The Jaded Prole

A Progressive Worker's Perspective on the political and cultural events of our time.

Friday, December 16, 2016

Who Let the Dogs Out?

And now it's winter.
Winter in America
And all of the healers have been killed or been betrayed
Yeah, but the people know, people know . . .

– Gill Scott-Heron

As the days shrink into the deep darkness to come, it's important that we take some time to examine how we arrived here. Much of the responsibility for Donald Trump's ascension to the Presidency lies with the corporate media – not only the Ailes disinformation machine of FOX and talk radio but the Democrat connected New York Times, MSNBC and CNN who value ratings and narratives more than the reporting of facts. Their coverage of Trump exceeded that of all other candidates combined while candidates like Sanders were ignored. The omissions, bias and “fake news” they spread added to the electoral debacle. The corporate media has done more to divide us into warring tribes, based on biased reporting and misinformation, than any other force.

They are a big and continuing part of the problem, but much, if not most of the blame for Trump's success rests with the Democratic party. Partly it is the chasm between liberal rhetoric and the reality of the policies they have backed – polices not so different from those pushed by the GOP which have gutted and impoverished the working class.

Ronald Reagan set the stage for our economic decline. Bill Clinton continued and exacerbated Reaganomics or, neoliberal economics. In essence, the mainstays of neoliberal economics are; corporate deregulation, treaties like NAFTA and TPP and globalization of markets and capital. In the process, it empowers multinational corporations, leading to the export of jobs to where labor is cheapest. Neoliberal economics also require privatization of public infrastructure and services. These policies, enforced by the World Bank and IMF, have devastated countries around the globe. It has taken longer for us to feel the effects, but thanks to corporate-driven neoliberal economics, we have come to increasingly resemble third-word countries as the standard of living for most of us plummets.

Bill Clinton was, by their own definition, the best Republican of the 20th century. Not only did he legislate these corporate-friendly policies, he ensconced them at the core of the Democratic Party through the establishment of the Democratic Leadership Council which changed the party of FDR's New Deal into the party of Wall Street. Economic policy aside, though the Democrats have been better by far on social policy and protecting the rights of Women and minorities, they have also backed fracking, oil drilling on public lands, interventions, endless war and many of the same corporate-friendly policies a more moderate GOP would pursue. They became, in fact, moderate Republicans as the GOP drifted toward the fascist extremism that now defines it.

The devastating effects of the neoliberal economics pushed by both corporate parties played a big role in the influence populism had in this election. The Democrats could and should have easily beaten Trump by big numbers, if the party leadership had not been so arrogant and condescendingly deaf to the reality of what their own base was telling them. Bernie Sanders would easily have trounced Trump! He remains among the most popular politicians in the country because he tapped the real anger and dissatisfaction of those who took progressive rhetoric seriously. Sanders spoke the truth that many of us know. We are hurting for lack of decent paying jobs. We see a system owned by and representing the highest bidder and a planet on the brink of ecological collapse. It isn't just Bernie. Had the Democrats run Keith Ellison, Elizabeth Warren, Barbara Lee, Jim Hightower or Raul Grijalva it would have been an incontestable victory.

Instead, against all advice, they ran Hillary Clinton, baggage and all. They did this through electoral legerdemain during the primaries; the dumping of registered Democrats from the rolls in places like New York City, the undermining of polling places in California, the miscounting of votes and the use of “super-delegates.” They spread awful lies about Sanders, they hired trolls and generally treated progressives like the enemy. Then, rather than running on issues people really cared about, they ran on Hillary being a woman, they ran against Russia and they ran on not being Trump. This was not sufficient. As economist Thomas Piketty recently wrote, “Let it be said at once: Trump’s victory is primarily due to the explosion in economic and geographic inequality in the United States over several decades and the inability of successive governments to deal with this. Both the Clinton and the Obama administrations frequently went along with the market liberalization launched under Reagan and both Bush presidencies. At times they even outdid them: the financial and commercial deregulation carried out under Clinton is an example. What sealed the deal, though, was the suspicion that the Democrats were too close to Wall Street – and the inability of the Democratic media elite to learn the lessons from the Sanders vote.”

