Google escalates blacklisting of left-wing web sites and journalists

By Andre Damon
20 October 2017

In a sweeping expansion of its moves to censor the Internet, Google has removed leading left-wing websites and journalists from its popular news aggregation platform, Google News.

At the time of publication, a search for “World Socialist Web Site” on news.google.com does not return a single article published on the WSWS. A search for the exact title of any of the articles published during that period likewise returns no results.

Over the past seven days, news.google.com has referred only 53 people to the World Socialist Web Site, a 92 percent decline from the weekly average of over 650 during the past year.

A Google News search for an article from Thursday’s edition of the WSWS returns no results

Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist and author Chris Hedges informed the WSWS Wednesday that his articles had ceased appearing on Google News. Hedges said the change occurred after the publication of his interview with the World Socialist Web Site in which he spoke out against Google’s censorship of left-wing sites.

“Sometime after I gave that interview, they blacklisted me,” said Hedges. “If you go into Google News and type my name, there are six stories, none of which have anything to do with me.”

A Google News search for Chris Hedges returns no relevant results

“I write constantly. Previously, Google News listed my columns for Truthdig and my contributions to Common Dreams and Alternet, as well as references to my books,” Hedges said. “But now it’s all gone. And I’m certain it’s because I spoke out against the Google censorship.”

Google appears to have kept an older version of its news aggregator available online, accessible by visiting google.com and clicking the “news” link below the search bar. That version of the news aggregator, which appears to be in the process of being phased out, lists 254,000 results for the search “World Socialist Web Site.”

A similar search returns 89,600 entries for “Chris Hedges.”

The changes to Google News mark a new stage in a systematic campaign of censorship and blacklisting that has been underway at least since April, when Ben Gomes, the company’s VP of engineering, said Google was seeking to promote “authoritative” news outlets over “alternative” news sources.

Since then, thirteen leading left-wing web sites have had their search traffic from Google collapse by 55 percent, with the World Socialist Web Site having had its search traffic plunge by 74 percent.

“Just speaking as a journalist, it’s terrifying,” Hedges said. “Those people who still try and do journalism, they’re the ones getting hit; especially those journalists that attempt to grapple with issues of power and the corporate state.

“This shows not only how bankrupt the state is, but how frightened it is,” Hedges said.

“Google is developing ever more intensive methods of targeting, aimed at blocking any dissenting critical voices,” said David North, the chairperson of the International Editorial Board of the World Socialist Web Site.

“This is an unprecedented attack on free speech. In the history of the United States, censorship on this scale has never been imposed outside of wartime,” he added, pointing to the blocking of Trotskyist publications during World War II.

Hedges noted the precedent of political repression during World War I. “In the name of national security, for the duration of the war they shut down The Masses,” a left-wing, antiwar journal.

The intensification of Google’s crackdown on left-wing sites takes place against the backdrop of a sharp acceleration of the anti-Russian campaign led by congressional Democrats, together with sections of the Republican Party, the US intelligence agencies and leading news outlets.

On Thursday, Democratic Party senators Mark Warner and Amy Klobuchar introduced the first piece of legislation to come out of the campaign surrounding the claim that Russia sought to “meddle” in the 2016 election by “sowing divisions” within American society, an unproven conspiracy theory aimed at creating a justification for Internet censorship.

A summary of the bill obtained by Axios stated that it requires “online platforms to make reasonable efforts to ensure that foreign individuals and entities are not purchasing political advertisements in order to influence the American electorate,” and to maintain a database of political advertisements supposedly bought by foreigners.

In his remarks announcing the bill, Warner made clear that his aim was to use it as the starting point for more aggressive restrictions on free speech on the Internet. “What we want to try to do is start with a light touch,” Warner said.

Commenting on the step-by-step nature of the censorship regime being created in the United States, Hedges said, “If you look at any totalitarian system, their assault on the press is incremental. So even in Nazi Germany, when Hitler took power, he would ban the Social Democrats’ publications for a week and then let them get back up. He wouldn’t go in and shut it all down at once.”

“Google is involved in an out-and-out political conspiracy, in coordination with the government,” North said. “A secret censorship program has been created that is directed against opponents of American foreign policy. This is an illegal assault on constitutionally protected rights.”

Hedges added, “I can tell you from having lived in and covered despotic regimes, I think we’ve got to ring all of the alarm bells while we still have the chance, because they’re not going to stop.”

WSWS

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Abolish the debt that is drowning Puerto Rico

We need to organize for immediate disaster relief for Puerto Rico–but we can also expose and oppose the debt disaster that came before the hurricanes.

Families begin to rebuild after the hurricane in Patillas, Puerto Rico (Andrea Booher | Wikimedia Commons)

Families begin to rebuild after the hurricane in Patillas, Puerto Rico (Andrea Booher | Wikimedia Commons)

SOCIALIST WORKER supports President Trump in his call to cancel Puerto Rico’s punishing debt.

