Our Two Party System is Dead

The philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche (1844-1900) famously proclaimed the death of God.  Following this far more momentous precedent, it would now be fair to proclaim the death of the debilitating, semi-established duopoly party system that disables progressive politics in the United States.

The analogies are many.

Nietzsche claimed that it would take centuries for the Divine body to decompose.

By this, he did not just mean that it was no longer possible, without self-deception, to believe that there is an omnipotent, omniscient, perfectly good being who created all that is and with whom human beings can have personal relationships.  Materialist philosophers a century earlier could have said that, albeit not in as colorful a way. Nietzsche took it for granted.

His deeper claim was that ways of thinking and being – and forms of civilization — that rested on belief in God were finished as well.

This included quite a lot – not literally everything, but nearly everything of fundamental importance.  In his view, prevailing notions of truth and morality were among the first casualties.

He insisted, however, that it would take a long time for all the consequences to take effect. Therefore, the churches would likely remain full for generations.  The synagogues too, though Nietzsche’s view of synagogues was, to put it mildly, ambivalent; and, though he knew little and cared less about them, the mosques as well.

They might even seem to thrive.  But they would not be what they were because, with the divine corpse decomposing, their foundations were gone.

That, from time to time, there would be periods in which parts of God’s decomposing body would flourish therefore does not embarrass Nietzsche’s claim.  Church, synagogue, and mosque attendance might rise from time to time; and, for any number of reasons, some people some of the time might rally around the old, essentially defunct, religions.  But, at its core, it would all be a sham because, whether “believers” know it or not, superseded ways of thinking and being cannot be replicated except in ironic ways.

The implication was that the sooner people realize this, the sooner they see the world as it is and not as they would like it to be, the better the world will be.

It will be better not because people will be happier or because they will have an easier time navigating their way through life’s tribulations, but because it will be more honest.  Like Aristotle, Nietzsche was what we would today call a “virtue ethicist.” Honesty – and authenticity more generally – was high on his list of virtues.

He was also a critic of democracy and egalitarianism and other emanations of Enlightened thought.

And he was a master ironist.   It was in that capacity that — to use a word that Stephen Bannon and other Trumpists have besmirched — he called for the “deconstruction” of the God idea and all that rests upon it.  This was how he would have humanity realize the goal of Enlightened thinking, as described by Immanuel Kant and philosophers in the classical German tradition: it would free humanity from its “self-imposed nonage.”

***

It is impossible, of course, to say exactly when God died.  That death – so consequential for humanity and so irrelevant to everything beyond human control — was a process, not an event.

The death of the two party system in the United States is a process too.  But the consequences are so much more limited, and the time frame so much shorter, that it could look to future historians very much like an event — if there are future historians, that is; in other words, if, despite Democrats and Republicans and Donald Trump, we somehow survive environmental devastation and avoid nuclear war.

If our luck holds to that extent, the 2016 election season could well come to be seen as the moment when the duopoly died or, rather, when the process that did it in reached a culminating point.

For anyone with an even vaguely Nietzschean sense of the order and value of things, it can only seem grotesque to liken the demise of something as inherently base as America’s party system to the death of an idea as foundational and sublime as the Christian  — and Jewish and Muslim — God.

Nevertheless, the similarities are plain and the comparison is instructive.

Enlightenment thinking began to undo the God idea more than a century before Nietzsche came on the scene; and decades before he declared God dead, there were philosophers in Germany – for example, the Young Hegelians (as a very young man, Karl Marx was one of them) – who thought that the question of God’s existence had been settled and that the pertinent philosophical and political questions had to do with why the belief persisted nevertheless.  To probe those questions, the Young Hegelians sought to uncover the human meaning of ideas of God.

The duopoly system in American politics was also mortally ill before the duopoly died – not for nearly as many years, of course, but nevertheless, for a long time, as political settlements go.

The beginning of the end came in the late seventies, when Jimmy Carter was President, and when the political economic order that had been in place since the end of the Second World War seemed suddenly to have become stuck in a permanent crisis – with economic growth impeded and inflation on the rise.

Creditors found the situation intolerable; they also found themselves more empowered than they had been when the ambient economic scene was more robust.

