Abolish the debt that is drowning Puerto Rico

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And we know who the looters and their accomplices are.

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

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

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

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

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Krugman: Trump is about to take a wrecking ball to the last competent government institution left

 

The New York Times columnist wonders if economic catastrophe is on the horizon

JACOB SUGARMAN10.07.201712:29 PM
This article originally appeared on AlterNet.

It’s often lost in the miasma of White House backbiting and scandal, but after less than a year in office, the Trump administration has proven itself historically corrupt and incompetent. Tom Price resigned as secretary of Health and Human Services last week after bilking taxpayers to the tune of $400,000 in charter flights, while the Environmental Protection Agency’s Scott Pruitt has reportedly been wining and dining corporate executives from the very industries he’s meant to be regulating. Then there’s Rick Perry’s disastrous Department of Energy and Ben Carson’s almost complete dismantling of HUD, to offer just a handful of examples.

Thus far, the Federal Reserve has avoided such ignominy. But that may soon be coming to an end, and the effect on the global economy could prove catastrophic.

In his Friday column, Paul Krugman warns of the coming Trumpification of the United States’ central banking system. While Janet Yellen and past Fed chairs like Ben Bernanke have been technocrats divorced from partisan politics, this is merely a political norm. And if the last 10 months have taught us anything, there’s no political norm Trump isn’t willing to shatter. The president has no coherent fiscal policy to speak of, “so trying to guess his Fed choice… is a mug’s game.”

“What he’s more likely to do,” Krugman writes, “is what he’s done with many other appointments—defer to congressional Republican leaders—leaders who, on matters monetary, have been wrong about everything.”

About those failed policies. Two contenders to replace Yellen are John Taylor, a right-wing economist from Stanford who has earned the ringing endorsement of Paul Ryan, and Kevin Warsh, a former Fed governor who vehemently argued against government action as unemployment climbed toward 10 percent in the wake of the 2008 economic crisis. Both appear to subscribe to an Ayn Randian vision of the United States economy, a neo-feudal structure in which vast quantities of wealth are concentrated in the hands of the few.

“I don’t know who Trump will actually pick to head the Federal Reserve,” Krugman admits. “But surely it’s possible, even probable… that one of American policy’s last remaining havens of competence and expertise will soon share in the [country’s] general degradation.”

Read Paul Krugman’s column at the New York Times.

https://www.salon.com/2017/10/07/krugman-trump-is-about-to-take-a-wrecking-ball-to-the-last-competent-government-institution-left_partner/?source=newsletter

Trump administration limits access to birth control under ACA

By Trévon Austin
7 October 2017

The Trump administration has announced plans to revoke the federal requirement for employers to include birth control coverage in health insurance plans. The new policy would expand exemptions under the Affordable Care Act (ACA) for employers who claim moral or religious objections to contraception.

Under the previous mandate, more than 55 million women employees had access to no-cost birth control. According to the Kaiser Family Foundation, the percentage of women employees that pay with their own money for birth control fell from 21 percent to 3 percent after contraception became a covered preventive benefit.

The new exemptions will be available to for-profit companies, nonprofit organizations and colleges and universities that provide health care to students and employees.

Hundreds of thousands of women could potentially lose access to benefits they receive at no cost. The Trump administration itself estimated that some 200 employers who have already voiced opposition to the Obama-era mandate would qualify for exemption, and that 120,000 women would be affected.

In expanding the exemption for employers, the Trump administration claims there are “dozens of programs that subsidize contraception for the low-income women” and various alternative sources for birth control exist.

The administration also cites health risks that it says are correlated with the use of certain types of contraceptives, and claims the previous mandate that required employers to cover birth control could promote “risky sexual behavior” among teenagers and young adults.

In contrast, many obstetricians and gynecologists say contraceptives have been and are generally beneficial for women’s health.

Dr. Haywood L. Brown, the president of the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, expressed concern for consequences on women’s health. “Affordable contraception for women saves lives,” he said. “It prevents pregnancies. It improves maternal mortality. It prevents adolescent pregnancies.”

