Week one of the Trump administration: A government of war and social reaction

ap_17011606362212-e1484173002912

28 January 2017

It is one week since the inauguration of Donald Trump as president of the United States, and the actions and orders of the new government make clear what the working class can expect from the next four years.

At the center of Trump’s “America First” agenda is a massive escalation of military violence. At a swearing-in ceremony at the Pentagon Friday for the new secretary of defense, retired general James Mattis, Trump signed an executive order to begin a major “rebuilding” of the military. The order directs Mattis to prepare a policy to upgrade the US nuclear arsenal and prepare for conflict with “near-peer competitors,” a term that traditionally refers to China and Russia.

The action follows Trump press secretary Sean Spicer’s reaffirmation of a statement by incoming Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, the former CEO of ExxonMobil, that the US would seek to bar Chinese access to islets in the South China Sea, implying military actions that would amount to a declaration of war.

Trump has also pledged to establish “safe zones” in Syria, which will be coupled with a temporary ban on all immigration from a number of majority Muslim countries. While Democrats have denounced Trump for being “too soft” on Russia, during the elections the Clinton campaign called for the setting up of “safe” no-fly zones, policed by US military aircraft, as part of an effort to counter Russian backing of the Syrian government of Bashar al-Assad. In a speech at CIA headquarters, Trump also said that the US should have “taken the oil” in Iraq, and pledged that the CIA would have another chance to do so.

On domestic policy, Trump signed a series of executive orders that freeze hiring on all federal workers, freeze all pending government regulations and remove all obstacles to the completion of the Keystone and Dakota Access oil pipelines. Early in the week, he held meetings with the CEOs of the largest US manufacturing companies and with US auto companies, promising to “cut regulations 75 percent” and shift the business climate from “truly inhospitable to extremely hospitable.”

On Wednesday, Trump announced that his administration would proceed with the construction of a wall along the US-Mexico border, while launching a crack-down targeting millions of immigrant workers for detention and deportation. The same day, he said that the White House would seek a “major investigation” into completely unfounded allegations that “voter fraud” by millions of people cost him the popular vote in November—a claim aimed at creating the conditions for a further assault on the right to vote.

As part of a policy of extreme economic nationalism, early in the week Trump signed an executive order blocking US entry into the Trans-Pacific Partnership and pledged to renegotiate the North American Free Trade Agreement.

Many of the policies of the incoming administration were outlined in Trump’s interview Wednesday night with ABC News anchor David Muir, during which Trump interspersed lying claims about his own popularity and the size of his inauguration with casual threats of war, torture and repression. The overall impression of Trump during the interview was that of a gangster in the Oval Office, the assumption of power by an underworld reflecting all that is corrupt and filthy in American capitalist society.

On torture, Trump proclaimed that if Mattis and incoming CIA Director Mike Pompeo “want to do [waterboarding], that’s fine. If they do wanna do, then I will work toward that end.” A draft memorandum is circulating in the White House that would reopen secret CIA prisons and torture centers overseas.

And this is only the first week. With the support of Democrats, Congress is moving rapidly to approve Trump’s cabinet of billionaires, former generals and corporate CEOs, and it has already approved Mattis, Pompeo and the head of the Department of Homeland Security, retired Marine Gen. John Kelly. Trump’s other cabinet picks are committed to a policy of destroying public education, eliminating basic social services and slashing Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security.

There is no doubt that the election of Trump marks a watershed in American politics. However, when future historians examine this period, they will inevitably direct attention to what preceded it, to the conditions and climate out of which the Trump presidency arose. Many factors could be pointed to—the extraordinary decay in the political culture of the United States, the domestic consequences of unending war and violence abroad, the extreme growth of social inequality and the rise of a parasitic financial oligarchy.

Rather than a complete break, the Trump presidency represents a transformation of quantity into quality. He is, in the final analysis, the product of the desperate crisis that afflicts American and world capitalism.

For four decades, the ruling class in the United States has been engaged in a campaign of social counter-revolution, systematically eliminating all the gains won by workers through bitter struggles in previous decades. The Obama administration accelerated these processes. Obama’s White House continued and expanded the bank bailouts initiated under the Bush administration and helped funnel trillions of dollars to Wall Street through the Federal Reserve’s “quantitative easing” programs, while working, as in the 2009 auto restructuring, to slash wages for the working class.

The results are expressed in the extraordinary growth of social inequality. According to a recent report by University of California Berkeley economists Thomas Piketty, Emmanuel Saez and Gabriel Zucman, between 1980 and 2014, the share of pre-tax national income going to the bottom 50 percent of the population fell from 20 percent to 12 percent, while the share going to the top 1 percent increased from 12 percent to 20 percent. The gains for the top .1 and .01 percent of the population are even more extreme.

The foreign policy of the Trump administration likewise does not arise out of nowhere. For a quarter century, the American ruling class has been engaged in a desperate project to reverse its economic decline through military force—in the Balkans, North Africa, the Middle East and central Asia. Fifteen years of the “war on terror” have metastasized into an ever more direct conflict with larger competitors. Trump’s focus on China is in fact in continuity with the Obama administration’s “pivot to Asia,” which has seen the deployment of US military resources throughout the South Pacific and East Asia.

What Trump adds to these processes is the distinct odor of fascism, of extreme nationalism and the threat of violent repression of opposition. His declaration in his inaugural address that the “bedrock of our politics will be total allegiance to the United States of America” is a threat to criminalize dissent, which will be associated with treason.

However, here too Trump is giving naked expression to the long-term decay of democratic forms of rule. It was, after all, Obama who will go down in history as the president who proclaimed the power to assassinate US citizens without due process. Guantanamo Bay, Abu Ghraib, drone assassination, NSA spying—this is the toxic mix out of which Trump’s particular contempt for constitutional norms emerges.

