The legacy of Obamacare: A five percent increase in heart patient deaths

15 November 2017

When one individual inflicts bodily injury upon another such that death results, we call the deed manslaughter; when the assailant knew in advance that the injury would be fatal, we call his deed murder. But when society places hundreds of proletarians in such a position that they inevitably meet a too early and an unnatural death, one which is quite as much a death by violence as that by the sword or bullet  murder it remains. (Friedrich Engels, The Condition of the Working Class in England, 1845)

* * *

A US government program supposedly devised both to improve medical care and cut costs has, predictably, succeeded in the latter while undermining the former. Research published Sunday in JAMA Cardiology (Journal of the American Medical Association) shows that an initiative introduced five years ago under the Affordable Care Act (ACA) to induce hospitals to reduce Medicare readmissions for heart patients has resulted in an increase in mortality rates among those studied.

Under the ACA’s Hospital Readmissions Reduction Program (HRRP), hospitals were penalized financially when heart failure patients were readmitted within a month. While the program has succeeded in reducing the number of 30-day readmissions, the number of patients who died within a year rose by 5 percentage points. According to one of the study’s senior authors, these findings could account for an additional 5,000 to 10,000 deaths annually across the US due directly to the program.

For the American ruling elite, HRRP and other schemes devised by bureaucrats at the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) are part of an agenda that is as deliberate as it is ruthless: Men and women in the US are living too long into old age and measures must be taken to cut costs associated with their medical care and shorten their life expectancy. This is the deadly price that must be paid to prop up a society that is one of the most socially unequal both in terms of income and the delivery of health care.

The statistics do not lie. Study researchers analyzed 115,245 patients at 416 hospitals in the American Heart Association’s Get With the Guidelines-Heart Failure registry from January 2006 to December 2014. They examined readmission and death rates before and after the program began in 2012.

* Readmission rates within one month fell from 20 percent before HRRP penalties to 18.4 percent after HRRP (down 1.6 percent). Mortality rates, however, rose by almost the same rate, from 7.2 percent before HRRP to 8.6 percent after (up 1.4 percent).

* Statistics for readmission and mortality within one year were even more damning. Readmission within one year fell by only about 1 percent, from 57.2 percent before HRRP to 56.3 percent after. But the mortality rate within one year rose from 31.3 percent before HRRP to 36.3 percent after—a shocking 5 percent increase. These figures show that there is a direct correlation between implementation of the Obamacare policy and preventable deaths.

HRRP penalizes hospitals up to 3 percent of every Medicare dollar for “excessive” repeat hospital stays. That is 15 times more than the 0.2 percent penalty levied against hospitals with high mortality rates. In other words, while hospitals with higher rates of mortality face a minimal fine, hospitals are being substantially penalized for failure to comply with a program that is resulting in increased deaths.

Compounding the misery, financial penalties from HRRP have been shown to fall disproportionately on academic medical centers and “safety-net” hospitals where “higher readmission rates are associated with the higher case-mix complexity and lower socioeconomic status,” according to the study, i.e., those treating poorer and sicker patients. In such settings, hospitals are incentivized to “game” the system by delaying admissions, increasing observation stays or shifting inpatient-type care to emergency departments, to the detriment of patient welfare.

The US mortality rate rose in 2015 in the first year-over-year increase since 2005, with life expectancy falling between 2014 and 2015 from 85.8 years to 85.6 years for men, and from 87.8 years to 87.6 years for women. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, this decline was due to an increase in eight of the 10 leading causes of death in the US, including heart disease, stroke, Alzheimer’s disease and suicide.

With heart disease rising, there is no other way to interpret the penalties imposed by the ACA for early readmission of heart patients than a deliberate effort to see more men and women die. US corporations are already reaping a grim dividend from this downward trend, with at least 12 major corporations reporting this summer that they have reduced their estimates for how much they could owe in pension and other retirement obligations by a combined $9.7 billion due to shorter life spans.

It is fitting that the health care overhaul known as Obamacare was the instigator of HRRP, an irrefutable demonstration that the ACA was the first major volley in the bipartisan drive to restrict access to affordable health care and sharply reduce the length of workers’ lives.

As the World Socialist Web Site explained as early at 2009, the Obama administration’s health care “reform” established a framework for the insurers, the corporations and the government to drastically reduce the health benefits available to low- and middle-income individuals and families. The aim is to limit the amount that the government must pay out for health care and Social Security payments, as well as what corporations must pay in pensions and other retirement benefits.

Health care in the Obamacare era has nothing in common with quality, near-universal health care, as Obama initially pledged. It is based entirely on the for-profit health care system in America, including the insurance companies, giant hospitals, health care chains and pharmaceutical companies. Any repeal of the ACA—and its replacement with “Trumpcare” or any other legislation—will maintain the class-based delivery of health care and undoubtedly worsen it for the majority of Americans.

