The Pentagon has never been audited. That’s astonishing

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Trumpcare, Ryancare, Trashcare: While the GOP celebrates its found money, the poor will get sicker and die

With the AHCA, the Republicans have put a price tag on the lives of America’s working class: $300 billion

Trumpcare, Ryancare, Trashcare: While the GOP celebrates its found money, the poor will get sicker and die
(Credit: AP/Susan Walsh)

Trumpcare, Ryancare, Trashcare — whatever you want to call it, the American Health Care Act is nothing more than a cheap stab at Barack Obama, a petty attempt on the part of grudge-holding Republicans, including President Donald Trump, to try to diminish Obama’s legacy. They can try, but that will be impossible — Trump’s follow-up act has been so bad so far that he’s making George W. Bush look practically Lincoln-esque. But let’s set legacies and agendas aside for now and focus on health care.

“We have come up with a solution that’s really, really, I think, very good,” Donald Trump has said. “It’s an unbelievably complex subject. Nobody knew that health care could be so complicated.”

I’m not a president or a billionaire. I could never afford the kind of routine checkups that Trump has access to from award-winning physicians with platinum stethoscopes and solid gold scalpels — or even a state-of-the-art Viking fridge stocked with spare teenage hearts and kidneys, all plump and ready to be inserted when Trump’s conk out. He’ll probably live to be 360 years old as a result. Most of us don’t have that experience, and the president, just like the congresspeople and senators who are aimlessly playing with the lives of their constituents by threatening to kill Obamacare, is taken care of. They have amazing health care coverage that we, the taxpayers, fund. Strangely, that never makes it into the conversation.

Is Obamacare perfect? Absolutely not. But it has already saved the lives of millions of people. People who would have never voted for Obama are calling him a hero, even as some die-hard right-wingers praise the Affordable Care Act for saving their loved ones, not realizing that it’s the same as Obamacare.

Trump loves his catchphrase, “Make America great again.” Obviously he doesn’t understand that “great” is a process that we must constantly work toward. Greatness is edited, nurtured and achieved after recognizing what works and what doesn’t. Scrapping Obamacare and replacing it with a trash plan that will leave millions of people who were born without the luxury of being Trump-level rich uninsured is not making anything great. It’s evil. According to the CBO analysis, the AHCA would “reduce federal deficits by $337 billion over the coming decade and increase the number of people who are uninsured by 24 million in 2026 relative to current law.” And every Republican is running to the cable news networks, bragging about saving $300 billion. What does that mean to the person the Wall Street Journal described, a 62-year-old person who makes $18,000 a year who will now face premiums of up to $20,000?

Imagine a sickly elderly woman running home from work to her family to share with pride that the government just saved $300 billion. There is nothing more important than that to the government, even if it means that you’re broke, your granddaughter is pregnant because she couldn’t get birth control, and your grandson overdosed and died because he couldn’t be treated for his prescription drug addiction, which he developed to self-medicate his depression over the factory jobs that Trump promised never coming. We should all celebrate because the government saved $300 billion? That’s $300 billion that regular people will never touch.

People will not be treated for their illnesses. Many will suffer, and some will die. But at least the GOP beat Obama!

D. Watkins is an Editor at Large for Salon. He is also a professor at the University of Baltimore and founder of the BMORE Writers Project. Watkins is the author of the New York Times best-sellers “The Beast Side: Living  (and Dying) While Black in America” and “The Cook Up: A Crack Rock Memoir.”

Is Health Care Doomed?

PERSONAL HEALTH
The Republicans’ new plan to replace the Affordable Care Act is worse than many expected. John Marty has a better idea.

Doctor Discussing Records With Senior Female Patient
Photo Credit: Monkey Business Images/Shutterstock

As Donald Trump and the Republicans aim a bulldozer at the Affordable Care Act, supporters of the ACA are making a strong case for its successes. One of them is Jonathan Cohn, who has covered health care for years. In a long and persuasive essay, he calls on witness after witness to show that “real people with serious medical issues are finally getting the help they need.”

Cohn interviews a number of people who fell victim to “the old system at its callous, capricious worst” (before President Barack Obama took office) when “roughly 1 in 6 Americans had no health care insurance, and even the insured could still face crippling medical bills.” The ACA was an effort to address their problems, and after seven years, he reports, the list of what’s gone right is long:

– In states like California and Michigan, the newly regulated markets appear to be working as the law’s architects intended, except for some rural areas that insurers have never served that well. Middle-class people in those states have better, more affordable options.

– It looks like more insurers are figuring out how to make their products work and how to successfully compete for business. Customers have turned out to be more price-sensitive than insurers originally anticipated. In general, the carriers that struggle are large national companies without much experience selling directly to consumers rather than through employers.

– Last year’s big premium increases followed two years in which average premiums were far below projections, a sign that carriers simply started their pricing too low. Even now, on average, the premiums people pay for exchange insurance are on a par with, or even a bit cheaper than, equivalent employer policies — and that’s before the tax credits.

