Friday, December 29, 2017

US police kill over a thousand for fourth year in a row

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For the fourth year in a row, police killed over a thousand people in the United States in one year. The four-year bloodbath is a stern warning to the working class in America and across the world. Social inequality is reaching unprecedented levels. Three billionaires own as much wealth as the bottom half of the population of the United States. The killings of thousands by police in the span of few years is an indication of the ruling elite’s fear and hatred of the vast working class majority.
As of this writing, reports police killed 1,164 people in 2017. With a few days left in the year, the death count will likely increase, marking 2017 as second deadliest year since 2013, when the web site began tabulating the figures. Last year’s count stands at 1,165.
Other police killing aggregators show similar totals. Mapping Police Violence places the count at 1,049. The Washington Post, which only tracks police shootings as opposed to other forms of police killings, by means of tasering, beatings and the like, places the count at 952 as of December 25.
Murder by police is effectively legal. Police officers can kill anyone, as long as they claim some kind of perceived threat, whether real or not. Hundreds, many of whom are unarmed, are murdered by officers who will never face a trial. According to Mapping Police Violence, in 2015, under the Obama presidency, 99 percent of all police killings did not result in any police officer being convicted of a crime by the so-called justice system. The capitalist state shoots and kills with one hand and washes the blood off with the other.
In November, released video footage showed an unarmed Daniel Shaver murdered by an Arizona police officer after begging for his life on his knees. The officer was acquitted of all charges after claiming he feared for his life. In September, St. Louis police officer Jason Stockley was acquitted of murder for the 2011 killing of Anthony Lamar Smith. After shooting Smith six times from close range, Stockley planted a gun on Smith’s dead body. Stockley’s fingerprints were later found on the gun.
Following the verdict, protests erupted in St. Louis. St. Louis police responded, dressed in riot gear, illegally “kettling” protesters and arresting many all the while shouting, “Whose streets? Our streets!”
The protests were largely organized by Black Lives Matters (BLM) and pseudo-left groups such as the Democratic Socialists of America (DSA) and Socialist Alternative, who sought to portray the killing by Stockley as an act solely due to racism. Slogans such as “white silence is violence” were heard during the protests.
Three years earlier, in the aftermath of the killing of Michael Brown by Ferguson, Missouri police officer Darren Wilson, pseudo-left groups put forth the same narrative: the fundamental cause of police violence is racism. Often cited to bolster this argument is the fact that blacks are killed in disproportionately higher numbers compared to whites. According to the Washington Post, African-Americans comprised a quarter of all police killings in 2017. This clearly suggests that racism is an element in police killings, but these statistics only reveal part of the picture. The victims of police killings include all races and ethnicities. As any good doctor will point out, one must not confuse a symptom for the disease, and the disease is class oppression, claiming the poorest and most vulnerable sections of the working class.
The police, along with the state machine as a whole, exist as an instrument in the irreconcilable conflict between the ruling class and the working class. The police are not neutral actors who can be pressured to act in a certain way. They serve the interests of the capitalist class, and carry out its orders. The thousands that lay dead at the hands of the police, regardless of skin color and gender, come almost entirely from the ranks of the working class. Police roam working class and poor neighborhoods hunting perpetrators of petty crimes. If you are stopped by the police, you are de facto guilty. If you fidget or do not follow a command directly, you may very well be shot and die. Whatever part racism plays in these murders, it is ultimately secondary to that of class.
American society is divided by massive inequality, intensified by decades of social counterrevolution. Social tension is palpable, with most working people increasingly angry and moving to the left. There is deep concern within the ruling class that social explosions of revolutionary dimensions are on the horizon. Preparing for such events, police more and more act as an occupying force, carrying the same weapons used overseas in occupied countries by the United States. In 1989, Congress passed the National Defense Authorization Act. It has made possible the transfer of $5.4 billion worth of military gear to police departments across the United States. A report published by the US Department of Justice in 2015 states that local police departments swelled to 477,000 full-time personnel in 2013, a 35 percent increase since 1987. This three-decade period coincides with a drastic decline in crime, while the forces of “law and order” have been swelled and armed to the teeth.
History demonstrates the real role of the police. In 1937, for example, Chicago police shot and killed 10 striking workers during the Little Steel Strike. During the Detroit Rebellion of 1967, police were given order to ‘shoot to kill,’ claiming 16 victims. In some of the other social explosions of the mid- and late 1960s, the death toll at the hands of the police was even greater.
Under the Trump presidency, the police will operate more openly and ruthlessly. Police violence will grow, accompanied by increased attacks on democratic rights. Social and political opposition will be met with brutal violence, directed not only against individuals but also mass struggles.
The efforts of the proponents of identity politics to place the blame of police violence on racism effectively denies the role of the state and its class character. This serves to create divisions within the working class along ethnic and racial lines. It leads to the counterproductive and reactionary conclusion that the police can be reformed by increasing the number of minority officers, or through such techniques as community policing, racial-sensitivity training and similar nostrums.

