America Is Authoritarian by Design

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So often, underlying structures and institutions of oppression escape serious scrutiny amid our country’s most high-profile political dramas. Take the recent conviction of Jason Van Dyke, the white Chicago police officer caught on tape four years ago firing 16 shots into 17-year-old Laquan McDonald.

From its soul-numbing kill tape to McDonald’s family shown and quoted repeatedly across local media, the trial’s coverage took on an almost theatrical tone. We heard from the victim’s family members, the officer’s wife, and the activists celebrating the verdict in the streets. Television cameras zoomed in on the sorry face of the sad killer, right up to the moment he was led out of court as a convicted murderer.

Largely left unsaid was how Van Dyke’s crime was merely a ripple—if an especially provocative one—in a deep sea of racial oppression engulfing Chicago and the nation as a whole.

Before the trial concluded, a veteran Chicago activist and radical commentator told me he’d heard that “Van Dyke will be thrown to the mob” as “a kind of token” to pacify the city’s black population and take the heat off a racist police state. Indeed, the danger of the McDonald-Van Dyke drama and its guilty verdict is that it will function as a safety valve, helping the city and nation’s entrenched racist patterns and institutions maintain their legitimacy, helping spread the illusion that the “system works.”

But it doesn’t work for millions of disproportionately poor black people. Ask the families of Milton Hall, Mike Brown, Eric Garner, Freddie Gray, Tamir Rice, Rekia Boyd, Sandra Bland and the growing list of mostly young African-Americans unjustly killed by American police officers and prison and security guards—all on tape. Ask the hundreds of black Chicagoans who have been terrorized into signing forced confessions for crimes they didn’t commit. Ask the many thousands of black people serving long sentences in Illinois prisons after they were convicted for drug crimes–the type of crimes that whites commit more frequently and without remotely comparable rates of arrest and prosecution.

Ask the millions of black people living in American communities where jobs and doctors’ offices, green spaces and full-service grocery stores, decent public schools and mental-health facilities, public libraries, sit-down restaurants and countless other public and private resources are unavailable—and where police forces (see this 2017 Department of Justice investigation of the Chicago Police Department) function like an invading army of marauding terrorists, a grave threat even to children.

Look at the persistence of huge black-white disparities in income, wealth, poverty, joblessness, health, education, home-ownership, surveillance, arrest, sentencing, incarceration, criminal marking (the “new Jim Crow” of racially disparate felony branding), voter disenfranchisement and more across the U.S.

The repressive policing practices that Van Dyke took to a shocking level are all about keeping blacks savagely separate and unequal. He was tried and convicted only because his crime was caught on tape and exposed through the dedicated efforts of independent activist-journalists and street protesters.

Those activists who helped bring Van Dyke to justice know this all too well. A young Chicago black man interviewed by one television reporter downtown during the “celebration” march said he had “no sense of victory.” The city still feels to him like “a prison” where he’s constantly under the watchful eye of the police, especially when he steps outside of the inferior parts of town to which most black Chicagoans are residentially consigned.

It’s for not nothing that the post-verdict marchers tempered celebratory chants (“We Made History!” and “The People, United, Will Never be Defeated,” for example) with chants noting that it’s “the whole damn system” that must be taken down. Van Dyke may be headed for prison, but they are aware that the racial oppression that plagues “global Chicago” and the nation is still very much intact.

A second case in point is the passion play that unfolded last spring over creeping fascist Donald Trump’s vicious policy of separating migrant children from their parents as they cross the southern border. Cable news viewers saw highly emotional and personalized reporting on the trauma inflicted on Latinx families. Trump and the Immigrations and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agency were portrayed in a most unfavorable light, eliciting liberal and progressive outrage along with activist action that led to the reunification of many of the families torn apart by the Trump administration’s cruelty.

Beyond these dramatic stories, media consumers heard the usual timeworn calls for “comprehensive immigration reform” and clear “paths to citizenship.” Notice, however, what escaped critical examination. As during its breathless coverage of the “unaccompanied minor” migration crisis in 2014, the corporate media this year has had little to say about the following ways in which the United States has helped make Mexico and Central America unlivable for many of its people:

  • Flooding these nations with cheap, subsidized U.S. agricultural exports, devastating campesino communities in the name of “free trade.”
  • Using so-called free trade agreements to force the privatization of government enterprises, the deregulation of corporations, the slashing of social budgets and the displacement of communities by foreign mining projects.
  • Intensifying drug gang violence and power by advancing the militarized “War on Drugs.”
  • Accelerating climate change, which has ravaged Central American coffee and corn production.
  • Funding and equipping authoritarian and violent, mass-murderous “Third World fascist” regimes (including a right-wing junta the Obama administration helped install in Honduras toward the beginning of 2009) and forces allied with U.S. and business interests in Central America.

Thanks to the media’s failure to provide any of this essential historical-hemispheric context, the great majority of Americans are unaware that the United States has a moral obligation to take in and otherwise assist Central American immigrants and refugees seeking to escape situations made hopeless by U.S. intervention and policy.

A third example is the recently completed and all-consuming melodrama over Trump’s successful elevation of the openly partisan and reactionary thug Brett Kavanaugh to the U.S. Supreme Court. There was some early discussion of Kavanaugh’s role as a crafter of legal “justifications” for George W. Bush’s torture practices, his position on behalf of U.S. presidents’ immunity from prosecution (likely the reason Trump nominated him in the first place) and a past ruling of his indicating that he will tip the high court against Roe v. Wade. Soon, however, the confirmation spectacle was overshadowed by Kavanaugh’s horrific behavior as a late adolescent and young man, as well as his lies about his past as a serial drunk and alleged sex offender. The nation sat riveted as Kavanaugh faced off in a television showdown with a woman, Dr. Christine Blasey Ford, who had accused him of attempted rape.

It is disgusting almost beyond words that a likely sexual predator and obvious dissembler will render judgment on matters of solemn legal, political and societal relevance for a generation. But as troubling as Kavanaugh’s personal history and untruthfulness are, it’s been even more troubling to see them render important questions about abortion rights, presidential immunity from prosecution, and torture virtually meaningless.

Equally distressing has been our continuing failure to address the authoritarian absurdity of essential political and judicial institutions crafted by 18th century slave owners and merchant capitalists for whom self-governance was the ultimate nightmare. Why in the name of anything remotely akin to democracy should Kavanaugh and his eight high court colleagues hold these powerful positions for life? That Constitutionally ordained silliness is owed to the slave-owning Founders’ stern determination to “check and balance” popular rule.

How does a right-wing Republican majority in the U.S. Senate get to confirm a militantly anti-democratic, sexist and partisan hack to the highest court in the land when U.S. public opinion stands well to the left of both Kavanaugh and the GOP on countless policy issues, including union rights, affirmative action, environmental regulation, campaign finance, abortion, the need for viable third and fourth parties, gun control, same-sex marriage, taxation and more? This can happen in no small part because the ludicrously venerated U.S. Constitution assigns two U.S. senators to each U.S. state, regardless of differences in population.

Red Wyoming, home to more than 573,720 Americans, holds U.S. senatorial parity with blue California, where 39.5 million Americans reside. That’s one U.S. senator for every 19.5 million Californians vs. one U.S. senator for every 287,000 Wyoming residents.

Just one of New York City’s five boroughs, Brooklyn, has 2.6 million people. If Brooklyn were a state and U.S. senators were apportioned there at the same populace-to-senator ratio as Wyoming, Brooklyn would have nine U.S. senators. (It’s unlikely that a single one of them would be a Republican.)

The following 13 states together have a combined population of roughly 34.4 million: Alaska, Arizona, Arkansas, Idaho, Iowa, Kansas, Louisiana, Mississippi, Nebraska, Oklahoma, South Dakota, Utah and Wyoming. Together these 13 red states send 26 Republicans to the U.S. Senate. California, with 5 million more people than these 13 states combined, sends two Democrats to the upper chamber of Congress.

The predominantly Democratic and half-black District of Columbia is home to 693,972 people, more than all of Wyoming and just 46,000 fewer than that of Alaska. That it is denied a single U.S. senator and serious representation in the House of Representatives is preposterous.

This profoundly undemocratic apportionment system means that the Republican Senate majority answers to a disproportionately white, rural and reactionary section of the electorate. Due to “a growing population shift from the agricultural interior to crowded corridors along the coast,” journalist Daniel Lazare noted last year, it is mathematically possible now to “cobble together a Senate majority with states that account for just 17.6 percent of the popular vote.”

Other such anti-democratic traditions include, but are not limited to:

  • An Electoral College that “triples the clout of the eight smallest states and doubles that of the next six” (Lazare). This ridiculous system has ensured that two (2000 and 2016) of the last five presidential elections have gone to the popular vote loser.
  • Rampant gerrymandering that tilts state legislatures and the House of Representatives far to the right of the populace.
  • Strictly scheduled and time-staggered elections, combined with absurd propaganda telling Americans that they get real and significant policy “input” by selecting from a narrow spectrum of major party contenders once every 730 or 1460 days.
  • A Supreme-Court-mandated campaign finance system that, according to political scientists Martin Gilens and Benjamin Page, all but guarantees government policy reflects the “wishes of those with money, not the wishes of the millions of ordinary citizens who turn out every two years to choose among the pre-approved, money-vetted candidates for federal office” (emphasis added).

The openly plutocratic domination of U.S. politics (explicitly validated in the Supreme Court’s 1976 Buckley v. Valeo and 2010 Citizens United decisions) is no small part of why the Democrats function as a dismal, corporate-centrism in the face of the Republicans’ horrifying drift toward an Amerikaner fascism.

Meanwhile, the Republican Party’s control of all three branches of federal government makes an abject mockery of the Founders’ claim to have pre-empted tyrannical government with a system of institutional “checks and balances.” What do “checks and balances” mean when the same party controls the executive, legislative and judicial institutions and the opposition offers a pale facsimile of the same? What is a “constitutional republic” whose high court has helped hand the keys of state power over to the holders of concentrated wealth?

Presiding over this failed state, of course, is Donald Trump—the perfect avatar for a corporate, financial and military oligarchy systematically pillaging the state. Without denying Trump’s myriad evils, we would do well to heed Chris Hedges’ eloquent reminder that the Insane Clown president is a symptom, not the cause, of societal problems that go far deeper than his own shallow life. From Hedges’ aptly titled new book, “America: The Farewell Tour:

<blockquote> The destruction of democratic institutions, places where the citizen has agency and a voice, is far graver than the ascendancy to the White Hose of the demagogue Trump. A creeping corporate coup d’etat has destroyed our two-party system. It destroyed labor unions. It destroyed public education. It destroyed the judiciary. It destroyed the press. It destroyed academia. It destroyed consumer and environmental protection. It destroyed our industrial base. It destroyed communities and cities. And it destroyed the lives of tens of millions of Americans no longer able to find work that provides a living wage, cursed to live in chronic poverty or locked in cages in our monstrous system of mass incarceration.

This coup also destroyed the credibility of liberal democracy. Self-identified liberals such as Bill and Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama mouthed the words of liberal democratic values while making war on these values in the service of corporate power. The revolt we see rippling across the country is a revolt not only against the corporate system that has betrayed workers, but also, for many, liberal democracy itself. This is very dangerous. It will allow the radical right to cement into place an Americanized fascism. </blockquote>

Postscript:

Last Thursday, as Florida and Georgia emerged from the wreckage of Hurricane Michael, cable news buzzed over a strange soap opera unfolding in the Oval Office: Troubled pop star Kanye West had presented the president with a model “iPlane,” explaining, “This is what our president should be flying in.”

West delivered a strange 10-minute soliloquy that touched on his own bipolar disorder, the 13th Amendment, Adidas, Chicago, and Trump as a national father figure who embodied the “male energy” he had missed in his childhood. While dozens of media personnel arrayed around the president’s desk snapped pictures and took notes, West explained his decision to wear a red “Make America Great Again” baseball cap:

<blockquote>“You know they tried to scare me to not wear this hat. My own friends. But this hat gives me a different power in a way. You know my dad and my mom separated, so I didn’t have a lot of male energy in my home. And also I’m married to a family that, you know, not a lot of male energy going on. It’s beautiful though … you know I love Hillary, I love everyone. Right. But the campaign, ‘I’m With Her’ just didn’t make me feel, as a guy, that didn’t get to see my dad all the time. … It was something about when I put this hat on, it made me feel like Superman. You made a Superman. That’s my favorite superhero and [you] made a Superman cape for me. … Also, as a guy that looks up to you, looks up to Ralph Lauren, looks up to American industry guys, nonpolitical, no bullshit … and just gets it done.” </blockquote>

It was a sorry spectacle in which one narcissistic personality celebrated another as a straight-shooting “American industry guy” who “just gets it done,” even as the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change warned that we’re galloping toward the end of human civilization as we know it.

At the end of Kanye’s disturbing oration, Trump smiled broadly. “I’ll tell you what,” he said, “that was very impressive.”

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Chicago Will Burn if Laquan McDonald’s Killer Walks

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My earliest memories of growing up in Chicago are steeped in racial tension and political violence: a street covered with Chicago police cars because Malcolm X was speaking under threat of assassination at a local mosque; Martin Luther King meeting a hail of rocks and bottles in a white-ethnic neighborhood on the city’s Southwest Side; and much of the city’s black West Side erupting in flames, with Mayor Richard J. Daley telling police to “shoot to kill” rioters in the wake of King’s assassination.

That was seven Chicago mayors and 11 U.S. presidents ago. In the intervening decades, Chicago has moved along with the rest of urban America into a neoliberal, post-civil rights era, in which persistent racial hypersegregation and inequality are cloaked, to a degree, by the rise of a black middle class and by the presence of black faces in high and visible places, be they among television news teams or state and federal officials.

Along the way, Chicago emerged as a global city—a prominent center of national and international finance, trade, real estate, tourism, culture and information technology. A corporate and financial growth machine steered the city past the postindustrial decline that plagued other Rust Belt cities.

Beneath the shine of a monied downtown (the Loop) and its ever-expanding zones of professional-class gentrification, however, the city remains militantly separate and unequal. Chicago is the most segregated city in the nation, with a black-white “residential dissimilarity index” of 82.5 (a rate of zero indicates complete integration and 100 means complete segregation) and a black-Latinx measure of 82.2.

The majority of the city’s black children grow up in poor neighborhoods that are 90 percent or more black. These community areas are shockingly bereft of basic opportunities, services and amenities, from job networks to good public schools, full-service grocery stores, doctors’ offices, green space and nonfast-food restaurants. They are deprived of public and private investment by a metropolitan order that grants massive tax breaks and other subsidies to rich and powerful commercial real estate developers in the more affluent, whiter parts of town.

“There’s been a huge depopulation of [blacks] south of the West Side,” Chicago anti-war and anti-racist activist Andy Thayer tells me. The city’s neoliberal mayor, Rahm Emanuel, has “made black neighborhoods unlivable,” Thayer says, by “starving them of public resources, closing public schools and mental health clinics.”

The results are not pretty. A University of Illinois at Chicago (UIC) report last year found racial and ethnic inequality in the city so “pervasive, persistent, and consequential” as to make life for white, black and Latino Chicagoans “a tale of three cities.” Combing through census and other data, the UIC’s Institute for Research on Race and Public Policy found that Chicago has “fail[ed] to address the long-term consequences of decades of formal and widespread private and public discrimination along with continuing forms of entrenched … institutional and interpersonal forms of discrimination.” Among its findings:

&#x25cf; At 18 percent, Chicago’s black unemployment rate is more than four times the city’s white unemployment rate (4 percent) and double the Latinx rate (9 percent).

&#x25cf; Nearly a third of Chicago’s black families, but less than a tenth of the city’s white families, live below the federal government’s notoriously inadequate poverty line.

&#x25cf; In 1960, the typical white Chicago family earned 1.6 times more than the typical black family. Today, the typical white family earns 2.2 times more than typical black families.

&#x25cf; Black and Latino households experience rampant mortgage interest rate and payment schedule discrimination.

&#x25cf; Home foreclosures are drastically overconcentrated in black and Latino communities, with as much as 25 percent of the housing stock abandoned in some all-black South Side neighborhoods.

&#x25cf; Nine in ten black and Latino students attend schools where 75 percent or more of the student population is eligible for free or reduced-cost lunches.

&#x25cf; Black students are suspended at four times the rate of Latinos and 23 times the rate of whites.

&#x25cf; While crime is down in Chicago, incarceration rates have skyrocketed due to policy shifts, including aggressive policing strategies and mandatory-minimum sentencing. Illinois’ disproportionately (60 percent) black prisons are operating at 150 percent of maximum capacity, fueled largely by racially discriminatory policing and sentencing practices.

&#x25cf; Chicagoans of color are subject to far more police surveillance and intervention than whites. “Although blacks and Latinos have their vehicle searched at four times the rate of their white counterparts,” UIC researchers find, “they are half as likely to be in possession of illegal contraband or a controlled substance.”

&#x25cf; Blacks experience heart disease, stroke, infant mortality, low birth weight and mortality in general at far higher rates than whites.

Violence looms around every corner in much of black Chicago, and not just the violence of inner-city gangs. The “biggest gang of all,” many black residents will tell you, is the Chicago Police Department (CPD), a leading enforcer of the city’s durable and interrelated barriers of race, class and place. In a report on the CPD by the Department of Justice in the final days of the Obama administration, federal investigators painted an ugly picture of a major metropolitan gendarme force out of control in black and Latino neighborhoods:

<blockquote>Chicago Police Department (CPD) officers engage in a pattern or practice of using force, including deadly force, that is unreasonable. … Officers engage in … unnecessary foot pursuits … [that] too often end with officers unreasonably shooting someone—including unarmed individuals. … Officers shoot at vehicles without justification. … Officers exhibit poor discipline when discharging their weapons …[and often] fail … to await backup when they safely could and should. … CPD officers shot at suspects who presented no immediate threat … and us[e] unreasonable retaliatory force and unreasonable force against children. …

CPD’s pattern or practice of unreasonable force … fall[s] heaviest on the predominantly black and Latino neighborhoods on the South and West Sides of Chicago, which are also experiencing higher crime. … CPD uses force almost ten times more often against blacks than against whites.</blockquote>

Chicago’s Independent Police Review Authority received no less than 10,000 excessive-force complaints between 2008 and 2015, resulting in the dismissal of just four officers.

One of the many black people killed by Chicago police in recent years was Harith Augustus. A respected barber and dedicated father of a little girl, Augustus was gunned down by a white officer who shot him at least five times in the back as he ran away. The police initiated the incident by trying to apprehend him as he walked peacefully down a street in the black South Side neighborhood of South Shore.

The department absurdly justified the shooting by claiming that Augustus, 37, was “exhibiting the characteristics of an armed person.”

As the officer who killed Augustus was whisked away in a patrol car, protesters gathered at the scene, charging “murder.” A melee ensued between black community residents and 80 to 100 officers. By Chicago Sun-Times reporter Nader Issa’s account, “Dozens of officers were called to help control a tense scene as more than 100 people crowded around, chanting at police, ‘Who do you serve? Who do you protect?’&nbsp;”

Could the city explode in racial violence again, on a larger, 1968-level, in response to police violence and repression?

Yes, it could, thanks to how the case of Laquan McDonald and Jason Van Dyke, the Chicago police officer who killed him four years ago, is being handled by the authorities. Van Dyke is currently on trial for the shooting.