– The majority of people who are buying insurance on their own or get their coverage through Medicaid are satisfied with it, according to separate surveys by the Commonwealth Fund and the Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation. The level of satisfaction with the new coverage still trails that involving employer-provided insurance, and it has declined over time. But it’s clearly in positive territory.

Overall, Cohn concludes, the number of people without health insurance “is the lowest that government or private surveys have ever recorded.”

Yes, there are problems. Cohn acknowledges where the Affordable Care Act has failed and why. Mostly because the president and his allies were so determined to succeed where those before them had failed, “they made a series of concessions that necessarily limited the law’s ambition:

They expanded Medicaid and regulated private insurance rather than start a whole new government-run program. They dialed back demands for lower prices from drug makers, hospitals and other health care industries. And they agreed to tight budget constraints for the program as a whole, rather than risk a revolt among more conservative Democrats. These decisions meant that health insurance would ultimately be more expensive and the new system’s financial assistance would be less generous.”

Cohn gives critics their due, especially those who focused on the law’s actual consequences: the higher premiums and out-of-pocket costs that some people face.

“The new rules, like coverage of pre-existing conditions, have made policies more expensive, and Obamacare’s financial aid frequently doesn’t offset the increases. A ‘rate-shock’ wave hit suddenly in the fall of 2013, when insurers unveiled their newly upgraded plans and in many cases canceled old ones — infuriating customers who remembered Obama’s promise that ‘if you like your plan, you can keep it,’ while alienating even some of those sympathetic to what Obama and the Democrats were trying to do.”

But remember: “When the Senate passed its version of the legislation in December 2009, then-Sen. Tom Harkin (D-IA) described the program as a ‘starter home‘ with a solid foundation and room for expansion.”

Yet the Republicans, many of whom reject the whole concept of health care as a right, are determined to rip it all up. Giving scant attention to what’s gone right, they claim the Affordable Care Act is “a disaster.” Their now-leader, President Trump, turned directly to the camera Tuesday night in his address to Congress and announced that he still wants the ACA “repealed and replaced.” If Trump and his fellow Republicans could, they would end it altogether, but they are nervous about the political consequences of depriving millions of Americans of coverage and raising deductibles. As longtime health policy experts Steffie Woolhandler and David Himmelstein — both physicians — point out in the current Annals of Internal Medicine, proposals by House Speaker Paul Ryan and the new HHS Secretary, Tom Price, both Republicans, would slash Medicaid spending for the poor, shift the ACA’s subsidies from the near-poor to wealthier Americans and replace Medicare with a voucher program. This would likely lead to their rout at the polls in 2018 and 2020. The vast majority of Americans want to keep their health care coverage.

We are at a stalemate. Opponents of the ACA have no viable replacement and supporters have no power to stave off the Republican bulldozer.

Is the situation hopeless? In Washington, probably — at least for now. But there are alternatives. As I noted above, two longtime advocates for universal health care, Drs. Woolhandler and Himmelstein, have renewed their campaign for single-payer reform, which candidate Barack Obama applauded when he was campaigning and then rejected after his election as part of those compromises he made to win support from conservative Democrats and the medical and insurance industries. In their Annals article, the two reformist physicians offer evidence that single-payer reform could provide “comprehensive coverage within the current budgetary envelope” because of huge savings on health care bureaucracy. It’s worth reading.

So is a plan put forth by Minnesota State Sen. John Marty. Often described as “the conscience of the Minnesota Senate,” Marty has been an advocate for universal health care since he was elected 30 years ago. He has served as chairman of the Senate Health Committee and now serves as the ranking minority member of the Senate Energy Committee. Often ahead of his times, Marty introduced and eventually secured passage of the country’s first ban on smoking in hospitals and health care facilities. Long before public support had materialized, he worked to ban mercury in consumer products, create a legal structure for public benefit corporations and bring about a “living wage” for workers. In 2008, when he introduced legislation proposing marriage equality for LGBT couples and predicted it could pass in five years, colleagues dismissed him as a Don Quixote. Five years later Minnesota passed marriage equality legislation.

So this lifelong progressive has earned the right to chide his fellow progressives for “merely tinkering” with problems. He writes that “If 21st-century progressives had been leading the 19th-century abolition movement, we would still have slavery, but we would have limited slavery to a 40-hour work week, and we would be congratulating each other on the progress we had made.”

This timidity, Marty acknowledges, might be partially explained by decades of defeat at the hands of powerful financial interests and politicians beholden to those interests. But as a result, many politicians who espouse progressive change have retreated from a “politics of principle” to a “politics of pragmatism.”

Sen. Marty crisscrossed Minnesota to talk directly with citizens about what they need and want in health care. He has now proposed a universal health care system which he calls the Minnesota Health Plan. He’s distilled it into a small paperback book — Healing Health Care: The Case for a Commonsense Universal Health System. I asked him to write an essay for us summing up the plan’s basic principles and the case for it.

— Bill Moyers

A CALL TO ACTION
By John Marty

Our health care system is broken.

We have some of the best health care available in the world, but one of the worst systems for accessing that care. We squander outstanding health care resources — providers, clinics and hospitals, medical research and technology — on a broken system that makes it difficult and expensive for many people to get the care they need.