The empirical proof provided by research published in JAMA Cardiology that an ACA program has predictably caused increased deaths should serve as a stark warning to the working class. This Obamacare program is of a piece with the bipartisan attack on jobs and living standards, the attack on immigrants and democratic rights, and the drive to war.

This assault will inevitably provoke enormous social opposition among workers and young people. This opposition must be channeled into the fight for a progressive overhaul of the health care system that takes as its starting point an end to privately owned health care corporations and medicine-for-profit and the establishment of socialized medicine, democratically administered by a workers’ government, providing free, high-quality health care for all.

Kate Randall

http://www.wsws.org/en/articles/2017/11/15/pers-n15.html

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Fight the disease of globalized corporate capitalism

Fight the Disease, Not the Symptoms

Mr. Fish / Truthdig

The disease of globalized corporate capitalism has the same effects across the planet. It weakens or destroys democratic institutions, making them subservient to corporate and oligarchic power. It forces domestic governments to give up control over their economies, which operate under policies dictated by global corporations, banks, the World Trade Organizationand the International Monetary Fund. It casts aside hundreds of millions of workers now classified as “redundant” or “surplus” labor. It disempowers underpaid and unprotected workers, many toiling in global sweatshops, keeping them cowed, anxious and compliant. It financializes the economy, creating predatory global institutions that extract money from individuals, institutions and states through punishing forms of debt peonage. It shuts down genuine debate on corporate-owned media platforms, especially in regard to vast income disparities and social inequality. And the destruction empowers proto-fascist movements and governments.

These proto-fascist forces discredit verifiable fact and history and replace them with myth. They peddle nostalgia for lost glory. They attack the spiritual bankruptcy of the modern, technocratic world. They are xenophobic. They champion the “virtues” of a hyper-masculinity and the warrior cult. They preach regeneration through violence. They rally around demagogues who absolve followers of moral choice and promise strength and protection. They marginalize and destroy all individuals and institutions, including schools, that make possible self-criticism, self-reflection and transcendence and that nurture empathy, especially for the demonized. This is why artists and intellectuals are ridiculed and silenced. This is why dissent is attacked as an act of treason.

These movements are also deeply misogynistic. They disempower girls and women to hand a perverted power to men who feel powerless in the global economy. They blame ethnic and religious minorities for the national decline. They foster bizarre conspiracy theories. And they communicate in the Orwellian newspeak of alternative facts. They claim the sole right to represent and use indigenous patriotic and religious symbols.

India, built on the foundations of caste slavery, has become one of many new neofeudal states, among them Turkey, Poland, Russia and the United States. Its neofeudal structure continues to carry out atrocities against Dalits—the former “untouchables”—and now increasingly against Muslims. India’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi, who as the chief minister of the western Indian state of Gujarat oversaw a vicious anti-Muslim pogrom, has defended sectarian discrimination and violence even though this year he made a tepid declaration that “[w]e will not tolerate violence in the name of faith” and issued other unconvincing appeals for religious peace. As prime minister he has employed threats, harassment and force to silence those who decry human rights abuses and atrocities carried out in India. He attacks his critics as “anti-national”—the equivalent of “unpatriotic” in the United States.

Modi, like his fellow demagogues in other parts of the world, including Donald Trump, speaks in the language of moral purity and promotes self-serving historical myth. Indians who eat beef—a huge number—are targeted, school history books are being rewritten to conform to right-wing Hindu ideology and its open admiration for fascism, and entertainers considered too political or too salacious are under attack.

There are within America’s corporate power structures individuals, parties and groups that find the hysterical, imbecilic and irrational rants of demagogues such as Trump repugnant. They seek a return to the polished mendacity of politicians such as Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama. They hope to promote the interests of global capitalism by maintaining the fiction of a functioning democracy and an open society. These “moderates” or “liberals,” however, are also the architects of the global corporate pillage. They created the political vacuum that the demagogues and proto-fascist movements have filled. They blind themselves to their own complicity. They embrace their own myths—such as the belief that former FBI Director James Comey and the Russians were responsible for the election of Trump—to avoid examining the social inequality that is behind the global crisis and their defeat.

The 400 richest individuals in the United States have more wealth than the bottom 64 percent of the population, and the three richest Americans have more wealth than the bottom 50 percent of the U.S. population. This social inequality will only get worse as the weak controls that once regulated the economy and the tax code are abolished or rewritten to further increase the concentration of wealth among the ruling oligarchs. Social inequality at this level, history has shown, always results in these types of pathologies and political distortions. It also, potentially, presages revolution.

The short-term political and economic gains made by the Democratic Party and liberal class in the last few decades came at the expense of the working class. The liberal class, because of its complicity in globalization, has destroyed its credibility as well as the credibility of the “liberal” democratic values it claims to represent. Enraged workers, lied to for decades by “liberal” politicians such as Bill and Hillary Clinton and Obama, delight in Trump’s crude taunts and insults directed at the power structure and elites they loath. Many Americans are perhaps aware that Trump is a con artist, but he at least appears to share their disdain for the “liberal” elites who abandoned them.

