Capitalism: The Nightmare

TD ORIGINALS
A worker in a costume representing world capitalism during a 2017 May Day rally in Jakarta, Indonesia. (Dita Alangkara / AP)

The neoliberal, arch-capitalist era we inhabit is chock-full of statistics and stories that ought to send chills down the spines of any caring, morally sentient human. Nearly three-fourths (71 percent) of the world’s population is poor, living on $10 a day or less, and 11 percent (767 million people, including 385 million children) live in what the World Bank calls “extreme poverty” (less than a $1.90 a day). Meanwhile, Oxfam reliably reports that, surreal as it sounds, the world’s eight richest people possess among themselves as much wealth as the poorest half of the entire human race.

The United States, self-described homeland and headquarters of freedom and democracy, is no exception to the harshly unequal global reality. Six of the world’s eight most absurdly rich people are U.S. citizens: Bill Gates (whose net worth of $426 billion equals the wealth of 3.6 billion people), Warren Buffett (Berkshire Hathaway), Jeff Bezos (Amazon), Mark Zuckerberg (Facebook), Larry Ellison (Oracle) and Michael Bloomberg (former mayor of New York City). As Bernie Sanders said repeatedly on the campaign trail in 2016, the top 10th of the upper 1 percent in the U.S. has nearly as much wealth as the nation’s bottom 90 percent. Seven heirs of the Walton family’s Walmart fortune have among them a net worth equal to that of the nation’s poorest 40 percent. Half the U.S. population is poor or near-poor, and half lacks any savings.

Just over a fifth of the nation’s children, including more than a third of black and Native American children, live below the federal government’s notoriously inadequate poverty level, while parasitic financiers and other capitalist overlords enjoy unimaginable hyper-opulence. One in seven U.S. citizens relies on food banks in “the world’s richest country.” Many of them are in families with full-time wage-earners—a reflection of the fact that wages have stagnated even as U.S. labor productivity consistently has risen for more than four decades.

Failure by Design

These savage inequalities reflect government policy on behalf of “the 1 percent” (better, perhaps, to say “the 0.1 percent”). U.S. economic growth since the late 1970s has been unequally distributed, thanks to regressive policy choices that have served the rich and powerful at the expense of ordinary working people. As Joshua Bivens of the Economic Policy Institute showed in his important 2011 study, “Failure by Design,” the following interrelated, bipartisan and not-so-public policies across the long neoliberal era have brought us to a level of inequality that rivals the Gilded Age of the late 19th-century robber barons era. These policies include:

● Letting the value of the minimum wage be eroded by inflation.
● Slashing labor standards for overtime, safety and health.
● Tilting the laws governing union organizing and collective bargaining strongly in favor of employers.
● Weakening the social safety net.
● Privatizing public services.
● Accelerating the integration of the U.S. economy with the world economy without adequately protecting workers from global competition.
● Shredding government oversight of international trade, currency, investment and lending.
● Deregulating the financial sector and financial markets.
● Valuing low inflation over full employment and abandoning the latter as a worthy goal of fiscal and economic policy.

These policies increased poverty and suppressed wages at the bottom and concentrated wealth at the top. They culminated in the 2007-09 Great Recession, sparked by the bursting of a housing bubble that resulted from the deregulation of the financial sector and the reliance of millions of Americans on artificially inflated real estate values and soaring household debt to compensate for poor earnings.

After the crash, the government under both George W. Bush and Barack Obama bailed out the very financial predators who pushed the economy over the cliff. The Obama administration, populated by Goldman Sachs and Citigroup operatives, left the rest of us to wonder “Where’s our bailout?” as 95 percent of the nation’s new income went to the top 1 percent during his first term.

Ordinary Citizens Have No Influence Over Their Government

All of this and much more is contrary to technically irrelevant American public opinion. But so what? You don’t have to be a leftist to know that the United States’ political order is a corporate and financial plutocracy. Three years ago, liberal political scientists Martin Gilens of Princeton University and Benjamin Page of Northwestern University determined that the U.S. political system has functioned as an oligarchy over the past three-plus decades, in which wealthy elites and their corporations rule. As Gilens explained to the liberal online journal Talking Points Memo, “Ordinary citizens have virtually no influence over what their government does in the United States.”

Shock Profits

Most of this results from the normal, business-rule-as-usual operation of the American political process. Sometimes—as during “natural disasters” such as Hurricanes Katrina, Harvey and Irma—crisis moments allow wealthy interests to rack up huge profits almost overnight while much of the population is too shocked and distracted to respond. As Susan Zakin notes in the Los Angeles Review of Books, “Handing out billions for hurricane reconstruction will shore up [Donald] Trump’s faltering support on Wall Street and among major corporations profiting from a bonanza expected to top $100 billion.” Katrina provided precisely such a business opportunity to corporate America. So did the U.S. invasion of Iraq.

‘Isn’t It Beautiful?’

At the same time, Houston, for instance, is a much bigger scene of devastation than it would be but for business-rule-as-usual. The city was recklessly built up by and for elite financial and real estate interests and their governmental tools without the slightest concern for environmental sustainability and resilience. As Zakin notes:

[W]ithout a zoning code, [Houston is] a case study in urban sprawl. Houston was built on a dry (read: low-lying) lakebed that’s laced with bayous. The bayous are lined with concrete, steel and sheet metal, which is functional when it rains a little, but a contender for the luge event when it rains a lot, even in posh neighborhoods like River Oaks. Doing what it takes to prevent flooding, widening bayou channels, managing growth, putting in green space, might impede the only truly important flow: money. Houston’s city fathers have resisted any effort to plan for climate change, because, well, it doesn’t exist. As if that weren’t enough, parts of Houston are sinking, some as much as 2.2 inches a year.

It’s an epitome of the deadly “free market” chaos favored by arch-capitalist political actors such as the right-wing billionaire Charles Koch and his friend, the “libertarian” Sen. Jeff Flake, R-Ariz. In his recent, widely read book, “Conscience of a Conservative,” Flake writes with fondness about the time he met the eminent neoliberal University of Chicago economist Milton Friedman:

We picked him up at the airport, and while we were driving to a suburb of Phoenix we went through what could only be described as suburban sprawl. Someone in the car with us, remarking on this landscape, said, ‘Man, it looks like there was no planning at all.’ Friedman just nodded his head and said, ‘Yes, isn’t it beautiful?’ … [I]t wasn’t government coercion that had brought it into being. It was the invisible hand of the free market. Planning requires control, control empowers government, and empowered government = disempowered individuals.