In this election and since, I've heard Democrats say the most ridiculous and offensive things which included denial of history, condemnation of truth-tellers like Edward Snowden and Julian Assange, red-baiting and even exhortations of “America love it or leave it.” Instead of listening to hard-hit working people in the post-industrial economic wasteland, I heard defense of trade deals and globalization. I heard denial of the painful realities of a failing economy at the ground level. Echoing the smug arrogance of the Clintons, Democratic party loyalists moved to the hard right against progressives calling us things like “Bernie Bros,” “Russian agents” and “spoiled basement dwellers” while assuring themselves of victory and denying the danger that was obvious; especially after the British Brexit debacle.

Journalist Glenn Greenwald wrote, “Put simply, Democrats knowingly chose to nominate a deeply unpopular, extremely vulnerable, scandal-plagued candidate, who — for very good reason — was widely perceived to be a protector and beneficiary of all the worst components of status quo elite corruption. It’s astonishing that those of us who tried frantically to warn Democrats that nominating Hillary Clinton was a huge and scary gamble — that all empirical evidence showed that she could lose to anyone and that Bernie Sanders would be a much stronger candidate, especially in this climate — are now the ones being blamed by the very same people who insisted on ignoring all that data and nominating her anyway.” In doing so, though Clinton still received over 2 million more votes, they gave us Trump and the rise of angry, bigoted irrational fascism.

Not that I'm bitter.

As for Trump, one can only judge a person by their history, statements and associates. The most dangerous and telling of Trump's close associates is Steve Bannon, founder of Breitbart "News" and Trump's chief strategist. Breitbart News unapologetically publishes racist and anti-Semitic opinion pieces. Bannon, associates aside, describes himself as an “economic nationalist” stating, “"I'm not a white nationalist, I'm an economic nationalist.” He describes himself as an “America First nationalist” saying about his “economic nationalism” that “It will be as exciting as the 1930s.” We know what nationalism in the 1930's looked like. Many died either as victims of it or in the struggle to defeat it.

Economic nationalism is Fascism, a form of corporate rule marked by extreme authoritarian nationalism. The progressive opposite is not globalism but internationalism. Internationalism places national pride in the context of global solidarity recognizing national interests and culture in the context of our global interdependence. Its about cooperation, not vicious competition. The idea of nationalism cannot be separated from competitive tribalism, bigotry or its extreme -- fascism.
As a textbook fascist, Trump not only pushes nationalism but is loading his administration with corporate lobbyists, political insiders and Generals. Far from the phony populism the press confers on him, Trump's cabinet picks include conspiracy theorist and hyper-nationalist Steve Bannon as Chief Strategist, former Goldman Sachs executive and “foreclosure king” Steven Mnuchin as treasury Secretary, billionaire investor Wilbur Ross as Commerce Secretary, Verizon consultant Jeff Eisenach and former Sprint lobbyist Mark Jamisonto to head the FCC, billionaire and former Michigan Republican Party chair and advocate for school privatization Betsy DeVos to head the Dept of Education and others, including a climate denier to head the EPA and Exxon-Mobil CEO Rex Tillerson for Secretary of State!

These people want to dismantle Social Security and Medicare. They want to privatize public education and undo climate progress including regulations on filthy fossil fuels and international treaties. They vow to undo Obamacare including healthcare access that many now have and to eliminate womens' right to control their own bodies and have life-saving abortions. They want to eliminate Civil Rights legislation and voting rights, to further empower and militarize our police, limit press and free speech freedoms and further deregulate inadequately regulated banks and big business, creating new tax breaks for the wealthiest.

The question for most of us is where do we go from here? Certainly, in the wake of a shameful defeat, the Democratic party desperately needs a major overhaul. In fact, it needs a serious purging. The era of the DLC must be over. As I write this, Senator Bernie Sanders is probably the most influential person in the Democratic party. There is a move to elect Representative Keith Ellison, member of the Progressive Caucus, to head the Democratic National Committee. This is a needed move if the Democrats are not to join the Whigs in the shadows of history. It is vital to our future that actual progressive populists take over the party's leadership, returning it to its roots as a party more representative of working people.

And then there are the rest of us.

Beyond resistance to the racism and reactionary politics Trump brings with him, outright defiance is called for. As reported in the New Yorker magazine:“On the day after the election, Kevin de León, the pro-tempore president of the California Senate, and Anthony Rendon, the speaker of the California Assembly, released a joint statement whose opening sentence – 'Today, we woke up feeling like strangers in a foreign land' – perfectly summarized the disorientation that millions of Americans were experiencing. More important, the statement pointed out that Trump’s bigotry and misogyny were at odds with California’s values of inclusiveness and tolerance, and, the authors vowed, 'we will lead the resistance to any effort that would shred our social fabric or our Constitution.'”