In July, as Trump was formally nominated as the candidate of the Republican Party at the Republican National Convention, the WSWS noted that “Trump’s particular fascistic personality was forged not in the beer halls of Munich and the trenches of World War I, but in the real estate market of New York City. With his casinos, his fictional universities and his endless stream of failed businesses, this personification of corporate fraud could hardly be a more fitting symbol for the state of American capitalism.”

There are sharp and bitter divisions within the American ruling class, but these divisions are over tactics, not basic class policy. It will not take much for Trump to bring on board many of his present critics within the political establishment and media, or, for that matter, more privileged sections of the upper middle class.

It is not from such forces that enduring opposition to the new administration will develop, but from the working class, in the United States and internationally. Trump’s absurd posturing as a defender of the “forgotten man” will, sooner rather than later, give rise to bitter class conflict as the impact of the new administration’s policy are felt. It is to the broad mass of the working class that socialists must now turn, and, through systematic organization and education, forge a political leadership to prepare for the struggles on the horizon.

Joseph Kishore

WSWS 

As Obama’s Presidency Draws to a Close, a Look at His Mixed Legacy and the Rise of Neo-Fascism in Washington

NEWS & POLITICS
It’s been a busy end of Obama’s presidency—but not all of his actions have been as progressive as this week’s.

On Friday at noon, Supreme Court Chief Justice John Roberts will swear in Donald Trump as the country’s 45th president. To look back at Obama’s legacy and what lies ahead with the new administration, we speak to Eddie Glaude, chair of the Department of African American Studies at Princeton University. He is author of several books, most recently, “Democracy in Black: How Race Still Enslaves the American Soul.”

https://www.democracynow.org/embed/story/2017/1/19/on_final_day_of_obama_presidency

This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: On Wednesday, in his last press conference as president, Obama defended his decision to commute the sentence of Army whistleblower Chelsea Manning, and condemned the Israeli occupation. He also warned Trump that he will not stay silent if Obama sees what he called the nation’s core values at risk.

PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: But there’s a difference between that normal functioning of politics and certain issues or certain moments where I think our core values may be at stake. I put in that category if I saw systematic discrimination being ratified in some fashion. I put in that category explicit or functional obstacles to people being able to vote, to exercise their franchise. I put in that category institutional efforts to silence dissent or the press. And for me, at least, I would put in that category efforts to round up kids who have grown up here and, for all practical purposes, are American kids, and send them someplace else, when they love this country. They are our kids’ friends and their classmates and are now entering into community colleges or, in some cases, serving in our military. The notion that we would just arbitrarily, or because of politics, punish those kids, when they didn’t do anything wrong themselves, I think, would be something that would merit me speaking out. It doesn’t mean that I would get on the ballot anywhere.

AMY GOODMAN: We begin today’s show looking back at Obama’s legacy and what lies ahead with the new administration. We’re joined by two guests. Here in New York, Rashid Khalidi, the Edward Said professor of Arab studies at Columbia University, author of several books, his most recent, “Brokers of Deceit: How the U.S. Has Undermined Peace in the Middle East.” And at Princeton University, we’re joined by Eddie Glaude, chair of the Department of African American Studies. He’s author of a number of books, most recently, “Democracy in Black: How Race Still Enslaves the American Soul,” which is just out in paperback. Professor Glaude, let’s begin with you. Your assessment of President Obama’s message in this last news conference, in the last 48 hours that he was president, holding it in the press pool room—something that has been threatened, to say the least, in the last few days with the Trump administration saying they were thinking of moving the press somewhere nearby?

EDDIE GLAUDE: Well, I think it was important for the president to kind of identify the threat that Donald Trump poses to the fourth estate. He did it in his own unique and, of course, centrist way, but the idea of calling attention to the fact that a free and independent press may very well be under siege as Donald Trump enters the White House, I think, is an important—was an important—an important gesture. I would—you know, I would want to caution, though, that the way in which the president made the point, he, of course, wasn’t attentive to the corporate dimensions of the press, that in some ways the so-called free press has been compromised by big money, by its own pursuit of profits. And so, it’s a critique that only goes so far. And then I think to kind of point his attention or point our attention or direct our attention to the question of Israel and Palestine, the issues around the DREAMers, issues around race or continued inequality, the issues around LGBTQ—right?—communities, I think, was important as a way of, in some ways, framing his own presidency over and against what is to come. But I have this fear, though, Sister Amy, that he’s positioning himself as, in some ways, the voice of a kind of resistance post his presidency. And I worry about that because of—because of his containing and limiting voice, you know, because President Obama, at the end of the day, is just simply a centrist liberal.

AMY GOODMAN: During his press conference, President Obama criticized the voting restrictions in place in the United States.

PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: We are the only country in the advanced world that makes it harder to vote rather than easier. And that dates back. There is a—there is an ugly history to that, that we should not be shy about talking about.

REPORTER: Voting rights?

PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: Yes, I’m talking about voting rights. The reason that we are the only country among advanced democracies that makes it harder to vote is—it traces directly back to Jim Crow and the legacy of slavery, and it became sort of acceptable to restrict the franchise.

AMY GOODMAN: President Obama dismissed the idea of voting fraud as fake news.

PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: This whole notion of election—or, voting fraud, this is something that has constantly been disproved. This—this is fake news, the notion that there are a whole bunch of people out there who are going out there and are not eligible to vote and want to vote. We have the opposite problem: We have a whole bunch of people who are eligible to vote who don’t vote.

AMY GOODMAN: Professor Eddie Glaude?