We can pretty much guarantee you’ll never see the first five words of that sentence here ever again–and the supervisors of the “adult day care center” at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue are obviously trying like hell to make sure we never have reason to.

But it says a lot about the Wall Street-made catastrophe that has plagued Puerto Rico for years before Hurricane Maria that even a reactionary fanatic like Trump didn’t think twice before stating the obvious.

“They owe a lot of money to your friends on Wall Street, and we’re going to have to wipe that out,” Trump said in an interview last week with Geraldo Rivera of Fox News. “I don’t know if it’s Goldman Sachs, but whoever it is, you can wave goodbye to that.”

“Wall Street promptly freaked out,” Politico reported the next day. That was an understatement. Heavy trading on the normally stable bond market pushed the value of Puerto Rico’s general obligation bonds–already devalued to 56 cents on the dollar after the island effectively declared bankruptcy earlier this year–down to 37 cents on the dollar.

The White House then “move[d] swiftly to clean up Trump’s seemingly offhand remarks,” Politico continued. Again an understatement. Office of Management and Budget Director Mick Mulvaney was rushed in front of a television camera to tell CNN: “I wouldn’t take it word for word with that.”

Just to make sure Wall Street got the message that no one in the Trump administration had any intention of doing what the head of the Trump administration had just said, Mulvaney was more explicit–and more contemptuous of the Puerto Rican people–in a second interview with Bloomberg: “We are not going to bail them out. We are not going to pay off those debts.”

Anyone want to bet that Trump doesn’t talk about “saying goodbye” to Puerto Rico’s debt again?

But the simple fact is that justice demands exactly that: The cancelation of all of Puerto Rico’s debt repayments, by the action of the U.S. government, taking responsibility for the Wall Street loan sharks who inflicted the damage in the first place.

Puerto Rico is caught in the same kind of debt trap that has ensnared poor countries in hock to the International Monetary Fund and World Bank–or more advanced economies like Greece, at the hands of European bankers and bureaucrats. The aim is to force vulnerable societies to knuckle under to the will of the ruling class.

And now, the devastation of neoliberal policies has made Puerto Rico’s crisis following Hurricanes Irma and Maria much, much worse.

People who want to show solidarity with Puerto Rico today will rightly focus on ways to provide immediate relief to communities desperate for food, water and critical supplies. SW hopes its readers will raise what money they can to donate to grassroots efforts–see the What You Can Do box with this article.

But we have another job to do now, while Puerto Rico lingers in the media spotlight: expose the debt trap that made the island more vulnerable when Maria struck and demand that it end.

– – – – – – – – – – – – – – – –

IN MAY of this year, Puerto Rico’s government went to federal court to file for the equivalent of bankruptcy on a debt that includes over $74 billion in repayments on government bonds and $49 billion in pension obligations. But in return for immediate relief, Puerto Rico will have to abide by even harsher austerity dictates.

The debt burden–which is larger than the annual economic output of the island when pension obligations are added in–is one consequence of a recession that has lasted for more than a decade.

The economic slump began when Corporate America–after many years of making super-profits off operations in Puerto Rico, particularly pharmaceutical production–abandoned the island after favorable tax incentives for investment were phased out starting in the early 2000s. Annual corporate investment in Puerto Rico peaked at 20.7 percent of gross domestic product in 1999–it has fallen to under 7.9 percent as of 2016.

Successive governments–whether led by New Progressive Party, which is aligned with the U.S. Republicans, or the Popular Democratic Party, tied to the Democrats–imposed policies that were guaranteed to make the crisis worse: neoliberal austerity.

Social spending was cut drastically–reductions in the island’s education budget led to hundreds of schools being closed, for example. Public-sector workers have been under intense pressure, with tens of thousands of layoffs and attacks on their unions. Regressive taxes have been hiked, making the sales tax of 11.5 percent higher than any U.S. state.

A succession of state assets were privatized on terms guaranteed to benefit the private purchasers: Back in the 1990s, conservative Gov. Pedro Rosselló González sold off hospitals that were part of a public health care system that was once fairly accessible and affordable at around half their market value.

Austerity measures propelled the vicious circle: Continuing economic decline made shortfalls in government revenues worse, leading to more spending cuts and regressive taxes that caused further economic contraction, and on and on.

The consequences even before Hurricane Maria were dire: Official unemployment is 11.7 percent, well over double the rate in the U.S. as a whole. Just under half of people on the island live in poverty, including three in five children.

– – – – – – – – – – – – – – – –

THROUGH IT all, debt was the straitjacket to make sure Puerto Rico didn’t stray from austerity.

Faced with declining revenues as a result of the contracting economy, various branches and agencies of the Puerto Rican government issued bonds to raise money–but these came not only with the usual obligation to repay the cash with interest, but increasing pressure to intensify neoliberal measures.