The Trump administration cites the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, a 1993 law protecting religious liberty, as legal reasoning for the new mandate. The administration admits that moral objections are not protected by the law, but states: “Congress has a consistent history of supporting conscience protections for moral convictions alongside protections for religious beliefs.”

Attorney General Jeff Sessions announced the Department of Justice would take steps to protect the new policy and stated, “President Trump promised that this administration would ‘lead by example on religious liberty,’ and he is delivering on that promise.”

The new policy is expected to face a large number of lawsuits. The National Women’s Law Center, a nonprofit advocacy group, has been preparing a lawsuit since last spring. Brigitte Amiri, a senior attorney for the ACLU, said, “We are preparing to see the government in court.”

In addition, Massachusetts Attorney General Maura Healey and California Attorney General Xavier Becerra announced plans to file a suit against the new mandate.

Trump’s new policy is an obvious attempt to win support from religious groups and conservatives, such as Speaker of the House Paul Ryan, who claimed today is “a landmark day for religious liberty.”

A group supportive of the administration’s action is the Little Sisters of the Poor, an order of Roman Catholic nuns who said that being required to cover contraception would make them “morally complicit in grave sin.” The organization sued the government, despite an already existing exemption for churches and other religious employers to opt out by notifying the government.

During his 2016 presidential bid, Trump promised that he would “make absolutely certain religious orders like the Little Sisters of the Poor are not bullied by the federal government because of their religious beliefs.” At a Rose Garden ceremony in May, he told the religious order, “Your long ordeal will soon be over.”

The Trump administration’s mandate sets a dangerous precedent for working women’s health. In 2014, in the case Burwell v. Hobby Lobby, the Supreme Court ruled that the ACA violated the religious liberty of Hobby Lobby, and stated that corporations could object to the birth control coverage mandate on religious grounds. Under Trump’s mandate, corporations could deny women employees access to no-cost birth control simply based on “moral objections.”

The new policy sets a precedent for corporations to deny other health coverage to employees under conditions in which the state of women’s health in the United States is already dire. The US holds the highest maternal mortality rate among industrialized nations, and a lack of access to birth control will potentially exacerbate the problem.

The new policy goes into effect immediately.

http://www.wsws.org/en/articles/2017/10/07/birt-o07.html

A society built on violence

There is an all-too-often-ignored problem with a society that breeds so much violence, and the solution isn’t as simple as restricting guns, writes Elizabeth Schulte.

A candlelight vigil for the victims of the massacre in Las Vegas

A candlelight vigil for the victims of the massacre in Las Vegas

DAYS AFTER the horrific mass shooting in Las Vegas that left 59 dead and more than 500 injured, people everywhere are left with the same shocked question we had from the first hours of the tragedy: What can explain a retired accountant bringing an arsenal of murderous weapons to a 32nd-floor hotel suite and firing them into a packed crowd gathered for a country music concert?

While the horror is fresh whenever a violent event like this happens, the media and political commentary afterward sounds the same old themes: Questions about the motives of the perpetrators, especially the loaded issue of “terrorism” as it is defined, and not defined, in the “war on terror” era; frantic calls for intensified security; debates about how to keep guns out of the hands of people who commit violence.

The deeper questions about the society where these nightmares take place–seemingly worse and more often as the years go by–go unanswered.

Leave it to the Trump administration to respond with a sickening political cynicism that, among other things, highlighted its cozy relationship with the gun lobby.

White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders chastised a reporter who asked about gun control measures by insisting it was a “day of mourning,” and not the time “for that policy discussion to take place.” Sanders then went on to discuss “that policy”: “I think one of the things that we don’t want to do is try to create laws that won’t create–or stop these types of things from happening.”

If the companies that make and sell guns had any fears about whether the Trump administration is still on their side, Sanders settled them–on a “day of mourning.”

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THE MEDIA reaction to the shooting in Las Vegas was utter confusion at a white 64-year-old man who appeared to have millions of dollars at his disposal carrying out mass murder.

This was especially true for Fox News, since Stephen Paddock didn’t fit their well-worn script for “Islamic terrorists” or even a disaffected white working-class person with “an ax to grind.”

