Government announces huge Obamacare premium rises for 2017


By Kate Randall
26 October 2016

Open enrollment for the Affordable Care Act (ACA), commonly known as Obamacare, begins November 1, just a week before Election Day. US officials announced Monday that in 2017 insurers will hike the premiums for many health plans sold on ACA exchanges by an average of 25 percent.

The projected premium increases are of concern not only to those shopping for insurance coverage under Obamacare. They are part of a sea change in the US health care system, in which corporations and the government are increasingly burdening working families with rising health care costs while simultaneously working to ration care for the vast majority of Americans.

In a call with reporters on Monday, the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) confirmed the 25 percent average price hike for the second cheapest (“silver”) plans, which are used as the benchmark to determine government subsidies. The dramatic increase compares to an average 7.5 percent premium hike in 2016 and a 2 percent rise in 2015. Average monthly increases are estimated at anywhere from $50 to $300.

In addition to the ACA premium hikes, HHS announced that more than one in five consumers using the site would have only one insurer to choose from in 2017. This is mainly the result of the pullout of insurance giants UnitedHealthcare, Humana and Aetna from the ACA marketplace over the past year. The average number of insurance carriers available per US county in 2017 is projected at 2.9, down from 5.7 in 2016.

The premium hikes and dwindling plan choices are a direct function of Obamacare’s subordination to the multibillion-dollar private insurance industry. Under the ACA’s so-called individual mandate, individuals and families without insurance through their employer or a government-run program such as Medicare or Medicaid must purchase insurance or pay a tax penalty. Those who go without insurance next year could face tax penalties of $700 a person or more.

Rising premiums and huge deductibles are only part of the Obamacare story. Earlier this month, the New York Times ran a front-page lead article with the headline, “Next President Likely to Shape Health Law Fate: Changes Seen as Needed.” The article was a semi-official announcement that major changes would be imposed after the November 8 election, regardless of the outcome of the presidential race, to bolster the profits of insurance companies participating in the program.

Among the changes under consideration, according to the Times, are increasing taxpayer subsidies to insurance firms for “high-cost enrollees,” increasing tax penalties on individuals and families for not buying insurance, and curbing “abuse” of special enrollment periods by people who sign up for coverage after becoming sick.

The failure of Obamacare to attract a sufficient number of younger, healthier customers has resulted in a pool of less healthy enrollees who are more costly to insure. The private insurers, unwilling to accept any encroachment on their profits, have responded by requesting and receiving premium increases of 25 to 50 percent or more from state insurance commissions, or by pulling out of the ACA marketplace altogether.

HHS officials argue that consumers shopping on for 2017 should be able to find plans comparable in price to last year. But in general these are the least expensive “bronze” plans that come with deductibles in excess of $5,000 for an individual and other high out-of-pocket costs. In a further effort to cut costs, insurers are also offering an increasing number of plans with narrow networks of doctors and hospitals, as well as limited prescription drug coverage.

The Obama administration says that about 8 in 10 of the expected 11.4 million Obamacare enrollees in 2017 will qualify for government subsidies. The ACA exchanges have enrolled more than 80 percent of those with incomes below 150 percent of the (absurdly low) federal poverty level who are potentially eligible for subsidies. But another 5 to 7 million people who buy insurance on their own do not receive federal subsidies.

According to Avalere, a health policy consulting company, only about 17 percent of potential ACA customers with incomes from three to four times the poverty level ($35,640 to $47,520 for an individual) have enrolled. For many people in this income bracket and above—who are between jobs, self-employed, or retired but not yet eligible for Medicare—ACA insurance is unaffordable, with or without subsidies.

Using the estimator on for 2017 plans in Maricopa County, Arizona, a couple in their early 40s with two children under age 19 and a household income of $60,000 would receive a $1,451 monthly subsidy for the least expensive silver plan, bringing their estimated premium down to $313 a month. However, with a $10,500 annual family deductible and other out-of-pocket costs, estimated yearly costs would be $14,305, or nearly one-quarter of their household income.

Obamacare—with its soaring premiums, high out-of-pocket costs and dwindling networks and services—is serving as the model for employers across the country as they seek to shift more health care costs onto their workers.

Attacks on health care benefits have featured prominently in a series of recent contract disputes, including strikes by 4,800 nurses at Allina Health in Minnesota, a strike by 5,500 faculty and coaches at Pennsylvania’s 14 state-run universities, a strike at Harvard University by 700 dining service workers, and a walkout of Libbey Glass workers in Toledo, Ohio. In each case, employers have sought to drastically reduce health benefits and shift workers to inferior plans with burdensome out-of-pocket costs.

Obamacare is also the spearhead of a gathering attack on Medicare, the government health insurance program for 53 million American seniors and disabled people. Last year, President Obama signed into law a bipartisan bill revising the payment system for Medicare providers to reward doctors for cutting costs and penalize them if the volume and frequency of the health services they provide are deemed too high. Doctors will have a financial incentive to withhold more extensive tests and services from Medicare recipients.

President Obama spoke Thursday at Miami Dade College in Florida to tout the achievements of the ACA. While conceding the “growing pains” facing his signature domestic policy, he pointed to the ACA’s extension of health insurance to 20 million people, its prohibition on insurers denying coverage to people with preexisting conditions, and its guarantee of coverage for certain “essential” medical services.

He did not acknowledge that the ACA imposes no serious restraints on the insurance companies, pharmaceutical firms or hospital chains, and uses financial coercion to drive people to buy bare-bones plans with high out-of-pocket costs. Nor did he take note of the intensified assault on health benefits by employers, both private and public, across the US.

Obama boasted, “All told, about another 10 percent of the country now have coverage.” He was silent on the national scandal of 29 million Americans remaining uninsured.

With Election Day less than two weeks away, news of the premium hikes has forced a response from the presidential campaigns of both big-business parties. Republican Donald Trump proclaimed at a rally Monday night in Tampa, Florida, “It’s over for Obamacare.” He has called for the law’s repeal, not to replace it with a more progressive alternative, but to leave even more people without insurance. His stated health care agenda includes turning Medicaid, the government health insurance program for the poor, into a voucher program.

