Twenty years since Clinton’s welfare “reform”

NASHVILLE, :  US President Bill Clinton clinches his fist during a 27 October speech on welfare reform at Vanderbilt University Medical Center in Nashville, Tennessee. The US general election is two weeks away on 05 Novemeber.  (ELECTRONIC IMAGE) AFP PHOTO Paul J. RICHARDS (Photo credit should read PAUL J. RICHARDS/AFP/Getty Images)

23 August 2016

Twenty years ago yesterday, on August 22, 1996, President Bill Clinton signed bipartisan legislation that ended the federal guarantee of welfare assistance to the poor.

The Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Reconciliation Act of 1996 was the first repeal of a major provision of the 1935 Social Security Act, which made relief to the old, the disabled, the jobless, single mothers and poor children a federally funded and guaranteed “entitlement.” Eligibility for what would become Aid to Families with Dependent Children (AFDC) was expanded in 1962.

Instead of providing a safety net of minimal benefits, the new Temporary Assistance for Needy Families program (TANF), which replaced AFDC, imposed a lifetime limit of five years, plus mandatory work and school requirements. The federal government sent a fixed amount of money, in the form of block grants, to the states, which were free to impose even harsher eligibility restrictions and cut off benefits once the money ran out, no matter how many people were left destitute.

As a result, millions of poor people lost all cash assistance and were bereft of any income. While AFDC benefits were always woefully inadequate, TANF assistance in all states currently provides less than half the income deemed necessary by the government to avoid poverty. In one-third of the states, the benefits are less than 20 percent of the official poverty level.

The 1996 law also cut food assistance to the poor. The tightening of eligibility for food stamps, now called the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), has had devastating consequences. As a result of the lowering of maximum benefits enacted at that time, a working household of three people today receives nearly $400 less a year—or $33 a month—than it would have received had the “reform” not been enacted.

So draconian were Clinton’s measures, they were denounced by Senator Patrick Moynihan, a Democrat who had been reviled for joining the Nixon administration and initiating the first efforts to cut back on social programs. Moynihan denounced both parties for “making cruelty to children an instrument of social policy.”

In announcing that he was “ending welfare as we know it,” Clinton cynically claimed that his bill would help welfare recipients find work and attain economic self-sufficiency. That was a lie. The measure freed up billions for corporate tax cuts and military programs, while forcing millions of workers into low-wage, part-time jobs. The funneling of the desperately poor into the labor market contributed to the suppression of wages that continues to this day.

The corporate-controlled media has marked the anniversary by hailing its “success” and fondly recalling the bipartisan support for the measure. Media commentators suggest that the cross-party cooperation that succeeded in destroying welfare should be a model for laying siege to even more basic entitlement programs such as Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security.

A series of recent reports has detailed the human impact of Clinton’s cuts:

  • The number of US children living in families with monthly incomes below $2 per person per day doubled from 1996 to 2011, according to a 2013 analysis published by the National Poverty Center.
  • While 76 families received cash assistance through AFDC for every 100 poor families with children in 1995, by 2014, only 23 percent received TANF cash assistance. Because fixed benefit levels lost value due to inflation, cash payments for a family of three in July 2015 were at least 20 percent below their 1996 level in 35 states and the District of Columbia.
  • A 2015 review of the law by the National Bureau of Economic Research concluded that “declines in welfare benefits arising from leaving welfare often cancel out the earning increases, leaving income relatively unchanged.” In addition, “a significant number of single-mother families appear to have been worse off and to have higher deep poverty rates,” defined as living below half the federal poverty line.
  • During the first decade of welfare “reform,” incomes fell by 18 percent for the poorest tenth of children of single mothers, and the share of children living in deep poverty rose from 2.1 percent to 3.0 percent—from 1.5 million to 2.2 million—according to the Center for Budget and Policy Priorities. While the percentage of children in deep poverty was reduced to 2.6 percent in the following decade, this was largely due to the temporary extension of unemployment benefits and food stamps after the Great Recession, which has largely dried up.
  • The cancellation of welfare payments to legal immigrants through the imposition of long-term residency requirements led to a fall in high school graduation rates by as much as 17 percent, according to a recent article in the Washington Post.

In destroying welfare, President Clinton had the enthusiastic backing of his wife, Hillary Clinton, who is now the Democratic candidate for US president. The ex-president emphasized her role in a 2006 op-ed piece in the New York Times titled “How We Ended Welfare, Together.” In the article, Clinton boasted that welfare rolls had been reduced from 12.2 million to 4.5 million in the first decade of his “reform.”

The destruction of the federal welfare system was part of a social counterrevolution by the American ruling class initiated in the last years of the Democratic administration of Jimmy Carter in the late 1970s and escalated during the Reagan years of the 1980s. It marked the complete abandonment of the policy of liberal reform associated with Roosevelt’s New Deal in the 1930s and Johnson’s War on Poverty in the mid-1960s.

The Clintons were leading figures in the Democratic Leadership Council, which renounced such reforms and helped transform the Democratic Party into the leading party of Wall Street.

Following the debacle of Hillary Clinton’s pro-corporate health care “reform,” the Democrats suffered a rout in the 1994 mid-term elections, which gave the Republicans, under the leadership of arch reactionary Newt Gingrich, control of both houses of Congress. The response of the Clintons was to shift further to the right.

The tossing of millions of welfare recipients into destitution was a calculated effort to curry favor from the ruling elite and reactionary sections of the upper middle class. In the current presidential campaign, Clinton’s wife has adopted a similar strategy, except even more reactionary.

The war on the poor, with its denunciations of “generations of dependency” and demands for “personal responsibility,” coincided with a bipartisan program of unlimited government welfare for corporate America and the super-rich. These were the days of “irrational exuberance” on Wall Street, the Clinton administration’s repeal of the Glass-Steagall Act and other Depression-era banking regulations, the destruction of millions of better-paying manufacturing jobs, the growth of financialization, and the rise of a new financial aristocracy to the pinnacle of the American economy.

Over the last seven-and-a-half years, the Obama administration has intensified this social counterrevolution, slashing the wages of autoworkers, shifting the burden of health care and pensions onto the backs of workers, and funneling trillions to Wall Street and trillions more to the Pentagon to wage nonstop war.

Various pseudo-left and Democratic Party advocates of identity politics characterize Clinton’s welfare “reform” as a racist measure. Typical is a recent piece in the New Republic titled “The Racist Roots of Welfare Reform.”

This only serves to conceal the class character of the Democratic Party-led attack—whose victims include all races and nationalities, the majority being poor whites. In opposition to all such reactionary attempts to divide the working class, the Socialist Equality Party and our presidential and vice presidential candidates, Jerry White and Niles Niemuth, fight for the unity of the working class in a struggle against the capitalist system, the source of war, poverty and repression.

Jerry White

WSWS

Mexico’s Zapatista Movement May Offer Solutions to Neoliberal Threats to Global Food Security

Posted on Aug 21, 2016

By Levi Gahman / The Solutions Journal

    Zapatista women meeting in 1996. (Julian Stallabrass / CC BY 2.0)

The battle for humanity and against neoliberalism was and is ours,

And also that of many others from below.