Houston is the “petro-metro,” a major capital of the petrochemical industry and home to numerous toxic waste sites. As a result, the city’s floodwaters are loaded with hazardous materials.

How beautiful.

The “free market” madness rolls on. Like the melting polar ice, which opens up new business opportunities for oil drilling and ship travel even as it reduces earth’s ability to reflect sunlight back into space, the devastation resulting from extreme weather is both a consequence of the rule of big corporations (the real masters of the “free market” since the early 20th century in the U.S.) and a perverse opportunity for quick corporate profits.

On Aug. 15, 10 days before Hurricane Harvey hit Texas, Donald Trump, himself a global real estate baron, wiped out an Obama-era executive ordermandating that federal reconstruction grants take account of sea-level rise and related aspects of climate change.

Capitalist Climate-astrophe

Meanwhile, speaking of climate change, anthropogenic—really, capitalogenic—global warming threatens to turn the venerable popular struggle for a more equal distribution of wealth into a fight over the slicing up of a poisoned pie. The signs of climate catastrophe are unmistakable. Record-setting wildfires raged on the nation’s West Coast, and a devastating drought plagued much of the nation’s northern Great Plains as Houston was sunk in epic, chemically polluted flooding and Irma bore down on Florida. Like Hurricane Sandy (which filled New York City subway tunnels with storm surge on the eve of the 2012 elections), the Indian and Pakistani heat waves of 2015, Hurricane Katrina (2005), the Alberta, Canada, wildfires of 2016 and numerous other recent, lethal, meteorological episodes, this extreme weather is intensified by the spiking balminess of the planet.

The warming is fueled by capital-captive humanity’s excessive release of carbon dioxide resulting from the profit system’s rapacious extraction and burning of fossil fuels and its reliance on animal agriculture. Carbon accumulates in the atmosphere, trapping heat and melting the world’s glaciers and permafrost, which holds vast reserves of carbon-rich methane. As the ice caps retreat, less sunlight gets reflected back into space and more of it heats the planet toward a point where it becomes uninhabitable.

Extreme weather is just the tip of the melting iceberg. If not reversed, global warming will destroy the human species through famine, dehydration, overheating, disease and resource wars. It has us on the path to hell.

‘A Death Knell for the Species’

Trump has taken advantage of the nation’s plutocratic political dysfunction to become a kind of one-man ecological apocalypse. The fossil-fueled hurricanes, drought and wildfires of 2017 have hit the U.S. at a time when the White House is occupied by an openly ecocidal billionaire whose election rang what Noam Chomsky called an environmental “death knell for the species.” Trump has pulled the United States out of the moderate Paris climate accord. He has removed all references to climate change from federal websites and chose a fellow petro-capitalist climate change denier dedicated to crippling the Environmental Protection Agency to lead that department. Trump’s secretary of state is the former longtime CEO of Exxon Mobil Corp., history’s most powerful fossil fuel corporation—a company that buried and then organized propaganda against its own scientists’ warnings on carbon’s impact on the climate. Trump’s proposed budget calls for a 16 percent cut to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, which monitors all things climate- and weather-related.

This is ecocidal petro-capitalist madness on steroids.

After Harvey nailed Houston and before Irma hit Florida, Trump held a chilling ecocidal rally in front of an oil refinery in North Dakota. He boasted of how he had exited the “job-killing” Paris agreement (“It was so bad”) and approved the planet-cooking and supposedly job-creating Dakota Access and Keystone XL pipelines.

“I also did Keystone,” Trump said. “You know about Keystone. Another other one, big one—big. First couple of days in office, those two—48,000 jobs.”

Trump said the White House was going to make North Dakota’s current terrible drought vanish because “we’re working hard on it and it’ll disappear. It will all go away.”

The president also asserted that the thousands of Americans who protested the Dakota Access pipeline within and beyond the Standing Rock Indian Reservation last year had no idea why they were against it.

It may have been his most absurd speech yet.

The System Is Working

Like so much else in U.S. government policy, Trump’s anti-environmental actions are contrary to majority-progressive public opinion. Who cares? It’s one more in a long line of examples showing that “We the People” are not sovereign in the failed, arch-plutocratic and militantly capitalist state that is the 21st century United States.

Many Americans find this difficult to process because they have been taught to foolishly conflate popular self-governance with capitalism—what the George W. Bush White House called “a single sustainable model for national success.”

This is a great lie. My old copy of Webster’s New Twentieth Century Dictionary defines capitalism as “the economic system in which all or most of the means of production and distribution … are privately owned and operated for profit, originally under fully competitive conditions: it has been generally characterized by a tendency toward concentration of wealth and, [in] its latter phase, by the growth of great corporations, increased government controls, etc.”

This definition does not mention any of the things routinely and inaccurately identified with capitalism in the dominant U.S. political and intellectual discourse: democracy, freedom, trade, job creation, growth and/or a “free market” that is characterized by widespread competition and/or little or no government interference. Capitalism is about profit for the owners of capital—period. They attain this through any number of means. The most damaging include:

● Seizing others’ land and materials.
● Slavery (the leading source of capital accumulation in the United States before it was outlawed in 1863–65).
● Firing workers or replacing them with technology.
● Undermining the value and power of labor by “de-skilling” workers by reducing the amount of knowledge and experience they need to do their jobs.
● Abject authoritarian tyranny in the workplace, where Marxist economist Richard Wolff reminds us that most working-age adults spend the majority of their waking hours.
● Outsourcing work to sections of the world economy with the lowest wages and the worst working conditions.
● Hiring and exploiting unprotected migrant workers.
● Slashing wages and benefits, or cheating workers out of them.
● Purely speculative investment.
● Forming monopolies and using them to raise prices.
● Dismantling competing firms, sectors and industries.
● Deadly pollution and perversion of the natural environment.
● Appropriating public assets.
● Military contracting and war production.
● Working to shape political and intellectual culture and policy in capital’s favor by funding political campaigns, hiring lobbyists, buying and controlling the media, manipulating public relations and propaganda, investing in the educational system, offering lucrative employment and other economic opportunities to policymakers and their families, holding key policymaking positions, and threatening to withdraw investment from places that don’t submit to capital’s rules while promising to invest in places that do.