Instead, in the early days of the investigation, Paddock was found to have passed every background check to purchase weapons–and law enforcement seemed to have no clue about a possible motive.

The confusion on the part of the media and politicians reinforces the general sense of fear that many people feel already as incidents of mass shootings, carried out with deadlier weapons, are on the rise.

According to a database created by Mother Jones of mass shootings–defined as indiscriminate rampages in public places resulting in four or more deaths, excluding shootings stemming from more conventional crimes such as armed robbery–the numbers have increased drastically over the last decade.

The database reported some 91 public mass shootings between 1982 and 2012, with nearly two-thirds taking place since 2006. More than half of the cases happened at schools or workplaces–with the majority of those at workplaces. More than three-quarters of the guns used in these shootings were obtained legally.

Rather than ask what social factors might be involved, the mainstream discussion crams the conversation into narrow, pre-defined parameters, most of the time focusing on gun ownership: Should there be restrictions of various kinds or the unfettered right to bear arms as the Founding Fathers allegedly intended?

This only shows how incapable the current political system is of solving real problems.

Once again, the Trump administration takes the prize for hypocrisy and cynicism.

In April, Trump became the first sitting president since Ronald Reagan to address the National Rifle Association, where he told the crowd: “The eight-year assault on your Second Amendment freedoms has come to a crashing end.”

At the same time, Trump can’t stop berating Chicago for gun violence–last year, he proposed sending in the National Guard. So much for the sanctity of “Second Amendment freedoms.”

When politicians, whether Republican or Democrat, talk about African American neighborhoods, the conversation isn’t about freedom, but how to fund more police–which, by the way, means more guns in the neighborhood and more gun violence.

At the same time, they peddle the myth of a Black pathology that needs special treatment and special punishment. For Trump, it’s sending the National Guard to patrol the South Side of Chicago. But before him, it was Hillary Clinton’s “super-predators”–the fable of the young Black teenager who doesn’t value human life, told in order to sell tougher sentencing laws.

Historically, gun laws have been used to target Black communities, not protect them–like many other mechanisms of the state, from sentencing laws and prisons to the occupying armies of poor neighborhoods in U.S. cities, otherwise known as police. These are the institutions that don’t value life.

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ACCORDING TO a Harvard/Northeastern survey released last year, some 55 million Americans own guns, with nearly half owning just one or two guns. A small fraction of owners, around 3 percent, are “super-owners” like Stephen Paddock, with eight or more weapons.

In many ways, the gun control measures put forward so passionately by Democrats after tragedies like Las Vegas seem like common sense: Why do we guns need silencers or other weapons modifications that make them more deadly?

But even on their face, these measures wouldn’t address the biggest tolls from gun violence. Two-thirds of gun deaths every year are suicides. As former FiveThirtyEight journalist Leah Libresco wrote in a Washington Post op-ed article, “Almost no proposed restriction would make it meaningfully harder for people with guns on hand to use them” in these tragic cases.

And it is much too narrow to view the question in these terms. Even if they could be made effective, gun control measures won’t come close to solving the problem of violence in an unequal society, divided between haves and have-nots, where providing for human need isn’t even on the short list of priorities.

Here are a few statistics to underscore the brutality of life in the U.S. where guns play no part:

— Every day, 10 people die from asthma–3,615 in 2015 alone. Most of these death would have been avoidable with proper treatment.

— Every week, 93 people die on the job in the U.S.–4,836 in 2015.

— One estimate, probably too low, of the number of people killed by police in the U.S. is almost 1,100. Add to this the violence meted out by an ever-expanding prison system, where 2.2 million people are currently behind bars.

This is a small taste of the violence that millions of people in the U.S. face every day–and it is compounded by the violence inflicted on people around the world by the most powerful military machine history has ever known.

To approach the question of gun violence as if it is a special case, disconnected from the other forms of violence in society, is to underestimate the scope of the problem.

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OVER THE last year, the U.S. has felt like an even more dangerous place–because it is. On the campaign trail, Donald Trump used his message of hate and bigotry to play to a base of right-wing supporters who, on more than one occasion, physically attacked protesters.