It will eventually become apparent to some, perhaps many, of Trump’s supporters that he is cravenly in the service of the 1 percent and has turbocharged the corporate kleptocracy. The Democratic Party, busy purging Bernie Sanders supporters from its ranks, is banking on this epiphany to revive its political fortunes. The Democratic leadership has no real political strategy, other than to hope that Trump implodes. They are backing and funding opposition movements such as Indivisible and the women’s marches, as well as the witch hunt about Russian interference in the 2016 U.S. presidential election, all of which have as their sole focus removing Trump and restoring the Democratic Party to power. This form of resistance is sterile and useless.

But there are other resistance movements—the most prominent being the battle by the water protectors at Standing Rock to block the Dakota Access pipeline—that attack the disease. It is easy to tell the resistance from the faux resistance by the response of the state. During the women’s marches, Democrats, including Debbie Wasserman Schultz, were honored participants. The police were usually courteous and helped facilitate the marches; arrests were few and coverage by the corporate press was sympathetic. In contrast, during the long encampment at Standing Rock, which took place under the Obama administration, the nonviolent resisters were physically attacked by police, the National Guard and private security contractors. These forces used dogs, pepper spray, water cannons in subzero temperatures, sound machines, drones, armored vehicles and hundreds of arrests in their efforts to destroy the resistance.

Attack the symptoms and the state will be passive. Attack the disease and the state will be ruthless.

Once Trump’s base begins to abandon him—the repression in Turkey under President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan is a good example of what will happen—the political landscape will turn very ugly. Trump and his allies, in a desperate bid to cling to power, will openly stoke hate crimes and violence against Muslims, undocumented workers, African-Americans, progressives, intellectuals, feminists and dissidents. He and his allies on the “alt-right” and the Christian right will move to silence all organs of dissent, including corporate media outlets fighting to restore the patina of civility that is the window dressing to corporate pillage. They will harness the power of the nation’s substantial internal security apparatus to crush public protests and to jail opponents, even those who are part of the faux resistance.

Time is not on our side. If we can build counter-capitalist movements that include the working class we have a chance. If we can, like the water protectors at Standing Rock, mount sustained acts of defiance in the face of severe state repression, we have a chance. If we can organize nationwide campaigns of noncooperation we have a chance. We cannot be distracted by the symptoms. We must cure the disease.

Chris Hedges
Columnist
Chris Hedges is a Pulitzer-Prize winning journalist, New York Times best selling author, former professor at Princeton University, activist and ordained Presbyterian minister. He has written 11 books,…
Mr. Fish
Cartoonist
Mr. Fish, also known as Dwayne Booth, is a cartoonist who primarily creates for Truthdig.com and Harpers.com. Mr. Fish’s work has also appeared nationally in The Los Angeles Times, The Village Voice, Vanity…

US brands RT a “foreign agent:” A chilling move against free speech

11 November 2017

On Thursday, RT America, the US-based subsidiary of RT (formerly known as Russia Today), announced that it would, under pressure from the United States government, register as a “foreign agent” under the Foreign Agents Registration Act (FARA).

The Justice Department’s demand that RT register as a “foreign agent” is aimed at delegitimizing RT as a news source, intimidating its journalists and guests, and setting the precedent for taking similar actions against other news outlets.

The US government has given no public justification for its demand, which will require that RT America provide information on its finances and on individuals involved in directing the news outlet. RT clearly reflects the views of the Russian government and avoids criticism of the Putin regime. However, the US has made no similar demand in relation to other outlets that have government financing and backing—the BBC, for example. Moreover, the United States operates a vast network of news agencies that work, officially and unofficially, to promote the interests of the American ruling class all over the world.

The US government’s motivations are entirely political, bound up with the effort to present all opposition within the United States as the product of the actions of Russia. In its reporting, whatever its reasons may be, RT provides a platform for voices critical of the policy of the American government.

The United States outlined the political reasons for moving against the broadcaster in the January 6, 2017 report by the US Director of National Intelligence on “Russian intervention” in the 2016 elections.

The report alleged, “RT broadcast, hosted, and advertised third-party candidate debates and ran reporting supportive of the political agenda of these candidates. The RT hosts asserted that the US two-party system does not represent the views of at least one-third of the population and is a ‘sham.’”

The Director of National Intelligence report further denounced favorable coverage by RT of the Occupy Wall Street movement, declaring, “RT framed the movement as a fight against ‘the ruling class’ and described the current US political system as corrupt and dominated by corporations.”

More recently, US politicians—led by the Democratic Party—have developed a narrative that Russia, through outlets like RT, has worked to “sow divisions” within the United States, as if the American people need RT to know that the political system is corrupt and dominated by corporations.

The campaign has been used to demand a regime of Internet censorship, with technology giants including Google, Facebook and Twitter taking measures to block or demote content from a broad range of websites.

