Greatest Transfer of Wealth to the Super-Rich in Modern American History

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“If we are going to stop Republicans from taking healthcare from millions and slashing Medicare to give tax cuts to the wealthy and large corporations, now is the time to stand up and fight back.”

The tax plan passed today by the House of Representatives is a flat giveaway to America’s richest households and corporations,” argued Josh Bivens of the Economic Policy Institute in a statement. (Photo: Tax March/Twitter)

With their passage of a deeply unpopular $1.5 trillion tax cut bill on Thursday, House Republicans did their part in “paving the way for the greatest transfer of wealth from regular people to the super-rich in modern American history,”—a move that sparked a flood of outrage from progressive activists and lawmakers who vowed to mobilize and do everything in their power to “kill the bill.”

“If we are going to stop Republicans from taking healthcare from millions and slashing Medicare to give tax cuts to the wealthy and large corporations, now is the time to stand up and fight back,” said Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) in a call to action that was echoed by many of the progressive groups that played a significant role in the fight against Trumpcare.

Now that the House bill has passed, “the fight now turns to the Senate, where the Trump tax scam has always faced much tougher odds,” noted CREDO political director Murshed Zaheed said in a statement.

As Common Dreams reported on Tuesday, Senate Republicans crammed a provision into their own tax bill that would strip healthcare from 13 million Americans—a fact opposition groups have used in recent days in an effort to galvanize grassroots forces.

“It is no surprise that Trump’s lapdogs in the Senate want to use the Trump tax scam to try to gut healthcare for millions of Americans,” Zaheed said, “but the grassroots resistance they’re about to experience will be just as intense as the tidal wave of opposition that repeatedly stopped the zombie Trumpcare bill. If the Senate manages to pass the Trump tax scam despite massive public opposition, we suspect many senators will come to regret it next year.”

Just ahead of the House vote on Thursday, the nonpartisan Joint Committee on Taxation (JCT) released an analysis that dealt yet another blow to the GOP’s insistence that their plan is primarily focused on providing relief to middle- and working-class Americans.

The Senate GOP plan—expected to hit the floor for a vote before Thanksgiving next week—will raise taxes on low-income Americans beginning in 2021, JCT found. More broadly, the Senate plan would sharply hike taxes on millions of families that earn less than $75,000 a year beginning in 2027.

Citing these numbers, the Washington Post‘s Paul Waldman wrote, “If you’re one of those white working-class voters who propelled Donald Trump into the presidency and gave Republicans total control of Washington, the GOP has a message for you: Sucker!”

By contrast, the wealthiest Americans—including President Donald Trump and his family—stand to gain massively from both the House and Senate plans. According to an NBCanalysis published Thursday, Trump and his heirs would save more than a billion dollars if the House measure became law.

The tax plan passed today by the House of Representatives is a flat giveaway to America’s richest households and corporations,” argued Josh Bivens of the Economic Policy Institute in a statement. “Most of the same people who cast this vote to deprive the government of tax revenue will now cynically pivot and start wringing their hands about the federal budget deficit, arguing that vital programs like Medicare and Medicaid must be slashed.”

“Disgusting,” concluded Fight for $15 on Twitter, “but the fight isn’t over. This is one of the worst pieces of legislation in history. Call your Senators and tell them to vote NO!”

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Nearly 4,000 US communities have higher rates of lead poisoning than Flint

By Jerry White
16 November 2017

In an updated study, Reuters news agency has identified 3,810 neighborhoods where recently recorded child lead poisoning rates are at least double those found in Flint, Michigan during the height of that city’s water crisis in 2014 and 2015. In some 1,300 of these “hotspot” communities, the percentage of children six and under with elevated lead levels was at least four times the percentage in Flint during the peak of the crisis.

In pockets of Baltimore, Cleveland and Philadelphia, where lead poisoning has spanned generations, Reuters reported that the rate of elevated tests over the last decade was 50 percent or higher. An interactive map released with the study shows one census tract in Buffalo, New York—a former steel and auto center that, like Flint, has suffered decades of deindustrialization—where 68 percent of the children had high levels of lead.

Map of lead concentrations in the United States

The ingestion of any amount of the heavy metal, whether through tainted water, lead-based paint, contaminated soil or fumes and dust, can do irreparable harm to children. This includes impeding the development of the brain and nervous system, lowered IQ, memory loss, hearing and speech problems, and behavioral and attention-related problems. The toxin, which remains in the body and can be passed on for generations, is also responsible for a host of adult health problems, including decreased kidney function, high blood pressure, tremors and infertility.