The vultures of Wall Street were eager to set up the increasingly complex bond issues. They paid better than most municipal issues, and interest on income from Puerto Rico bonds is exempt from city, state and federal taxes.

But the biggest gamblers on Wall Street see more than a tax loophole in the suffering of the people of Puerto Rico. A 2015 report from the Hedgeclippers.org website paints an ugly picture:

Several groups of hedge funds have bought up large chunks of Puerto Rican debt at discounts and have also pushed the island to borrow at extremely favorable terms for creditors. Hedge fund managers are also recommending the implementation of austerity measures.

Known as “vulture funds,” these investors have followed a similar game plan in other debt crises, in countries such as Greece and Argentina. The spoils they ultimately seek are not just bond payments, but structural reforms and privatization schemes that give them extraordinary wealth and power–at the expense of everyone else.

It’s been obvious for several years that Puerto Rico’s debt burden is unpayable, but the hedge-fund vultures are counting on enforcers in the form of the U.S. government.

A law pushed through Congress last year by Barack Obama and the Democrats established a seven-person Fiscal Control Board with broad powers to direct government agencies on the island and dictate laws and policies. It has ordered, for example, exemptions to federal standards on the minimum wage, Medicaid and Temporary Assistance to Needy Families.

To top it off, the seven members of the board include some of the same financiers who imposed neoliberal policies and arranged the deals that caused the debt burden.

Bondholders may still be forced to take a “haircut”–that is, accept less than what they are owed on Puerto Rico’s bonds. But the mission of the Fiscal Control Board is to make sure working people on the island, not investors, pay as much of the price as possible.

– – – – – – – – – – – – – – – –

ALL THIS “reads like the 21st century equivalent of the metropolitan looting of wealth from the colonies,” as Lance Selfa wrote for SocialistWorker.org after Hurricane Maria struck Puerto Rico head on.

And we know who the looters and their accomplices are.

The hedge-fund parasites who are trying to inflict more suffering on Puerto Rico rather than lose a penny from their investment gambles should face pickets outside their offices. Members of Congress–Republican and Democrat alike–should be greeted at public events by solidarity activists demanding that they remove the noose that is strangling the island.

There is much work to be done to organize for immediate relief in Puerto Rico after the hurricane catastrophe. But the left has an opportunity to also expose and oppose the unnatural disaster that came before Irma and Maria.

We may not hear any more about canceling the debt from Donald Trump, but we can raise our own voices to demand that this crushing burden be lifted off the people of Puerto Rico.

https://socialistworker.org/2017/10/11/abolish-the-debt-that-is-drowning-puerto-rico

Wall Street demands Puerto Rico pay up

By Rafael Azul
5 October 2017

A day after Trump’s visit to Puerto Rico, where he contemptuously told survivors that they were not facing a “real catastrophe” like Hurricane Katrina in 2005 and that their demands for emergency aid were throwing the US budget “out of whack,” administration officials made it clear there would be no debt relief for the hurricane-ravaged US territory.

Trump tossed out paper towels and other supplies at a local church in what might be described as the billionaire president’s “let them eat paper towels” moment. With 95 percent of the island’s residents without power, half the population without clean water, a lack of gasoline and medical supplies, and a death toll, which is officially 34 now and potentially hundreds more, the president said the condition on the island due to the federal response was “nothing short of a miracle.”

This contrasts sharply with a statement of the UK-based anti-hunger organization Oxfam, which said last week that it would provide relief to the island because of the Trump administration’s “slow and inadequate” response.

Prior to the visit, Trump sat down with Fox News correspondent Geraldo Rivera. In a pre-recorded interview, which was aired Tuesday night, the president blurted out that it was likely that Puerto Rico’s massive debt would have to be wiped out due to huge recovery costs now estimated to be $90 billion.

“We are going to wipe that out,” declared the president in reference to Puerto Rico’s $74 billion debt obligation. “They owe a lot of money to your friends on Wall Street and we’re going to have to wipe that out,” Trump said in pseudo-populist fashion. “I don’t know if it’s Goldman Sachs but whoever it is you can wave goodbye to that.”

The president’s remark produced a sell-off on Wednesday of Puerto Rico’s defaulted bonds, which dropped from 56 percent of face value to 36 percent.

Administration officials rushed to downplay the president’s remarks and reassure the vulture capitalists which control the island’s debt.

Trump’s own budget chief, Mick Mulvaney, told CNN, “I wouldn’t take it word for word with that. We are not going to deal right now with those fundamental difficulties that Puerto Rico had before the storm.”

The head of the government’s Office of Management of Budget made it clear that there was no plan to relieve the island of its debt burden. “Puerto Rico’s going to have to figure out how to fix the errors that it’s made for the last generation on its own finances.”

In other words, Puerto Ricans did this to themselves. Storm or no storm, they must pay up.