Tuesday, December 26, 2017

The U.S. is Not a Democracy, It Never Was

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One of the most steadfast beliefs regarding the United States is that it is a democracy. Whenever this conviction waivers slightly, it is almost always to point out detrimental exceptions to core American values or foundational principles. For instance, aspiring critics frequently bemoan a “loss of democracy” due to the election of clownish autocrats, draconian measures on the part of the state, the revelation of extraordinary malfeasance or corruption, deadly foreign interventions, or other such activities that are considered undemocratic exceptions. The same is true for those whose critical framework consists in always juxtaposing the actions of the U.S. government to its founding principles, highlighting the contradiction between the two and clearly placing hope in its potential resolution.

The problem, however, is that there is no contradiction or supposed loss of democracy because the United States simply never was one. This is a difficult reality for many people to confront, and they are likely more inclined to immediately dismiss such a claim as preposterous rather than take the time to scrutinize the material historical record in order to see for themselves. Such a dismissive reaction is due in large part to what is perhaps the most successful public relations campaign in modern history. What will be seen, however, if this record is soberly and methodically inspected, is that a country founded on elite, colonial rule based on the power of wealth—a plutocratic colonial oligarchy, in short—has succeeded not only in buying the label of “democracy” to market itself to the masses, but in having its citizenry, and many others, so socially and psychologically invested in its nationalist origin myth that they refuse to hear lucid and well-documented arguments to the contrary.

To begin to peel the scales from our eyes, let us outline in the restricted space of this article, five patent reasons why the United States has never been a democracy (a more sustained and developed argument is available in my book, Counter-History of the Present). To begin with, British colonial expansion into the Americas did not occur in the name of the freedom and equality of the general population, or the conferral of power to the people. Those who settled on the shores of the “new world,” with few exceptions, did not respect the fact that it was a very old world indeed, and that a vast indigenous population had been living there for centuries. As soon as Columbus set foot, Europeans began robbing, enslaving and killing the native inhabitants. The trans-Atlantic slave trade commenced almost immediately thereafter, adding a countless number of Africans to the ongoing genocidal assault against the indigenous population. Moreover, it is estimated that over half of the colonists who came to North America from Europe during the colonial period were poor indentured servants, and women were generally trapped in roles of domestic servitude. Rather than the land of the free and equal, then, European colonial expansion to the Americas imposed a land of the colonizer and the colonized, the master and the slave, the rich and the poor, the free and the un-free. The former constituted, moreover, an infinitesimally small minority of the population, whereas the overwhelming majority, meaning “the people,” was subjected to death, slavery, servitude, and unremitting socio-economic oppression.

Second, when the elite colonial ruling class decided to sever ties from their homeland and establish an independent state for themselves, they did not found it as a democracy. On the contrary, they were fervently and explicitly opposed to democracy, like the vast majority of European Enlightenment thinkers. They understood it to be a dangerous and chaotic form of uneducated mob rule. For the so-called “founding fathers,” the masses were not only incapable of ruling, but they were considered a threat to the hierarchical social structures purportedly necessary for good governance. In the words of John Adams, to take but one telling example, if the majority were given real power, they would redistribute wealth and dissolve the “subordination” so necessary for politics. When the eminent members of the landowning class met in 1787 to draw up a constitution, they regularly insisted in their debates on the need to establish a republic that kept at bay vile democracy, which was judged worse than “the filth of the common sewers” by the pro-Federalist editor William Cobbett. The new constitution provided for popular elections only in the House of Representatives, but in most states the right to vote was based on being a property owner, and women, the indigenous and slaves—meaning the overwhelming majority of the population—were simply excluded from the franchise. Senators were elected by state legislators, the President by electors chosen by the state legislators, and the Supreme Court was appointed by the President. It is in this context that Patrick Henry flatly proclaimed the most lucid of judgments: “it is not a democracy.” George Mason further clarified the situation by describing the newly independent country as “a despotic aristocracy.”

When the American republic slowly came to be relabeled as a “democracy,” there were no significant institutional modifications to justify the change in name. In other words, and this is the third point, the use of the term “democracy” to refer to an oligarchic republic simply meant that a different word was being used to describe the same basic phenomenon. This began around the time of “Indian killer” Andrew Jackson’s presidential campaign in the 1830s. Presenting himself as a ‘democrat,’ he put forth an image of himself as an average man of the people who was going to put a halt to the long reign of patricians from Virginia and Massachusetts. Slowly but surely, the term “democracy” came to be used as a public relations term to re-brand a plutocratic oligarchy as an electoral regime that serves the interest of the people or demos. Meanwhile, the American holocaust continued unabated, along with chattel slavery, colonial expansion and top-down class warfare.

