British scientist Prof. Stephen Hawking gives his ‘The Origin of the Universe’ lecture to a packed hall December 14, 2006 at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, Israel. Hawking suffers from ALS (Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis or Lou Gehrigs disease), which has rendered him quadriplegic, and is able to speak only via a computerized voice synthesizer which is operated by batting his eyelids.David Silverman/Getty Images
Artificial intelligence and increasing automation is going to decimate middle class jobs, worsening inequality and risking significant political upheaval, Stephen Hawking has warned.
In a column in The Guardian, the world-famous physicist wrote that“the automation of factories has already decimated jobs in traditional manufacturing, and the rise of artificial intelligence is likely to extend this job destruction deep into the middle classes, with only the most caring, creative or supervisory roles remaining.”
He adds his voice to a growing chorus of experts concerned about the effects that technology will have on workforce in the coming years and decades. The fear is that while artificial intelligence will bring radical increases in efficiency in industry, for ordinary people this will translate into unemployment and uncertainty, as their human jobs are replaced by machines.
Technology has already gutted many traditional manufacturing and working class jobs — but now it may be poised to wreak similar havoc with the middle classes.
Automation will, “in turn will accelerate the already widening economic inequality around the world,” Hawking wrote. “The internet and the platforms that it makes possible allow very small groups of individuals to make enormous profits while employing very few people. This is inevitable, it is progress, but it is also socially destructive.”
He frames this economic anxiety as a reason for the rise in right-wing, populist politics in the West: “We are living in a world of widening, not diminishing, financial inequality, in which many people can see not just their standard of living, but their ability to earn a living at all, disappearing. It is no wonder then that they are searching for a new deal, which Trump and Brexit might have appeared to represent.”
Combined with other issues — overpopulation, climate change, disease — we are, Hawking warns ominously, at “the most dangerous moment in the development of humanity.” Humanity must come together if we are to overcome these challenges, he says.
Stephen Hawking has previously expressed concerns about artificial intelligence for a different reason — that it might overtake and replace humans. “The development of artificial intelligence could spell the end of the human race,” he said in late 2014. “It would take off on its own, and redesign itself at an ever increasing rate. Humans, who are limited by slow biological evolution, couldn’t compete, and would be superseded.”
In a rally in Cincinnati, Ohio on Thursday night, US President-elect Donald Trump outlined the right-wing program of extreme “America First” nationalism of the incoming administration.
The Cincinnati speech was unlike any delivered by a president or president-elect in US history. It was a combination of blatant contradictions, exaggerations, wild hyperbole, empty demagogy and praise for himself as the man who would fix all the problems facing the country. It combined threats against political enemies with pledges to work with anyone and everyone to overcome gridlock and restore American jobs.
While couched in rhetoric about protecting the “American worker,” Trump’s policy proposals centered on massive tax cuts to corporations and deregulation, combined with increasing the size of the military, expanding police powers and sharply curtailing immigration. During the rally Trump also announced that his choice for secretary of defense is retired general James “Mad Dog” Mattis.
Trump’s remarks were clearly shaped and likely written by Trump’s chief strategist, Stephen Bannon, the former head of Breitbart News who has ties to fascistic organizations. Bannon has called for the formation of a new “movement”—a term Trump repeated throughout his remarks—based on economic nationalism and opposition to “globalists.”
A major theme was the need to “unify” the nation in opposition to Washington politicians who have subordinated “American interests” to foreign powers. “There is a lot of talk about how we are becoming a globalized world,” Trump said, “but the relationships people value in this country are local… There is no global anthem, no global currency, no certificate of global citizenship. We pledge allegiance to one flag, and that is the American flag.”
“From now on it is going to be America First,” Trump added. “We are going to put ourselves first… Our goal is to strengthen the bonds between citizens, to restore our sense of membership in a shared national community.”
As was the case during his campaign for president, Trump made a demagogic appeal to social anger over declining wages and social inequality. “Our government has failed to protect the interests of the American worker,” he said. “A shrinking workforce and flat wages are not going to be the new normal.”
There is a vast chasm between this empty populist rhetoric and the personnel that Trump has selected to populate his government. The speech followed a series of cabinet picks, including billionaire asset strippers, Wall Street bankers, and dedicated opponents of financial and corporate regulations, public education and Medicare and Medicaid, to lead the Treasury, Commerce, Education and Health and Human Services departments.
For all his talk of national “unity,” a Trump administration will be one of brutal class war. Trump’s “action plan” is centered on freeing corporations from any restraints on profit-making and exploitation. “Right now we punish companies for doing business in America,” he said. To bring back jobs, the new administration would “massively lower taxes, and make America the best place in the world to hire, to invest, to grow, to create and to expand.”