Against death––We demand life.

Subcomandante Galeano/Marcos

One of the biggest threats to food security the world currently faces is neoliberalism. It’s logic, which has become status quo over the past 70 years and valorizes global ‘free market’ capitalism, is made manifest through economic policies that facilitate privatization, deregulation, and cuts to social spending, as well as a discourse that promotes competition, individualism, and self-commodification. Despite rarely being criticized, or even mentioned, by state officials and mainstream media, neoliberal programs and practices continue to give rise to unprecedented levels of poverty, hunger, and suffering. The consequences of neoliberalism are so acutely visceral that the Zapatistas called the 21st century’s most highly lauded free-trade policy, NAFTA, a ‘death certificate’ for Indigenous people.1 This is because economic liberalization meant that imported commodities (e.g., subsidized corn from the U.S.) would flood Mexican markets, devalue the products of peasant farmers, and lead to widespread food insecurity. As a response, the Zapatista Army of National Liberation (EZLN), primarily Indigenous peasants themselves, led an armed insurrection in Chiapas, Mexico on January 1, 1994—the day NAFTA went into effect.

The Zapatistas, primarily Indigenous Ch’ol, Tzeltal, Tzotzil, Tojolobal, Mam, and Zoque rebels, were rising up against 500 years of colonial oppression. For this piece, I draw from my experiences learning from them, not ‘researching’ them. Importantly, I neither speak for the Zapatistas nor do my words do them justice. In a sense, then, this piece is nothing other than a modest ‘suggestion’ that the Zapatistas may offer us some ideas about solutions to the problems of the food systems we find ourselves in.

The emergence of the EZLN dates back to November 17, 1983, when a small group of politicized university militants arrived in the Lacandon jungle of Chiapas to form a guerrilla army. Their efforts, which were being supported by an intricate network of solidarity organizations with links to Marxist revolutionaries and Catholic liberation theologists in the region, were subsequently transformed by the Indigenous communities they encountered upon arriving. The success of the Zapatista uprising was thus the culmination of nearly 10 years of covert organizing that unfolded under the guidance of Indigenous people within the jungles and highlands of southeastern Mexico. And during the early morning hours of New Year’s Day 1994, thousands of masked insurgents from the EZLN stepped out of the darkness to say ‘¡Ya Basta! ‘ (Enough!) to the repression and misery that colonialism and capitalism had thrust upon them.

The stunning manner in which the Zapatistas presented themselves to the Mexican government, as well as the world, saw them descend upon several towns, cities, prisons, and wealthy landowners. During the revolt, EZLN guerillas liberated political prisoners, stormed military barracks, occupied government offices, set fire to trumped-up files that unfairly criminalized Indigenous people, and announced Zapatista ‘Women’s Revolutionary Law.’ In the rural countryside, Zapatista soldiers also reclaimed dispossessed land by kicking affluent property-owning bosses off plantation-likeencomiendas that had been historically expropriated from impoverished Indigenous farmers. The skirmishes and exchange of bullets between the EZLN and federal army lasted a total of only 12 days, after which a ceasefire was negotiated.

Since that time, and despite an ongoing counter-insurgency being spearheaded by the Mexican government, the Zapatista’s ‘solution’ to the problem of neoliberalism, including the food insecurity and poverty it exacerbates, has been resistance. And for the Zapatistas, resistance is comprised of revitalizing their Indigenous (predominantly Maya) worldviews, recuperating stolen land, emancipating themselves from dependency upon multinational industrial agribusiness, and peacefully living in open defiance of global capitalism. This ‘solution’ has subsequently enabled them to build an autonomous, locally focused food system, which is a direct product of their efforts in participatory democracy, gender equity, and food sovereignty.

Food sovereignty (an intensely debated concept) loosely described means that people are able to exercise autonomy over their food systems while concurrently ensuring that the production/distribution of food is carried out in socially just, culturally safe, and ecologically sustainable ways. For the Zapatistas, food sovereignty involves agro-ecological farming, place-based teaching and learning, developing local cooperatives, and engaging in collective work.

These practices, which are simultaneously informed by their Indigenous customs, struggles for gender justice, and systems of nonhierarchical governance and education, have thereby radically transformed social relations within their communities. And it is these aspects of the Zapatista Insurgency that illustrate how collective (anti-capitalist) resistance offers novel alternatives to the world’s corporate food regime.

Autonomous Education and Decolonization

Here you can buy or sell anything—­except Indigenous dignity.

Subcomandante Marcos/Galeano

The relationship and obligation the Zapatistas have to the land is rooted in their Indigenous perspectives and traditions. And because exercising autonomy over their land, work, education, and food is crucial to the Zapatistas, their methods of teaching and learning are situated in the environmental systems and cultural practices of where they, and their histories, are living. This is evident in the grassroots focus they maintain in their approach to education, as well as how they consider their immediate ecological settings a ‘classroom.’2

Local knowledge of land and growing food is so central among their autonomous municipalities that each Zapatista school often sees promotores de educación (‘education promoters’) and promotores de agro-ecología (‘agro-ecology promoters’) coming from the same community as their students. Zapatista education is therefore emplaced within the geographies where people live. This holistic ‘place-based’ focus results in both children and adults viewing themselves as active participants in, and essential parts of, local food systems.

In order to understand food security, Zapatista students are frequently taught hands-on agro-ecological techniques outside the classroom. This means they learn how to apply sustainable farming techniques while participating in the planting/harvesting of organic crops. This area of experiential and localized education stresses the importance of working the land in order to attain the skills needed to achieve food sovereignty for future generations. It also provides an overview of how transgenic modifications and privatizations of seeds/plants/life are deemed to be overt threats to, and blatant attacks upon, their culture.

This perspective is held because the Zapatistas are ‘People of the Corn,’ a reality passed down from their Maya origin stories.3 And given that their autonomous education is anchored in defending, protecting, and preserving their Indigenous histories, languages, and ancestral territories, the Zapatistas effectively practice decolonization—the re-establishment and repatriation of Indigenous land, life, and realities—in every aspect of their teaching and learning.

In practical terms, the Zapatistas are decolonizing their food system through applied/experiential learning, communal subsistence farming, collectivizing harvests, refusing chemicals, and equitably distributing labor. This approach thereby provides communities the ability to eschew the profit-motives promoted by capitalist conceptions of ‘productivity,’ in favor of foregrounding their local Indigenous notions of knowledge and nature.4

Through their refusal to participate in the commodification and privatization of learning and land, the Zapatistas have created an integrated system of education and food security that functions as a solidarity economy. This means their efforts in both food and knowledge production/distribution are guided by an ethical imperative that takes into consideration the health and well-being of individuals, communities, and ecologies alike.

Given what the Zapatistas have created in rural Chiapas, one is left to wonder how local food systems might look if Indigenous peoples’ perspectives and (anti-capitalist) placed-based education were implemented into our own communities.