Our health outcomes, including life expectancy and infant mortality, are worse than most other industrialized countries.

President Obama provided hope during his 2008 campaign, saying health care “should be a right for every American.” Unfortunately, he never proposed universal health care, though the Affordable Care Act (ACA) was a big step forward. It reduced the number of people without health coverage by almost half. It made a (in some cases, literally) lifesaving difference for millions of Americans.

However, even if the ACA were beefed up, it would always leave some people without coverage. In addition, health insurance does not equate to health care — millions of Americans who have insurance still cannot afford the care they need due to exclusions in coverage, copays and deductibles. And because it added even more complexity to our already convoluted insurance system, the ACA is easy to attack.

Republican attacks during the 2016 campaign were wrong; the ACA is not the cause of the problems in the system. Nor is it the solution, despite the good it did for many people.

Now that President Trump has blurted out that “nobody knew that health care could be so complicated,” we will watch the ironic efforts of Republicans to replace the Affordable Care Act — an insurance-based plan, largely modeled on former Massachusetts Republican Gov. Mitt Romney’s “Romneycare,” which, in turn, was largely based on ideas from the conservative Heritage Foundation. We have Republicans attacking a Republican concept. It might be bizarre to watch, but lives are at stake.
We are headed in the Wrong Direction

Most of the health care “reforms” in recent decades aimed at saving money by making sure people don’t overuse health care, putting barriers in their way. These reforms included use of restrictive “networks” of providers, requiring “prior authorization” by the insurance company before treatments could be provided, copays and higher and higher deductibles. The Republican proposals this year head further down that path of adding barriers to care, especially when they cut Medicare and Medicaid.

After four decades of putting barriers between people and medical care, we do make fewer visits to the doctor than people in most other countries.

But it is hard to call this a success. About a third of Americans report that they fail to get the care they need, because they cannot afford to pay for it. Yet even after all those “reforms,” we are spending nearly twice as much as people in most other countries spend. That raises both an ethical and an economic question:

Why would any society make it difficult for its people to access health care? And, if our attempts to make health care less expensive through barriers to care isn’t working, shouldn’t we try a new approach?

Fixing these problems requires fundamental changes in our health care system. We need a new model.
Health care should be covered like police and fire

We could start by looking at other public services. Nobody goes without police and fire protection — nobody has to apply for new “police and fire coverage” each year, nobody has to worry that they may no longer be qualified, nobody has to worry about a $3,000 deductible before the fire department will come. Nobody has to worry that the local sheriff won’t accept their “police insurance” plan. And nobody gets a letter informing them that their police or fire coverage is being terminated, for any reason.

A civilized, humane society that takes care of its people with universal police and fire coverage needs to do the same with health and dental care.
Designing a new system

Before leaving on a trip it is important to know where you are going: Focus on your goals and where you are headed. The same is true for designing a health care system.

Here are some basic principles that need to be followed if a health care system is to serve the public well. The health care system must:

  • ensure all people are covered;
  • cover all types of care, including dental, vision and hearing, mental health, chemical dependency treatment, prescription drugs, medical equipment, long-term care and home care;
  • allow patients to choose their providers;
  • reduce costs by cutting administrative bureaucracy, not by restricting or denying care;
  • set premiums based on ability to pay;
  • focus on preventive care and early intervention to improve health;
  • ensure there are enough health care providers to guarantee timely access to care; and
  • provide adequate and timely payments to providers.

These principles offer an entirely different approach to health care reform. Instead of trying to design a health care system that restricts care, we design a system that keeps people healthy and helps them get care when needed.

Perhaps counterintuitively, that logical health system actually saves money. To illustrate why a system focused on health is less expensive than one based on insurance, consider an analogy between schools and hospitals:

If schools were funded the way we fund hospitals, each teacher would need to spend a half hour or more each day calculating and reporting how much time was spent with each student, along with the amount of supplies each student consumed. Those calculations would be forwarded to the school’s billing office, where a portion of janitorial costs, facility costs, and administrative overhead would be allocated to each student.

The billing office would bill each student’s “education insurance plan,” at a highly inflated price (Hospitals call it a “chargemaster” rate.). Each education insurance plan would negotiate with the school, ultimately reducing their cost by about two thirds. Those families who don’t have any “education insurance” would be liable for the full, inflated “chargemaster” price. Many families would struggle to pay. As a result, the school would also need a collections office.

Would this improve education? No. It would make it worse, shifting teacher and administrator time from education to billing.

Would it save money? No. It would cost much more, adding these significant administrative duties.

We would never want to fund schools the way we fund hospitals.
Our proposal — A Minnesota Health Plan

I have introduced legislation to create a Minnesota Health Plan (MHP), a proposal designed to meet all of the principles mentioned above. The MHP would be governed by those principles, setting it apart from other health systems in its focus on public health and well-being instead of profit or politics. While this plan is designed for Minnesota, a similar model could be used in other states.