He added that he would “eliminate every single wasteful regulation that undermines the ability of our workers and our companies to compete with companies from foreign lands.”
Trump touted the deal with Carrier to continue production at its Indianapolis factory, which Carrier’s parent company, United Technologies Corp. (UTC), planned to shut by 2019 and shift production to Mexico. Carrier will retain only 800 of the 1,400 production workers at the plant, and the deal also sanctions the closure of the UTC factory in Huntington, Indiana, which will wipe out the jobs of another 700 workers.
In discussions late last month, Trump told UTC CEO Gregory Hayes that his plans to slash corporate taxes and gut labor, health and safety and environmental regulations would prove far more profitable for the company than the $65 million in annual savings it would gain from shifting production overseas. In exchange for the deal, Carrier was given another $7 million in state tax cuts and other subsidies. It is also likely that UTC, a major defense contractor, was promised even larger contracts under a Trump presidency.
Trump reiterated his proposal for major infrastructure projects, a plan that would be a boondoggle for corporations and essentially hand over public infrastructure to private companies. These measures, combined with greater restrictions on trade, would “usher in a new industrial revolution.”
Trump combined his program of tax cuts and deregulation with a call for sharp restrictions on immigration. “We will restore the sovereignty of the United States,” he said. “We will construct a great wall at the border” and “liberate our communities from the epidemic of gang violence and drugs pouring into our nation.”
Trump said little on foreign policy, except to criticize the $6 trillion spent on wars in the Middle East. He also said the US should “stop looking to topple regimes and overthrow governments” and instead focus on “rebuilding our country.” Under a Trump administration, he asserted, the US “will seek shared interests wherever possible and pursue a new era of peace, understanding and good will.”
In fact, Trump’s “America First” nationalism will be accompanied by a massive escalation of military violence. In his speech, Trump pledged a “national effort to build our badly depleted military” and called for a major campaign to “destroy ISIS.”
More significant is the selection of Mattis as secretary of defense. Mattis is a fanatic anti-Islamic militarist who played a significant role in the US invasion of Afghanistan and led the brutal 2004 assault on Falluja, Iraq. Speaking of his experiences in Afghanistan, Mattis said in 2005 that “it’s a hell of a lot of fun to shoot them.”
While leading US Central Command under Obama from 2010 to 2013, Mattis was critical of the White House for not waging war aggressively enough in the Middle East and for being too conciliatory toward Iran.
In an indication of the dominance of the military in a Trump administration, Mattis would be the first ranking general to be defense secretary since George Marshall in 1950–51. Federal law stipulates that generals must be retired for seven years before leading the Pentagon, but Mattis is expected to get a waiver from Congress. He has the support of Senate Republicans, including Senator John McCain, the chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee.
Mattis will work closely with Trump’s national security advisor, another retired general, Michael Flynn.
The unions and the Democratic Party have praised Trump, echoing his economic nationalism and echoing the lie that the billionaire real estate mogul, who will head up the most right-wing government in history, is a champion of the working class.
US Senator Joe Donnelly (Democrat-Indiana) said he hoped to work with Trump to “build on momentum created by your agreement with United Technologies” and adopt a federal “outsourcing” proposal that would “deny and claw back certain tax benefits to companies that move jobs offshore.” Directing his comment at Trump, he added, “I strongly encourage you to make it clear that efforts to ship jobs offshore to chase cheap wages will be addressed head on by the Trump Administration. I stand ready to assist in any way possible.”
President-elect Donald Trump and Vice President-elect Mike Pence will appear Thursday at the Carrier heating furnace factory in Indianapolis, Indiana to announce a deal to retain jobs at the facility, which was scheduled to begin downsizing next year and completely close by 2019.
Last February, workers erupted in anger when managers informed them at a plant meeting that the factory would be closed and production moved to Monterrey, Mexico, threatening 1,300 jobs at the plant and another 700 at a facility in Huntington, near Fort Wayne, Indiana. The action was being taken “strictly for business reasons,” the company spokesman said.
Carrier plant in Indianapolis
Posturing as a defender of workers and seeking to divert anger over job losses in an anti-Mexican direction, then-presidential candidate Trump told the company that, if elected, he would impose a 35 percent tariff on any products Carrier shipped back to the US.
In a Twitter post Tuesday night, Carrier officials wrote, “We are pleased to have reached a deal with President-elect Trump & VP-elect Pence to keep close to 1,000 jobs in Indy.” According to a report in Fortune magazine, up to 1,300 jobs will still be transferred to Mexico, including those of at least 300 workers in the fan coil division in Indianapolis. All 700 workers in Huntington will lose their jobs when the plant closes.