EDDIE GLAUDE: [inaudible] But again—again, I think his analysis is limited. I mean, to the extent to which the question of voter fraud or voter suppression, tracing its origins back to Jim Crow and slavery, giving it—giving attention to its racial underpinnings is right. But there’s a reluctance, though, to speak to voter suppression—right?—the ways in which voter ID laws are directly targeting black communities, what happened in North Carolina, what happened in Wisconsin, what happens—what tried to happen—what Texas tried to do, what Pennsylvania attempted to do. And to speak specifically to the ways in which race, and particularly the way black and brown communities are targeted today, there’s a reluctance. So, in other words, you get this kind of general claim about an assault on voting rights, that we’re making it more difficult for people to vote, tracing it specifically to Jim Crow and the institution of slavery, but a reluctance to name specifically the ways in which Republicans across the country have targeted black and brown voters in very distinct ways. I mean, the court was very clear in North Carolina, what North Carolina Republicans were doing. And instead, at this point, instead of making that move—and again, I want to begin by saying he’s right to give the historical backdrop to the question of trying to limit voting in the United States, but instead of kind of pointing our attention to what specifically is happening around race, and particularly with regards to people of color, today, he wants to say that people have the right to vote, but they don’t vote. Right? So it’s a kind of, again, on the one hand and then on the other, without him really going to the core of the problem.

AMY GOODMAN: President Obama also warned of the dangers of rising inequality.

PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: I worry about inequality, because I think that if we are not investing in making sure everybody plays a role in this economy, the economy will not grow as fast, and I think it will also lead to further and further separation between us as Americans, and not just along racial lines. I mean, there are a whole bunch of folks who voted for the president-elect because they feel forgotten and disenfranchised. They feel as if they’re being looked down on. They feel as if their kids aren’t going to have the same opportunities as they did.

AMY GOODMAN: Professor Eddie Glaude, if you could comment on what he’s saying and also where we have been and where we’re headed?

EDDIE GLAUDE: Well, look, it’s one thing for President Obama to point to increasing inequality in the country, and it’s another thing for us to look at his policies. When we look at over the last—when we kind of assess the last eight years, what we’ve seen is that you’ve had a series of policies that really have benefited Wall Street and left Main Street behind. We have a policy that is, in some ways, fit—it fits perfectly with the increasing financialization of our economy, that’s really tailored for the top 1 percent and top 0.01 percent. And there’s kind of modest gains for everyday, ordinary people working. Even if they tout job creation, we know, from one of my colleagues here at Princeton, that 95 percent of the jobs created over the last 15-plus years have been part-time and contractual work. So people are working harder and earning less. So, there’s one thing to point to inequality, but there’s another thing to kind of look to the policies that he has supported and pushed that’s produced inequality. That’s the first thing. And the second thing—the second move that we have to kind of be very, very careful about is the way in which he always engages in this equivalency. Right? We have to pay attention to the fact that there are some white voters out there who voted for Donald Trump who are catching hell. Of course there are white voters out there who have lost ground, who have suffered in this economy. But at the same time, we have to be mindful that 53 percent of black wealth over the last eight years has just simply been wiped off the planet. It’s gone. And it has a lot to do with housing policy, has a lot to do with his failure over the last eight years to really address the racialized dimensions of the housing crisis. And so, I really want us to say that he’s right to point to inequality, but I’m not sure he’s the right messenger to point to inequality, if that makes sense. Now, where do we—where are we now, and where are we going? Well, we have deepening racial inequality. We have deepening economic inequality. We have a neo-fascist who is about to be inaugurated. We have the billionaires and millionaires who are about to take over government. What we are in, in some ways, is a conjunctural moment where crisis opens up space for us to put forward a more progressive vision of what this country could and ought to be. So we need to prepare ourselves for day one, as Donald Trump ascends, and attack the policies that, in some ways, Barack Obama’s administration, Clintonism broadly, has made possible.

Amy Goodman is the host of Democracy Now!, a daily international TV/radio news hour airing on more than 1,200 stations in North America. She is the co-author of The Silenced Majority, a New York Times best-seller.

http://www.alternet.org/news-amp-politics/obama-mixed-legacy-and-rise-neo-fascism-washington?akid=15126.265072.6efRUZ&rd=1&src=newsletter1070817&t=16

Trump nominee reaffirms support for assault on Medicare and Medicaid

ap_17018578526850_wide-6fa132fe2a71949d752c10594b266989175094cd-s900-c85

By Zaida Green
19 January 2017

Republican Representative Tom Price, president-elect Donald Trump’s nominee to head the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), reiterated his intention to repeal Obamacare and his support for the dismantling of Medicaid and gutting of Medicare, in testimony before the Senate Wednesday.

Over the course of the nearly four-hour confirmation hearing, Price made clear his intent to keep unfettered the right of the healthcare industry to profit from mass suffering, calling for the transformation of Medicaid into a state-run program funded via federal block grants and refusing to commit to maintaining any of the minimal patient protections afforded by the Affordable Care Act, generally referred to as Obamacare.

Speaking before the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee, Price gave few details on the Republicans’ plan to replace Obamacare. While claiming, “Nobody is interested in pulling the rug out from anybody,” Price refused to give a timetable or any other specific details on a substitute health plan, suggesting that any replacement legislation would be implemented piecemeal, leaving open the possibility that the 30 million people who have gained minimal health care coverage through the ACA’s exchanges and Medicaid expansion could be left stranded without health insurance for an indefinite length of time.

Price, who was chairman of the House Budget Committee, refused to commit to Trump’s repeated campaign promise that his administration would not impose any cuts to Medicare and Medicaid, claiming that dollars were “the wrong metric” to measure resources for patient care. The Empowering Patients First Act (EPFA), the legislation which Price proposed in 2015 to replace the ACA last year, would cut $449 billion from Medicare and $1.1 trillion from Medicaid over the next decade.

Price gave vague and non-committal answers to questions about whether replacement legislation would maintain the limited protections afforded by the ACA, such as the prohibition on lifetime caps on most benefits; the requirement that insurance companies not exclude coverage for pre-existing conditions; the requirement that health plans include benefits such as mental health care, emergency services, and prescription drug coverage; and the right of young people to receive coverage from their parents’ insurance plans up to the age of 26.

All of Price’s answers amounted to variations on the themes of “patient choice” and the freedom “for every American to access the type of coverage they want.” In reality, this is the “freedom” to be either sucked dry by insurance companies for minimal coverage, to pay even more for comprehensive coverage, or to gamble on health and go without any coverage at all.