When capitalism is understood for what it is really and only about—investor profit—there is nothing paradoxical about its failure to serve working people and the common good, much less the cause of democracy. If corporate and financial sector profits are high, the system is working for its architects and intended beneficiaries: capitalists. Its great corporations (now granted the legal protection of artificial personhood) are working precisely as they are supposed to under U.S. common law, which holds that (as Michigan’s Supreme Court ruled in Dodge v. Ford Motor Company in 1919), corporate “managers have a legal duty to put shareholders’ interests above all others and no legal authority to serve any other interests.”

The Growth Ideology

Environmental ruin lies at the heart of the system, intimately related back to class rule. As Le Monde’s former ecological editor Herve Kempf noted in his aptly titled 2007 book, “How the Rich Are Destroying the Earth,” the oligarchy sees the pursuit of material growth as “the solution to the social crisis,” the “sole means of fighting poverty and unemployment” and the “only means of getting societies to accept extreme inequalities without questioning them.”

“Growth,” Kempf explained, is meant to “allow the overall level of wealth to arise and consequently improve the lot of the poor without—and this part is never spelled out—any need to modify the distribution of wealth.”

Trump was channeling this deadly “growth ideology” in North Dakota. Sadly, growth on the current carbon-fueled capitalist model has put humanity—not to mention thousands of other sentient beings on earth—on the path to near-term (historically speaking) extinction. We are currently at 410 carbon parts per million in the atmosphere—60 ppm beyond what scientists identified as a hazardous point years ago. We are on pace for 500 ppm—a level that will destroy life on earth—by 2050, if not sooner.

‘Inclusive Capitalism’

“Capitalist democracy” is an oxymoron and a mirage. So is the curious notion of “inclusive capitalism”—a term taken up by the corporate right wing of the Democratic Party, including Hillary Clinton’s closest economic advisers, in 2015. This is the Orwellian name of a global “coalition” set up in 2014 by Lady Lynn Forester de Rothschild for super-wealthy elites to advance a “caring capitalism” that “works better for the broad base of society.” Lady Rothschild’s Coalition for Inclusive Capitalism started with what former Rep. Cynthia McKinney described as “a Working Group comprised of such luminaries of social justice as Sir Evelyn de Rothschild of E.L. Rothschild [a financial firm owned by a family worth an estimated $2 trillion], Dominic Barton from McKinsey and Company [$1.3 billion], Ann Cairns [annual salary of $5 million] of MasterCard, Sir Sherard Cowper-Coles of HSBC, Paul Polman [paid 10 million euros in 2014] of Unilever, along with CEOs of various pension plans and philanthropic foundations, like the eponymous Ford and Rockefeller foundations.”

According to one British media report, the Coalition for Inclusive Capitalism’s opening conference boasted a “guest-list … estimated to hold one-third of the world’s investable assets, around £18tr [nearly $25 trillion].”

One of the coalition’s leading speakers and champions is the great arch-neoliberal, former U.S. President Bill Clinton (with a net worth of $80 million)—a right-wing Democrat who did every bit as much to advance the Wall Street “free market” and globalist agenda as Ronald Reagan.

‘We Must Make Our Choice’

One does not have to be a Marxist or other variety of radical to acknowledge basic differences and conflicts between capitalism and democracy. D and capitalism have very different beliefs about the proper distribution of power,” liberal economist Lester Thurow noted in the mid-1990s. “One [democracy] believes in a completely equal distribution of political power, ‘one man, one vote,’ while the other [capitalism] believes that it is the duty of the economically fit to drive the unfit out of business and into extinction. … To put it in its starkest form, capitalism is perfectly compatible with slavery. Democracy is not.”

More than being compatible with slavery and incompatible with democracy, U.S. capitalism arose largely on the basis of black slavery in the cotton-growing states (as historian Edward Baptist has shown in his prize-winning study, “The Half Has Never Been Told: Slavery and the Making of American Capitalism”) and is, in fact, quite militantly opposed to democracy.

“We must make our choice,” the late Supreme Court Justice Louis Brandeis is reputed to have said or written: “We may have democracy in this country, or we may have wealth concentrated in the hands of a few, but we cannot have both.” This statement was unintentionally but fundamentally anti-capitalist. Consistent with the dictionary definition presented above, the brilliant, liberal, French economist Thomas Piketty has shown that capitalism has always been inexorably pulled like gravity toward the concentration of wealth into ever-fewer hands. In the U.S., as across the Western world, the tendency was briefly and partially reversed by the Great Depression and World War II, producing the long “middle class” Golden Age of 1945-1973. But that was an anomalous era, a consequence of epic economic collapse and two global wars. Capitalism has returned to its longue durée inegalitarian norm over the last four-plus decades.

And even before the onset of the neoliberal period, capitalism at its comparatively egalitarian and high-growth, post-WWII Keynesian best had already pushed livable ecology into crisis. It tipped the world into what leading earth scientists have designated a new geological era: The Anthropocene—a period when “human activities have become so pervasive and profound that they rival the great forces of Nature and are pushing the earth into planetary terra incognita … a less biologically diverse, less forested, much warmer, and probably wetter and stormier era.” The not-so-Golden Agebrought what sociology professor John Bellamy Foster called “a qualitative transformation in the level of human destructiveness.” If this ecological destructiveness isn’t tamed very soon, nothing that progressives and the left care about is going to matter much: Who wants to turn a poisoned world upside down?