In the year following the switchover of Flint to water from the polluted Flint River, which caused leaching from the city’s antiquated lead pipe system, five percent of the children who had their blood tested showed lead levels in excess of five micrograms per deciliter. This is the threshold requiring immediate public health intervention, according to the US government’s Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), which acknowledges that there is no safe level of exposure to lead.

Reuters used data collected by the CDC based on neighborhood-level blood testing results for 34 states and the District of Columbia. As devastating as the results are, they do not provide a full picture. The CDC funds 35 state and local health departments for lead surveillance. Reporting is voluntary in the remaining states, many of which do not have staff to collect data. Despite the well-known public health hazard, the US government does not require reporting and does not oversee the systematic collection and analysis of data on lead poisoning.

Dr. Kim Cecil of the Cincinnati Lead Study shows how the brain isdamaged by lead poisoning

Reuters says this is the first look at data broken down by census tracts, which are small county subdivisions averaging 4,000 citizens, or by zip codes, with average populations of 7,500. In December, Reuters noted that far from being the exception, Flint did not even rank among the most toxic cities in America. It pointed to Warren, Pennsylvania, a town on the Allegheny River, where 36 percent of the children tested had high lead levels, to a zip code on Goat Island, Texas, where a quarter of tests showed poisoning.

The newest map includes additional data collected this year by Reuters from Kansas, Georgia, Tennessee, Vermont, North Carolina, New York City and Washington, D.C. The newly identified areas with high levels of child lead poisoning include a historic district in Savannah, Georgia, areas in Rutland, Vermont near a popular skiing area, and a largely Hasidic Jewish area in Brooklyn, New York.

Like Flint, which has acres of land polluted by General Motors and other industrial firms, impoverished homes with peeling paint, and underground lead water mains and service lines, the areas throughout the US with the worst lead poisoning are invariably working class and poor.

There has been a sharp decline in poisoning since lead was removed from paint in 1976 and gasoline in 1995, the latter after more than a decade of resistance by the oil industry. The elimination of lead poisoning, however, is not possible due to lead pipes, residual lead paint in poor urban and rural areas, and former or current industrial sites polluted with lead.

T
he Flint River

“The dramatic decline in blood lead over the last several decades in the US is a public health triumph, resulting from control of lead in gasoline, paint, food, water, soil, consumer products and other sources,” said Marc Edwards, a professor of environmental and water resources engineering at Virginia Tech University, who was instrumental in exposing the lies of state and local officials who claimed that Flint’s water was safe.

He continued: “Before the increased use of lead in paint and gasoline, lead in water was once the dominant source of human lead exposure in the United States, and it was generally acknowledged to cause widespread lead poisoning, fatalities and adverse pregnancy outcomes. Flint is yet another reminder that we must remain vigilant to harm caused by all lead sources, especially lead pipes, which are out of sight and out of mind. It is also the only government-owned source of lead, which directly affects potable water, a product intended for human consumption. Flint is just the most recent example of how this inherent conflict has harmed people.”

The poisoning of Flint was brought into the national and international spotlight only due to the courageous efforts of the city’s working class residents and science professionals like Edwards and pediatrician and public health advocate Dr. Mona Hanna-Attisha. She was denounced by Governor Rick Snyder’s office for “slicing and dicing” the results of blood samples.

Flint became a symbol of everything that was wrong in America: corporate and political criminality and the indifference of both the Democrats and Republicans to the plight of working people. The media, celebrities and politicians from Barack Obama to Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders poured into the town and legal proceedings were initiated against several lesser figures involved in the crime and cover-up. More than three years since the switch to the Flint River, however, nothing has been done to make the residents whole.

The new report from Reuters has been largely ignored by the rest of the corporate-controlled media, which originally presented the Flint crisis as an anomaly, until it was unable to deny the massive and nationwide scale of the problem. Far from committing the necessary resources, including an estimated $500 billion to $1 trillion to replace the nation’s lead pipes, the Obama and Trump administrations have failed to provide any significant funding to address this public health care threat, even as they have squandered trillions on bank bailouts, military spending and tax cuts for the wealthy.