Jeff, a Carrier worker, told the WSWS, “I hope it is only 300 jobs they are taking, but I’m thinking it will be 400 lost in Indy.”
Workers expressed concerns about additional pay cuts, but hoped that the company would have difficulty reopening the four-year labor agreement it signed with the United Steelworkers union in April. “The last two contracts we’ve given up plenty of concessions—even creating a three-tier wage scale. They weren’t moving because they were losing money, they were leaving for pure greed,” Jeff added.
While Trump supporters and local Democrats, including US Senator Joe Donnelly, have hailed the deal as proof that the president-elect will stand up to companies to defend “American jobs,” the deal is a boondoggle for Carrier and its parent company, United Technologies Corporation (UTC).
On Thanksgiving, Trump met with UTC’s chief executive Gregory Hayes and told him the federal tax changes and deregulation the incoming administration was committed to enacting would save UTC more than the $65 million per year it would get by shifting production to Mexico, where workers are paid $6 an hour in wages and benefits.
It is also likely that Trump promised that UTC—a major defense contractor—would receive more lucrative military contracts during his presidency. UTC’s Pratt & Whitney division makes engines for the F-35 jet fighter and received a $1.03 billion government order last April.
In this, Trump would be following the advice of Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders, who penned an open letter to the president-elect last week calling on Trump “to make it clear to the CEO of United Technologies that if his firm wants to receive another defense contract from the taxpayers of this country, it must not move these plants to Mexico.”
The combination of federal and state tax cuts, increased military contracts and corporate deregulation evidently convinced the UTC boss that keeping some operations in Indiana was the “patriotic” thing to do.
In a statement released Wednesday, Carrier said, “Today’s announcement is possible because the incoming Trump-Pence administration has emphasized to us its commitment to support the business community and create an improved, more competitive US business climate.” The statement went on to say that the deal “in no way diminishes our belief that the forces of globalization will continue to require solutions for the long-term competitiveness of the US and of American workers moving forward.”
In other words, more wage and benefit cuts, layoffs and speedup are coming.
The extent of any wage and benefit concessions included in the deal is not yet known. A spokesman for United Steelworkers (USW) Local 1999-07, which had already signed a plant-closing and employee severance agreement, told the WSWS that the union was not involved in the negotiations with the president-elect. Union officials will reportedly meet with Trump and Pence Thursday morning before the two men visit the plant.
The USW, however, has already agreed to a series of wage and benefit concessions. Under the current four-year contract signed last April, new-hires under “Appendix B” receive $14.50 to $19.47 per hour, depending on their job classifications, compared to $19.50 to $26.75 for workers hired before 2011. It is likely that Carrier will give severance packages to more senior, higher-paid workers so they can replace them with Appendix B workers.
While several Carrier workers posting on their Facebook page expressed relief over the announcement, many were suspicious of the deal.
One worker said, “Folks are praising him for keeping their jobs. To me, no one is safe until they explain what jobs are secure! I don’t trust Carrier. When the contract is up, will they just lock the gates on the employees?”
She added, “The middle class gets stuck paying higher taxes, the employees will pay a price for these jobs to stay. Don’t get me wrong. I am very happy for those that keep their jobs. But I have trust issues thinking this is going to run smooth and not have wage cuts.”
The deal reportedly includes nearly a million dollars a year in state tax cuts for Carrier. As governor of Indiana, Pence showered hundreds of millions of dollars in corporate tax cuts and other subsidies on General Motors, Carrier and other firms. These giveaways have been paid for through savage budget cuts in public education and other services, and attacks on teachers and other public sector workers.
Pence has also used the lowering of manufacturing wages and benefits, facilitated by the USW, the United Auto Workers and other unions, to lure companies to the state, where the average factory worker makes $24,000 a year, four percent lower than the national average.
Indianapolis has been devastated by wave after wave of factory closings, including the 2010 shuttering of a General Motors stamping plant as a result of Obama’s restructuring of GM, and the closing of truck manufacturer Navistar’s foundry last year. Bearing manufacturer Rexnord recently announced it would close its plant in the city next year, wiping out another 300 jobs.
Navistar foundry that closed in 2015
Trump exploited the deep discontent in so-called “Rust Belt” states like Indiana, Wisconsin, Ohio and Pennsylvania to win the presidential election. Many workers, including those who voted for Obama in 2008 and 2012, backed Trump because Clinton and the Democrats expressed nothing but contempt for workers whose lives have been ravaged by deindustrialization, wage cuts and increased health care and pension costs.