Earlier this month, Google removed RT from its list of “preferred” channels on YouTube, while Twitter blocked all advertising by the channel. In addition to its crackdown on RT, Google has made sweeping changes to its search engine and news service that have dramatically slashed traffic to left-wing, antiwar and progressive web sites, including the World Socialist Web Site, which has had its search traffic from Google fall by 74 percent since April.

Precisely because of its ties to the Russian government, the US State Department has chosen it as its first target in its drive to persecute, criminalize and ultimately outlaw all oppositional journalists.

Will RT’s hosts, including Pulitzer Prize winner Chris Hedges and veteran interviewer Larry King also be forced to register as “foreign agents?” Will all of RT’s guests, which have included prominent left-wing journalists, politicians, academics, and even celebrities, get a knock on their door demanding that they file paperwork with the Justice Department? Will all of these individuals now be opened to questioning about their collaboration with a “hostile foreign power”?

This month, an organization calling itself the European Values Think-Tank, funded by the US embassy and foundations associated with billionaire George Soros, published just such a list, including the names of 2,300 RT guests, grouped into US and UK politicians, journalists, academics, and celebrities. These individuals are, according to the think-tank, “useful idiot[s]” for a “hostile foreign power.”

The list includes journalists Julian Assange, Max Blumenthal, Seymour Hersh, Jeremy Scahill, Ed Schultz, and Matt Taibbi, as well as the academics Noam Chomsky and Stephen Cohen, together with actor Russell Brand and filmmaker Oliver Stone.

Amid soaring social inequality and an ever-escalating military buildup, the US government is moving to silence any alternative to its closely monitored and vetted establishment media outlets, including the major newspapers and broadcast networks.

The fact that RT is being targeted because of its political positions sets an ominous precedent. It means that “foreign propaganda” is being defined by political views, laying the groundwork for a much broader range of news outlets to be labeled as promoting “Russian propaganda,” blacklisted, and ultimately criminalized.

Andre Damon

http://www.wsws.org/en/articles/2017/11/11/pers-n11.html

The GOP Is Proposing a 250 Percent Tax Hike on Millions of Americans

NEWS & POLITICS
Traditional Republican voters could get hit the hardest.

Photo Credit: Gage Skidmore/Creative Commons

The GOP just declared war on the strivers who start their own businesses.

Or to put it another way: The nice young couple who just opened their own independent coffee shop around the corner will likely be hit with a huge tax increase—as much as 250%—while the corporation that operates thousands of coffee shops all around the world is getting its taxes cut 43%.

The complicated new bill (remember when the GOP promised tax simplicity?) also lavishes federal tax favors on rich individuals and on those who live in low tax states.

No wonder the GOP developed the nearly 500-page tax bill in secret. Had the public’s business been conducted in public, this bill simply would not exist. But it may become law because, if there is anything we know about Washington in the age of Trump, it is that our elected leaders don’t listen to us, they listen to the political donor class, and in Trump’s case, to those advisers he says reside in his head.

The Republican tax plan targets a class of voters who have formed the core of the GOP constituency since the age of Lincoln: entrepreneurs and small business owners. The party used to promote tax favors for those who start new enterprises.

But now Trump has turned Washington into a federally protected wetland for big established business and comfortable billionaires, stocking the swamp with the most voracious predators on Wall Street. The GOP bill shows it is on the side of Wall Street, at the expense of Main Street.

The tax plan would dramatically raise taxes on many entrepreneurs, in some cases more than doubling the tax rate they pay on their profits. That explains why groups like the National Federation of Independent Business attacked the bill, saying in a statement that the bill “does not help most small businesses.”

Currently, freelancers, small-business owners and others pay taxes at rates of 10% and then 15% on their profits if their total income puts them below about $125,000 annually. The GOP would tax these same businesses at 25% on about one-third of their profits and at 10% to 15% rates on the rest.

So, if your small business made a profit of $1,000, you would pay 10% rate on the first $700 and a 25% rate on the other $300.  Your total tax would rise by $5.

This completely contradicts the oft-stated GOP claim that what matters are marginal tax rates, the rate paid on the next dollar of income. And, of course, it makes the federal income tax system even more complicated.

Meanwhile, big corporations—known as C Corps to tax policy wonks—would pay a 20% rate.

Ponder that for a moment. The nearly 3,000 companies that own nearly all the business assets would be taxed at a lower rate than the guy who fixes your shoes.

Raising taxes on the smallest businesses while giving the Big Boys a tax rate cut from 35% to 20% only makes sense if you negotiate in secret and you only allow into the room lobbyists hired by those who can afford to buy high-priced influence peddlers.

David Cay Johnston is a Pulitzer Prize-winning investigative journalist specializing in tax matters and the author of The Making of Donald Trump. Follow him @DavidCayJ.

https://www.alternet.org/news-amp-politics/gop-proposing-250-percent-tax-hike-millions-americans?akid=16333.265072.1fP8kF&rd=1&src=newsletter1084983&t=6

The Democrats’ McCarthyite witch hunt

3 November 2017

This week’s congressional hearings on “extremist content” on the Internet mark a new stage in the McCarthyite witch hunt by congressional Democrats, working with the intelligence agencies and leading media outlets, to legitimize censorship and attack free speech on the Internet.