You can see the Oct. 20, 2014, incident online. The police dashcam video of the killing has been viewed millions of times since the public demanded its release in late 2015.

You watch the young victim walking away from his killer. You see 17-year-old Laquan’s body lying on the ground, curled up in a fetal position and jolted as Van Dyke pumps multiple bullets into him. Van Dyke drilled McDonald 16 times in 15 seconds, with the suspect on the ground for 13 of those seconds.

What sets Van Dyke’s shooting apart from the broad run of incidents in which black people are killed by police is its palpable and widely viewed heinousness, to say nothing of the outrage it elicited in Chicago’s black community and around the world.

The Van Dyke-McDonald shooting tape is certainly the most inflammatory and widely observed film evidence of racist police brutality to make its way into the mass media since the video that showed a large group Los Angeles police officers beating Rodney King nearly three decades ago.

Chicago was roiled by protests that became national-headline news after the video came out in late 2015. But for those protests, Van Dyke would never have been charged with murder.

Nobody grasped the historic nature of the shooting when it occurred. “The McDonald killing,” Thayer recalls, “was just another blip.” But for an inside tip from an anonymous police officer to prominent Chicago activist Jamie Kalven, nobody would have learned about the horrific nature of Laquan’s shooting or the existence of the videotape. And but for the dedicated Freedom of Information activism of an Uber-driving, independent journalist named Brandon Smith, the tape would never been released. The city produced the tape only because it was legally compelled to by a county judge ruling in a lawsuit filed by Smith.

It wasn’t the tape alone tape that brought thousands into the streets and raised demands for Emanuel’s exit from City Hall. Emanuel added fuel to the fire by keeping the tape under wraps because he feared it would deep-six his chance of winning the black votes he needed after years of alienating the community by closing dozens of public schools in their neighborhoods and stonewalling on racist police abuse and misconduct (including the operation of a “black site” detention center on the city’s West Side).

Emanuel, it was ultimately revealed, had offered McDonald’s family a $5 million settlement to keep it quiet prior to the mayor’s re-election bid in the spring of 2015.

Emanuel claimed that he’d never seen the video prior to its release on Nov. 24, 2015—a preposterous story, given his approval of the settlement prior to the election.

Van Dyke, Laquan’s killer, was allowed to stay on the force, at full pay, for 13 months after conducting an extrajudicial killing that was clearly captured on tape.

Journalists later discovered that other Chicago officers on the scene threatened eyewitnesses with arrest and deleted more than an hour of footage from a fast-food restaurant near the shooting site. Numerous Chicago police officers who witnessed the killing protected Van Dyke (in accordance with “blue code”) by making abjectly counterfeit reports claiming that McDonald posed an imminent threat to his killer.

In a meeting with black ministers before the video’s release, Emanuel arrogantly warned them that he would withhold money for jobs programs in black neighborhoods if civil unrest ensued.

Emanuel has recently announced that he will not run for a third term in 2019, recognizing that his handling of the killing likely doomed him among black voters.

Emmanuel, the school privatization champion, “can’t even visit one of his inner-city charter schools,” Thayer reports, “without the kids all chanting ‘Sixteen Shots and a Cover-Up! Sixteen Shots and a Cover-Up!’&nbsp;”

Both the trial and its runup have been disquieting. Chicago media helped Van Dyke’s lawyer try to pollute the jury pool prior to jury selection by publishing interviews in which Van Dyke said, “You don’t ever want to shoot your gun. I never would have fired my gun if I didn’t think my life was in jeopardy or another citizen’s life was.”

A local television station broadcast a pre-jury-selection interview in which Van Dyke’s wife tearfully told viewers that she is “petrified” over the prospect of her husband going to prison for “doing the job for which he was trained.”

Van Dyke’s defense attorney, Daniel Herbert, failed to get the trial moved out of Chicago’s Cook County but succeeded in securing a 12-person jury composed of just one black person, seven white people and a Latina who is applying to be a Chicago Police Department officer. Chicago is 32.9 percent black.

At trial, the opening statement by Van Dyke’s attorney was equally provocative. As the Chicago Tribune reported, “Herbert said Van Dyke paused to reassess after firing 14 of the 16 shots. He didn’t know if they were lethal gunshots. He didn’t know if Laquan McDonald had the ability to get back up and attack him,” he said. ‘McDonald holds on to his knife the whole time he’s on the ground. Despite being shot 14 times, he starts making movements.’&nbsp;”

In what bizarre universe was McDonald a threat to the gun-wielding Van Dyke as the bullet-riddled teenager lay dying?

On the second day of the trial, Herbert rolled out Van Dyke’s former partner, Officer Joe Walsh, who claimed that McDonald “raised [his] knife to shoulder height and swung it moments before Van Dyke opened fire.” The video shows Walsh’s testimony to be a bald-faced lie.

The defense has brought out an expert witness to perversely claim that the large number of shots Van Dyke pumped into Laquan didn’t matter because the 17-year-old was killed by an early bullet; presented a Cook County detention officer with stories of McDonald’s past “agitation,” as though that were justification for his killing; had a Chicago Police Department officer testify that McDonald “looked deranged” before he was killed; and presented evidence that the victim had taken PCP, a drug that can give users a feeling of “omnipotence.”

On Tuesday, Van Dyke’s attorney put him on the stand. “His [Laquan’s] face had no expression, his eyes were just bugging out of his head,” Van Dyke said. “He had these huge white eyes, just staring right through me,” he told the jury.

“Huge white eyes” that were “bugging out of his head”? At best, Van Dyke’s language is highly racialized. At worst, it’s overtly racist.

The irony is that Van Dyke, not McDonald, was the attacker, wielding a deadly, rapid-fire pistol. What kind of expression did Van Dyke have on his face while he launched a fusillade of bullets into the stricken youth?

A veteran black activist tells me he’s heard that “Van Dyke will be thrown to the mob” as “a kind of token” to pacify the city’s black population and take the heat off a racist police state.

Closing arguments are due no later than Friday, and a verdict could be handed down as early as next week. A rally is planned outside City Hall one hour after the decision, whatever its outcome.

Could Chicago explode if Van Dyke walks? Every activist and observer I’ve spoken to here says the chances of mass protest and disturbances are high, because the city’s black neighborhoods are full of young people fed up with brutal and racist policing and the savage inequality and segregation that it enforces.

That Emanuel, widely hated in the black community, is leaving could temper things. At the same time the fact that “Mayor Rhambo”—a great lover of the militarized police state—no longer has to worry about losing black votes could help entice him to order a harsh crackdown on protests.

My prediction: guilty on second- but not first-degree murder. If it’s “not guilty,” there will be hell to pay.

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The Establishment’s ‘Fear’ is Different From Yours

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The instantly famous Anonymous New York Times Op Ed (ATOE), published Sept. 5, in which a senior Trump administration official complained about the brutish awfulness and incompetence of Donald Trump and claimed to be working with other White House officials to check Trump’s worst impulses, has evoked a range of responses on so-called social media.

“The author is Mike Pence,” a first correspondent wrote to me, because the editorial’s anonymous author (hereafter “AA”) used the word “lodestar,” an unusual word that Pence has used many times in the past.

No—too easy. The word choice seems calculated to throw people off. Pence, Trump’s presidential heir apparent in the case of constitutional removal, is like the first suspect in every murder mystery. He’s the person who initially seems to make sense as the culprit and then fades as the investigation gets more serious.

As William Saletan showed on Slate, moreover, there’s a strong linguistic, ideological and broadly political case for the AOTE’s real author being Jon Huntsman, Trump’s ambassador to Russia.

The ATOE was “treason,” a second correspondent—an online Trumpenleftist wrote me. Wrong. The ATOE wasn’t treasonous unless we idiotically conclude that the president (a global real estate mogul) and the U.S. nation-state are one and the same, as in “L’Etat, C’est Trump.”

“It’s an imperialist coup,” another “left” Trump apologist (such preposterous “red-brown” people are surprisingly common online) told me. That was amusing. It conjured images of Trump—himself a foiled (so far) billionaire advocate of a U.S.-sponsored coup to overthrow the democratically elected Maduro government in Venezuela—as Mohammad Mosaddegh, Jacobo Arbenz, Patrice Lumumba, Salvador Allende or Manuel Zelaya.

It is not a “coup” or “treason” if top staffers in an administration turn against the president of the United States (POTUS). It’s an egregious failure of that POTUS to achieve loyalty and consensus across the executive branch. Trump is not owed such loyalty and consensus simply because of his title. POTUS is not a king.

(You’ve got to hand it to the Trumpenleft: They say they want a revolution and then they raise alarms about “the plot against the president,” who happens to be a creeping fascist and arch-plutocrat with openly totalitarian instincts and behaviors.)

“The op-ed only makes things worse,” a fourth correspondent wrote me, “by feeding the orange beast’s conspiratorial ‘deep state’ paranoia and that of his white-nationalist base.” (I had the same thought at first. If the ATOE had self-described lefties writing me feverishly about “treason” and an attempted “deep state coup” against poor Donald Trump, imagine how it’s been playing out in the minds of the president and his more fully right-wing and armed white-Amerikaner backers!)

“This,” a fifth correspondent wrote me, “looks like the biggest example in history of ‘cover your ass.’ ” In this correspondent’s view, the AA and his allies are aware that veterans of the current Insane Clown White House are falling short of usual post-West Wing salary and career expectations when they leave. The AA and his circle in the administration want be able to tell prospective future employers and/or voters and campaign funders that “we tried our best to check the wacky tyrant. We were doing our duty to the nation and the world by staying in the administration.”

That is a workable hypothesis, one which makes a lot of sense to me. I would add here that the AA and his Times editors may be trying to cover not only their own asses but those of the whole Trump-sullied U.S.-American establishment, the Republican Party and the American Empire as well.

Whoever he may be (my money is on Huntsman), the AA is clearly no friend of the left. He says this explicitly: “Ours is not the popular ‘resistance’ of the left.” (Of course, his notion of “the left” he’s not part of absurdly includes the corporate-neoliberal Democrats.)

The ATOE reflects a standard neoliberal, establishment Republican perspective, one that seeks to align itself with traditionally Republican victories attained under Trump while distancing itself from the malevolent stink of associating with him.

The AA writes that “We want the administration to succeed and think that many of its policies have already made America safer and more prosperous.” He praises Trump’s presidency for “effective deregulation, historic tax reform, a more robust military and more.”

Consistent with the Republican Party establishment’s long and noxious embrace of racist-nativist dog-whistling and climate denial, the ATOE says nothing about the Trump administration’s two most egregious sins beyond its shocking and relentless hyper-Orwellian practice of the “permanent lie” (the constant and maddening distortion of facts and truth): (1) its racist and even creeping fascist rhetoric and actions regarding immigrants and people of color and others, and (2) its zealous carbon-capitalist acceleration of the Greenhouse Gassing-to-Death of Life on Earth, a crime that promises to make even the Nazis look like small-time criminals.

The second problem—state-capitalist ecocide—is being advanced with noteworthy efficiency by the Trump administration. “While the Trump administration swirls around in a vortex of Tweets, lies and Russiagate,” Joshua Frank noted on Counterpunch last weekend, “one thing is for certain, while we are all distracted and perplexed by the daily mayhem, Trump and his fossil fuel buddies are getting away with environmental plunder.” The administration’s infamous incompetence and dysfunctionality (much bemoaned by the AA) does not extend to the ecocide project, curiously enough—a topic that fails to receive significant media attention despite its status as the biggest issue of our or any time.

The AA fears and loathes Trump for ruling-class and imperialist reasons, not for ones that ought to most concern people who care about democracy, social justice and prospects for a decent future.

He is typical among establishment political actors from both major capitalist and imperialist U.S. parties in that regard. As I’ve been writing and saying from before the Trump presidency, the establishment—from people like Huntsman, George Will, the late John McCain, Dick Cheney and Jeff Flake on the right to folks like Rachel Maddow, Bob Woodward, the Clintons, Barack Obama, Tim Kaine, John Kerry and Anderson Cooper on the so-called left—hates Trump for reasons different from those that ought to most concern we the people.

What are the mainstream ruling class’ problems with Trump? The main wealth and power elite policy complaints are that the “populist,” “isolationist” and “protectionist” president is woefully ignorant about, and even strangely opposed to, the standard institutional structures of U.S. empire and of U.S.-dominated global trade and investment.

Then there’s the explicitness of Trump’s racial bigotry and sexism; the openness of Trump’s authoritarianism and totalitarianism; and the transparent “beyond the pale” malignancy and childishness of his Twitter-addicted narcissism (so extreme that he feels compelled to deny the number of Puerto Ricans who died in the wake of Hurricane Maria last year). There’s also the remarkable extent of Trump’s stubborn idiocy, deepened by his ridiculous (if textbook narcissist) faith in his own superiority; and troubling connections between “the House of Trump,” Russian state-connected oligarchs and the “the House of Putin” going back many years.

Properly restrained divide-and-rule racism has long been okay for the ruling class, but Trump is far too seriously invested in toxic racial bigotry for an American elite that has learned to cloak persistent white supremacism in the flags of diversity and tolerance.

Standard “imperial presidency” authoritarianism has always been fine with the establishment, but Trump takes it to preposterous levels by transparently attacking the rule of law and the independence of the corporate media.

The U.S. establishment has long tolerated and even cultivated fascism in Third World client states but not in the “homeland” itself, the supposed exceptional headquarters and beacon of so-called capitalist democracy and liberty.

Presidential lying has long been tolerated and even applauded in the national media-political culture, but Trump goes far beyond acceptable elite norms with his wild and shameless advance of untruth. He averaged 16 false and misleading statements per day in June and July of this year. His astonishing record of grotesque, self-serving falsehood (e.g., the ridiculous charge that he was denied a popular vote victory by illegal immigrant ballots and the sickening claim that the Puerto Rican death toll from Hurricane Maria was tiny) includes numerous “permanent lie” fabrications that he repeats again and again—long after they’ve been exposed as fictions.

The U.S. remains a patriarchal and sexist nation, but the beauty pageant pussy-grabber-in-chief is a disturbing embarrassment.

Standard presidential narcissism (i.e., Bill Clinton and Barack Obama) is fine, but Trump’s constant Twitter-weaponized shame-fest and his endless reality-television drama are just too nationally humiliating. He’s been turning the executive branch of the world’s most powerful state into something on par with “The Apprentice,” if not “The Maury Povich Show.”

It’s OK for the president to be stupid as far as the ruling class is concerned. Look at George W. Bush. He was an abject dolt who thought God had told him to invade Iraq. But “Du[m]bya” had the decency to know that he was a figurehead for purportedly smarter establishment actors and let himself be managed by ruling class “adults” like Cheney and Robert Gates.

Corruption and captivity to wealthy elites from the U.S. and some other rich, U.S.-allied nations is one thing. Potential captivity to a “hostile power” (as Russia is officially designated by the U.S. foreign policy establishment and media) is another.

Above all, perhaps, Trump is just too unpredictable and impulsive for the ruling class. It’s hard to make decent investment decisions when the White House is a fickle and capricious horror show that might (for example) impose (or roll back) a whole new set of tariffs or insult a “valued trading and investment partner” on a foolish tyrant’s bizarre whim from one day to the next.

There are limits to just how malevolent a U.S. president can be before he turns into an imperial public relations liability.

I caught Bob Woodward’s appearance on Rachel Maddow’s widely viewed MSNBC talk show last week. The remarkably dull and uninspiring Woodward was there to pitch his recently released instant bestseller “Fear: Trump in the White House.

Neither Maddow nor Woodward said anything about Trump’s racism-fascism or about Trump’s acceleration of ecocide (though Maddow preceded her Woodward interview by helping break the news that the Trump administration had diverted $10 million from the Federal Emergency Management Agency to pay for building racist immigrant detention centers—no small story as Hurricane Florence bore down on the Carolinas).

The basic theme of the segment was that Trump is bad at U.S. “global leadership” (also known as U.S. imperialism), as well as at what Woodward and Maddow risibly called “avoiding World War III,” and at ensuring U.S. domination of global trade. Maybe they should have complained that Trump’s anti-immigrant stance was helping shrink the reserve army of easily exploitable cheap labor.

Trump is a dangerous monster who needs to be removed from the White House and the nation’s political life. On that all decent people can agree. But we can’t stop there. The Fake Resistance and Inauthentic Opposition Party (the Democrats and some traditional Republicans) seek the removal of Trump, to be sold as a great victory for popular democracy while preserving the reign of the nation’s unelected and interrelated juntas of capital, empire, race and militarized police-state repression.

And that’s not good enough, not with the species teetering on the edge of full environmental catastrophe under the soulless command of the profits system. We need a rebellion, indeed a revolution (and not just a political one) that goes much deeper than merely the amputation of the malignant symptom of Amerikan cruelty, plutocracy, sexism, racism and stupidity that is Trump.

We need to undertake a giant popular uprising that targets the whole U.S. state-capitalist societal order and its vast imperial and repressive edifice at home and abroad—the broad institutional and cultural structures of oppression (including the Democratic Party) that made something as noxious as a Donald Trump presidency possible in the first place.</i> “The Trump administration,” Chris Hedges noted on Truthdig last May:

Did not rise, prima facie, like Venus on a half shell from the sea. Donald Trump is the result of a long process of political, cultural and social decay. He is a product of our failed democracy. The longer we perpetuate the fiction that we live in a functioning democracy, that Trump and the political mutations around him are somehow an aberrant deviation that can be vanquished in the next election, the more we will hurtle toward tyranny. The problem is not Trump. It is a political system, dominated by corporate power and the mandarins of the two major political parties, in which we don’t count.” We will wrest back political control by dismantling the corporate state, and this means massive and sustained civil disobedience.… If we do not stand up, we will enter a new dark age.

The “real issue to be faced,” Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. wrote in his final essay, “is the radical reconstruction of society itself.”

That’s the last thing you’ll hear from Establishment elites. They have a simple fake-fix: Vote for Democrats in the midterms. “The best way to protest,” the deeply conservative former president Barack Obama told University of Illinois students three days after the ATOE, “is to vote. … When you vote, you’ve got the power. …”

Really? We get to vote, yes, but mammon reigns nonetheless in the United States, where, as the mainstream political scientists Benjamin Page and Martin Gilens note in their important book Democracy in America?, “government policy … reflects the wishes of those with money, not the wishes of the millions of ordinary citizens who turn out every two years to choose among the preapproved, money-vetted candidates for federal office”—candidates like Obama, who blew up the public presidential campaign finance system with record-setting contributions from the likes of Goldman Sachs and Citigroup in 2008.