Three days later, Andrew Cuomo, the governor of New York, stated that New Yorkers “have fundamentally different philosophies than what Donald Trump laid out in his campaign.” He continued:“Whether you are gay or straight, Muslim or Christian, rich or poor, black or white or brown, we respect all people in the state of New York. It’s the very core of what we believe and who we are. But it’s not just what we say, we passed laws that reflect it, and we will continue to do so, no matter what happens nationally.”

As the New Yorker article goes on to point out, “Both Eric Garcetti and Bill de Blasio, the mayors of Los Angeles and New York, vowed to protect vulnerable populations in their cities. (Sanctuary cities across the nation, including Chicago, Seattle, and Denver, did the same. Charlie Beck, the chief of the L.A.P.D., added, “We are not going to work in conjunction with Homeland Security on deportation efforts. That is not our job, nor will I make it our job.”
Norfolk should join in defiance of the ugly racism engendered by Trump and appointees like Sessions (who should not be approved as Attorney General) Norfolk needs to become a Sanctuary city and we should pressure City Council to make it official.

The greatest threat to our country, in my opinion, is not Trump or the extremism he brings with him. It is the division of Americans into antagonistic tribes. The most important thing we can and must to is to bridge this manipulated divide. We must realize that neither corporate party really represents us. We must realize that our common ground is much greater than the things that divide us. According to a Reuters poll, 72% of Americans voting in this election believed that, “the economy is rigged to the advantage of the rich and powerful.” 68% agreed that “traditional parties and politicians don’t care about people like me.” That is a lot of common ground. Most people oppose corruption and want integrity and honestly in leadership. Most of us want our interests to be represented and our voices heard. Most of us want security, economic opportunity, access to health care, drinkable water and a safe environment for ourselves and our children. Beyond partisan loyalty, most of us can agree on many issues. We must do everything we can to bridge the divide – not to increase it, as the Clinton Democratic machine continue to do in falsely blaming Russia for Clinton's' loss and in stirring up cold war animosities to further divide us as citizens and globally. For liberals and progressives, this must must include listening to, and building bridges with the many who voted out of frustration and anger or who voted against Clinton more than for Trump. None of us want a brutal autocracy, a CIA coup, or war with Russia. Our future depends on decent people coming together around our own interests.

As citizens, we need more than ever to reach out to one another. White people especially need to reach out to Blacks, Muslims, Gays, Hispanics and others threatened by bigotry, letting them know we stand with them. We need to strengthen and support our citizen organizations both locally and nationally. This is no time for cynicism, hopelessness or surrender.
Locally, we have grassroots organizations like Virginia Organizing, The Hampton Roads Justice Network, the Sierra Club, the Virginia Interfaith Center and the Norfolk Catholic Worker. Nationally, Sanders' organization “Our Revolution” continues to be a force legislatively as well as in support of progressive candidates at all levels. Now that we have no room for comfort and delusion, now that the mask has fallen from the monster of corporate oligarchy, there has never been a better opportunity or a more important moment for us to build an authentically populist progressive citizen movement to insure a future we can live in. We have no choice. In the darkest moments of winter, we must build for a new spring.

Thursday, December 08, 2016

Obama's Legacy

Many versions and interpretations of what kind of President Barack Obama has been and what legacy he leaves will be forthcoming. In my observed opinion, he is neither the best nor worst of Presidents. He came in on the cusp of an economic disaster wrought of record corruption stemming from finance deregulation; a burst real-estate bubble built on shoddy deals and financial games including the creation and selling of bad debt. These practices would have been illegal prior to the repeal of the Glass-Steagall Act which separated and restricted affiliations between banks and investment institutions.

Our country's spirit along, with its economy, had also been drained by the illegal and ill-considered invasions of Iraq and Afghanistan on borrowed money amid record tax breaks. Our nation had been shamed by practices of torture and human rights abuse. Obama campaigned for office on changing that. His landslide election was a repudiation of the failed neoconservative leadership of the Bush years. Obama did, at least officially, put a stop to torture, though it has continued to a degree in secret prisons around the globe and at our gulag in Guantanamo, Cuba which he promised to shut down. He has to his credit reduced the population of prisoners there against stiff opposition.