Since he has taken office, the Trump administration’s support for anti-women, anti-Muslim, anti-immigrant and anti-worker policies has fueled the far right and helped create a more violent and terrifying atmosphere, producing both an increase in hate crimes and an intensified attack on anyone who dissents.

After the far right’s carnival of hate in Charlottesville, Virginia, culminating in the murder of an anti-racist protester, there can be no mistaking the fact that Trump’s hateful rhetoric has opened a Pandora’s box of hateful action.

Add to this Trump’s drumbeat of war threats from North Korea to Venezuela, and all of this contributes to an even more violent and even more dangerous society.

There is something wrong with a society that has such a proliferation of guns and gun violence. But these are symptoms of a deeper disease: ultimately, the fact that the state and the system cannot maintain the status quo–abroad and at home, with all its obvious inequalities–without overwhelming levels of violence.

There are measures that could alleviate the everyday suffering of everyday people–above all, money for quality schools, food and housing instead of police, prisons and deportations–and have a huge effect on decreasing crime and interpersonal violence in society.

But the U.S. government and the capitalist system it serves would prefer this unequal situation to flourish, no matter how much violence it breeds, rather than change it.

https://socialistworker.org/2017/10/05/a-society-built-on-violence

The “military-industrial complex” in power

24 August 2017

Fifty-six years ago, US President Dwight D. Eisenhower delivered a farewell address in which he warned about the threat to democracy in the United States posed by the growing convergence between military and corporate power.

The outgoing president cautioned against the expanding and “total influence—economic, political, even spiritual—in every city, every statehouse, every office of the federal government” of the “military-industrial complex.”

Eisenhower, himself a five-star general and commander of allied expeditionary forces in the Second World War, had firsthand knowledge of the operations of the military. But even at the height of the Cold War, the influence of the military over political life paled in comparison to what exists today. With each passing month, the military consolidates more power over civilian authority, while democratic forms of rule are increasingly hollowed out and rendered meaningless.

This was exemplified by Trump’s speech Monday announcing an open-ended expansion of the US war in Afghanistan. The setting itself was significant. Trump spoke at Fort Meyer Army Base in Virginia to an audience of troops decked out in combat fatigues. He made clear that the military leadership, without any civilian oversight or the fig-leaf of Congressional authorization, would determine how many additional troops would be sent to fight in Afghanistan, and how long they would stay there.

Over the past week, the Army and Marine officials in Trump’s cabinet—retired Gen. John Kelly, retired Gen. James Mattis and active duty Gen. H.R. McMaster—have used the crisis surrounding Trump’s endorsement of the neo-fascist rampage in Charlottesville, Virginia to strengthen the grip of the military over the government.

But these developments, which in any genuinely democratic society would be treated with profound apprehension, have been welcomed by the “opposition” Democratic Party and its media mouthpieces.

On Wednesday, the Washington Post ran a lead article, “Military leaders consolidate power in Trump administration,” which noted that Trump’s elevation of a “cadre of current and retired generals” is “a striking departure for a country that for generations has positioned civilian leaders above and apart from the military.”

The Post, owned by billionaire Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos and speaking for a substantial section of the US political establishment, presents the growing power of the military in the Trump administration as a positive development. It calls the generals “voices for moderation,” and presents them as “moral authorities” working to “guide” Trump away from “moves that they fear could have catastrophic consequences.”

It cites uncritically a member of a leading conservative think tank who declares, “The only chance we have of trying to keep this thing from blowing apart is some military discipline… It’s not military rule or a military coup.”

Along the same lines, Wednesday’s New York Times carried a column by Roger Cohen declaring that the generals are acting as the “adults in the room,” serving to “tether” Trump and “curtail his wilder instincts.” The military, Cohen writes, provides “something Trump will never have: a center of gravity.”

These pronouncements by the Post and the Times represent the consensus view of the ruling elite, and most particularly that of the Democratic Party, which has opposed Trump almost entirely on issues of foreign policy, criticizing his insufficient deference to the military and intelligence apparatus and his unwillingness to carry out a military escalation against Russia.