One after another, congressmen and senators goaded representatives of Google, Twitter and Facebook to admit that their platforms were used to sow “social divisions” and “extremist” political opinions. The aim of this campaign is to claim that social conflict within the United States arises not from the scale of social inequality in America, greater than in any other country in the developed world, but rather from the actions of “outside agitators” working in the service of the Kremlin.

The hearings revolved around claims that Russia sought to “weaponize” the Internet by harnessing social anger within the United States. “Russia,” said Democratic Congressman Adam Schiff, promoted “discord in the US by inflaming passions on a range of divisive issues.” It sought to “mobilize real Americans to sign online petitions and join rallies and protests.”

The McCarthyite witch hunts of the 1950s sought to suppress left-wing thought and label all forms of dissent as illegitimate and treasonous. Those who led them worked to purge left-wing opinion from Hollywood, the trade unions and the universities.

Likewise, the new McCarthyism is aimed at creating a political climate in which left-wing organizations and figures are demonized as agents of the Kremlin who are essentially engaged in treasonous activity deserving of criminal prosecution.

To this end, the congressional witch-hunters released a series of “Russia-linked” social media posts expressing opposition to police violence and social inequality. These were meant to serve as “smoking gun” examples of how Russia worked to sow social divisions within the US.

The argument that it takes a Vladimir Putin to divide the United States is, frankly, laughable. So far this year there have been 273 mass shootings in which four or more people were killed. More than 1,000 people are killed by police every year.

The United States is bursting at the seams with social discontent. Inequality, war, the pressures caused by poverty-wage jobs—all are sources of enormous social anger.

The Democrats’ absurd narrative stems from their attempt to rationalize away their disastrous defeat in the 2016 election, blaming it on a Kremlin-backed conspiracy instead of their own indifference to the social misery that pervades the country.

At Wednesday’s hearings, Schiff declared that the problem is “not just foreign” and complained that the algorithms used by social media companies “tend to accentuate content that is fear-based or anger-based.”

“That helps it pick up an audience and go viral and be amplified,” he said, with the consequence of “widening divisions among our society.”

When was the last time Schiff or any of his colleagues held a hearing on the real sources of division and social discontent in America? Are they holding hearings on the soaring wealth of the financial elite, on the criminal conduct of the wars in Afghanistan or Syria? No, Schiff’s concern is to prevent the people from learning anything that would fuel their “anger.”

To this end, he asked representatives of Facebook, Twitter and Google what “societal obligation” they have to change the fact that “what ends up percolating to the top of our feeds tends to be things we were looking for.”

In this statement, Schiff makes clear the real content of the Democratic Party’s furor about “fake news” and “Russian meddling.” What concerns Schiff and his colleagues is not “fake news,” but true news that goes “viral” and gets “amplified” because it reflects popular anger.

The problem, according to Schiff and his fellow congressional witch-hunters, is that people looking for politically critical viewpoints can actually find them on the Internet, as opposed to what they find in the corporate-controlled newspapers and TV broadcasters.

Amid soaring social inequality, a spiraling political crisis and the continuous threat of nuclear war, millions of people have grown justifiably hostile to the capitalist system and the political establishment. The immense popularity of the Internet reflects the fact that it provides people with the chance to obtain information that news outlets such as the New York Times, working with the intelligence agencies, seek to keep from them.

The ruling elite sees the combination of social disaffection and the unlimited access to information provided by the Internet as an existential threat that must be combated through censorship. As Clint Watts, a former US Army officer and FBI agent, put it at Tuesday’s hearing before the Senate Judiciary Committee: “Civil wars don’t start with gunshots, they start with words. America’s war with itself has already begun. We all must act now on the social media battlefield to quell information rebellions… Stopping the false information artillery barrage landing on social media users comes only when those outlets distributing bogus stories are silenced—silence the guns and the barrage will end.”

The fact that censorship is spoken of so openly means that a major intensification is coming. The American ruling elite, to use the words of Watts, believes it is already engaged in a civil war with its own population and is more than willing to use censorship to “silence” sources of “rebellion.”

Google, Facebook and Twitter are already engaged in censorship, each of them announcing that they are hiring “thousands” of people to moderate and review content. Earlier this month, Google removed from its list of “preferred” channels on YouTube the Russian-sponsored TV station and online news outlet RT, which reports stories largely censored by the mainstream press. Twitter likewise blocked RT from using its advertising service.

In April, Google implemented a change to its search algorithm that slashed traffic to left-wing, antiwar and progressive websites by more than 55 percent. Last month, it removed almost all pages from the World Socialist Web Sitefrom its news service, Google News, together with articles from leading left-wing journalists such as Pulitzer Prize winner Chris Hedges.

This drive to destroy freedom of speech must be opposed! It is the spearhead for the dismantling of democratic rights not just in the United States, but all over the world.