In spite of certain minor changes over time, the U.S. republic has doggedly preserved its oligarchic structure, and this is readily apparent in the two major selling points of its contemporary “democratic” publicity campaign. The Establishment and its propagandists regularly insist that a structural aristocracy is a “democracy” because the latter is defined by the guarantee of certain fundamental rights (legal definition) and the holding of regular elections (procedural definition). This is, of course, a purely formal, abstract and largely negative understanding of democracy, which says nothing whatsoever about people having real, sustained power over the governing of their lives. However, even this hollow definition dissimulates the extent to which, to begin with, the supposed equality before the law in the United States presupposes an inequality before the law by excluding major sectors of the population: those judged not to have the right to rights, and those considered to have lost their right to rights (Native Americans, African-Americans and women for most of the country’s history, and still today in certain aspects, as well as immigrants, “criminals,” minors, the “clinically insane,” political dissidents, and so forth). Regarding elections, they are run in the United States as long, multi-million dollar advertising campaigns in which the candidates and issues are pre-selected by the corporate and party elite. The general population, the majority of whom do not have the right to vote or decide not to exercise it, are given the “choice”—overseen by an undemocratic electoral college and embedded in a non-proportional representation scheme—regarding which member of the aristocratic elite they would like to have rule over and oppress them for the next four years. “Multivariate analysis indicates,” according to an important recent study by Martin Gilens and Benjamin I. Page, “that economic elites and organized groups representing business interests have substantial independent impacts on U.S. government policy, while average citizens and mass-based interest groups have little or no independent influence. The results provide substantial support for theories of Economic-Elite Domination […], but not for theories of Majoritarian Electoral Democracy.”

To take but a final example of the myriad ways in which the U.S. is not, and has never been, a democracy, it is worth highlighting its consistent assault on movements of people power. Since WWII, it has endeavored to overthrow some 50 foreign governments, most of which were democratically elected. It has also, according the meticulous calculations by William Blum in America’s Deadliest Export: Democracy, grossly interfered in the elections of at least 30 countries, attempted to assassinate more than 50 foreign leaders, dropped bombs on more than 30 countries, and attempted to suppress populist movements in 20 countries. The record on the home front is just as brutal. To take but one significant parallel example, there is ample evidence that the FBI has been invested in a covert war against democracy. Beginning at least in the 1960s, and likely continuing up to the present, the Bureau “extended its earlier clandestine operations against the Communist party, committing its resources to undermining the Puerto Rico independence movement, the Socialist Workers party, the civil rights movement, Black nationalist movements, the Ku Klux Klan, segments of the peace movement, the student movement, and the ‘New Left’ in general” (Cointelpro: The FBI’s Secret War on Political Freedom, p. 22-23). Consider, for instance, Judi Bari’s summary of its assault on the Socialist Workers Party: “From 1943-63, the federal civil rights case Socialist Workers Party v. Attorney General documents decades of illegal FBI break-ins and 10 million pages of surveillance records. The FBI paid an estimated 1,600 informants $1,680,592 and used 20,000 days of wiretaps to undermine legitimate political organizing.” In the case of the Black Panther Party and the American Indian Movement (AIM)—which were both important attempts to mobilize people power to dismantle the structural oppression of white supremacy and top-down class warfare—the FBI not only infiltrated them and launched hideous smear and destabilization campaigns against them, but they assassinated 27 Black Panthers and 69 members of AIM (and subjected countless others to the slow death of incarceration). If it be abroad or on the home front, the American secret police has been extremely proactive in beating down the movements of people rising up, thereby protecting and preserving the main pillars of white supremacist, capitalist aristocracy.

Rather than blindly believing in a golden age of democracy in order to remain at all costs within the gilded cage of an ideology produced specifically for us by the well-paid spin-doctors of a plutocratic oligarchy, we should unlock the gates of history and meticulously scrutinize the founding and evolution of the American imperial republic. This will not only allow us to take leave of its jingoist and self-congratulatory origin myths, but it will also provide us with the opportunity to resuscitate and reactivate so much of what they have sought to obliterate. In particular, there is a radical America just below the surface of these nationalist narratives, an America in which the population autonomously organizes itself in indigenous and ecological activism, black radical resistance, anti-capitalist mobilization, anti-patriarchal struggles, and so forth. It is this America that the corporate republic has sought to eradicate, while simultaneously investing in an expansive public relations campaign to cover over its crimes with the fig leaf of “democracy” (which has sometimes required integrating a few token individuals, who appear to be from below, into the elite ruling class in order to perpetuate the all-powerful myth of meritocracy). If we are astute and perspicacious enough to recognize that the U.S. is undemocratic today, let us not be so indolent or ill-informed that we let ourselves be lulled to sleep by lullabies praising its halcyon past. Indeed, if the United States is not a democracy today, it is in large part due to the fact that it never was one. Far from being a pessimistic conclusion, however, it is precisely by cracking open the hard shell of ideological encasement that we can tap into the radical forces that have been suppressed by it. These forces—not those that have been deployed to destroy them—should be the ultimate source of our pride in the power of the people.