In fact, the island’s massive debt is the result of its colonial legacy, a decades-long economic recession resulting from runaway US corporations seeking cheaper labor elsewhere, and the financial looting of the island by Wall Street which has long profited from buying up its high risk and high return debt.

In June 2015 then Puerto Rican governor Alejandro Padilla, declared Puerto Rico was in a “death spiral” because its debt is “not payable… There is no other option… this is not politics, this is math.” Having already imposed draconian austerity measures, Padilla demanded concessions from debt holders.

However, the Promise Act, passed by the Obama administration, mandated that the debt crisis would be resolved with ever more savage austerity measures that involve the dismantling of public budgets and social services. The Promise Act imposed a non-elected Financial Oversight and Management Board that would administer Puerto Rico’s budget and distribute the debt payments among debt holders.

The appointed members were front men for powerful financial interests. For example, two of its members, José Ramón Gonzalez and Carlos García came straight out of Banco de Santander, one of the banks that, operating in the middle, between Puerto Rico and the hedge funds, profited greatly from designing “financial instruments” and then selling them to investors.

And not just Banco de Santander; other Wall Street banks, including the infamous Goldman Sachs helped convince Puerto Rican officials to borrow more at terms that have been described as “payday loans” in a report by the Refund America Project.

The report describes how a $4.3 billion loan quickly morphed into a $33.5 billion debt, through the mechanism of compounded interest. It suggests that this portion of the debt violated Puerto Rican law and amounted to “unconstitutional debt” that can justifiably be repudiated. Tellingly, the current administration of Governor Ricardo Rosselló refused to cooperate with this study.

“We plan to do more with less,” was the phrase Rosselló used this June to describe his administration’s plan to deal with Puerto Rico’s financial implosion. He then went on to list the various austerity measures and job cuts that had already been enacted since he took office this January.

The Puerto Rican government’s $74 billion in tax-exempt bond debt to hedge funds and wealthy investors is the result more than ten years of negative economic growth, at the rate of about two percent per year, and mass emigration of skilled and professional workers in the context of some three decades of deindustrialization.

Prior to the storm the official rate of unemployment was 11.5 percent. Forty-six percent of all households existed under a dismal poverty line. One-third of workers were ineligible for Social Security benefits. A record 400,000 Puerto Ricans have left since 2007 with another 240,000 are expected to leave by 2025.

Retirees are among the most vulnerable. Three years ago, the Puerto Rican government changed the retirement system that guaranteed public sector workers a full pension after 30 years of employment to a system that forces workers to work up to 15 additional years for full benefits.

Driving the discussion in the bankruptcy court over further public pension cuts is the fact that the system is scheduled to run out of money this July, leaving some $50 billion owed to retirees unpaid. It is anticipated that ten percent or more may by slashed from existing pensions. Caps on Medicare imposed by the federal government force many seniors to pay more for their medical care

Had the US Federal Reserve bank adopted the same criteria toward Puerto Rico that it did toward Wall Street financial institutions behind the 2008–2009 crash and deemed “too big to fail,” it would have bought up Puerto Rico’s toxic assets long ago. That never happened and now the suffering people on the island are to be squeezed again.

Instead, the working class in Puerto Rico and on the US mainland should demand the cancellation of the debt and an end to the plundering of public assets. The Wall Street banks and other giant financial institutions should be transformed into public enterprises democratically controlled and collectively owned by the working class.

Only in this way can the necessary hundreds of billions be poured into Puerto Rico to repair and update the electrical power grid, the water system and flood control system, roads and schools, which are essential for the functioning of a modern society.

WSWS

Trump’s photo-op in Puerto Rico

By Rafael Azul
4 October 2017

Two weeks after Hurricane Maria struck Puerto Rico, leaving millions without electricity, water and other basic necessities, US President Donald Trump did a quick fly-in and fly-out Tuesday to pronounce what a wonderful job his administration has done to address the crisis.

Trump’s entourage included his wife Melania, some cabinet members, New Jersey Governor Chris Christie and Jenniffer González, chairwoman of the Puerto Rico Republican Party and the island’s nonvoting member of the US House of Representative.

The president’s handlers made sure that Trump—who clearly did not want to be there—appeared in public as little as possible to prevent any opportunity for public protest. After a little more than four hours, the president flew off, an hour ahead of schedule.

The people the president did speak to were preselected. He visited an upscale neighborhood in Guaynabo, west of the capital city of San Juan, which has been one of the fastest areas to have electricity, communication and other services restored. At a local church, he threw rolls of paper towels out to a crowd in the most demeaning fashion, later saying, “There’s a lot of love in this room, a lot of love. Great people.”

During his press conference, however, Trump could hardly contain his contempt for the population of the US territory. The recovery effort and the current situation on the island, he claimed, was “really nothing short of a miracle,” adding that it was nothing like the “real catastrophe” that occurred during Hurricane Katrina in 2005.

