Latest News

When It Comes to Police Brutality, Trump Preaches What Sessions Practices

Truthout - Tue, 08/08/2017 - 21:00

In a recent speech, President Trump encouraged police brutality. Meanwhile, Attorney General Jeff Sessions is creating the conditions to make it happen.

On July 28, President Donald Trump appeared in front of a crowd of law enforcement officials and returned to a familiar theme that characterized his campaign: violence.

"And when you see these towns, and when you see these thugs being thrown into the back of a paddy wagon, you just see them thrown in, rough, I said, 'Please don't be too nice,'" the president said.

The backlash against Trump came swiftly. His dehumanization of immigrants, the "thugs" and "animals" that he said, "have transformed peaceful parks and beautiful, quiet neighborhoods into bloodstained killing fields," was criticized. His racialized penchant for violence was met with disapproval. His encouragement of police brutality, especially, was widely condemned, most importantly by law enforcement.

Attorney General Jeff Sessions attempted to do damage control. Sessions met with members of the National Organization of Black Law Enforcement Executives at their conference in Atlanta, Georgia, on August 1, where he praised the group as "crucial ambassadors" to bridging the divide between law enforcement and the communities they serve. In direct opposition to the comments from his boss, Sessions pledged to hold those law enforcement officers that behave unlawfully accountable.

People were right to be horrified by President Trump's ostensible endorsement of police brutality. But such advocacy should come as no surprise to those who have been following the movements of the Department of Justice during the tenure of Jeff Sessions. Indeed, in that moment, Trump simply preached what Sessions has been practicing.

Jeff Sessions has used his brief tenure as attorney general to promote policies that empower law enforcement officials to brutalize Americans, physically, legally and otherwise, beginning with his April decision to execute a review of all ongoing federal consent decrees.

Even during his days in the Senate, Sessions used his platform to disparage consent decrees, agreements that police departments enter into with the federal government. He described them as "dangerous" and "an end run around the democratic process" in an opinion article. In 2015, he took part in a hearing tellingly called "The War on Police." There, he went so far as to deride the Obama administration's participation in 14 consent decrees, after conducting 25 investigations into police departments, as "an agenda that's been a troubling issue for a number of years."

The decision to review has put the future of standing consent decrees (let alone any not yet in existence) in doubt. This prospect has been made more salient by Sessions' insistence that it is "not the responsibility of the federal government to manage non-federal law enforcement agencies." With this decision, Sessions has sent the message that allegations of police misconduct will not be taken seriously by the federal government (intentionally or unintentionally), creating an environment in which police abuses like the one President Trump advocated for are allowed to continue without federal oversight.  

Sessions followed up his April directive on consent decrees with a promise to empower police departments to increase their use of civil asset forfeiture, the seizure of cash and other assets from individuals, as I predicted he might. Civil asset forfeiture is a constitutional nightmare: Assets can be taken from property-holders without their having been convicted of or even charged with a crime. Only 13 states require convictions before police departments can legally seize assets, meaning that thousands of police departments across the country are profiting financially from appropriating the property of innocent Americans.

So great is the incentive that there have been reports of departments creating actually wish lists of assets to appropriate. In fact, federal law enforcement seized more assets from individuals than burglars did in 2014 with the Department of Justice itself taking $4.5 billion worth of property.

James Morrow, an African American motorist on his way to get dental work done in Houston, was stopped by police officers in August 2007 for what they deemed as him driving too closely to the white demarcations on the road. Claiming the car smelled of marijuana (although none was found), the officers seized the $3,900 he had kept to pay for his procedure, impounded his vehicle, and, in his words, "impounded me too." Morrow spent a night in jail. Though the officers had not physically harmed Morrow, his ordeal nevertheless constituted a form of brutality. When he was finally released, it was on the side of a road without any means of getting to his destination or back home.