The United States of Inequality

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Last week, as Congress rushed to pass a tax bill that will transfer trillions of dollars to the financial oligarchy, two separate teams of experts published damning reports documenting the growth of social inequality in the United States.
On Thursday, a group of leading inequality researchers, including Thomas Piketty, Emmanuel Saez and Gabriel Zucman, published its 2018 World Inequality Report, which shows that the United States is far more unequal than the advanced economies of Western Europe, as well as much of the rest of the world.
The researchers reported that the income share of the top 1 percent of US income earners rose from 10 percent in 1980 to 20 percent in 2016, while the income share of the bottom 50 percent fell from 20 percent to 13 percent over the same period. The bottom 90 percent controls just 27 percent of the wealth today, compared to 40 percent three decades ago.
Another graphic indictment of American society was offered by Philip Alston, the UN special rapporteur on extreme poverty and human rights, who argued in a report published Friday that the prevalence of extreme poverty amid unimaginable opulence in the US is a violation of basic human rights.
The fact that the United States has invaded, bombed and destabilized countries all over the world on the pretext of defending “human rights” is no doubt one of the reasons the corporate-controlled media has chosen to bury both of these reports.
Alston writes of the “sewage filled yards in states where governments don’t consider sanitation facilities to be their responsibility,” of “people who had lost all of their teeth because adult dental care is not covered by the vast majority of programs available to the very poor,” and of “soaring death rates and family and community destruction wrought by prescription and other drug addiction.”
He notes that the extreme concentration of wealth has eroded the foundations of American democracy, writing: “There is no other developed country where so many voters are disenfranchised… and where ordinary voters ultimately have so little impact on political outcomes.”
In its Sunday edition, the New York Times published an editorial titled “The Tax Bill That Inequality Created.” The newspaper criticizes the bill being rammed through Congress for “lavishing breaks on corporations and the wealthy while taking benefits away from the poor and the middle class.” The editors add, “What many may not realize is that growing inequality helped create the bill in the first place.” A “smaller and smaller group of people” have become “in effect, kingmakers,” seeking to “bend American politics to serve their interests… rich families have supported candidates who share their hostility to progressive taxation, welfare programs and government regulation of any kind.”
The editors place the onus on Republicans, though they acknowledge that “donations from Wall Street and corporate America have… pushed many Democrats to the center or even to the right on issues like financial regulation, international trade, antitrust policy and welfare reform.”
There is a striking disconnect between the Times’ portrait of American society and its prescription, which, in the end, is to support the Democratic Party. The editorial concludes by hailing the election of right-wing Democrat Doug Jones in Alabama as proof that “inequality in America does not have to be self-perpetuating.”
The Times does not see fit to mention that in the 2016 elections it wholeheartedly backed a candidate, Hillary Clinton, who is completely beholden to “Wall Street and corporate America.” Nor does it recall that just last month it published an editorial declaring its full support for corporate tax cuts, the heart of the Republican tax plan. The Times wrote, “If Republicans worked with Democrats, they could reach a compromise to lower the top corporate tax rate.”
Entirely absent from the Times account is any explanation of why and how the United States has come to this point, or what the colossal levels of social inequality imply for the future of American society. This is because to do so would mean raising the question of the capitalist system itself, which the newspaper fervently supports.
The present situation did not arise from nowhere. Nor is it simply the product of the nefarious operations of one party. The emergence of oligarchic forms of rule, or “kingmakers,” is the product of a long historical evolution.
The ideological foundations of 20th century American capitalism—the “American Dream,” the idea that the development of American capitalism would “lift all boats,” that each generation would be better off than the last—are now a distant memory.
During the first part of the last century, the American ruling class responded to the eruption of class conflict and the threat of socialist revolution, represented above all by the Russian Revolution, with social reforms—Roosevelt’s New Deal (including Social Security), increases in taxes on the wealthy, and the Great Society programs of the 1960s (including Medicare and Medicaid).
These measures, however, were implemented within the framework of preserving a social and economic system based on private ownership of the banks and corporations. Moreover, they were premised on the strength of American capitalism and its dominant position in the world economy.
The shift in ruling-class strategy corresponded with a shift in the position of American capitalism. Over the past half-century, the ruling class has sought to offset the decline in its economic position externally through military aggression and internally through the upward redistribution of social resources from the great mass of the population to the financial oligarchy. The results can be seen in the curve of social inequality, which shows the top one percent steadily amassing a greater share of wealth and income.
The trajectory has continued under both Democrats and Republicans. The Times editorial refers to the enormous growth of inequality over the past three decades. However, during this period Democrats occupied the presidency for 16 years (two terms for Clinton, two terms for Obama), compared to 12 years for Republicans (one term for Bush Sr, two for Bush Jr.). The processes of deregulation and financialization and the slashing of social programs have continued unabated, regardless of the political party controlling the White House and Capitol Hill.
All the institutions of American society have had their role to play in this social counterrevolution. The trade unions have transformed themselves into appendages of corporate management, relinquishing all claim to being “workers’ organizations.” During the 1980s, they isolated and suppressed every single strike or struggle against the onslaught of the rich. Today, they serve as cheap-labor contractors and industrial police for the ruling class, while providing comfortable sinecures for the upper-middle class functionaries that control them.
The Trump administration and its tax bill, far from being an aberration, are the continuation of this class policy.
The state of American society—to which ruling classes around the world look as a model—is a confirmation of Marxism. Capitalism is characterized by an irreconcilable conflict between the working class, the vast majority of humanity, and the ruling elite. The state is not a neutral arbiter, but an instrument of class rule. The working class must organize itself independently, with the aim of restructuring social and economic life.
The Democrats are no less terrified of this prospect than the Republicans. Hence the endless attempts to divert and disorient—from the anti-Russia campaign to the current hysteria over sexual harassment being promoted by the New York Times, among others.
When the Workers League in the US took the decision to form the Socialist Equality Party 22 years ago, it noted that the dominant feature in political life was “the widening gap between a small percentage of the population that enjoys unprecedented wealth and the broad mass of the working population that lives in varying degrees of economic uncertainty and distress. This analysis has been confirmed over the subsequent two decades.

