A Trump junta?

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9 December 2016

The selection Wednesday of Marine Gen. John Kelly, the former head of US Southern Command, to head the Department of Homeland Security brings to three the number of recently retired generals tapped by president-elect Donald Trump for his incoming cabinet.

Before nominating Kelly, Trump named the rabidly anti-Muslim Lieut. Gen. Mike Flynn, the retired former head of the Defense Intelligence Agency, as his national security adviser.

He has also announced his choice of the former head of US Central Command, retired Marine Gen. James Mattis, nicknamed “Mad Dog” for his repeated statements expressing a love for killing, to head the Defense Department. Securing the nomination of Mattis as defense secretary requires congressional approval of a waiver exempting him from a law barring commissioned military officers who have served in uniform over the previous seven years from taking the post. Mattis retired in 2013 and took a seat on the board of directors of major military contractor General Dynamics.

There are other so-called flag officers waiting in the wings. Retired Gen. David Petraeus, also a former US Central Command chief who briefly served as director of the Central Intelligence Agency, is reportedly under consideration for Secretary of State. He would have to secure permission from his probation officer to work in Washington or travel outside the US. Petraeus was sentenced to two years probation last year after pleading guilty to handing over top secret intelligence documents to his mistress.

Retired Adm. James Stavridis, the former supreme allied commander of NATO, who met with Trump in New York Thursday, is also reportedly being vetted for the post of Secretary of State. Previously, he was considered a possible running mate for Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton. And Adm. Michael Rogers, currently head of the National Security Agency, is said to be a contender for Director of National Intelligence.

The number of senior military officers being assembled in the Trump cabinet makes the incoming administration resemble more and more a Latin American military junta. The placing of both the Defense Department, overseeing the massive US war machine, and the Department of Homeland Security, which coordinates a ballooning police-state apparatus, in the hands of two recently retired Marine Corps generals is particularly chilling, suggesting a government that aims to seamlessly coordinate war abroad and repression at home under the tight control of a military camarilla.

Trump, the billionaire conman who secured five deferments to avoid the draft during the Vietnam war, appears to revel in surrounding himself with military brass, shouting out idiotically “‘Mad Dog’ Mattis” at rallies, as if association with the architect of the slaughter of Fallujah will somehow strengthen his image. But there is an objective source of the rise of the military into the top positions of the government.

It is now more than 55 years since President Dwight D. Eisenhower, the former senior allied commander in World War II, made a farewell speech in which he cautioned against the “conjunction of an immense military establishment and a large arms industry” whose “influence—economic, political, even spiritual—is felt in every city, every statehouse, every office of the federal government.”

Eisenhower warned, “We must guard against the acquisition of unwarranted influence, whether sought or unsought, by the military-industrial complex. The potential for the disastrous rise of misplaced power exists, and will persist.”

It is highly unlikely that Eisenhower could have imagined in his wildest dreams either the scale of the “disastrous rise of misplaced power” expressed in the incoming Trump administration or the vast growth of the US military apparatus.

At $580 billion, the Pentagon’s budget consumes more than half of the discretionary spending of the federal government each year. Adding on the slush fund for unending overseas wars, money spent on atomic weapons and other military expenses, the real cost of Washington’s war machine is more like $1 trillion a year.

Along with the Pentagon budget, the power of the military brass has grown uninterruptedly, particularly over the past quarter century of unending wars. The creation of a professional “all-volunteer” armed forces has increasingly isolated the military from civilian society, creating a distinct social caste that has asserted its independent political interests in the affairs of state ever more aggressively. So-called “unified combatant commanders,” like Mattis, Kelly, Petraeus and Stavridis, exercise vast power over entire regions of the globe, far overshadowing any ambassador or other civilian representative of the US government.

While the rank-and-file of the US military appears to have heavily favored Trump in the election—partly out of the misguided hope that he would halt the unending wars in Afghanistan and the Middle East—Democrat Hillary Clinton was the favorite of the top US military brass, who considered her a veteran supporter of militarism and a more reliable backer of their strategic preparations for war against Russia.

Outside of Flynn, none of the ex-military commanders being nominated or considered for top posts had endorsed Trump. Some of them had clashed with the Obama administration, Mattis over Iran and Kelly over Guantanamo, for example.