The MHP would be a single, statewide plan that would cover all Minnesotans for all their medical needs. Equally important, it would reduce the need for costly medical care through public health, education, prevention and early intervention. It would be governed by a democratically selected board that would be legally bound to those governing principles.

Under the plan, patients would be able to see the medical providers of their choice without network restrictions, and their coverage by the health plan would not end when they lose their job or switch to a new employer.

Dental care, prescription drugs, optometry, mental health services, chemical dependency treatment, medical equipment and supplies would all be covered, as well as home care services and nursing home care. Consumers would use the same doctors and medical professionals, the same hospitals and clinics, but all the payments, covering all of the costs, would be made by the MHP, and everyone would be covered.

There would be no filling out of complex application forms, no worrying whether a provider is “in network” or not, no worrying about whether the treatment was covered or how you are going to pay for the drugs.

The MHP would be prohibited from restricting or denying care to save money, but would lower health care spending through efficiency, the elimination of billing and insurance paperwork, and through public health prevention.

The MHP would restore medical decision-making to the doctor and patient, removing health insurance companies from making treatment decisions. The plan would end not only access problems caused by cost, but also access problems caused by an inadequate number of health professionals and facilities around the state, because the health plan would be required to ensure sufficient providers to meet medical needs around the state.

The plan would be funded by all people, with premiums based on the ability to pay, and a payroll tax on employers, along with existing state and federal funds that have been committed to health care. Those payments would replace all premiums currently paid by employees and employers, as well as all copayments, deductibles and all costs of government health care programs. The premiums paid by all but the wealthiest would be less than the premiums, copays and deductibles they currently pay.

Although the MHP is not cheap, it is significantly less expensive than our current system, and it would provide a full range of health care services to everyone, improving the health of Minnesotans.
The politics of health care reform in 2017

Republican gains in recent years show that progressives need to spell out solutions that would actually fix our problems. We cannot win policy battles by negative attacks against the other side. We will win when the public realizes that our solutions will improve their lives. Thus, when fighting against Republican efforts to eviscerate Medicare, Medicaid and the ACA, saying “no” isn’t enough. We need to articulate a solution.

Republicans typically describe health reform proposals they don’t like as “government health care.” But that is not an accurate description of this plan. The MHP is a patient-directed health plan. It lets people choose the providers they trust, and medical decisions are made by patients and their doctors, not government or insurance companies.

The MHP is publicly governed, which means that it is more accountable to patients than insurance companies. It encourages competition and innovation among doctors and hospitals based on an efficient financing system in the background.

Finally, let’s not forget the ethical dimension. What does it say about a society that allows some of its people to suffer from untreated health crises? Should profit and individual wealth continue to determine who gets care, or should health care be available to everyone?

The proposed Minnesota Health Plan and the principles that underlie it are nothing more than what any caring society would desire in order to ensure good health for all of its people. It is time to replace health insurance for some with health care for all.

 

Bill Moyers is the managing editor of Moyers & Company and BillMoyers.com.

Sen. John Marty has been a Minnesota state senator since 1987. He is former chair of Minnesota’s Senate Health Committee and is currently the ranking member of the Energy Committee.

http://www.alternet.org/personal-health/health-care-doomed?akid=15289.265072.-2n41U&rd=1&src=newsletter1073670&t=30

The assault on immigrants and the specter of a US police state

 policestate

27 February 2017

In his ultra-right diatribe delivered Friday to the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC), President Donald Trump reveled in the crackdown his administration has initiated against undocumented immigrant workers, while identifying the repressive forces carrying out this campaign as a key base of his political support.

He declared, “[W]ith the help of our great border police, with the help of ICE [Immigration and Customs Enforcement], with the help of General Kelly and all of the people that are so passionate about this…ICE came and endorsed me. They never endorsed a presidential candidate before, they might not even be allowed to.”

Trump continued, “As we speak today, immigration officers are finding the gang members, the drug dealers and the criminal aliens and throwing them the hell out of our country.”

Earlier in the week, White House spokesman Sean Spicer declared that the administration had taken “the shackles off” of ICE and Border Patrol agents with the issuing of new rules of engagement that essentially target every undocumented immigrant living in the US for apprehension and deportation.

The brutal human cost of this “unshackling” has become manifest from coast to coast since the Department of Homeland Security released two memos spelling out this dramatic escalation. ICE agents have carried out a series of raids supposedly targeting “criminal aliens”—in most cases workers charged with immigration violations, driving offenses and other minor scrapes with the law. In addition to those targeted, others have been swept up in “collateral arrests,” the term used by ICE to describe anyone it encounters in the course of these raids whom it suspects may be undocumented.

The intended effect of these sweeps is to institute a reign of terror against millions of working-class families living under the threat of mothers and fathers being suddenly and violently torn from their children.

Incidents taking place within days of the new enforcement memos have graphically exposed the police state methods that are being unleashed first upon immigrant workers and being readied for attacks on the working class as whole.