Washington’s secret wars

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The Trump White House Monday issued a so-called “War Powers” letter addressed to Speaker of the House Paul Ryan and the president pro tempore of the Senate, Orin Hatch, to “keep the Congress informed about deployments of United States Armed Forces equipped for combat.”
In 1973, against the backdrop of the debacle of the Vietnam War, the US Congress, overriding the veto of then-President Richard Nixon, passed the War Powers Act. The aim of the legislation was to prevent future presidents from waging undeclared and open-ended wars with little or no accountability to Congress, which under the US Constitution has the exclusive power to declare war.
It gave the president the right to use military force at his discretion for up to 60 days—itself a huge concession of power to the executive branch—but required withdrawal after a total of 90 days if Congress failed to vote its approval of military action.
While still on the books, the War Powers Act has long ago been turned into a dead letter by the quarter century of US wars of aggression that have followed the Stalinist bureaucracy’s dissolution of the Soviet Union, all waged without a declaration of war by Congress.
Both Democrats and Republicans in Congress have willingly acquiesced in the de facto concentration of dictatorial power in the hands of the “commander in chief” in the all-important matter of the waging of foreign wars.
The latest letter from the Trump administration, however, represents another qualitative step in this protracted degeneration of American democracy and the elimination of the last pretenses of civilian control over the military. Failing to even keep Congress “informed” about US combat deployments, the document, for the first time, omitted any information about the number of troops participating in Washington’s multiple wars and military interventions.
The letter acknowledges that the US is continuing and escalating the longest war in its history, the 16-year-long intervention in Afghanistan, stating that the American military is engaged in “active hostilities” against not only Al Qaeda and ISIS, but also the Taliban and any forces that “threaten the viability of the Afghan government” and its security forces. How many troops are engaged in this open-ended conflict is kept secret.
Similarly, the letter refers to a “systematic campaign of airstrikes” that have killed and wounded tens of thousands in Iraq and Syria, along with the deployment of ground troops in both countries. But again, their number is concealed.
It also mentions, for the first time, that “a small number” are deployed inside Yemen, where a US-backed Saudi force is carrying out a near genocidal war that has left millions on the brink of mass starvation.
It goes on to make reference to US military operations in Libya, East Africa, Africa’s Lake Chad Basin and Sahel Region and the Philippines, as well as deployments of forces in Jordan, Lebanon, Turkey and Cuba.
In sync with Trump’s “War Powers letter” the Pentagon has issued a report listing the current location of fully 44,000 troops deployed across the globe as “unknown.” During a Pentagon press briefing last Wednesday, Army Col. Rob Manning declared that the US military’s aim was to “balance informing the American public with the imperative of operational security and denying the enemy any advantage.”
This was the same specious argument made by Trump last August when he announced his plan for an escalation of America’s war in Afghanistan. “We will not talk about numbers of troops or our plans for further military activities,” he said. “Conditions on the ground, not arbitrary timetables, will guide our strategy from now on. America’s enemies must never know our plans or believe they can wait us out. I will not say when we are going to attack, but attack we will.”
The Trump White House has removed caps imposed on troop levels under the Obama administration, leaving it up to the military commanders to escalate US deployments at will. Obama’s caps themselves were routinely circumvented through so-called temporary deployments that saw far more troops sent into US wars than were officially on the books.
The secrecy surrounding troop deployments has been highlighted in recent months following the October firefight in Niger that killed four special operations troops and brought out in the open the deployment of some 1,000 US troops in the central West African country and on its borders, an intervention about which leading members of the US Senate claimed to have known nothing. This was followed by the so-called slip of the tongue by the commander of US special operations forces in Iraq and Syria who told a Pentagon press conference that 4,000 US troops were on the ground in Syria. He quickly caught himself and repeated the official figure of 500. Subsequently, the Pentagon allowed that the real number was over 2,000.
Meanwhile, figures posted by the Pentagon last month—with little media attention—revealed that the number of US troops deployed in the Middle East as a whole had soared by 33 percent over the previous four months, with the sharpest increases taking place in a number of Persian Gulf countries, indicating advanced preparations for a new US war against Iran.
These deployments are kept secret or effectively concealed not out of any concern about “tipping off the enemy,” which in virtually every case is well aware of the level of US military aggression against their countries. Rather, it is aimed at keeping the information from the American people, which has no interest in continuing the ongoing military interventions in Afghanistan, the Middle East and Africa, much less launching new and potentially world catastrophic wars against Iran, North Korea and even China and Russia.
In terms of the waging of semi-secret wars abroad, as with attacks on democratic rights and the social conditions of the working class at home, Trump represents not an aberration, but rather the culmination of protracted processes that have unfolded under both Democratic and Republican administrations, which have ceded ever greater power over US foreign policy to US military commanders. This trend has only deepened under Trump, with an active duty general serving as national security advisor, and two recently retired Marine generals filling the posts of defense secretary and White House chief of staff.
With US forces on the borders of North Korea, China, and Russia on a hair-trigger, the continuous assertion of ever greater war-making powers to the military brass massively increases the danger that a miscalculation, misunderstanding, or accident could quickly lead to full-scale nuclear war.
Trump’s further assault on the War Powers Act has elicited no protest from the Democrats in Congress. They are not opposed to the government’s domination by the military or the drive to war. Their differences are merely of a tactical character, expressed in a campaign of anti-Russia hysteria waged in collaboration with sections of the US military and intelligence apparatus in preparation for a new and far more terrible conflagration.
Both parties represent a parasitic financial oligarchy that relies ever more heavily upon militarism and war to defend its wealth and domination. These parties, along with the other institutions of the US ruling establishment, have no interest in reining in the generals or upholding constitutional government and democratic rights. Rather, they are collaborating in the emergence of a system based upon the unfettered domination of the military, working in tandem with Wall Street, in which elections, the Congress and other civilian bodies are becoming little more than window-dressing.