Womens Struggle and Gender Equity

Cuando Una Mujer Avanza, No Hay Hombre Que Retrocede

(‘When a Woman Advances, No Man is Left Behind’)

Women do two-thirds of the world’s work, produce roughly 70 percent of its food, and are responsible for over 80 percent of its domestic (socially reproductive) labor. Despite this, they earn only about 10 percent of the world’s income, control less than 10 percent of all its land, own less than one percent of the means of production, and comprise nearly two-thirds of all its part-time and temporary worker positions.5 In disaggregate, the vast majority of these statistics apply to women who are rural, working class/poor, racialized/Indigenous, not ‘formally educated,’ and living in the Global South.6 It thus appears that capitalist exploitation has both a pattern and preferred target. Interestingly, all of these descriptors directly apply to Zapatista women, yet, it seems someone has forgotten to tell them…because they do not seem to care.

One of the most groundbreaking aspects of the Zapatista insurgency has been the strides it has made in destabilizing patriarchy. This social transformation has largely been born out of the indefatigable work ethic and iron will of the Zapatista women. Given their recognition that any struggle against colonialism and capitalism necessitates a struggle against patriarchy, Zapatista women implemented what is known as ‘Women’s Revolutionary Law’ within their communities. The conviction they maintain regarding equality was poignantly captured in a communiqué written by Subcomandante Marcos (now Galeano) released shortly after the 1994 rebellion, which states: “The first EZLN uprising occurred in March of 1993 and was led by the Zapatista women. There were no casualties—and they won.”7

Broadly speaking, Women’s Revolutionary Law solidifies the recognition of women’s rights to self-determination, dignity, and having their voices heard. More specifically, the laws mandate that women be equitably represented in the guerrilla army (i.e., the EZLN), the Juntas de Buen Gobierno (‘Councils of Good Government’), efforts in land recuperation (agro-ecological projects/work outside of the home), and the development of food/artisan/craft cooperatives.8 These laws have restructured everyday life throughout Zapatista territory, as it is now not uncommon to see women involved in the public sphere (work outside the home), in addition to seeing men participate in socially reproductive labor (i.e., ‘women’s work’).

Women’s Revolutionary Law has also merged with the way in which the land and local environment is viewed and tended to. As a result of up-ending rigid patriarchal notions of what type of work women ‘should do’ and ‘could not do,’ as well as undermining regressive ideas that men are less capable of performing emotional labor, household chores, and nurturing children, Zapatista communities now have women exercising more influence over decisions being made surrounding food security and agro-ecological projects.9

In recently attesting to the gender equity the Zapatistas are advancing towards, Peter Rosset, a food justice activist and rural agro-ecological specialist, commented on the impact of Women’s Revolutionary Law by stating:

Yesterday a Zapatista agro-ecology promoter was in my office and he was talking about how the young Indigenous women in Zapatista territory are different from before…

…he said they no longer look at the floor when you talk to them—they look you directly in the eye.10

In light of the emphasis the Zapatistas place on justice via both recognizing women’s struggle, as well as men’s responsibility to perform socially reproductive/emotional labor, one cannot help but further wonder what agricultural production would look like if gender equity was promoted within the global food system.

Final Thoughts

When viewed in its geopolitical context, the Zapatista insurgency has opened up space for a wide range of alternative ways of re-organizing societies, economies, and food systems. Consequently, what the Zapatistas prove through their resistance (i.e., efforts in autonomous education, decolonization, and gender equity) is that a recognition of Indigenous people’s right to self-determination, in conjunction with anti-capitalist collective work and movements toward food sovereignty, can indeed provide viable alternatives to the world’s neoliberal food regime as well as revolutionize the struggle for food security.

 

Acknowledgements

I offer my gratitude to the Zapatistas for accepting me into their school as well as the Mexico Solidarity Network for enabling it. I also thank Schools for Chiapas and the Dorset Chiapas Solidarity for sharing photos, as well as The University of the West Indies Campus Research and Publication Committee (Trinidad and Tobago) for their support.

References

  1. Marcos, S & de Leon, JP. Our Word is Our Weapon (Seven Stories Press, New York, 2002).
  2. Anonymous Zapatista. Personal communication, Fall 2013.
  3. Ross, J. ¡Zapatistas!: Making Another World Possible: Chronicles of Resistance, 2000–2006 (Nation Books, New York, 2006).
  4. Lorenzano, L. Zapatismo: recomposition of labour, radical democracy and revolutionary project in Zapatista! Reinventing Revolution in Mexico (eds Holloway, J & Pelaez, E), Ch. 7, 126-128 (Pluto Press, London, 1998).
  5. Robbins, RH. Global Problems and the Culture of Capitalism (Allyn & Bacon, Boston, 2007).
  6. Benería, L, Berik, G & Floro, M. Gender, Development and Globalization: Economics as if All People Mattered (Routledge, Abingdon, 2015).
  7. Marcos, S. The First Uprising: March 1993. La Jornada (January 30, 1994).
  8. Klein, H. Compañeras: Zapatista Womens Stories (Seven Stories Press, New York, 2015).
  9. Marcos, S. Zapatista Women’s Revolutionary Law as it is lived today. Open Democracy [online] (July 2014).https://www.opendemocracy.net/sylvia-marcos/zapatista-women%E2%80%99s-re….

10.  Rosset, P. Zapatista Uprising 20 Years Later. Democracy Now! [online] (January 2014).http://www.democracynow.org/2014/1/3/zapatista_uprising_20_years_later_how.

The social roots of unrest in Milwaukee, Wisconsin

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16 August 2016

Once again deeply rooted social anger has boiled over in an American city against police violence. This time protests erupted in the Sherman Park neighborhood of Milwaukee, Wisconsin following the killing of 23-year-old African American Sylville K. Smith by an as yet unidentified African American police officer Saturday afternoon.

Approximately 100 people gathered Saturday night to protest near where Smith was killed. The night ended with a handful of nearby businesses looted as well as a gas station, a bank branch and an auto parts store torched. A handful of cop cars and other vehicles were damaged or destroyed. The police arrested 31 people during protests Saturday and Sunday night.

At the request of Milwaukee County Sheriff David Clarke, a prominent African American backer of Republican Presidential candidate Donald Trump, Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker has mobilized the National Guard. At least 100 members have been placed on standby to respond to protests if deemed necessary by city officials, adding to the 150 specially trained Milwaukee Police Department (MPD) officers and regular police patrols.

This marks the second time since 2014 that Walker has put the National Guard on notice for deployment in response to protests against police violence in the city. The National Guard, a branch of the military, has been used to put down popular protests in Ferguson, Missouri in 2014 and Baltimore, Maryland in 2015.

While the killing of Smith is the immediate cause of the protests in Milwaukee, it is clear that broader issues are involved—bound up not with racial divisions, but a one-sided class war waged by the American financial elite. Like so many cities in the United States, Milwaukee has been devastated by decades of deindustrialization and financialization, which has produced the highest levels of inequality since the 1920s. The factories that provided decent wages and benefits for tens of thousands of workers have all but disappeared.