While acknowledging that “premiums have gotten too high,” Democrat Hillary Clinton, a staunch defender of Obamacare, has called for providing a new tax credit of up to $5,000 to help people pay for premiums and out-of-pocket costs. Such a measure, as she well knows, stands virtually no chance of passage by Congress.

Neither the Democrats nor the Republicans have any intention of challenging the for-profit health care industry. The deepening attack on health care, exemplified by the projected 25 percent hike in Obamacare premiums, serves as a warning of the austerity agenda of the next administration, whichever party occupies the White House in January.


AT&T-Time Warner merger to expand corporate, state control of media


By Barry Grey
24 October 2016

AT&T, the telecommunications and cable TV colossus, announced Saturday that it has struck a deal to acquire the pay TV and entertainment giant Time Warner. The merger, if approved by the Justice Department and US regulatory agencies under the next administration, will create a corporate entity with unprecedented control over both the distribution and content of news and entertainment. It will also mark an even more direct integration of the media and the telecomm industry with the state.

AT&T, the largest US telecom group by market value, already controls huge segments of the telephone, pay-TV and wireless markets. Its $48.5 billion purchase of the satellite provider DirecTV last year made it the biggest pay-TV provider in the country, ahead of Comcast. It is the second-largest wireless provider, behind Verizon.

Time Warner is the parent company of such cable TV staples as HBO, Cinemax, CNN and the other Turner System channels: TBS, TNT and Turner Sports. It also owns the Warner Brothers film and TV studio.

The Washington Post on Sunday characterized the deal as a “seismic shift” in the “media and technology world,” one that “could turn the legacy carrier [AT&T] into a media titan the likes of which the United States has never seen.” The newspaper cited Craig Moffett, an industry analyst at Moffett-Nathanson, as saying there was no precedent for a telecom company the size of AT&T seeking to acquire a content company such as Time Warner.

“A [telecom company] owning content is something that was expressly prohibited for a century” by the government, Moffett told the Post.

Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump, in keeping with his anti-establishment pose, said Saturday that the merger would lead to “too much concentration of power in the hands of too few,” and that, if elected, he would block it.

The Clinton campaign declined to comment on Saturday. Democratic vice-presidential candidate Tim Kaine, speaking on the NBC News program “Meet the Press” on Sunday, said he had “concerns” about the merger, but he declined to take a clear position, saying he had not seen the details.

AT&T, like the other major telecom and Internet companies, has collaborated with the National Security Agency (NSA) in its blanket, illegal surveillance of telephone and electronic communications. NSA documents released last year by Edward Snowden show that AT&T has played a particularly reactionary role.

As the New York Times put it in an August 15, 2015 article reporting the Snowden leaks: “The National Security Agency’s ability to spy on vast quantities of Internet traffic passing through the United States has relied on its extraordinary, decades-long partnership with a single company: the telecom giant AT&T.”

The article went on to cite an NSA document describing the relationship between AT&T and the spy agency as “highly collaborative,” and quoted other documents praising the company’s “extreme willingness to help” and calling their mutual dealings “a partnership, not a contractual relationship.”

The Times noted that AT&T installed surveillance equipment in at least 17 of its Internet hubs based in the US, provided technical assistance enabling the NSA to wiretap all Internet communications at the United Nations headquarters, a client of AT&T, and gave the NSA access to billions of emails.

If the merger goes through, this quasi-state entity will be in a position to directly control the content of much of the news and entertainment accessed by the public via television, the movies and smart phones. The announcement of the merger agreement is itself an intensification of a process of telecom and media convergence and consolidation that has been underway for years, and has accelerated under the Obama administration.

In 2009, the cable provider Comcast announced its acquisition for $30 billion of the entertainment conglomerate NBCUniversal, which owns both the National Broadcasting Company network and Universal Studios. The Obama Justice Department and Federal Communications Commission ultimately approved the merger.

Other recent mergers involving telecoms and content producers include, in addition to AT&T’s 2015 purchase of DirecTV: Verizon Communications’ acquisition of the Huffington Post, Yahoo and AOL; Lionsgate’s deal to buy the pay-TV channel Starz; Verizon’s agreement announced in the spring to buy DreamWorks Animation; and Charter Communications’ acquisition of the cable provider Time Warner Cable, approved this year.

The AT&T-Time Warner announcement will itself trigger a further restructuring and consolidation of the industry, as rival corporate giants scramble to compete within a changing environment that has seen the growth of digital and streaming companies such as Netflix and Hulu at the expense of the traditional cable and satellite providers.

The Financial Times wrote on Saturday that “the mooted deal could fire the starting gun on a round of media and technology consolidation.” Referring to a new series of mergers and acquisitions, the Wall Street Journal on Sunday quoted a “top media executive” as saying that an AT&T-Time Warner deal would “certainly kick off the dance.”

The scale of the buyout agreed unanimously by the boards of both companies is massive. AT&T is to pay Time Warner a reported $85.4 billion in cash and stocks, at a price of $107.50 per Time Warner share. This is significantly higher than the current market price of Time Warner shares, which rose 8 percent to more than $89 Friday on rumors of the merger deal.

In addition, AT&T is to take on Time Warner’s debt, pushing the actual cost of the deal to more than $107 billion. The merged company would have a total debt of $150 billion, making inevitable a campaign of cost-cutting and job reduction.

The unprecedented degree of monopolization of the telecom and media industries is the outcome of the policy of deregulation, launched in the late 1970s by the Democratic Carter administration and intensified by every administration, Republican or Democratic, since then. In 1982, the original AT&T, colloquially known as “Ma Bell,” was broken up into seven separate and competing regional “Baby Bell” companies.

This was sold to the public as a means of ending the tightly regulated AT&T monopoly over telephone service and unleashing the “competitive forces” of the market, where increased competition would supposedly lower consumer prices and improve service. What ensued was a protracted process of mergers and disinvestments involving the destruction of hundreds of thousands of jobs, which drove up stock prices at the expense of both employees and the consuming public.