Trump's FCC Has Spent the Year Waging War on Democracy and the Press

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On Tuesday, November 21, media advocates were incredibly busy. Just as they were packing up and logging out for the coming Thanksgiving holiday, Federal Communications Commission (FCC) Chairman and former Verizon attorney Ajit Pai released his plans to decimate net neutrality, which will be voted on Thursday, December 14. Advocates and the public rightly decried the fact that Pai tried to lessen the blowback from this aggressive and unpopular action by releasing the plan at that particular time. 
Yet, choosing this timing was not even Pai's most slimy, deceptive act that day. Also on November 21 -- while media advocates were trying to respond to Pai's plans to hand the internet to cable and telecom companies -- he released an equally worrying statement on the FCC's website about "reviewing" ownership restrictions for corporate media giants.
The word "review" is a little misleading. In reality, the statement "seeks to allow even greater media consolidation. Ignoring federal law...," said FCC Commissioner Mignon Clyburn, a Democrat.
This is a frightening proposition, given that, thanks in large part to Bill Clinton's Telecommunications Act of 1996, the ownership rules are already so relaxed that about 90 percent of the country's major media companies are owned by six corporations. Further consolidation poses an existential threat to the capacity of media to serve a civic function (as opposed to simply a source of profit). However, the consolidation statement received little attention -- a reality that holds true for most of the numerous and consequential actions taken by Pai this year. With the exception of net neutrality, which itself received much less coverage than it warranted, FCC actions tend to be ignored by almost all media but the business press.
"The whole country was trying to get their heads around the net neutrality plans and nobody, not the media -- not even me, really -- had much time to focus on [Pai's] effort to tee up what little remaining limits we have on ownership," said Craig Aaron, president and CEO of Free Press, a media advocacy group that often battles with the FCC in and out of court. "It is a sort of blitzkrieg approach where they are trying to get everything done as fast as possible."
This approach is reminiscent of the phenomenon described in Naomi Klein's The Shock Doctrine, which observes how elites engaged "rapid-fire corporate reengineering of societies still reeling from shock" to implement neoliberal policies at break-neck pace. In this case, the shock is the election of Donald Trump. Now, as Aaron notes, "Pai [is] relishing the opportunity to burn it all down and defang the agency."
In less than a year in office, Pai has not only launched an assault on the internet, he has also started gutting numerous ownership caps and attacked polices that help the poor get access to the internet. He also ended the FCC's advocacy in court to eliminate the cruel price gouging for prison phone calls. Pai's FCC has been about as "productive" (or destructive) as any arm of the Trump presidency.
He is just getting started. The public faces the frightening combination of Pai's radical, free-market absolutism and Trump's authoritarian impulses and deep contempt for the media. "Our communications ecosystem has never been so threatened as it is right now," said Michael Copps, former acting chairman and longtime commissioner at the FCC, in an interview with Truthout.