Under these conditions, they were not shy about throwing their weight around in Washington.   Leading capitalists favored the Republican Party, of course; that was in their DNA.  But they channeled money to Democrats too.  Where there is influence to be purchased, they have always been bipartisan.

Within leading academic and policy circles, neoliberal political economists had been marginalized since the time of the New Deal.  Suddenly, their standing changed one hundred eighty degrees as the ruling class, and therefore the political class, took up the neoliberal cause.

The idea was to disencumber markets, capital markets especially, from regulations enacted to save capitalism from the capitalists, and also to give manufacturers relief from regulations that protect the environment.  Another major objective was to diminish the countervailing power of organized labor and other civil society groups, giving capitalists freer rein.

Under the cover of “supply side” economic theories, they also wanted to reform the tax code – effectively robbing from the poor to give to the rich.

And so, a political regime took shape that aimed to undo the progress of preceding decades.  The neoliberals set out not just to stop progress in its tracks, but also to turn back the clock as best they could.

On the Republican side, this led to purging the party of its liberal wing, attacking unions, resurrecting laissez-faire economic policies, and revving up Richard Nixon’s “Southern strategy” and related efforts to bring “the silent majority” on board.  It led, in a word, to the “Reagan Revolution.”

The Reaganites did all they could to set Wall Street free to make money with other peoples’ money, and they encouraged the exportation of jobs to parts of the world where labor was cheap.  They reset the political agenda.  But, at first, they were not able to implement much of the agenda they established – in large part because Democratic majorities in the House and Senate wouldn’t allow it.

It therefore fell to opportunists in the Democratic Party to consolidate and expand the Reagan Revolution by bringing the opposition along.  This is the principal “legacy” of the Clinton presidency.

Bill Clinton was the best Reaganite President ever, better than Obama, better than both Bushes put together, better than the villainous old Gipper himself.   He did it because he could; not because he believed in “trickle down” economics or other Reaganite nostrums.  He did it to help himself and his paymasters, by working both sides of the street.

It was a slow process but, in time, on the Republican side, the inmates took over the asylum; while, over the course of the eighties and nineties, the Democrats became Republicans in all but name.

However, to this day, the old duopoly structures, like the churches and synagogues and mosques, have remained more or less unchanged.  In recent years, they even seem to have thrived.

Throughout the long nineteenth century – from, roughly, the War of Independence to World War I – the American party system was comparatively fluid; the Republican Party itself was a product of its transformations.

Since World War I, third party activity has played a far less significant role in American politics.  Third party organizing, on both the left and the right, has come to very little; indeed, most efforts have failed outright.   Even parties that have survived for several election cycles – the Greens, for example, or the Libertarians – have never had more than a marginal impact on the larger political scene.

It could have been different last year.  Disappointed Sanders supporters could have either brought the Greens out of the margins or forged a new electoral presence on their own.    It never happened, however; thanks, at least in part, to Sanders’ defection to the Clinton camp.

And so for the time being, same as it ever was, Democrats and Republicans are all we have.  Nevertheless, the two party system is defunct.  The party machines remain, the apparatchiks are still there, and “politics,” for most Americans, is still about electoral contests between Democrats and Republicans.   But like Christianity, on Nietzsche’s telling, it is all built on a foundation of bad faith.

Those who think otherwise are deceiving themselves; trying, in vain, to defy historical currents that are bound to prevail.  This is happening even now, before our eyes. It can sometimes be hard, as it were, to see the forest for the trees, but the evidence is there: each year, the ranks of “independents” grow, and levels of satisfaction with the major parties declines.

Where, not long ago, people identified as Democrats or Republicans, hardly anyone does nowadays; not even people who can be counted on to vote reliably for candidates from one or the other side.

***

As the electoral results from 2016 came in, it looked, for a moment, as if at least the Republicans were riding high.  No one thinks that any longer – not as their decomposition proceeds apace, just as palpably as the Democrats’.

Even on a worst-case scenario, a few more electoral cycles should suffice for both Republicans and Democrats either to dissipate entirely into the ether or else to survive as historical remnants only, hanging on by the skins of their teeth.