The city lost three-quarters of its industrial jobs between 1960 and the 2010. The disappearance of manufacturing employment had a particular impact on black male workers in the city. From 1970 to 2010, the employment rate for black men aged 16 to 64 in the metro Milwaukee region fell precipitously, from 73.4 percent to only 44.7 percent.

The city’s overall poverty rate in 2014 was 29 percent, nearly double the national rate. Children and youth aged 18 and under were the worst affected, with more than 42 percent growing up poor. More than 43 percent of the population in the Sherman Park neighborhood lives below the poverty line.

It is fitting that President Barack Obama visited the Sherman Park area in 2012 where he spoke at the Master Lock factory, one of the few remaining industrial facilities in the area. Obama hailed Master Lock as a great example of the “insourcing” of low wage manufacturing jobs. In its more than seven years in office, the Obama administration has not proposed a single initiative or program that would begin to address the staggering levels of social inequality, poverty and unemployment in the United States.

The growth of poverty and inequality, the eruption of social anger and the build-up of the police forces are interrelated components of the same class dynamic. Whatever the role racism may play—a 2011 analysis of traffic stop data found that African American drivers were more than seven times as likely as white drivers to be pulled over by the MPD—the war waged by the American ruling class has been directed at the working class of all races.

In considering the issue of police violence, it is once again necessary to stress that the majority of those killed by police in the United States are white. As for the conditions that are fueling social anger, these transcend race as well. The majority of poor in the United States are white, and white workers have suffered some of the most disastrous declines in conditions of life over the past several decades. One only needs to cite the stunning rise in mortality rates among working class whites in recent years.

As for African Americans, one of the most significant if very little noted facts of American life is the extraordinary growth of social inequality within the African American population over the past four decades. A black family in the top 1 percent of the US population has a net worth 200 times the average black family, and the top 10 percent controls 67 of the wealth held by all African Americans.

In politics, African Americans have been elevated to positions of power by both the Democrats and Republicans—Obama, Loretta Lynch, Condoleezza Rice and Colin Powell being some of the most notable. Many major American cities have had black mayors and city councils are populated by African American politicians.

Those promoting racial politics speak for this social layer of more privileged sections of the middle class and for sections of the ruling class itself whose interests are thoroughly hostile to those of African American workers and youth.

A genuine fight against police violence must proceed from an understanding of certain basic facts.

First, that police violence is the product not of racial animosity of “white America” against “black America,” but rather is a reflection of the nature of the state as an instrument of class rule. The build-up of police power, which is a component part of a vast apparatus of repression, from the military to the spying agencies, will be used against all social opposition to the policies of the financial aristocracy.

Second, all factions of the political establishment are committed to the defense of the police. In the 2016 elections, Trump and the Republicans are running on a program of “law and order” and calls for criminalization of opposition to police violence (expressed most ruthlessly by Milwaukee County Sheriff Clarke at the Republican National Convention last month).

Meanwhile Hillary Clinton and the Democrats hail the police while sickeningly and hypocritically exploiting the family members of the victims of police violence to promote racial identity politics. She is committed to continuing and extending the policies of the Obama administration—which means escalating the assault on the working class, expanding war abroad and doing nothing to halt the reign of police violence in the United States.

The fight against police violence means a fight against the society that creates it. It requires a political struggle to unify all sections of the working class, of all races, in a common fight against unemployment, poverty, inequality and the capitalist profit system.

Niles Niemuth

http://www.wsws.org/en/articles/2016/08/16/pers-a16.html

Tax return places Clintons in the top 0.02 percent of Americans

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By Patrick Martin
13 August 2016

Bill and Hillary Clinton made $10.6 million in income in 2015, according to tax returns released by the Democratic presidential campaign Friday. This placed the Clintons in the top 0.02 percent of US families.

Fewer than 30,000 US families made as much as the Clintons last year, a further demonstration of how far the former “first family” has advanced since Bill Clinton left the White House in January 2001.

In the nearly 16 years since then, the Clintons have netted at least $200 million in income, most of it from making speeches to corporations, Wall Street firms, universities, Washington lobbyists, trade unions, and anyone else willing to fork over $200,000 or more to hear the former president or his wife.

Hillary Clinton’s Republican opponent, Donald Trump, is by reputation a billionaire, placing him in the top 2,000 US households for income, although he has refused to release any tax returns that could verify his income level and tax payments.

The Clinton campaign released the family’s tax return as part of a political effort to put more pressure on the Trump campaign to do likewise. This was coordinated with a prominent article in the New York Times suggesting that Trump was unwilling to release his tax return because he had used many lucrative deductions available to real estate speculators, cutting his tax liability to zero.

Other possibilities suggested by the Times are that Trump’s personal fortune is far less than the $9-10 billion he has claimed publicly, or that his tax returns would document income from investments with Russian oligarchs. The latter charge is part of a persistent McCarthy-style campaign spearheaded by theTimes, suggesting Trump’s candidacy represents Russian government interference in the US elections.

The Clinton tax return demonstrates the vast social gulf that separates the Democratic presidential candidate from the working people whose votes she seeks in the 2016 election. The November 8 election represents a “choice” between two candidates from the financial aristocracy, both of whom uphold the interests of the super-rich against working people.

The $10.6 million raked in during 2015 actually represented a significant decline for the Clintons, whose combined income reached $27.9 million in 2014, their largest ever, thanks to $23 million in speaking fees divided roughly equally between the former president and the former secretary of state.

In 2015, by contrast, Bill Clinton earned the lion’s share of the speaker’s fees, some $4.4 million, while Hillary Clinton netted “only” $1.1 million, since she stopped taking money for appearances before corporate audiences after declaring her candidacy for president. Hillary Clinton also reported $3 million in revenue from her book Hard Choices, a memoir of her four years as secretary of state.

The current year 2016 is likely to mark a low point in the Clinton buck-raising, since neither Clinton has been able to make paid appearances because of the requirements of the election campaign.

Not to worry, however. From 2007 through 2015, the Clintons reported making a total of $149 million over nine years, out of which they paid taxes totaling $48 million, and gave $16 million to charity (most of it to their own charitable entity, the Clinton Family Foundation).

That means they enjoyed after-tax income of some $85 million, the bulk of which they would have put into investment accounts. A fortune of, say, $75 million would place the Clintons in the top 20,000 US families in terms of total assets.

During this period 2007-2015, which includes six years when Hillary Clinton was on a federal salary, as US senator for New York and then secretary of state, Bill Clinton made the bulk of the income, including $105 million from delivering more than 540 speeches.

The average annual Clinton family income over this nine-year period, $16.3 million, is 300 times the median US household income, $53,482. In other words, Bill and Hillary Clinton typically earned every day about what the typical US working-class family made in a year.

The Clintons paid tax rates close to the 35 percent due from top income earners over that nine-year period, as they did not make use of special tax evasion vehicles, most likely to avoid the negative political repercussions.

The bulk of their income was routed through what are called “pass-through” vehicles, standard for wealthy individuals whose income does not come from salaries. The Clinton campaign pointed out that under the tax plan advocated by Donald Trump, the Clinton’s own taxes would have been cut in half, since such “pass-through” vehicles would receive a 50 percent tax break.