The decades-long promotion of economic nationalism by the unions, echoed by Bernie Sanders during the election campaign, left workers susceptible to Trump’s anti-Mexican and anti-Chinese propaganda.
Workers will soon come to realize that the billionaire real estate mogul has no answer to the social crisis. On the contrary, he is assembling a cabinet of billionaires, including his designated commerce secretary Wilbur Ross, who oversaw the destruction of the jobs, wages and pensions of hundreds of thousands coal miners, steel workers and auto parts workers.
“Trump’s bringing in opponents of Medicare and there are a lot of workers here who rely on that,” a General Motors worker at a nearby Indiana plant said. Referring to the Carrier deal, he added, “Corporations never bestowed anything out of the goodness of their hearts. A lot of workers who voted for Trump are going to get hurt. The key thing that got Trump elected was the economy. Workers were angry about the foreclosed houses, the factories bulldozed down.
“Years ago I would come out of an election and think, ‘Now it’s time to unify and work for the good of the country no matter what your party.’ Now, I look at this whole election process as the two parties of the ruling class working for the same thing—like Obama said, an ‘intramural scrimmage’ on the same team. I think we peons are going to wake up to this.”
The onetime insurgent candidate is now in a position to reshape the Democratic Party and take on Donald Trump.
It feels like a bomb went off in Washington. In less than a year, the leaders of both major parties have been crushed, fundamentally reshaping a political culture that for generations had seemed unalterable. The new order has belligerent outsider Donald Trump heading to the White House, ostensibly backed in Congress by a tamed and repentant majority of establishment Republicans. Hillary Clinton’s devastating loss, meanwhile, has left the minority Democrats in disarray. A pitched battle for the soul of the opposition party has already been enjoined behind the scenes.
Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders, who won overwhelming youth support and 13 million votes during primary season, now sits on one side of that battle, in a position of enormous influence. The party has named him “outreach chair,” and Minnesota congressman and Sanders political ally Keith Ellison is the favorite to be named head of the Democratic National Committee. This is a huge change from earlier this year, when the Sanders campaign was completely on the outs with the DNC, but many see Sanders’ brand of politics as the Democrats’ best shot at returning to prominence.
Sanders’ rise is a remarkable story, obscured by the catastrophe of Trump’s win. When I first visited with Sanders for Rolling Stone, 11 years ago, for a tour of the ins and outs of congressional procedure, he was a little-known Independent in the House from a tiny agrarian state, an eccentric toiler pushing arcane and unsexy amendments through Congress, usually on behalf of the working poor: expanded access to heating oil in the winter, more regional community health centers, prohibitions against regressive “cash-balance pension plans,” etc.
His colleagues gently described Sanders as a hardworking quack, the root of his quackery apparently being that he was too earnest and never off-message, even in private. He had fans among Republicans (some called him an “honest liberal”) and many detractors among Democrats, who often grew weary of his lectures about the perils of over-reliance on donations from big business and Wall Street.
In other words, Sanders was a political loner, making his recent journey to the top of the Democratic Party even more remarkable. He has been put in this position not by internal patronage but by voters who are using him to demand that Democrats change their priorities.
At his Washington office a week after the election, I sat down with Sanders and his wife, Jane, just after the release of his new book, Our Revolution: A Future to Believe In. When he offered to get me a copy, I told him I’d already read the e-book, at which he frowned. “Does that have the pictures?” he asked. He was relieved when I told him it did, including black-and-whites from his youth in Brooklyn.
Sanders’ experiences growing up in the hardscrabble Flatbush neighborhood still seem central to the way he looks at the world. All the adults in his neighborhood voted Democratic. The loss of the support of those kinds of people still eats at Sanders, like a childhood wrong not yet corrected. Thus the opportunity he has now to push the Democrats back in that direction is something he doesn’t take lightly. He’s spent his whole life getting to this point.
The senator and his staffers were obviously sorting through a variety of emotions, and it was hard not to wonder what might have been. But Sanders admonished himself once or twice not to look back. “It’s not worth speculating about,” he said.
Instead, Sanders laid out the dilemma facing the Democratic Party. The Democrats must find their way back to a connection with ordinary people, and this will require a complete change in the way they do business. He’s convinced that the huge expenditure of time and mental effort the Democrats put in to raise more than $1 billion for the Clinton campaign in the past year ended up having enormous invisible costs. “Our future is not raising money from wealthy people, but mobilizing millions of working people and young people and people of color,” he says.
On other issues, he was more careful. The senator’s sweet spot as a politician has always been talking about the problems of the working poor: the economic struggles, the anomalous-across-the-industrialized-world story of a decline in life expectancy among rural Americans. But those same voters just lost any sympathy many Democrats might have had by electing the race-baiting lunatic Trump. Exactly how much courting of such a population is permissible? Is trying to recapture voters who’ve made a racist choice in itself racist?