As much as Trump is choosing ex-generals, the generals may themselves be choosing to join his administration, confident that they can ultimately dictate policy.

The Obama administration and congressional Democrats signaled Thursday that they will place no obstacles in the path of Mattis’ appointment as defense secretary. A measure has been added to a stopgap spending bill set for approval before Congress adjourns this weekend that will fast-track the waiving of the legal ban on recently serving officers taking the post. Debate on the waiver in the Senate is to be limited to 10 hours, even though this will be the first time such a waiver has been granted in over 60 years.

White House spokesman Josh Earnest said that Trump “should be given wide latitude in assembling his team,” and that Obama “believes this is an important principle.”

More important, apparently, than civilian control of the military. That this bedrock constitutional principle has been transformed into all but a dead letter, supported by no significant section of the political establishment, is among the starkest manifestations of the decay and collapse of bourgeois democratic institutions in the United States, which have found their consummate political expression in the advent of the Trump presidency.

What is being assembled in the ongoing sessions at New York City’s Trump Towers is a government of class war, comprised of billionaires and generals. It is turning to the military as it prepares to implement policies of social reaction at home and war abroad, and to confront the massive popular opposition that these policies will provoke from within the working class and the youth.

Bill Van Auken

WSWS

 

 

One Sociologist’s Compelling Theory for How the U.S. Empire Could Devolve Into Fascism and Then Collapse

ELECTION 2016
Based on a model comparing the rise and fall of 10 historical empires.

Photo Credit: oneinchpunch / Shutterstock

A sociologist who predicted the collapse of the Soviet Union and 9/11 attacks warns that American global power will collapse under Donald Trump.

Johan Galtung, a Norwegian professor at the University of Hawaii and Transcend Peace University, first predicted in 2000 that the “U.S. empire” would wither away within 25 years, but he moved up that forecast by five years with the election of President George W. Bush, reported Motherboard.

Now, nearly 17 years later, Galtung predicts that decline could come even quicker under a Trump administration.

“He blunts contradictions with Russia, possibly with China, and seems to do also with North Korea,” Galtung said. “But he sharpens contradictions inside the USA.”

Galtung’s biographer credits the sociologist and mathematician with correctly predicting the 1978 Iranian revolution; China’s Tiananmen Square uprising in 1989; the collapse of the Soviet empire in 1989; the economic crises of 1987, 2008 and 2011; and the 9/11 attacks.

His predictions are based on a model comparing the rise and fall of 10 historical empires, and decades ago Galtung developed a theory of decline based on “synchronizing and mutually reinforcing contradictions.”

For example, Galtung’s model identified five key structural contradictions in Soviet society that he predicted would lead to its fragmentation unless the U.S.S.R. completely transformed itself.

Galtung predicted the tensions between the repressed Soviet working class and the wealthier “bourgeoisie” with nothing to buy would lead to economic stagnation, and those economic forces combined with the push for more freedom of expression, autonomy and freedom of movement would — eventually did — pull down the Soviet Union.

He predicted in his 2009 book, “The Fall of the American Empire — and then What?” that the U.S. was plagued by 15 internal contradictions that would end its global power by 2020, and Galtung warned that phase of the decline would usher in a period of reactionary fascism.

American fascism would spring from its capacity for global violence, a vision of exceptionalism, a belief in an inevitable and final war between good and evil, the cult of a strong state leading that battle, and a cult of the “strong leader.”

Galtung said all of those elements presented themselves during the Bush era, but he fears fascist tendencies could sharpen under Trump as those cultists lash out in disbelief at the loss of American power.

The sociologist identified unsustainable economic, social, military and political contradictions that would eventually topple the U.S. as a world power.

Overproduction relative to demand, unemployment and the increasing costs of climate change would weaken the U.S. economy, according to his model.

Galtung also predicted that rising tensions between the U.S., NATO and its military allies, coupled with the increasing economic costs of war and the political conflicts between the U.S., United Nations and the European Union, would also diminish American power.

“The collapse has two faces,” Galtung said. “Other countries refuse to be ‘good allies: and the USA has to do the killing themselves, by bombing from high altitudes, drones steered by computer from an office, Special Forces killing all over the place. Both are happening today, except for Northern Europe, which supports these wars, for now. That will probably not continue beyond 2020, so I stand by that deadline.”