Am I saying you shouldn’t vote for Democrats in the midterms? No, I’m not. It’s important to try to oust the openly ecocidal and creeping fascist Republican Party from its control of the U.S. Congress and the state governments. Trust me, fellow workers and citizens, you do not want to live under Trump if the GOP keeps both the House and the Senate. So suck it up and vote if you live in a contested district. But do so without any faith in the notion that voting under the oligarchic U.S. electoral and party system is anything close to the real and democratic politics that matter most or anything like what Obama called in Illinois “everybody doing their part” for “this whole project of self-government.” Our greatest intellectual Noam Chomsky put it very well on the eve of the 2004 elections:

<blockquote>Americans may be encouraged to vote, but not to participate more meaningfully in the political arena. … A huge propaganda campaign is mounted to get people to focus on these personalized quadrennial extravaganzas and to think, ‘That’s politics.’ But it isn’t. It’s only a small part of politics. … The urgency is for popular progressive groups to grow and become strong … by steady, dedicated work at all levels, every day, not just once every four years … You can’t ignore the elections. You should recognize that one of the two groups now contending for power happens to be extremist and dangerous and has already caused plenty of trouble and could cause plenty more. … So in the election, sensible choices have to be made. But they are secondary to serious political action. The main task is to create a genuinely responsive democratic culture, and that effort goes on before and after electoral extravaganzas, whatever their outcome (emphasis added).</blockquote>

Chomsky’s good friend Howard Zinn said it even better nearly four years later, as the Obama phenomenon had engulfed the entire society, including “the left,” in the nation’s quadrennial “Election Madness”:

I’m talking about a sense of proportion that gets lost in the election madness. Would I support one candidate against another? Yes, for two minutes—the amount of time it takes to pull the lever down in the voting booth, …But before and after those two minutes, our time, our energy, should be spent in educating, agitating, organizing our fellow citizens in the workplace, in the neighborhood, in the schools. Our objective should be to build, painstakingly, patiently but energetically, a movement that, when it reaches a certain critical mass, would shake whoever is in the White House, in Congress, into changing national policy on matters of war and social justice. … Let’s remember that even when there is a ‘better’ candidate (yes, better Roosevelt than Hoover, better anyone than George Bush), that difference will not mean anything unless the power of the people asserts itself in ways that the occupant of the White House will find it dangerous to ignore. … Yes, two minutes. Before that, and after that, we should be taking direct action against the obstacles to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness (emphasis added).

There has long been a self-destructive and frankly pathetic degree of intra-leftist bloodletting on how portsiders can best respond to the absurdly narrow range of choices on offer in the U.S. party and elections system. This venom among progressives and radicals is badly misplaced. It must stop. The real and serious political action is about what we do before and after, not during elections.

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Creeping Fascism Isn’t a Problem for Trump’s Durable Base

Read more of this story here from Truthdig RSS by Paul Street.

How, liberals and progressives ask with shocked amazement, can Trump’s supporters continue to back him? They persist even as one piece of evidence after another emerges of his epic and pathological gaslighting, his shameless immorality, his abject criminality, his wild stupidity and his corruption. Then there’s his chilling authoritarianism, his tendency toward fascism, his ugly sexism, his textbook malignant narcissism and his nasty racism.

These flummoxed observers aren’t wrong about Donald “Don’t Believe What You See and Hear” Trump’s terrible, duplicitous and unabashedly Orwellian nature, but their incredulity is naïve.

Yes, the evidence is clear as day—to people who pay serious attention to evidence. Nine of every 10 Americans—and certainly a larger share of Republicans and Trump-backers—believe in the existence of God. Ask most Americans what exactly one is supposed to believe in when it comes to “God,” and they will say little or nothing in the way of empirical proof. It’s never quite clear what the concept and word means. It’s about faith, not evidence.

Evidence is easily devalued in a faith-based nation in which magical thinking (a critical component of authoritarianism and hardly limited to religious and metaphysical matters) is rife.

Cognitive dissonance,” a mental pattern first identified by the psychologist Leon Festinger, doesn’t help. People confronted with evidence that contradicts their convictions don’t typically correct their beliefs, Festinger found. Instead, they more commonly double down on their mistaken idea rather than face the mental and egoic pain associated with admitting erroneous thinking. The more they have invested in and even lost from false beliefs, the more they will respond to contrary evidence by actually intensifying their attachment to those untrue notions. (This may help explain how Trump often seems to gain support after talking heads, reporters and politicos call him out for saying or tweeting something particularly absurd.)

Right-wing media worsens the problem. A potent network of counterfactual white Republican news and opinion outlets regularly amplify and reinforce fact-trumping feelings and cognitively dissonant reactions. Watch Fox News and listen to noxiously racist, nationalist and neo-McCarthyite talk-radio hate-mongers like Rush Limbaugh and Mark Levin. Nothing is clear as day across the soulless landscape of radically conservative media, where 2+2=5; war is peace; love is hate; corporate Democrats are Marxists; antifa is a giant mass movement created by the Democratic Party; black football players who take knees during the national anthem are traitors; the billionaire rentier Donald Trump is a friend of the working man; anthropogenic global warming is a “hoax”; and “God” wants us to burn every last fossil fuel on Earth. As Trump’s wacky post-modernist lawyer Rudolph Giuliani put it recently, “truth isn’t truth.”

Feelings trump facts all the time in the U.S. This is true on both sides of the major-party aisle. Talking in 2007 and 2008 to highly educated campus-town liberal Democrats, including plenty of doctorate-holders and religious skeptics, I consistently found that facts were of little use in trying to dent their deeply entrenched and utterly false view that Barack Obama was a people’s champion of peace, democracy and social justice. To paraphrase the Beatles, they had “a feeling [about Obama]–a feeling deep inside, oh yeah.”

The so-called mainstream liberal media is itself no great champion of truth. It perversely purveyed George W. Bush’s Orwellian nonsense about Iraq’s supposed “weapons of mass destruction.” As I was first writing this paragraph (last Friday), moreover, Trump’s cable-news bêtes noires CNN and MSNBC were immersed in a seemingly endless and totally absurd memorialization of the war criminal, lifelong imperial war hawk and corporate neoliberal John McCain as a Christ-like embodiment of transcendent human decency.

There’s also the selective and partisan use and interpretation of evidence. Trumpsters know some facts very well. Tell them their president lies, cheats and commits crimes, and some of them will remind you that Bill Clinton, Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton have done the same. They’re right about that (Obama’s apparent observance of his marriage vows notwithstanding), even if they often get their facts wrong on how and why those corporate Democrats (absurdly seen as Left by Republicans) transgressed. And it’s never clear how the readily documentable fact that Democrats do nasty things makes Trump’s epic awfulness any less awful.

Trump’s backers also cite undeniable facts of economic expansion, the stock market explosion and a falling official unemployment rate during Trump’s anti-presidency. But Trump boosters leave out and often deny the fact that the expansion started under Obama. They ignore the considerable downsides of the Obama-Trump “boom:” over-stagnant wages, savage economic and related racial inequality, environmental destruction, massive public and private debt, the over-concentration of stock ownership and profits in the hands of a small minority, and the reckless overvaluation of stocks and other financial assets—harbingers of a coming crash encouraged by Trump’s heedless deregulation of finance.

Trump-backers seem to think the U.S. capitalist economy is micro-managed in the Oval Office, as if Trump—who can’t even read a basic balance sheet—is personally responsible for the business cycle he’s been fortunate to ride. That’s a pretty stupid thing to believe.

Speaking of stupidity, what about Trump’s real or alleged idiocy? The “mentally deranged dotard” (North Korean leader Kim Jong-un’s colorful description of Trump last summer) would probably outscore George W. Bush (more on that dolt below) but come in below the Clintons and Obama on standard intelligence measures. Whatever his brainpower, however, Trump is an inexhaustible font of fatuous and inane political assertion. Take, as one example, his frequent go-to: climate-change denial. Then there’s his claim that thousands of Muslims danced on the roofs of apartment complexes watching the World Trade Center towers collapse on 9/11, as well as the ridiculous assertion the U.S. is being flooded by immigrant rapists and murderers.

These would also make the list: the preposterous charge Trump was denied a popular victory over Hillary Clinton by immigrant voter fraud; the ludicrous allegation Google has “rigged” its search engine against him, and the wild-eyed contention that a small leftist anti-fascist group (antifa) will drown the nation in violence if Democrats take over Congress in the 2018 midterm elections. Finally, there’s Trump’s openly and insanely false claim that NBC doctored (“fudged”) an interview he did with Lester Holt in May of 2017—an interview in which he clearly tells Holt that he fired FBI Director James Comey because Comey was investigation the president’s connections to Russia. Every day seems to bring a new ludicrous and patently false tweet or comment from “President Dunce-Cap.”

Sadly enough, however, stupidity is not necessarily a big problem for much of the population. Ten years ago, historian Rick Shenkman wrote a book titled ”Just How Stupid Are We? Facing the Truth About the American Voter”. The book was filled with depressing statistics like the following:
● A majority of Americans didn’t know which party was in control of Congress.
● A majority couldn’t name the chief justice of the Supreme Court.
● A majority didn’t know the U.S. had three branches of government.
● A majority of Americans told pollsters in 2003 they believed George W. Bush’s argument the United States should invade Iraq because Saddam Hussein had attacked America on 9/11.

George W. “Is Our Kids Learning?” Bush, Number 43, was an abject moron who thought “God” wanted him to invade Iraq. The depressing fact that a majority of Americans believed Dubya’s bold-faced lie about Saddam Hussein’s culpability in the 2001 jetliner attacks on U.S. soil was striking evidence for Shenkman’s assertion that “ignorance of basic facts” reflects a “level of inattentiveness that is unhealthy in a society that purports to be free and democratic.”

The problem didn’t go away just because the electorate responded to the Iraq fiasco and the meltdown of the economy by putting enough of its longstanding racism aside to place a former editor of the Harvard Law Review—an epitome of the professional class’s education-based meritocratic world view who happened to be black—in the White House for eight years. The silver-tongued and deeply conservative Ivy League creation and arch-neoliberal imperialist Obama did facts and truth no favors by pretending to be something he wasn’t—a progressive friend of social justice, democracy and peace—while he dutifully helped preserve Wall Street’s control of the nation’s domestic and foreign policies. (Orwell noted that form of pretense, too.)

Reflecting on the Trump phenomenon in early 2016, Shenkman recognized the underlying U.S.-American disease of mass stupidity (though in truth the real problem he was discussing was ignorance) was alive and well in Obama’s final year:

“… [M]illions of [U.S.] people take sheer nonsense seriously. Their ignorance is making them sitting ducks for politicians like Donald ‘I love the poorly educated’ Trump. Election 2016 is turning into a civics teacher’s case study from hell. … From the moment he rode down the escalator at Trump Tower … Trump has been offering simplistic solutions. … Each proposal has been eviscerated in the media based on the critiques of experts who have pointed out that his proposed solutions barely withstand cursory analysis. …But his voters haven’t cared. Nor have they worried when the media have caught him in one lie after another. Politifact has called him out for lying more than any of the other candidates, but to little effect…. It appears he can get away with saying anything.”

The rest, as they say, is history. With no small help from the horrific and uninspiring candidacy of the ultimate establishment politico Hillary Clinton (Yale Law, one notch above Harvard Law), the Orwellian falsehood machine and lower-brain atavist Trump swept the Electoral College. The president has continued his relentless war on reality with a remarkably durable approval rate in the low- to mid-40s, largely undented even by his former longtime lawyer Michael Cohen’s recent identification of Trump as a co-conspirator in the illegal payment of funds for the purpose of silencing two women with whom Trump had had extramarital affairs.

What about Trump’s authoritarianism? It is evident in his cold disregard for the rule of law and the power of Congress and his Cabinet, as well as his recurrent habit of praising “strongman” leaders around the world.

Most liberals and progressives I know are stunned Trump’s clear despotism and taste for tyranny doesn’t bother his base. But there’s no basis for their astonishment about this. Leaving aside the fact Trump is more showman than strongman, nobody who pays serious attention to the relevant survey data should think that the president’s authoritarian inclinations would be a problem for his supporters.

In December 2015, the political scientist Matthew MacWilliams surveyed 1,800 registered voters across the country and the political spectrum. Employing standard statistical survey analysis, McMillan found education, income, gender and age had no significant bearing on a Republican voter’s preferred candidate. “Only two of the variables I looked at,” MacWilliams reported in January of 2016, “were statistically significant: authoritarianism, followed by fear of terrorism, though the former was far more significant than the latter.” Trump, MacWilliams found, was the only candidate in either party with statistically significant support from authoritarians. “Those who say a Trump presidency ‘can’t happen here,’” MacWilliams wrote in Politico, “should check their conventional wisdom at the door. … Conditions are ripe for an authoritarian leader to emerge. Trump is seizing the opportunity.”

A year and a half later, a poll conducted by political scientists Ariel Malka and Yphtach Lelkes found that 56 percent of Republicans support postponing the 2020 presidential election if Trump and congressional Republicans advocate this to “make sure that only eligible American citizens can vote.”

This brings us to Trump’s racism, evident from numerous statements of his before and during his presidency. Is it a problem for Trump backers?

Know any other good jokes? Trump’s disproportionately Caucasian base is fused by an embattled white racial identity. This Trumpian “make America white again” heart- and mind-set holds that whites are becoming a minority targeted by discrimination and “politically correct” liberal and leftists have been turning the nation’s politics and policies against white values, culture, needs, rights and prerogatives. This curious “reverse discrimination” victim whiteness (devoid of evidence for its claims) informs the Trump base’s understanding of the meaning of the word corruption in ways the liberal writer Peter Beinart recently captured in the Atlantic. For Trump’s base, Beinart writes, the idea of corruption isn’t so much about politics and the law as it is about racial and gender purity:

“Trump supporters appear largely unfazed by the mounting evidence that Trump is the least ethical president in modern American history. … Once you grasp that for Trump and many of his supporters, corruption means less the violation of law than the violation of established hierarchies [of race and gender], their behavior makes more sense. …Why were Trump’s supporters so convinced that [Hillary] Clinton was the more corrupt candidate even as reporters uncovered far more damning evidence about Trump’s foundation than they did about Clinton’s? Likely because Clinton’s candidacy threatened traditional gender roles. For many Americans, female ambition—especially in service of a feminist agenda—in and of itself represents a form of corruption.
“Cohen’s admission makes it harder for Republicans to claim that Trump didn’t violate the law. But it doesn’t really matter. For many Republicans, Trump remains uncorrupt—indeed, anti-corrupt—because what they fear most isn’t the corruption of American law; it’s the corruption of America’s traditional identity. And in the struggle against that form of corruption—the kind embodied by Cristhian Rivera [the ‘illegal immigrant’ accused of murdering the young white woman Mollie Tibbets in rural Iowa two weeks ago]—Trump isn’t the problem. He’s the solution.” (Emphasis added.)

But, of course, it’s not about racism, nativism, sexism or authoritarianism when it comes to understanding Trump’s base. White racial and gender identity and authoritarianism have long merged with and cross-fertilized each other. Last May, political scientists Steven V. Miller and Nicholas T. Davis released a working paper titled “White Outgroup Intolerance and Declining Support for American Democracy.” Their study found a strong correlation between white Americans’ racial intolerance and support for authoritarian rule. “When racially intolerant white people fear democracy may benefit marginalized people of color,” NBC News reported, citing the Miller and Davis paper, “they abandon their commitment to democracy.”

The Trump base’s bigotry and its leanings toward authoritarianism are not separate problems. They are inseparably linked. When Trump calls Mexicans murderers and rapists, when he rails about the need for building a wall, when he denounces the media as “fake news,” when he disses judges and the rule of law and juries, and when he praises authoritarian leaders, he is appealing to the same voters.

The most sophisticated and statistically astute analysis of the 2016 Trump electorate produced so far has been crafted by political sociologists David Norman Smith and Eric Hanley. In an article published in Critical Sociology last March, Smith and Hanley found the white Trump base was differentiated from white non-Trump voters not by class or other “demographic” factors (including income, age, gender and the alleged class-identifier of education) but by eight key attitudes and values: identification as “conservative;” support for “domineering leaders;” Christian fundamentalism; prejudice against immigrants; prejudice against blacks; prejudice against Muslims; prejudice against women, and a sense of pessimism about the economy.

Strong Trump supporters scored particularly high on support for domineering leaders, fundamentalism, opposition to immigrants and economic pessimism. They were particularly prone to support authoritarian leaders who promised to respond punitively to minorities perceived as “line-cutters”—“undeserving” others who were allegedly getting ahead of traditional white Americans in the procurement of jobs and government benefits—and to the supposed liberal “rotten apples” who were purportedly allowing these “line-cutters” to advance ahead of traditional white American males.

Support for politically authoritarian leaders and a sense of intolerance regarding racial, ethnic and gender differences are two sides of the same Trumpian coin. The basic desire animating Trump’s base was “the defiant wish for a domineering and impolitic leader” linked to “the wish for a reversal of what his base perceives as an inverted moral and racial order.”

Is Trump’s narcissism a problem for his backers? Not really. As psychologist Elizabeth Mika noted last year in an essay titled “Who Goes Trump? Tyranny as a Triumph of Narcissism”:

“The tyrant’s narcissism is the main attractor to his followers, who project their hopes and dreams. The more grandiose his own sense of self and his promises to his fans, the greater their attraction and the stronger their support. …Through the process of identification, the tyrant’s followers absorb his omnipotence and glory and imagine themselves winners in the game of life. This identification heals the followers’ narcissistic wounds, but also tends to shut down their reason and conscience ….”

If that sounds anything like “creeping fascism,” that’s because it is. As political scientist Anthony DiMaggio recently observed:

“There are too many red flags in public sentiment to ignore the threat of creeping fascism. Ominously, one of the strongest statistical predictors of support for Trump is the desire for a strong leader who will ‘crush evil’ and ‘get rid of the rotten apples’ who ‘disturb the status quo.’ Half of Republicans say they trust Donald Trump as a more reliable source of information than the news media—more reliable even than conservative media outlets. Nearly half of Republicans think media outlets should be ‘shut down’ if they are ‘broadcasting stories that are biased or inaccurate,’ raising ominous possibilities regarding precisely who will act on such allegations. …The cult of Trump is not an abstract phenomenon, but one that has real implications. … The danger of fascist creep is also seen in the support from most Republican Americans for shutting down the 2020 election, so long as Trump declares it necessary to combat fictitious voter fraud. Conservatives’ acceptance of this conspiracy theory continues, unfortunately, despite the president’s own ‘voter fraud commission’ being disbanded after failing to find any evidence of it.”

Is Trump’s “creeping fascism” a problem for his backers? Leaving aside the interesting debate among liberal and left commentators about whether Trump is a real or creeping fascist, it is unlikely that more than a small number of Americans could provide even the remotest outlines of a working definition of what classic European fascism was or what fascism more broadly defined is in the world today. It’s hard for people to reject something they know little or nothing about regarding its existence and nature (even as they are thinking and acting in accord with some of the phenomenon’s key characteristics).

As the dangerously declining superpower that is the United States moves at an accelerating pace, under Trump, into a period that deserves to be called at least pre-fascism, it is an even better time than usual to heed George Santyana’s warning: “Those who cannot learn from the past are doomed to repeat it.”

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Trump, Corporate Media Are Both Enemies of the People

Read more of this story here from Truthdig RSS by Paul Street.

CNN’s liberal and anti-Trump talk show host Erin Burnett was in crisis mode last week. She was rolling her eyes, anxious for the fate of the republic. The cause of her angst? A Gallup poll showing that 57 percent of the nation’s Democrats now respond more favorably to the word “socialism” than they do to “capitalism”—this compared to 47 percent of Democrats who prefer “capitalism” over “socialism.”

Burnett interviewed Jen Psaki, a Democratic commentator and former communications director in the Obama administration, and a gloating Republican political commentator named Scott Jennings. She and her two guests agreed that this dreadful socialism business augured certain defeat for the Democrats in 2018 and 2020.