Can environmental catastrophe be averted under capitalism? Not likely. Shifting from fossil fuel reliance and other unsound environmental societal habits and practices—built-in obsolescence, mass consumerism and the endless pursuit of quantitative economic growth, accumulation and “cheap nature” resource appropriation—requires a level of coordinated social and public intervention so extreme that it is incompatible with continued capitalist control of the means of production, investment and distribution. It requires an empowerment of ordinary people and a radical rehabilitation of the concept of the natural and social commons—things that very likely cannot be attained under the continued rule of capital. Stark as American activist Joel Kovel’s formulation may sound, I suspect he is right: “The future will be eco-socialist, because without eco-socialism there will be no future.”

Paul Street
Contributor
Paul Street holds a doctorate in U.S. history from Binghamton University. He is former vice president for research and planning of the Chicago Urban League. Street is also the author of numerous books,…
Advertisements

Obama adviser Samantha Power calls for crackdown on social media

Internet censorship and government war plans

21 September 2017

The meeting of the United Nations General Assembly in New York is taking place under the shadow of the accelerating drive of the major powers, spearheaded by the United States, toward World War III. This found its most noxious expression in the fascistic speech delivered to the assembly on Tuesday by Donald Trump, in which the US president threatened to “destroy North Korea” and attack Iran and Venezuela.

Trump devoted a significant portion of his tirade to a denunciation of socialism and communism, reflecting the fear within the US ruling elite of the growth of social opposition and rise of anti-capitalist and socialist sentiment in the working class.

Another major focus of the assembly is the mounting campaign of the US and European governments to crack down on the exchange of information and views on the Internet. British Prime Minister Theresa May, French President Emmanuel Macron and Italian Prime Minister Paolo Gentiloni all used the pretext of fighting terrorism and “fake news” to call for more drastic measures by the major technology firms to censor the Internet, which Gentiloni called a “battlefield for hearts and minds.”

This attack on free speech is a central part of the response of the crisis-ridden capitalist ruling elites to the growth of global geo-political tensions and economic instability, and the political radicalization of broad masses of workers and youth.

In the US, the drive for Internet censorship has been spearheaded by the so-called “liberal” wing of the political establishment, concentrated in the Democratic Party, whose chief media organ is the New York Times. On the eve of the UN assembly, the Times published an unambiguous brief for censorship of the Internet in the form of an op-ed column by the ambassador to the UN under Barack Obama, Samantha Power.

Under the headline “Why Foreign Propaganda Is More Dangerous Now,” and on the pretext of combating Russian disinformation and subversion, Power calls for the use of “professional gatekeepers” to police public discourse on the Internet.

Power, a leading proponent of “human rights” imperialism, looks back nostalgically at the Cold War as a golden age of news dissemination, when “most Americans received their news and information via mediated platforms.” She continues: “Reporters and editors serving in the role of professional gatekeepers had almost full control over what appeared in the media. A foreign adversary seeking to reach American audiences did not have great options for bypassing these umpires, and Russian disinformation rarely penetrated.”

It is worth considering who is writing these lines. First as a key policy advisor to Obama, then as Washington’s representative to the United Nations, Power was a leading architect of the disastrous US-led destabilization operation in Libya that shattered that country’s society. She is a key propagandist of the American-instigated civil war in Syria, which has led to hundreds of thousands of deaths and the greatest refugee crisis since the Second World War.

Power longs for the time when, as was the case during the Korean War and the earlier part of the Vietnam War, the monopoly of the major broadcasters over public discourse could be used to keep the criminal policies of US imperialism under wraps.

She is bitter and resentful over the fact that, despite the best efforts of the corporate-controlled media to sell US operations in the Middle East to the public as anti-terrorist and humanitarian efforts, organizations such as Wikileaks and journalists such as Seymour Hersh have exposed the fact that the United States has cultivated alliances with forces linked to Al Qaeda and ISIS to pursue regime-change in Libya and Syria, totally undercutting the narrative of the “war on terror” that has been used to justify US imperialist policy since 2001.

If Power had her way, Chelsea Manning’s exposure of the murder of journalists and Iraqi civilians by the US military and Edward Snowden’s exposure illegal dragnet surveillance by the NSA would be branded as “fake news” and blocked by technology giants such as Google, Apple and Facebook.

In her Times column, she mourns the passing of the overarching—and thoroughly repressive—anti-communist ideological framework of the Cold War period, writing: “During the Cold War, the larger struggle against communism created a mainstream consensus about what America stood for and against. Today, our society appears to be defined by a particularly vicious form of ‘partyism’ affecting Democrats and Republicans alike.”

Power presents the rise of the Internet, and consequent weakening of control over the flow of information and opinion by state-sanctioned and allied corporate media outlets such as the Times, as an altogether dangerous and negative development. Under conditions where the establishment media is increasingly discredited—“60 percent believe news stories today are ‘often inaccurate,’ according to Gallup”—Power notes, the fact that “two thirds of Americans are getting at least some of their news through social media” is a matter of the gravest concern.

The “growing reliance on new media—and the absence of real umpires,” she writes, have opened up the US to disinformation and subversion at the hands of a demonic Russia, with its all-powerful media outlets RT and Sputnik, and its “trolls, bots and thousands of fake Twitter and Facebook accounts that amplified damaging stories on Hillary Clinton.”

Here we see the coming together of the hysterical, neo-McCarthyite campaign against Russia that has been used by the intelligence agencies, the Democratic Party and their media allies to attempt to whip up a war fever and pressure Trump to take a more bellicose posture toward Moscow with a growing attack on public access to anti-war, progressive and socialist web sites.

Power’s demands for state-sponsored censorship have already been put into practice by Internet giant Google. In the name of combating “fake news” and promoting “authoritative content” over “alternative viewpoints,” Google has implemented changes to its search engine that have slashed traffic to leading left-wing and alternative news web sites by 55 percent. The central target of this attack is the World Socialist Web Site, whose Google referrals have fallen by 75 percent.

By “gatekeepers,” Power means the thoroughly vetted and subservient editorial boards of newspapers such as the Times, which dutifully hide from the American people whatever the CIA and State Department do not want them to know, while dispensing state lies and propaganda in the guise of “news.”

In 2010, then-New York Times Executive Editor Bill Keller spelled out the policy of such “mediated” news outlets with unusual bluntness when he declared that “transparency is not an absolute good.” He added, “Freedom of the press includes freedom not to publish, and that is a freedom we exercise with some regularity.”