McMaster, Kelly and Mattis “are standouts of dependability in the face of rash and impulsive conduct” on the part of Trump, Connecticut Democratic Senator Richard Blumenthal told the Post. “There certainly has been a feeling among many of my colleagues that they are a steadying hand on the rudder.”

Another example of the convergence between the press and the military/intelligence establishment is an op-ed published Wednesday by Thomas Friedman, the New York Times ’ chief foreign policy columnist. Friedman boasts of having “spent eight days traveling with the Air Force to all of its key forward bases in Afghanistan, Iraq, Kuwait, Qatar and the United Arab Emirates,” including a trip to a “strike cell” carrying out airstrikes in Iraq.

Friedman describes US air strikes in an urban area with undisguised enthusiasm. “Quickly, the smoke cleared and the 30-foot-wide building was smoldering rubble—but the two buildings to the sides were totally intact, so any civilians inside should be unhurt,” exults the Times columnist, without pondering the fate of any civilians who were in the building that was vaporized.

“This is the war in Iraq today in a nutshell,” he writes, suggesting that the American military as a true liberator focuses its energies on preventing civilian casualties. This criminal lie is, of course, contradicted by the reality of millions killed, wounded and uprooted by more than a quarter century of US wars in Iraq and surrounding countries in the oil-rich Middle East, including the recent leveling of Mosul. Unfortunately for Friedman and the Times, this panegyric to the moral purity of the American military appeared two days after a US air strike in Syria killed more than 40 civilians.

Friedman’s whitewashing of the homicidal activities of the US Air Force exemplifies the role of the press, led by the New York Times and Washington Post, as shameless cheerleaders for US military intervention, together with the major TV networks, which routinely present retired military officials as authorities on all questions of policy.

The prostitution of the press to the military is just one expression of the massive political influence of the US armed forces. The United States spends more on its military than the next 10 countries combined, and military spending soaks up more than half of discretionary spending by the federal government. There are some two million active and reserve military personnel, and millions more employed either directly or indirectly by the intelligence agencies.

Local and state police across the country are being ever more tightly integrated with the military, in what Defense Department strategists call the “total army,” consisting of the military, police and intelligence forces. Police departments are being outfitted with military hardware and trained for urban warfare.

This “total army” has at its disposal the massive surveillance capabilities of the US intelligence apparatus, which can spy on nearly every phone call, text message or email all over the world.

The growth of the power of the military has been accompanied by its integration into the financial oligarchy, with hundreds of leading military figures receiving seven-figure incomes in the revolving door between the Pentagon, Wall Street and the defense industry.

The increasing power of the military over political life in the United States and its merging with the corporate/financial elite are the product of the protracted decay of American capitalism. A quarter century of unending war and decades of soaring social inequality have thoroughly eroded the social foundations of democratic forms of rule. Beyond the oligarchy itself, a privileged layer of the upper-middle class that forms the broader base of the Democratic Party has accrued significant wealth through the meteoric rise of stock prices, itself fueled by the destruction of working class living standards and imperialist aggression overseas.

America’s financial elite, increasingly unable to reconcile its domination of social life with democratic forms of government, feels that the ultimate backstop to its rule is military force. Despite the assurances of the Post, what is emerging is in fact direct rule by the military, allied with Wall Street and the CIA, with the civilian government functioning as a mere facade.

Andre Damon

http://www.wsws.org/en/articles/2017/08/24/pers-a24.html

Paul Krugman: Trump Can Ruin American Workers Without Passing a Single Piece of Legislation

NEWS & POLITICS
As long as he’s in office, he’s a threat to the underclasses.

Photo Credit: YouTube Screengrab

It’s tempting to believe that, because Trump hasn’t repealed Obamacare, locked up Hillary Clinton, or built a border wall along the Mexican border, his agenda is stalled. That fantasy got a boost this week with the departure of Chief Strategist Steve Bannon. And while Bannon’s firing was a necessary move, Paul Krugman warns we shouldn’t break out the champagne just yet.

Yes, the Trump administration’s efforts to kick 20 million people of their health insurance while lining the pockets of the 1 percent have been thwarted for now. Krugman can’t even get too worked up about the prsopect of tax reform. “Straight-out tax cuts”, he writes,  “which benefit corporations and the wealthy while blowing up the deficit, might still go through, but even that looks doubtful.”