Andre Damon

WSWS

Former FBI agent says tech companies must “silence” sources of “rebellion”

US Congressional hearing:

By Andre Damon
1 November 2017

Top legal and security officials for Facebook, Twitter and Google appeared before the Senate Judiciary Committee Tuesday, in a hearing targeting “Extremist Content and Russian Disinformation Online.”

Over the course of four hours, senators argued that “foreign infiltration” is the root of social opposition within the United States, in order to justify the censorship of oppositional viewpoints.

Russia “sought to sow discord and amplify racial and social divisions among American voters,” said Democratic Senator Dianne Feinstein of California. It “exploited hot button topics…to target both conservative and progressive audiences.”

Republican Senator Chuck Grassley of Iowa said Russia helped promote protests against police violence in Ferguson, Baltimore and Cleveland. Russia, he said, “spread stories about abuse of black Americans by law enforcement. These ads are clearly intended to worsen racial tensions and possibly violence in those cities.”

Democratic Senator Mazie Hirono of Hawaii demanded, for her part, that the companies adopt a “mission statement” expressing their commitment “to prevent the fomenting of discord.”

The most substantial portion of the testimony took place in the second part of the hearing, during which most of the Senators had left and two representatives of the US intelligence agencies testified before a room of mostly empty chairs.

Clint Watts addresses a nearly-empty hearing by the Senate Judiciary Committee

Clint Watts, a former U.S. Army officer, former FBI agent, and member of the Alliance for Securing Democracy, made the following apocalyptic proclamation: “Civil wars don’t start with gunshots, they start with words. America’s war with itself has already begun. We all must act now on the social media battlefield to quell information rebellions that can quickly lead to violent confrontations and easily transform us into the Divided States of America.”

He added, “Stopping the false information artillery barrage landing on social media users comes only when those outlets distributing bogus stories are silenced—silence the guns and the barrage will end.”

As this “civil war” rages on, he said, “our country remains stalled in observation, halted by deliberation and with each day more divided by manipulative forces coming from afar.”

The implications of these statements are staggering. The United States is in the midst of a civil war, and the necessary response of the government is censorship, together with the abolition of all other fundamental democratic rights. The “rebellion” must be put down by silencing the news outlets that advocate it.

That such a statement could be made in a congressional hearing, entirely without objection, is an expression of the terminal decay of American democracy. There is no faction of the ruling class that maintains any commitment to basic democratic rights.

None of the Democrats in the committee raised any of the constitutional issues involved in asking massive technology companies to censor political speech on the Internet. Only one Republican raised concerns over censorship, but only to allege that Google had a liberal bias.

The Democrats focused their remarks on demands that the Internet companies take even more aggressive steps to censor content. In one particularly noxious exchange, Feinstein pressed Google’s legal counsel on why it took so long for YouTube (which is owned by Google) to revoke the status of Russia Today as a “preferred” broadcaster. She demanded, “Why did Google give preferred status to Russia Today, a Russian propaganda arm, on YouTube? … It took you until September of 2017 to do it.”

Despite the fact that Feinstein and other Democrats were clearly pressuring the company to take that step, the senators allowed Richard Salgado, Google’s Law Enforcement and Information Security Director, to present what was by all appearances a bald-faced lie before Congress. “The removal of RT from the program was actually a result of…is a result of some of the drop in viewership, not as a result of any action otherwise. So there was … there was nothing about RT or its content that meant that it stayed in or stayed out,” Salgado stammered, in the only time he appeared to lose his composure during the hearing.

Salgado’s apparently false statement is of a piece with Google’s other actions to censor the Internet. These include changes to its search algorithm, which, behind the backs of the public, have slashed search traffic to left-wing websites by some 55 percent, with the World Socialist Web Site losing some 74 percent of its search traffic.

Stressing the transformation of the major US technology companies into massive censorship operations, Democratic Senator Sheldon Whitehouse of Rhode Island asked the representatives of the firms, “I gather that all of your companies have moved beyond any notion that your job is only to provide a platform, and whatever goes across it is not your affair,” to which all answered in the affirmative.

When pressed by lawmakers to state how many people were employed by Facebook to moderate content, Colin Stretch, the company’s general counsel, said that Facebook employed “thousands” of such moderators, and was in the process of adding “thousands more.”

While the senators and technology companies largely presented a show of unity, just how far the companies were willing to go in censoring users’ content and helping the government create blacklists of dissidents was no doubt a subject of contentious debate in the background.

On Friday, Feinstein sent a letter to Twitter’s CEO demanding that the company hand over profile information—possibly including full names, email addresses, and phone numbers—related to “divisive” “organic content” promoted by “Russia-linked” accounts.

Although the senators largely steered away from the issue of “organic content” in their questions, a remark by Sean Edgett, Twitter’s acting general counsel, made clear that the “organic content” Feinstein’s letter was referring to included the social media posts of US-based organizations and individuals. Edgett said “organic tweets,” include “those that you or I or anyone here today can tweet from their phone or computer.”