More than a quarter century after the dissolution of the Soviet Union, all factions of the US ruling elite are haunted by the realization that socialist politics are, as Hillary Clinton put it in her recently published book, tapping “into powerful emotional currents” within the population. The fact that in the 2016 Democratic primaries, 12 million Americans, mostly young people and workers, voted for a candidate, Bernie Sanders, who called himself a socialist, shocked and unnerved the ruling class.

Unable to advance any policies to address the social grievances of working people or turn away from its foreign agenda of militarism and war, the ruling elite responds to the growth of opposition by recourse to police methods. The escalating corporate-state attack on freedom of speech on the Internet makes all the more urgent the campaign of the World Socialist Web Site against Google censorship. We call on all of our readers and supporters to sign our petition demanding an end to the censorship, send statements of support for our campaign, and actively work to distribute WSWS articles as widely as possible via Facebook and other social media outlets.

Andre Damon

WSWS

U.S. Political System Requires a Fundamental Transformation

Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., speaks at a rally of health care advocates, grass-roots activists and others outside the Capitol in Washington on Tuesday. (Andrew Harnik / AP)

Leaders of both major parties are wrong to think of the 2016 election as some kind of fluke. I believe a political realignment is underway, and those who fail to discern its outlines could end up powerless and irrelevant.

With all respect to Hillary Clinton, her newly published memoir, “What Happened,” doesn’t really tell what happened. It is perhaps inevitable that she would focus on the daily twists and turns of the campaign. It is understandable that she would blame James Comey, Vladimir Putin and the media for damaging her prospects—and that she would downplay her own strategic and tactical missteps.

But take a step back and look at the election through a wider lens. Clinton, with all her vast experience and proven ability, was defeated by Donald Trump, a reality television star who had never before run for office, displayed near-total ignorance of the issues, broke every rule of political rhetoric and was caught on videotape bragging of how he sexually assaulted random women by grabbing their crotches.

That’s not just unlikely, it’s impossible. At least it should have been, according to everything we knew—or thought we knew—about politics. Yes, Comey’s last-minute revival of Clinton’s email scandal robbed her of momentum. Yes, her neglect of the Rust Belt was a terrible mistake. Yes, the Russians were working hard to defeat her, with the blessing—and at least the attempted collusion—of the Trump campaign.

But the election never should have been close enough for relatively minor voting shifts in Wisconsin, Michigan and Pennsylvania to elect the likes of Trump. The election never should have been close enough for Clinton to lose Florida and barely eke out a win in Virginia.

In retrospect, the alarming possibility of an election-night surprise should have been apparent. Trump never should have won the Republican nomination over a field that included so many talented politicians. And Clinton never should have had to work so hard to win the Democratic nomination over Bernie Sanders, an aging socialist from Vermont who wasn’t even a Democrat until he entered the race.

None of what happened should have happened. And it is a mistake to blame Clinton’s character flaws, Trump’s mastery of Twitter or the media’s compulsion to chase every bright, shiny object. Something much bigger and deeper was going on.

My view is that the traditional left-to-right, progressive-to-conservative, Democratic-to-Republican political axis that we’re all so familiar with is no longer a valid schematic of American political opinion. And I believe neither party has the foggiest idea what the new diagram looks like.

I don’t think Trump can see the new spectrum either, as evidenced by the way his approval ratings have plunged since his inauguration. But both he and Sanders deserve credit for seeing that the old model has outlived its usefulness.

Look at the issues on which Trump and Sanders were in basic agreement. Both doubted the bipartisan consensus favoring free trade agreements, arguing they had disadvantaged U.S. workers. Both spoke of health care as a right that should be enjoyed by all citizens. Both pledged to strengthen, not weaken, entitlement programs such as Social Security and Medicare. Both were deeply skeptical of U.S. involvement in foreign wars, vowing to do their nation-building here at home. Both advocated mammoth, job-creating investments in infrastructure. Both contended “the system” was rigged to favor the rich and powerful at the expense of everyone else.

Leave aside for the moment the fact that Trump has not fulfilled his promises. The overlap in what he and Sanders said they would do is striking—as is the contrast between what both Clinton and Trump’s GOP rivals were saying.

Trump was uniquely transgressive on one issue—immigration. He addressed the anxieties of white working-class voters by presenting immigrants as all-purpose scapegoats.

The Trump and Sanders campaigns revealed that there are large numbers of voters whose views are not being reflected by Democratic or Republican orthodox positions. Are the parties adapting? Democrats seem to be inching toward support of truly universal health care, while Republicans have thus far thought better of taking health insurance away from millions of people. Perhaps this is a start.

But I see no evidence yet that either party is engaged in the kind of fundamental rethinking I believe is called for. So it is a mistake to assume that Trump is necessarily a one-term president or that Sanders is done politically. You know the saying: In the land of the blind, a one-eyed man is king.

Contributor
EUGENE ROBINSON uses his twice-weekly column in The Washington Post to pick American society apart and then put it back together again in unexpected, and revelatory, new ways. …

Trump’s “Mein Kampf” tirade at the United Nations

20 September 2017

The speech delivered Tuesday by Donald Trump to the opening session of the United Nations General Assembly in New York was without precedent either for the UN or the American presidency.

Speaking before a world body ostensibly created to spare humanity the “scourge of war” and founded on the principles elaborated at the Nuremberg trials of Nazi leaders, the American president openly embraced a policy of genocide, declaring that he was “ready, willing and able” to “totally destroy” North Korea and its 25 million people.

The fact that nobody in the assembly moved for Trump’s arrest as a war criminal, or even told the fascistic bully to sit down and shut up, is a measure of the bankruptcy of the UN itself.

“The United States has great strength and patience, but if it is forced to defend itself or its allies, we will have no choice but to totally destroy North Korea,” Trump told the meeting. “Rocket Man [Trump’s imbecilic nickname for North Korean leader Kim Jong-un] is on a suicide mission for himself and for his regime. The United States is ready, willing and able…”

As with his every public utterance, Trump’s megalomaniacal remarks began with the supposed revival of America’s fortunes since his election last November, which has found expression, he argued, in the Wall Street stock market bubble and the passage of a $700 billion military budget.