Entrenched institutional structures are keeping them both alive for now, but as the parties themselves become increasingly irrelevant, those institutions will be unable to go on playing that role.

Therefore, in not too many more years, the duopoly system will exist in historical memory only – in much the way that, in Nietzsche’s view, the God of Christianity, Judaism and Islam will, in due course, join the gods of Greek and Roman antiquity.

Had events played out in 2016 as most informed people thought they would, we would be at that point already.  Trump had, in effect, run against the Republican Party and defeated it; and Hillary Clinton was set to finish both him and the Republicans off.

Many voters hated her (mostly for the wrong reasons), and hardly anyone genuinely liked her, but at least she wasn’t a raving embarrassment.  More important by far, the political, social, economic and media “power elite” was behind her a thousand percent.

But she was such an awful candidate that she managed to lose to a billionaire buffoon.

Having decided that blaming elderly white working class voters in rural areas was unwise, influential Democrats and their media flacks now blame the Russians – with every breath they take.  Could they be that intent on starting World War III?  Or is it just that were they to face up to their own ineptitude, they fear they would lose their grip on the institutional power they still enjoy thanks to the duopoly’s continuing existence?

Whatever the reason, there is comfort in the realization that they, like the Republicans, are doomed.

Republicans need Trump to get their agendas through; Trump needs them because neither he nor his people are capable of governing.   It is a marriage made in hell.

But, sooner or later, as scandals surrounding Trump mount and as more and more Trump voters realize that they have been conned, Republicans will come to the realization that they are better off without the Donald, after all.

And Trump, desperate to hold onto his credibility by keeping, or appearing to keep, the promises he made while campaigning, will find it expedient that he would be better off without Republican deficit hawks tearing those promises to pieces.

Many, probably most, Trump voters could care less about the Republicans’ several agendas.  They didn’t vote for Trump because they were pro-Republican or even because they liked him.   They voted for Trump because they were fed up with the Democratic Party, and because they were inclined to think that a rich businessman who says whatever is on his mind would be a better “change agent” than a money-grubbing Washington insider who talks in weasel words.

Being in thrall to unjustifiable and patently false, but quintessentially American, beliefs about the essential goodness of rich businessmen, they thought that Trump was beyond feathering his own nest, and that he would know how to shake things up and make change – for the better — happen.

Boy, were they wrong!

As a rule, people resist admitting their mistakes.  But with Trump and his band of dunces calling the shots, it should not take much to convince the voters Trump duped that the man is more like the Wizard of Oz than the Ayn Rand hero they imagined him to be.

The problem, though, is that those voters were right last November about Clinton and the Democrats; and, except for some hand wringing about the need to be less dismissive of the sad sacks Trump duped, nothing much in that department has changed.

What has changed, however, is that, outside the Democratic Party and at its fringes, an anti-Trump resistance movement is taking shape.

As long as Trump and his minions remain preposterous, that movement will not subside the way that, for example, Occupy Wall Street did.  That condition is sure to be fulfilled; Trump and the people around him were born preposterous.  They cannot help themselves.

If the Democratic Party holds fast to its ways, the anti-Trump resistance will sweep them aside – either directly, by leading voters out of the morass that the Democratic Party has become, or, on the Tea Party model, by taking the Party over and transforming it beyond recognition.

Either way, the Democratic Party’s days are numbered.

The Republicans’ days are too.   Indeed, it is a miracle that the GOP has survived for as long as it has under the weight of its cultural contradictions.  And yet, that jumble of yahoo theocrats, rightwing libertarians, conformist suburbanites, High Finance buccaneers and well-heeled members of the Country Club set has so far managed to hang together.  Could that hideous mélange long survive Trump and the Trumpists too?  The chances are slim.

Nietzsche asked: “what are these churches now if they are not the tombs and sepulchers of God?”

We could ask, with similar justification, what are the duopoly’s institutional structures and engrained habits of thought and practice now if not the final resting place of a party system that would long ago have passed away, but for the efforts of Democrats and Republicans to maintain their stranglehold over the body politic?