Combined with signals from the Department of Justice that there could be less federal oversight of the affairs of police departments, the attorney general's decisions suggest that the Department of Justice will look the other way when the rights of individuals come in conflict with police endeavors. The result will likely be that the Department of Justice will have enabled more encounters with police like that experienced by James Morrow, whereby assets are unconstitutionally seized from innocent property-holders. Civil asset forfeiture subverts the legal principle "innocent until proven guilty," thereby constituting a form of police brutality in and of itself.

One of a number of groups for whom "innocent until proven guilty" does not apply in the eyes of Trump and Sessions is immigrants, especially those that are undocumented. Indeed, contempt for immigrants is what endeared Trump -- who famously kicked off his campaign by condemning immigrants from Mexico as "rapists" and "killers" -- to Sessions, who has his own reputation as a fiery opponent of immigration in the first place. Back in April, Sessions communicated that he would fulfill Trump's campaign promises to target undocumented Americans. From Nogales, Arizona, he warned, "For those that continue to seek improper and illegal entry into this country be forewarned. This is a new era. This is the Trump era."

The confluence of Sessions' racist impulses on immigration with those of the commander-in-chief has empowered him to commit the powers of the Department of Justice toward terrorizing the entire immigrant community. Sessions has chosen so-called "sanctuary cities" as the battlegrounds for his wars on immigration, (erroneously) claiming that they are breeding grounds for crime. Unless these cities comply with federal immigration laws, including allowing enforcement officials access to their jails and providing advance notice of the release of immigrants wanted for questioning, the Department of Justice has threatened that they stand to risk their eligibility for federal funding. At issue is that the cities refuse to assist Immigration and Customs Enforcement in their ramped up efforts to round up and eventually deport undocumented immigrants. The Department envisions that these cities would use their resources to identify and detain undocumented Americans. Doing so could create an environment ripe for racial profiling and violations of the constitutional rights of both citizens and the undocumented on the part of law enforcement.

The relationship between President Trump and his attorney general may be somewhat tense at the moment, but their ideologies when it comes to the criminal legal system could not be in closer lockstep. Both are seemingly hell-bent on using the powers of the federal government to marginalize already vulnerable communities, display little regard for constitutional rights and seemingly support the law enforcement community unconditionally. The only difference is a matter of roles: Trump broadcasts and gives voice to the ideology as he did on July 28. Sessions, meanwhile, is busy enforcing and reinforcing it.   

Categories: Latest News


Truthout - Tue, 08/08/2017 - 21:00
Categories: Latest News

Trump Is Already Profiting From His 2020 Campaign

Truthout - Tue, 08/08/2017 - 21:00

It seems Donald Trump's 2020 run for the White House will look a lot like his 2016 bid -- the campaign will patronize Trump-owned enterprises right down to its very office supplies -- ensuring the candidate and his family will profit. However, should the campaign really be paying for Donald Jr.'s lawyer?

Donald Trump yells to supporters at a campaign rally at Fountain Park in Fountain Hills, Arizona, on March 19, 2016. (Photo: Gage Skidmore)

It seems Donald Trump's 2020 run for the White House will look a lot like his 2016 bid -- the campaign will patronize Trump-owned enterprises -- ensuring the candidate and his family will profit.

For instance, the campaign has already paid $395,000 for space in New York's pricey Trump Tower, according to spending reports for the first six months of the year filed with the Federal Election Commission. Whatever logic may have existed in 2016 for housing the campaign in the same place where Donald Trump conducted his business, does not obtain in 2020 when the candidate is 230 miles away in the White House. Overall, the campaign has raised $15 million and spent $10.7 million.

Of course, staffers stay in Trump hotels. For instance, the campaign has dropped $12,400 alone in lodging costs at the Trump International Hotel in Washington, D.C. And to the degree one can tell which charges are for a one-night stay, the campaign usually paid more than the advertised rate for the cheapest room, which is now $319 per night. One can question why aides must stay in a five-star hotel in the first place, but if that type of luxury is required, Trump's digs would not be the first choice. For instance, Washington's venerable five-star The Hay-Adams not only has rooms that are $40 cheaper per night than Trump's, it is ranked higher by consumers in Tripadvisor (no. 3 vs. no. 11), but is even closer to the White House.