At the core of Trump’s speech was the promotion of his “America First” ideology. The US president presented the promotion of nationalism as the solution to all the problems of the planet. “The nation-state remains the best vehicle for elevating the human condition,” he proclaimed in a speech in which the words “sovereign” or “sovereignty” were repeated 21 times.

While declaring his supposed support for the sovereignty of every nation, Trump made it clear that his administration is prepared to wage war against any nation that fails to bow to Washington’s diktat.

In addition to threatening to incinerate North Korea for testing ballistic missiles and nuclear weapons, he threatened to abrogate the 2015 nuclear agreement with Iran, describing it as an “embarrassment.’’ He thereby placed the US on the path to war against Iran, whose government he described as a “corrupt dictatorship,” a “rogue state” and a “murderous regime.”

He also singled out Venezuela, declaring that its internal situation “is completely unacceptable, and we cannot stand by and watch.” He added: “The United States has taken important steps to hold the regime accountable. We are prepared to take further action if the government of Venezuela persists on its path to impose authoritarian rule on the Venezuelan people.”

Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif responded in a tweet, saying that “Trump’s ignorant hate speech belongs in medieval times—not the 21st century UN—unworthy of a reply.”

The foreign minister of Venezuela, Jorge Arreaza, charged Trump with seeking “regime change by force,” adding that he “wants to rule the world when he can’t even rule his own country.”

Trump made no attempt to explain the glaring contradiction between his invocation of universal national sovereignty and his assertion of US imperialism’s “right” to bomb, invade or carry out regime change against any nation it sees fit.

On the eve of the speech, a senior White House official told reporters that the American president had spent a great deal of time pondering the “deeply philosophical” character of his address.

What rubbish! The speech’s “philosophy,” such as it is, is drawn from the ideology of fascism. Indeed, no world leader has delivered the kind of threat uttered by Trump against the people of North Korea since Adolf Hitler took the podium at the Reichstag in 1939 and threatened the annihilation of Europe’s Jews.

The kind of nationalist doctrine put forward by Trump at the UN distinctly echoes the positions of Hitler and Mussolini in the 1930s. As Leon Trotsky wrote in his 1934 article “Nationalism and Economic Life”:

“Italian fascism has proclaimed national ‘sacred egoism’ as the sole creative factor. After reducing the history of humanity to national history, German fascism proceeded to reduce nation to race and race to blood… The enduring value of the nation, discovered by Mussolini and Hitler, is now set off against the false values of the 19th century: democracy and socialism.”

The parallels are not accidental. The text of the speech bears the visible fingerprints of Trump’s fascistic senior policy advisor and speechwriter Stephen Miller, who seems to work best with a volume of Hitler’s Mein Kampf close at hand.

Just as this promotion of reactionary nationalism in the 1930s was the ideological expression of world capitalism’s descent into world war, so it is today.

The threats against North Korea and Iran are bound up with far wider geostrategic aims of US imperialism, as Trump indicated in his oblique denunciation of China and Russia for trading with Pyongyang and his reference to the South China Sea and Ukraine. Moreover, the attacks on Iran and threats to tear up the 2015 nuclear accord are aimed not only against the government in Tehran, but also at Washington’s erstwhile allies in Western Europe, which are already seeking new sources of profit based on trade and investment deals with Iran.

The absence from the UN’s opening session of Russian President Vladimir Putin, Chinese President Xi Jinping and German Chancellor Angela Merkel was significant. No doubt they had a sense of what was coming and feared the domestic political consequences of being seen as giving legitimacy through their presence in the auditorium to Trump’s diatribe.

French President Emmanuel Macron, who spoke shortly after Trump, delivered a right-wing speech promoting the “war on terrorism,” but was forced to directly oppose the US position on North Korea, warning against military escalation and calling for dialogue. In relation to Iran, he opposed any abrogation of the nuclear treaty. The French media compared the split to the tensions that arose during the Bush administration’s drive to war against Iraq.

The threats today, however, are far greater. Trump’s speech has made it unmistakably clear to the world that the government he heads is comprised of criminals. Having drawn multiple lines in the sand, threatening war on virtually every continent, Trump’s own demagogy leads almost inexorably to escalation and military action.

The speech included a passage warning the world that the American military is no longer subordinate to civilian control. “From now on,” Trump declared, “our security interests will dictate the length and scope of military operations, not arbitrary benchmarks and timetables set up by politicians.”

In other words, the military will decide, not elected officials—the fundamental characteristic of a military dictatorship. That this “principle” is accepted by the US Congress, which approved the $700 billion Pentagon budget while voting down an amendment calling on the legislative body to reclaim its constitutional power to declare war, is a measure of the putrefaction of American democracy.

The consolidation of such a government, with the repulsive figure of Donald Trump at its head, is the culmination of a quarter-century of economic and political degeneration, combined with unending wars and military interventions waged with the aim of reversing the erosion of American capitalism’s global hegemony.

Contradicting the vision presented in Trump’s speech of a Hitlerian springtime for nationalism, UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres preceded the American president with an address to the General Assembly describing “a world in pieces.”

“People are hurting and angry,” he warned. “They see insecurity rising, inequality growing, conflict spreading and climate changing.” He added that “global anxieties about nuclear weapons are at the highest level since the end of the Cold War.”

This undeniable reality found indirect expression in Trump’s own address, with his attempt to exploit the crisis in Venezuela—a country where the dominance of finance capital is today greater than it was three decades ago—to denounce socialism.

“Wherever true socialism or communism has been adopted, it has delivered anguish and devastation and failure,” said Trump. “Those who preach the tenets of these discredited ideologies only contribute to the continued suffering of the people who live under these cruel systems.”

A quarter-century after the dissolution of the Soviet Union and the proclamation of the failure of Marxism and triumph of capitalism, the threat of socialism has become a central preoccupation of an American president delivering a reactionary and militarist diatribe before the United Nations.

Trump speaks for a US financial and corporate oligarchy that feels itself under siege. It fears growing popular anger. It has been shaken to the core by the revelation during the 2016 election that a broad social constituency within the working class and among the youth is intensely hostile to the profit system and sympathetic to socialism.