Dallas-based Southwestern Bell was among the most aggressive of the “Baby Bells” in expanding by means of acquisitions and ruthless cost-cutting, eventually evolving into the new AT&T. Now, the outcome of deregulation has revealed itself to be a degree of monopolization and concentrated economic power beyond anything previously seen.

Dakota pipeline showdown at Standing Rock: When a powerful corporate chief is resisted by defenders of Native American ceremonial grounds

Kelcy Warren, Energy Transfer Partners’ well-heeled chief, meets his match in North Dakota with Lakota Sioux

Dakota pipeline showdown at Standing Rock: When a powerful corporate chief is resisted by defenders of Native American ceremonial grounds
(Credit: Afp/getty Images)

In bad movies (and bad history alike), the Native American ceremonial pipe figured prominently as symbol of defeat — typically in a cliched scene of subdued chieftains signing a treaty of surrender and passing around a “peace pipe” in a sorrowful gesture to seal the raw deal.

The reality is that the communal smoking of a ceremonial pipe, often filled with tobacco, is a centuries-old tradition rich in spiritual meaning for many Native people who see it as an eternal channel through which tribes seek metaphysical strength, courage and endurance. The ceremonial pipe both shapes and conveys Native people’s living history, a story that’s perpetually being written.

Indeed, a dramatic new chapter is unfolding this year in a volatile confrontation on a remote stretch of the Northern Plains in rural North Dakota. It’s a “Battle of Two Pipes,” pitting the cultural power symbolized by the Native American pipe against the bruising financial power of a giant pipeline, owned by Energy Transfer Partners.

In 2014, ETP, a Texas oil behemoth, went public with its scheme to build a massive oil pipeline from the fracking wells of the Bakken oil fields in northwestern North Dakota. ETP’s 30-inch-wide Dakota Access pipeline would cut a 1,172-mile-long scar diagonally through the heart of North Dakota, South Dakota, Iowa and Illinois.

If ETP’s $3.8 billion line is completed, it would carry 570,000 barrels of oil a day through most of the four states’ watersheds and wildlife habitats; it would transit hundreds of farms and ranches and make 200 river crossings. All the water and land in its path would be endangered, for one unpleasant fact about pipelines is that they regularly leak, sometimes rupture and can blow up (an especially relevant concern with fracked Bakken oil, which is not only some of the dirtiest crude on the planet but also is exceptionally flammable and “more prone to explosions than earlier thought,” according to U.S. officials).

Kelcy Warren is the honcho of Energy Transfer Partners and its parent financial outfit, Energy Transfer Equity, a fossil fuel colossus that also owns Sunoco oil and Southern Union gas. Warren’s company — with such an unkempt environmental record plus national notoriety for bulldozing over opposition from outraged landowners and communities — regularly has state and federal regulatory authorities to clear its pat. This is done the old-fashioned way: Warren, ranked by Forbes as the 86th richest American, pumps big bucks into the campaign coffers of key politicos, drawing from corporate funds as well as his personal $5.45 billion fortune.

Consider Warren’s recent Texas play. For the last two years, ETP has laid siege to one of the Lone Star State’s most spectacular and environmentally unique regions — the mountainous, desert ranch country of Big Bend, which includes historic sites and artifacts of Comanche, Mescalero, Chiso and other indigenous cultures dating back more than 14,000 years. Despite adamant local protests, ETP is presently ripping the land with the 148-mile-long, 42-inch Trans-Pecos Pipeline that will export gas from West Texas to Mexico. “We feel like we’ve been invaded,” said one member of the local citizens group, Defend Big Bend.

They have been — with the Obama administration’s approval and the collusion of their own state officials, who blithely handed the sledgehammer of the state’s power of eminent domain to the private corporation, letting it take people’s land for its own profit.

Why? Follow the money. Since 2013, CEO Warren has become Texas Gov. Greg Abbott’s No. 4 donor by personally bestowing $700,000 on the governor’s campaigns. Last November Warren’s coziness with Abbott came full circle when the governor awarded the pipeliner a seat on the prestigious Texas Parks and Wildlife Commission, ironically making Warren an environmental “steward” of state parks in the area he is presently despoiling.

And he plans on destroying more majestic American land, too, for Warren’s contested Dakota Access pipeline would run just outside of the town of Cannon Ball, North Dakota, along the northern edge of the Standing Rock Reservation. Warren was so obtuse that he didn’t realize (or care) that the tribe’s deep connection to the area adjacent to Standing Rock doesn’t stop at the reservation’s arbitrary boundaries: The Dakota Access pipeline project would gouge right through ancestral lands and burial grounds.

Corporate routers likely assumed that the reservation’s 8,500 mostly impoverished Lakota Sioux had no clout, so there was no need to get their permission, especially since the pipeline wouldn’t actually be on tribal land. Bad assumption. Imagine a corporation running a pipeline through Arlington National Cemetery.

Not since the days of General George Custer has an Anglo been as surprised as Kelcy Warren by a powerful force of Indians thwarting his ambition. You can learn more and donate to the tribes’ fight at and


Trump’s horror show hides Clinton’s rotten agenda

Donald Trump is so despicable that no one is paying attention to what Hillary Clinton actually stands for. Elizabeth Schulte and Alan Maass think that should stop.

Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton

DONALD TRUMP proved once again in the final presidential debate that he’s the secret weapon…of the presidential campaign of Hillary Clinton.

The nominee of what was once the leading party of American capitalism again went out of his way to piss off even Republicans who haven’t retracted their endorsement of him.

His own running mate repudiated his unhinged nonsense about the election being rigged against him–so Trump insisted Wednesday night that he couldn’t promise to abide by the results of the election. The audiotape of him bragging about sexually assaulting women has repulsed women voters especially, so Trump sneered about every allegation–and nonchalantly acknowledged that as president, he would pack the U.S. Supreme Court with right-wing justices who would overturn legal abortion.

We’re in uncharted territory–it’s entirely possible that Donald Trump will do worse on November 8 than any major-party candidate in modern political history.