As David Bromwich writes in Harper's Magazine, Any summing-up of the Obama presidency is sure to find a major obstacle in the elusiveness of the man. He has spoken more words, perhaps, than any other president; but to an unusual extent, his words and actions float free of each other. He talks with unnerving ease on both sides of an issue: about the desirability, for example, of continuing large-scale investment in fossil fuels. Anyone who voted twice for Obama and was baffled twice by what followed — there must be millions of us — will feel that this president deserves a kind of criticism he has seldom received. Yet we are held back by an admonitory intuition. His predecessor was worse, and his successor most likely will also be worse.

Though I thought initially that Obama came in with good intentions, he quickly showed himself to be corporate a centrist lacking intent or direction. His stated agenda was to bring an end to the wars begun by Bush. He was ill prepared for and not expecting the kind of resistance he has had to deal with from Republicans. He naively expected that once elected, a degree of good will would follow. But as we know, a cabal of Republican leaders met even before Obama was sworn in and agreed on a plan to obstruct him on every issue. No President has had to deal with the kind of obstruction he has faced since day one. We can now hope that obstruction and defiance will continue with the Trump Presidency.

In response to the corruption of Wall Street finance which wrecked our economy, Obama continued the bailout begun by Bush and went a step further in passing the Dodd-Frank Finance Reform and Consumer Protection Act. This legislation was instantly attacked and continues to be undermined by an army of lobbyists working for big finance houses like Goldman Sachs – at least nine lobbyists per Congressional representative with an unlimited financial arsenal. Dodd-Frank is in no way as effective as would be reinstating the protections against corruption provided by Glass-Steagall. Banks remain larger and more powerful than ever and continue with many of the same practices that crashed our economy in 2008.

President Obama is rightly credited for slowing the collapse of the economy. Unemployment has officially reached a 9-year low. The reality is that jobs remain scarce and wages inadequate. Though a far worse depression was averted, most economists agree that a larger spending package aimed at more than bailing out Wall Street and the auto industry would have been more effective. The economy has recovered for those at the top but it remains stagnant at best for the rest of us with 50% of working Americans at the poverty level. The vast divide between extreme wealth for a few and massive poverty has continued to grow during his tenure, reaching historic levels.

On the more damaging side, President Obama continues to push the Trans-Pacific Trade agreement which will hurt working people and cede national autonomy on labor and environmental laws to international corporate tribunals. This along with the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) and the Trade in Services Agreement (TISA) would be disastrous to our economy and a mortal threat to government-run services and public infrastructure from utilities to the Post Office. These pacts follow and build on the disastrous trade deals passed by the Clinton administration that still hurt us today and are a large part of the reason for the rust belt rebellion which cost Clinton the election.

Where climate change and ecology are concerned, Obama, as journalist David Bromwich noted, speaks out of both sides of his mouth. On one hand, he acknowledges the seriousness of this issue imposing stronger limits on carbon emissions with his Clean Power Plan which aims to reduce carbon emissions by 32% by 2030. On the other hand, he pushes an “all of the above” policy increasing oil and gas drilling, shale oil projects and intensive fracking. To his credit, Obama did finally nix the XL Pipeline. He has also overseen the largest expansion of public land of any President, designating 3 new parks; Mojave Trails, Sand to Snow and Castle Mountains national monuments. To his discredit, he has allowed oil drilling and fracking on federally protected public land.

The promotion of fracking may be one of the worst legacies Obama leaves us. This dangerous process destabilizes our geography resulting in earthquakes. It seeps methane into the atmosphere where it is the most dangerous of greenhouse gases. It poisons our deep aquifers – possibly forever, and continues to poison many communities. I was horrified to learn that recycled fracking water contaminated with toxic chemicals like benzine, petroleum, acetone and methylene chloride are being sprayed on crops in California. Chevron sells this stuff to farmers struggling with drought for half the price of water. Those Halos glowing in the produce section and those “organic” leafy greens beckoning like sirens are a toxic legacy that will haunt us for years with unknown costs to our health.

Speaking of health costs, Obama ushered in a complicated version of insurance reform, “Obamacare” largely written by the insurance and pharmaceutical industries which has increased coverage to many and reduced costs for some. It is an important effort, though it leaves many without coverage and many others with coverage they cannot afford to use due to high deductibles and drug costs. At the time this was in discussion, people advocating for a simpler single-payer version were escorted out of public hearings by police for mentioning it. This was an indication of things to come.