But now is not the time to get complacent. “Don’t just watch Congress,” Krugman writes, “keep your eyes on what federal agencies are doing.” Whether Trump passes a single act of legislation or not, the Department of Labor can still do immeasurable harm to workers and their unions.

The most blatant example, according to Krugman, is “the decline in the fortunes of truck drivers, whose pay used to make them members of the middle class.” That’s over now, as “their real wages have fallen about a third since the 1970s, with most of the decline taking place during the Reagan years.” That collapse wasn’t because of tax policy. It was a slow and steady erosion of the the power of the National Labor Relations Board, “that encouraged private employers to fight unionization, and in part to deregulation that undercut the position of unionized firms.”

The same can be said for the deregulation of financial companies, whose CEOs were responsible for the housing bubble, the mortgage crisis, and ultimately the 2008 recession. It wasn’t legislation that enabled them to act so recklessly but a loosening of rules across all of the agencies that cover our financial systems. When it comes to Congress, Krugman explains, “Right now it looks as if [Trump] may have much less impact on taxing and spending than most people expected. But other policies, often made administratively by federal agencies rather than via legislation, can matter a lot.”

Krugman ends his column on an especially grim note: “As long as he’s in office, he retains a lot of power to betray the working people who supported him. And in case you haven’t noticed, betraying those who trust him is a Trump specialty.”

Read the entire column at the New York Times.

http://www.alternet.org/news-amp-politics/paul-krugman-trump-can-ruin-american-workers-without-passing-single-piece?akid=16003.265072.RxHsun&rd=1&src=newsletter1081405&t=4

Big business, military tighten their grip on Washington

One week after Charlottesville

21 August 2017

It is often the case that the outcome of events reveals the essential issues underlying political developments. This is true of the conflicts that erupted within the ruling class over the Nazi rampage in Charlottesville, which culminated in the dismissal Friday of Trump’s chief strategist Stephen Bannon.

The corporate-controlled media has sought to portray the sequence of events entirely in racial terms, with Bannon and other advocates of “white nationalism” now purged, leaving political control of the White House and the Trump administration in steadier and more “moderate” political hands: a group of generals and ex-generals, headed by White House Chief of Staff John Kelly, together with Wall Street financiers such as Gary Cohn, Trump’s chief economic adviser, and Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin.

The New York Times has led the way, with an editorial Sunday declaring that “Americans accustomed constitutionally and politically to civilian leadership now find themselves relying on three current and former generals—John Kelly, the new White House chief of staff; H. R. McMaster, the national security adviser; and Jim Mattis, the secretary of defense—to stop Mr. Trump from going completely off the rails. Experienced and educated, well-versed in the terrible costs of global confrontation and driven by an impulse toward public service that Mr. Trump doesn’t possess, these three, it is hoped, can counter his worst instincts.”

In the same edition of the Times, a news analysis celebrates what its headline calls “The Moral Voice of Corporate America.” In this account, “a chorus of business leaders rose up this past week to condemn hate groups and espouse tolerance and inclusion.”

Among those named as part of this “chorus” of “moral” leaders are such corporate criminals as Jamie Dimon of JPMorgan Chase, one of those responsible for the 2008 financial collapse; Mary Barra of General Motors, who oversaw the cover-up of an ignition-switch defect that killed hundreds of people; and WalMart CEO Doug McMillon, whose company is a synonym for low-wage exploitation.

The ruling elite saw Trump’s incautious remarks defending the neo-Nazis who rioted in Charlottesville as a serious threat to the interests of American imperialism abroad as well as the maintenance of social and political stability at home. Powerful corporate interests feared the implications for Trump’s agenda of corporate tax cuts, the removal of business regulations, a profit windfall in the guise of infrastructure reform and the gutting of Medicaid and other social programs.

Trump’s self-exposure of his efforts to build an extra-parliamentary fascistic base increased the nervousness in financial circles over the danger of a collapse of the speculative bubble that has been built up since the 2008 Wall Street crash.