The Democratic campaign also released ten years of tax returns for Hillary Clinton’s running mate, Senator Tim Kaine of Virginia, and his wife Anne Holton, daughter of former Virginia governor Linwood Holton. In 2015, the couple reported income of $313,441, which represents Kaine’s salary as a US senator and his wife’s as secretary of education for the state of Virginia.

The combined family income of Kaine and Holton in 2015 is less than the $315,000 that Hillary Clinton was paid for a single speech delivered to a corporate audience at eBay last year.

http://www.wsws.org/en/articles/2016/08/13/taxe-a13.html

Rio 2016: The “Olympic ideal” and the reality of capitalism

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8 August 2016

“The goal of Olympism is to place sport at the service of the harmonious development of humankind, with a view to promoting a peaceful society concerned with the preservation of human dignity.” These words, which appear in the Olympic Charter’s “Fundamental Principles of Olympism,” are supposed to sum up what is referred to with sanctimonious reverence as the “Olympic ideal.”

There has never been a golden age of the Olympic games, which have for over a century served as an arena for the promotion of nationalism. The founder of the modern Olympics, Baron Pierre de Coubertin, was candid in acknowledging that he valued sport not only for its potential for advancing mankind’s development, but also for its use in preparing French men to become better soldiers in war.

With the opening of the 2016 games in Rio de Janeiro, however, the contrast could hardly be more stark between the supposed Olympic ideal and the reality of a capitalist system mired in economic crisis and social inequality and hurtling toward another world war.

The opening ceremony of the Rio games, held in the city’s iconic Maracana Stadium, was widely covered by the international news media. Less reported was a brutal attack by the Brazilian police against a demonstration organized a half mile away, called against what the protesters termed “the exclusion games.” Police used tear gas, pepper spray and stun grenades to drive the demonstrators off the streets, injuring several.

Earlier clashes were seen along the route taken by the Olympic Torch, which in one case was extinguished by a crowd of workers and youth in the coastal town of Angra dos Reis. They had turned out to protest the expenditures on the Olympics under conditions where public employees and teachers are not being paid and transit service and health care are being cut because of the deepening fiscal crisis.

In 2009, when the Brazilian government secured the 2016 games for Rio, then President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva proclaimed, “Our time has arrived.” During the same period, Lula was boasting that Brazil, whose growth rate had rebounded to 5 percent, was immune from the effects of the global financial meltdown of 2008.

Since then, the world capitalist crisis has devastated Brazil’s economy, driving the official unemployment rate to over 11 percent and sending real wages falling. Millions are threatened with being thrown back into extreme poverty in what is already one of the world’s most socially unequal countries.

Even as the games unfold, the Brazilian Senate is moving ahead with the impeachment of ousted President Dilma Rousseff on trumped-up charges of budgetary irregularities. Those moving against the Workers Party (PT) president are, like the PT itself, implicated up to their necks in the multi-billion-dollar Petrobras bribery scandal. Nonetheless, they are backed by both Brazilian and foreign capital, which wants a full change of regime in order to proceed with sweeping austerity policies under interim President Michel Temer, Rousseff’s former vice president and political ally.

In the run-up to the opening of the games, the Brazilian government heavily publicized alleged terror plots that appeared to have little if any substance. In fact, the massive security operation accompanying the Rio games is aimed not at terrorists, but at the Brazilian population itself. An occupation army of some 100,000 troops and police—twice the number mobilized for the already militarized 2012 London games—has been deployed across Rio, many dressed in combat gear, carrying assault rifles and backed by armored cars and even tanks.

This operation has been supplemented by the United States military and intelligence apparatus, which, according to NBC, has “assigned more than 1,000 spies to Olympic security,” hundreds of whom have been sent to Brazil. In addition to the CIA, FBI and NSA spooks, detachments of Marine and Navy commandos from the US Special Operations Command have been deployed on the ground.

This is the culmination of a campaign of repression that has unfolded over the past few years in tandem with preparations first for the 2014 World Cup football tournament and now for the Olympics. Violent police measures have been used to drive tens of thousands from their homes in impoverished districts targeted for development, while thousands more homeless have been swept from the streets in what amounts to an exercise in “social cleansing.” Police have killed between 40 and 50 people a month in the city over the recent period, while extra-official death squads have murdered many more. So much for the Olympics and “human dignity.”

Against this backdrop, the vast wealth expended on the Olympics, all in pursuit of enrichment and private profit, is obscene. Corporate sponsors, including Coca-Cola, Samsung, Dow Chemical, General Electric, McDonalds and others, have paid hundreds of millions of dollars for exclusive marketing rights and are spending hundreds of millions more to exploit them. TV companies have shelled out $4 billion to broadcast the 19-day event, while marketing revenues are expected to total $9.3 billion.

A relative handful of individual professional athletes will make tens of millions more from product endorsements. The days when the Olympics were a celebration of amateur sports are a distant memory.

Within the games themselves, the overriding atmosphere of social inequality is ever present. While poorer teams are dealing with substandard conditions in hastily constructed Olympic villages, the US basketball “dream team” is residing on the luxury cruise ship Silver Cloud, moored in Rio’s harbor and surrounded by police and navy patrol boats.

Meanwhile, the use of the Olympics to promote nationalism and prepare for war is as virulent in the Rio games as at any time since Adolf Hitler convened the 1936 Olympics in Berlin.

On Monday, it was announced that Russian athletes will be banned entirely from the Paralympics to be held next month in Rio in connection with charges of state-sponsored doping of athletes. Earlier, 118 members of the country’s track and field team were banned under a system relegating the decision to the federations of each individual sport.

Washington, the World Anti-Doping Agency, various NGOs and the Western media have waged a virulent campaign to exclude every Russian athlete from the Rio Olympics and prevent the country’s flag from even appearing there, as part of a broader effort to paint Russia as a “rogue” nation that must be stopped by force.

The campaign to bar Russia from the games is inseparably bound up with the growing US-NATO siege of the country’s Western borders, which has been steadily escalated since the US- and German-orchestrated coup that installed an ultra-right, anti-Russian regime in Ukraine in 2014.

The sanctimonious denunciations of Russia for having corrupted an otherwise pristine sporting event reek with bad faith and hypocrisy. The anti-Russian campaign intentionally obscures the wholesale corruption surrounding the entire organization of the games as well as the rampant doping practiced by nearly every country.

The controversy, which has run in tandem with the Democratic Party’s neo-McCarthyite campaign denouncing Vladimir Putin for interfering in the US election, has been pumped up as part of the attempt to prepare public opinion for a military conflict with Russia that could quickly lead to nuclear war.

While this year’s Olympic Games will once again provide a display of astounding athletic ability by participants from across the planet, the entire event is overshadowed by a social system that is founded on inequality and exploitation, and threatens the very survival of humanity.