The New York Times reported over the weekend, however, that Facebook has already begun turning lists of such “organic content” over to congressional investigators. Given that Facebook has said that just one “Russia-linked” company had posted some 80,000 pieces of “divisive” content, including reposts from other users, it is reasonable to assume Facebook and Twitter are being pressured to turn over information on a substantial portion of political dissidents within the United States.

WSWS

This party isn’t gonna get any better

The hopes for rebuilding and strengthening the left lie outside the Democratic Party.

Clockwise from top left: Nancy Pelosi, Tom Perez, Cory Booker and Chuck Schumer

Clockwise from top left: Nancy Pelosi, Tom Perez, Cory Booker and Chuck Schumer

TWO STORIES have gotten attention in recent weeks as key indicators of what direction each of the major political parties is heading in the lead-up to the 2018 midterm elections.

Arizona Sen. Jeff Flake, one of Donald Trump’s leading Republican critics, announced that he wouldn’t run for re-election after it became apparent he wouldn’t win a primary challenge from Kelli Ward, the rabid xenophobe whose campaign is part of Steve Bannon’s master plan remake the Republican Party in Donald Trump’s vile image.

A few days earlier, Democratic National Committee (DNC) chair Tom Perez purged a number of Bernie Sanders’ key allies from the organization’s leadership posts and its rule committee.

Many of the progressives were replaced with current and former lobbyists for big banks and energy corporations. Also appointed was Donna Brazile, best known most recently for using her job at CNN to leak debate questions to the Clinton campaign–“an interesting choice for a committee that focuses on ‘rules,'” as Branko Marcetic noted for In These Times.

Put the two stories together and what do you have? At a time of growing polarization in which people are moving toward both ends of the political spectrum, the Republican Party is moving further to the right while the Democratic Party is…also moving further to the right.

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BERNIE SANDERS’ stunning success last year as a self-proclaimed socialist running for the Democratic presidential nomination created justifiable excitement on the left about the prospects for socialism to finally break out of isolation after many decades in the American wilderness.

Since then, Sanders’ popularity has only increased. A recent Harvard-Harris poll has him as the most popular politician in either party, with especially strong support registering among young people generally and Blacks and Latinos of all ages.

It isn’t hard to see why. While Sanders is pushing for policies like a single-payer health care system that would benefit the vast majority of the country, other leading Democrats have little to offer beyond hoping that the Robert Mueller investigation of the Trump campaign’s ties to Russia will somehow lead to the president’s impeachment.

No wonder many supporters of the Democrats are getting restless. The same Harvard-Harris poll shows that 52 percent of Democrats support “movements within the Democratic Party to take it even further to the left and oppose the current Democratic leaders.”

Even more encouragingly, the AFL-CIO convention passed a resolution last week calling for labor to form an “independent political voice” because “the time has passed when we can passively settle for the lesser of two evils.”

These expressions of frustration with corporate Democrats are important, but they shouldn’t give the left a false sense of confidence that the maneuverings of Perez and the DNC represent the last gasp of a clueless old guard whose time has passed.

In fact, as the outlook for the 2018 midterm elections starts to take shape, it’s looking more likely that the party apparatus knows what it’s doing in maintaining control than the progressives who think they’re reshaping the party from the inside.

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ALL THIS takes place in the context of political volatility around the world.

Countries that have failed to restore living standards to the level before the Great Recession of 2007-08 have seen increasing polarization, creating crises for parties of the center–and the rise of more radical parties and leaders on both the right and left.

In the U.S., Trump’s victory in the Republican primaries was both the culmination of a decades-long move to the right and a dramatic shift in the GOP’s internal power dynamics–to the extent that its traditional corporate power brokers now have to accommodate and sometimes follow the ideologically hardened nationalism and fascist flirtations of sections of the party’s base.

Jeff Flake’s problem in Arizona wasn’t that Kelli Ward and Steve Bannon are wildly popular–Harvard-Harris puts Bannon’s approval rating at 16 percent–but that they increasingly dominate a party shifting even further to the right.

The Democrats, of course, have their own polarization to deal with. But unlike their weakened and divided Republican counterparts, the Democratic leadership has remained united around a vision of corporate liberalism–with political platforms that read like generic corporate brochures about the benefits of a diverse workplace and the wonders of retraining programs when you inevitably get laid off.

This party unity in spite of the discontent of its base was clear last year when Sanders won 45 percent of primary voters, but was backed by only 8 percent of the elected officials, staffers, lobbyists and donors who made up the party’s “superdelegates.”

Republicans have reflected the polarization of this period so much more clearly than Democrats in part because there is much less room for radical left-wing politics inside parties owned by the 1 Percent than there is room for radical right-wing politics.

The militants inside the Republican Party have been funded by a constellation of billionaires with overlapping reactionary agendas, ranging from libertarianism to Christian theocracy to fascism.