Following the press conference, Trump visited the Muñoz Rivera housing project in Guaynabo. One of the housing project residents, Raúl Cardona, told Trump “he should visit the central parts of the islands, where a lot of people have no food, no water, where a lot of people have died. What he saw in Guaynabo was nothing compared to the rest of the island,” Cardona told the ElNuevo Día newspaper about his words with Trump.

Only four percent of the island’s 3.4 million residents have power, more than half do not have clean water, and many residents are washing in rivers. With temperatures in the 90s, the lack of air conditioning and medical attention could lead to further fatalities, particularly among the elderly and infirm. Roads are blocked with debris and standing water is attracting mosquitos that can carry deadly diseases.

Thousands remain in shelters, gasoline is scarce, ATMs are out of money, and many of the supplies sent to the island have been left on docks because of the lack of diesel for trucks. Public schools, which suffered devastating destruction, may not open for six months or more, officials have said.

Trump repeated the official claim of 16 hurricane-related fatalities. After the president left, Governor Ricardo Rosselló raised the death toll to 34. The number of fatalities is expected to grow once rescuers reach more isolated rural and mountainous areas.

Earlier in the morning, the island’s Secretary of Public Health Héctor Pesquera announced there were more than 100 cadavers in hospitals around the island, which are currently being examined to determine if they died as a result of the hurricane, the most powerful storm to hit Puerto Rico in nearly a century.

Governor Rosselló—the MIT-trained politician who was a Clinton delegate during the Democratic Party convention last year—dutifully suppressed this information during Trump’s visit. The president later praised Rosselló for “not playing politics.”

Trump previously denounced Puerto Rican residents for the massive debt owed to the Wall Street banks, which is the result of the island’s colonial legacy, a decades-long economic recession and wholesale looting by financial speculators who control Puerto Rican debt. Rosselló and his predecessors have imposed savage austerity measures, and the island, which declared bankruptcy last May, is currently under the dictatorship of a financial oversight board imposed by the Obama administration.

During a press conference, Trump—who is proposing the largest tax cut for corporations and the rich in history—complained that the recovery effort was costing the US government too much money. “Now I hate to tell you, Puerto Rico, but you’ve thrown our budget a little out of whack because we’ve spent a lot of money on Puerto Rico. And that’s fine. We’ve saved a lot of lives.”

Rosselló, who has revised upward his government’s estimate of the cost of rebuilding the island’s infrastructure to $90 billion, is seeking a low-interest emergency line of credit as soon as possible, saying otherwise the government will run out of public funds by next week.

Trump has complained that Puerto Rican residents are not helping themselves enough and are essentially expecting government handouts. Last week he poured scorn via text message from his luxury golf course on local officials, including the mayor of San Juan, for complaining about the slowness of the administration’s response.

Shortly after Trump had left the island, US federal authorities denied Puerto Rico’s petition that recipients of food stamps (which are used by 46 percent of the population) be allowed to purchase meals in fast-food restaurants, given the scarcity of food in the island’s supermarkets.

WSWS

 

 

The social pathology of the Las Vegas Massacre

3 October 2017

In yet another eruption of savage impersonal violence, at least 59 people were killed and 527 people wounded as an outdoor music festival on the Las Vegas Strip, attended by more than 20,000, was suddenly converted into a war zone.

The alleged gunman, Stephen Paddock, used multiple semi-automatic weapons that had been converted to fully automatic use, through an attachment known as a bump-stock device—available for a mere $40 per weapon—as he opened fire on the helpless crowd from his vantage point on the 32nd floor of the Mandalay Bay hotel and casino. He took his own life after the rampage.

Paddock could lay down a field of fire on a military scale, nearly 100 rounds per minute. He was found in possession of about 20 weapons, many of them high-powered semi-automatics, along with additional ammunition. The first minutes of gunfire triggered a smoke alarm that allowed police to locate Paddock far more quickly than through a search of the huge 3,300-room hotel, a fact that suggests that the toll of death and injury could have been much higher.

The gunman’s motives are unknown, and his identity sheds little light on what drove him on this murderous course. Paddock was 64 years old, shared a comfortable home with his female companion, and was, according to some reports, financially well-off. One of his brothers described Paddock as a real estate multi-millionaire. He had a pilot’s license and owned two small planes. He had no known associations with any political or religious group.

There is a family history of mental illness—Paddock’s father, Richard Hoskins Paddock, was a bank robber and diagnosed as a psychopath. He was on the FBI’s 10 Most Wanted List for nearly a decade. But Stephen Paddock had no contact with his father after he was seven years old, and there are no reports that he exhibited mental illness or received any treatment for it.

As in virtually all such shootings, the gunman knew none of the wounded and killed. They did not exist for him as individuals. Paddock saw the concert-goers packed below him in a parking lot not as fellow human beings, but as objects to be destroyed. The victims were the random targets of the uncontrolled and impersonal hatred of a gunman indifferent to their fate and the lifelong suffering that awaits their surviving family and friends.