Trump’s 2018 budget request includes a $1.2 billion, or 17 percent, cut to the CDC and the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry.

http://www.wsws.org/en/articles/2017/11/16/lead-n16.html

Tens of thousands being dropped from US student loan relief program

By J. Cooper
15 November 2017

October marked 10 years since the George W. Bush administration enacted the Public Service Loan Forgiveness (PSLF) program as an incentive to young college graduates to pursue careers as teachers, in government, or at non-profit institutions. The program was advertised as a way for some recent graduates to see an exit sign on their student loan debt.

In 2006, average student loan debt for undergraduates was just under $20,000. For graduate students it was nearly $40,000. For the class of 2016, average undergraduate debt had climbed to $37,172. For graduate students, the average is considerably higher. In that same period, college tuition has increased 63 percent.

Over the past 10 years over half a million graduates have signed up for PSLF. However, according to a recent article in Rolling Stone, more than half of those have been disqualified for myriad bureaucratic reasons. Last month a total of only 137 individuals were deemed eligible to have the balance of their student loans wiped clean. Thousands are just finding out that their years of paying on time won’t count under the federal forgiveness plan because they took out the wrong type of loan, their employer has been disqualified, or their original lender sold the loan to an unqualified institution. President Trump’s budget proposes eliminating the program entirely for borrowers after July 2018.

As many of these borrowers are now discovering, if your employer hasn’t provided the correct proof of employment in a qualifying position, if the loan you are carrying is not through the sole federal direct-loan program, if you have missed even one of the 120 payments required within the 10-year span, or if you paid extra in one payment and skipped the next, you can be disqualified.

New York Times article from October 27 profiles a 46-year-old teacher who enrolled in the PSLF plan the year it was announced, thinking he had done everything according to the rules, only to discover in 2015 that he had been enrolled in a “particular type of ineligible payment plan and would need to start his decade of payments all over again.” One of the online comments from November 5 announces that several class action suits have been launched on behalf of borrowers who were not informed their loans were out of compliance.

Another commenter says: “By the time I’d learned that [one of the loans did not qualify], my loans had ballooned to $90k because I was only paying interest on them with 8.5 percent. … that nonsense impacted my career choices (deciding to stay in nonprofits to secure the forgiveness), my retirement funds, and my sanity. I will end up paying more than $55K in interest on my $60k loan. Truly criminal.”

Among the thousands disqualified or affected are teachers, doctors, lawyers, even police. A lawsuit by the American Bar Association was filed earlier this year after the Department of Education (DoE) announced it had “rescinded without explanation the association’s status as a qualified employer under PSLF and notified ABA employees and others who had previously been approved for participation in the program that they no longer qualified,” according to the DoE website.

Most of those applying for the PSLF program are those with postgraduate degrees. Currently there is no limit on the amount a graduate student can borrow, and it is not uncommon for a graduate student to embark on their first job out of school with $100,000 in debt. To discover, after 10 years working at a public service job, known for low salaries, that you don’t qualify for the program after all, not only impacts the financial wellbeing of the individual, but can have serious psychological effects.

Jason Delisle, a resident fellow at the American Enterprise Institute, a conservative think tank, revealed that when the PSLF program was first created, it was intended to be small and unattractive. “Washington policymakers did not foresee the program growing to its current size. After all, 10 years is a long time to work in a qualifying job, so many experts thought people wouldn’t sign up,” he wrote in Politico in July. “They also thought borrowers were averse to making loan payments linked to their incomes, as hardly anyone enrolled in an earlier version of the government’s income-based repayment plan.”

In fact, Delisle speaks for that section of the ruling elite who are determined that not even a small segment of students in debt will get any relief. Delisle argues that the PSLF program should be eliminated because it encourages graduate students to maximize their debt load, since the larger amount will be forgiven after 10 years. It’s easy for him to ignore the dire consequences for those who get the reality check that they don’t qualify after they have made their regular payments and then face decades of additional payments when they thought they might be able to buy a house or start a family.

As of July this year, the interest rates for Direct Loans increased to 7 percent for graduate students, and 4.45 percent for undergraduates. Trump’s budget proposal includes a provision to eliminate entirely the federal Subsidized Stafford Loan, which has traditionally allowed students to defer payment while enrolled in a college or university, and had a somewhat lower interest rate upon graduation. Another provision proposed in the House version of the next budget would require that all tuition waived, either through a federal program, employer benefit or university tuition waiver, be counted as taxable income.