Burnett looked relieved as she put up a clip in which “progressive Democrat” and Maryland gubernatorial candidate Ben Jealous responded when a reporter asked him whether he identified with the term “socialist”: “Are you f*#&ing kidding me?”

“I have to say I love Ben Jealous,” Burnett said, “for saying what he really thinks.”

Psaki expressed confidence the Democrats will be able to “capture [popular] enthusiasm and energy” linked to Bernie Sanders and Alexandra Ocasio-Cortez “without going to the extreme left.”

Never mind that Sanders, who openly identifies as a socialist, was found in a Harvard-Harris poll last year to be “the most popular politician” (Newsweek) in the U.S., or that a good majority of the Democratic Party’s base prefers “socialism” to “capitalism.”

Never mind that the mildly leftish progressive Sanders would likely have defeated CNN’s bête noire Donald Trump if the Vermont senator had been the Democratic presidential nominee in 2016. Never mind that what the supposed “extreme left” candidates Sanders and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and other “progressive” Democrats mean by “socialism” is a series of mildly leftish social-democratic and progressive neo-New Deal policies that have long had majority support, not just among Democrats but in the whole country. The policies include: “Medicare for All” (single-payer health insurance as a human right); seriously progressive taxation of the ever-more obscenely wealthy few (in a time when the top 10th of the upper U.S. 1 percent holds as much wealth as the nation’s bottom 90 percent and three ridiculously rich men have as much wealth among them as the poorest half); free college tuition; a significantly increased federal minimum wage, and real environmental protection combined with a shift from fossil fuels to renewable energy.

Perhaps the most telling thing about Burnett and her guest’s response to the Gallup poll was their utter lack of curiosity about why the number of Democrats who prefer “socialism” to “capitalism” is now 10 points higher than the other way around. Might that have something to do with the profoundly inegalitarian, oligarchic, authoritarian and now clearly eco-exterminist performance of American and global capitalism as experienced by millions and millions of real people, especially the younger adults who embrace “socialism” to a far greater degree than their elders?

It was just another tricky day of the U.S. corporate media behaving as—to borrow a phrase from the orange-tinted quasi-fascist Donald Trump—“the enemy of the people.”

Yes, Trump is a malignant racist, sexist, plutocrat and narcissist who is, in the words of former CIA Director John Brennan (more on him below), “drunk on power.” He’s a pathological liar, an arch-authoritarian, a consummate bully, a vicious dullard and a deadly agent of ecocide.

Trump is so narcissistic he couldn’t even mention the passing of the magnificent singer Aretha Franklin without trying to make the story about him by claiming (falsely) to have known her “very well”  and that (as if the music legend had been his housekeeper) “she worked for me on numerous occasions.”

The sooner this loathsome and dangerous Bad Grandpa is yanked off the center-stage of history, the better.

But that doesn’t mean that everything the tangerine monstrosity says or tweets is wrong. “Even a broken clock,” the old saying goes, “tells the time right twice a day. “

One example of Trump’s getting something right, in a sense, is in his recurrent description of the nation’s corporate and so-called mainstream media as “the enemy of the people.”

Trump says this for nasty reasons that have nothing to do with wanting to advance democracy or social justice. He says it in astonishingly repugnant ways, calling media professionals “very bad people,” disgusting,” “disgraceful,” “stupid” and even “absolute scum.”

It’s all about his desire to govern like one of the many authoritarian world leaders he creepily admires. In El Donito’s imagined happy place of American politics, all the major media outlets would follow the lead of Fox News, the Sinclair Broadcast Network and right-wing talk radio to function as Trump State Media.

Still, the wannabe dictator Trump is not completely wrong about that “enemy of the people” thing. The notion the United States possesses a great “free press” and “independent” media functioning as “the lifeblood of our democracy” what “democracy” exactly?)—a central theme in the coordinated editorials that appeared in opposition to Herr Trump’s repeated attacks on the media in 300 U.S. newspapers last Thursday—is one of the great national lies of our time.

The dominant U.S. commercial and corporate media are a means of mass consent-manufacturing indoctrination, diversion and dumbing down on behalf of the nation’s intertwined corporate, financial, imperial and professional-class “elites.” Merging the dystopian visions of Aldous Huxley, George Orwell, Ray Bradbury, Neal Postman and Phillip K. Dick, they are  a bastion of power-serving propaganda and deadening twaddle that work across hundreds of broadcast channels and through countless print and internet outlets to keep the U.S. citizenry allegiant and subordinated to big capital, the professional and managerial “elite” and the U.S. imperial state.

How could it be otherwise? Just six massive and global corporations—Comcast, Viacom, Time Warner, CBS, the News Corporation and Disney—together control more than 90 percent of the nation’s television stations, radio stations, movies, newspapers and magazines. Corporate ownership combines with other deeply entrenched factors to guarantee the not-so-mainstream media’s dutiful service to the nation’s unelected and interrelated dictatorships of money, class and empire: the controlling power of corporate advertisers (the mass media’s main market, not the public); the disproportionate purchasing power of the affluent (the main target of advertisers); the elitist socialization, indoctrination and selection of journalists, and the dependence of media on government for information, access and monopoly power.

It’s not just about the news. If you really want to see where mass propaganda on behalf of class rule, racial and gender oppression and U.S. global force projection is most effectively and compellingly manufactured, watch the entertainment media. When it comes to selling U.S-Americans on the supposed virtues of the American Empire and the purported evil of America’s “enemies,” for example, the news media have nothing on movies like “Top Gun,” “Iron Eagle,” “Independence Day,” “Rocky IV,” “Black Hawk Down,” “Argo,” “A Few Good Men,” “From Paris With Love,” “Captain Phillips,” “American Sniper,” “Zero Dark Thirty,” “Iron Man” and “Eye in the Sky,” and nothing on television shows like “24,” “Homeland,” “Law and Order,” “NCIS” and “FBI.” (This is just a short list from the much larger portfolio of U.S-imperialist “entertainment” media production, often generated with significant Pentagon involvement.)

Forget Kim Il-Trump and his right-wing assault on the “Fake News.” There’s a vast and impressive left, radically democratic literature on how and why the so-called mainstream U.S. media serve concentrated wealth and power, functioning as one of the most potent weapons—if not the single most potent weapon (with chilling power to shape popular perceptions of reality)—in the hands of the nation’s ruling class. See, for starters, Herbert Schiller. “The Mind Managers” (1973); Michael Parenti, “Inventing Reality: The Politics of the News Media” (1986); Parenti, “Make-Believe Media: The Politics of Entertainment” (1992); Edward S. Herman and Noam Chomsky, “Manufacturing Consent: The Political Economy of the Mass Media” (1988); Robert W. McChesney, “Corporate Media and the Threat to Democracy” (New York: Seven Stories, 1997); McChesney, “Rich Media, Poor Democracy: Communication Politics in Dubious Times” (2000); McChesney, “Blowing the Roof Off the 21st Century: Media” ( 2014); Neil Postman, “Amusing Ourselves to Death: Public Discourse in the Age of Show Business” (1983); Anthony DiMaggio, “When Media Goes to War” (2009);  Stephen Macek, “Urban Nightmares: The Media, the Right, and the Moral Panic Over the City” (2006); and William J. Puette, “Through Jaundiced Eyes: How the Media View Organized Labor” ( 1992). (That, again, is a short list.)

Before you run off to the library or go online to order the books I just listed (which reminds me, please purchase this as well), ask yourself why the number of U.S.-Americans who could properly describe the basics of arch-narcissist reality show personality-turned White House staffer Omarosa Manigault Newman’s dispute with arch-narcissist reality-television personality-turned POTUS Donald Trump is much greater (I’m guessing by 100 times) than the number of U.S. Americans who could tell you anything meaningful and truthful about the United States’ central and ongoing role in the savage crucifixion of Yemen. The latter story recently included the killing of 40 Yemeni children riding in a school bus. Their vehicle was blown up by a Saudi Arabian missile manufactured by a U.S. “defense” contractor and launched with the logistical support of the U.S. military. Forget the academic literature for now and listen to a common-sense explanation by the lefty, Chicago-born-and-raised comic Jimmy Dore, about MSNBC, the supposed left wing of the allegedly liberal corporate media:

<blockquote>They’re not covering the genocide in Yemen, but they’re covering Russia 24-7… they won’t cover Yemen. Why?  Because we’re complicit. The United States military-industrial complex is helping commit genocide and war crimes inside of Yemen. We’re doing that. We’re doing … ‘siege warfare.’ Siege warfare is a war crime … where you cut off supplies to people … trying to starve them … keeping them from medical supplies. You’re keeping them from clean water. … We’re doing that.</blockquote>

Dore was on point. The U.S. (along with its dutiful imperial pit-bull the United Kingdom) is in fact doing all that. “We” (well, “our” foreign policymakers) are equipping and otherwise participating centrally in the unconscionable infliction of an epic humanitarian catastrophe in Yemen. The Saudi-Emirati coalition has already killed many thousands of innocent Yemenis and has so devastated the nation that famine and a deadly 19th century disease, cholera (from unsanitary water) have gone epidemic there, causing mass child mortality. For weeks now, the coalition has been savagely bombing the port city of Hodeidah, the main entry point for desperately needed food and medical supplies coming into the besieged nation. And, as the intrepid antiwar witness and activist Kathy Kelly recently reported on Counterpunch last weekend:

<blockquote>U.S. companies such as Raytheon, General Dynamics, Boeing and Lockheed Martin have sold billions of dollars’ worth of weapons to [the Saudi-led] coalition, which is attacking Yemen. The U.S. military refuels Saudi and Emirati warplanes through midair exercises [and] … helps the Saudi[s] choose their targets. … The United States is ‘front and center responsible’ for the Saudi coalition attacks, …‘If an airstrike was a drive-by and killed someone [journalist Samuel Oakford notes], the U.S. provided the car, the wheels, the servicing and repair, the gun, the bullets, help with maintenance of those—and the gas.’</blockquote>

The “mainstream” U.S. media’s silence about this epic wrongdoing has, as usual, been deafening but unsurprising. “Exceptional” America’s starvation, sickening, maiming and slaughter of innocents doesn’t fit the narrative of American benevolence—a doctrinally set staple in U.S. corporate news, war and entertainment media. So, it’s off the airwaves, for the most part—even if MSNBC’s leftmost anchor Chris Hayes was permitted to briefly and mildly break through the news blockade after the school-bus outrage. (That was a crime too heinous to avoid, especially since it took place under Trump and not under a Democratic POTUS and MSDNC darling like Barack Obama, who was deeply complicit in the war on Yemen). About which, listen again to Dore:

<blockquote>The biggest humanitarian catastrophe in the world, we’re gonna wait until 45 minutes into [Hayes’] news broadcast. …We haven’t covered it for over a year, not even mentioned it. So now everyone’s going ‘kudos’s he’s doing it now.’… So now, when [Syrian President Bashar] Assad was supposed to have had chemical weapons and killed 30 people with chemicals, we were supposed to bomb him. … We just killed 56 kids. Who’s supposed to bomb us now? When do we get bombed? When does someone call us butchers? ‘Wow. look at that, [Hayes] went almost two and half whole minutes [about Yemen and the U.S. role in the missile attack on a school-bus there] and people are going nuts complimenting him. …There you go: ‘We covered it.'</blockquote>

It’s nothing you need a Ph.D. to understand. Dore gets it, even if his numbers may be off on the bus attack. He’s from a working-class neighborhood on the South Side of Chicago, where people who pay attention (like the late and great journalist Mike Royko) learn early on that hypocrisy reigns and “money talks, bullshit walks” across party lines.

It’s about more than news censorship, however. The “mainstream media” work relentlessly to reduce their consumers to view issues from the point of the merely personal and private. It erases the social, historical and institutional. It inculcates the primitive level of consciousness where one can grasp something as childish as “Omarosa and Stormy Daniels were treated badly by Donald Trump” but nothing more complex beyond the individual scale than “America Good, Its ‘Enemies’ Bad”—and certainly nothing as involved and ideologically verboten as “the American Empire and military-industrial complex is invested in the murder of children in the Middle East.”

A third recent example of U.S. corporate media’s power-serving and propagandistic role deserves exposure. Last week saw the Big Pharma cable news networks CNN and MSNBC (both outlets host hundreds of drug commercials per day), The New York Times, The Washington Post and most of the corporate news establishment run to defend, acclaim and even lionize blood-soaked U.S.-imperial spy-masters, surveillance chiefs, liars and assassins like former CIA Director John Brennan and former Director of National Intelligence James Clapper.

Why did CNN and MSNBC viewers hear again and again about how these totalitarian agents of imperial superpower death, torture, surveillance and destruction were heroic champions of human rights, liberty and freedom, fiercely dedicated to (of all things) “speaking truth to power”?  Because the Recep Tayyip Erdogan-Vladimir Putin-Xi Jinping-Kim JongUn-wannabe Trump took away Brennan’s national security clearance and threatened those of  Clapper and others as transparently political punishment for the forthright criticism of the president as a stupid, reckless, childish, and generally dysfunctional head of the American Empire. Or because of their status as potential anti-Trump witnesses in Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s Russiagate investigation.

There’s nothing noble or remotely democratic about Trump’s motives. But there’s nothing noble or remotely democratic about imperial actors like Brennan and Clapper either. Brennan ran the drone assassination program under Obama and the extraordinary rendition program under George W. Bush. He was the “principle coordinator” of the American citizen “kill list” and crafted the “disposition matrix” that codified the targeting and secret killing of American citizens. And that was all before Obama tapped Brennan to head the CIA, where he wrote bloody new chapters in the book of imperial deceit and murder and led efforts to block a Senate investigation into CIA torture, including by spying on Senate staff members conducting the investigation.

During her much ballyhooed and deeply respectful interview with Brennan last Friday night, Russiagate-mad MSNBC rock star Rachel Maddow failed to ask him about the authoritarian implications of a recent New York Times op-ed article in which Brennan essentially suggested, in the words of the World Socialist Website’s Joseph Kishore, that “[a]ll social discontent within the United States is the work of ‘Russian puppet masters’ exploiting ‘gullible’ individuals. If ‘freedoms and liberties’ provide an opening for such operations, then these freedoms must be restricted. To ‘save democracy,’ it is necessary to abolish it.” The pretense of Brennan and his supporters to be acting in the name of “democracy” and “free speech,” Kishore notes, “echoes the claims of a long line of would-be dictators who have employed such arguments in the past.” That’s exactly right and should be completely unsurprising to anyone familiar with the arch-nefarious history of the CIA at home and abroad.

The Republican Robert Mueller is treated with solemn worship at CNN, MSNBC, the Times and the Post and the rest of the non-Fox media establishment. You’d never know from the “mainstream” coverage and commentary this new liberal icon and “war hero” (since he won medals in the U.S. crucifixion of Southeast Asia during the 1960s) lied about Iraq’s nonexistent “weapons of mass destruction” during his years as George W. Bush’s FBI director.

I’ll wait to write about Clapper, now a special friend and regular honored guest on the liberal CNN host Don Lemon’s nightly show, and other great Trump and Fox-demonized/CNN and MSNBC-lionized heroes of “speaking truth to power” (even Orwell would be impressed by the application of that phrase to what our “intelligence community” does in the real world) on a future occasion.   

It is appropriate to place quotation marks around the phrase “mainstream media” when writing about dominant U.S. corporate news and entertainment media. During the Cold War era, U.S. officials and media never referred to the Soviet Union’s state television and radio or its main state newspapers as “mainstream Russian media.” American authorities referred to these Russian media outlets as “Soviet state media” and treated that media as the means for the dissemination of Soviet “propaganda” and ideology.

There is no reason to consider the United States’ corporate and commercial media as any more “mainstream” than the leading Soviet media organs were back in their day. They are just as dedicated as the onetime Soviet state media to advancing the doctrinal perspectives of their host nation’s reigning elite—and far more effective.

The Soviets never came remotely close to the United States when it came to wrapping propaganda and ideology in entertainment media (see the Amazon spoof comedy series “Comrade Detective” for an often-hilarious portrayal of what a Stalinist Soviet Bloc version of an American cop show might have looked like). And Soviet news censorship was open and well known, a regular subject for underground coffeehouse comics in 1970s and ’80s Moscow. You could read the initials of the daily paper’s censors at the bottom of each issue of the onetime Soviet state papers Pravda and Izvestia. No illusions there of a totally free and independent media. Everyone knew otherwise, unlike in the U.S.

So, yes, U.S. corporate media are “enemies of the people,” even if that other great enemy of the people Donald Trump—himself a product and arguably a great “frenemy” of the corporate communications complex beneath all his anti-media bluster—says so for reasons that have nothing to with yours or mine.

So, by the way, is the CIA—an enemy of the people, that is.

Read more

So, How’s That Major-Party Election Madness Working for Us?

Read more of this story here from Truthdig RSS by Paul Street.

Paul Street’s column will appear in Truthdig each Sunday through Aug. 12. Its regular schedule will resume when Truthdig columnist Chris Hedges returns from vacation.

The United States is full of personally decent and caring, often highly intelligent people mired in political ignorance and delusion.

A smart and liberally inclined family doctor I know recently expressed concern over her high-income husband’s support for the malignant narcissist and pathological liar currently occupying the White House. “I can understand him being a Republican,” the doctor says, “but I just don’t get him backing Donald Trump.”

The problem here—what the doctor doesn’t get—is that Trump’s malicious persona and politics are darkly consistent with the white-supremacist and arch-reactionary heart and dog-whistling racism of the Republican Party going back five decades. It was just a matter of time until something like Trump happened: a Republican candidate who really meant the racism. Along the way, the Republican Party has become what Noam Chomsky credibly calls “the most dangerous organization in human history” because of its total disregard for livable ecology and its dedication to destruction and dismantlement of any institutions in place to address global warming. The Greenhouse Gassing to Death of Life on Earth is a crime that promises to make even the Nazi Party look like a small-time crime syndicate.

A smart and funny retired mental health professional I know is a proud liberal Democrat. She cites reports and stories showing that Trump is a bully, an authoritarian, a cheater, a parasite and a liar, among other terrible things. She gets it that both Trump and the Republican Party are supremely dangerous enemies of the people.

But she, too, is mired in delusions—mistakes and hallucinations common on the other side of America’s tribal and binary major-party partisan divide. For all her savviness and smarts, she can’t or won’t process the simple fact that the dismal, dollar-drenched Democratic Party put Trump in the White House and handed Congress and most of the nation’s state governments over to Trump and the Republican Party by functioning as a corporate-captive Inauthentic Opposition Party that refuses to fight for working people, the poor, minorities and the causes of peace, social justice and environmental sanity.

Tell her that Barack Obama and Bill Clinton were “Wall Street presidents” (an easily and widely documented assertion) and she screws her face up. She doesn’t want to hear it. She wants to believe something that stopped being even remotely true at least four decades ago: that the Democratic Party is the party of the people.

If the Democrats take back Congress in 2018 and the White House in 2020, all will be well in her political world view: democracy and decency restored. You betcha!

She blames Trump’s presence in the White House on … you guessed it, Russia. Like millions of other MSDNC (sorry, I meant MSNBC) and Rachel Maddow devotees, she has let the obsessive CNN-MSNBC Russia-Trump narrative take over her understanding of current events. The “Russiagate” story has trumped her concern with other things that one might think matter a great deal to self-described liberals: racial oppression, sexism, poverty, low wages, plutocracy and—last but not least—livable ecology.