The duopoly is dead; and the sooner this fact registers, the better off everyone who stands to gain from (small-d) democracy will be.

ANDREW LEVINE is the author most recently of THE AMERICAN IDEOLOGY (Routledge) and POLITICAL KEY WORDS (Blackwell) as well as of many other books and articles in political philosophy. His most recent book is In Bad Faith: What’s Wrong With the Opium of the People. He was a Professor (philosophy) at the University of Wisconsin-Madison and a Research Professor (philosophy) at the University of Maryland-College Park.  He is a contributor to Hopeless: Barack Obama and the Politics of Illusion (AK Press).

http://www.counterpunch.org/2017/03/17/our-two-party-system-is-dead/

Trump’s Medicaid assault: Now he’s gutting a social program he promised to protect

The White House plans to slash Medicaid funding and kick people off the program — that’s not how Trump campaigned

Trump's Medicaid assault: Now he's gutting a social program he promised to protect
(Credit: AP Photo/Pablo Martinez Monsivais)

For a long time now, Donald Trump has broadcast to the world that he is different from other Republicans when it comes to the social safety net. While most Republican candidates in the 2016 presidential race hugged the party orthodoxy that called for cuts to and restructuring of social programs, Trump positioned himself as a champion of entitlements.

“I was the first & only potential GOP candidate to state there will be no cuts to Social Security, Medicare & Medicaid,” Trump tweeted a couple of months before entering the 2016 race. “The Republicans who want to cut [Social Security] & Medicaid are wrong,” he tweeted in 2015. After joining the race, Trump was similarly outspoken in his defense of government protections for the poor and the sick.

Throughout the 2016 campaign, Trump defended the idea of using government resources to provide low-income people with health care, insisting that he didn’t want to see anyone “dying in the middle of the street.” When asked how he would go about providing that assistance, Trump pointed to Medicaid. “We have to go and help them through the Medicaid system,” Trump said in September, when asked how he would provide coverage to people who can’t afford private insurance. “A lot of people said, ‘Oh, gee, that’s not the thing to say.’ I said, ‘Well you know what? If I can’t say that, I’m not running for office.’”

The casual observer might walk away from all these statements believing that Trump supports Medicaid and has no intention to do any damage to the program. But at the same time that Trump was campaigning as a Medicaid supporter, he was also pushing to fund the program through block grants, which would slash its finances and force people off the rolls. As president, Trump has continued this war on Medicaid.

Much of the violence that Trump plans to inflict on Medicaid will come through the American Health Care Act, the troubled health care reform bill that Republicans have offered as their “replacement” for the Affordable Care Act. The bill, which Trump and his administration strongly support, calls for a halt to the ACA’s expansion of Medicaid in 2020, and it would place per capita restrictions on the amount of federal funding that states can receive for their Medicaid programs.

All told, per the Congressional Budget Office, the AHCA amounts to a Medicaid funding reduction of $880 billion over the next decade. That’s a massive cut, and it would undoubtedly result in millions of low-income Americans either having their benefits slashed or being kicked off of Medicaid altogether. The budget office found that 24 million people would lose their health coverage under the AHCA by 2026, and those losses “would stem in large part from changes in Medicaid enrollment.”

Trump and his administration want to accelerate this process and worsen it. As noted above, the AHCA currently calls for an end to Obamacare’s Medicaid expansion in 2020. But the White House, in its eagerness to win conservative support for the legislation, is apparently planning to pressure Republicans in Congress to move up that date to the beginning of 2018.

This week brought still more bad news on the Medicaid front. As The Wall Street Journal reported on Wednesday, the Trump administration has communicated to governors that it “will work with states that want to alter their Medicaid programs by imposing work requirements, premiums, emergency-room copayments and other changes.” Imposing work requirements on Medicaid eligibility is an excellent way to cut people off from health coverage without doing much of anything to boost employment.

The notion that Medicaid recipients are just sponging off the government is wildly specious. According to the Kaiser Family Foundation, 63 percent of Medicaid recipients are in families with at least one full-time worker, and an additional 14 percent are in families involved with part-time work. The Center on Budget and Policy Priorities noted that Medicaid, rather than discouraging work, can actually help low-income people find jobs: “Research indicates that comprehensive Medicaid coverage can support work and help beneficiaries take advantage of promising job opportunities without worrying about losing their coverage.”