On the other hand, Price spoke sympathetically of the insurance companies preparing the premiums they would levy on patients in 2018, saying that “What they need to hear from all of us, I believe, is a level of support and stability in the market.”

Senate Democrats mounted a cynical assault against Price, citing Trump’s lying promise about not touching Medicare and Medicaid and repeatedly asking Price if he would uphold it, thus presenting the billionaire president-elect as sympathetic to these government-run health insurance programs, and giving themselves a pretext for collaborating with the new administration.

Democratic Senators Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts and Al Franken of Minnesota referred to the billionaire real estate mogul’s recent comment that his administration would give “insurance for everybody”, and attempting to wring out of Price a commitment to Trump’s supposed promise.

Senator Bernie Sanders, the self-described “democratic socialist” who ran for presidency in the Democratic primary, urged Price, “Will you work with us on this?” as he questioned him on whether he would support the opening up of a market to cheaper imported prescription drugs.

The Democrats also criticized the blatant conflict of interest in Price holding investments of hundreds of thousands of dollars in pharmaceutical and medical device companies as he introduced bills that would boost the profits of these companies.

One senator, Democrat Christopher Murphy from Connecticut, pointing worryingly to the financial backgrounds of the rest of Trump’s cabinet, said, “I raise [these conflict of interests issues] because I think there’s great concern … [among] Americans that this whole administration is starting to look like a get-rich scheme.”

The author also recommends:

Pledging “insurance for everybody,” Trump prepares to escalate attack on health care
[17 January 2017]

US Congress moves to repeal Obamacare in order to impose even deeper health cuts
[14 January 2017]

Trump names Medicare opponent to head health programs: Who is Tom Price?
[01 December 2016]

http://www.wsws.org/en/articles/2017/01/19/pric-j19.html

Wealth distribution in the United States and the politics of the pseudo-left

wealthdividecompressed

18 January 2017

A report published in December by University of California at Berkeley economists Thomas Piketty, Emmanuel Saez and Gabriel Zucman reveals unprecedented levels of social inequality in the United States.

The report documents an immense redistribution of wealth over a period of several decades from the working class to the rich. The bottom 50 percent’s pre-tax share of national income has fallen from 20 percent in 1970 to 12 percent in 2014, while the income share of the top 1 percent has almost doubled to 20 percent. The wealthiest 1 percent now owns over 37 percent of household wealth, while the bottom 50 percent—roughly 160 million people—owns almost nothing, a mere 0.1 percent.

Though the Piketty, Saez and Zucman report focuses on the top 1 percent, the underlying data sheds light on another phenomenon that is essential to understanding American society: the role of the 9 percent of the population that falls below the 1 percent (the “next 9 percent”). This layer consists, broadly speaking, of more affluent sections of the middle class.

Among the pseudo-left organizations that orbit the Democratic Party, it has become popular to refer to the need to build a “party of the 99 percent.”

The call for a party of the 99 percent conflates the interests of the 9 percent of the population that falls just below the top 1 percent with those of the bottom 90 percent. In fact, a chasm separates these two social layers. The WSWS has defined the pseudo-left as denoting “political parties, organizations and theoretical/ideological tendencies which utilize populist slogans and democratic phrases to promote the socioeconomic interests of privileged and affluent strata of the middle class.”

The material position of the next 9 percent

The next 9 percent is comprised of privileged individuals who possess net wealth of between $1 million and $8 million and whose household incomes are between $155,000 and $430,000. They are business executives, academics, successful attorneys, professionals, trade union executives and trust fund beneficiaries. Their social grievances are the product of their privileged position. In every index of quality of life—access to health care, life expectancy, water and air quality, housing and home location, college degrees, vacation time, etc.—they live a different existence from the bottom 90 percent.

Data from the UC Berkeley report shows that the next 9 percent owns more wealth than the bottom 90 percent combined. The next 9 percent’s share of national income increased from 23.1 percent in 1970 to 27.6 percent in 2014. Over the same period, the national income of the bottom 90 percent decreased from 65.9 percent to 52.8 percent. The share of national income of the bottom 50 percent was cut in half over this period, from 19 percent to 10.3 percent. (These figures refer to “pre-tax factor income,” defined as the sum of all income flows before pensions, taxes and transfers. These are the only value sets for which data on the next 9 percent is available.)

In terms of net wealth (that is, total possessions, as opposed to annual income), the next 9 percent has also seen an increase since 1970. However, its share of household wealth is declining, but that is due entirely to the immensity of the increase in the share going to the top 1 percent. The share of household wealth of the next 9 percent has declined from 42.5 percent in 1970 to 34.9 percent today. Over this same period, the share of household wealth of the top 1 percent has increased from 22.5 percent to 37.2 percent. The bottom 90 percent’s share of wealth has declined to just over one quarter.

The next 9 percent acquires its wealth in a manner that increasingly parallels the parasitic and speculative methods of the top 1 percent. From 1970 to 2014, the next 9 percent’s share of total fiscal income increased from 24 percent to 28.6 percent.

This increase parallels the financialization of the top 1 percent’s earnings profile (though at a slower rate), but contrasts with the bottom 90 percent, which relies less and less on stocks and capital gains. While the top 1 percent owns about 40 percent of all stock, about 70 percent is owned by the top 5 percent. In contrast, 53 percent of households own no stock.

The economic foundation of pseudo-left politics

The political outlook of the next 9 percent is based on this economic reality. In aggregate, this social layer owes its position to rising share values, the exploitation of the working class and the dominant global position of American capitalism. At the same time, it regards the 1 percent as having acquired an unfair portion of the spoils. The ideology and politics of the next 9 percent dominate at the universities, where many members of this social layer serve as professors, administrators and department heads.

The extent of the chasm separating the bottom 90 percent from the top 10 percent endows the next 9 percent’s struggle for privilege with a ferocious character. Figures from prior studies show that in the United States, the gross income of a member of the 90th percentile (i.e., the lowest end of the next 9 percent group) is nearly 60 percent higher than a member of the 50th percentile. The gap in terms of net wealth is much higher. The margin in the United States has expanded significantly in recent decades and far outpaces similar statistics in other advanced countries.