Rising tensions between America’s Judeo-Christian majority and Islam and other religious minorities created cultural contradictions, which are further sharpened by social contradictions between the so-called American dream and the reality that fewer Americans can achieve prosperity through hard work.

The decline of the U.S. as a global power would probably rip apart its domestic cohesion, Galtung said, which could potentially reshape American borders.

“As a trans-border structure the collapse I am thinking of is global, not domestic,” Galtung said. “But it may have domestic repercussion, like white supremacists or even minorities like Hawaiians, Inuits, indigenous Americans and black Americans doing the same, maybe arguing for the United States as community, confederation rather than a ‘union.’”

That breakup could potentially bring a revitalization of the American republic, Galtung said — if Trump makes a surprising shift in his persona and policies.

“If he manages to apologize deeply to all the groups he has insulted and turn foreign policy from U.S. interventions — soon 250 after Jefferson in Libya 1801 — and not use wars (killing more than 20 million in 37 countries after 1945): A major revitalization!” Galtung said. “Certainly making ‘America Great Again.’ We’ll see.”

Will Trump Start a War on China?

WORLD

More than 400 American military bases encircle China with missiles, bombers, warships—and nukes.

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Photo Credit: esfera/Shutterstock

When I first went to Hiroshima in 1967, the shadow on the steps was still there. It was an almost perfect impression of a human being at ease: legs splayed, back bent, one hand by her side as she sat waiting for a bank to open. At a quarter past 8 on the morning of August 6, 1945, her silhouette was burned into the granite. I stared at the shadow for an hour or more. When I returned many years later, it was gone: taken away, disappeared, a political embarrassment.

I have spent two years making a documentary film, The Coming War on China, in which the evidence and witnesses warn that nuclear war is no longer a shadow, but a contingency. The greatest build-up of American-led military forces since the Second World War is well under way, in the northern hemisphere, on the western borders of Russia and in Asia and the Pacific, confronting China.

The great danger this beckons is not news, nor it is buried and distorted: a drumbeat of mainstream fake news that echoes the psychopathic fear embedded in public consciousness during much of the 20th century.

Like the renewal of post-Soviet Russia, the rise of China as an economic power is declared an “existential threat” to the divine right of the United States to rule and dominate human affairs.

To counter this, in 2011 President Obama announced a “pivot to Asia,” which meant that almost two-thirds of U.S. naval forces would be transferred to Asia and the Pacific by 2020. Today, more than 400 American military bases encircle China with missiles, bombers, warships and, above all, nuclear weapons. From Australia north through the Pacific to Japan, Korea and across Eurasia to Afghanistan and India, the bases form, says one U.S. strategist, “the perfect noose.”

A study by the RAND Corporation (which has planned America’s wars since Vietnam) is titled War with China: Thinking Through the Unthinkable. Commissioned by the U.S. Army, the authors evoke the Cold War when RAND made notorious the catch cry of its chief strategist, Herman Kahn — “thinking the unthinkable.” Kahn’s book, On Thermonuclear War, elaborated a plan for a “winnable” nuclear war against the Soviet Union. Today, his apocalyptic view is shared by those holding real power in the United States: the militarists and neo-conservatives in the executive, the Pentagon, the intelligence and “national security” establishment and Congress.

The current Secretary of Defense, Ashley Carter, a verbose provocateur, says U.S. policy is to confront those “who see America’s dominance and want to take that away from us.”

For all the attempts to detect a departure in foreign policy, this is almost certainly the view of Donald Trump, whose abuse of China during the election campaign included that of “rapist” of the American economy. On December 2, in a direct provocation of China, President-elect Trump spoke to the president of Taiwan, which China considers a renegade province of the mainland. Armed with American missiles, Taiwan is an enduring flashpoint between Washington and Beijing.

“The United States,” wrote Amitai Etzioni, professor of international affairs at George Washington University, “is preparing for a war with China, a momentous decision that so far has failed to receive a thorough review from elected officials, namely the White House and Congress.”  This war would begin with a “blinding attack against Chinese anti-access facilities, including land and sea-based missile launchers … satellite and anti-satellite weapons.”