(She isn’t aware that racist Republican voter suppression at the state level was a big part of how Trump won—certainly a far bigger matter than any real or alleged Russian influence on the election. Isn’t that precisely the kind of thing that liberals are supposed to be angry about?)

But I know plenty of Americans well to her left—people who know very well that Obama and the Clintons and Nancy Pelosi are neoliberal corporate and Wall Street politicos and tools—who cling to their own major-party electoral-political delusions. With Sen. Bernie Sanders as their standard-bearer, they are all about boring from within an organization that Kevin P. Phillips once called “history’s second most enthusiastic capitalist party.” Their fallacy is that left progressives can steal the Democratic Party out from under its corporate and imperial masters, turn it to decent and social-democratic purposes and democratically transform America in proper accord with majority-progressive U.S. opinion.

A Newsweek article last fall was titled “Most Americans Desperate for a Third Major Party in the Trump Era.” It cited a Gallup Poll showing that 61 percent, more U.S. citizens than ever, find the Democratic and Republican parties inadequate and think that the U.S. should have a third major political party. Support for a competitive third party had been above 57 percent since at least 2012, but Gallup’s 2017 poll marked a new high. Nobody should be surprised by that finding given the fact that both of the parties have drifted well to the Big Business right of majority public opinion, with the Democrats joining Republicans in the creation of a New Gilded Age so savagely unequal that, as Bernie Sanders, “I”-Vt., said repeatedly (and accurately) in 2016, the top 10th of the upper U.S. 1 percent possesses as much wealth as the nation’s bottom 90 percent.

The fake “Independent” Sanders couldn’t care less about the strong majority sentiment on behalf of a third party. He has rejected all calls for him to jump major-party ship and tells progressives to pour their energies into electing candidates within the Democratic Party primary process. “Do what Alexandria did,” Bernie says to young Americans angry about the vicious ecocidal white nationalists in power today. Sanders is referring to Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, the inspiring young Sanders-style Democratic Socialists of America member who took down longtime establishment Democratic Party incumbent House member Joe Crowley in a New York City district primary last June.

So, to ask the Dr. Phil question, how’s that working out for “the left”?

Not so hot. The preponderant majority of progressive Democrats’ primary victories this year have been won in strongly Republican (“red”) districts, where progressives have not been heavily contested by the Democratic Party establishment. Only a very small number of progressive candidates have won in dependably “blue” (Democratic) districts and are likely to defeat Republicans in the general elections in November.

Crowley is the sole congressional incumbent to have lost a Democratic primary this year. His defeat by Ocasio-Cortez has been over-celebrated on “the left” and over-publicized in the media. She won with incredibly low turnout (13 percent), something that falls quite short of a leftist landslide and reflects local peculiarities in the operation of the New York City Democratic machine.

At the same time, as veteran left urban political strategist, activist and commentator Bruce A. Dixon noted on Black Agenda Report, “Crowley pretty much gave up the seat: After 10 terms in Congress and with lots of corporate friends, Joe Crowley knows he can start at seven figures, at least six to twelve times his congressional salary plus bonuses as a lobbyist. That had to be a powerful motivation not to campaign too damn hard.”

Last but not least, the victory of Ocasio-Cortez, of Puerto Rican heritage, reflected a combined demographic (racial and ethnocultural) and party anomaly: the over-long presence of a white Democratic machine politician atop a recently racially and ethnically redistricted and now majority nonwhite and nearly majority Latinx district where the Democratic Party had failed to cultivate a neoliberal candidate of color—the kind of safe Latinx or black politico the nation’s second corporate and imperial party has developed across most of the nation’s urban minority-majority congressional districts. As Danny Haiphong observed in the American Herald Tribune, “New York District 14 is one of the few [urban minority congressional districts] left where neoliberal Black and Brown politicians do not dominate the political landscape. It will be difficult to replicate Ocasio-Cortez’s victory across the country because neoliberal, Black [and Latino] politicians in other districts are protected by the politics of representation” (emphasis added).

Other districts like Missouri’s predominantly black 1st Congressional District in St. Louis, where the establishment incumbent Congressman Lacy Clay handily crushed the progressive insurgent Cori Bush five days ago.

Our Revolution, Justice Democrats, Brand New Congress, and the Democratic Socialists of America—the leading progressive organizations attempting to reform the Democratic Party—have endorsed 60 congressional candidates in states that have held their Democratic primaries through last week. Twenty-three of them have won their races. But 18 of these victors have won in red districts where there are entrenched Republican incumbents.

Only five progressive congressional primary winners—Ro Khanna (California 17th), Jamie Raskin (Maryland 8th), Chuy Garcia (Illinois 4th), Ocasio-Cortez, and the rousing Palestinian-American Rashida Tlaib (Michigan 13th)—have won in Democratic districts and are likely to win in November. Two of those five (Khanna and Raskin) were already in office and were uncontested by the Democratic establishment. One of the five (Garcia) cut a corrupt deal with the Chicago Democratic machine and so ran unopposed by the establishment. Nebraska’s Kara Eastman is the one and only single-payer supporter to get nominated for a competitive House race in America’s heartland “breadbasket” this year.

Especially depressing for progressives hoping to reform the Democratic Party was the crushing defeat of Abdul El-Sayed in the Michigan gubernatorial primary. El-Sayed was hoping to ride the coattails of visits and endorsements from the (in the absurd language of the corporate media) “radical leftists” Sanders and Ocasio-Cortez.

“The Democratic Party,” Politico’s centrist commentator Bill Scher writes, “is more liberal than it was 15 years ago, and there’s no question that shift is partly due to an increasingly vocal, confident, confrontational democratic socialist faction. But,” Scher creepily but accurately crowed, “it is still only a faction. Most Democratic nominees in competitive House races—not to mention incumbent Senate Democrats fighting for their political lives in red states—are not embracing single-payer or calling for the abolishment of ICE. They are mostly calling for improvements of the Affordable Care Act and a pathway to citizenship for the undocumented.”

This overall weak performance by left-leaning Sanders-style Democrats reflects elite business and professional-class manipulation within the party to which so many progressives remain attached. As the pro-third-party Movement for a People’s Party (headed by former Sanders staffers) noted two weeks ago:

The DNC [Democratic National Committee] and the DCCC [Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee] have systematically cheated and blocked progressive candidates by flooding races with corporate cash, knocking progressives off the ballot, feeding opposition research to the media, forcing candidates to spend three quarters of their fundraising on consultants and ads, changing the rules required to get party support, denying access to crucial voter data, endorsing establishment Democrats, setting party affiliation deadlines months before the primaries, blocking independents from voting, and even giving hundreds of thousands of dollars to Republican candidates. For more than a year after the 2016 election, the Democratic Party denied rigging primary elections against progressives. The party has now abandoned that pretense as it openly rigs midterm primaries across the country and normalizes election rigging. …While the media focuses on a handful of exceptions, the Democratic Party establishment is getting its way in the 2018 midterm primaries.

As the primaries have taken place this year, the left historian and journalist Terry Thomas writes me, “the establishment Dems are stridently going after the progressives. Just watch MSNBC’s coverage of elections. They’re advancing the ‘out of the mainstream’ line, implying that the few progressive-types who won are ruining the party and setting the stage for the Republicans to retain the House in the fall.”

It is true that the progressive Democrat Sanders came tantalizingly close to defeating the ultimate corporate Democrat, Hillary Clinton, in the 2016 presidential primaries—an amazing accomplishment for a small-donor candidate who received no funding from the corporate and financial establishment.

But imagine if Sanders had sneaked past Clinton in the primary race. Could he have defeated the billionaire and right-wing billionaire-backed Trump in the general election? There’s no way to know. Sanders consistently outperformed Clinton in one-on-one matchup polls vis-à-vis Trump during the primary season, but much of the big money (and corporate media) that backed Clinton would probably have gone over to Trump had the supposedly “radical” Sanders been the Democratic nominee.

Even if Sanders had been elected president, moreover, Noam Chomsky is certainly correct in his judgment that a President Sanders “couldn’t have done a thing” because he would have had “nobody [on his side] in Congress, no governors, no legislatures, none of the big economic powers, which have an enormous effect on policy. All opposed to him. In order for him to do anything,” Chomsky adds, “he would have [needed] a substantial, functioning party apparatus, which would have to grow from the grass roots. It would have to be locally organized, it would have to operate at local levels, state levels, Congress, the bureaucracy—you have to build the whole system from the bottom.” None of those things would be remotely forthcoming from the Inauthentic Opposition Party.

It might well have been worse than not being able to “do anything,” actually. Even as he loaded his administration with corporate and imperial centrists—as he certainly would have been compelled to do to mollify the nation’s unelected and interrelated dictatorships of money and empire—a President Sanders would have been faced with a capital strike: with severe “market instability” and “declining business confidence” raising the specter of a financial meltdown.

“With little prospect of the economic tumult subsiding during his 11-week transition period,” the political scientists William Grover and Joseph Peschek wrote in the summer of 2015, a Sanders presidency:

… would face enormous pressure to calm the fears of the market by announcing the appointment of moderates to hold Cabinet positions—non-confrontational, non-ideological people who would be “acceptable” to political and economic power holders. No radicals for the Treasury Department, no thoughts of Ben and Jerry as Co-Secretaries of Commerce, no union firebrand to head the Labor Department, no Bill McKibben leading the Interior Department. Only nice, “safe” choices would suffice—personnel decisions that would undermine the progressive vision of his campaign. In short, the economics of “capital strike” would threaten to trump the verdict of democracy.

A President Sanders would also have been compelled to engage in an aggressively imperial foreign policy. He would have faced what Bruce Dixon calls “immense pressure to demonstrate his unwavering hostility toward the Russians and his fealty to empire”—pressure to which “Bernie the Bomber” would certainly have caved. (Dixon adds that “he’s notoriously squishy on empire as it is … as are pretty much all the Berniecrats.”)

Meanwhile, many of the Dems’ corporate and professional class “elites” would have attributed Sanders’ victory to “Russian interference” while joining hands with ruling-class Republican brothers in undermining Sanders’ supposedly “far left” (mildly progressive) agenda—and his political viability in 2020. The nation’s paranoid, white Christian and proto-fascistic right would have gone ballistic, its underlying anti-Semitism on appalling display with an ethnoculturally Jewish “democratic socialist” (and purported atheist) from Brooklyn in the White House.

Sanders’ oligarchy-imposed “failures” would have been great fodder for the right-wing and neoliberal disparagement and smearing of progressive, left-leaning and majority-backed policy change. “See,” the reigning plutocratic media and politics culture would have said, “we tried all that and it was a disaster!” It might well have been a real train wreck for everything and anything progressive.

None of which is to mean that third-party politics hold the keys to progressive change. Its status as corporate media notwithstanding, Newsweek isn’t lying when it notes that “the structure of America’s electoral system—especially campaign finance regulations”—makes it “extremely hard for third party candidates to run and win.”

It’s not just about campaign finance. It’s also about winner-take-all, “first-past-the-post” elections and the absence of proportional-representation rules that would allot representation in accord with vote shares for parties that can’t yet field candidates capable of winning pluralities in contests with the long-established major parties’ contenders.

It goes way back. Theodore Roosevelt is the only third-party candidate who ever came remotely close to winning a presidential election. In 1912, he came in second with 27 percent of the vote atop the Progressive Party.

The biggest political delusion of all is in the U.S. electoral politics itself—the “Election Madness” that tells us that (in the <a href=”https://progressive.org/magazine/election-madness/”>sardonic words</a> of the late radical historian Howard Zinn) “the most important act a citizen can engage in is to go to the polls and choose one of the [small number of ] mediocrities who have already been chosen for us.” Real progressive change requires popular organization and great social movements beneath and beyond the empty promises of the nation’s ruthlessly time-staggered major-party, major-media, big-money-candidate-centered ballot box extravaganzas (please see Chomsky’s classic 2004 essay on “<a href=”https://chomsky.info/20041029/”>The Disconnect in U.S. Democracy</a>”). The people’s movements we desperately need to form—perhaps it is <i>my delusion</i> that rank-and-file citizens can and will ever do so—should include in their list of demands the creation of a party and elections system that deserves passionate citizen engagement. The <a href=”https://www.press.uillinois.edu/books/catalog/35ket6km9780252041273.html”>oligarchic <i>system</i> (beyond mere plutocracy)</a> now in place in the U.S. is worthy of no such thing.

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The American Sea of Deception

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Paul Street’s column will appear in Truthdig each Sunday through Aug. 12. Its regular schedule will resume when Truthdig columnist Chris Hedges returns from vacation.

Four days ago, The Washington Post reported that the epic pathological liar Donald Trump made 4,229 false statements during his first 558 days as United States president. Trump spoke or tweeted falsely, on average, an astonishing 7.6 times per day during that time.

We have no historical database of presidential untruth on which to rely to make detailed comparisons, but it is certain that Trump’s rate of falsehood is beyond anything ever seen in the White House. Armed with Twitter and a mad and malignantly narcissistic penchant for twisting facts and truth in accord with his own ever-shifting sense of what serves his interests and hurts his perceived foes, this monstrosity is gaslighting the last flickering embers of civic democracy at a velocity that would make Goebbels green with envy.

Keeping up with Trump’s erroneous and duplicitous statements is exhausting work, hazardous to one’s own sanity. Just as depressing as Trump’s serial fabrication and invention is the apparent willingness of tens of millions of ostensibly decent and honest ordinary Americans to tolerate, dismiss or even believe the endless stream of nonsense and bullshit. 

Still, if much of the populace has become inured to presidential lying and misstatement, it’s hardly all the current president’s fault.

Deception and misstatement are “as American as Cherry Pie” (to quote H. Rap Brown on violence)—though here perhaps I should say “as American as George Washington’s childhood cherry tree fable.”

While we’ve never seen anything on Trump’s psychotic scale, the problem of U.S. presidential deception goes way back in American history.

Eager for a back-door pretext to enter the war against German fascism (a good thing in the opinion of many), for example, U.S. President Franklin D. Roosevelt lied to Congress and the American people when he claimed that the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor was “unprovoked” by the U.S. and a complete “surprise” to the U.S. military.

President Dwight Eisenhower flatly lied to the American people and the world when he denied the existence of American U-2 spy plane flights over Russia.

President John F. Kennedy lied about the supposed missile gap between the United States and the Soviet Union. And Kennedy lied when he claimed that the United States sought democracy in Latin America, Southeast Asia and around the world.

President Lyndon Johnson lied on Aug. 4, 1965, when he claimed that North Vietnam attacked U.S. Navy destroyers in the Gulf of Tonkin. This provided a false pretext for a massive escalation of the U.S. war on Vietnam, resulting in the deaths of more than 50,000 U.S. military personnel and millions of Southeast Asians.

Regarding Vietnam, Daniel Ellsberg recalled 17 years ago that his 1971 release of the Pentagon Papers exposed U.S. military and intelligence documents “proving that the government had long lied to the country. Indeed, the papers revealed a policy of concealment and quite deliberate deception from the Truman administration onward. … A generation of presidents,” Ellsberg noted, “chose to conceal from Congress and the public what the real policy was. …”

President Richard Nixon lied about wanting peace in Vietnam (his agent, Henry Kissinger, actively undermined a peace accord with Hanoi before the 1968 election) and about respecting the neutrality of Cambodia. He lied through secrecy and omission about the criminal and fateful U.S. bombing of Cambodia—a far bigger crime than the burglarizing of the Democratic Party headquarters in the Watergate complex, about which he of course famously lied.

The serial fabricator Ronald Reagan made a special address to the nation in which he lied by saying, “We did not—repeat—we did not trade weapons or anything else [to Iran] for hostages, nor will we.”

President George H.W. Bush falsely claimed on at least five occasions in the run-up to the 1990-91 Persian Gulf War that Iraqi forces, after invading Kuwait, had pulled babies from incubators and left them to die.

President Bill Clinton shamelessly lied about his White House sexual shenanigans with Monica Lewinsky. He falsely claimed to be upholding international law and to be opposing genocide when he bombed Serbia for more than two months in early 1999.

The serial liar George W. Bush and his administration infamously, openly and elaborately lied about Saddam Hussein’s alleged Iraqi “weapons of mass destruction” and about Iraq’s purported links to al Qaida and the 9/11 jetliner attacks. After the WMD fabrication was exposed, Bush falsely claimed to have invaded Iraq to spread liberty and democracy.

Bill Clinton (subject of a useful Christopher Hitchens book titled “No One Left to Lie To”) and Barack Obama were both silver-tongued corporate-neoliberal Wall Street and Pentagon Democrats who falsely claimed to be progressive friends of working people and the poor. President Obama lied repeatedly, as when he falsely claimed that he would have his Department of Justice investigate and prosecute abusive lenders for cheating and defrauding ordinary homeowners. Obama misrepresented the facts badly when he repeatedly claimed (in what PolitiFact determined to be “The Lie of the Year” in 2013) that, under his Affordable Care Act, “If Americans like their doctor, they will keep their doctor. And if you like your insurance plan, you will keep it.”

In a grotesque lie early in his presidency, Obama’s White House claimed that the carnage caused by its bombing of the Afghan village of Bola Boluk (where dozens of children were blown to pieces by U.S. ordnance) had really been inflicted by “Taliban grenades.”

But presidential lies are just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to an American political, media, intellectual and educational culture that has long been drenched in a vast sea of fable, deception, ideological selection and flat-out propagandistic falsification. The biggest and most relevant lies of our time don’t just issue from the mouths, press releases and now, sadly, Twitter feeds of presidents. They are major historical and societal myths and grand narratives of broad falsehood widely shared across the major party spectrum by “responsible” and “respectable” authorities in politics, business, education, literature, religion, media and public affairs.

I recently asked a dozen or so online associates and friends for their top five nominations under the category of the Big Lies of Our Time in the United States. We came up with fully 50 great national fairy tales and untruths (one for each U.S. state). Here are my nominations for the Top 10 Big National Lies:

 1. We live in a democracy. This core myth cries out for demolition with special urgency at present thanks to constant media and political class repetition of the claim that Russia “undermined our democracy” during the 2016 presidential election. I have written at length against this claim so many times that it has become difficult to do so again without excessive self-repetition. Here are just three among a large number of reports and commentaries in which I have carefully explained why the U.S. is a corporate and imperial plutocracy and even an oligarchy, not a democracy:

“Time Is Running Out: Who Will Protect Our Wrecked Democracy From the American Oligarchy?” CounterPunch, March 21, 2018

American Money, Not Russia, Put Trump in the White House: Reflections on a Recent Report,” CounterPunch, March 30, 2018

Who Will Protect U.S. Election Integrity From American Oligarchs?” Truthdig, April 18, 2018</a>

Putin’s War on America Is Nothing Compared With America’s War on Democracy,” Truthdig, July 22, 2018</a>

Also see my book “They Rule: The 1% v. Democracy” (2014).

 2. Capitalism is about democracy. No, it isn’t—and one need not be an anti-capitalist “radical” like myself to know better. My old copy of Webster’s New Twentieth Century Dictionary defines capitalism as “the economic system in which all or most of the means of production and distribution … are privately owned and operated for profit, originally under fully competitive conditions: it has been generally characterized by a tendency toward concentration of wealth and, [in] its latter phase, by the growth of great corporations, increased government controls, etc.”