Ultimately, Trump’s belligerent threats of war and nuclear annihilation are the projection onto the world stage of the class policy pursued by the American ruling class at home, and the very advanced state of political and social tensions within the United States itself.

Bill Van Auken

WSWS

 

 

Google intensifies censorship of left-wing websites

By Andre Damon
19 September 2017

Google has intensified its censorship of left-wing, progressive and anti-war websites, cutting the search traffic of 13 leading news outlets by 55 percent since April.

On August 2, the World Socialist Web Site reported that changes to Google’s search algorithm had led the search traffic of these sites to drop by 45 percent, according to figures by the search analysis service SEMRush.

In the ensuing six weeks, the search traffic of every one of these sites, without exception, has plunged further, leading the total search traffic for the sites to fall by an additional nine percentage points.

The World Socialist Web Site, whose search traffic had fallen by 67 percent between April and July, has now experienced a total drop in search traffic of 74 percent.

By other measures, the WSWS’s performance in search results has been impacted even more substantially. On September 16, the latest date available, articles from the WSWS were shown in search results 68,000 times, down from over 450,000 in April. This constitutes a decline of some 85 percent.

As a result of Google’s censorship, the WSWS’s global page rank has fallen from 31,000 to 41,000, according to Amazon’s Alexa traffic ranking software.

Other sites affected include:

Alternet, one of the top 3,000 sites in the US, has seen its Google search traffic fall by 71 percent between April and September, up from 63 percent in the period through July.

Democracy Now, one of the top 5,000 sites in the US, had its search traffic fall 50 percent between April and September, up from 36 percent in the period through July.

Common Dreams, ranked in the top 8,000 US sites, had its Google search traffic fall by 50 percent between April and September, up from 37 percent in the period through July.

Global Research, one of the top 14,000 sites in the US, had its traffic fall slightly from its massive 62 percent decline between April and July.

Truth-out.org, ranked in the top 12,000 sites in the US, had its search traffic fall by 49 percent, up from 25 percent in the period through July.

The information uncovered by the WSWS has been prominently reported on a number of alternative news websites, including Consortium NewsGlobal ResearchCounterpunchTruthdigRussia TodayTruepublica and others.

In an article on Truthdig, the Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Chris Hedges pointed to the censorship of the WSWS and other left-wing websites: “The ruling elites, who grasp that the reigning ideology of global corporate capitalism and imperial expansion no longer has moral or intellectual credibility, have mounted a campaign to shut down the platforms given to their critics…

“This is a war of ideas. The corporate state cannot compete honestly in this contest. It will do what all despotic regimes do—govern through wholesale surveillance, lies, blacklists, false accusations of treason, heavy-handed censorship and, eventually, violence.”

Despite the broad support for the WSWS’s calls for an end to Google’s Internet censorship, the company has refused to reply either to the WSWS’s petition opposing its censorship or repeated attempts to contact it for comment.

While Google’s censorship has substantially reduced traffic to the WSWS, its effect has been partially counteracted by readers sharing articles through email and social media. One widely shared article published on September 9, titled “Why aren’t trains evacuating people from the path of Hurricane Irma?”, has been viewed over 90,000 times.

While only about 300 people reached the article through Google, tens of thousands accessed it through links from other websites and social media platforms.

In April, Google’s vice president of engineering, Ben Gomes, announced in a blog post that the search giant would be implementing changes to its search algorithm to “surface more authoritative content.” Google’s guidelines for human search evaluators, issued around the same time, stressed that “authoritative” content should appear ahead of “alternative viewpoints.”

On August 25, World Socialist Web Site Editorial Board Chairman David North issued an open letter to Google demanding that it stop censoring the Internet and end its political blacklisting of the WSWS.

An online petition calling for Google to end its censorship has received over 3,800 signatures from dozens of countries.

Google, however, has not replied to North’s letter.

Recent weeks have seen a drastic escalation in calls for Internet censorship. The campaign to censor the Internet—usually justified in the name of “fighting terrorism” and blacking out “fake news”—has assumed international dimensions and is promoted at the highest levels of government. On ABC’s This Week program on Sunday, the first three people interviewed, including British Prime Minister Theresa May, US National Security Adviser Gen. H.R. McMaster, and Adam Schiff, the ranking Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee, called for stricter control of the Internet.

President Donald Trump responded to last week’s terror attack in London with a tweet declaring that “we must cut off” the Internet.

In her newly released book, What Happened?, Hillary Clinton again attributes her defeat to “fake news.” She writes approvingly that “Companies such as Facebook, Twitter, and Google have already begun taking steps—adjusting algorithms, deactivating bot networks, and partnering with fact-checkers”—to fight the “torrent of misinformation” supposedly responsible for the outcome of the election.

Google’s actions against the World Socialist Web Site and other left and progressive sites are making clear the real targets of Internet censorship: news outlets and political organizations opposing war, social inequality and the domination of society by the financial oligarchy.

Millennial children use smartphones to spy on their parents

Smartphones’ tracking features have caused a role-reversal; one woman observed her parents lie about dinner plans

Millennial children use smartphones to spy on their parents
(Credit: Getty/Rawpixel Ltd)

Buried in a Wall Street Journal story about savvy young Americans using technology to get a one-up on their parents lies a tale of the Millennial family drama.

This generation of young adults is leading the anti-Trump charge. They’re killing industry after industry, but keeping libraries alive. But most importantly, they’re living with their parents, because, despite their education, they can’t find jobs to keep them afloat.

So, the generation that matured in tandem with the internet is able to use their parents’ phones to determine where their parents are at all times. And the Wall Street Journal looked at this trend, finding that there were a number of teens and young adults who were using this app for Ferris Bueller-like debauchery — throwing sleepovers for friends and cleaning up just before their parents were home, for example. But one story stood out, because it’s just the sad tale of a couple — this woman’s parents — who just want a cheap night out.

Alexa McDonald of Columbus, Ohio, discovered that her parents fib a bit. The 24-year-old call-center dispatcher’s app revealed that, while claiming to be stuck in traffic, they were sometimes at a restaurant. “I never called them out on it, but inside in my head I was like, ‘I’m hungry, I would have loved to have been included in that.’”