The incalculable risk is that “deep inland strikes could be mistakenly perceived by the Chinese as pre-emptive attempts to take out its nuclear weapons, thus cornering them into ‘a terrible use-it-or-lose-it dilemma’ [that would] lead to nuclear war.”

In 2015, the Pentagon released its Law of War Manual. “The United States,” it says, “has not accepted a treaty rule that prohibits the use of nuclear weapons per se, and thus nuclear weapons are lawful weapons for the United States.”

In China, a strategist told me, “We are not your enemy, but if you [in the West] decide we are, we must prepare without delay.”  China’s military and arsenal are small compared to America’s. However, “for the first time,” wrote Gregory Kulacki of the Union of Concerned Scientists, “China is discussing putting its nuclear missiles on high alert so that they can be launched quickly on warning of an attack … This would be a significant and dangerous change in Chinese policy … Indeed, the nuclear weapon policies of the United States are the most prominent external factor influencing Chinese advocates for raising the alert level of China’s nuclear forces.”

Professor Ted Postol was scientific adviser to the head of U.S. naval operations. An authority on nuclear weapons, he told me, “Everybody here wants to look like they’re tough. See I got to be tough … I’m not afraid of doing anything military, I’m not afraid of threatening; I’m a hairy-chested gorilla. And we have gotten into a state, the United States has gotten into a situation where there’s a lot of sabre-rattling, and it’s really being orchestrated from the top.”

I said, “This seems incredibly dangerous.”

“That’s an understatement.”

In 2015, in considerable secrecy, the U.S. staged its biggest single military exercise since the Cold War. This was Talisman Sabre; an armada of ships and long-range bombers rehearsed an “Air-Sea Battle Concept for China” – ASB — blocking sea lanes in the Straits of Malacca and cutting off China’s access to oil, gas and other raw materials from the Middle East and Africa.

It is such a provocation, and the fear of a U.S. Navy blockade, that has seen China feverishly building strategic airstrips on disputed reefs and islets in the Spratly Islands in the South China Sea. Last July, the UN Permanent Court of Arbitration ruled against China’s claim of sovereignty over these islands. Although the action was brought by the Philippines, it was presented by leading American and British lawyers and could be traced to U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. In 2010, Clinton flew to Manila. She demanded that America’s former colony reopen the U.S. military bases closed in the 1990s following a popular campaign against the violence they generated, especially against Filipino women. She declared China’s claim on the Spratly Islands—which lie more than 7,500 miles from the United States—a threat to U.S. “national security” and to “freedom of navigation.”

Handed millions of dollars in arms and military equipment, the government of President Benigno Aquino broke off bilateral talks with China and signed a secretive Enhanced Defense Co-operation Agreement with the U.S. This established five rotating U.S. bases and restored a hated colonial provision that American forces and contractors were immune from Philippine law.

The election of Rodrigo Duterte in April has unnerved Washington. Calling himself a socialist, he declared, “In our relations with the world, the Philippines will pursue an independent foreign policy” and noted that the United States had not apologized for its colonial atrocities. “I will break up with America,” he said, and promised to expel U.S. troops. But the U.S. remains in the Philippines, and joint military exercises continue.

In 2014, under the rubric of “information dominance”—the jargon for media manipulation, or fake news, on which the Pentagon spends more than $4 billion—the Obama administration launched a propaganda campaign that cast China, the world’s greatest trading nation, as a threat to “freedom of navigation.”

CNN led the way, its “national security reporter” reporting excitedly from on board a U.S. Navy surveillance flight over the Spratlys. The BBC persuaded frightened Filipino pilots to fly a single-engine Cessna over the disputed islands “to see how the Chinese would react.” None of these reporters questioned why the Chinese were building airstrips off their own coastline, or why American military forces were massing on China’s doorstep.

The designated chief propagandist is Admiral Harry Harris, the US military commander in Asia and the Pacific. “My responsibilities,” he told the New York Times, “cover Bollywood to Hollywood, from polar bears to penguins.” Never was imperial domination described as pithily.

Harris is one of a brace of Pentagon admirals and generals briefing selected, malleable journalists and broadcasters, with the aim of justifying a threat as specious as that with which George W Bush and Tony Blair justified the destruction of Iraq and much of the Middle East. In Los Angeles in September, Harris declared he was “ready to confront a revanchist Russia and an assertive China …If we have to fight tonight, I don’t want it to be a fair fight. If it’s a knife fight, I want to bring a gun. If it’s a gun fight, I want to bring in the artillery … and all our partners with their artillery.”