There’s nothing—nada, zero, zip—about popular self-rule (democracy) in that definition. And there shouldn’t be. “Democracy and capitalism have very different beliefs about the proper distribution of power,” liberal economist Lester Thurow noted in the mid-1990s: “One [democracy] believes in a completely equal distribution of political power, ‘one man, one vote,’ while the other [capitalism] believes that it is the duty of the economically fit to drive the unfit out of business and into extinction. … To put it in its starkest form, capitalism is perfectly compatible with slavery. Democracy is not.” More than being compatible with slavery and incompatible with democracy, U.S. capitalism arose largely on the basis of black slavery in the cotton-growing states (as historian Edward Baptist has shown in his prize-winning study “The Half Has Never Been Told: Slavery and the Making of American Capitalism”) and is, in fact, quite militantly opposed to democracy.

“We must make our choice,” onetime Supreme Court Justice Louis Brandeis is reputed to have said or written</a>: “We may have democracy in this country, or we may have wealth concentrated in the hands of a few, but we cannot have both.” This statement was unintentionally but fundamentally anti-capitalist. Consistent with the dictionary definition presented above, the brilliant French economist Thomas Piketty has shown that capitalism has always been inexorably pulled toward the concentration of wealth into ever fewer hands.

 3. Capitalism is about the free market. Nope, it’s about the rich seizing control of the state and using it to make themselves richer and to thereby—since wealth is power and pull—deepen their grip on politics and policy. The profits system is so dependent on, and enmeshed with, governmental protection, subsidy and giveaways that one might even question the accuracy of calling it capitalism. (For elaboration, please see my recent Truthdig essay “Our ‘Rentier Capitalism’ Is One More Nail in Earth’s Coffin”). It is at the very least state capitalism, and always has been. A truly “free market,” that is fully laissez-faire capitalism, has never actually existed. At the same time, state-capitalist market forces in all forms, including their most government-free ones, have always brought widely different levels of freedom and un-freedom (including even literal slavery) for people depending on what class they belong to and how many resources they bring to influence and profit from market processes.

4. Big business and its political agents are freedom-loving libertarians who hate “big government.” False. They only hate big government that’s not under their control and doesn’t serve their interests. The contemporary capitalist elite and its many agents and servants hate only what the left French sociologist Pierre Bourdieu called “the left hand of the state”—the parts of the public sector that serve the social and democratic needs of the non-affluent majority. They want to starve and crush those branches of government that reflect past popular victories in struggles for social justice and democracy. But the portions of the state that serve the opulent minority and dole out punishment for the poor are not the subject of their ire. The regressive and repressive “right hand of the state,” comprising the big sections of “big government” that distribute wealth upward and attack those who resist empire and inequality, is not its enemy. It grows in accordance with the slashing of left-handed social protections, as the increased insecurity that results drives ever more disadvantaged people into the clutches of the military and the criminal injustice system.

5. The United States is a great land of liberty. Really? It depends on what part of the class-race structure you inhabit. With a massive and highly militarized police and prosecutorial state that has used the so-called war on drugs and related cooked crime crazes as pretexts for racially hyper-disparate mass arrest and imprisonment, the U.S. is home to the highest rate of mass incarceration in the world (and in world history). Social movements are regularly infiltrated, surveilled and crushed by the high-tech U.S. police state.

Hundreds of millions of U.S. citizens depend on employers not just for their incomes but also for their and their families’ health insurance, something that militates strongly against their willingness to speak freely within or beyond the workplace.

Americans suffer the longest working hours in the “developed” (rich nation) world; they spend inordinate and crippling amounts of time under the despotic supervision of bosses and lack the time and energy and information to participate meaningfully in the nation’s supposed “democracy.”

Freedom to do what one wants with one’s life depends on the possession of money and wealth, which is more unevenly distributed and harshly concentrated in the U.S. than in any other wealthy capitalist nation. Liberty is certainly enjoyed in great proportions by the top 10th of the upper U.S. 1 percent, which owns as much wealth as the nation’s bottom 90 percent. Liberty is far less prevalent among the 57 percent of Americans who, as CNBC reported last fall, have less than $1,000 in savings; 39 percent have no savings at all. Last January, the same network reported that more than a third (36 percent) of Americans would have to go into debt to pay for a major unexpected expense like a trip to the hospital or a car repair.

Wall Street chieftains who threw millions of Americans out of work and destroyed billions of dollars in savings through their reckless and often criminal practices have escaped prosecution while the nation’s jails and prisons are loaded with disproportionately black, Latino and poor people serving long terms for comparative small-time drug offenses. In a report titled “The Price of Justice,” The Nation reported last year that “roughly 500,000 people are in jails across the country simply because they are poor”—that is, because they can’t make bail payments or pay fines and/or court fees.

In the words of the title of one report on the poverty and bail jail problem, “Freedom Isn’t Free.”

 6. The United States is a great monument to classlessness. No, it isn’t. The U.S. is a great monument to savage class inequality, marked by an extreme concentration of wealth in ever fewer hands (Louis Brandeis’ death knell for democracy) and the lowest rates of upward mobility from the lower and working classes into the middle and upper classes in the “advanced” world. Three absurdly wealthy Americans (Jeff Bezos, Warren Buffett and Bill Gates) now possess among them as much wealth as the poorest half of the United States. As one of those three, Buffett, noted 12 years ago: “There’s class warfare, all right, but it’s my class, the rich class, that’s making war, and we’re winning.” As wealth and income congeal ever upward in New Gilded Age America, even the professional middle class now experiences ubiquitous “precariousness,” lost security and status, and downward mobility. As the cultural theorist Lynn Parramore writes in a recent review of journalist Alissa Quart’s new book, “Squeezed: Why Our Families Can’t Afford America”:

<blockquote>Today, with their incomes flat or falling, [young middle-class] Americans scramble to maintain a semblance of what their parents enjoyed. They are moving from being dominant to being dominated. From acting to acted upon. Trained to be educators, lawyers, librarians, and accountants, they do work they can’t stand to support families they rarely see. … Their new reality: You will not do as well as your parents. Life is a struggle to keep up. Even if you achieve something, you will live in fear of losing it. America is not your land: it belongs to the ultra-rich. …

They are somebodies turning into nobodies … the Chicago adjunct professor with the disabled child who makes less than $24,000 a year; and the California business reporter who once focused on the financial hardships of others and now faces unemployment herself. … Uber-driving teachers and law school grads reviewing documents for $20 an hour—or less. Ivy Leaguers who live on food stamps. … Their labor has sputtered into sporadic contingency: they make do with short-term contracts or shift work. … Once upon a time, only the working poor took second jobs to stay afloat. Now the Middle Precariat has joined them. … Deep down, they know that they probably can’t pass down the cultural and social class they once took for granted.</blockquote>

It sounds like something out of, well, Marx.

 7. Hard work and individual brilliance is the key to individual wealth, and the lack of such work and brains is the source of individual poverty. Nonsense. In the U.S. as across the capitalist world, private oligarchic fortunes rest on the parasitic collection of multiple forms of rent obtained through the ownership of multiple forms of inherited property and the wildly inordinate influence that the wealthy Few exercise over the oxymoronically named “capitalist democracies.” The preponderant majority of the wealth “earned” (appropriated) by the ever more obscenely opulent is produced by countless less privileged others and by a set of societal and institutional arrangements designed to serve those fortunate enough to be born into affluence. (See the brilliant left geographer Richard A. Walker’s masterful discussion of the real source of Silicon Valley’s spectacular profits in his recent book “Pictures of a Gone City: Tech and Dark Side of Prosperity in the San Francisco Bay Area.”) Millions of Americans work absurdly long, smart and hard hours for an ever-shrinking share of total income and wealth and face economic precarity for reasons that have absolutely nothing to do with their own personal effort and smarts. Rising labor productivity has not remotely been matched by rising wages or benefits in a globalized labor market structured by and for the employer class.

8. Growth is good. U.S. and Western state capitalist ideology has long proclaimed that growth—not redistribution and sociopolitical democratization—is the solution to poverty and joblessness. But contemporary capitalist expansion is largely predicated on low wages, weak benefits, a fading left-handed social welfare state, generalized precarity for the Many, and relentless destruction of the earth on which we all depend. Economic growth under the heedless, commons-plundering command of the unelected dictatorship of capital is now clearly environmentally exterminist—a grave threat to livable ecology. There are no jobs, no economy, on a dead planet, and there’s no Planet B.

 9. We have an “independent” and “mainstream” media. False. We have neither. For elaboration (I am running of word count), please see my 2015 ZNet essay “On the Nature and Mission of U.S. Corporate Mass Media.” 

 10. The U.S. is a force for good and peace in the world. It is no such thing. For some ugly details (word count again, dear reader), please see my recent Truthdig essays “The World Will Not Mourn the Decline of U.S. Hegemony” and “The Chomsky Challenge for Americans.”

Trump deserves a special place in the Totalitarian Hall of Shame’s special Lying Head of State exhibit, but all these grand national deceptions were in place under Obama, Bush 43, Clinton, Bush 41 and Ronald Reagan. Most of them have been operational under most of modern U.S. history. Impeaching or un-electing the uber-dissembler who now occupies the Oval Office will not magically make them go away. Only a great people’s rebellion on behalf of liberty, equality, solidarity, the common(s) good—and truth—can do that.

For the full list of Fifty Big National Lies, go to my website, paulstreet. org.

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Our ‘Rentier Capitalism’ Is One More Nail in Earth’s Coffin

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Paul Street’s column will appear in Truthdig each Sunday through Aug. 12. Its regular schedule will resume when Truthdig columnist Chris Hedges returns from vacation.

“Workers of the world unite, you have nothing to lose but your chains.” This famous socialist slogan, adapted from Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels’ “The Communist Manifesto,” struck Noam Chomsky as a poor fit for most people in the world’s rich nations almost half a century ago.

“There is no doubt,” Chomsky wrote in August 1969 (when I was a sixth-grader mourning the Chicago Cubs’ collapse before the onrushing New York “Miracle Mets”), “that we can learn from the achievements and failures of revolutionary struggles in the less-developed countries. …” But, Chomsky added, “In an advanced industrial society, it is, obviously, far from true that the mass of population have nothing to lose but their chains … [since] they have a considerable stake in preserving the existing social order.”

Chomsky’s statement came at the peak of the post-WWII “golden age” of U.S.-led Western capitalism. As the liberal U.S. economist Paul Krugman has noted:

[Post-World War II America] was a middle-class society, to a far greater extent than it had been in the 1920s—or than it is today. … Ordinary workers and their families had good reason to feel that they were sharing in the nation’s prosperity as never before. And, on the other side, the rich were a lot less rich than they had been a generation earlier. … The postwar generation was a time when almost everyone in America felt that living standards were rising rapidly, a time in which ordinary Americans felt that they were achieving a level of prosperity beyond their parents’ wildest dreams.

Similar developments occurred in Western Europe, where les trentes glorieuses (the “30 golden years” of 1945 to 1975) brought unprecedented middle-class expansion and prosperity combined with a significant reduction in inequality and poverty. Things have changed. Inequality has resurged significantly in the “advanced” nations (what one academic calls “the affluent capitalist democracies”), bringing depressing expansions of poverty.

After four-plus decades of neoliberalism, we now live under the rule of a rentier capitalism, in which the top 10th of the upper U.S. 1 percent owns as much wealth as the nation’s bottom 90 percent. CNBC reported last fall that 57 percent of Americans have less than $1,000 in their savings; 39 percent have no savings at all. Last January, the same network reported that more than a third (36 percent) of Americans would have to go into debt to pay for a major unexpected expense like a trip to the hospital or a car repair.

Four basic underpinnings of the more broadly shared prosperity in the post-World War II years have been undone inside the “advanced” nations, helping to create such shocking inequality and poverty in the U.S.

First, rising productivity used to be matched by rising wages. However, beginning in the 1980s, U.S. wages stagnated while productivity continued to soar.

Second, rising employment used to generate corresponding wage hikes. This is no longer the case. Today, when employment rises, wages stay stagnant or fall because the new jobs pay worse than the old jobs. The long Obama-Trump “recovery” is biased toward—one might even say contingent upon—the expansion of low-paid jobs, as has been most job growth in the long neoliberal era.

Third, rising employment used to produce more tax revenue for the public sector. Again, this isn’t true today, because so many new jobs pay too little and governments have raised the threshold for paying income tax.

Fourth, rising company profits used to lead to higher average pay. That, too, has gone away. As the British economist Guy Standing noted in his indispensable 2016 book, “The Corruption of Capitalism: Why Rentiers Thrive and Work Does Not Pay”: “Profits are more concentrated in [largely high-tech] firms that don’t employ many workers. Employment has grown mainly in low-tech sectors, weakening the link between profits, employment, and wages.”

These four reversals are most evident in the U.S. and, to a somewhat lesser extent, Britain, but they are global in nature and hold across most if not all the world’s rich nations.

The renascent disparity and want in the “advanced” world is direr than the standard economic data indicate. It’s also about the decline of “social income”—the totality of social and environmental resources we rely upon—and the rising insecurity of that income. As Standing observed:

Social income includes non-wage company benefits and perks such as paid holidays and sick leave, maternity and paternity benefits, company pension schemes and subsidized transport. And it includes community benefits—informal support from family, neighbors, and friends, and access to public services and the commons … an important source of income for those lacking other resources. … Conventional income statistics also fail to reflect the fact that the same money income is worth more to the recipient if predictable and certain than if unpredictable and uncertain. For example, guaranteed access to state benefits is worth more than access to benefits of equivalent amount that depend on means testing, behavior testing or the discretion of bureaucratic officials. Income security has a value in itself.

Beyond economic discrepancies, the population is sorted also by related inequalities of health and life quality. The well-off live in better neighborhoods and experience far less exposure to crime and pollution than do the nonaffluent majority in “developed” as well as in “developing” nations. They and their children attend better schools and have more access to greenspace, quality food and good medical care. They travel and exercise more, enjoy cultural resources on a greater scale, marry better-off spouses (“selective mating”) and pass on pronounced inherited advantages to their progeny.

As the author and philosopher Matthew Stewart recently reported in an essay in The Atlantic, the “winners” are getting healthier while “people in the lower deciles are actually getting less healthy in many respects.” White U.S. working-class life expectancy has declined in recent years—an unprecedented development outside wartime—largely due to the collapse of the labor market and social safety net for lesser-skilled workers.

As the Harvard sociologist Robert Putnam showed in his chilling book “Our Kids: The American Dream in Crisis” (2016), the white lower and working (and ex-working) classes are increasingly plagued by many of the same characteristics that 20th-century social scientists identified with the nation’s black urban “underclass”: addiction, high rates of school dropout, fragile and single-parent families, rampant mental illness, domestic and child abuse, and high crime and violence rates.

It isn’t about the dualistic division between “the 1 percent” and everyone else that the Occupy Movement turned into a populist catchphrase—or between Marx’s “bourgeoisie” and “proletariat.” Those dichotomous categories don’t do justice to the multiple lines of class stratification found in contemporary capitalism.

Across the “rich” nations, Standing found, a new “global class structure” has been “superimposed on preceding class structures.” It consists of six core constituent elements defined largely by their ability or inability to garner income from the ownership of property and from the political power and policy influence that flow from that possession: “a tiny plutocracy (perhaps 0.001 percent) atop a bigger elite, a ‘salariat’ (in relatively secure salaried jobs), ‘proficians’ (freelance professionals), a core working class, a precariat, and a ‘lumpen-precariat’ at the bottom.”

The top three groups, Standing determined, “gain most (or an increasing part) of their income from capital and rental income” while the bottom three “gain nothing in rent” and “increasingly … pay rent in some form to the classes above them” (emphasis added). As wealth concentrates primarily in the hands of the rentier plutocracy (the United States’ richest three people—Jeff Bezos, Bill Gates and Warren Buffett—now possess as much net worth among them as the bottom half of the U.S. populace) and the better-off sections of the salariat and professional class (a “9.9 percent” that Stewart in his Atlantic piece finds to have at least “kept pace” with “the top 0.1 percent”), it is the “precariat” and the “lumpen-precariat” that have most dramatically expanded both in the “advanced” (rich) nations and across the world.

The precariat is composed of “millions of people obliged to accept a life of unstable labor and living, without an occupational identity or corporate narrative to give to their lives,” Standing said. “Their employers come and go, or are expected to do so. Many in the precariat are over-qualified for the jobs they must accept. They rely on money wages, which are often inadequate, volatile, and unpredictable.”

The “remorselessly” growing “lumpen-precariat” is “the underclass”: destitute, often homeless and reliant on charity, “suffering from social illnesses including drug addiction and depression,” and especially subject to mass incarceration and criminal marking in the United States.

The classic working class, or proletariat—people working in stable, full-time wage positions usually with schooling that matches the skills their jobs require—is fading, except in China and India. It has been shrinking dramatically in the “developed” world throughout the neoliberal era, a period of savage deindustrialization in the rich nations. That’s because big capital and the better-off salaried and professional “elites” have increasingly relied less on the production of goods and services for their wealth and income as they make more money on the parasitic extraction of rents rooted in the monopolistic ownership of assets.

This rentier extraction reflects and furthers a panoply of corrupt and oligarchic state-capitalist government policies that reflect a revolving door between politics and big business that is ubiquitous across world governments. These include patent, trademark and copyright laws that monopolize profitable knowledge; multiple and many-sided direct and indirect subsidies; ubiquitous regressive tax breaks, credit shelters and loopholes; regressive austerity measures; multiple and often complex debt mechanisms; economic, environmental and social deregulation, and ubiquitous privatization.

Along the way, traditional “Fordist”-era labor markets have been swept into history’s dustbin by outsourcing, automation and the “flexible,” “on-demand” industry trailblazed by such new regional, national and global “labor brokers” as Uber, Lyft and the aptly named company PeoplePerHour.

Rents have not declined in modern society with the disappearance of feudal landlordism. They are more central to ruling-class incomes than ever before. As Standing explains:

[A] tiny minority … across the world are accumulating vast wealth and power from rental income, not only from housing and land but from a range of other assets, natural and created. “Rentiers” of all kinds are in unparalleled ascendancy and the neo-liberal state is only too keen to oblige their greed. … Rentiers derive income from ownership, possession or control of assets that are scarce or artificially made scarce. … They include the income lenders gain from debt interest; income from ownership of “intellectual property” (such as patents, copyright, brands and trademarks); capital gains on investments; “above normal” company profits (when a firm has a dominant market position that allows it to charge high prices or dictate terms); income from government subsidies; and income of financial and other intermediaries derived from third-party transactions.

Especially disturbing is Standing’s discussion of how advanced- and developing-nation governments have been induced to escalate “the plunder of the commons”—the “giving away” (policy-mediated plutocratic taking) of what was once publicly owned and commonly shared to private owners, who garner rental income streams from natural and social resources formerly owned by whole societies on behalf of all, regardless of wealth and other invidious distinctions. Examples of this ongoing enclosure and dispossession include “the confiscation and usurpation of native land, for mining”; the selling off of formerly public oil reserves to multinational corporations at “fire-sale prices”; the handing over of national parks and other public lands to fracking firms; the relentless governmental privatization and commodification of water, city streets, town squares, community and public gardens (and garden allotments), public transport, public housing, social services, health care, the arts, public libraries, museums, concert halls, the educational system and even fresh air and the criminal justice system.