Late last Wednesday in Fort Worth, Texas, ICE agents burst into a hospital and dragged away a critically ill 26-year-old woman from El Salvador who had been brought in for emergency surgery for a brain tumor. Sara Beltran Hernandez, a mother with two young children, was seized by the agents and shackled hands and feet, even though she was unable to walk and had to be removed in a wheelchair.

She was taken back to a privately run, for-profit detention center where her treatment has consisted of doses of Tylenol. The sole “crime” committed by this young woman was to cross the border in search of asylum from the violence in her home country and in the hope of reuniting with her mother, a legal resident in Queens, New York.

A week before in Virginia, ICE agents laid siege to a Methodist church, ambushing six immigrants who had taken shelter there as they stepped out the door in the morning. They were surrounded by ICE agents, shackled and thrown into a white van. Witnesses described the scene as akin to a kidnapping.

In a chilling abuse of police powers, passengers aboard a February 22 Delta flight from San Francisco to New York’s JFK Airport were informed that they would not be let off the plane unless they presented identification papers to Border Patrol agents, who blocked the aircraft’s door to the jetway.

The Customs and Border Protection agency claimed the action had been taken to seize an immigrant believed to be on the flight who was facing a deportation order. The agency subsequently acknowledged that he was not on the plane.

When asked on what legal grounds Border Agents were detaining an entire planeload of passengers for questioning, the agency cited a statute giving it “the authority to collect passenger name record information on all travelers entering or leaving the United States,” Rolling Stone magazine reported. The only problem was that the flight was between two US cities, neither of them anywhere near an international border.

A spokesman for the agency added, “It’s always best to cooperate with law enforcement so as to expedite your exiting the airport in a timely manner.” In other words, anyone exercising his or her constitutional rights can expect illegal detention and abuse.

Such methods, echoing the Gestapo demand of “papers please,” are designed to intimidate the population as a whole and ultimately be used to deny basic democratic rights, including the right to vote.

The Trump administration has demagogically portrayed the crackdown on the undocumented as a blow on behalf of native-born workers. His aim, Trump has said, is to expel a layer of immigrants “who compete directly against vulnerable American workers.”

The reality is that the police state measures now being unleashed on immigrant workers will, sooner rather than later, be turned against the working class as a whole. In fomenting xenophobia, economic nationalism and anti-immigrant hysteria, the aim of the Trump administration, a collection of billionaire financial oligarchs, generals and outright fascists, is to scapegoat immigrants for the economic and social crisis created by capitalism and divide the working class.

The attack on immigrants is part of a social counterrevolution including the slashing of taxes for the corporations and the rich, the removal of regulations on capitalist industries and financial markets, and the destruction of all basic social services, from public education to Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security.

Such measures cannot be carried out either democratically or peacefully. The scale of repression being contemplated was laid bare earlier this month with the release of a Department of Homeland Security memo proposing the mobilization of 100,000 National Guard troops across 11 states to join in the anti-immigrant dragnet.

While such measures are unprecedented, they have been prepared over a long period by Democratic and Republican administrations alike, from the 1996 anti-immigrant law enacted under President Bill Clinton, streamlining deportations and mandating immigrant detention, to the vast apparatus of state repression created in the name of a “war on terror” under George W. Bush and expanded under Barack Obama, who initiated drone assassinations of American citizens and deported more immigrants than all the presidents who preceded him combined.

In the face of the qualitative escalation of these measures toward open forms of dictatorial rule, the Democratic Party has centered its opposition to Trump on the reactionary campaign to brand him as an agent of the Kremlin, reflecting the opposition of large sections of the military and intelligence apparatus to any shift from the military buildup against Russia.

Underlying all of these measures is the breakdown of democratic forms of rule under the impact of the crisis of American and world capitalism and the uninterrupted growth of social inequality.

The defense of immigrants can be carried out only by the working class itself, fighting for the unbreakable unity of native-born and immigrant workers, along with the working class on both sides of the Rio Grande, in a common struggle against the capitalist system.

This struggle can be waged only on the basis of a socialist and internationalist program that intransigently defends the right of workers from every corner of the globe to live and work in the country of their choice with full citizenship rights and without fear of detention, deportation or repression.

Bill Van Auken

http://www.wsws.org/en/articles/2017/02/27/pers-f27.html

Trump’s strategic vision of chaos: Inventing a nonexistent crisis so he can “solve” it

The president depicts a failing America that’s more like 2009 than 2017 — so he can take credit for doing nothing

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Trump's strategic vision of chaos: Inventing a nonexistent crisis so he can "solve" it

(Credit: Reuters/Jonathan Drake)

As you know, our administration inherited many problems across government and across the economy. To be honest, I inherited a mess. It’s a mess. At home and abroad, a mess. Jobs are pouring out of the country; you see what’s going on with all of the companies leaving our country, going to Mexico and other places, low pay, low wages, mass instability overseas, no matter where you look. The Middle East is a disaster. North Korea — we’ll take care of it, folks; we’re going to take care of it all. I just want to let you know, I inherited a mess.
Donald Trump, Feb. 17

These words of the president are not quite as evocative as his doomsday inaugural “American carnage” address, but it may be more effective in the long run. Donald Trump is ignorant in most ways a president should be smart, but he does have an unerring instinct for hype.