Clearly, this was not the act of a normal person. Some form of mental illness, even if not previously diagnosed, must be involved in Paddock’s crime. But there is certainly a socially induced element in this terrible event. The frequency of these occurrences cannot be explained in purely individual and personal terms. The Las Vegas massacre is a peculiarly American crime, arising out of the social pathology of a deeply troubled society.

What is the social context of this latest episode of domestic mass killing? The United States has been at war more or less continuously for the past 27 years. The US government has treated tens of millions of people in the Middle East, Afghanistan, and Africa as targets for extermination through bombs, bullets, and drone-fired missiles. These wars have penetrated deeply into American culture, celebrated endlessly in film, television, music and even sport.

Social relations within the United States, characterized by the growth of economic inequality on a scale that exceeds any previous era in American history, fuel a culture of indifference, and even outright contempt for human life.

One telling detail: on the day that the media was filled with reports about the worst mass shooting in American history, the stock market continued its relentless march upwards, with new records for the Dow-Jones Industrial Average and other indexes. Wall Street is celebrating in anticipation of the Trump administration pushing through the biggest tax cut for corporate America and the super-rich in history.

The damage inflicted on American society by constant war and deepening social inequality has found expression in an endless series of events like the mass shooting in Las Vegas. With only 5 percent of the world’s population, the US accounts for 30 percent of the mass shootings. And the scale of such horrors is increasing: the four worst mass shootings, in terms of casualty toll, and six of the seven worst, have taken place since 2007.

Corporate media pundits and government officials are incapable of more than perfunctory expressions of shock and dismay over such atrocities, which recur with appalling frequency in the United States. Even uttering such rote statements seems to be too much to ask of President Trump, whose remarks Monday morning were both banal and palpably insincere. How can anyone take seriously a foul-mouthed misogynist and pathological liar as he begins a sentence with the words, “Scripture teaches us”?

As for his moronic statement that the killings in Las Vegas were “pure evil,” such a characterization explains nothing. It doesn’t even explain Trump himself, who gave a speech two weeks ago at the United Nations where he threatened to use nuclear weapons to incinerate the 27 million inhabitants of North Korea. Yet CNN, ever the sycophant, described his televised remarks on Las Vegas as “pitch perfect.”

Trump is to visit Las Vegas Wednesday, one day after an equally stage-managed and bogus display of compassion set for Puerto Rico. There he will view the devastation inflicted by Hurricane Maria, while pursuing his Twitter feud with local government officials who have dared to criticize the poorly executed federal response to the catastrophe.

During the 16 years since the 9/11 attacks, during which the US government has been supposedly engaged in a “war on terror,” an average of one American per year has been killed by a foreign terrorist. During the same period, at least 10,000 Americans have been killed every year by other Americans. Mass shootings like Virginia Tech, Newtown, Orlando and now Las Vegas have killed six times as many Americans as all the terrorist attacks in that period.

Further investigation into the circumstances of the Las Vegas tragedy is vital. But one conclusion can surely be drawn: what happened late Sunday night outside the Mandalay Bay hotel was a manifestation of a deep sickness in American society.

Patrick Martin

http://www.wsws.org/en/articles/2017/10/03/pers-o03.html

Trump’s tax plan: The wish list of the American oligarchy

2 October 2017

On Wednesday, the Trump administration outlined a tax “reform” proposal that would be one of the largest upward redistributions of wealth in human history. The plan would essentially establish in law what is increasingly apparent in fact: The United States is an oligarchy.

The proposal would reduce the top individual income tax rate from 39.6 percent to 35 percent, cut the corporate tax rate from 35 percent to 20 percent, eliminate the estate and gift tax, and allow wealthy individuals to establish “pass through entities” in which their own personal income, including from wages, would be taxed at just 25 percent.

The release of the tax plan comes at a time of desperate need for hundreds of millions of people in the US. The US territory of Puerto Rico remains submerged without electricity, food, water, fuel or medicine. Houston is devastated in the wake of Hurricane Irma, and Florida in the wake of Hurricane Harvey. The industrial Midwest faces an opioid epidemic that takes the lives of tens of thousands each year. Everywhere millions lack adequate health care, education and infrastructure.

While the ruling class makes trillions available for war, bank bailouts, quantitative easing and tax cuts for the rich, it ignores basic social needs with criminal indifference. Just yesterday, both the House and Senate missed a deadline to fund the Children’s Health Insurance Program, meaning that nine million poor children face having no health care in the coming weeks and months.

A flurry of activity is accompanying the announcement of Trump’s tax plan, which the nonpartisan Tax Policy Center estimates will reduce federal revenue by $2.4 trillion in the next decade and another $3.2 trillion in the following decade. Corporate tax cuts will produce added corporate revenue of $6.7 trillion by 2037.