Brookings Senior Fellow Richard Reeves noted in his September 2015 article titled “The dangerous separation of the American upper middle class”:

“The American upper middle class is separating, slowly but surely, from the rest of society… For many, the most attractive class dividing line is the one between those at the very, very top and everybody else. It is true that the top 1 percent is pulling away very dramatically from the bottom 99 percent. But the top 1 percent is by definition a small group. It is not plausible to claim that the individual or family in the 95th or 99th percentile is in any way part of mainstream America.” Two further studies co-authored by Reeves provide insight into how this social distance has produced a high degree of social anxiety among the privileged next 9 percent:

“America is becoming a more class-stratified society… This separation of the upper middle class by income, wealth, occupation and neighborhood has created a social distance between those of us who have been prospering in recent decades, and those who are feeling left behind, angry and resentful, and more likely to vote for To-Hell-With-Them-All populist politicians,” one report notes.

Another study titled “Why rich parents are terrified their kids will fall into the ‘middle class’” explains: “As the income gap has widened at the top, the consequences of falling out of the upper middle class have worsened. So the incentives of the upper middle class to keep themselves, and their children, up at the top have strengthened.”

Identity politics and the next 9 percent

In the face of these powerful pressures, identity politics becomes an important mechanism for increasing status and financial position.

The main impact of racial politics, including affirmative action, has been the elevation of a small layer of minority groups into the next 9 percent and the top 1 percent. A study from the Pew Research Center showed that from 2005 to 2009, the share of total wealth held by the top 10 percent of households among different racial groups increased drastically across races. The concentration of wealth is most acute among Hispanics, where the share of wealth controlled by the top 10 percent rose from 56 percent to 72 percent over this period, and among blacks, where the figure rose from 59 percent to 67 percent.

The Piketty, Saez and Zucman report also shows that among the top 10 percent, the share of women has risen steadily over the past four decades to roughly 27 percent. But women make up only about 16 percent of the employed population in the top 1 percent. Among the most affluent, the authors write, “the glass ceiling is not yet close to being shattered.” This helps explain why women in the next 9 percent saw Hillary Clinton’s pro-war, pro-Wall Street presidential campaign as a vehicle for advancing their own struggle for wealth and privilege.

The party of the 99 percent vs. socialism

The pseudo-left opposes any politics based on an analysis of economic class. This is the political basis for the call by pseudo-left organizations for a “party of the 99 percent.” Socialist Alternative, for example, has called for the building of a “multi-class” party. It published an article in the aftermath of the US presidential election titled “We need mass resistance to Trump and a new party of the 99 percent,” which read: “We must start today to build a genuine political alternative for the 99 percent against both corporate dominated parties and the right so that in 2020 we will not go through this disaster again.”

The International Socialist Organization (ISO) has also called for “a mass, left alternative” comprised of “unions, movements and left parties.” It regularly advances the slogan of the “99 percent,” writing in 2014: “[W]e need a new party for the 99 Percent to confront the two parties of the 1 percent.” Other pseudo-left groups and publications like Jacobin and New Politics have echoed these slogans.

The use of this language is not accidental. The pseudo-left’s call for a “party of the 99 percent” serves two interrelated purposes.

First, the pseudo-left is seeking to subordinate the working class to the interests and grievances of the most affluent sections of the middle class, closest to the bourgeoisie. They are opposed to a socialist reorganization of society and even any measures that would significantly impact the distribution of wealth. Second, by employing empty “left” phraseology devoid of class content, the next 9 percent attempts to politically disarm the working class and channel social opposition behind the Democratic Party.

The pseudo-left’s orientation toward the Democratic Party is an essential component of its fight to advance its social interests. The Democratic Party is receptive to the use of race, gender and sexual orientation because it has rejected any program of social reform and instead appeals to the roughly 21 million people who comprise the next 9 percent as the constituency for a broader base.

Clearly, the vast majority of the population does not have the same economic interests as those whose net worth is over $1 million. The wealthiest 10 percent has acquired its wealth through the exploitation of the working class in the US and internationally. Vast levels of social inequality are not the product of an accidental process, but of definite policies implemented by both the Democratic and Republican parties and by their bourgeois counterparts around the world. Private profit is the product of the exploitation of the working class, and this is the rule under capitalism.

Extreme social polarization is an international phenomenon. A report published January 16 by Oxfam shows that eight billionaires own the same amount of wealth as the poorest half of the world’s population, some 3.6 billion people. The wealthiest 1 percent own more wealth than the bottom 99 percent combined. A November 2016 Credit Suisse report showed that the top 10 percent controlled 89 percent of international wealth.

The class analysis made here with regard to the “party of the 99 percent” applies to similar populist appeals by the pseudo-left in countries all over the world.

The working class comprises the vast majority of the world’s 7 billion inhabitants and produces all of the world’s wealth. It possesses immense potential power. But it can advance its own interests only if it is armed with an anticapitalist and socialist program based on the class struggle. In advancing the slogan for a party of the 99 percent, the pseudo-left is perpetrating a fraud aimed at preventing the development of such a struggle and preserving the capitalist system.

Eric London

http://www.wsws.org/en/articles/2017/01/18/pers-j18.html

Eight billionaires control as much wealth as the bottom half of the world’s population

Oxfam issues report on eve of Davos conference

davos-meeting-inequality

17 January 2016

Eight billionaires, six of them from the United States, own as much combined wealth as the bottom half of the world’s population, some 3.6 billion people, according to the latest report on global inequality from the British-based advocacy group Oxfam.

The report was released Monday, on the eve of the annual World Economic Forum in the mountain resort of Davos, Switzerland, at which many of the ultra-rich will converge this week. The Oxfam document contains a range of figures that highlight the staggering growth of social inequality, showing that the income and wealth gap between a tiny financial elite and the rest of the world’s people is widening at an accelerating rate.