But maybe even more incredible is the fact that the other major-party candidate on the ballot in three weeks’ time could be setting records herself if her opponent wasn’t Donald Trump.

As repellant as he is, lots of people seem ready to choose interstellar catastrophe over voting for Hillary Clinton. A recent poll of 18- to 35-year-olds inspired by the Twitter hashtag #GiantMeteor2016 found that one in four young respondents would rather a giant meteor destroy the Earth than see either Donald Trump or Hillary Clinton in the White House.

The public demonstrations of hatred toward Trump are heartening–anti-sexist protesters in New York City and Chicago chanting “Pussy grabs back!” outside Trump skyscrapers, and culinary workers building their own “wall” of taco trucks at a Trump hotel near the debate site in Las Vegas.

But at the same time, every new outrage involving Trump means people pay less attention to the outrages of a Democratic presidential nominee whose top staff responded to the critique of a Black Lives Matter activist with the single word “Yuck,” as we know thanks to WikiLeaks.

The Democrats have happily stood silent while Trump’s gross behavior sets the terms of the debate. Clinton could easily take over the spotlight from Trump and challenge his reactionary bluster. But she’s infinitely more confortable with a campaign centered on how much she’s not like her opponent, rather than what she stands for.

You’ve probably heard from any number of Clinton supporters–your friends, your family, fellow unionists, members of the feminist organization you support–that this election isn’t about voting for what you believe in, but against what you definitely don’t believe in.

But each time the Trump campaign lurches and careens to the right, it takes the heat off the Clinton campaign to defend its candidate’s agenda.

So let’s take a break from the regularly scheduled Trump train wreck and talk about what Hillary Clinton and the Democratic Party ought to be held accountable for. You heard about some of it in the debate last night, but if the Clinton campaign has its way, you won’t hear much more before November 8–as long as Trump cooperates with his ongoing horror show.

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A Friend of Immigrants in the White House?

Immigration came up in the debate last night, but for anyone who cares about the issue, it wasn’t much of a discussion–especially after Hillary Clinton avoided a question about free trade and borders by blaming the Russkies for hacking her e-mails again.

Clinton could have called out Trump’s deplorable racism. He began his campaign by calling Mexicans immigrants “rapists” and vowing to build a border wall. His latest xenophobia includes a promise to institute “extreme vetting” on Muslims who want to enter the U.S.

But let’s stick to our theme today: What about Clinton?

On enforcement, Clinton joins Republican and Democratic politicians alike in calling for tougher border controls. In 2013, she supported legislation that included a path to citizenship, as she said in the debate–but on the condition that billions of dollars be devoted to new surveillance equipment and fencing (otherwise known as a wall) along the Mexican border, along with 20,000 more border agents.

The consequences of these policies are deadly. Since January, officials say that fewer people attempted to illegally cross the border between the U.S. and Mexico, but more have died trying to make the journey. According to the Pima County medical examiner in Arizona, 117 bodies have been recovered along migration routes in southern Arizona so far this year, an increase over last year.

This is the true face of Clinton’s promise to “protect our borders”–death and misery for people fleeing persecution and poverty.

Clinton supporters focus on the nightmare of a Trump presidency for immigrants. But the nightmare is already happening. Trump may have blustered about the actual number, but it’s true that Barack Obama has presided over the deportation of well over 2 million people, more than all the presidents of the 20th century combined.

And forfeiting immigrant lives in the name of border security is hardly unique to the latest Democrat in the White House. It was Bill Clinton who imposed “Operation Gatekeeper” in 1994, pandering to the right wing by pouring more millions into border enforcement and, yes, wall-building.

With friends like these…well, you know the rest.

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What Clinton Told Goldman Sachs

Okay, okay, the real news story is how WikiLeaks got hold of e-mails from Clinton campaign chair John Podesta and transcripts of Clinton’s paid speeches, not what was in them. Clinton herself said the most important question of the final debate was whether Trump would condemn Russian espionage to hack her e-mails.

But hey, bear with us.

It’s not news that Clinton has deep ties to Corporate America going back decades. But with Clinton touring the country and telling her supporters that America is “already great,” it’s worth remembering who America is really great for.

In a speech at Goldman Sachs three years ago, Clinton did everything but apologize for the weak banking regulations imposed in the 2010 Dodd-Frank financial reform bill. “More thought has to be given to the process and transactions and regulations so that we don’t kill or maim what works, but we concentrate on the most effective way of moving forward with the brainpower and the financial power that exists here,” Clinton pandered to an audience of banksters.

Explaining that Dodd-Frank bill was passed for “political” reasons, Clinton assured the investment bank aptly referred to in 2010 as “a giant vampire squid wrapped around the face of humanity” that she believes the best overseers of Wall Street are…wait for it…Wall Street itself.

“There’s nothing magic about regulations–too much is bad, too little is bad,” Clinton said, and one assumes that she emphasized the “too much is bad” part.

For all the working-class families who bore the burden of underwater mortgages during the housing crisis, Clinton has signaled, if anyone was still wondering, whose side she’s on–the parasites on Wall Street.

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The Return of Roe

Remember reproductive rights? It was pretty shocking to hear the words “abortion” or “Roe” and “Wade” uttered in last night’s debate. So far this election, we’ve heard precious little about this essential health care question for women.

It’s not for a lack of things to talk about–Texas shuttering its clinics becaue of punitive legislative restrictions, an Indiana woman facing murder charges for having a miscarriage, congressional Republicans smearing Planned Parenthood with fabricated video.

But you wouldn’t know about any of that from the two presidential candidates, including the Democrat who says she supports a woman’s right to choose.

Last night, Trump admitted that he would nominate Supreme Court justices who would, without doubt, overturn legal abortion. By comparison, Clinton seemed, well, actually human. But as a result, the limitations of her defense of the right to legal abortion, now and in the past, were overshadowed.

Clinton helped perfect the modern-day Democratic strategy of searching for “common ground” with conservatives on the issue of abortion–an issue on which any sincere defender of women’s rights shouldn’t find common anything with the right. She helped coin the slogan of “safe, legal and rare” as the goal of pro-choice Democrats.