On Sunday, Trump Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin made the rounds of the morning talk shows declaring, with a straight face, that “the objective of the president is that rich people don’t get tax cuts.”

Mnuchin, the administration and Wall Street play the population for suckers.

The abolition of the estate tax alone will net $240 billion by 2027 to those worth over $5 million, just 0.02 percent of the population. Beyond this massive sum, the elimination of any taxation on money passed between generations of aristocrats establishes the oligarchic principle of dynastic rule. Before long, the new nobility will take the logical next step in demanding the repeal of another progressive era reform, the Sixteenth Amendment, which granted congress the right to tax income.

In the 4th century BCE, Aristotle defined the term “oligarchy” to mean a form of government where the non-rich are “absolutely excluded” from social decision-making. Under capitalism, the ruling class has taken this definition to a new level. In the US today, the government exists solely as a vehicle for enriching the wealthy and carrying out its domestic and foreign policy goals.

The government’s top personnel are themselves billionaires and millionaires. The media, universities, technology companies and trade unions function as subservient semi-official state institutions whose purpose is to suppress social opposition and stifle free speech. The Democrats and Republicans function like factions of the same party that agree on enforcing the interests of the oligarchy.

In response to Trump’s tax plan, House Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi told the New York Times Saturday, “The president wants to work together. We have a responsibility to find common ground.” Senate leader Charles Schumer told Face the Nation yesterday, “We want to work with them if they will change… You know, they have to consult us.” Last month, the Times called for corporate tax cuts in an editorial titled, “Want to Make a Deal, Mr. Trump?”

As is the norm in American politics, the Republicans are setting the reactionary framework within which the Democrats will likely propose only minor changes before securing the bill’s passage. Despite issuing official proclamations of opposition to Trump’s plan, the Democrats’ position is dictated by the demands of not only their corporate sponsors who are salivating over Trump’s proposal, but also a significant portion of their base in the affluent 10 percent who stand to gain substantially under the plan.

The policies of the American financial oligarchy have already produced unprecedented levels of social inequality, represented in data from a recently released Federal Reserve report:

From 2004 to 2016, the income of the bottom 80 percent of the US declined, with the exception of a bare $1,000 increase in the income of the poorest fifth. Meanwhile, the median annual family income of the top 10 percent increased by $25,100.

The growth in wealth inequality is even starker. Federal Reserve data shows the bottom 90 percent saw their wealth decline drastically from 2004 to 2016. The sharper fall in median family net worth compared to median family income indicates that the vast majority of the population is overwhelmed by the rising cost of living and that even modest income gains are erased by the added cost of health care, transportation, food, housing, education, etc.

The Trump administration’s tax proposal will greatly exacerbate social inequality. According to the Tax Policy Center’s report, the top 1 percent will see their after-tax annual income rise by 8.5 percent, compared to an after-tax increase of those in the bottom 95 percent of between 0.5 and 1.2 percent.

The tax cuts will increase the debt to over 50 percent of GDP by 2036 and will be used by both parties to demand massive cuts to social safety net programs as well as to Social Security and Medicare, thereby erasing the paltry tax cuts for hundreds of millions of Americans.

The massive growth in social inequality is the product of policies implemented by both parties over the last fifty years. There is every indication that another bipartisan arrangement is in the works, with Trump appearing at rallies with three Democratic Senators calling for tax reform.

The American oligarchy operates with a degree of domination over the government and official institutions that rivals that of the Bourbons and Romanovs. But the political establishment is deeply concerned over the growth of social opposition in the working class, a concern which underlies their campaign to censor and control the Internet. But through its tax plan, the Trump administration is fanning a growing social anger that will take the form of explosive social struggles in the period to come.

Eric London

http://www.wsws.org/en/articles/2017/10/02/pers-o02.html

Trump to Puerto Rico: Your lives don’t matter

 (AP Photo/Evan Vucci)

30 September 2017

Almost two weeks after Hurricane Maria hit Puerto Rico, all basic forms of social infrastructure in the US territory have completely collapsed.

Addressing the press yesterday, San Juan Mayor Carmen Yulín Cruz said that she watched in horror as Department of Homeland Security (DHS) Acting Secretary Elaine Duke called the government’s response to the hurricane a “good news story.” Duke added that she was “very satisfied” with the government response and praised the “limited number of deaths.”

To the contrary, Cruz warned, “something close to a genocide” is unfolding in Puerto Rico due to the government’s failed response. She “begged” Trump to fix the botched relief effort, adding, “We are dying here.”

That such a state of affairs could exist in a territory of the world’s wealthiest country is another unanswerable indictment of American capitalism, which has proven itself again and again incapable of addressing the most basic social needs of the population.