These “partners” include South Korea, the launch pad for the Pentagon’s Terminal High Altitude Air Defense system, known as THAAD, ostensibly aimed at North Korea. As Professor Postol points out, it targets China.

In Sydney, Australia, Harris called on China to “tear down its Great Wall in the South China Sea”. The imagery was front page news. Australia is America’s most obsequious “partner”; its political elite, military, intelligence agencies and the media are integrated into what is known as the “alliance”. Closing the Sydney Harbour Bridge for the motorcade of a visiting American government “dignitary” is not uncommon.  The war criminal Dick Cheney was afforded this honour.

Although China is Australia’s biggest trader, on which much of the national economy relies, “confronting China” is the diktat from Washington. The few political dissenters in Canberra risk McCarthyite smears in the Murdoch press. “You in Australia are with us come what may,” said one of the architects of the Vietnam war, McGeorge Bundy. One of the most important U.S. bases is Pine Gap near Alice Springs. Founded by the CIA, it spies on China and all of Asia, and is a vital contributor to Washington’s murderous war by drone in the Middle East.

In October, Richard Marles, the defence spokesman of the main Australian opposition party, the Labor Party, demanded that “operational decisions” in provocative acts against China be left to military commanders in the South China Sea. In other words, a decision that could mean war with a nuclear power should not be taken by an elected leader or a parliament but by an admiral or a general.

This is the Pentagon line, a historic departure for any state calling itself a democracy. The ascendancy of the Pentagon in Washington – which Daniel Ellsberg has called a silent coup — is reflected in the record $5 trillion America has spent on aggressive wars since 9/11, according to a study by Brown University. The million dead in Iraq and the flight of 12 million refugees from at least four countries are the consequence.

The Japanese island of Okinawa has 32 military installations, from which Korea, Vietnam, Cambodia, Afghanistan and Iraq have been attacked by the United States. Today, the principal target is China, with whom Okinawans have close cultural and trade ties.

There are military aircraft constantly in the sky over Okinawa; they sometimes crash into homes and schools. People cannot sleep, teachers cannot teach. Wherever they go in their own country, they are fenced in and told to keep out.

A popular Okinawan anti-base movement has been growing since a 12-year-old girl was gang-raped by U.S. troops in 1995. It was one of hundreds of such crimes, many of them never prosecuted. Barely acknowledged in the wider world, the resistance has seen the election of Japan’s first anti-base governor, Takeshi Onaga, and presented an unfamiliar hurdle to the Tokyo government and the ultra-nationalist prime minister Shinzo Abe’s plans to repeal Japan’s “peace constitution.”

The resistance includes Fumiko Shimabukuro, aged 87, a survivor of the Second World War when a quarter of Okinawans died in the American invasion. Fumiko and hundreds of others took refuge in beautiful Henoko Bay, which she is now fighting to save. The U.S. wants to destroy the bay in order to extend runways for its bombers. “We have a choice,” she said, “silence or life.” As we gathered peacefully outside the U.S. base, Camp Schwab, giant Sea Stallion helicopters hovered over us for no reason other than to intimidate.

Across the East China Sea lies the Korean island of Jeju, a semi- tropical sanctuary  and World Heritage Site declared “an island of world peace.” On this island of world peace has been built one of the most provocative military bases in the world, less than 400 miles from Shanghai. The fishing village of Gangjeong is dominated by a South Korean naval base purpose-built for U.S. aircraft carriers, nuclear submarines and destroyers equipped with the Aegis missile system, aimed at China.

A people’s resistance to these war preparations has been a presence on Jeju for almost a decade. Every day, often twice a day, villagers, Catholic priests and supporters from all over the world stage a religious mass that blocks the gates of the base. In a country where political demonstrations are often banned, unlike powerful religions, the tactic has produced an inspiring spectacle.

One of the leaders, Father Mun Jeong-hyeon, told me, “I sing four songs every day at the base, regardless of the weather. I sing in typhoons, no exception. To build this base, they destroyed the environment, and the life of the villagers, and we should be a witness to that. They want to rule the Pacific. They want to make China isolated in the world. They want to be emperor of the world.”