The “common ground” arguments haven’t saved reproductive rights–instead, they’ve given up ideological ground to the right and made the pro-choice side weaker.

If you want to know how important reproductive rights are to Hillary Clinton, look at her vice presidential choice Tim Kaine. In 2005, he ran for Virginia governor promising to lower the number of abortions in the state by promoting abstinence-only education. The state’s chapter of NARAL withheld their endorsement because he “embraces many of the restrictions on a woman’s right to choose.”

But of course, nothing is getting in the way of the mainstream women’s organizations backing the Clinton-Kaine ticket to the hilt this year. They don’t care if reproductive rights are part of the debate. But a lot of women out there do–and many of them are fed up with the way the Democrats take them for granted at election time, and don’t lift a finger to stem the attacks when they come.

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Remember the $15 Minimum Wage and All That Socialist Stuff?

It’s almost obliterated from our memory, thanks to the monstrosity that is Donald Trump, but during the Democratic primaries, Hillary Clinton had to talk about some of the issues that supporters of the Democratic Party care about

The socialist message of the Bernie Sanders campaign put these questions in the spotlight and forced the most corporate of Democrats to address them–and also answer for her own terrible record on a number of things that didn’t come up at the debate. For a time, the brewing anger at corporate greed and the corrupt political status quo–given expression in grassroots movements like the Fight for 15 and Black Lives Matter–found a voice in the political mainstream.

With a few weeks to go before the election, that seems like a long time ago.

Part of the reason is Hillary Clinton, but another part is Bernie Sanders. He’s stopped his sharp criticisms of Clinton and tells his supporters that now is the time to stop Trump, not make demands on Clinton. In the debate, when Trump repeated one of his routine sound bites about Sanders saying Clinton had “bad judgment,” Clinton smiled smugly and pointed out that Sanders was campaigning and urging a vote for her.

There were many issues that Clinton had to address this year only because people mobilized to make sure they couldn’t be ignored–like anti-racist activists who made sure she was reminded of her support for Bill Clinton’s crime bills, or Palestinian rights supporters who confronted her support for Israeli apartheid.

Those issues were invisible at the October 19 debate, but so were many others that people care about. They don’t come up within the narrow confines of mainstream politics in the U.S.–where the politics of fear of what’s worse forces voters to settle for what’s hopefully less bad.

The two-party duopoly is organized to squash political debate and dissent outside the mainstream–which is why it’s up to us to raise both, before the election between Clinton and Trump is decided, and especially after.

Capitalism Is Doomed — Without Alternatives, So Are We

Published on

‘Though it appears as if rumors of capitalism’s imminent demise have been greatly exaggerated,’ writes Johnson, ‘there is good reason to believe that its remarkable ability to adapt and evolve in the face of frequent (self-induced) shocks has reached a breaking point.’ (Image: OpenClipArt)

In 1946, George Orwell pondered the fragility of the capitalist order.

Reviewing the work of the influential theorist James Burnham, Orwell presaged several concepts that would later form the groundwork for his best-known novel, 1984.

“Not only is the best of capitalism behind us, but the worst of it may lie just ahead.”

In his book The Managerial Revolution, Burnham envisioned, as Orwell put it, “a new kind of planned, centralised society which will be neither capitalist nor, in any accepted sense of the word, democratic. The rulers of this new society will be the people who effectively control the means of production.”

“The real question,” Orwell adds, “is not whether the people who wipe their boots on us during the next fifty years are to be called managers, bureaucrats, or politicians: the question is whether capitalism, now obviously doomed, is to give way to oligarchy or to true democracy.”

While Orwell was wary of Burnham’s worldview and of his more specific predictions, he agreed that the relationship between capitalism and democracy has always been, and always will be, a precarious one.

“For quite fifty years past,” Orwell noted, “the general drift has almost certainly been towards oligarchy.”


Pointing to the concentration of political and economic power in the hands of the few and acknowledging “the weakness of the proletariat against the centralised state,” Orwell was far from optimistic about the future — but he was quite certain that the economic status quo would eventually give way.

Recent events, and the material circumstances of much of the world’s population, have prompted serious examinations of the same questions Orwell was considering seven decades ago. And though it appears as if rumors of capitalism’s imminent demise have been greatly exaggerated, there is good reason to believe that its remarkable ability to adapt and evolve in the face of frequent (self-induced) shocks has reached a breaking point.

Widespread discontent over stagnant incomes and the uneven prosperity brought about by neoliberal globalization has, in 2016, come to a head in striking fashion; Donald Trump, Brexit, and the rise of far-right parties in Europe have many questioning previously sacred assumptions.

“Is the marriage between liberal democracy and global capitalism an enduring one?” asked Martin Wolf, a formidable commentator in one of the world’s leading business papers, the Financial Times.

This was no rhetorical softball; Wolf is genuinely concerned that the winners of globalization have grown complacent, that they have “taken for granted” a couple that was only tenuously compatible to begin with. He also worries, rightly, that they have downplayed the concerns of the “losers.”

Wolf concludes that “if the legitimacy of our democratic political systems is to be maintained, economic policy must be orientated towards promoting the interests of the many not the few; in the first place would be the citizenry, to whom the politicians are accountable.”

Not all members of the commentariat share Wolf’s willingness to engage with these cherished assumptions, however. Indeed, many analysts have reserved their ire not for failing institutions or policies but for the public, reviving Walter Lippmann’s characterization of the masses as a “bewildered herd” that, if left to its own devices, is sure to usher in a regime of chaos.

“It’s time,” declared Foreign Policy‘s James Traub, channeling the sentiments of Josh Barro, “for the elites to rise up against the ignorant masses.”

Apologists like Traub and Barro — just two among many — speak and write as if the leash previously restraining the “herd” has been loosened, and that the resulting freedom has laid bare what elitists have long believed to be the case: To use Barro’s infamous words, “Elites are usually elite for good reason, and tend to have better judgment than the average person.” They point to the rise of Donald Trump as evidence of an intolerable democratic surplus — evidence, in short, of what the masses will do if granted a loud enough voice.