Sanders believes it is a mistake to dismiss the Trump movement as a monolithic expression of racism and xenophobia. Trump’s populist appeals, sincere or not, carried the day, and Democrats need to answer them. Trump pledged not to cut Medicare or Social Security, promised to support re-importation of prescription drugs from other countries, and said he’d reinstate the Glass-Steagall Act. Sanders insists he and his staff are going to try to hold him to all of these promises. How they’ll manage that is only a guess, but as ranking member of the Senate Budget Committee, Sanders could easily force the Republicans into votes on all of these issues by introducing amendments during the budget resolution process, which begins in January. “Were those 100 percent lies that [Trump] was telling people in order to gain support?” he asks. “We’ll find out soon enough.”
Sanders seems anxious to communicate a sense of urgency to young people. No more being content with think-tank-generated 14-point plans that become 87-point plans in bipartisan negotiation, and end up scheduled to take effect in 2040. People want change right now. To survive Trump and turn the tide, Sanders says, he needs help. “You don’t have to run for president,” he says. “Just get people involved.”
After the election, you called the anger Trump connected with “justified.” When did you first recognize that sense of discontent and alienation was big enough to have the impact it did this past year? I’ve seen it for years. I’ve seen a media, which has basically ignored the declining middle class, that doesn’t talk about poverty at all, and has no sense of what is going on in the minds of millions of ordinary Americans. They live in a bubble, talk about their world, worry about who’s going to be running 18 years from now for office. Meanwhile, people can’t feed their kids. That’s something I knew.
Talking about those issues, seeing that they resonated, that did not surprise me. How quickly they resonated did surprise me. How weak the Democratic establishment was, and how removed they were from the needs of ordinary people, that also surprised me.
President Obama talked after the election about winning Iowa by going into counties even if the demographics didn’t “dictate” success there. This seemed to be a criticism that the party had decided to ignore big parts of the country. I talked about that in the book. That’s exactly what we did. We had 101 rallies in that small state. That’s grassroots democracy. You speak to three-quarters of the people who end up voting for you. In New Hampshire, we had just a zillion meetings – far more people came out to our meetings. If you had the time to do that around the country, the world becomes different. The assessment has got to be that not only did we lose the White House to the least-popular candidate in perhaps the history of America, certainly in modern history, but we’ve lost the Senate, we’ve lost the House, we’ve lost two-thirds of the governors’ chairs in this country. We’ve lost 900 seats in state legislatures throughout the country in the last eight years. Maybe it might be time to reassess?
Is there any way to read that except as a massive repudiation of Democrats? No. I can’t see how any objective person can. It speaks to what I just mentioned; we cannot spend our entire life – I didn’t, but others do – raising money from wealthy people, listening to their needs. We’ve got to be out in union halls, we’ve got to be out in veterans’ halls, and we’ve got to be talking to working people, and we’ve got to stand up and fight for them.
This is how screwed up we are now. When you have a Republican Party that wants to give huge tax breaks to billionaires, when many of their members want to cut Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid, when they don’t believe in climate change, when they’ve been fierce advocates of unfettered free trade – I’m talking about pre-Trump – why would any working person, when they want to cut programs for working people, support them?
I think we know the answer. We know what the Karl Roves of the world have been successful in doing. They’re playing off working-class people against the gay community, or African-Americans, or Latinos. But that only works when you have not laid the foundation by making it clear to those workers that you are on their side on economic issues.
Look, you may not be pro-choice. But if you know that your congressman is fighting for you and delivering the goods in terms of education, health care and jobs, what you’ll say is, “I disagree with him on that, but I’m going to vote for him.” We’ve seen this in Vermont. We have seen the conservative parts of the state where there are many people who have disagreed with me. But they vote for me, because they know I’m fighting for their rights.
In your book, there are a lot of moments where you say things like, “Look at products like the iPhone. These are American inventions, but they’re not made in America anymore.” Some people will say, “This is nationalism. Why shouldn’t liberal-minded people care about raising the standard of living for poor people in China, in India?” I heard them. We ran into that big-time from corporate liberals. Two things here. I would say there are very few people in the United States Congress who have a more progressive outlook than I do in terms of global politics and international politics. I am deeply concerned about poverty in countries around the world, and I believe that the United States and other major countries have got to work to address those issues. But you do not have to sacrifice the American middle class in order to do that. I find it ironic that the billionaire class says, “We’re worried about the poor people in Vietnam, and that’s why we’re sending your job to Vietnam.” That’s the billionaire class talking.