It has nothing to do with the mythical “free market” capitalism that neoliberal politicians claim to uphold. It’s about the rich using the state to make themselves richer and to thereby—since wealth is power and pull—deepen their grip on politics and policy.

This plutocratic, even now oligarchic rentier capitalism’s concentration of wealth and power into ever fewer hands has plunged ever more of us into the precariat and lumpen-precariat (this writer has spent the bulk of his adult life in the neoliberal U.S. shifting among the proficiat, the proletariat and precariat). It saddles us with unsustainable and nerve-wracking multiple debt and rental payments that drain and negate our wages. It heightens violence, racism, anxiety, depression, desperation, scapegoating, illness, addiction, irrationality and suicide. It turns millions of upended people into confused and angry fodder for dangerous demagogues who focus working people’s ire on immigrants fleeing social, political and environmental nightmares created in poor (“developing”) nations by the same global system that engenders widespread insecurity within rich (“advanced”) nations.

And these are not even neoliberal capitalism’s worst sins. The “plunder of the commons” has put humanity on the path to ecological self-extinction as we march to the plainly fatal mark of 500 carbon parts per atmospheric million by 2050, if not sooner. As a young opponent of the planet-cooking Dakota Access pipeline screamed in futility through the glass walls separating environmental activists from the Iowa Utilities Board in the late summer of 2016, “We’ve got nothing to lose but a livable planet.” The walled-off protester cried out in Des Moines, Iowa, situated in the agricultural heartland of the world’s richest and most powerful nation.

While those most vulnerable and exposed to the climate and broader environmental crises today are found in the poorest parts of the world, the “advanced” states ultimately have no special exemption from the lethal consequences of the melting of Greenland and Antarctica’s ice sheets and the permafrost layers of Alaska and Siberia. There’s “no planet B,” even for Bezos and his four children.

In light of the ecological peril, it is interesting to note a change of sorts since Chomsky’s take on what the wealthy world has to learn from what used to be called the Third World. As he noted five years ago, “Trying to mitigate or overcome these threats [to the planet] are the least developed societies, the indigenous populations, or the remnants of them, tribal societies and first nations in Canada,” Chomsky wrote. “So, at one extreme, you have indigenous, tribal societies trying to stem the race to disaster. At the other extreme, the richest, most powerful societies in world history, like the United States and Canada, are racing full-speed ahead to destroy the environment as quickly as possible. Unlike Ecuador, and indigenous societies throughout the world, they want to extract every drop of hydrocarbons from the ground with all possible speed.”

These are the most important questions of the current historical moment: economic hyper-disparity, rentier-capitalist plutocracy and, last but not least, the biggest issue of our or any time, environmental ruin. It has been the role of the Twitter-addicted monstrosity President Donald Trump and the Trump-addicted corporate media to (among other things) keep the eyes of citizens and the news cycle off these and other critical matters (see Chomsky’s brilliant reflections last March on Trump’s central role of constant distraction) and recurrently focused instead on his latest insane outrage.

The irony is that the leading climate change denier, Trump himself, is an epitome of precisely the parasitic, aristocratic and plutocratic rentier capitalism that Standing described in his book, published before Trump’s election. The Fortune 400 billionaire Trump is the ultimate bloodsucking rentier. He’s never contributed to the production of any useful goods or services. The vast personal wealth he relied on to leapfrog over the more traditional Wall Street Republicans he defeated in the 2016 presidential primaries by absurdly posing as a champion of the “forgotten” blue-collar working class (especially its white members) was rooted in inherited wealth, landlordism, epic debt manipulation, public subsidy and branding gone wild. Regarding the last rentier attribute, the Chicago Tribune reported three months ago:

Before he ran for office, Donald Trump made millions by selling his name to adorn other people’s products. There was Trump deodorant. Trump ties. Trump steaks. Trump underwear. Trump furniture. … In 2015, Trump listed 19 companies that were paying him to produce or distribute Trump-branded consumer goods. … “It’s ties, shirts, cufflinks, everything sold at Macy’s. And they’re doing great,” Trump told David Letterman in 2012, during an interview in which he’d also complained that China was overtaking the United States as an economic power. “Number-one-selling tie anywhere in the world. …” “The ties are made in China,” Letterman said. Then Trump ran for president.

It was the wealth garnered from anti-worker rentier and global capitalism—including the brazen trademarking of ties manufactured in China and real estate deals made with corrupt investors, politicos and policymakers the world over—and his related extreme media visibility that ironically put Trump in position to mockingly masquerade as a hero of the fading American proletariat in its ongoing struggle with parasitic global and neoliberal capitalism. Even after he spearheaded a massive tax cut for the already absurdly rich 0.1 percent last Christmas, Trump clings to this pose effectively enough to maintain an approval rating in the low 40s, including support from 90 percent of Republicans and 51 percent of union members.

How much longer Trump can keep his distance from the parasitic rentier capitalism that has made his fortune—and whose aristocratic wealth he has expanded with tax cuts and deregulation advanced in the deceptive name of free market capitalism? Probably as long as the U.S. job market continues to grow, pushing the official unemployment rate down closer to 3 percent.

But it’s not about the endless distraction Trump provides. He’s just a symptom—a noxious and maddening one, to be sure, but a symptom nonetheless. It is the class and profits system on which his and other rentier capitalists’ wealth and power rest that we must ultimately fight against and overcome. Millions upon millions of Americans for decades have been losing middle- and even working-class status, income and security and getting knocked down into the precariat, or having to work twice as hard to avoid falling. And it’s all so the already super-rich can get more absurdly prosperous, not through the production of goods and services, but through rents garnered from their monopolistic ownership of artificially scarce assets and their related control of politics and government.

The main thing we have to lose under the current system is a livable earth. As Marx (a great devotee of science) would certainly recognize if he were granted a posthumous research trip into the 21st century, capitalism has not produced its own working-class “gravediggers” (the “revolutionary” industrial proletariat he thought he saw coming into being in his time). The profits system is not the “dialectical” midwife of socialism. It is an environmental as well as social, political and spiritual cancer—an exterminist endgame wired to take us beyond mere precarity to full-on extinction. If all of us—from the bottom up and top down—don’t figure out how to become the undertakers of this commons-plundering rentier regime, the insight of onetime leading neoconservative philosopher Francis Fukuyama will be borne out, though not in the sense he meant: Capitalism will indeed mark “the end of history and the last man,” through literal extinction.

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‘Putin’s War on America’ Is Nothing Compared With America’s War on Democracy

Read more of this story here from Truthdig RSS by Paul Street.

Paul Street’s column will appear in Truthdig each Sunday through Aug. 12. Its regular schedule will resume when Truthdig columnist Chris Hedges returns from vacation.

The noted North Korean political commentator Kim Jong Un got it right last year: Donald Trump is a “mentally deranged dotard.”

Consider the U.S. president’s bizarre performance next to Russian strongman Vladimir Putin in Helsinki on Monday.

Asked about Russian interference in the 2016 U.S. presidential election, President Trump said this: “I have President Putin, he just said it’s not Russia. I will say this. I don’t see any reason why it would be.”

He continued: “So I have great confidence in my intelligence people, but I will tell you that President Putin was extremely strong and powerful in his denial today.”

Talk about walking into your enemy’s wheelhouse. Trump looked, acted and sounded like a big floppy and supine plaything of his smirking Russian master. It was surreal.

I’m no fan of “Russiagate” and never have been. But it was as if Trump had let Russia-mad MSNBC and CNN craft the Helsinki news conference and write his lines for him.

The response from the U.S. corporate media minus Fox News was swift, harsh and unremitting. Cable news went wild. Its talking heads (except for Trump State Television/Fox) were unanimous: A “treasonous” Trump had “thrown his own country”—with “country” understood to mean the U.S. “intelligence” (spying and subversion) apparatus—“under the bus” and “sided with the enemy instead.”

A sour POTUS had to reluctantly walk his comments back the next day, awkwardly claiming that he’d really meant to say, “I don’t see any reason why it wouldn’t be.”

Right. I lied more convincingly than that in second grade.

Does Putin have the dirty photos after all? Does Trump have a late-life schoolboy crush on “strong and powerful” Vlad? Or on the related binding powers of head-of-state authoritarianism and senior white maleness? Political power envy? Bicep envy? Trump’s knee-jerk revulsion at any suggestion that his “great victory” in the 2016 Electoral College was tainted? All or some of the above?

We can only guess about the real source(s) of Trump’s peculiar Putin jones at this point.

By contrast, I can say with full confidence that nothing Trump said Monday or Tuesday was as ridiculous as something I heard leading Democrat and U.S. Sen. Mark Warner, D-Va., tell CNN the night of Trump’s Helsinki debacle.

“It is the role of the U.S. intelligence community,” Warner said to Anderson Cooper, “to speak truth to power.”

Read that again: “It is the role of the U.S. intelligence community to speak truth to power.”

Never mind that the FBI has long surveilled, hounded, harassed, oppressed, slandered, maimed and even murdered U.S. labor, civil rights, peace, social justice and environmental activists and leaders—people fighting concentrated wealth, privilege and power. The FBI’s long record of domestic police-state repression has continued to the present day, up through Occupy, the Fight for $15, Black Lives Matter and Standing Rock.

Never mind the CIA’s longstanding central role in the crushing and subversion of national independence and social justice movements, popular revolutions and democratically elected governments the world over. Or the CIA and FBI’s central role (current Russiagate investigator Robert Mueller’s having been a top player) in the creation of false intelligence pretexts for George W. Bush’s monumentally criminal, mass-murderous invasion of Iraq.

There was nothing close to the hint of a pushback against Warner’s idiotic statement from Cooper (a former CIA intern) or anyone else in the “mainstream media.” It doesn’t enter cable news’ talking heads’ minds to see the nation’s spying, surveillance and police state for what it is at its core: an instrument of class, racial and imperial oppression.

On Tuesday and Wednesday, former Director of National Intelligence James Clapper could be heard on CNN using the same phrase—“speaking truth to power”—to describe the mission of “the intelligence community.”

Clapper was just one among dozens of former U.S. military and intelligence officials and experts—all proud agents and defenders of the American global empire and so-called capitalist democracy—paraded across the CNN and MSNBC sets to express horror at Trump and Russia.

The more Russia- and Trump-obsessed cable news I watched last week, the crazier it got. Things went really off the rails Wednesday night. That’s when MSNBC’s Russia-mad talk-show host Rachel Maddow leaped from reporting a ridiculous Sarah Huckabee Sanders comment on how the Trump White House was discussing whether to honor Putin’s request to hand over a former U.S. diplomat (Barack Obama’s Russian ambassador, Michael McFaul) for questioning in Russia (which would be a bizarre and astonishing development and was obviously never going to happen) to telling ordinary individual Americans that they could soon be at risk of being picked up by the White House and handed over to Russia to be killed by Putin (or “other foreign dictators”). Who was more wacky—White House press secretary Huckabee Sanders, for saying the White House was considering handing over a former U.S. ambassador to Russian authorities (something that was never going to occur), or Maddow, for telling everyday Americans that Trump may one day mark them for rendition to Russia at the behest of the Kremlin (also never going to occur)?

Cable news commentators also expressed concern for another “American” sought for questioning (and torture and murder, purportedly) by Putin: financial mogul Bill Browder, who happens, hilariously enough, to be the grandson of the former Soviet-captive U.S. Communist Party head Earl Browder. Putin’s interest has to do with tax disputes related to Browder’s onetime investments and “human rights” activism in Russia. Here’s a fun little fact about Bill Browder that wasn’t highlighted by MSNBC and CNN: The multimillionaire “American” renounced his U.S. citizenship and “re-domiciled” to England in 1998 to avoid paying U.S. taxes on foreign investments. It’s hard to imagine the Boston patriots of 1773 forming a Tea Party in defense of the “great American” Bill Browder.

Speaking on behalf of power—imperial power in this case—nothing Trump said Monday and Tuesday was quite as absurd as the undisputed condemnation U.S. corporate news talking heads and pundits heaped on Trump for saying in Helsinki that he held “both countries responsible” for the decline in U.S.-Russia relations. “I think we’re all to blame,” Trump said.

Outraged U.S. media authorities fell over themselves to express shock and horror at this “Orwellian” statement of “false equivalency.” CNN and MSDNC (I mean MSNBC) likened it to the white-supremacist Trump’s deservedly infamous comments likening so-called “alt-left” civil rights protesters to neo-Nazis in Charlottesville, Va., last August.

In historical reality, as the “mainstream” U.S. media would never acknowledge, Trump’s “both countries responsible” comment understated Washington’s primary culpability in the rise of the “new,” that is, post-Soviet, U.S.-Russia Cold War. The record of imperial U.S. aggression and provocation is clear to anyone who pays remotely serious attention to the record of the recent past:

● President Bill Clinton’s decision to annul a 1990 agreement with Moscow not to push the North Atlantic Treaty Organization farther east after the reunification of Germany and not to recruit Eastern European states that had been part of the Soviet-ruled Warsaw Pact.

● Widespread U.S. interference in Russian electoral politics and civil society—including brazen U.S. intervention in Russia’s pivotal 1996 presidential election—before, during and ever since the collapse of Soviet socialism.

● U.S.-led NATO’s decisions to renege on its 1997 pledge not to install “permanent” and “significant” military forces in former Soviet bloc nations and to place four battalions on and near the Russian border.

● The 1999 U.S.-NATO military intervention in the Yugoslav civil war, leading to the dismemberment of Serbia and the building of a giant U.S. military base in the NATO- and U.S.-created state of Kosovo. (That recent history has hardly prevented Washington from shaming Russia for “forcibly redrawing borders in Europe” by annexing Crimea.)

● President George W. Bush’s unilateral withdrawal from the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty.

● President Obama’s decision to deploy anti-missile systems (supposedly aimed at Iran’s nonexistent nuclear weapons and really meant to intercept Russian missiles) in Romania and Poland.

● Obama’s decision to invest more than $1 trillion on an upgrade of the U.S, nuclear weapons arsenal, which was already well enough stocked to blow up the world 50 times over. The upgrade continues under Trump. It involves “strategic” bombs with smaller yields, something that dangerously blurs the lines between conventional and nuclear weapons. It has helped spark a new nuclear arms race with Russia and, perhaps, China.

● Longstanding U.S. efforts “to move Ukraine out of Moscow’s orbit and integrate it into the West” (to quote U.S. foreign relations scholar John Mearsheimer).

● U.S. provocation and endorsement of a right-wing 2014 coup against the pro-Russian government in Ukraine, on Russia’s repeatedly invaded western border—a development that constituted a severe national security threat to Russia and predictably created war in eastern Ukraine and a crisis that led to numerous dangerous incidents between NATO and Russian forces.

● Washington’s constant self-righteous denunciation of Moscow’s annexation of Crimea, a thoroughly predictable Russian response to the United States’ installation of a right-wing and heavily neo-Nazi-affiliated, pro-NATO and anti-Russian government in Kiev, Ukraine.

“NATO leaders,” American political writer Diana Johnstone stated in June 2014, “feign surprise at events they planned months in advance. Events that they deliberately triggered are being misrepresented as sudden, astonishing, unjustified ‘Russian aggression.’ The United States and the European Union undertook an aggressive provocation in Ukraine that they knew would force Russia to react defensively, one way or another.”

One does not have to be a fan of Vladimir Putin or a left critic of U.S. imperialism (guilty here) to understand the nationalist logic behind the Russian president’s concerns with U.S. and Western aggression—and the popularity of Putin’s resistance to that aggression among millions of Russians fed up with decades of national humiliation by the West.

As the mainstream “realist” Mearsheimer argued in a 2014 article—“Why the Ukraine Crisis is the West’s Fault”—published in the establishment Council on Foreign Relations’ journal Foreign Affairs, Putin reasonably viewed Washington’s commitment to NATO expansion and NATO’s U.S.-led recruitment of Ukraine as “a direct threat to Russia’s core interests … [and] who can blame him?” Mearsheimer asked, adding that “the United States does not tolerate distant great powers deploying forces anywhere in the Western hemisphere, much less on its borders.”

“We need not ask,” Noam Chomsky wrote two years ago, “how the United States would have reacted had the countries of Latin America joined the Warsaw Pact, with plans for Mexico and Canada to join as well. The merest hint of the first tentative steps in that direction would have been ‘terminated with extreme prejudice,’ to adopt the CIA lingo.”

An honest look at the history of U.S. and Western aggression in Eastern Europe and, well, meddling in Russia itself, suggests plenty of reasons why Russia would have wanted some say in the 2016 U.S. election—and why it would have preferred a bizarre “isolationist” NATO critic with a long and strange personal and financial history with Russia (Trump) over a committed Russia-hating, NATO-expansionist and global imperialist like Hillary Clinton.

If you don’t want other countries messing, or trying to mess, with your nation’s internal politics, then don’t mess with theirs—and don’t set up armies and hostile regimes on their borders. The United States, which maintains more than 800 military bases spread across more than 100 “sovereign” nations, regularly interferes in the internal affairs—including elections—of the other states and societies.

A final preposterous thing that “mainstream” U.S. news media has been repeating over and over in the last several days is the charge that “Russia tried to undermine our democracy.” In three days of informal but regular monitoring of CNN and MSNBC, I heard that phrase or some variation of it (including “Russia waged war on our democracy”) at least 30 times.

To what “American democracy” are they referring? University of Kentucky history department chair Ronald Formisano’s latest book is titled “American Oligarchy: The Permanence of the Political Class” (University of Illinois, 2017). By Formisano’s detailed account, U.S. politics and policy are under the control of a “permanent political class”—a “networked layer of high-income people,” including congressional representatives (half of whom are millionaires), elected officials, campaign funders, lobbyists, consultants, appointed bureaucrats, pollsters, television celebrity journalists, university presidents and executives at well-funded nonprofit institutions. This “permanent political class,” Formisano finds, is taking the nation “beyond [mere] plutocracy” to “the hegemony of an aristocracy of inherited wealth.” The super-opulent moneyed elite it minds and apes is a product of U.S. history and has nothing to do with Russia.

Formisano is just one of many distinguished and mainstream American thinkers who understands that the U.S. is simply not a democracy. (Even some conservative elites like the veteran federal jurist and economist Richard Posner concede this basic reality.) As the distinguished liberal political scientists Benjamin Page (Northwestern) and Martin Gilens (Princeton) showed in their expertly researched book “Democracy in America?” last year:

[T]he best evidence indicates that the wishes of ordinary Americans actually have had little or no impact on the making of federal government policy. Wealthy individuals and organized interest groups—especially business corporations—have had much more political clout. When they are taken into account, it becomes apparent that the general public has been virtually powerless. … The will of majorities is often thwarted by the affluent and the well-organized, who block popular policy proposals and enact special favors for themselves. … Majorities of Americans favor … programs to help provide jobs, increase wages, help the unemployed, provide universal medical insurance, ensure decent retirement pensions, and pay for such programs with progressive taxes. Most Americans also want to cut ‘corporate welfare.’ Yet the wealthy, business groups, and structural gridlock have mostly blocked such new policies [and programs].