Aside from being conveniently self-serving, this narrative is also false.

Far from loosening the leash, elites have consolidated power to an unprecedented extent, and they have used their influence to undercut democratic movements and hijack public institutions. The resulting concentration of wealth and political power is jarring, and it puts the lie to the farcical notion that elites are a persecuted minority.

But, in the midst of these anti-democratic diatribes, fascinating and important critiques of a rather different nature have emerged.

“Far from loosening the leash, elites have consolidated power to anunprecedented extent, and they have used their influence to undercut democratic movements and hijack public institutions.”

Instead of urging us to align Against Democracy, to use the name of a recent book by the libertarian political philosopher Jason Brennan, many are arguing that it is capitalism, and not the excesses of the democratic process, that has provided figures like Trump a launching pad.

In his book Postcapitalism, Paul Mason argues that the rapid emergence of information technology has corroded the boundaries of the market; “capitalism,” he insists, “has reached the limits of its capacity to adapt.” And its attempts to reach beyond these limits have fostered an economic environment defined by instability, crippling austerity for the many, and rapid accumulation of wealth for the few.

According to Oxfam, the global 1 percent now owns as much wealth as the bottom 99 percent. CEO pay has continued to soar. And though post-crisis reforms have carried soaring promises of stability, the financial sector is still far too large, and many of the banks harmed by the crash they created are back and nearly as powerful as ever.

Mason summarizes: “According to the OECD, growth in the developed world will be ‘weak’ for the next fifty years. Inequality will rise by 40 per cent. Even in the developing countries, the current dynamism will be exhausted by 2060.”

“The OECD’s economists were too polite to say it,” he adds, “so let’s spell it out: for the developed world the best of capitalism is behind us, and for the rest it will be over in our lifetime.”

Sociologist Peter Frase, in his new book Four Futures, implicitly agrees with many of Mason’s key points, but he then takes up the task of looking further ahead, of contemplating possible futures that hinge largely upon how we respond to the crises we are likely to face in the coming years.

For Frase, not only is the best of capitalism behind us, but the worst of it may lie just ahead.

Central to Four Futures are what Frase calls the “[t]wo specters…haunting Earth in the twenty-first century” — “the specters of environmental catastrophe and automation.”

Rather than attempting to predict the future, Frase — guided by Rosa Luxemburg’s famous words, “Bourgeois society stands at the crossroads, either transition to socialism or regression into barbarism” — lays out potential, contingent scenarios. And while Mason’s book exudes optimism about the advancement of information technology and automation, Frase is more cautious.

“To the extent that the rich are able to maintain their power,” Frase writes, “we will live in a world where they enjoy the benefits of automated production, while the rest of us pay the costs of ecological destruction—if we can survive at all.” And, “To the extent that we can move toward a world of greater equality, then the future will be characterized by some combination of shared sacrifice and shared prosperity, depending on where we are on the other, ecological dimension.”

It comes down, in short, to who wins the class struggle. “I am a very old-fashioned Marxist in that way,” Frase remarked in a recent interview.

None of the futures Frase maps out are inevitable, the result of historical forces that are beyond our control. He is contemptuous of those who cling to “secular eschatology”; capitalism’s collapse, he notes, will not likely be the result of a single, revolutionary moment.

In expressing this view he aligns with Wolfgang Streeck, who has argued that capitalism is “a social system in chronic disrepair,” and that while “we cannot know when and how exactly capitalism will disappear and what will succeed it,” we can know that a system that depends on endless growth and the elimination of all restraints will eventually self-destruct.

The disappearance of capitalism, though, as Orwell understood, does not necessarily imply the emergence of an egalitarian society, one in which resources are shared for the benefit of the many. But while few agree on precisely how to establish the framework for such a society, there are, Mason and Frase argue, policies that can move us in the right direction.

Both, for instance, support the idea of a universal basic income, which, in Frase’s words, would “create a situation in which it possible to survive without depending on selling your labor to anyone who will pay for it,” making automation a path to liberation, not destitution. And Mason rightly argues that, in order to avert catastrophic warming, we must radically reduce carbon emissions.

But the usual political obstacles remain, as does the fact that the “winners” are not likely to hand over their gains, or their positions of power and influence, without a fight. We cannot, then, passively rely on amoral forces like technology to bring about the necessary change.

“Technological developments give a context for social transformations,” Frase writes, “but they never determine them directly; change is always mediated by the power struggles between organized masses of people.”


The future is necessarily disobedient; it rarely conforms to even the most meticulous theoretical anticipations, to say nothing of our deepest desires or fears.

But one thing is clear: The future of capitalism and the future of the planet are intertwined. The health of the latter depends on our ability to dismantle the former, and on our ability to construct an alternative that radically alters our course, which is at present leading us toward catastrophe.

“One thing is clear: The future of capitalism and the future of the planet are intertwined.”

Whether the path to which we are ultimately confined is one that leads to a utopian dream or a dystopian nightmare is contingent upon our ability to connect the struggles that currently occupy the left — those fighting for the right to organize are confronting, at bottom, the same forces as those working to prevent the plunder of sacred land.

There are reasons to be both hopeful and pessimistic about the prospects of these struggles.

The campaign of Bernie Sanders, and the movements that emerged before it and alongside it, revealed that there is a large base of support for social democratic changes that, if enacted, would move us in the right direction.

The obstacles, however, are immense, as is the arithmetic: As Bill McKibben has noted, “The future of humanity depends on math,” and the climate math we face is “ominous.”

But, as Noam Chomsky has argued, the debate over the choice between pessimism and optimism is really no debate at all.

“We have two choices,” he concludes. “We can be pessimistic, give up and help ensure that the worst will happen. Or we can be optimistic, grasp the opportunities that surely exist and maybe help make the world a better place. Not much of a choice.”