The overwhelming burden of student debt for borrowers at all levels is becoming worse every year. This past spring, total student loan debt surpassed $1.45 trillion, about $620 billion more than all US credit card debt. Among the 44 million borrowers, the average monthly payment is $351. Trump is proposing to abolish subsidized federal loans and institute a single program for all federal student lending as a single income-based repayment plan at 12.5 percent of adjusted gross income. Today’s recent graduate can look forward to at least half a lifetime of penury as the cost of an undergraduate degree. And for those who can’t afford more than the interest every month, it’s a lifetime.

Currently, 11.2 percent of student loan dollars are in default and another 11 percent are in forbearance (a temporary payment suspension granted at the discretion of the lender while interest continues to accrue). According to the September 28 Washington Post, “millions of people had not made a payment on about $144 billion in federal student loans for at least nine months as of June, a 12 percent increase in defaults from a year earlier.”

Although the default rate has declined slightly from its 14.7 percent peak in fiscal year 2010, it is still well above rates prior to the 2007-2008 mortgage collapse and Wall Street crash—from 8.8 percent in 2009 and 7 percent in 2007. The total number of borrowers in default is at an all-time high, with 1.1 million new borrowers defaulting in 2016.

According to the Department of Education’s latest figures, the third quarter of 2017 saw a major increase in loans going into default for at least a second time. Thirty-thousand borrowers defaulted on $64 million. This was a jump of 7,100 unique loans in just three months. The previous record was set in the first quarter of 2016, with 24,500 borrowers re-defaulting on $57 million.

College graduates face an increasingly bleak future, despite being told that a college education is a necessity to get a “decent” job today. As has been widely reported, Americans between the ages of 18 and 34 are more likely to be living with their parents, rather than a spouse or partner. Employer-paid health care and pension plans are a relic of the past, forcing millions of college graduates to foot the bill for thousands of dollars in expenses in addition to the student loans. The average net worth of the 2016 college graduate is a negative $33,984.

This crushing debt provides fertile hunting grounds for rapacious debt collectors. For the fiscal quarter ending in March 2017, more than $2 billion had been “successfully” recouped for the lenders by 30 national collection agencies. Of this, $182 million was the result of wage garnishment. It should come as no surprise that feelings of despair and suicidal thoughts are so prevalent today.

As the teacher interviewed by Rolling Stone explained, the debt collectors “called day and night.” Calculating his “rehabilitated” debt at over $100,000, he said, “Not one dollar goes toward principal. I will never be able to pay it off. My only hope to escape from this crushing debt is to die.”

Significantly, a recent report by Experian, the consumer credit reporting agency, notes that of the generation of borrowers now making payments, aside from students currently enrolled and thus just beginning to accrue loans, millennials have the highest percentage of past due amounts on loans in repayment (not deferred). Millennials also have the highest number of loans, 4.4 on average. This is also the generation that indicated, by a majority (51 percent) in a recent poll, that they would rather live in a socialist or communist society than under capitalism.

How not to fight Judge Roy Moore

14 November 2017

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Patrick Martin

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

Fight the disease of globalized corporate capitalism

Fight the Disease, Not the Symptoms

Mr. Fish / Truthdig

The disease of globalized corporate capitalism has the same effects across the planet. It weakens or destroys democratic institutions, making them subservient to corporate and oligarchic power. It forces domestic governments to give up control over their economies, which operate under policies dictated by global corporations, banks, the World Trade Organizationand the International Monetary Fund. It casts aside hundreds of millions of workers now classified as “redundant” or “surplus” labor. It disempowers underpaid and unprotected workers, many toiling in global sweatshops, keeping them cowed, anxious and compliant. It financializes the economy, creating predatory global institutions that extract money from individuals, institutions and states through punishing forms of debt peonage. It shuts down genuine debate on corporate-owned media platforms, especially in regard to vast income disparities and social inequality. And the destruction empowers proto-fascist movements and governments.

These proto-fascist forces discredit verifiable fact and history and replace them with myth. They peddle nostalgia for lost glory. They attack the spiritual bankruptcy of the modern, technocratic world. They are xenophobic. They champion the “virtues” of a hyper-masculinity and the warrior cult. They preach regeneration through violence. They rally around demagogues who absolve followers of moral choice and promise strength and protection. They marginalize and destroy all individuals and institutions, including schools, that make possible self-criticism, self-reflection and transcendence and that nurture empathy, especially for the demonized. This is why artists and intellectuals are ridiculed and silenced. This is why dissent is attacked as an act of treason.