A Year in the Life of (Ajit) Pai

While the net neutrality and media ownership plans announced in November alert us to threats we face in the future, Pai has already made significant and devastating changes to US media and telecom policy over the course of less than a year. He has done this with ease, given that the two other Republicans on the five-person Commission vote lockstep with the chairman on virtually every issue.
In the statement on media ownership, Pai cites something called the UHF discount (details of which can be read here). This refers to an egregious vote by Pai's majority on the commission to reinstate a loophole that basically allowed Sinclair Broadcasting to purchase Tribune Media for $3.9 billion, creating what Bloomberg called a "TV goliath." Without reinstating this archaic loophole, the purchase would've been illegal. Media companies aren't allowed to reach more than 39 percent of the country, but now Sinclair ("Trump TV," as Mother Jones called it) can reach around 70 percent of the country with its local broadcasts.
This decision is all the more disturbing since Politico reported in December that Trump's son-in-law Jared Kushner said, "Trump's campaign struck a deal with Sinclair during the campaign to try and secure better coverage." The deal, Politico reported, was that Sinclair would give Trump more (uncritical) coverage in exchange for "access to Trump."
Now, Pai is citing the reinstatement of the loophole as a justification for him to engage in even more consolidation, although the legality of this is challenged, including by Democratic leaders in Congress. Free Press, Common Cause (where Copps works as a special adviser) and others are likely to take the FCC to court over these issues.
In a November vote, Pai also got rid of important cross-ownership rules -- regulations that keep one company from owning media in various forms (radio, newspaper, television) in one market. Such rules discourage monopoly and allow for more diversity of voices. Commissioner Jessica Rosenworcel, a Democrat, said of the vote, "The FCC sets its most basic values on fire. They are gone."
Media ownership is not the only way Pai has hurt democracy and punished the public. The FCC recently scaled back Lifeline -- a "program that helps about 12.5 million low-income people pay for internet or phone access," according to a report from the Association of Health Care Journalists. The report noted that the move could "exacerbate disparities in health care," since the internet is increasingly being used to improve patients' health. The Lifeline scale-back demonstrates the wide-ranging consequences of FCC actions.
Other policies that Pai has impacted are not merely corporatist, but just plain cruel. When he started his tenure, the FCC had passed regulations that, as Truthout previously documented, limited a gross injustice towards prisoners and their families. Companies were charging absurd prices for phone calls between prisoners and their loved ones -- as high as $10 a minute. "For the people that rely on a $5.25 paycheck once a month, it comes down to soap, or a call to their family, which really isn't right," one federal prisoner told Truthout in February. 
The matter was making its way through court, with the FCC supporting caps on prison phone rates to rein in greedy phone corporations. Pai's opposition to the plan, however, led to the FCC abandoning the case after Trump was elected. The courts dismissed the case, citing the FCC's change of position as a reason. Commissioner Clyburn called it the worst "regulatory injustice [she had] seen in 18 years" at the FCC.
Aaron said he recalls attending a hearing where parents,  grandparents and other family members -- who were paying hundreds of dollars a week as a result of the problem -- to testify about the injustice in front of Pai and the other commissioners. "I was struck at how Pai could sit right there in front of all these victims, look at them in the face, and make a procedural argument against the policy," Aaron said.

Unmatched "Radical Change" at the FCC

Not long before Pai posted his plans about media ownership and net neutrality, another telling document was shared on the FCC website: Pai's speech at the right-wing libertarian Cato Institute's policy conference in New York City. (He also has spoken at conferences for other libertarian bastions, such as Reason Foundation and the Heritage Foundation, in New York.) "I must admit that I had no idea the Big Apple had become such a hotbed of libertarian activity. Has anyone notified the city government?" Pai joked.
This is just an anecdote, but it tells us something unique about Ajit Pai from past FCC chairs, including Republican ones. "You don't see him doing the National Press Club or more traditional events like that. He doesn't run in those circles. For him, it is FreedomWorks, Cato, Heritage and those kind of ideological organizations," Aaron said. "This is unique from past Republican chairs."
Advocates argue that while the FCC has long made controversial decisions, often to the benefit of certain industries, Pai's strict adherence to ideology is something new on the commission. "There is usually some level of independence and restraint from the chair. Chairman [Kevin] Martin and Chairman [Michael] Powell had their flaws -- as did Obama's appointees -- but it is much different with Pai," said Aaron.
Copps, who served with Pai as a commissioner, emphasizes how today's chair differs from those in the past GOP. "All the recent GOP-led FCCs were enthralled with Adam Smith economics, but with Pai, it's ideology and it's just plain over the top. No subtlety, no nuance," he said. "Additionally, the special interests are even more in the saddle in 2017 than they were earlier." 
To underscore how uniquely partisan Pai is, it is worth looking at how divided Congress was on his appointment compared with past FCC chairs. The previous six FCC chairmen, spanning both parties, had been confirmed with unanimous votes -- even Tom Wheeler, who implemented the net neutrality protections currently under attack. Pai, on the other hand, was opposed by all but four Democrats, all of whom are hearing about it from progressive organizations.
This shift reflects the extent of the threat Pai poses. Like Republicans, most Democrats receive donations from companies and lobbies that will benefit from Pai's attack on regulations and ownership caps. Two of the four top recipients of telecom donations, according to the Center for Responsive Politics, are Democrats, and overall, the GOP's edge in donations is in line with its majority in Congress. Cable news giants like Comcast gave more to Democrats than to Republicans in the 2016 cycle, notably to Hillary Clinton, who was backed heavily by Big Media. Yet, despite these donations and all the lobbying done by these industries, Senate Democrats overwhelmingly opposed a Pai-led FCC. Pai is such an ideological crusader that even a normally timorous Democratic Senate Caucus, poised on the receiving end of generous donations from Big Media and Telecom, fears the devastation Pai can cause to communications.
Harold Feld, a senior vice president at the consumer advocacy group Public Knowledge, also notes that in past administrations, there was less partisan uniformity among the commissioners.
"It used to be FCC commissioners were more independently minded. You couldn't assume you had the votes of other commissioners in the same party. You had to make deals ... it was less predictable," he said. "The way it is now is quite different. Compared to the [George W.] Bush administration, the pace of radical change is unmatched in breadth and scope."