New data made available to Oxfam reveals that wealth is even more concentrated than the organization had previously believed. Last year, Oxfam reported that 62 people controlled as much wealth as the bottom half of humanity. In its latest report, the charity notes that “had this new data been available last year, it would have shown that nine billionaires owned the same wealth as the poorest half of the planet.”

Oxfam writes that since 2015, the richest 1 percent of the world’s population has owned more than the rest of the world put together, and that over the past quarter century, the top 1 percent has gained more income than the bottom 50 percent combined.

“Far from trickling down, income and wealth are being sucked upwards at an alarming rate,” the report states. It notes that the 1,810 dollar billionaires on the Forbes 2016 rich list own $6.5 trillion, “as much wealth as the bottom 70 percent of humanity.”

Over the next 20 years, some 500 people will hand over to their heirs more than $2.1 trillion, an amount larger than the gross domestic product of India, a country of 1.3 billion people.

Oxfam cites recent research by the economist Thomas Piketty and others showing that in the United States, over the past 30 years the growth in incomes of the bottom 50 percent has been zero, while the incomes of the top 1 percent have risen by 300 percent.

The same process is taking place in the world’s poorest countries. Oxfam notes that Vietnam’s richest man earns more in a day than the country’s poorest person earns in 10 years.

The report points to the systematic character of the siphoning of global wealth to the heights of society. The business sector is focused on delivering “ever higher returns to wealthy owners and top executives,” with companies “structured to dodge taxes, drive down workers’ wages and squeeze producers.”

This involves the most barbaric and criminal practices. Oxfam cites a report by the International Labour Organisation estimating that 21 million people are forced labourers, generating $150 billion in profits every year. The world’s largest garment companies all have links to cotton-spinning mills in India that routinely use the forced labour of girls.

Small farmers are also being driven into poverty: in the 1980s, cocoa farmers received 18 percent of the value of a chocolate bar, compared to just 6 percent today.

The extent of corporate power is highlighted in a number of telling statistics. In terms of revenue, 69 of the world’s largest economic entities are now corporations, not countries. The world’s 10 largest companies, including firms such as Wal-Mart, Shell and Apple, have combined revenue greater than the total government revenue of 180 countries.

Although the authors avoid any condemnation of the profit system per se, the information provided in their report amounts to a stunning verdict on the capitalist system. It highlights in facts and figures two central processes delineated by Karl Marx, the founder of modern socialism.

In Capital, Marx explains that the objective logic of the capitalist system, based on the drive for profit, is to produce ever greater wealth at one pole and poverty, misery and degradation at the other. In the Communist Manifesto, he explains that all governments are but the executive committee for managing the affairs of the capitalist class.

This is exemplified in the tax policies and other “business-friendly” measures undertaken by governments around the world. The Oxfam report notes that technology giant Apple is alleged to have paid a tax of just 0.005 percent on its European profits.

Developing countries lose around $100 billion a year as a result of outright tax dodging and the exemptions granted to companies. In Kenya, $1.1 billion is lost to government revenue every year because of exemptions, an amount nearly twice the country’s annual health budget.

Government tax policies work hand in hand with tax dodging and criminality. The report cites economist Gabriel Zucman’s estimate that $7.6 trillion of global wealth is hidden in offshore tax havens. Africa alone loses $14 billion in annual revenues because of the use of tax havens: enough to pay for health care that would save the lives of four million children and employ enough teachers to ensure that every African child went to school.

There is one significant omission from Oxfam’s discussion of accelerating inequality. It makes no mention of the critical role of the policies of the world’s major governments and central banks in handing over trillions of dollars to the banks, major corporations and financial elites through bank bailouts and the policies of “quantitative easing” since the eruption of the global financial crisis in 2008.

A discussion of these facts would raise uncomfortable political issues. The report opens by favourably citing remarks by US President Barack Obama to the UN General Assembly in 2016 that a world in which 1 percent of the population owns as much as the other 99 percent can never be stable.

But the very policies of the Obama administration have played a key role in creating this world. After rescuing the financial oligarchs from the results of their own criminal actions with massive bank bailouts, the Obama administration and the US central bank ensured their further enrichment by providing a supply of ultra-cheap money that boosted the value of their assets.

Under Obama, the decades-long growth of inequality accelerated, along with the descent of the ruling class into parasitism and criminality. He paved the way for the financial oligarchy to directly seize the reins of power, embodied in the imminent presidency of casino and real estate billionaire Donald Trump, to whom Obama will hand over the keys to the White House on Friday.

The overriding motivation behind the Oxfam report is fear of the political consequences of ever-rising inequality and a desire to deflect mounting anger over its consequences into harmless channels. It advances the perspective of a “human economy,” but maintains that this can be achieved on the basis of the capitalist market, provided corporations and governments change their mindsets.

The absurdity of this perspective, based on the long-discredited outlook of British Fabianism, which has dominated the thinking of the English middle classes for well over a century, can be seen from the fact that the report is directed to the global financial elites gathered at the Davos summit this week, with a call for them to change their ways.

The bankruptcy of this outlook is demonstrated not only by present-day facts and figures, but by historical experience. A quarter century ago, following the liquidation of the Soviet Union, the air was filled with capitalist triumphalism. Freed from the encumbrance of the USSR, and able to dominate the globe, liberal capitalist democracy was going to show humanity what it could do.

And it certainly has, creating a world marked by ever-rising inequality, the accumulation of wealth to truly obscene levels, oppression and anti-democratic forms of rule, criminality at the very heights of society, and the increasingly ominous prospect of a third world war.

This history brings into focus another anniversary: the centenary of the Russian Revolution. Despite its subsequent betrayal at the hands of the Stalinist bureaucracy, the Russian Revolution demonstrated imperishably, and for all time, that a world beyond capitalism and all its social ills and malignancies is both possible and necessary. Its lessons must inform the guiding perspective for the immense social struggles that are going to erupt out of the social conditions detailed in the Oxfam report.