The financial aristocracy has responded with total indifference to the immediate needs of millions of desperate, impoverished people fighting for their lives on the island territory. Its primary concern is not saving lives in Puerto Rico but passing tax cuts in Washington. To the extent that Puerto Rico registers on its political radar, it is for the purpose of using the disaster to secure debt payments for the island’s Wall Street creditors and advance its austerity regime both in Puerto Rico and on the US mainland.

President Trump called the response “amazing” on Thursday and added on Friday, “It’s been incredible the results we’ve had with respect to loss of life. People can’t believe how successful that has been, relatively speaking.”

The contrast between these callous statements and the terrible reality exposes the oligarchic character of American social life. Aloof from and unconcerned with the needs of the masses of people, the ruling elite evinces a total disdain for human life.

Details of the disaster zone are beginning to emerge more clearly. One hundred percent of the power grid is inoperable and will not be fixed for six months. Ninety percent of homes are damaged. Forty-four percent of the population of 3.5 million is without drinking water.

Most of the island has no cell phone reception. Hospitals are running out of medications, diesel for generators and clean water. Food reserves are running low. Pumps for toilets and bathing have failed. Eighty percent of crops were destroyed.

The sewage system is broken and floodwaters have spread human and chemical waste across the island. Instances of waterborne diseases are growing and the mosquito population is exploding. Officials and relatives have not been able to make contact with many impoverished villages inland. ATMs and credit cards do not work, making it practically impossible to buy food without cash.

The relief effort has been a grotesque display of indifference and incompetence. A government capable of moving trillions of dollars worth of manpower and equipment across the world to wage war has proven unwilling and unable to mobilize emergency aid to an island less than three hours from New York City by plane. The American ruling class is far better at killing than at saving lives.

The government blocked the delivery of tons of foreign shipments of food and medical aid on the basis of the Jones Act, which restricts foreign ships from transporting goods between US ports. Only on Thursday—a week and a half after the storm hit—did the Trump administration waive the Jones Act restrictions for Puerto Rico, and even then only for a brief ten-day window.

Up to 10,000 shipping crates full of food, fuel, water and medical aid have sat for days in Puerto Rico’s ports. The Department of Homeland Security, the agency responsible for dispersing the goods through the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), had no plan to disburse these items.

Many roads, long neglected by cuts to infrastructure spending on the island, are impassible. The wind wiped out aboveground phone lines and cell towers and destroyed Puerto Rico’s power plants, which are a median 44 years old. Trucks cannot deliver fuel to power generators because they do not have enough fuel to make the drive.

Local officials in rural towns complain that the government is not delivering necessary relief even where the roads are intact. Roberto Ramirez Kurtz, Mayor of Cabo Rojo, told National Public Radio, “The Roads are open. I’ve been able to come here. So why haven’t we used this to [transport goods]?”

As a result, the death toll continues to rise. Though the official total is between 15 and 19, the Center for Investigative Journalism (CPI) wrote that this drastically underreports the number of fatalities. It puts the figure in the hundreds or higher. Sources told the CPI that “bodies are piling up” at morgues and hospitals across the island.

Again and again, storms and natural disasters lay bare the irreconcilable antagonism between the social needs of the population and the money-grubbing parasitism of the rich. While trillions are made available for war, surveillance, police militarization and corporate giveaways, the ruling class claims there is “no money” to protect the poor and working class from being killed en masse by wind and rain.

Never letting an opportunity go to waste, Trump shrugged off the growing death toll and threatened to withhold emergency funding as a bargaining chip to demand that Puerto Rico pay a higher proportion of its debts to Wall Street creditors in ongoing bankruptcy proceedings.

In a speech Friday before a room of corporate CEOs salivating over his proposed tax cuts, Trump said: “Ultimately, the Puerto Rican government will have to work with us to determine how this massive rebuilding effort [that] will end up being one of the biggest ever will be funded and organized. And what we will do with the tremendous amount of existing debt already on the island.”

Trump expresses in a more explicitly thuggish form what the financial aristocracy is thinking. While the Democrats raise token opposition to Trump’s handling of relief efforts on the grounds that the administration is moving “too slowly,” it is not just one presidential administration that is to blame, but the entire for-profit capitalist system.

Though the military is ostensibly being mobilized to help with the relief effort, the real purpose is to intimidate or crush social opposition fueled both by the storm and the austerity plan imposed by Wall Street in the island’s bankruptcy proceeding. This has been the US military’s basic role for 119 years as an occupation force on the Island.

The destruction of Puerto Rico raises the need for the immediate expenditure of billions of dollars to save the lives of those at risk of death and disease, and hundreds of billions more to provide resources such as food, water, fuel and medical supplies and rebuild and modernize the social infrastructure. All those who have lost their homes or jobs must be fully compensated and made whole.

This cannot be accomplished under capitalism. It requires confiscating the wealth of the financial aristocracy, nationalizing the banks and corporations to place them under public ownership and democratic control, and reorganizing the US and world economy not for profit, but to meet the needs of the human race.

Eric London

WSWS