Clearly we know what that is about. And you have some “liberals” who echo that point of view. I would like to see the United States government and the rest of the industrialized world work harder, with sensible policy to improve the standard of living, to help people create jobs, and sustainable jobs, not wipe out agricultural sectors. In Mexico, for example, NAFTA devastated, as you know, family farms when people could not grow corn to compete with American corn manufacturers.
How you create a sustainable global economy that protects the poorest people in the world is a very important issue for me. But you surely do not have to do that by wiping out the middle class of this country. I think we have a right in this country to hold corporate America accountable for gaining the benefits of being an American corporation, while at the same time turning their backs on the American working class and the consumers who helped create their profits and their wealth.
What about the criticism you got a lot last year, including from former President Clinton, that this idea that we can do anything about these globalist trends is unrealistic, that all we can do is “harness the energy” of the change? Donald Trump has rewritten the rules of politics. Let’s give the guy credit where credit is due. No one thought . . . he started off as a joke, right?
Take a look at the current list of landing team members and their prior affiliations, and you’ll see exactly where things are heading under a Trump administration.
“Trump has converted the GOP into a populist working-class party,” Trump advisor and far-right economist Stephen Moore told Republican members of Congress at a caucus meeting.
Well, advisor Moore, meet the Trump transition team.
“We are witnessing not a populist, working class revolution, but the wholesale takeover of government by an extremist faction of the corporate class.”
The leader of the would-be populist working-class party has invited rogues’ gallery of insiders—corporate lawyers, investment fund managers, corporate executives and wonks hailing from corporate-backed think tanks—to populate the “landing teams” that are doing the nitty-gritty work of transitioning government agencies from control by the outgoing Obama administration to the incoming Trump regime.
And, although the Trump team has kicked registered lobbyists off the transition, at least 13 of the 71 landing team members have been registered lobbyists in the past, some as recent as last year.
What does the purportedly “populist working-class” transition team look like? Take a look:
Paul Atkins is in charge of financial regulation for the Trump transition and on the landing teams for the Elizabeth Warren-created Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation (FDIC) and the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency (OCC) . He is the CEO of Patomak Global Partners, a consulting firm that advises financial services companies on compliance issues. Atkins formerly served as a Republican commissioner of the Securities and Exchange Commission, where he was viewed as being largely opposed to regulation.
Joel Leftwich is the staff director for the U.S. Senate Committee on Agriculture, Nutrition, & Forestry. He was a lobbyist for PepsiCo from 2013 to 2015, and in 2010 was a lobbyist for DuPont.
There are 10 people on the landing team for the Department of Defense. More than half work now or previously for defense contractors, including Mira Ricardel, a former vice president for Boeing known for advocacy of space laser weapons.
There are 9 people on the landing team for the Department of Justice, predictably drawn heavily from the ranks of corporate law firms. Two thirds of them are involved in corporate criminal defense work!
There are policies that could be put in place to address the revolving door problem—individuals leaving government and going to work for the industries they formerly regulated, and from regulated industry into government positions. President Obama took important steps in this direction with an executive order at the outset of his administration but only addressed registered lobbyists. The solution is to change the focus from registered lobbyists to those with financial conflicts of interest—people from or who work for regulated industry should not be able to move seamlessly into jobs as the regulators.
But what’s going on with the Trump administration is beyond fixing with clear policies. We are witnessing not a populist, working class revolution, but the wholesale takeover of government by an extremist faction of the corporate class.
It has become conventional wisdom in Washington that “personnel is policy”—that the people appointed to key positions will make the policy decisions, and are therefore even more important than any particular policy choice. At no time is this more true than now, with a president-elect with minimal interest in policy details.
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 License
Robert Weissman is the president of Public Citizen. Weissman was formerly director of Essential Action, editor of Multinational Monitor, a magazine that tracks corporate actions worldwide, and a public interest attorney at the Center for Study of Responsive Law. He was a leader in organizing the 2000 IMF and World Bank protests in D.C. and helped make HIV drugs available to the developing world.
During his election campaign, Donald Trump declared that he had no plans to make “substantial” changes to Medicare, the government-run health insurance plan for the elderly and disabled that covers 55 million Americans. The president-elect’s web site now says his administration will work to “modernize Medicare” and allow more “flexibility” for Medicaid, the health care program for the poor jointly administered by the federal government and the states.
These are code words signaling the readiness of the incoming administration to work with the Republican-controlled Congress to shift Medicare from a guaranteed government program to a plan with fixed government contributions—or vouchers—and to pave the way for the program’s privatization and dismantlement. Medicaid is to suffer a similar fate.