Nick Beams

WSWS 

Obama’s farewell address: One last round of clichés and lies

631431738-jpg-crop-promo-xlarge2

By Niles Niemuth
11 January 2017

President Barack Obama capped his eight years in office with a vacuous and hypocritical farewell address Tuesday night delivered at the McCormick Place convention center in downtown Chicago.

The first-ever presidential farewell address delivered outside of Washington, DC had the atmospherics of an overblown, cheap spectacle. Obama strode onto the stage like a rock star, flanked by oversized American flags, a massive illuminated presidential seal and an introductory soundtrack by the rock band U2.

As with every address Obama has delivered over the last eight years, his speech in Chicago was full of clichés, his rhetoric padded with empty phrases and delivered with a false gravitas, signaled by his trademark pursed lips and affected whisper.

The speech was rife with contradictions, the starkest being the juxtaposition of Obama’s boasting of the great social progress achieved by his administration and his warning of threats to American democracy arising from ever-growing social inequality and economic insecurity.

The president declared: “If I had told you eight years ago that America would reverse a great recession, reboot our auto industry, and unleash the longest stretch of job creation in our history… if I had told you that we would open up a new chapter with the Cuban people, shut down Iran’s nuclear weapons program without firing a shot, and take out the mastermind of 9/11… if I had told you that we would win marriage equality, and secure the right to health insurance for another 20 million of our fellow citizens—you might have said our sights were set a little too high.

“By almost every measure, America is a better, stronger place than it was when we started.”

He made no attempt to explain why, given this impressive record of social progress and foreign policy success, his party was routed in the elections and the billionaire demagogue Donald Trump was preparing to succeed him in the White House.

A basic component of the answer, of course, is the grotesquely false rendering of his record and the state of American society as he leaves office. Hardly a week goes by without a new report on signs of extreme social crisis or ever-more obscene levels of wealth among the financial elite. Just in the past month, studies have been published showing the first decline in US life expectancy in 23 years, plunging pay for young adults, a 72 percent surge in deaths from synthetic opioids, and home ownership rates at historic lows for young people.

Other surveys have documented a $237 billion increase in the wealth of the world’s richest 200 billionaires, driven largely by the US stock market boom under Obama, and an acceleration of the transfer of wealth from the bottom half of the US population to the top one percent.

In boasting of presiding over a record number of consecutive monthly job increases, Obama neglected to mention that 94 percent of the new jobs created in the last eight years have been either part-time or temporary.

Noticeably absent from Obama’s remarks was any mention of the social conditions in the city where he was speaking, which is ravaged by high levels of poverty and unemployment, an epidemic of police killings and violence, and a skyrocketing homicide rate.

He lamented in general terms the growth of social inequality and the dangers it poses to American democracy—that is, the threat of a social explosion in the United States.

“While the top one percent has amassed a bigger share of wealth and income, too many families, in inner cities and rural counties, have been left behind—the laid-off factory worker; the waitress and health care worker who struggle to pay the bills—convinced that the game is fixed against them, that their government only serves the interests of the powerful—a recipe for more cynicism and polarization in our politics.”

As always, he spoke as if none of these social ills had anything to do with the policies pursued by his administration, including severe cuts in social spending on the one side and the bailout of the banks and flooding of money into the stock market on the other.

Another piece of monumental hypocrisy was Obama’s pose of fighting to defend democracy when he has done more to destroy it than perhaps any other US president.

“Democracy can buckle when we give in to fear,” he declared. “So just as we, as citizens, must remain vigilant against external aggression, we must guard against a weakening of the values that make us who we are. That’s why, for the past eight years, I’ve worked to put the fight against terrorism on a firm legal footing. That’s why we’ve ended torture, worked to close Gitmo, and reform our laws governing surveillance to protect privacy and civil liberties.”

This is from a president who has personally authorized the assassination of American citizens and thousands of others around the world with drones-fired missiles, protected and promoted those in the CIA responsible for torture, kept the prison at Guantanamo Bay open, persecuted journalists and jailed whistleblowers, militarized the police, and expanded the illegal surveillance of electronic communications.

Obama also used his farewell address take parting shots at Russia and China, lumping the war against ISIS with efforts to counter both countries, and arguing that aggressive action against the world’s second- and third-largest nuclear-armed powers was the only way to avoid war.

“[T]he fight against extremism and intolerance and sectarianism are of a piece with the fight against authoritarianism and nationalist aggression,” he said. “If the scope of freedom and respect for the rule of law shrinks around the world, the likelihood of war within and between nations increases, and our own freedoms will eventually be threatened.”

Obama spent his eight years in office waging war abroad and war on the working class at home. With Tuesday’s speech, he passed the reins to Trump with a shrug.

WSWS

Obama’s legacy of war, repression and inequality

obama-facing-torture-dec-10-2014

10 January 2017

US President Barack Obama’s “farewell address to the nation,” scheduled for tonight, has been preceded by a concentrated media buildup on the theme of Obama’s legacy. This has included fawning tributes portraying the president as a brilliant orator, progressive reformer, visionary and man of the people.

Seeking to mold the narrative of Obama’s presidency, the White House put out a video over the weekend featuring comedians Ellen DeGeneres and Jerry Seinfeld, actors Leonardo DiCaprio and Tom Hanks, former basketball star Michael Jordan and other celebrities extolling the “historic moments that prove, yes, we can create progress.” Such absurd and nauseating effusions testify not to the qualities or accomplishments of the 44th president, but to the intellectual, political and moral debasement of the American cultural establishment.

For Obama and the privileged social layers that surround the Democratic Party, a legacy can be crafted with honeyed phrases and clever marketing. Millions of people, however, will judge the administration by its actions.