These movements are also deeply misogynistic. They disempower girls and women to hand a perverted power to men who feel powerless in the global economy. They blame ethnic and religious minorities for the national decline. They foster bizarre conspiracy theories. And they communicate in the Orwellian newspeak of alternative facts. They claim the sole right to represent and use indigenous patriotic and religious symbols.

India, built on the foundations of caste slavery, has become one of many new neofeudal states, among them Turkey, Poland, Russia and the United States. Its neofeudal structure continues to carry out atrocities against Dalits—the former “untouchables”—and now increasingly against Muslims. India’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi, who as the chief minister of the western Indian state of Gujarat oversaw a vicious anti-Muslim pogrom, has defended sectarian discrimination and violence even though this year he made a tepid declaration that “[w]e will not tolerate violence in the name of faith” and issued other unconvincing appeals for religious peace. As prime minister he has employed threats, harassment and force to silence those who decry human rights abuses and atrocities carried out in India. He attacks his critics as “anti-national”—the equivalent of “unpatriotic” in the United States.

Modi, like his fellow demagogues in other parts of the world, including Donald Trump, speaks in the language of moral purity and promotes self-serving historical myth. Indians who eat beef—a huge number—are targeted, school history books are being rewritten to conform to right-wing Hindu ideology and its open admiration for fascism, and entertainers considered too political or too salacious are under attack.

There are within America’s corporate power structures individuals, parties and groups that find the hysterical, imbecilic and irrational rants of demagogues such as Trump repugnant. They seek a return to the polished mendacity of politicians such as Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama. They hope to promote the interests of global capitalism by maintaining the fiction of a functioning democracy and an open society. These “moderates” or “liberals,” however, are also the architects of the global corporate pillage. They created the political vacuum that the demagogues and proto-fascist movements have filled. They blind themselves to their own complicity. They embrace their own myths—such as the belief that former FBI Director James Comey and the Russians were responsible for the election of Trump—to avoid examining the social inequality that is behind the global crisis and their defeat.

The 400 richest individuals in the United States have more wealth than the bottom 64 percent of the population, and the three richest Americans have more wealth than the bottom 50 percent of the U.S. population. This social inequality will only get worse as the weak controls that once regulated the economy and the tax code are abolished or rewritten to further increase the concentration of wealth among the ruling oligarchs. Social inequality at this level, history has shown, always results in these types of pathologies and political distortions. It also, potentially, presages revolution.

The short-term political and economic gains made by the Democratic Party and liberal class in the last few decades came at the expense of the working class. The liberal class, because of its complicity in globalization, has destroyed its credibility as well as the credibility of the “liberal” democratic values it claims to represent. Enraged workers, lied to for decades by “liberal” politicians such as Bill and Hillary Clinton and Obama, delight in Trump’s crude taunts and insults directed at the power structure and elites they loath. Many Americans are perhaps aware that Trump is a con artist, but he at least appears to share their disdain for the “liberal” elites who abandoned them.

It will eventually become apparent to some, perhaps many, of Trump’s supporters that he is cravenly in the service of the 1 percent and has turbocharged the corporate kleptocracy. The Democratic Party, busy purging Bernie Sanders supporters from its ranks, is banking on this epiphany to revive its political fortunes. The Democratic leadership has no real political strategy, other than to hope that Trump implodes. They are backing and funding opposition movements such as Indivisible and the women’s marches, as well as the witch hunt about Russian interference in the 2016 U.S. presidential election, all of which have as their sole focus removing Trump and restoring the Democratic Party to power. This form of resistance is sterile and useless.

But there are other resistance movements—the most prominent being the battle by the water protectors at Standing Rock to block the Dakota Access pipeline—that attack the disease. It is easy to tell the resistance from the faux resistance by the response of the state. During the women’s marches, Democrats, including Debbie Wasserman Schultz, were honored participants. The police were usually courteous and helped facilitate the marches; arrests were few and coverage by the corporate press was sympathetic. In contrast, during the long encampment at Standing Rock, which took place under the Obama administration, the nonviolent resisters were physically attacked by police, the National Guard and private security contractors. These forces used dogs, pepper spray, water cannons in subzero temperatures, sound machines, drones, armored vehicles and hundreds of arrests in their efforts to destroy the resistance.