One of his favorite tall tales is the miraculous “comeback” story. You’ve heard him endlessly recount the tedious details of his Great Campaign in which nobody said he could get the nomination and yet he defied the odds and vanquished 16 men, Carly Fiorina and one crooked Hillary, ultimately winning a historic landslide of epic proportions. No, it wasn’t historic and it wasn’t epic and it wasn’t a landslide, but that’s part of the myth Trump has created for himself: He only wins big.

The point is that he’s making himself out to be a hero who can defy tremendous odds to fight back and win. That’s why he insists that he inherited a terrible mess that will take a heroic effort to turn around, and he’s the only guy who can do it.

The country he describes is very familiar: Its economy is terrible, millions of people are going bankrupt and losing their jobs, their homes and their health care. People who have saved money for decades have seen their retirement funds shrink to nothing in the stock market crash, while Wall Street masters of the universe collect millions and tell everyone financial institutions are simply “too big to fail.” Major industries are on the verge of collapse. Banks are closing all over the country.

Tens of thousands of troops are still stationed overseas in a war that seems to never end. Terrorist bombings are happening all over the world and nobody knows when the next one is going to hit close to home. Even the natural disasters are catastrophic, taking out whole American cities and seeming to portend more of the same as the climate changes and nobody knows what to do about it. The future seems bleak indeed.

We all know that country. It was America in 2009.  It was the mess our last president inherited, not this one. (If you need a little refresher course on how bad the employment situation was during the Great Recession, you can read all about it in a recap from the Bureau of Labor Statistics.) It was the worst economic recession in the lifetime of anyone younger than age 70 and it came on the heels of a period of tremendous fear and anxiety after 9/11 and the debacle of the Iraq war.

Now that was a real mess.

To be sure, the recovery has been a long, uneven slog and many people are still reeling. There are long-term economic trends that have hit some communities very hard for decades and the Great Recession exacerbated their suffering. And much of the gains have gone to the upper 1 percent.

But millions more people have jobs, homes and health care today than they did eight years ago. That is just a fact. The idea that Donald Trump is facing an emergency of that magnitude, even among many of the white working-class folks who remain underemployed and financially insecure is ridiculous. We were on the verge of another global Great Depression. Now we’re not.

As I pointed out before the election in September, whoever won was going to have the economic wind at his or her back, which is a lucky thing for any president. I quoted economist Jared Bernstein who wrote in The Washington Post that “poverty fell sharply, middle-class incomes rose steeply, and more people had health coverage” in 2015, which meant that many of those who had been left behind by the recovery were starting to see the benefits. But there is often an emotional hangover after a deep economic crisis that takes some time to dissipate; even when things have improved,  people still feel anxious for some time afterwards.

One suspects Trump understood from the beginning that the economy was rebounding. But in order to take advantage of his reputation as a wealthy businessman, he needed to pump up those feelings of anxiety so that he could take credit for the upturn once in office. The dystopian hellscape that he describes today will quickly give way to “Morning in America” for his followers. And he doesn’t have to do anything.

This is lucky for him since Trump doesn’t have a clue about what a president has to do in a real crisis and doesn’t have the temperament or skills to do it anyway. As Jonathan Cohn wrote in this piece for The Huffington Post on Tuesday, as much as Trump and his minions insist that his first month in office has been historically successful, it’s been nothing more than endless gaffes, scandals and flashy edicts that are far less substantial than the sweeping and complicated legislation that President Barack Obama ushered through Congress in the corresponding period.

Cohn related Trump’s attitude toward the hard work of creating policy:

During the presidential campaign, Trump mocked Hillary Clinton for her wonkishness: “She’s got people that sit in cubicles writing policy all day,” he said during one interview. “It’s just a waste of paper.” At one point, Trump’s own policy advisers quit because nobody was paying them or taking them seriously.

That’s appalling. But unless Trump’s GOP colleagues in the Congress muck up things badly by repealing the Affordable Care Act or making such drastic cuts that employment falters, he doesn’t really have to do much. He can just tweet about saving some manufacturing jobs that CEOs are happy to pretend he personally negotiated, and his followers will be happy to give him credit for “saving” an economy that was already on the upswing.

There is one problem with his cunning plan, however. If a healthy economic environment requires the confidence of people that their future looks bright, then this growth may just come to a screeching halt. The “carnage” he likes to describe may not exist today. But millions of people are frightened to death that the nightmare of Donald Trump may make it very real in the days to come.

Heather Digby Parton

Heather Digby Parton, also known as “Digby,” is a contributing writer to Salon. She was the winner of the 2014 Hillman Prize for Opinion and Analysis Journalism.

Farewell Obummer, Hello Golden Showers

There’s been a few hot topics this week, from Obama’s final speech as president to the amusing allegations of Donald’s pee fetish.

Let’s start with Obama. The era of hope and change most certainly ended with a whimper. Not much has changed and we don’t have much to hope for either.