House Speaker Paul Ryan (Republican of Wisconsin) has been explicit about plans to gut Medicare. Under his plan, the government would give those in traditional Medicare a fixed amount to buy insurance. This amount would be tracked to the country’s overall growth rate or another index, plus a percentage increase, but it would not keep pace with rising health care costs. Seniors would eventually pay a larger share of costs, while government costs would shrink.
In an earlier version proposed by Ryan, cost-sharing—where the government currently pays roughly 70 percent of Medicare costs and beneficiaries pay 30 percent—would flip, leaving seniors responsible for 70 percent of costs and the government only 30 percent.
Skimpy vouchers would replace the current government guarantee, leaving traditional Medicare with a sicker, more costly insurance pool, with higher premiums. The New York Times quotes John K. Gorman, a former Medicare official who is now an insurance consultant, who said, “Regular Medicare would become the province of affluent beneficiaries who can buy their way out of” private plans.
The vast majority of working-class and middle-income seniors would be squeezed out of Medicare and left with narrow network Medicare Advantage plans, which are run by private corporations. Such a shift would have catastrophic consequences for the millions of seniors who rely on Medicare. They would see their access to specialist doctors and hospitals, life-saving treatments and procedures sharply curtailed, resulting in unnecessary suffering and death.
The attack on Medicare is part of a frontal assault to be carried out by the Trump administration against all that remains of the social reforms wrested by the working class from the ruling elite over the last century. None of the social programs enacted in the 1930s and 1960s, including Social Security, the government retirement program, will be outside the scope of the social counterrevolution that is being prepared.
Trump is not the initiator of this class war against working people. It has been underway for decades, beginning in earnest with the election of Ronald Reagan in 1980 and continuing under every succeeding administration, including the eight-year tenures of Democrats Bill Clinton and Barack Obama. The colossal redistribution of wealth and income from the bottom to the top of American society reached record proportions under Obama, whose legacy of falling living standards and worsening economic crisis for tens of millions of workers was a decisive factor in the victory of the fascistic demagogue and con artist Trump.
Trump’s victory, however, with its shift to “fortress America” nationalism, signals a sharp escalation of this class war policy.
No one should take for good coin claims by House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi and other congressional Democrats that they will wage a serious fight against measures to undermine Medicare. In the short period since the General Election, President Obama and the Democrats have fallen all over themselves to pledge support for the incoming administration, maintaining a cowardly silence over the fact that Trump lost the popular vote by millions of ballots. The trade union bureaucracy has likewise signaled its eagerness to work with Trump in pitting American workers against their class brothers and sisters in China, Mexico and the rest of the world.
Trump’s plans for “flexibility” in Medicaid include transforming funding for the program into block grants for the states, in which a fixed and likely reduced grant would be provided to states to administer the health program for the poor. In those states that have expanded Medicaid under the Obama administration’s Affordable Care Act (ACA), including those run by Republican governors, block grants would mean deep cuts to already meager benefits.
While Trump and the Republicans rail against the ACA, commonly known as Obamacare, and vow to repeal many of its features if not the entire program, the Ryan plan for Medicare draws on some of the ACA’s most regressive features. Since Obama’s signature domestic program became law in 2010, the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) has worked at breakneck speed to transform Medicare’s fee-for-service payments into a system that rewards doctors and hospitals for cutting costs.
HHS projects that nearly every fee-for-service payment to Medicare will be tied in some way to “value” by 2018. A recent estimate by the Congressional Budget Office anticipates a reduction in Medicare spending under Obamacare of $716 billion from 2013 to 2022.
The ferocity of the coming attacks on the basic social needs of the working class—health care, education, decent-paying jobs, pensions—is prefigured in the gang of billionaire parasites being assembled by Trump to staff his cabinet, virtually all of whom have made their fortunes by savaging workers’ living standards and attacking social programs.
Billionaire Betsy DeVos, Trump’s pick for secretary of education, is a leading proponent of charter schools and vouchers and vehement enemy of teachers and public education. Investor and former banker Wilbur Ross, Trump’s likely pick for secretary of commerce, made his fortune through leveraged buyouts of distressed steel and coal companies. He made billions by downsizing firms, slashing wages and pensions, and selling off what remained for a hefty profit.
The incoming administration has singled out the 2.7 million US federal employees for attacks on jobs, employment security and pensions.
Millions of workers are in for a huge shock when they see the reality behind Trump’s promise to “Make America Great Again.” The realization that they have once again been deceived by a capitalist con man will fuel the growth of social opposition.