Attack the symptoms and the state will be passive. Attack the disease and the state will be ruthless.

Once Trump’s base begins to abandon him—the repression in Turkey under President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan is a good example of what will happen—the political landscape will turn very ugly. Trump and his allies, in a desperate bid to cling to power, will openly stoke hate crimes and violence against Muslims, undocumented workers, African-Americans, progressives, intellectuals, feminists and dissidents. He and his allies on the “alt-right” and the Christian right will move to silence all organs of dissent, including corporate media outlets fighting to restore the patina of civility that is the window dressing to corporate pillage. They will harness the power of the nation’s substantial internal security apparatus to crush public protests and to jail opponents, even those who are part of the faux resistance.

Time is not on our side. If we can build counter-capitalist movements that include the working class we have a chance. If we can, like the water protectors at Standing Rock, mount sustained acts of defiance in the face of severe state repression, we have a chance. If we can organize nationwide campaigns of noncooperation we have a chance. We cannot be distracted by the symptoms. We must cure the disease.

Chris Hedges
Columnist
Chris Hedges is a Pulitzer-Prize winning journalist, New York Times best selling author, former professor at Princeton University, activist and ordained Presbyterian minister. He has written 11 books,…
Mr. Fish
Cartoonist
Mr. Fish, also known as Dwayne Booth, is a cartoonist who primarily creates for Truthdig.com and Harpers.com. Mr. Fish’s work has also appeared nationally in The Los Angeles Times, The Village Voice, Vanity…

US brands RT a “foreign agent:” A chilling move against free speech

11 November 2017

On Thursday, RT America, the US-based subsidiary of RT (formerly known as Russia Today), announced that it would, under pressure from the United States government, register as a “foreign agent” under the Foreign Agents Registration Act (FARA).

The Justice Department’s demand that RT register as a “foreign agent” is aimed at delegitimizing RT as a news source, intimidating its journalists and guests, and setting the precedent for taking similar actions against other news outlets.

The US government has given no public justification for its demand, which will require that RT America provide information on its finances and on individuals involved in directing the news outlet. RT clearly reflects the views of the Russian government and avoids criticism of the Putin regime. However, the US has made no similar demand in relation to other outlets that have government financing and backing—the BBC, for example. Moreover, the United States operates a vast network of news agencies that work, officially and unofficially, to promote the interests of the American ruling class all over the world.

The US government’s motivations are entirely political, bound up with the effort to present all opposition within the United States as the product of the actions of Russia. In its reporting, whatever its reasons may be, RT provides a platform for voices critical of the policy of the American government.

The United States outlined the political reasons for moving against the broadcaster in the January 6, 2017 report by the US Director of National Intelligence on “Russian intervention” in the 2016 elections.

The report alleged, “RT broadcast, hosted, and advertised third-party candidate debates and ran reporting supportive of the political agenda of these candidates. The RT hosts asserted that the US two-party system does not represent the views of at least one-third of the population and is a ‘sham.’”

The Director of National Intelligence report further denounced favorable coverage by RT of the Occupy Wall Street movement, declaring, “RT framed the movement as a fight against ‘the ruling class’ and described the current US political system as corrupt and dominated by corporations.”

More recently, US politicians—led by the Democratic Party—have developed a narrative that Russia, through outlets like RT, has worked to “sow divisions” within the United States, as if the American people need RT to know that the political system is corrupt and dominated by corporations.

The campaign has been used to demand a regime of Internet censorship, with technology giants including Google, Facebook and Twitter taking measures to block or demote content from a broad range of websites.

Earlier this month, Google removed RT from its list of “preferred” channels on YouTube, while Twitter blocked all advertising by the channel. In addition to its crackdown on RT, Google has made sweeping changes to its search engine and news service that have dramatically slashed traffic to left-wing, antiwar and progressive web sites, including the World Socialist Web Site, which has had its search traffic from Google fall by 74 percent since April.

Precisely because of its ties to the Russian government, the US State Department has chosen it as its first target in its drive to persecute, criminalize and ultimately outlaw all oppositional journalists.