I flew from Jeju to Shanghai for the first time in more than a generation. When I was last in China, the loudest noise I remember was the tinkling of bicycle bells; Mao Zedong had recently died, and the cities seemed dark places, in which foreboding and expectation competed. Within a few years, Deng Xiopeng, the “man who changed China,” was the “paramount leader.” Nothing prepared me for the astonishing changes today.

China presents exquisite ironies, not least the house in Shanghai where Mao and his comrades secretly founded the Communist Party of China in 1921. Today it stands in the heart of a capitalist shipping district; you walk out of this communist shrine with your Little Red Book and your plastic bust of Mao into the embrace of Starbucks, Apple, Cartier, Prada. Would Mao be shocked? I doubt it. Five years before his great revolution in 1949, he sent this secret message to Washington. “China must industrialise,” he wrote, “This can only be done by free enterprise. Chinese and American interests fit together, economically and politically. America need not fear that we will not be co-operative. We cannot risk any conflict.”

Mao offered to meet Franklin Roosevelt in the White House, and his successor Harry Truman, and his successor Dwight Eisenhower. He was rebuffed, or willfully ignored. The opportunity that might have changed contemporary history, prevented wars in Asia and saved countless lives was lost because the truth of these overtures was denied in 1950s Washington “when the catatonic Cold War trance,” wrote the critic James Naremore, “held our country in its rigid grip.”

The fake mainstream news that once again presents China as a threat is of the same mentality.

The world is inexorably shifting east; but the astonishing vision of Eurasia from China is barely understood in the West. The “New Silk Road” is a ribbon of trade, ports, pipelines and high-speed trains all the way to Europe. The world’s leader in rail technology, China is negotiating with 28 countries for routes on which trains will reach up to 400 kms an hour. This opening to the world has the approval of much of humanity, and along the way is uniting China and Russia.

“I believe in American exceptionalism with every fiber of my being,” said Barack Obama, evoking the fetishism of the 1930s. This modern cult of superiority is Americanism, the world’s dominant predator. Under the liberal Obama, winner of the Nobel Peace Prize, nuclear warhead spending has risen higher than under any president since the end of the Cold War. A mini nuclear weapon is planned. Known as the B61 Model 12, it will mean, says General James Cartwright, former vice-chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, that “going smaller [makes its use] more thinkable.”

In September, the Atlantic Council, a mainstream U.S. geopolitical thinktank, published a report that predicted a Hobbesian world “marked by the breakdown of order, violent extremism [and] an era of perpetual war.” The new enemies were a “resurgent” Russia and an “increasingly aggressive” China. Only heroic America can save us. There is a demented quality about this war-mongering. It is as if the “American Century” — proclaimed in 1941 by the American imperialist Henry Luce, owner of Time magazine — has ended without notice and no one has had the courage to tell the emperor to take his guns and go home.

 

John Pilger‘s documentaries have won Academy Awards in both the U.K. and the U.S. 

http://www.alternet.org/world/will-trump-start-war-china

Housing crisis and neglect at root of fatal Oakland fire, one of the deadliest in US history

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By David Brown
6 December 2016

As the death toll mounts, the horrific fire that broke out at a dance party in East Oakland, California Friday night is now one of the worst such disasters in the recent history of the United States.

The City of Oakland announced early Monday that the number of bodies recovered from the 86-year-old Fruitvale warehouse called the Ghost Ship had risen to 36. The warehouse was being rented out to artists, and the studios were also used as informal housing by about 20 people.

According to survivors and neighbors, the fire spread quickly through ad hocwooden rooms, cutting off any escape from the dilapidated building that lacked basic fire safety measures. Many were almost immediately trapped on the second floor, where a concert was being held, without any means of escape.

Recovery efforts were delayed Monday when one of the building’s walls threatened to collapse on firefighters. About 75 percent of the structure has been searched, but the Alameda County Sheriff told the Associated Press that he did not expect to find any more bodies.

Thirty-three of the victims have so far been identified. Many were in their 20s and 30s, but the youngest so far was 17. Three foreign nationals were identified, from Finland, South Korea and Guatemala.