Pai's Mask Comes Off

Until Pai's efforts to destroy net neutrality became a short-term reality, most people, and most of the political media, paid little attention to him. The FCC chairman is known for an affable demeanor and boyish grin -- "the kind of guy you'd want to have a beer with," according to Gigi Sohn of the Verge. He takes to social media with musings on popular culture, sportsbeer and his ridiculous, oversized coffee mug (a radical departure from the tweets his boss makes on a regular basis).
He made a cringe-worthy comedy video where he answers "mean tweets" on YouTube -- acting like a good sport, yet characterizing his opponents in the worst possible light by cherry-picking the least persuasive, most offensive arguments. He participates in "no fewer than three fantasy football leagues," according to an official statement. In at least one other official FCC statement, he quotes from The Big Lebowski (something he does with frequency), writing, "Yeah, well, you know, that's just, like, your opinion, man," and even footnoted it as such: "The Dude, The Big Lebowski (Polygram Filmed Entertainment 1998)."
All of these quirks aside, since his assault on net neutrality protections became of immediate concern, as Mike Ludwig reported last month, the mask is coming off: Pai is viewed by media advocates as one of the most dangerous figures in a Trump White House -- a telling statement, given how many of Trump's people are hiding deep in the shadows of scandal. "Pai's FCC is a farce and a tragedy and it is going on at one of the most powerful, most destructive and most inadequately covered government agencies," Copps said.
Pai heads arguably the most aggressive wing of the administration, and inarguably the most politicized FCC in the commission's 80-year existence. Moreover, he does so at a time with immensely high stakes: The future of the internet is being shaped, increasingly large "mega mergers" are on the docket, and as noted above, all of this is happening in service to a president with nothing but derision for the press. "They are getting along famously," Feld said of Pai and Trump, noting their common usage of social media to sell policy proposals.
Pai's attempt to destroy internet freedom, however, does have one silver lining: It has woken people up to the danger of his agenda, as well as the importance of media policy and of monitoring the FCC closely. The support for net neutrality in public comments in recent months has been overwhelming, and while Pai seems poised to ignore them, they do not go to waste. 
"Those comments are helpful in litigation," Aaron said. "The FCC chair is obligated to use evidence to make changes. He must defend the logic.... I think we [have] better than a coin flip's chance in court to overrule net neutrality rollbacks." 
There is also mounting evidence that bots were deployed to use identity theft to make fake comments supporting Pai's agenda. One FCC commissioner, 28 senators and the New York Attorney General's office are asking Pai to delay the vote for an investigation, though he has predictably refused to heed their call.

Media Policy as an Election Issue

A year of the Pai/Trump agenda has been scary and dangerous. However, just as the GOP's regressive Trumpcare plans helped energize a movement for Medicare for All, Pai's undemocratic agenda is not sitting well with the US public. Many experts predict that media policy, and specifically broadband policy, will be a big election issue, in both the general election and the primaries. 
Referencing the four Democrats who voted to confirm Pai, the group Fight for the Future, a coalition of media and consumer groups, "announced that they will target these lawmakers in their districts with crowdfunded billboards informing constituents of their Senator's controversial vote." 
The Democrats in question are Jon Tester (Montana), Claire McCaskill (Missouri), Gary Peters (Michigan) and Joe Manchin (West Virginia). "A vote for Pai was a vote to end net neutrality protections," the group said. Voters and organizers will pay especially close attention to politicians getting the most donations from Big Media.
It is also true that net neutrality is supported by a majority of both Republicans and Democrats, which could make the issue more appealing for some politicians. As Feld notes: "If there is one thing that unites the left and right, it is their hatred of the cable company."