Bill Van Auken

http://www.wsws.org/en/articles/2016/08/08/pers-a08.html

The Revenge of the Lower Classes and the Rise of American Fascism

Posted on Aug 8, 2016

By Chris Hedges

  Republican presidential front-runner Donald Trump, seen in reflection. (Andrew Harnik / AP)

College-educated elites, on behalf of corporations, carried out the savage neoliberal assault on the working poor. Now they are being made to pay. Their duplicity—embodied in politicians such as Bill and Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama—succeeded for decades. These elites, many from East Coast Ivy League schools, spoke the language of values—civility, inclusivity, a condemnation of overt racism and bigotry, a concern for the middle class—while thrusting a knife into the back of the underclass for their corporate masters. This game has ended.

There are tens of millions of Americans, especially lower-class whites, rightfully enraged at what has been done to them, their families and their communities. They have risen up to reject the neoliberal policies and political correctness imposed on them by college-educated elites from both political parties: Lower-class whites are embracing an American fascism.

These Americans want a kind of freedom—a freedom to hate. They want the freedom to use words like “nigger,” “kike,” “spic,” “chink,” “raghead” and “fag.” They want the freedom to idealize violence and the gun culture. They want the freedom to have enemies, to physically assault Muslims, undocumented workers, African-Americans, homosexuals and anyone who dares criticize their cryptofascism. They want the freedom to celebrate historical movements and figures that the college-educated elites condemn, including the Ku Klux Klan and the Confederacy. They want the freedom to ridicule and dismiss intellectuals, ideas, science and culture. They want the freedom to silence those who have been telling them how to behave. And they want the freedom to revel in hypermasculinity, racism, sexism and white patriarchy. These are the core sentiments of fascism. These sentiments are engendered by the collapse of the liberal state.

The Democrats are playing a very dangerous game by anointing Hillary Clinton as their presidential candidate. She epitomizes the double-dealing of the college-educated elites, those who speak the feel-your-pain language of ordinary men and women, who hold up the bible of political correctness, while selling out the poor and the working class to corporate power.

The Republicans, energized by America’s reality-star version of Il Duce, Donald Trump, have been pulling in voters, especially new voters, while the Democrats are well below the voter turnouts for 2008. In the voting Tuesday, 5.6 million votes were cast for the Democrats while 8.3 million went to the Republicans. Those numbers were virtually reversed in 2008—8.2 million for the Democrats and about 5 million for the Republicans.

Richard Rorty in his last book, “Achieving Our Country,” written in 1998, presciently saw where our postindustrial nation was headed.

Many writers on socioeconomic policy have warned that the old industrialized democracies are heading into a Weimar-like period, one in which populist movements are likely to overturn constitutional governments. Edward Luttwak, for example, has suggested that fascism may be the American future. The point of his book The Endangered American Dream is that members of labor unions, and unorganized unskilled workers, will sooner or later realize that their government is not even trying to prevent wages from sinking or to prevent jobs from being exported. Around the same time, they will realize that suburban white-collar workers—themselves desperately afraid of being downsized—are not going to let themselves be taxed to provide social benefits for anyone else.

At that point, something will crack. The nonsuburban electorate will decide that the system has failed and start looking around for a strongman to vote for—someone willing to assure them that, once he is elected, the smug bureaucrats, tricky lawyers, overpaid bond salesmen, and postmodernist professors will no longer be calling the shots. A scenario like that of Sinclair Lewis’ novel It Can’t Happen Here may then be played out. For once a strongman takes office, nobody can predict what will happen. In 1932, most of the predictions made about what would happen if Hindenburg named Hitler chancellor were wildly overoptimistic.

One thing that is very likely to happen is that the gains made in the past forty years by black and brown Americans, and by homosexuals, will be wiped out. Jocular contempt for women will come back into fashion. The words “nigger” and “kike” will once again be heard in the workplace. All the sadism which the academic Left has tried to make unacceptable to its students will come flooding back. All the resentment which badly educated Americans feel about having their manners dictated to them by college graduates will find an outlet.

Fascist movements build their base not from the politically active but the politically inactive, the “losers” who feel, often correctly, they have no voice or role to play in the political establishment. The sociologist Émile Durkheim warned that the disenfranchisement of a class of people from the structures of society produced a state of “anomie”—a “condition in which society provides little moral guidance to individuals.” Those trapped in this “anomie,” he wrote, are easy prey to propaganda and emotionally driven mass movements. Hannah Arendt, echoing Durkheim, noted that “the chief characteristic of the mass man is not brutality and backwardness, but his isolation and lack of normal social relationships.”

In fascism the politically disempowered and disengaged, ignored and reviled by the establishment, discover a voice and a sense of empowerment.

As Arendt noted, the fascist and communist movements in Europe in the 1930s “… recruited their members from this mass of apparently indifferent people whom all other parties had given up as too apathetic or too stupid for their attention. The result was that the majority of their membership consisted of people who had never before appeared on the political scene. This permitted the introduction of entirely new methods into political propaganda, and indifference to the arguments of political opponents; these movements not only placed themselves outside and against the party system as a whole, they found a membership that had never been reached, never been ‘spoiled’ by the party system. Therefore they did not need to refute opposing arguments and consistently preferred methods which ended in death rather than persuasion, which spelled terror rather than conviction. They presented disagreements as invariably originating in deep natural, social, or psychological sources beyond the control of the individual and therefore beyond the control of reason. This would have been a shortcoming only if they had sincerely entered into competition with either parties; it was not if they were sure of dealing with people who had reason to be equally hostile to all parties.”

Fascism is aided and advanced by the apathy of those who are tired of being conned and lied to by a bankrupt liberal establishment, whose only reason to vote for a politician or support a political party is to elect the least worst. This, for many voters, is the best Clinton can offer.

Fascism expresses itself in familiar and comforting national and religious symbols, which is why it comes in various varieties and forms. Italian fascism, which looked back to the glory of the Roman Empire, for example, never shared the Nazis’ love of Teutonic and Nordic myths. American fascism too will reach back to traditional patriotic symbols, narratives and beliefs.

Robert Paxton wrote in “The Anatomy of Fascism”:

The language and symbols of an authentic American fascism would, of course, have little to do with the original European models. They would have to be as familiar and reassuring to loyal Americans as the language and symbols of the original fascisms were familiar and reassuring to many Italians and Germans, as [George] Orwell suggested. Hitler and Mussolini, after all, had not tried to seem exotic to their fellow citizens. No swastikas in an American fascism, but Stars and Stripes (or Stars and Bars) and Christian crosses. No fascist salute, but mass recitations of the pledge of allegiance. These symbols contain no whiff of fascism in themselves, of course, but an American fascism would transform them into obligatory litmus tests for detecting the internal enemy.

Fascism is about an inspired and seemingly strong leader who promises moral renewal, new glory and revenge. It is about the replacement of rational debate with sensual experience. This is why the lies, half-truths and fabrications by Trump have no impact on his followers. Fascists transform politics, as philosopher and cultural critic Walter Benjamin pointed out, into aesthetics. And the ultimate aesthetic for the fascist, Benjamin said, is war.

Paxton singles out the amorphous ideology characteristic of all fascist movements.

