caucus, the “rush by black leadership to endorse Clinton was an unforced strategic blunder”. Instead of “robustly challenging both Clinton and Sanders on racial justice issues [during the primaries] – as Black Lives Matter activists did,” the CBC “could have sent a strong message to a party that takes black Americans’ support for granted, fails to deliver real solutions and too often patronizes them”.

The CBC would likely have gotten far better economic policies backing Sanders; and, as Trump’s implosion has made clear, Sanders would have been a contender. Instead, the CBC backed Clinton too soon and now has to take whatever crumbs it gets from the Clinton trough as she wields America’s racist id incarnate like a cudgel as the only alternative. (And the CBC will get pushed away as Clinton welcomes Wall Street, warmongers and wealthy Republicans to pay for a place at that trough.)

You can critique Clinton and vote for a third party for any reason. American sovereignty lies in the individual, and our votes are never owed to anybody. However, Trump is shaping up as the Republican Walter Mondale, and could lose badly. At the same time, Clinton will still have very safe margins in large states that are not battlegrounds like New York and California. This means 2016 will be an especially safe year to vote dissent, because millions of people unhappy with Clinton in safely blue (or even safely red) states can vote for a third party without increasing Trump’s odds.

Finally, you can critique Clinton … and still vote for Clinton. This is possible! I love my friends and family (and, on a good day, myself), but I am still very critical of all of us. Criticism doesn’t mean I don’t love us. Furthermore, politicians are not even our friends. As citizens, we should keep politicians working for our interests and our respect by critiquing them with a level of scrutiny the power we are entrusting them with demands.

Tribute to Fidel Castro on His 90th Birthday

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On Saturday, August 13, the world will celebrate the 90th birthday of Cuban revolutionary leader Fidel Castro Ruz, the only individual ever to be acknowledged by the UN as a “World Hero of Solidarity.” It is very hard to think of a more important world leader than Fidel. The contribution he has made to the world socialist movement, to the Third World liberation struggle and to social justice has been monumental – especially when one considers that he has been the leader of a tiny country with roughly the same population as New York City.

At the current time, the Colombian government and leftist FARC guerillas are engaged in a peace process in Havana, and are very near to reaching a final peace accord, in large part due to Fidel’s efforts.

As Nelson Mandela himself has acknowledged, South Africa is free from apartheid in no small measure due to Fidel’s leadership in militarily aiding the liberation struggles in Southern Africa, especially in Angola and Namibia, against the South African military which was then being supported by the United States.

In addition, The Latin American Medical School (ELAM) in Cuba, which trains doctors from all around the world, but particularly from poor countries, was Fidel’s brainchild. Today, 70 countries from around the world benefit from Cuba’s medical internationalism, including Haiti where Cuban doctors have been, according to The New York Times, at the forefront of the fight against cholera.

As we speak, Cuba has hundreds of doctors working in the slums of Caracas, Venezuela where Venezuelan doctors fear to tread. There are Cuban-trained doctors in remote parts of Honduras which are otherwise not served by the Honduran government. Patients from 26 Latin American & Caribbean countries have traveled to Cuba to have their eyesight restored by Cuban doctors. Among this list is Mario Teran, the Bolivian soldier who shot and killed Che Guevara. The Cubans not only forgave Mario, but also returned his eyesight to him.  Cuba even offered to send 1,500 doctors to minister to the victims of the Hurricane Katrina, though this kind offer was rejected by the United States

As Piero Gleijeses, a professor at John Hopkins University, wrote in his book Conflicting Missions about Cuba’s outreach to Algeria shortly after the Cuban Revolution:

It was an unusual gesture: an underdeveloped country tendering free aid to another in even more dire straits. It was offered at a time when the exodus of doctors from Cuba following the revolution had forced the government to stretch its resources while launching its domestic programs to increase mass access to health care. It was like a beggar offering his help, but we knew the Algerian people needed it even more than we did and that they deserved it,’ [Cuban Minister of Public Health] Machado Ventura remarked. It was an act of solidarity that brought no tangible benefit and came at real material cost.

These words are just as true today as they were then, as this act of solidarity is repeated by Cuba over and over again throughout the world. And, it has been done even as Cuba has struggled to survive in the face of a 55-year embargo by the United States which has cost it billions of dollars in potential revenue, and even as it has endured numerous acts of terrorism by the United States and U.S.-supported mercenaries over the years.

Just recently, I was reminded of the fact that, for the past 25 years, Cuba has been treating 26,000 Ukrainian citizens affected by the Chernobyl nuclear accident at its Tarara international medical center in Havana. Cuba has continued to do so, it must be emphasized, though even the potential for any help for this effort from the Soviet Union passed long ago.

According to Hugo Chavez, when he came to power in Venezuela in 1999, “the only light on the house at that time was Cuba,” meaning that Cuba was the only country in the region free of U.S. imperial domination. Thanks to the perseverance of Fidel and the Cuban people, now much of Latin America has been freed from the bonds of the U.S. Empire.

That Cuba not only stands 25 years after the collapse of the USSR, but indeed prospers and remains as a beacon to other countries, is a testament to Fidel’s revolutionary fervor and fortitude. Indeed, Fidel’s very life at this point – one that the U.S. has tried to extinguish on literally hundreds of occasions – itself constitutes an act of brave deviance against wealth, power and imperialist aggression. Incredibly, Fidel has survived 12 U.S. Presidents, a full quarter of all the U.S. Presidents since the founding of our nation.

I join the world in honoring Fidel Castro Ruz on his birthday, and hope that he continues to live and to lead for some time to come.

Daniel Kovalik lives in Pittsburgh and teaches International Human Rights Law at the University of Pittsburgh School of Law.

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