These ideologues may cause some discomfort among party donors in the boardrooms of ExxonMobil and Morgan Stanley, but ultimately, all sides can agree on the general principle of empowering the wealthy and keeping everyone else divided and oppressed.

This doesn’t work as a blueprint for the radical left, which has to be built by large numbers of working people in the labor movement and grassroots organizations “speaking with an unquestionably independent political voice,” as the AFL-CIO resolution put it.

Instead, we have the worst of both worlds: hundreds of unions and civil rights organizations that have been completely captured by a Democratic Party owned by Silicon Valley, Wall Street and the Pentagon.

Rather than acting as “pressure groups” inside the party, this professional left more closely resembles, as Jane Hamscher once famously put it in the early days of the Obama administration, a “veal pen” that forms a left flank to protect the party from the wrath of their own members.

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OF COURSE, this is precisely the situation that many progressives are hoping can be changed by the wave of Sanders supporters fighting from the inside for the soul of the Democratic Party.

“A striking feature of the current political moment is that many activists on the Left are flocking to the Democratic Party, Frances Fox Piven and Lorraine C. Minnite wrote at In These Times.

“But the Democrats are not merely gaining voters,” they continue. “They are gaining activists, people who are committing not only to pull the party lever in the voting booth, but who are determined to rejuvenate and transform the party, beginning at the local level.”

It’s easy to see why that scenario would be attractive to people. But the hard truth is that an organization which has dominated American politics for as long as the Democrats doesn’t allow itself to be “transformed” without a fight–and there aren’t many indications so far that the party’s left is up for even the kind of battle that would change its current rightward direction, much less really transform the Democrats.

The response of the Sanders wing to the DNC purge, for example, was anything but threatening.

“I’m concerned about the optics, and I’m concerned about the impact,” complained James Zogby, one of the purged DNC executive committee members. “”I want to heal the wound of 2016.” Zogby voiced similar sentiments on Twitter: “This doesn’t bring the party together, it deepens the divide at a time we need all hands on deck.”

Not exactly a Bannon-like threat to go to war against the party hacks who sold their souls to corporate interests.

Zogby’s comments reflect the larger timidity of the party’s left wing to wage any kind of fight that will threaten organizational unity in upcoming elections. Unlike Bannon and the Tea Party before him, Sanders Democrats aren’t planning to wage primary challengesagainst centrist House and Senate incumbents in 2018.

The fear of continued Republican rule in Congress in the Trump era is understandable. But as long as that fear continues to be the primary architect of liberal strategy, Democrats will continue moving rightward, assuming its base will follow.

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THE IDEA that progressives have no choice but to work inside the Democratic Party in order to stop Trump and Bannon rests on the assumption that there’s nothing we can do to stop the Republicans outside the halls of Congress.

This might be the biggest problem with the electoral focus of the left: It’s taking attention away from the sources of our greatest power.

One professional football player started a protest last year that has revived a discussion of racist police murders and inspired hundreds of other players to engage in workplace protests in defiance of their employer and the president of the United States.

Hundreds of thousands of women have come forward with their stories of sexual abuse, which has not only dramatically changed awareness of the issue, but led to the investigation, suspension and termination of dozens of powerful executives.

These actions offer a glimpse of the social power just of uncoordinated individuals. Imagine how powerful those protests could be if civil rights groups called for millions of us to kneel outside district attorney’s offices until cops were arrested for killing Black and Brown people. Or if unions organized a campaign to identify and fire the thousands of managers guilty of sexual harassment every day.

Yes, it’s possible for the left to do protests and electoral work at the same time. But they’ll only be effective if they flow from a unified strategy, based on an understanding that our greatest power lies outside of a rigged political system.

The fight to get Congress to pass a “clean” DREAM Act, for example, would be greatly strengthened if it was based less on appeals to Democrats and Republicans to do the right thing, and more on the credible threat that there will be widespread and sustained upheaval on many campuses and in workplaces and communities if 800,000 DACA recipients lose their legal status on March 1.

Similarly, we should be clear that the growing support for single-payer health care will only have a chance at becoming law when we’ve built a powerful movement including patients and health care workers together.

We’re, of course, nowhere near that level of struggle. By contrast, engaging in electoral work inside the Democratic Party, particularly at the local level, feels more productive to many progressives at the moment. It’s the path of least resistance–but people should ask themselves why that is.

The current popularity of Bernie Sanders and progressive politics shows that for the first time in decades, it’s possible to see a future U.S. with a genuine left-wing party, which could have a transformative impact not only here, but around the world.

But that project has to be rooted among people committed to building that alternative not on the Democrats’ terms, but on the explosive potential of popular struggle.

Otherwise there’s a very real danger that we will lose a new radical generation to the doomed project of “reshaping” the Democratic Party in much the same way that bunny rabbits reshape a python after they walk through its open jaws: briefly.

Editor’s Note: This article was initially published with an ableist word, “lame,” in the headline, which has since been deleted. This was a mistake we regret, and we apologize for it.

https://socialistworker.org/2017/10/31/this-party-isnt-gonna-get-any-better