Fascism rested not upon the truth of its doctrine but upon the leader’s mystical union with the historic destiny of his people, a notion related to romanticist ideas of national historic flowering and of individual artistic or spiritual genius, though fascism otherwise denied romanticism’s exaltation of unfettered personal creativity. The fascist leader wanted to bring his people into a higher realm of politics that they would experience sensually: the warmth of belonging to a race now fully aware of its identity, historic destiny, and power; the excitement of participating in a wave of shared feelings, and of sacrificing one’s petty concerns for the group’s good; and the thrill of domination.

There is only one way left to blunt the yearning for fascism coalescing around Trump. It is to build, as fast as possible, movements or parties that declare war on corporate power, engage in sustained acts of civil disobedience and seek to reintegrate the disenfranchised—the “losers”—back into the economy and political life of the country. This movement will never come out of the Democratic Party. If Clinton prevails in the general election Trump may disappear, but the fascist sentiments will expand. Another Trump, perhaps more vile, will be vomited up from the bowels of the decayed political system. We are fighting for our political life. Tremendous damage has been done by corporate power and the college-educated elites to our capitalist democracy. The longer the elites, who oversaw this disemboweling of the country on behalf of corporations—who believe, as does CBS Chief Executive Officer Leslie Moonves, that however bad Trump would be for America he would at least be good for corporate profit—remain in charge, the worse it is going to get.

http://www.truthdig.com/report/item/the_revenge_of_the_lower_classes_and_the_rise_of_american_fascism_20160302

Cornel West: Trump Will Be a Neofascist Catastrophe and Clinton a Neoliberal Disaster

West is ready to turn his back on the Democratic Party.

Photo Credit: YouTube

Polls indicate that former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton got a four-point bounce from the heavily scripted Democratic Party Convention. But it is hard to know the depth and intensity of support from Sanders activists passionate enough to earn themselves a place at the convention. Those are the kinds of activists that could help Clinton the most come November. Yet, an informal survey of dozens of Bernie delegates indicates a lack on enthusiasm for the Clinton cause. No doubt, the decision by prominent Bernie booster Cornel West to go for Green Party presidential candidate Jill Stein won’t help.

However successful Clinton was in racking up impressive wins in the primary cycle, her actual vote totals were higher in 2008, when she faced off with then-senator Barack Obama.

As early as March, Super Tuesday results made it clear there was a potential enthusiasm gap when the vote totals from 15 states showed 3 million registered Democrats who had come out in 2008 had decided to stay home. In Texas, turnout dropped by 50 percent. In South Carolina, there was a 40-percent drop in the African-American turnout from the watershed 2008 primary.

Consider the key swing state of Ohio. In the 2016 primary election, Clinton only garnered close to 680,000 votes, compared to the nearly 1.1 million she polled in her victory in 2008.

In 2012, Cleveland, in Cuyahoga County, was one of three urban locales where a wave of young minority voters carried the day for Obama, delivering the three states he needed to win. (The others were Philadelphia, and Florida’s Broward County.)

The Ohio Battleground

So how are things these days in Cleveland, site of that pivotal Obama win in 2012? Downtown Cleveland is enjoying a robust revitalization, but there are also vast swaths of the rest of the community in which factory buildings lie vacant.

There are close to 6,000 zombie homes — homes their owners believe are in foreclosure, even though the bank that holds their mortgages never completed the legal process to foreclose — a physical legacy of the foreclosure crisis which is still felt here. Some 20,000 have already been torn down, and for the homeowners in the poorer part of town, property values have dropped by as much as 80 percent.

As the Republicans gathered in Cleveland to nominate Donald J. Trump as their presidential candidate, a public policy and social action forum dubbed IMPACT took place at Mount Olivet Institutional Baptist Church, one of the city’s largest African-American congregations. The forum featured Cornel West, the “provocative democratic intellectual,” as he bills himself, as its keynote speaker.

Mount Olivet’s traditions run deep. It was founded in the 1930s and served as the base of operations for Martin Luther King Jr., when he came to Cleveland.

West, professor of philosophy and Christian practice at Union Theological Seminary and professor emeritus at Princeton University, was one of Senator Bernie Sanders’ most ardent supporters among African-American leaders, and several congregants were anxious to know whether the influential public intellectual was going to support Hillary Clinton in the general election.

But West, who served on the Democratic Party platform committee as a Sanders pick, told his audience he was supporting the Green Party candidate Jill Stein, because of her policy positions, “calling for reparations, calling for the massive release of all prisoners who are there for soft drugs… [She is also calling for a] massive redistribution [of wealth], a green jobs program…siding with the Palestinians… [and is] concerned about the violation of international law by the United States.”

“I am going to fight against Trump,” West pledged, but “in this case I am opting for third-party Sister Jill Stein.”

For West, the welfare reform and crime bills President Bill Clinton signed into law helped set the stage for the mass incarceration of African Americans, and the loss of a generation of parents to the penal system.

“Now people say, ‘Brother West, she’s better than Trump.’ That’s true, but Trump is about as low a bar that anybody could ever have,” West told his audience.

“We are in a tough situation. Of course, you know this is a swing state, so you have to make judgments in very wise ways,” West said. “But you don’t want to lie to yourself. Hillary Clinton comes on and says, ‘I have been fighting for children all my life.’ Which children do you have in mind?”

People on welfare, West explained, are “primarily women and children.” The welfare bill Bill Clinton signed, which ended the federal Aid to Families With Dependent Children and replaced it with block grants to the states, West said, “was a bill Ronald Reagan would have not signed.” He added, “It was only signed for political purposes.”

West took issue with assertions by Hillary Clinton campaign boosters who say she has “been fighting for black folks for 40 years.”

“Get off the symbolic crackpipe,” West urged the audience. “You don’t have the evidence for that. That’s like telling me you have been flying in a flying saucer last night — you were dreaming, hallucinating. Give me some witnesses.”

“Now, of course, Sister Hillary is very clever because what does she do, especially with black folk?” West continued. “[She says,] ‘I am the only one that represents the legacy of Barack Obama.’ Of course, Barack Obama is an historic figure. We can never take away the symbolic breakthrough of having a black man in the White House built by black slaves — never, never, not at all.”

“But they bailed out Wall Street without Main Street, that upset me. Drones dropped on innocent civilians. How many children so far?” West asked. “Press won’t tell you: 231 children.”

“A child in Afghanistan, Yemen and Pakistan has exactly the same value as a child in a vanilla suburb or the chocolate ‘hood. [I know] because I have been to vacation bible school: ‘Jesus loved the little children/all of the little children of the world/red, yellow, black or white/they are precious in his sight.’ So don’t tell me that an American baby has more value than a baby in Pakistan when it is killed,” West said.

“If that makes you unpatriotic, then I am taking the cross over the flag. That’s how I roll,” he continued. “That’s how I was raised…when the flag undermines the cross, I choose the way of the cross. If you go the way of the cross, get ready for some serious crucification — the cost of discipleship what it is to be a Christian.”

West said he understood why so many African Americans admire the president, but urged them not to lose their critical discernment.