The Obama administration has been hardest, at least domestically, on whistleblowers and truth telling journalists. As CNN's Jake Tapper accurately stated back in 2014, The Obama administration has used the Espionage Act to go after whistleblowers who leaked to journalists ... more than all previous administrations combined. Truth tellers like Edward Snowden, Chelsea Manning, John Keriaku, Stephen Kim and Jeffrey Sterling have been prosecuted. All have served jail time with the exception of Edward Snowden who remains in exile for the crime of exposing government abuse and wrong-doing. Punishment is not evenly applied where leaking or mishandling classified information is concerned. General Patraeus and Hillary Clinton get off with minor wrist slaps. At the same time, for intelligence workers, simply going to one's superiors to report abuses can result in dismissal, arrest, and frozen bank accounts.

We witnessed during this administration the crushing of the Occupy encampments, the escalation of racist militarized police violence as well as the metastasis of the intrusive power of the CIA and National Security apparatus Edward Snowden exposed.

President Obama has, to his credit, been somewhat more reluctant than his predecessor and his advisers, including Secretaries of State John Kerry and Hillary Clinton, to engage troops in battle and to initiate foreign interventions. Though he ran promising to end Bush's wars and bring our troops home, he continued our presence in Iraq and in Afghanistan – now our longest historic war. He also oversaw the overthrow of Qaddafi in Libya followed by the continuing anarchy of warlords. In the recent past, we also initiated a coup in Ukraine helping to install an overtly fascist junta. We continue to amass military weapons on the border of Russia and are increasing a military presence in Asia.

Obama takes credit for killing Osama Bin Laden. As investigative journalist Seymour Hersh revealed in his in-depth exposé published by necessity in England, Bin Laden was an unarmed, ill old man under house arrest in Abbottabad, Pakistan. It was an organized hit for publicity, making sure Bin Laden would not be put on trial or speak publicly. It played much better to American audiences than to Pakistanis already upset by our drone presence and assassinations in their country.

Obama's most important legacy may well be the official codification of global political assassination and his use of drones. Barack Obama is the first President with an official “kill list” reviewed regularly. An excellent book, The Assassination Complex: Inside the Government’s Secret Drone Warfare Program by respected investigative journalist Jeremy Scahill deals with this reality and its implications for the future in detail.

In an interview on DemocracyNow! Scahill states, What the Obama administration is doing right now is basically trying to rebrand and engage in historical revisionism about what is going to be one of the most deadly legacies of the Obama era, and that is that somehow they came up with a cleaner way of waging war. I would say that the most significant aspect of what President Obama has done, regarding drones and regarding the so-called targeted killing program around the world, is that Obama has codified assassination as a central official component of American foreign policy. He has implemented policies that a Republican probably would not have been able to implement, certainly not with the support that Obama has received from so many self-identified liberals.

Though the murder of women and children, of families, as well as of suspected militants, their relatives and unfortunate bystanders is poorly reported if mentioned at all in our press, it creates immense geographies of fear and resentment. It fosters political destabilization of dangerous, and in Pakistan's case, nuclear states and it creates enemies. As Scahill notes, What you really see come through in the military’s own assessments of the drone program is that the U.S. is creating self-fulfilling prophecies. Rather than stopping terrorism, the U.S., through its drone program, is encouraging terrorism and providing terrorist organizations with recruitment material. Our use of killer drones also opens up the very real possibility that they will be used here by other countries as well as by our own government.

In the final analysis, President Barack Obama was an inexperienced centrist not equipped to play the hard politics of standing up to corporate influence, neo-con militarists, or the organized resistance of the extreme right, too often preferring the path of least resistance. His policies, more often than not, are superficial bandaids that make better publicity than they do progress. His staff choices, people like Rahm Emmanuel, David Petraeus, Janet Yellen, John Kerry, and Hillary Clinton reveal his conservative corporatist leanings as does his vocal defense of American exceptionalism – of empire. Though he is likeable and quick on his feet, an ideal talk show host, he has been a weak often indecisive leader in tough times. His legacy of codifying drone assassination, of expanding the powers of the Presidencey, of solidifying corporate power, the growth of an intrusive National Security State and the poisoned earth left by fracking will continue to haunt us for the foreseeable future.