The response, laid out most clearly by the Times, has been to increase the grip of the military and corporate America over the government to an extent unprecedented in US history. It is 56 years since President Dwight D. Eisenhower, in his 1961 farewell address, warned of the dangers to democracy posed by the rise of the “military-industrial complex.” He could have no conception of the size, power and degree of dominance exercised by the vast military/intelligence/corporate complex of today.

The first result of this consolidation was the announcement that Trump will deliver a nationwide address tonight, unveiling plans for an expansion of the war in Afghanistan.

What the ruling elite fears above all is the growth of working-class opposition to the Trump administration and the entire political system. Thus, excised from the official narrative promoted by the media is any reference to the reality of social life in America—a country in which 20 individuals control as much wealth as the poorest half of the population—as well as the reactionary agenda of the Trump administration itself. Nor is there any discussion of war and the crimes carried out by “responsible” leaders such as Mattis, who won his appellation “Mad Dog” for his role in destroying the Iraqi city of Fallujah.

This is replaced with a series of diversionary issues, centered on a grossly distorted presentation of the United States as a country seething with racial intolerance and an exaggerated picture of the strength and influence of neo-Nazi and racist forces. Hence one has the apparently contradictory but in fact compatible phenomena, ubiquitous in the Democratic Party-aligned media, of the promotion of identity politics alongside respectful and even admiring portrayals of the white supremacist thugs who demonstrated in Charlottesville.

Typical was a newsletter released Sunday by the New Yorker under the headline, “White Supremacy in America.” In an introduction, David Remnick, author of the hagiographic biography of Obama, The Bridge, proclaims, “Make no mistake: neo-Nazis and white supremacists are now at the forefront of American politics.”

Among the featured articles is one by author Toni Morrison titled “Making America White Again,” which insists that “Unlike any nation in Europe, the United States holds whiteness as the unifying force.” In line with the Democratic Party and its various appendages among the pseudo-left organizations of the privileged middle class, Morrison explains the election of Trump as the product of the racism of “white America”:

On Election Day, how eagerly so many white voters—both the poorly educated and the well educated—embraced the shame and fear sowed by Donald Trump. The candidate whose company has been sued by the Justice Department for not renting apartments to black people. The candidate who questioned whether Barack Obama was born in the United States, and who seemed to condone the beating of a Black Lives Matter protester at a campaign rally. The candidate who kept black workers off the floors of his casinos. The candidate who is beloved by David Duke and endorsed by the Ku Klux Klan.

This effort to portray all whites, and particularly white men, as secret supporters of the KKK is a political fraud. Racism does exist. However, the white supremacists and neo-Nazis who marched in Charlottesville are a tiny minority who are regarded with deep revulsion by the vast majority of working people. A nationwide mobilization could dredge up only a few hundred proponents of this barbaric ideology. Meanwhile, tens of thousands of all races have marched to denounce both Trump and the fascists he defends.

Trump is president today, not because of a mass vote for racism, but because he more successfully appealed to social discontent than the Democratic Party and Hillary Clinton, the personification of the alliance between Wall Street and the military-intelligence apparatus, who did not attempt to conceal her complacent contempt for the plight of tens of millions of working people struggling to survive.

The racialist narrative is being used to demonize large sections of the population, buttress the identity politics of privileged layers of the middle class, provide political cover for a massive transfer of wealth to the rich, rally support for a virtual palace coup by the generals and corporate billionaires, and, above all, divert and suppress an independent movement of the working class.

The overriding threat to democratic rights comes not from a handful of fascist thugs, but from the very alliance of Wall Street and the Pentagon that is being touted as the antidote to the racists in the streets.

As for the Times and the various affiliates of the Democratic Party, they see the real threat coming not from neo-Nazis, but from a socialist movement of the working class.

The promotion of racialist politics and the tightening of military-corporate control over the government go hand-in-hand with the suppression of oppositional views, above all the World Socialist Web Site. Thus the decision taken by Google, in close coordination with the state, to censor and blacklistthe WSWS through the manipulation of search results. This is the prelude to more aggressive actions to target socialist opposition to the policies of the corporate and financial elite.

Patrick Martin and Joseph Kishore

WSWS