“It is the most wonderful thing that my child sees a black man in the White House. I understand that. I got kids too; I have grandkids they have been empowered by Michelle [Obama]. They have been empowered by Barack, in example, at the symbolic level. I don’t just live life just symbolically. I live it at the level of substance too. Black child poverty is higher now than it was in 2008. That ain’t symbolic. That is substantial.”

West was asked by a member of the audience for his election predictions.

“I think Trump will be a neofascist catastrophe and Clinton will be a neoliberal disaster,” he answered. “So we are between a rock and a hard place. We have to gird ourselves, fortify ourselves for serious struggle. They are both tied to Wall Street. They are both dangerous in that way.”

Citing conditions in her hometown of Cleveland, an audience member asked West about the impact of gentrification. People are losing their homes through tax foreclosures, she said, and nuisance abatement actions — “a little-known type of lawsuit that gives [a] city the power to shut down places it claims are being used for illegal purposes,” according to ProPublica.

“I view it as land grab and a power grab,” West said. “It’s upper-middle-classes that want to move back into the cities for closer access to their jobs and leave precious and poor working people dangling with very little for a place to go.” Because “working-class and poor people have less money to donate to campaigns and elections and so forth,” West said, community groups will have to step up their resistance. “In Harlem, we have been wrestling with this for decades,” he said. “Harlem is now 49 percent vanilla.”

After the speech, Jon Lentz and I sat down with West for a brief discussion. What follows is an edited transcript of our conversation.

ROBERT HENNELLY:  We know there are 6,000 zombie homes in Cleveland. Fifty percent of Cleveland’s children are living in poverty. In Philadelphia, there are 40,000 vacant lots and homes. In the last eight years, we’ve seen the largest loss of African-American household wealth in the history of the republic. Why is that not emerging as a central issue of the presidential campaign?

CORNEL WEST:  Well, it’s just very difficult to shatter the neoliberal hegemony and the public conversation. The neoliberal ideology comes in a number of different colors. It could be Bill Clinton, it could be Barack Obama, it could be Hillary Clinton. And that neoliberal hegemony means that to trying to raise the issues of poverty — not just black poverty, but poverty across the board, to really zero in on Wall Street domination of Congress, to really zero in on corporate power, to really zero in on the military industrial complex — that’s a difficult thing. Neoliberal press, neoliberal politicians — it’s hard to get fellow citizens to look at the world through a very different lens as opposed to a neoliberal lens.

RH: It seems we’ve had this metaphor we’re stuck in for decades now of a war on poverty, and there seems to be more poverty. War on drugs, more drugs. War on terror, more terror.

CW: More terror, that’s true.

RH: You’re one of the few public intellectuals who are linking the economic expenditure for war with these other public ills. Why aren’t we discussing the collateral damage of this never-ending war?

CW: Of course, the first thing to keep in mind is that we don’t even expose precious fellow citizens [of members of the military] to the bodies of soldiers who are killed in Afghanistan and other places. So you already have a hiding and concealing of the realities of war. We’ve been at war for over 14 years, 15 years, in Afghanistan.

Then you’ve got 54 percent of the budget as a whole going to military expenditures, and a lot of that actually is not fully accounted for because there are certain unlimited expenditures when it comes to the Pentagon, but no serious discussion about that. There is a consensus, Democrats and Republicans, Obama and [Senate Majority Leader] Mitch McConnell, on this dominance of military expenditure, and [that] makes it very difficult.

When King said the bombs that dropped in Vietnam also landed in ghettos — and by ghettos he didn’t just mean black ghettos—he meant brown barrios, he meant white brothers and sisters in Appalachia, indigenous brothers and sisters on the reservations. There’s just no money [for social investment].

So we’re in a logjam. That’s what neoliberalism does. It’s a logjam when you allow for corporate power on the one hand, military industrial complex on the other hand and then think to be progressive is only talk about social issues.

RH: One of the things you seem to be in touch with is that since 2008, for working people, the economic situation has continued to unravel.

CW: Absolutely.

RH: According to the National Association of Counties, out of 3,069 counties, only 7 percent have recovered by their measurement.

So in other words, we are not really seeing our social circumstance reflected in our media, which leaves us in isolation. What’s a consequence of that, politically and spiritually?

CW: Well, I think the first point to keep in mind is that through a neoliberal lens, recovery is measured by how well the stock market is doing, and how well corporate profits are doing. And they have been doing very well. I just [look at] the QE2 — the quantitative easing — coming out of the Federal Reserve…because that’s the benchmark.

It’s not what is the quality of life of everyday people, of working people. And as you rightly say, there has been no recovery there, not in the real economy. In the stock market, indeed. So you miss the social misery that’s out there, and of course, [the presidential candidacy of] Donald Trump is part of the backlash. He is part of the deeply right-wing populist backlash because so many of white working-class brothers and sisters, but especially the brothers, are hurting, and that hurt is real. But unfortunately it’s not geared toward accountability toward elites at the top; it’s scapegoating the most vulnerable on the bottom.

RH: If we pull back a bit, we know that our young people, 16- to 24-year-olds, have a crisis. In New York City, 30 percent of black men between the ages of 20-24 are not working and they’re not in school. Globally, the figure is 50 percent — 7 million in Mexico alone. At some point, don’t we have to call into question the social obligation of capital to employ this generation. And how do we do that?

CW: The good news is that there is a magnificent moral, spiritual and political awakening taking place among the younger generation in the midst of the American empire. The Bernie Sanders campaign was a great example of young folk comin’ alive, becoming involved.

What is it now, 58 percent of young people across race and class say socialism is preferable over capitalism? Why? Because what they have lived has been more and more the underside of capitalist order, which is one of massive unemployment, decrepit education, unbelievable student debt. But also, spiritually — it’s a dog-eat-dog world, obsessed with the 11th Commandment: “Thou shalt not get caught.” That way of being in the world is being called into question among the younger generation. And in that sense there’s tremendous signs of hope.

JON LENTZ: One more thing: There is discussion about the framing of the protest message of Black Lives Matter as opposed to All Lives Matter. Some folks raise the example of Martin Luther King Jr., and say, “Well, we don’t want to have these Black Lives Matter folks; they should frame their argument the way King did; his was the right way to approach these issues. Any thoughts on that?

CW: Martin Luther King Jr. went to jail more than 40 times because he loved black people. He didn’t go to jail because white lives matter. Now in jail, on the way to jail, after he got out of jail, he still loved white brothers and sisters, but he didn’t go to jail for white brothers and sisters. He went to jail for black people.

So that I think our white brothers and sisters in the Republican Party need to recognize that when I and others say Black Lives Matter, when [I say] my mama matters, I’m not saying their mother doesn’t matter. But I’m saying we’ve lived in a society for so long where my mother didn’t matter, where black people have not mattered. That’s Martin Luther King’s message. His love message is one that starts at home, but it spills over to precious white, precious brown, precious yellow and precious other colors because we are all human beings in that sense.

JL: Is there anything the Black Lives Matter movement can learn from Martin Luther King’s example that they are not doing?

CW: We all could learn from Martin in terms of having more love, courage, vision and sense of service, absolutely.

Robert Hennelly has worked as a broadcast and print journalist for more than 30 years.