Imposing a work requirement as a barrier to eligibility, as the Trump administration wants to facilitate, makes it far more likely that unemployed people will lose access to health coverage. If those people become sick and can’t seek treatment, they’ll be less likely to find work. Providing “vulnerable populations with needed care can improve their health, help stabilize their housing or other circumstances, and ultimately improve their ability to work,” the center added.

President Trump, however, is hell-bent on hollowing out the social insurance program’s funding and making it harder for low-income people to have access to health coverage. That’s a terrible policy and a broken promise, one that runs directly contrary to how Trump sold himself to the American public.

The New Yorker’s Big Cover Story Reveals Five Uncomfortable Truths About U.S. and Russia

THE NEW YORKER is aggressively touting its 13,000-word cover story on Russia and Trump that was bylined by three writers, including the magazine’s editor-in-chief, David Remnick. Beginning with its cover image menacingly featuring Putin, Trump and the magazine’s title in Cyrillic letters, along with its lead cartoon dystopically depicting a UFO-like Red Square hovering over and phallically invading the White House, a large bulk of the article is devoted to what has now become standard – and very profitable – fare among East Coast news magazines: feeding Democrats the often-xenophobic, hysterical Russia-phobia for which they have a seemingly insatiable craving. Democratic media outlets have thus predictably cheered this opus for exposing “Russian President Vladimir Putin’s influence on the presidential election.”

But featured within the article are several interesting, uncomfortable, and often-overlooked facts about Putin, Trump and Democrats. Given that these points are made here by a liberal media organ that is vehemently anti-Trump, within an article dispensing what has become the conventional Democratic wisdom on Russia, it is well worth highlighting them:

 

1. Obama and Clinton have radically different views on Russia.

A major irony in the Democrats’ current obsession with depicting Putin as the world’s Grave Threat – and equating efforts to forge better relations with Moscow as some type of treason – is that it was Barack Obama who spent eight years accommodating the Russian leader and scorning the idea that Russia should be confronted and challenged. Indeed, Obama – after Russia annexed Crimea – rejected bipartisan demands to arm anti-Russian factions in Ukraine, and actively sought a partnership with Putin to bomb Syria. And, of course, in 2012 – years after Russia invaded Georgia and numerous domestic dissidents and journalists were imprisoned or killed – the Obama-led Democrats mercilessly mocked Mitt Romney as an obsolete, ignorant Cold War relic for his arguments about the threat posed by the Kremlin.

Clinton, however, had a much different view of all this. She was often critical of Obama’s refusal to pursue aggression and belligerence in his foreign policy, particularly in Syria, where she and her closest allies wanted to impose a no-fly zone, be more active in facilitating regime change, and risk confrontation with Russia there. The New Yorker article describes the plight of Evelyn Farkas, the Obama Pentagon’s senior Russia advisor who became extremely frustrated by Obama’s refusal to stand up to Putin over Ukraine, but was so relieved to learn that Clinton, as President, would do so:

The Russian experts heralded by the article also feared that Clinton – in contrast to Obama – was so eager for escalated U.S. military action in Syria to remove Assad that a military conflict with Russia was a real possibility:

It’s impossible to overstate how serious of a risk this was. Recall that one of Clinton’s most vocal surrogates, former acting CIA chief Michael Morell, explicitly said – in a Dr-Strangelove-level creepy video – that he wanted to kill not only Iranians and Syrians but also Russians in Syria:

CONTINUED:

https://theintercept.com/2017/02/28/the-new-yorkers-big-cover-story-reveals-five-uncomfortable-truths-about-u-s-and-russia/

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 

Farewell Obummer, Hello Golden Showers

There’s been a few hot topics this week, from Obama’s final speech as president to the amusing allegations of Donald’s pee fetish.

Let’s start with Obama. The era of hope and change most certainly ended with a whimper. Not much has changed and we don’t have much to hope for either.