“I guess we’ve done that,” says her mother, Claudia McDonald of Mount Vernon, Ohio. One reason: “Whatever the dish is, she always wants shrimp on it,” she says. “It’s one of the more expensive things on the menu.”

Millennials are ruining family dinners.

US Census report shows increasing social inequality

Small median income gain offset by debt and living costs

By Eric London
15 September 2017

US Census data from 2016 released on Tuesday shows increasing social inequality amid a small gain in household income that is offset by a massive growth of personal debt and rising living costs.

The data tracks the ongoing redistribution of wealth from the working class to the wealthy as a result of the pro-Wall Street policies of both the Republican and Democratic parties. It substantiates the oligarchic character of the United States.

Social inequality

The Gini index, used to measure social inequality, with higher figures indicating a wider economic divide, rose slightly from 2015 (.479) to 2016 (.481). The 2016 figure, according to rankings in the CIA World Factbook, makes the US slightly more equal than Madagascar and less equal than Mexico.

In terms of aggregate income share, the shift from 2015 to 2016 is as follows:

Income share from 2015-2016. *Census data reported to one significant figure, meaning percent decline is not reflected in 2015 and 2016 share columns.

The growth in inequality is even starker when traced from 2007, the year before the Wall Street crisis.

The data reflects income and not wealth, thereby providing an incomplete and conservative indication of the scale of inequality. Even within the highest quintile, the income share increased only for the top 10 percent, and, in particular, the top 5 percent.

Income share from 2007-2016

Household income

The corporate media has portrayed the report as a sign of positive income growth, since it shows a slight rise in median income of 3.2 percent from 2015 to 2016.

But according to the Census data, the earnings of “full-time, year-round workers” remained stagnant. For men in this category, a total of 63.9 million people, earnings declined by 0.4 percent, from $51,859 in 2015 to $51,640 in 2016. For women in this category, 47.2 million people, there was a minor increase, 0.7 percent, from $41,257 in 2015 to $41,554 in 2016. In other words, families with 2 adults working full-time saw a paltry $78 increase in their yearly earnings from 2015 to 2016.

Claims of rising incomes mask the growth of inequality. The Census data shows that the household income of the 90th percentile (the 100th being the highest) was 12.53 times higher than the household income of the 10th percentile in 2016, up from 12.23 times higher in 2015 and 11.18 times higher in 2007. The degree to which income is concentrated in the richest 10 percent of the population is exemplified by the fact that the 5th percentile boasted a household income 3.82 times higher than the 50th percentile in 2016, up from 3.79 times in 2015 and 3.52 in 2007.

As Bloomberg News reported Wednesday, “Since 2007, average inflation-adjusted income has climbed more than 10 percent for households in the highest fifth of the earnings distribution, and it’s fallen 3.2 percent for the bottom quintile. Incomes of the top 5 percent jumped 12.8 percent over the period.”

For the working class, any income increase was transferred to the corporate elite in the form of rising debt payments and increasing living expenses, especially for health care.

According to figures from eHealth, a large private health exchange, average deductibles for families rose 5 percent from 2016 to 2017 (a year after the period covered by the Census report) and average individual premiums rose 22 percent over the same period.

The rising cost of student debt alone largely erases income increases seen by some young people. According to the Census, those aged 15 to 24 saw an income increase of 13.9 percent, from $36,564 in 2015 to $41,655 in 2016, while incomes for young people aged 25 to 34 rose 4.9 percent, from $58,091 to $60,932, nearly double the percentage increase for older age groups.

However, in 2016, student debt rose to an average of $30,000 per young person, up 4 percent from 2015, eliminating over 80 percent of the income rise for 25-34 year olds. For 15 to 24 year olds, the $4,000 increase in median income would hardly cover one sixth of the average debt payment, let alone make up for the fact that young people face a future in which they are unlikely to receive a pension, Social Security or Medicare.

Rising debt levels are not a phenomenon limited to young people. A Bloomberg report from August 10 notes that credit card defaults increased from the beginning of 2015—when roughly 2.5 percent of debt holders defaulted—to the end of 2016, when the total hit 3 percent. This figure subsequently climbed in 2017 to reach 3.49 percent.

Bloomberg notes: “After deleveraging in the aftermath of the last US recession, Americans have once again taken on record debt loads that risk holding back the world’s largest economy… Household debt outstanding–everything from mortgages to credit cards to car loans–reached $12.7 trillion in the first quarter [2017], surpassing the previous peak in 2008 before the effect of the housing market collapse took its toll, Federal Reserve Bank of New York data show.”

“For most Americans,” the report continues, “whose median household income, adjusted for inflation, is lower than it was at its peak in 1999, borrowing has been the answer to maintaining their standard of living. The increase in debt helps explain why the economy’s main source of fuel is providing less of a boost than in the past. Personal spending growth has averaged 2.4 percent since the recession ended in 2009, less than the 3 percent of the previous expansion and 4.3 percent from 1982-90.”

The Bloomberg report explains that income from wages minus household debt trended downward in 2015, meaning that debt is rising faster than wages, causing a loss of roughly $500 billion across the US economy in the space of just one year.

Poverty rate

Though the Census report shows that the poverty rate declined from 13.5 percent of households in 2015 to 12.7 percent in 2016, this figure is substantially higher than the 11.3 percent level that prevailed in 2000. In reality, individuals and families must make 2.5 to 3 times the official poverty rate of $12,000 for an individual, $15,500 for a married couple and $25,000 for a family of four just to make ends meet.

What the data really shows is that the poorest half of the country–over 150 million people–is in a desperate financial position, with the next poorest 40 percent facing constant financial strain and a declining share of the national income. In regard to poverty, the Census Bureau maintains figures that go up only to 200 percent of the official poverty level. The latest report shows that 95 million people—29.8 percent of the population—fall into this category. The share of those under the age of 18 in this category is much higher–39.1 percent.

This is the context for the drive by the Trump administration and both big business parties to slash corporate taxes, impose a health care “reform” that will increase costs for millions of people, and accelerate the transfer of wealth from the working class to the financial aristocracy.

WSWS