Over the last eight years income disparity increased in the US (despite White House claims to the contrary), real wages plunged, and while productivity increased, hourly pay didn’t budge much. America’s obtuse wars in the Middle East rage on, and our country’s drone program is operating at full tilt. Obama also extended many of the nation’s most egregious energy policies.

In fact, Obama celebrated America’s biggest oil boom in decades. How’s that for battling climate change?

This isn’t to say we won’t be missing Obama for the next four years (if Trump’s presidency lasts that long, we’ll get to that in a moment), but that doesn’t negate the fact that Obama was a huge disappointment.

Cornel West put it best this week for The Guardian:

“A few of us begged and pleaded with Obama to break with the Wall Street priorities and bail out Main Street. But he followed the advice of his ‘smart’ neoliberal advisers to bail out Wall Street. In March 2009, Obama met with Wall Street leaders. He proclaimed: I stand between you and the pitchforks. I am on your side and I will protect you, he promised them. And not one Wall Street criminal executive went to jail…

Obama’s lack of courage to confront Wall Street criminals and his lapse of character in ordering drone strikes unintentionally led to rightwing populist revolts at home and ugly Islamic fascist rebellions in the Middle East. And as deporter-in-chief – nearly 2.5 million immigrants were deported under his watch – Obama policies prefigure Trump’s barbaric plans.”

Facts are facts no matter how you want to sugarcoat them. Obama has been pissing in the wind for eight years now and progressives have little to be happy about.

Speaking of piss, how about Trump and those Russian call girls?

Buzzfeed’s release of the now infamous dossier, which was put together by former MI6 agent Christopher Steele, an executive at a private intel company called Orbis Business Intelligence, has caused quite an uproar. Steele is respected in the intel community, having played a role in gathering info about corruption within FIFA, the global soccer organization. Much debate has swirled around the journalistic ethics of Buzzfeed’s decision to publish the uncorroborated account of Trump hiring prostitutes to piss on the bed the Obamas slept in at the Ritz-Carlton’s presidential suite in Moscow.

Trump has called the whole thing fake news, but it is news nonetheless. Steele was likely paid a bundle of cash to put together the report, which had more to do with Trump’s alleged ties to Russia than golden showers.

According to the New York Times, the origins of the report date back to September 2015 when a wealthy Republican donor hired Fusion GPS, an opposition research outfit headed by Glenn Simpson, an ex-journalist for the Wall Street Journal, to dig up dirt on The Donald. When Trump won the Republican nomination, this wealthy donor ended his support of Simpson’s work, but it was later picked up by backers of the Hillary Clinton campaign. At this point Steele was hired by Simpson to look into Trump’s Russia connections. According to the New York Times:

“Mr. Simpson hired Mr. Steele, a former British intelligence officer with whom he had worked before. Mr. Steele, in his early 50s, had served undercover in Moscow in the early 1990s and later was the top expert on Russia at the London headquarters of Britain’s spy service, MI6. When he stepped down in 2009, he started his own commercial intelligence firm, Orbis Business Intelligence.

The former journalist and the former spy, according to people who know them, had similarly dark views of President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia, a former K.G.B. officer, and the varied tactics he and his intelligence operatives used to smear, blackmail or bribe their targets.

As a former spy who had carried out espionage inside Russia, Mr. Steele was in no position to travel to Moscow to study Mr. Trump’s connections there. Instead, he hired native Russian speakers to call informants inside Russia and made surreptitious contact with his own connections in the country as well.”

Steele’s report laid out two different Russian operations, the first was an alleged effort by the Russian government to entangle and influence Trump with compromising information, like a video of The Donald with prostitutes in Moscow. In the second operation, Steele alleged, among other things, that Trump surrogates, including his lawyer Michael Cohen, met with Russian officials in Prague to discuss the hack at the DNC. Cohen strongly denied the meeting ever took place, noting on Twitter that he’d never even been to Prague. Steele’s intel, factual or not, floated around Washington circles for months leading up to the election, with David Corn at Mother Jones being the only reporter to write about the allegations, minus the salacious pee party. The New York Times also reports that the FBI was investigating Trump’s ties to Russia in the early fall. So while Hillary’s email scandal was being investigated so too was Trump, yet only one investigation was making any headlines.

Of course, the pee story and Trump’s alleged ties to Russia are almost too good to be true, which means they probably are not. Nevertheless, truth was never the dossier’s objective. A story, or an intel report for that matter, doesn’t have to be factual to cause damage – just like the Washington Post‘s absurd allegations that publications like CounterPunch are purveyors of Russian propaganda.

If there is one thing to take away from Goldengate it should be that the intelligence community has a myriad of ways to fuck with you. They are masters of the “leak” and we can expect more to come. Steele’s report is likely the tip of the golden iceberg. As Senator Chuck Schumer told Rachel Maddow this week, “Let me tell you: You take on the intelligence community — they have six ways from Sunday at getting back at you.”

It’s probably the truest and most obvious statement Chuckie has ever made. Trump, who still has a week before he moves his throne into the White House, is busy sharpening his knives for a battle with the intelligence community. The problem for Trump is the spooks don’t bring knives to a gunfight.