Over the last eight years income disparity increased in the US (despite White House claims to the contrary), real wages plunged, and while productivity increased, hourly pay didn’t budge much. America’s obtuse wars in the Middle East rage on, and our country’s drone program is operating at full tilt. Obama also extended many of the nation’s most egregious energy policies.

In fact, Obama celebrated America’s biggest oil boom in decades. How’s that for battling climate change?

This isn’t to say we won’t be missing Obama for the next four years (if Trump’s presidency lasts that long, we’ll get to that in a moment), but that doesn’t negate the fact that Obama was a huge disappointment.

Cornel West put it best this week for The Guardian:

“A few of us begged and pleaded with Obama to break with the Wall Street priorities and bail out Main Street. But he followed the advice of his ‘smart’ neoliberal advisers to bail out Wall Street. In March 2009, Obama met with Wall Street leaders. He proclaimed: I stand between you and the pitchforks. I am on your side and I will protect you, he promised them. And not one Wall Street criminal executive went to jail…

Obama’s lack of courage to confront Wall Street criminals and his lapse of character in ordering drone strikes unintentionally led to rightwing populist revolts at home and ugly Islamic fascist rebellions in the Middle East. And as deporter-in-chief – nearly 2.5 million immigrants were deported under his watch – Obama policies prefigure Trump’s barbaric plans.”

Facts are facts no matter how you want to sugarcoat them. Obama has been pissing in the wind for eight years now and progressives have little to be happy about.

Speaking of piss, how about Trump and those Russian call girls?

Buzzfeed’s release of the now infamous dossier, which was put together by former MI6 agent Christopher Steele, an executive at a private intel company called Orbis Business Intelligence, has caused quite an uproar. Steele is respected in the intel community, having played a role in gathering info about corruption within FIFA, the global soccer organization. Much debate has swirled around the journalistic ethics of Buzzfeed’s decision to publish the uncorroborated account of Trump hiring prostitutes to piss on the bed the Obamas slept in at the Ritz-Carlton’s presidential suite in Moscow.

Trump has called the whole thing fake news, but it is news nonetheless. Steele was likely paid a bundle of cash to put together the report, which had more to do with Trump’s alleged ties to Russia than golden showers.

According to the New York Times, the origins of the report date back to September 2015 when a wealthy Republican donor hired Fusion GPS, an opposition research outfit headed by Glenn Simpson, an ex-journalist for the Wall Street Journal, to dig up dirt on The Donald. When Trump won the Republican nomination, this wealthy donor ended his support of Simpson’s work, but it was later picked up by backers of the Hillary Clinton campaign. At this point Steele was hired by Simpson to look into Trump’s Russia connections. According to the New York Times:

“Mr. Simpson hired Mr. Steele, a former British intelligence officer with whom he had worked before. Mr. Steele, in his early 50s, had served undercover in Moscow in the early 1990s and later was the top expert on Russia at the London headquarters of Britain’s spy service, MI6. When he stepped down in 2009, he started his own commercial intelligence firm, Orbis Business Intelligence.

The former journalist and the former spy, according to people who know them, had similarly dark views of President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia, a former K.G.B. officer, and the varied tactics he and his intelligence operatives used to smear, blackmail or bribe their targets.

As a former spy who had carried out espionage inside Russia, Mr. Steele was in no position to travel to Moscow to study Mr. Trump’s connections there. Instead, he hired native Russian speakers to call informants inside Russia and made surreptitious contact with his own connections in the country as well.”

Steele’s report laid out two different Russian operations, the first was an alleged effort by the Russian government to entangle and influence Trump with compromising information, like a video of The Donald with prostitutes in Moscow. In the second operation, Steele alleged, among other things, that Trump surrogates, including his lawyer Michael Cohen, met with Russian officials in Prague to discuss the hack at the DNC. Cohen strongly denied the meeting ever took place, noting on Twitter that he’d never even been to Prague. Steele’s intel, factual or not, floated around Washington circles for months leading up to the election, with David Corn at Mother Jones being the only reporter to write about the allegations, minus the salacious pee party. The New York Times also reports that the FBI was investigating Trump’s ties to Russia in the early fall. So while Hillary’s email scandal was being investigated so too was Trump, yet only one investigation was making any headlines.