It would take far more space than is available here to outline in detail the real record of the Obama White House. However, any objective appraisal of the past eight years would have to include the following elements:

1. Unending war

Obama is the first president in American history to serve two full terms in office with the nation at war. This includes the continued bloodletting in Afghanistan and Iraq, the bombing of Libya, the six-year-long war for regime change in Syria, and support for the Saudi-led destruction of Yemen. A recent survey reported that in 2016, US Special Operations forces were deployed in 138 nations, or 70 percent of the countries of the world.

The “wars of the 21st century,” begun under Bush and expanded under Obama, have killed more than a million people and driven millions more from their homes, producing the worst refugee disaster since the Second World War. Obama’s “pivot to Asia” has inflamed tensions from the South China Sea to India and Pakistan. The current president will leave the White House as NATO troops deploy to Eastern Europe in the midst of an anti-Russia war hysteria stoked by the media and the Democratic Party.

Obama is the “drone” president, supervising the killing of some 3,000 people in Pakistan, Yemen, Somalia and Libya by means of unmanned aerial vehicles, along with several thousand more in Iraq and Afghanistan.

2. Democratic rights

At least three of the individuals killed in drone strikes were US citizens. The declaration of the Obama administration in 2011 that the president has the authority to assassinate anyone, including US citizens, without due process sums up the attitude of the former constitutional law professor to basic democratic precepts.

The US detention and torture center in Guantanamo Bay, which Obama pledged on his inauguration day to close, remains open. Chelsea Manning, who courageously exposed war crimes in Iraq, is serving a 35-year prison sentence at Fort Leavenworth, Kansas, and the Obama White House has prosecuted more whistleblowers for espionage than all previous administrations combined. Edward Snowden was forced into exile in Russia under threat of prosecution or worse, while WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange remains trapped in the Ecuadorian embassy in London.

The massive spying programs of the National Security Agency exposed by Snowden remain in place, and not a single individual has been prosecuted for clearly illegal and unconstitutional activity. Proclaiming the need to “look forward, not backwards,” Obama gave a free pass to Bush administration officials who institutionalized torture, with some of them, including current CIA Director John Brennan, finding top posts in Obama’s administration.

Obama has expanded the militarization of police departments and intervened in court to uphold police abuses that violate the Constitution.

3. Social inequality

Obama came into office in the immediate aftermath of the 2008 economic crisis, and the focus of his administration has been to restore the wealth of the financial aristocracy. Since their low point in March of 2009 (two months after Inauguration Day), stock values—fueled by the “quantitative easing” policies of the US Federal Reserve—have more than tripled, with the top one percent the overwhelming beneficiary of this new orgy of speculation. Aggregate quarterly corporate profits rose from $671 billion at the end of 2008 to $1.636 trillion in 2016, and the wealth of the richest 400 Americans increased from $1.57 trillion to $2.4 trillion.

At the other pole, eight years of the Obama administration have produced declining wages, rising living costs and growing indebtedness. Nearly 95 percent of all jobs added during the Obama administration’s “recovery” have been temporary or part-time positions, according to a recent study by Harvard and Princeton, with the share of workers in temporary jobs rising from 10.7 percent to 15.8 percent. Obama presided over the bankruptcy of the auto companies early in his administration (imposing an across-the-board 50 percent cut in wages for new-hires). He supported the bankruptcy of Detroit and slashing of city workers’ pensions. In the name of education “reform,” he oversaw a wave of public school closures and attacks on teachers, who were laid off in the hundreds of thousands.

As for Obama’s principal domestic initiative, the Affordable Care Act, its intended and actual outcome has been the shifting of health care costs from corporations and the state to individuals, with corporations slashing coverage and workers forced to pay exorbitant prices for substandard care. One statistic sums up the consequences: For the first time since the height of the AIDS epidemic in 1993, life expectancy fell in the US between 2014 and 2015 due to rising adult mortality from drug overdoses, suicides and other manifestations of social distress.

No account of the legacy of Obama would be complete without noting two additional statistics. Since 2009, approximately 10,000 people have been killed by police in the United States, while the Obama administration has deported about three million immigrants, more than any other US administration in history.

Then there is the man himself. What is most striking is Obama’s emptiness. From his first major speech, at the 2004 Democratic National Convention, the media has hailed Obama as a great orator. Yet over the span of 12 years in political office at the federal level, including eight in the White House, Obama leaves behind not a single sentence from a speech or interview that will be remembered.

Everything about Obama, who came into office having been named “Marketer of the Year,” is false and contrived. The only thing he consistently conveys is indifference, a strange remoteness, a man without qualities.

The personality is related to the function. More than anything else, Obama has been the president of the intelligence agencies. His political convictions appear to extend no further than his CIA briefing books. To those who care to look more closely into the background, there always seemed to be hands guiding his way to the White House.

For the ruling class, Obama’s particular function was to fuse in his person and his administration identity politics with the absolute domination of Wall Street and the military-intelligence apparatus. The “change” Obama was to represent was in the color of his skin, not the content of his policies.

The nominally liberal and pseudo-left organizations of the upper-middle class that surround the Democratic Party hailed his election as a “transformative” event, seizing upon the elevation of an African-American as an opportunity to abandon their oppositional pretenses. However, his tenure has merely demonstrated that it is class, not race, that is the decisive social category.

Amidst all the commentary on Obama’s “progressive” legacy, no one seems capable of explaining why it is that eight years of the Obama White House paved the way for the election of Donald Trump. Yet the bitter realities of social life, the widespread anger and disappointment, led to a collapse of the Democratic Party vote amidst a general feeling of disillusionment with the entire political establishment.

Obama now bequeaths to the world a ferocious conflict between two right-wing factions of the ruling class: The Trump administration, which is preparing an authoritarian and militarist government of the oligarchy, and its critics, furious that he is reluctant, for the present, to proceed with their preparations to wage war against Russia.

The record of the Obama administration and the character of the individual himself speak, in the end, to the structure of American politics—an ossified and reactionary political establishment that lacks any broad base of support, standing atop a cauldron of seething social tensions. The true legacy of Obama is the deepening of the crisis of American capitalism and the emergence of a new period of social and revolutionary struggles.

Joseph Kishore