Jake Johnson is an independent writer. Follow him on Twitter: @wordsofdissent

Clinton: The Silicon Valley Candidate

By refusing to release the transcripts of her paid speeches to Wall Street bankers, Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton cast doubt on her independence from the crooks who run the financial system.  By contrast, Clinton’s program for “technology and innovation policy” has been an open book since June 2016.  What she publicized is as revealing – and as disturbing – as what she tried to keep secret.

Clinton paints her tech agenda in appealing terms.  She says it’s about reducing social and economic inequality, creating good jobs, and bridging the digital divide. The real goals – and beneficiaries – are different.  The document is described as “a love letter to Silicon Valley” by a journalist,[1] and as a “Silicon Valley wish list” by theWashington Post.[2]

On the domestic side, Clinton promises to invest in STEM education and immigration reform to expand the STEM workforce by allowing green cards for foreign workers who’ve earned STEM degrees in the US. The internet industry has been lobbying Congress for years to reform US immigration policy to gain flexibility in hiring, to ease access to a global pool of skilled labor, and to weaken employees’ bargaining power.[3]

Clinton’s blanket endorsement of online education opens new room for an odious private industry.  With buzzwords like “entrepreneurship,” “competitive,” and “bootstrap,” Clinton wants to “leverage technology”: by “delivering high-speed broadband to all Americans” she declares it will be feasible to provide “wrap-around learning for our students in the home and in our schools.”[4] Absent an overt commitment to public education, this is an encouragement to online vendors to renew their attack on the U.S. education system – despite a track record of failure and flagrant corruption. Still more deceitful is Hillary’s lack of acknowledgment of a personal conflict of interest.  According to a Financial Times analysis, after stepping down as Secretary of State in 2013, Hillary accepted hundreds of thousands of dollars for speeches to private education providers; her husband Bill has “earned” something like $21 million from for-profit education companies since 2010.[5]

Clinton’s proposal for access to high-speed Internet for all by 2020 would further relax regulation to help the Internet industry to build new networks, tap into existing public infrastructure, and encourage “public and private” partnerships. These are euphemisms for corporate welfare, after the fashion of the Google fiber project – which is substantially subsidized by taxpayers, as cities lease land to the giant company for its broadband project at far below market value and offer city services for free or below cost.[6] Clinton’s policy program also backs the 5G wireless network initiative and the release of unlicensed spectrum to fuel the “Internet of Thing.” (IoT). 5G wireless and IoT are a solution in search of a problem – unless you are a corporate supplier or a business user of networks.  This is an unacknowledged program to accelerate and expand digital commodification.

Clinton’s international plans are equally manipulative. She will press for “an open Internet abroad,” that is, for “internet freedom” and “free flow of information across borders.” Despite the powerful appeal of this rhetoric, which she exploited systematically when she was Secretary of State, Clinton actually is pushing to bulwark U.S. big capital in general, and U.S. internet and media industries, in particular.  Secretary Clinton’s major speech on Internet freedom[7]in 2010 came mere days after Google’s exit from China, supposedly on grounds of principle, making it plain that the two interventions – one private, one public – were coordinated elements of a single campaign.  Outside the United States, especially since the disclosures by Edward Snowden in 2013, it is increasingly well-understood that the rhetoric of human rights is a smokescreen for furthering U.S. business interests.[8] Reviving this approach is cynical electioneering rather than an endeavor to advance human rights or, indeed, more just international relations.

This in turn provides the context in which to understand Clinton’s vow to support the “multi-stakeholder” approach to Internet governance.  “Multi-stakeholderism” endows private corporations with public responsibilities, while it downgrades the ability of governments to influence Internet policy – as they have tried to do, notably, in the United Nations.  By shifting the domain in this way, the multi-stakeholder model actually reduces the institutional room available to challenge U.S. power over the global Internet.  It was for this very reason that the Obama Administration recently elevated multi-stakeholderism into the reigning principle for global Internet governance:  On 1 October, the U.S. Commerce Department preempted (other) governments from exercising a formal role.

This is, once again, the preferred agenda of Silicon Valley.[9] Aaron Cooper, vice president of strategic initiatives for the Software Alliance, a Washington trade group representing software developers, crowed in a Washington Post interview, “A lot of the proposals that are in the Clinton initiative are consistent with the broad themes that [we] and other tech associations have been talking about, so we’re very pleased.”[10]

To build up her policy platform in this vital field, Clinton has assembled a network of more than 100 tech and telecom advisors.[11] The members of this shadowy group have not been named, but they are said to include former advisors and officials, affiliates of think-tanks and trade groups, and executives at media corporations.  Apparently, just as with respect to Wall Street, the public has no right to know who is shaping Clinton’s program for technology.  Equally clearly, however, it is meant to resonate with Apple’s Tim Cook, Tesla CEO Elon Musk, and Facebook co-founder Dustin Moskovitz – all of whom have publicly rallied to her campaign.[12]

Some might choose to emphasize that the Republican candidate, Donald Trump, has not even bothered to hint to voters about his tech and information policy. Fair enough. Clinton’s program, though, is both surreptitious and plutocratic. It’s not that she’s not good enough – it’s that she’s in the wrong camp.  England’s Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn’s “Digital Democracy” program offers a better entry point for thinking about democratic information policy, as it includes publicly financed universal internet access, fair wages for cultural workers, release to open source of publicly funded software and hardware, cooperative ownership of digital platforms and more.  That would be a start.


[1] Noah Kulwin, “Hillary Clinton’s tech policy proposal sounds like a love letter to Silicon Valley,” recode, June 28, 2016.

[2] Brian Fung, “Hillary Clinton’s tech agenda is really a huge economic plan in disguise,Washington Post, June 28, 2016.

[3] Schiller, D. & Yeo. S. (Forthcoming, Fall 2016) Science and Engineering Into Digital Capitalism, in Tyfield, D., Lave, R., Randalls, S., and Thorpe, C. (Eds.), Routledge Handbook of the Political Economy of Science.

[4] “Hillary Clinton’s Initiative on Technology and Innovation,” The Briefing, June 27, 2016.

[5] Gary Silverman, “Hillary and Bill Clinton: The For-Profit Partnership,” Financial Times, July 21, 2016.