Of course, the pee story and Trump’s alleged ties to Russia are almost too good to be true, which means they probably are not. Nevertheless, truth was never the dossier’s objective. A story, or an intel report for that matter, doesn’t have to be factual to cause damage – just like the Washington Post‘s absurd allegations that publications like CounterPunch are purveyors of Russian propaganda.

If there is one thing to take away from Goldengate it should be that the intelligence community has a myriad of ways to fuck with you. They are masters of the “leak” and we can expect more to come. Steele’s report is likely the tip of the golden iceberg. As Senator Chuck Schumer told Rachel Maddow this week, “Let me tell you: You take on the intelligence community — they have six ways from Sunday at getting back at you.”

It’s probably the truest and most obvious statement Chuckie has ever made. Trump, who still has a week before he moves his throne into the White House, is busy sharpening his knives for a battle with the intelligence community. The problem for Trump is the spooks don’t bring knives to a gunfight.

It may well be a depressing four years ahead, but at least nobody said it won’t be entertaining.

JOSHUA FRANK is managing editor of CounterPunch. His most recent book is Hopeless: Barack Obama and the Politics of Illusion, co-edited with Jeffrey St. Clair and published by AK Press. He can be reached at joshua@counterpunch.org. You can follow him on Twitter @joshua__frank

COUNTERPUNCH 

Plan an Inaugurexit That’s Just Right for You

Posted on Jan 13, 2017

By Chris Storm

  Soon-to-be-President Donald Trump. (Rainier Ehrhardt / AP)

If you sat out Election Day by not voting or by voting for a third-party candidate, there is nothing here for you. You’ve made your bed; enjoy lying in it and watching wall-to-wall inauguration coverage.

But if you are still hoarse from making get-out-the-vote calls or your feet still have the blisters you got while door-knocking during the campaign, or if you need to watch the news with your new friend the airsick bag, read on for some things you can do to push back on Inauguration Day.

To avoid permanent retina damage from the sight of 30-foot gold letters spelling out “TRUMP” on the Capitol dome, you have three options: You can protect yourself from it, cleanse yourself of it or correct your world in the wake of it—like a skin care ad for sudden-onset inauguritis.

Protect

• Unplug. This is the prime directive: Cut off all media, news and social connections. The last thing you want is to see old friends start to rationalize this with the maybe-it-won’t-be-so-bad-after-all Band-Aid. Inauguration coverage is going to be omnipresent. Whatever you are used to watching will be preempted and soaked with so much bunting and B.S. it will send you back to the airsick bag. So pull the plug on all your devices, or at least disconnect the news sources and alerts on your phone.

• Divert. Do something that occupies you. If you have hobbies or skills, go at them for as long as they distract you, then switch to an alternative below. Knitting can suck up hours, for example. Can you paper-mache a festive cover for your TV screen? It will come in handy for the State of the Union too! The inaugural will be endless, followed by ball coverage, so plan your diversions accordingly.

• Venture out. Make a list of the museums and cultural institutions you have not been to or checked out in a while. Hit them all. Then stop for a wonderful dinner at a place without a TV before taking in a concert, play or film. Wind up the evening with a nightcap. Just don’t head home until after the 11 o’clock news.

• Venture out plus. Why not get on a plane, fly away from media centers and rust-belt states and land at a calming retreat? The inauguration is on a Friday, so you could make it a long warm-weekend escape. Hawaii is now an all-blue state, beaches and mai tais included. If that’s too pricey, jump in your car and drive somewhere out of Wi-Fi range.

• Hunker. Hook up a hose over your bedroom window to simulate rain, lower the shades and repeat your new rainy-day mantra—“must finish book”—over and over. Do not get out of the bed unless it’s for a food delivery or bathroom break. Do not answer the phone unless the call is from a pal who is also inaugurexiting.

• Escape. Queue up some visual favorites, but think through the content. “Judgment at Nuremberg” is a great film but will make you think about Agent Orange, our about-to-be president, in a comparative way. Pull it out of rotation. Obviously, pull “The Manchurian Candidate” (either version) as well. All presidential biography films—yank. And be wary of classics like “Born Yesterday.” I recently watched it but started seeing orange hair on Broderick Crawford and hallucinating Judy Holiday with a Russian accent. Whoa! Way too close for comfort.