According to one tally by “NBC News,”  the Ghost Ship fire is the seventh-deadliest building fire in the past 50 years, a list that includes the attack on the World Trade Center on September 11, 2001 and the Oklahoma City bombing in 1995. It is the deadliest building fire in the US since a night club in Rhode Island burned down in 2003, killing 100 people.

While the precise causes remain to be determined, indications are that the tragedy was facilitated by city officials who ignored unsafe conditions, a landlord who neglected basic safety measures and a housing crisis driving people to seek cheap rent in unsafe conditions.

There was no shortage of dangerous flash points in the structure. Shelley Mack, a former tenant who lived in the warehouse for five months, told reporters that the building had no sprinklers or fire alarms and that it regularly went without utilities. Tenants used gas generators or propane stoves to heat their water, and stayed warm in the winter with space heaters. Wires crisscrossed the uninspected wooden partitions that turned the first floor into a maze of studios.

A neighbor, Danielle Boudreaux, described to the Washington Post the precarious makeshift stairs to the second floor where shows were held to help pay rent: “It only took two people on it at a time. .. when you stepped on it, it wobbled, and there were ropes holding it up. If you had three people on that it was falling down.” Once the fire started, she said, “there was no way you were getting out of that building.”

Alameda County District Attorney Nancy O’Malley spoke to reporters Monday afternoon, announcing that the fire was a “potential crime scene” and that her office would investigate whether there was any criminal liability. She said that it was too early to specify who might be implicated, but that charges could range from involuntary manslaughter to murder. Any serious investigation, however, would immediately turn to the city itself.

The unsafe conditions, as well as the warehouse’s role as an unlicensed apartment and music venue, was an open secret to the landlord and city officials. The Tumblr page for the Ghost Ship contains numerous advertisements for musical performances. Over the past two years, the city has received numerous complaints, including three this year, regarding construction without a permit and unsafe conditions.

Twice in 2014 and twice in 2016, building inspectors were sent to the warehouse in response to complaints. However, no action was taken to improve the safety of the building. The Oakland Police Department records also show officers responding to reports of a stolen phone at a 2014 New Year’s Party where they “canvassed the area and building.”

In 2007, Alameda County placed a lien on the property, owned by Chor Ng since 1988, for “substandard, hazardous or injurious conditions.” According to public records, Ng has four other properties that have been cited for blight in Oakland.

The conditions found in the Ghost Ship warehouse are far from unique and are well known by the city. Noel Gallo, a city councilor from the Fruitvale district, told CBS, “The reality is, there are many facilities being occupied without permits.” He estimated that there are about 200 warehouses “that have no papers, no permit, no fire code, nothing.”

The negligence of landlords and city officials is complemented by the broader housing crisis that drives poor people to seek out informal housing for cheap rent.

“What this tragedy really brings home is displacement and other impacts of gentrification: the high cost of housing and the lack of affordable housing,” Anyka Barber, co-founder of the Oakland Creative Neighborhoods Coalition, told the Wall Street Journal.

Rents have skyrocketed across the Bay Area in recent years. Oakland, which was once a haven for people avoiding San Francisco’s rent, is now the fourth most expensive city for renting in the United States.

The median cost of an available rental in Oakland in September 2016 was $3,000 a month, according to Zillow. This is up 71 percent from January 2013, when it was just $1,757. Median income for renters in Oakland remains just $3,000 a month, making most apartments wildly unaffordable to perspective tenants.

The Bay Area is riven with social inequality. While workers in San Francisco and Oakland can barely afford rent, massive new luxury apartments are under construction in the Rockridge and SoMa districts. Across the Bay from the Fruitvale district where the warehouse burned down is the home of Larry Ellison, who has a personal net worth of $51.6 billion.

The current spike in property prices is part of a broader economic bubble driven by financial speculation after the 2008 crash. In 2001, 41 percent of US renters spent 30 percent or more of their income on housing. By 2014, this rose to 49 percent, with 26 percent of renters spending more than 50 percent of their income on housing.

A UBS report in 2015 drew a direct connection between the amount of cheap credit central banks, led by the US Federal Reserve and the Obama administration, were pouring into the financial market and exploding rental costs. The authors wrote, “Loose monetary policy has prevented a normalization of housing markets and encouraged local bubble risks to grow.”