It may well be a depressing four years ahead, but at least nobody said it won’t be entertaining.

JOSHUA FRANK is managing editor of CounterPunch. His most recent book is Hopeless: Barack Obama and the Politics of Illusion, co-edited with Jeffrey St. Clair and published by AK Press. He can be reached at joshua@counterpunch.org. You can follow him on Twitter @joshua__frank

COUNTERPUNCH 

Obama’s farewell address: One last round of clichés and lies

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By Niles Niemuth
11 January 2017

President Barack Obama capped his eight years in office with a vacuous and hypocritical farewell address Tuesday night delivered at the McCormick Place convention center in downtown Chicago.

The first-ever presidential farewell address delivered outside of Washington, DC had the atmospherics of an overblown, cheap spectacle. Obama strode onto the stage like a rock star, flanked by oversized American flags, a massive illuminated presidential seal and an introductory soundtrack by the rock band U2.

As with every address Obama has delivered over the last eight years, his speech in Chicago was full of clichés, his rhetoric padded with empty phrases and delivered with a false gravitas, signaled by his trademark pursed lips and affected whisper.

The speech was rife with contradictions, the starkest being the juxtaposition of Obama’s boasting of the great social progress achieved by his administration and his warning of threats to American democracy arising from ever-growing social inequality and economic insecurity.

The president declared: “If I had told you eight years ago that America would reverse a great recession, reboot our auto industry, and unleash the longest stretch of job creation in our history… if I had told you that we would open up a new chapter with the Cuban people, shut down Iran’s nuclear weapons program without firing a shot, and take out the mastermind of 9/11… if I had told you that we would win marriage equality, and secure the right to health insurance for another 20 million of our fellow citizens—you might have said our sights were set a little too high.

“By almost every measure, America is a better, stronger place than it was when we started.”

He made no attempt to explain why, given this impressive record of social progress and foreign policy success, his party was routed in the elections and the billionaire demagogue Donald Trump was preparing to succeed him in the White House.

A basic component of the answer, of course, is the grotesquely false rendering of his record and the state of American society as he leaves office. Hardly a week goes by without a new report on signs of extreme social crisis or ever-more obscene levels of wealth among the financial elite. Just in the past month, studies have been published showing the first decline in US life expectancy in 23 years, plunging pay for young adults, a 72 percent surge in deaths from synthetic opioids, and home ownership rates at historic lows for young people.

Other surveys have documented a $237 billion increase in the wealth of the world’s richest 200 billionaires, driven largely by the US stock market boom under Obama, and an acceleration of the transfer of wealth from the bottom half of the US population to the top one percent.

In boasting of presiding over a record number of consecutive monthly job increases, Obama neglected to mention that 94 percent of the new jobs created in the last eight years have been either part-time or temporary.

Noticeably absent from Obama’s remarks was any mention of the social conditions in the city where he was speaking, which is ravaged by high levels of poverty and unemployment, an epidemic of police killings and violence, and a skyrocketing homicide rate.

He lamented in general terms the growth of social inequality and the dangers it poses to American democracy—that is, the threat of a social explosion in the United States.

“While the top one percent has amassed a bigger share of wealth and income, too many families, in inner cities and rural counties, have been left behind—the laid-off factory worker; the waitress and health care worker who struggle to pay the bills—convinced that the game is fixed against them, that their government only serves the interests of the powerful—a recipe for more cynicism and polarization in our politics.”

As always, he spoke as if none of these social ills had anything to do with the policies pursued by his administration, including severe cuts in social spending on the one side and the bailout of the banks and flooding of money into the stock market on the other.

Another piece of monumental hypocrisy was Obama’s pose of fighting to defend democracy when he has done more to destroy it than perhaps any other US president.

“Democracy can buckle when we give in to fear,” he declared. “So just as we, as citizens, must remain vigilant against external aggression, we must guard against a weakening of the values that make us who we are. That’s why, for the past eight years, I’ve worked to put the fight against terrorism on a firm legal footing. That’s why we’ve ended torture, worked to close Gitmo, and reform our laws governing surveillance to protect privacy and civil liberties.”

This is from a president who has personally authorized the assassination of American citizens and thousands of others around the world with drones-fired missiles, protected and promoted those in the CIA responsible for torture, kept the prison at Guantanamo Bay open, persecuted journalists and jailed whistleblowers, militarized the police, and expanded the illegal surveillance of electronic communications.

Obama also used his farewell address take parting shots at Russia and China, lumping the war against ISIS with efforts to counter both countries, and arguing that aggressive action against the world’s second- and third-largest nuclear-armed powers was the only way to avoid war.

“[T]he fight against extremism and intolerance and sectarianism are of a piece with the fight against authoritarianism and nationalist aggression,” he said. “If the scope of freedom and respect for the rule of law shrinks around the world, the likelihood of war within and between nations increases, and our own freedoms will eventually be threatened.”

Obama spent his eight years in office waging war abroad and war on the working class at home. With Tuesday’s speech, he passed the reins to Trump with a shrug.

WSWS