• Sustain yourself. Stock up on snacks and a box of wine. Don’t drink the good stuff on this mission; boxes tend to contain more, and it’s going to be a long day—and evening. So pack enough mood enhancers to make sure you don’t awaken to see Agent Orange dancing with Ivanka at the Scott Baio ball, the Ted Nugent Ball or the Alt-Right Ball ‘n Burn.

• Work. If you must go in and someone brings up the inauguration, treat it like a sporting event you want to see later. “Oh for God’s sake, don’t spoil it for me” (swallow the little throw-up that surges up in your mouth.) You should know which co-workers to avoid. If you must leave your cube, keep eyes forward or down.

CLEANSE

There’s no way to change what happened now. If you’re thinking you can Harry-Potter it away, you will just magnify the appendix-rupture-like pain you feel. Try these tips instead.

• Couldn’t your social calendar use a good scrubbing? Cleanse it on Inaugurexit Day—a gift that will pay you back all year long!

• Invited to attend a fundraising event where the recipient group is leaving you with a bitter Orange taste? Bet you forgot your uncle’s upcoming operation—he needs you for a few days. These social-event outs will challenge your imagination with excuses that are fun to create and embellish.

• A good primal scream is very cleansing. As soon as they finish the swearing-in, I want you to go to your window and open it, and scream as loud as you can, “I’m as mad as hell and I’m not going to take it anymore!” Repeat as necessary.

CORRECT

Or as rock legend Warren Zevon wrote, “Send Lawyers, Guns and Money.” Because truly, the shit has hit the fan. We have to play hardball. That means organizing and backing effective organizations that are already lawyered up, because the action is going to be in the courts. Use your safe-and-sane Inaugurexit day to review these organizations. There will be plenty of efforts you can engage in locally, but manage your cash for the big wins.

Indivisible: A group of congressional staffers has created a how-to guide based on the success tea partiers and others had in disrupting Congress’ and Obama’s agenda. Plan during the inauguration and dive in the next day. Make your group part of something bigger and more effective.

Common Cause: Ever wonder why, as our country becomes more diverse, our Congress doesn’t? That’s because in many states, congressional districts have been configured to spit out same-party candidates forever. The contorted district shapes look like the alien alphabet in the movie “Arrival.” Rigged? More like preordained. This solution will be under the other side’s radar, because it is longer-term and because their leader believes “gerrymander” is the kid in “Leave it to Beaver.” Fortunately, Common Cause is a successful, lawyered-up organization that is already on the gerrymandering case. Follow up with them online and start folding up those airsick bags.

ThinkProgress has started its own Trump Investigative Fund. To fight against fake news, which clearly got us to this point, regularly funding them or Mother Jones and others of their ilk will ensure that the pressure stays on. You’ll feel much better knowing you are shining a flashlight on the little orange cockroaches, exposing lies, financial conflicts and Twitter hypocrisies.

Credo: This is a long-distance provider that donates a percentage of your payments to progressive and charitable organizations you help select. Account setup is easy, and any additional financial donation is always in your control as you help patch the forthcoming congressional shredding of the social safety net.

• The Environmental Defense Fund and the Natural Resources Defense Council: The environment has a large orange target and a harsh way of doing its own “correcting” (bye, bye humans). These two groups have lawyered up and won big victories, so consider signing up and saving the planet.

CharityWatch Top Rated: These guys dive deep to let you know how efficiently a charity will use your donation to fund the programs you want to support. CharityWatch exposes nonprofit abuses and advocates for your interests as a donor.

Resolve to donate to whatever organization fits best with your priorities. You can try to avoid what’s happened, you can shake it off and keep going, but most importantly, fight it.

If none of these tips work for you, you can always volunteer to live fact-check Trump’s inauguration speech. Shouldn’t be too tough. How many lies can you fit into 140 characters?

Chris Storm is a writer who works in marketing in suburban Philadelphia.

Truthdig

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

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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