[6] Kenric Ward, “Taxpayers subsidize Google Fiber in this city with bargain land leases,”, August 16, 2016; Timothy B. Lee,”How Kansas City taxpayers support Google Fiber,” arstechnica, September 7, 2012.

[7] Hillary Rodham Clinton, Secretary of State, “Remarks on Internet Freedom,” January 21, 2010, The Newseum, Washington, DC.

[8] Dan Schiller, Digital Depression.  Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 2014: 161-69.

[9] Heather Greenfield, “CCIA Applauds Hillary Clinton’s Tech Agenda,” Computer & Communications Industry Association, June 28, 2016.

[10] Brian Fung, “Hillary Clinton’s tech agenda is really a huge economic plan in disguise,” Washington Post, June 28, 2016.

[11] Margaret Harding McGill & Nancy Scola, “Clinton quietly amasses tech policy corps,” Politico, August 24, 2016; Steven Levy, “How Hillary Clinton Adopted the Wonkiest Tech Policy Ever,” Backchannel, August 29, 2016 ; Tony Romm, “Inside Clinton’s tech policy circle,”Politico, June 7, 2016.

[12]Sen. Hilary Clinton,; Levy Sumagaysay, “Facebook co-founder pledges $20 million to help Hillary Clinton defeat Donald Trump,” The Mercury News, September 9, 2016;  Russell Brandom, “Tim Cook is hosting a fundraiser for Hillary Clinton,Verge, July 29, 2016.

This article originally appeared on Information Observatory.

Dan Schiller is a historian of information and communications at the University of Illinois. His most recent book is Digital Depression: Information Technology and Economic Crisis Shinjoung Yeo is an assistant prof at Loughborough University in London.

The Silicon Valley Candidate

Is the US election rigged?


18 October 2016

The US media and political establishment have been consumed over the past two days with denunciations of Republican candidate Donald Trump’s allegations that the presidential election is “rigged” in favor of his rival, Hillary Clinton.

There is an increasingly racist and fascistic character to Trump’s charges, which combine attacks on the media for pushing allegations of sexual abuse with sweeping claims of vote-rigging, particularly in minority neighborhoods. Trump is urging his supporters to turn out en masse to “monitor” the polls, creating the possibility of violence on Election Day.

As always, Trump’s statements are a mixture of half-truths and lies. While there is no doubt that the media establishment has lined up behind Clinton, Trump is using the “rigged election” claim to lay the basis for declaring the election to have been stolen. He is preparing to use the “stolen election” as the rallying cry for the development of an extra-parliamentary, far-right movement after November 8.

This does not, however, lend the slightest credibility to the self-righteous and hypocritical response of the Democratic Party and the political establishment in general. Their indignation over any suggestion that something could be amiss with the pristinely democratic American electoral system is absurd.

Trump’s charges resonate well beyond the relative minority of his supporters who respond to racist agitation because his claims correspond to the bitter experience of broad masses of people with what passes for American democracy. This is, after all, a country that had a stolen election. The US Supreme Court shut down a vote recount in Florida and awarded the 2000 election to George W. Bush, who had lost the popular vote to Democrat Al Gore.

This was followed by the 2004 election, when George W. Bush was reelected based on disputed voting in Ohio and widespread charges of voter suppression.

The question, however, goes far beyond vote-rigging. Even by the standards of other major capitalist countries, the electoral system in the United States is among the least democratic. The two-party system is institutionalized, enforcing a political monopoly of two right-wing parties entirely beholden to the financial aristocracy—this in a vast and diverse country of 320 million people!

State ballot access and election laws impose prohibitive requirements, including the collection of tens of thousands of signatures, making it virtually impossible for “third party” and independent candidates to mount an effective campaign.

This political duopoly is reinforced by the unrestricted role of corporate money in US elections, corrupting the entire process to a degree, and with a brazenness, unmatched by any other major industrialized country. It is estimated that campaign spending by presidential and congressional candidates this year will hit a new record of more than $7.3 billion. For all practical purposes, to win high office in America one must either have billionaire backers or be a multi-millionaire oneself.

The corporate-owned media does its anti-democratic part, depriving coverage to alternative parties. In this election, Gary Johnson of the Libertarian Party and Jill Stein of the Green Party, who are respectively polling 7 percent and 3 percent nationally, are excluded from the televised presidential debates, not to mention Jerry White, the candidate of the Socialist Equality Party.

The result is a political system that is increasingly unviable because it is unable to address any of the concerns of the vast majority of the population. The fact that barely half of the electorate bothers to vote is a devastating commentary on the US electoral system.

The bitter experience of the Obama administration, brought to power on a wave of popular hatred for Bush and revulsion over his wars and attacks on working class living standards, has further convinced tens of millions of people that neither their needs and concerns, nor their votes, have any impact on the policies pursued by the government. The candidate of “hope” and “change,” mistakenly believed to be an agent of progressive change because of his ethnicity, continued and deepened the policies of war and corporate plunder of his predecessor.

In the current election, the internal rot resulting from decades of economic decay and political reaction, presided over by both parties, has erupted onto the surface, placing a question mark over the survival of the two-party system. One measure of the system’s bankruptcy is the fact that an election cycle in which millions of people cast votes for a candidate who claimed, falsely, to be a socialist and opponent of Wall Street, Bernie Sanders, now presents the people with the “choice” between a billionaire quasi-fascist and a corrupt stooge of Wall Street and the military/intelligence establishment.

The transcripts of Hillary Clinton’s speeches to Goldman Sachs, released by WikiLeaks, show the real relationship that exists between the politicians and Wall Street. They are the paid servants of the financial oligarchs who run the country.

The fundamental and gigantic fraud that dominates the election is the total disconnect between the populist claims of both candidates and the reality of the programs they intend to implement. The real agenda, regardless of which one wins in November, is war, austerity and repression.

Is the election rigged? Of course it is—to produce an outcome acceptable to the ruling class. The entire political system is rigged and fundamentally undemocratic because capitalism is a system of class exploitation in which real political power is concentrated in the hands of a corporate-financial oligarchy.

Barry Grey