Will RT’s hosts, including Pulitzer Prize winner Chris Hedges and veteran interviewer Larry King also be forced to register as “foreign agents?” Will all of RT’s guests, which have included prominent left-wing journalists, politicians, academics, and even celebrities, get a knock on their door demanding that they file paperwork with the Justice Department? Will all of these individuals now be opened to questioning about their collaboration with a “hostile foreign power”?

This month, an organization calling itself the European Values Think-Tank, funded by the US embassy and foundations associated with billionaire George Soros, published just such a list, including the names of 2,300 RT guests, grouped into US and UK politicians, journalists, academics, and celebrities. These individuals are, according to the think-tank, “useful idiot[s]” for a “hostile foreign power.”

The list includes journalists Julian Assange, Max Blumenthal, Seymour Hersh, Jeremy Scahill, Ed Schultz, and Matt Taibbi, as well as the academics Noam Chomsky and Stephen Cohen, together with actor Russell Brand and filmmaker Oliver Stone.

Amid soaring social inequality and an ever-escalating military buildup, the US government is moving to silence any alternative to its closely monitored and vetted establishment media outlets, including the major newspapers and broadcast networks.

The fact that RT is being targeted because of its political positions sets an ominous precedent. It means that “foreign propaganda” is being defined by political views, laying the groundwork for a much broader range of news outlets to be labeled as promoting “Russian propaganda,” blacklisted, and ultimately criminalized.

Andre Damon

http://www.wsws.org/en/articles/2017/11/11/pers-n11.html

The GOP Is Proposing a 250 Percent Tax Hike on Millions of Americans

NEWS & POLITICS
Traditional Republican voters could get hit the hardest.

Photo Credit: Gage Skidmore/Creative Commons

The GOP just declared war on the strivers who start their own businesses.

Or to put it another way: The nice young couple who just opened their own independent coffee shop around the corner will likely be hit with a huge tax increase—as much as 250%—while the corporation that operates thousands of coffee shops all around the world is getting its taxes cut 43%.

The complicated new bill (remember when the GOP promised tax simplicity?) also lavishes federal tax favors on rich individuals and on those who live in low tax states.

No wonder the GOP developed the nearly 500-page tax bill in secret. Had the public’s business been conducted in public, this bill simply would not exist. But it may become law because, if there is anything we know about Washington in the age of Trump, it is that our elected leaders don’t listen to us, they listen to the political donor class, and in Trump’s case, to those advisers he says reside in his head.

The Republican tax plan targets a class of voters who have formed the core of the GOP constituency since the age of Lincoln: entrepreneurs and small business owners. The party used to promote tax favors for those who start new enterprises.

But now Trump has turned Washington into a federally protected wetland for big established business and comfortable billionaires, stocking the swamp with the most voracious predators on Wall Street. The GOP bill shows it is on the side of Wall Street, at the expense of Main Street.

The tax plan would dramatically raise taxes on many entrepreneurs, in some cases more than doubling the tax rate they pay on their profits. That explains why groups like the National Federation of Independent Business attacked the bill, saying in a statement that the bill “does not help most small businesses.”

Currently, freelancers, small-business owners and others pay taxes at rates of 10% and then 15% on their profits if their total income puts them below about $125,000 annually. The GOP would tax these same businesses at 25% on about one-third of their profits and at 10% to 15% rates on the rest.

So, if your small business made a profit of $1,000, you would pay 10% rate on the first $700 and a 25% rate on the other $300.  Your total tax would rise by $5.

This completely contradicts the oft-stated GOP claim that what matters are marginal tax rates, the rate paid on the next dollar of income. And, of course, it makes the federal income tax system even more complicated.

Meanwhile, big corporations—known as C Corps to tax policy wonks—would pay a 20% rate.

Ponder that for a moment. The nearly 3,000 companies that own nearly all the business assets would be taxed at a lower rate than the guy who fixes your shoes.

Raising taxes on the smallest businesses while giving the Big Boys a tax rate cut from 35% to 20% only makes sense if you negotiate in secret and you only allow into the room lobbyists hired by those who can afford to buy high-priced influence peddlers.

David Cay Johnston is a Pulitzer Prize-winning investigative journalist specializing in tax matters and the author of The Making of Donald Trump. Follow him @DavidCayJ.

https://www.alternet.org/news-amp-politics/gop-proposing-250-percent-tax-hike-millions-americans?akid=16333.265072.1fP8kF&rd=1&src=newsletter1084983&t=6