The Oakland Ghost Ship fire is a horrific tragedy, but one with definite roots in the reality of American capitalism.

http://www.wsws.org/en/articles/2016/12/06/oakl-d06.html

The Ghost Ship artist collective is not to blame for the fire. Oakland’s housing crisis is

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Faces of the missing from the Oakland warehouse fire (L-R) Nex Iuguolo, Chelsea Faith, Ara Jo, Micah Danemayer

Everyone has been anxiously searching for answers about the cause of the horrifying fire that broke out on Friday, December 2, in an artist warehouse set to host the “Golden Donna 2016 Silk West Coast Tour.” As confirmed so far, the fire has claimed the lives of 30 people.

The death toll expected to reach as high as 40, according to authorities.

In between the need for locals to alert loved ones about their safety, health and well-being in light of what’s happened, there is a growing mainstream narrative that looks to pin the blame for this tragedy on the culture of the artists who inhabit the building.

Outlets such as CNN and DailyNews are making it a point to emphasize that residents were living in this warehouse illegally and making commercial use of it without a permit.

While mainstream media is intent on painting a portrait of irresponsible artists/ravers who should’ve never opted to reside inside the warehouse in the first place, no one is asking the larger question of why these artists are forced to work and make a living in these specific circumstances.

Related: 14 Ways Not To Act Like A Gentrifier (As Told By One)

Even some critics on social media have managed to find fault with the culture of tenants of this artist collective — which, in so many, they describe as pathological — blaming them for the incident:

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Nowhere in their narrow-minded criticisms is a consideration of the shrinking opportunities to legally secure residential and commercial property in the city of Oakland. Breaching this issue of the ongoing property crisis in Oakland would point the finger toward systemic forces that exceed the so-called excesses and personal flaws of individual behavior.

Oakland has been ravaged by this property crisis — including gentrification — for years now. Artist collectives have been among the hardest hit by this issue. For example, the tenants of the artist collective known as the LoBot, which set up shop in industrial buildings within the lower income community of the Lower Bottoms, had its lights cut off in July, after thirteen years in operation.

As East Bay Express documents it, “The underground artist studio and venue’s landlord had discontinued its lease, and the newly doubled monthly rent was too high.”

In a curious fashion, mainstream reporters have queried aloud in their coverage about why the tenants of these warehouses do not seek permits that would allow them to legally stay in these buildings and hire the necessary services that would get the interior structures up to code. Looking closely at the problem, the answer is pretty simple: they can’t afford it. And while the responsibility of staying up to code rested upon Ghost Ship’s owner  Derick Ion, the artists living and working in the space had little to no choice but to choose between stable housing and their own safety.

According to the SFGate, the LoBot is symptomatic of a bigger concern: Oakland rests among the 4 cities with the highest rental market in the entire country:

“One bedrooms increased 19 percent in the past year to $2,190,” writes SFGate “while two bedrooms increased 13.3 percent to reach $2,550.”

In its lamentation of the Oakland housing crisis, The Guardian portrays a similar dismal predicament that is citywide in scope, writing, “For many, the only way they can stay in Oakland is to sleep in their cars or on the streets.”

But, you won’t find economic considerations of this caliber in mainstream reports, for capitalism is far more comfortable and content with catering to the lie of atomistic individualism over deadly malfunctions in the infrastructure of the system and blaming the human disasters that are consequential to these systemic calamities on the psychological shortcomings of people viewed as willingly isolated from one another to their own detriment.

For anyone interested in helping with this tragedy, you can donate to this YouCare campaign.

http://wearyourvoicemag.com/more/social-justice/housing-crisis-not-ravers-blame-oakland-fire

Stephen Hawking: Automation and AI is going to decimate middle class jobs

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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.

A report put out in February 2016 by Citibank in partnership with the University of Oxford predicted that 47% of US jobs are at risk of automation. In the UK, 35% are. In China, it’s a whopping 77% — while across the OECD it’s an average of 57%.

And three of the world’s 10 largest employers are now replacing their workers with robots.

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.”

 

 

http://www.businessinsider.com/stephen-hawking-ai-automation-middle-class-jobs-most-dangerous-moment-humanity-2016-12?r=UK&IR=T

Trump outlines right-wing program of extreme nationalism at Cincinnati rally

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By Joseph Kishore and Jerry White
2 December 2016

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.”

WSWS