We get to vote? Big deal. An “unelected dictatorship of money” (Edward S. Herman and David Peterson) reigns nonetheless in the United States, where, Page and Gilens find, “government policy … reflects the wishes of those with money, not the wishes of the millions of ordinary citizens who turn out every two years to choose among the preapproved, money-vetted candidates for federal office.”

But, OK, so how significant was “Russian interference” in tipping the 2016 election to one of the money-vetted capitalist candidates (Trump) over the other one (Clinton)? Russia’s impact on the outcome was negligible. An important source here is the brilliant political scientist and money and politics analyst Thomas Ferguson’s study (co-authored with Paul Jorgensen and Jie Chen), “Industrial Structure and Party Competition in an Age of Hunger Games: Donald Trump and the 2016 Presidential Election” (Institute for New Economic Thinking, January 2018). Ferguson finds that Russia’s sway over the contest was (no surprise for serious analysts) tiny compared with that of the homegrown U.S. corporate and financial oligarchs who sit atop “America, the Best Democracy Money Can Buy.”

The billionaire rentier-capitalist Trump used his own personal fortune to leap over his more traditional Wall Street Republican competitors—absurdly posing as a champion of the forgotten “heartland” working class—in the 2016 presidential primaries. To win the general election, however, he depended on a remarkable influx of big campaign cash from dodgy right-wing U.S. billionaires and equity capitalists in the late summer and fall of 2016. Even more significant, perhaps, was Clinton’s remarkable, record-setting funding by big financial and other business interests (including corporate sectors that normally supported Republicans but came over to the Democrats’ side thanks largely to candidate Trump’s declared protectionism and isolationism) that helped create the dismal centrist awfulness and deafening policy silence of Clinton’s miserable campaign.

“Putin’s war on America” was nothing compared with the American ruling class’ war on America when it comes to the inside story of how “American democracy” was pre-empted as usual by big money (among other and related vectors of concentrated wealth) during the last great quadrennial electoral extravaganza.

Russia did not make Hillary Clinton into one of the worst political candidates ever to disgrace the campaign podium. (I saw her quite a few times in Iowa in 2007. She had less charisma and inspiration than any other politician I’d ever seen.)

Russia didn’t turn her into an elitist, right-wing, Walmart-and-Wall Street neoliberal corporatist. Yale Law, the corporate and financial “elite,” the plutocratic U.S. party and elections system, the Democratic Leadership Council, and Clinton’s own craven wealth- and power-worship did that all on their homegrown own, no help from Moscow required, long before 2016.

Russia didn’t make the “lying, neoliberal warmonger” Clinton avoid real policy issues to an astonishing degree (more than any major party presidential candidate in recent history) during the 2016 general election campaign.

Russia didn’t make the Clinton campaign decide to run almost solely on candidate quality and character when its own unpopular candidate was highly vulnerable on precisely those “issues.”

Russia did not make Clinton fail to buy ads in Michigan and fail to set foot in Wisconsin after the Democratic National Convention.

Russia didn’t create the massive economic inequality and insecurity and bipartisan corporatism and parasitic state-capitalist globalism that Trump was able to exploit—with no small help from Steve Bannon, Sheldon Adelson, the Koch brothers and the Mercer family—in 2016.

Russia didn’t make the Clinton machine and the Democratic National Committee collude to rig the 2016 primaries and Democratic National Convention against Bernie Sanders, who likely would have defeated Trump in the general election.

Should there be an investigation of Hillary Clinton as a Russia asset?

After Trump’s pathetic Helsinki debacle, U.S. cable news talking heads were agog with claims that “malign Russia”—“America’s ruthless adversary”—has been waiting for the conclusion of the World Cup to unleash new assaults on Western and U.S. “democracy,” understood to mean upcoming Western and U.S. elections. What, they ask, are federal, state and local governments doing to “protect our elections and democracy” from the “malign influence of Russia”?

Strangely, yet predictably—since corporate media personalities are themselves parts of Formisano’s American oligarchy—missing from this media hysteria is the question of who will protect U.S. elections and purported “democracy” from the unmentionable malign influence of U.S. oligarchs. They sit atop a New Gilded Age in which the top 10th of the upper 1 percent owns as much wealth as the nation’s bottom 90 percent, and three absurdly rich people (Jeff Bezos, Bill Gates and Warren Buffett) possess among them the same net worth as the nation’s poorest half. “We must make our choice,” U.S. Supreme Court Justice Louis Brandeis said in 1941: “We may have democracy in this country, or we may have wealth concentrated in the hands of a few, but we cannot have both.”

That’s a timeworn problem in the United States and indeed across the supposedly democratic capitalist world. If you want to blame the horrible authoritarian consequences of that core contradiction on Russia and its supposed “asset” Donald Trump, then you are an even bigger idiot or cynic than the dotard’s own dumb self.

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Scott Pruitt Got Off Easy: Ecocide Is No Small Matter

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Scott Pruitt, the now-former, scandal-plagued Environmental Protection Agency chief in the Trump administration, got off easy.

The spoliation of the commons by those who pursue private profit and what Western economists call “development” in is no small matter.

Consider the case of the white “settler” William  Davis in northern Illinois in the spring of 1832. Two years earlier, Davis, a blacksmith from West Virginia, had moved his wife and six children to Big Indian Creek, 20 miles north of the town of Ottawa. Davis built a house, a blacksmith shop and sawmill six miles downstream from a large village of Potawatomi Indians.

The white newcomers considered the Potawatomi peaceful. Their chief, Shaubena, traveled by horse to warn the white “settlers” about potential attacks from the Sauks, who had been sparked by the old warrior Black Hawk to resist the white invasion of northern Illinois. This included the occupation of Sauk villages and otherwise proved most unsettling to the indigenous people who called the region home.

But Davis spoiled his relations with the local Potawatomi by building a dam to power his sawmill. The dam, it turned out, hampered the upstream migration of fish, on which the native population depended for food and fertilizer.

When the Potawatomi asked him to stop blocking their fish supply, Davis brusquely refused and turned them away. Then, in April 1832, Davis came upon a Potawatomi villager named Keewassee trying to destroy the much-reviled dam. “Davis caught him in the act,” writes historian Kelly Trask, “and gave him a severe thrashing with a hickory rod. Keewassee went away bruised and angry, but he was far from finished with Davis.”

On the unusually hot afternoon of May 21, 1832, more than 60 Potawatomis and three Sauks attacked the Davis homestead, where the Davis family was gathered with two other “settler” clans. The Indians killed 15 whites. “All were scalped. The men and women were chopped to pieces,” Trask notes, “After that, the war party burned down the house and all the outbuildings and wantonly slaughtered the livestock.”

Sparked by a white invader’s arrogant response to indigenous people asking him to cease and desist from spoiling the commons on which they relied for sustenance, the Indian Creek Massacre quickly became part of a white-nationalist narrative justifying the launching of the U.S. Black Hawk War. This one-sided slaughter by the U.S. military resulted in the white ethnic cleansing of northern Illinois and the rapid destruction of Illinois prairie.

Davis (who personally survived the massacre) was just one of many tens of thousands of white un-settlers who “contributed,” in the words of Harry Podschwit in the College of DuPage’s Essai, “to the destruction of the tallgrass grass prairies and other ecological features of Northern Illinois”—including remarkable biodiversity—well before the turn of the 20th century. As Podschwit observes:

Much of the damage to the Northern Illinois ecology was sustained during the period early settlement [the 1830s-1850s], as the rapid spread of urban centers and agriculture dominated the tallgrass prairie and also decimated the remaining woodlands of the region. Thus, to the dismay of many modern naturalists, much of the ecology of the Northern Illinois was disturbed before its nuances could be fully understood. … By 1900 the landscape of Northern Illinois had been abused and defeated, lamenting its fantastic, yet brief reign in North America.

Nearly two centuries after the Indian removal, much, if not most, of the region’s once-luxuriant prairie farmland is ruled by toxic corporate mega-farmers. They apply poisonous chemical fertilizers fence post to fence post to grow giant corn and soybean crops destined for the digestive tracts of industrially penned and slaughtered cows and pigs. The once richly fertile and black earth of the Illinois plains feeds a giant, methane-spewing animal agriculture industry that contributes massively to the destructive overheating of the planet.

Still, William Davis should have listened to the Potawatomis, who at first politely beseeched him to stop endangering their food supply through his selfish distortion of the commons.

White “settler” descendant Scott Pruitt’s crimes against the commons far surpass anything Davis ever did.

Pruitt is a fundamentalist Southern Baptist who thinks that evolution and global warming are scientific hoaxes and that “God” wants human beings to use natural gas and oil, not leave it in the ground. He first made a name for himself as a state attorney general bankrolled by big oil and gas who battled the EPA during the Obama years.

An enemy of environmental regulation from the oil and gas state of Oklahoma, Pruitt was backed for his job as EPA chief by leading right-wing petro-plutocrats, including the billionaire petro-oligarchs David and Charles Koch. Other top Pruitt boosters and allies included the oil and fracking tycoon Harold Hamm (the world’s 90th richest person) and billionaire coal executive Joseph W. Craft III.

In exchange for such deep-pocketed, big-carbon support, Pruitt worked to systematically dismantle federal regulatory limits on greenhouse gas emissions. He led the effort to pull the United States out of the Paris agreement, making the U.S. the only country out of 193 nations to declare its intention to withdraw from a modest global effort to curb the ever-growing world climate crisis.

Pruitt might as well have renamed the EPA the “Environmental Destruction Agency.” His career has been dedicated to two things: filling his own family bank account and bending energy policy toward the extraction and burning of every last hydrocarbon on Earth.

That is no small criminal record. The collapse of livable ecology planetwide by anthropogenic (really capitalogenic) climate change in the name of development and “jobs” is a transgression unparalleled in history. All bets are off on prospects for a decent future unless Homo sapiens wake up and act quickly to move off fossil fuels and on to renewable energy—a technically viable project. Curiously enough, the world’s leading intellectual, Noam Chomsky, has noted that “those [most urgently] trying to mitigate and overcome” [the climate crisis]” are the least developed societies, the indigenous populations, or the remnants of them; tribal societies; and first nations in Canada.”

To be sure, the environmental crisis is nothing new. Earth scientists have been warning us for many years about the imminent risk of environmental downfall, identifying the reckless extraction and burning of fossil fuels as the leading driver behind the approaching calamity. Under the commons-plundering command of capital, we are careening to the fatal mark of 500 carbon parts per million by 2067, if not sooner. That’s goodbye Greenland ice sheet and so long Antarctica (which recently lost an ice chunk so large that National Geographic had to reconfigure its world atlas), both critical life support systems.

The World Bank warns that millions of Latin Americans are endangered by the loss of their continent’s giant natural water towers for irrigation, drinking and hydropower as the Andean glaciers disappear. Among the most ominous recent developments, environmental writer Robert Hunzinker explains that:

Permafrost thrives on global warming, like bees to honey, as it releases massive quantities of methane. The Siberian region may be on the verge of collapse, which will heat up the planet by several degrees; agriculture couldn’t possibly survive. Russian scientists have identified 7,000 ‘pingos’—mounds of earth pushed upwards by melting permafrost and erupting methane gas, often imploding into huge craters (there may be as many as 100,000 pingos). … Alaskan permafrost is mimicking Siberia as global warming strikes hard, and a tipping point is being triggered. A two-year scientific expedition registered 220 million tons of carbon emissions spewing out of Alaska’s permafrost, equivalent to all U.S. commercial emissions per year.

Billionaire climate-denying and planet-cooking savages like Donald Trump, the Kochs and Harold Hamm and their servants like Scott Pruitt hardly invented our “ecological rift,” which is rooted in what John Bellamy Foster rightly calls “capitalism’s [longstanding] war on Earth.” With the U.S. in the oil-coal-and-gas-addicted, commons-plundering and poisoning lead, humanity has been steering madly toward the cliff of environmental self-extermination for decades. But with his determination to “deregulate energy”—to go full bore with the greenhouse gassing to death of life on Earth (a crime destined to the make the Nazis look like small-time criminals)—Trump represents what Chomsky has called “almost a death knell for the species.” The Trump presidency’s extreme commitment to fossil fuels is no small part of why the Bulletin of Atomic Scientists moved its Doomsday Clock ahead by 30 seconds to two minutes to midnight.

A young mother with her baby in her arms confronted Pruitt at a Washington restaurant just days before his resignation. “Hi” she said, “I just wanted to urge you to resign because of what you’re doing to the environment and our country. This is my son. He loves animals. He loves clean air. He loves clean water. Meanwhile, you’re slashing strong fuel standards for cars and trucks, for the benefit of big corporations.”

Pruitt took his two bodyguards and left in shame before the mother and her child could return to their seats.

He got off easy. The loss of a government job and public humiliation is a small price to pay for playing a leading role in the eco-exterminist destruction of livable ecology.

People like Pruitt should feel lucky to be able to walk freely and breathe fresh air, or what’s left of it on a planet he’s been trying to destroy.

Four terrible things are darkly noteworthy about Pruitt’s forced resignation last week. First, it was absurdly belated. The fact that he lasted as long as he did atop the EPA makes one wonder just how far one of Trump’s favorite petro-plutocratic swamp creatures has to sink before he can lose his job in Washington. Pruitt’s departure came after months of seemingly endless controversy surrounding his personal corruption. The Pruitt scandal timeline includes the following:

● April 12, 2017: The Washington Post revealed Pruitt requested and received an around-the-clock security detail at huge cost to taxpayers (nearly $3.5 million during his first year in office).

● Sept. 26, 2017: The Post reported the EPA illegally built Pruitt a $25,000 (later revised to $43,000) soundproof phone booth.

● March 21, 2018: Politico reported Pruitt spent $105,000 on first-class flights.

● March 29, 2018: ABC News reported Pruitt had rented a Capitol Hill condo co-owned by the wife of an influential energy lobbyist during his first year in office. Bloomberg News later reported Pruitt paid just $50 for each night he stayed there.

● April 3, 2018: The Atlantic reported Pruitt gave large pay raises to two close aides after the White House rejected requests for the increases.

● May 1, 2018: The Post reported an influential energy industry lobbyist helped plan a trip to Morocco for Pruitt. It was later reported a Washington energy industry consultant sought to plan a Pruitt jaunt to Australia.

● June 4, 2018: Democratic congresspeople revealed a close Pruitt aide told House Oversight Committee staffers that Pruitt enlisted her help in personal tasks, including a search for housing, shopping for skin moisturizer, picking up dry cleaning and trying “to secure a used mattress from the Trump International Hotel in Washington.”

● June 5, 2018: The Post reported Pruitt used his position to seek a Chick-fil-A franchise job for his wife.

● June 24, 2018: Politico reported the U.S. Office of Special Counsel was examining charges Pruitt retaliated against EPA staffers who had questioned his management and spending decisions. Six staffers were either fired or reassigned within the agency.

● July 2, 2018: The New York Times reported a former senior aide at the EPA told lawmakers Pruitt had asked her to help his wife obtain a job as a fundraiser for the Republican Attorneys General Association. When the aide warned Pruitt he would have to report his wife’s income on financial disclosures, he told her he would establish a limited liability corporation to hide the “earnings.”

Throughout all this and almost to the very end, Trump defended his “great EPA chief” against criticism from the “Fake News” media. Trump praised Pruitt as a champion of working people who was helping “create jobs” by slashing supposedly dysfunctional and anti-growth environmental regulations. Never mind that (as environmentalists rightly point out) “there’s no jobs on a dead planet” and that (as the economist Robert Pollin has shown) alternative energy investments create more and better jobs than those ones connected to the extraction of fossil fuels.

Second, Pruitt has been forced out with remarkably little pressure from the Republican-led Congress. The hard-right, white-nationalist and eco-exterminist GOP is ready to tolerate almost any level of petroleum-drenched corruption in the Trump White House. This does not bode well for the future if, as seems distinctly possible (thanks in no small measure to the openly reactionary and authoritarian atrocity that is congressional gerrymandering), the Democrats are unable to regain control of the House and Senate during the upcoming midterm elections.

A third disturbing thing to reflect upon about Pruitt’s demise is that it was driven almost completely by his personal corruption, not the vastly more significant crime of ecocide—the ruination of livable ecology, with exterminist consequences that promise to make even the Nazis’ crimes pale by comparison.

One of the most alarming things about the Trump presidency so far is the chilling fact that the single most grave threat it poses, the acceleration of the climate crisis, has been a shockingly invisible non-story in the dominant Trump-obsessed U.S. news media. That media has been even more fixated than usual on the misbehavior of the current U.S. president, but it has refused to focus seriously on the most important danger Trump presents: the escalation of the march to environmental calamity.

As Chomsky told political scientist C.J. Polychroniou last April: “It is hard to find words to describe the fact that the most powerful country in world history is not only withdrawing from global efforts to address a truly existential threat but is also dedicating itself to accelerating the race to disaster, all to put more dollars in overstuffed pockets. No less astounding is the limited attention paid to the phenomenon.”

Global warming, the left philosopher John Sanbonmatsu once wrote me, is “the biggest issue of our or any time.” You wouldn’t know it from U.S. news reporting and commentary, even with the ascendancy of a president dedicated to increasing the dire peril.

Fourth, Pruitt’s replacement as EPA chief for at least the next few months is Scott Wheeler, a veteran coal lobbyist who is no less committed to climate denial and “energy deregulation” than Pruitt, Trump and the Koch brothers. Wheeler is likely to be a slicker and more effective agent of big carbon than his predecessor. As the New York Times reported:

Andrew Wheeler [is] a former coal lobbyist who shares Mr. Pruitt’s zeal to undo environmental regulations. … But unlike Mr. Pruitt—-who had come to Washington as an outsider and aspiring politician, only to get caught up in a swirl of controversy over his costly first-class travel and security spending—Mr. Wheeler is viewed as a consummate Washington insider who avoids the limelight and has spent years effectively navigating the rules. …. For that reason, Mr. Wheeler’s friends and critics alike say, he could ultimately prove to be more adept than his controversial former boss in the job.

… Mr. Wheeler[‘s] … career was built around quietly and incrementally advancing the interests of the fossil-fuel industry, chiefly by weakening or delaying federal regulations. … Mr. Wheeler has worked in Washington for more than 20 years. He is a former chief of staff to Oklahoma Senator James Inhofe, the conservative Republican who has become known as Washington’s most prominent denialist of the established science of human-caused climate change. … Mr. Wheeler also worked at the E.P.A. during the administration of the first President George Bush. More recently, he lobbied for the coal company Murray Energy, whose chief executive, Robert E. Murray, has been a supporter and adviser of Mr. Trump’s.

The exchange of Wheeler’s “steady hand” for Pruitt’s messy, moisturized ones is probably “trading up” as far as the chieftains of big oil, gas and coal are concerned. Wheeler will be a more valuable vehicle of environmental catastrophe. As journalist and historian Terry Thomas told me, “Pruitt was an egomaniacal criminal who couldn’t help flouting his power. The next guy will do his business of destroying the planet in a very matter-of-fact way. The planet will be that much more destroyed but with no distracting sideshow.”

This is yet another of many reminders that we need revolutions of policy and (more deeply) power structure, not merely changes of personnel (new faces in high places) if we are going to have any chance of sustaining prospects for a decent future.

For his part, Pruitt should thank his lucky stars. He still has his scalp, his family and no doubt a sizeable bank account, though nothing remotely on the wealth scale of the billionaire gas, oil and coal oligarchs he’s been serving all these years.

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