Democratic Party politicians, on the other hand, who insisted during the election that Trump was “unfit” for the presidency, are now working to accommodate themselves to his agenda. It is not the wealthy upper-middle class that forms the Democrats’ main base of support, beyond Wall Street and the military/intelligence establishment, that will be hammered. Indeed, as the stock market surge since Trump’s election indicates, they stand to make themselves even richer off of the misery of working people and youth.
This party of big business, from Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton to Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren, is a thousand times more fearful of a mass movement of the working class against capitalism than it is of Trump’s ultra-right agenda.
That can be halted only by a political movement of the working class consciously directed against the entire political order and the capitalist system it defends.
I’m a millennial computer scientist who also writes books and runs a blog. Demographically speaking I should be a heavy social media user, but that is not the case. I’ve never had a social media account.
At the moment, this makes me an outlier, but I think many more people should follow my lead and quit these services. There are many issues with social media, from its corrosion of civic life to its cultural shallowness, but the argument I want to make here is more pragmatic: You should quit social media because it can hurt your career.
This claim, of course, runs counter to our current understanding of social media’s role in the professional sphere. We’ve been told that it’s important to tend to your so-called social media brand, as this provides you access to opportunities you might otherwise miss and supports the diverse contact network you need to get ahead. Many people in my generation fear that without a social media presence, they would be invisible to the job market.
In a recent New York magazine essay, Andrew Sullivan recalled when he started to feel obligated to update his blog every half-hour or so. It seemed as if everyone with a Facebook account and a smartphone now felt pressured to run their own high-stress, one-person media operation, and “the once-unimaginable pace of the professional blogger was now the default for everyone,” he wrote.
I think this behavior is misguided. In a capitalist economy, the market rewards things that are rare and valuable. Social media use is decidedly not rare or valuable. Any 16-year-old with a smartphone can invent a hashtag or repost a viral article. The idea that if you engage in enough of this low-value activity, it will somehow add up to something of high value in your career is the same dubious alchemy that forms the core of most snake oil and flimflam in business.
Professional success is hard, but it’s not complicated. The foundation to achievement and fulfillment, almost without exception, requires that you hone a useful craft and then apply it to things that people care about. This is a philosophy perhaps best summarized by the advice Steve Martin used to give aspiring entertainers: “Be so good they can’t ignore you.” If you do that, the rest will work itself out, regardless of the size of your Instagram following.
A common response to my social media skepticism is the idea that using these services “can’t hurt.” In addition to honing skills and producing things that are valuable, my critics note, why not also expose yourself to the opportunities and connections that social media can generate? I have two objections to this line of thinking.
First, interesting opportunities and useful connections are not as scarce as social media proponents claim. In my own professional life, for example, as I improved my standing as an academic and a writer, I began receiving more interesting opportunities than I could handle. I currently have filters on my website aimed at reducing, not increasing, the number of offers and introductions I receive.
My research on successful professionals underscores that this experience is common: As you become more valuable to the marketplace, good things will find you. To be clear, I’m not arguing that new opportunities and connections are unimportant. I’m instead arguing that you don’t need social media’s help to attract them.
My second objection concerns the idea that social media is harmless. Consider that the ability to concentrate without distraction on hard tasks is becoming increasingly valuable in an increasingly complicated economy. Social media weakens this skill because it’s engineered to be addictive. The more you use social media in the way it’s designed to be used — persistently throughout your waking hours — the more your brain learns to crave a quick hit of stimulus at the slightest hint of boredom.
Once this Pavlovian connection is solidified, it becomes hard to give difficult tasks the unbroken concentration they require, and your brain simply won’t tolerate such a long period without a fix. Indeed, part of my own rejection of social media comes from this fear that these services will diminish my ability to concentrate — the skill on which I make my living.
The idea of purposefully introducing into my life a service designed to fragment my attention is as scary to me as the idea of smoking would be to an endurance athlete, and it should be to you if you’re serious about creating things that matter.
Perhaps more important, however, than my specific objections to the idea that social media is a harmless lift to your career, is my general unease with the mind-set this belief fosters. A dedication to cultivating your social media brand is a fundamentally passive approach to professional advancement. It diverts your time and attention away from producing work that matters and toward convincing the world that you matter. The latter activity is seductive, especially for many members of my generation who were raised on this message, but it can be disastrously counterproductive.
Most social media is best described as a collection of somewhat trivial entertainment services that are currently having a good run. These networks are fun, but you’re deluding yourself if you think that Twitter messages, posts and likes are a productive use of your time.
If you’re serious about making an impact in the world, power down your smartphone, close your browser tabs, roll up your sleeves and get to work.
Cal Newport is an associate professor of computer science at Georgetown University and the author of “Deep Work: Rules for Focused Success in a Distracted World” (Grand Central).