This is all business as usual for Trump. A $13,800 payment for "Facility Rental/Catering Services" to Trump International Hotel Las Vegas, a total of $7,700 to New York's "Trump Restaurants LLC" for rental and catering, and $3,000 in total to the same entity for "rental." (Maybe no one ate.) No expense is too trivial for an opportunity to line his pockets. For instance, on March 13, 2017, the campaign paid "Trump Ice LLC" $940.50 for "office supplies." The campaign must have had a busy 48 hours using yellow highlighters because on March 15, they paid another $940.50 to the same entity for more "office supplies."

Yet, even by Trump standards, there are certain expenditures that standout. For instance, the Trump Corporation collected nearly $90,000 from the campaign in June for "legal consulting." Just what this "legal consulting" was for is left unspecified. And the Trump Corporation is not to be confused with the Trump Organization, the holding company for the president's business ventures. The Trump Corporation is the president's real estate management company, from which he collected $18 million in the 12 months preceding June 2017, according to Trump's disclosure to the Office of Government Ethics.

Perhaps these payments are in some way tied to Michael Cohen, who is inevitably described as "Trump's personal lawyer." Cohen used to have the title of executive vice president and special counsel to Trump at the Trump Organization, but Cohen quit these posts in January so he could work full-time for the president and the president alone. But Cohen does not work for the White House Counsel's office; in fact, the only payroll he is on, so far as is known, is Donald Trump's.

Naturally, Cohen is caught-up in one small tentacle of the Trump/Russia investigation, and has hired his own lawyer. In late January, Cohen met with an opposition lawmaker from the Ukraine who handed him a "peace plan" to settle Ukraine's conflict with Russia. Part of the plan included the US lifting sanctions against Russia. Not surprisingly, the legislator said he was encouraged to make the overture from top aides to Russian President Vladimir Putin. Then, in February, when Cohen was visiting his client in the Oval Office, he left a sealed envelope with the plan in the office of Michael Flynn, then-Trump's national security adviser. Flynn resigned the next week because he lied about his own discussions with the Russian ambassador about lifting sanctions.

While the $89,000 "legal consulting" payment is murky at best, there is another payment to a lawyer that appears crystal clear. In June, the campaign cut a $50,000 check to Alan S. Futerfas, the New York white collar criminal defense lawyer who represents Donald Trump Jr. in the Russia investigation. The nice, round number suggests that the payment was a retainer agreement. Interestingly, the records show no payments to other lawyers known to be involved in the Russia probe.

The Futerfas payment raises an obvious question. Why is Trump's 2020 campaign paying for an expense stemming from Trump's campaign four years ago? This takes the notion of a permanent campaign to new heights. And why is the campaign -- be it 2016 or 2020 -- paying the legal fees of the candidate's son? To the extent the FEC and the courts have considered whether campaign funds can be used for atypical legal fees, their rulings have always involved the candidate.

What is remarkable, but hardly surprising, is Trump's own self-mythology about the 2016 campaign. In an interview last month with The Wall Street Journal, the transcript of which was published by Politico, loyal aide Hope Hicks reminded the president that he had "self-funded" his campaign. Trump readily agreed, saying that he had "self-funded much" of his 2016 bid. Uh, not exactly. According to Trump gave his campaign $66 million, which represented about 20 percent of the total expenditures of $333 million. Yet, the campaign shelled out about $13 million to various Trump businesses. The self-dealing reduces Trump's contribution by about 20 percent to $53 million, and shaves Trump's personal share of the campaign's expenses down to about 16 percent.

The tragedy in all this does not rest with right-wing billionaires such as James Mercer whose Renaissance Technologies hedge fund gave Trump $15 million. It lies with the small donors – those who gave less than $200. Small donations totaled $87 million four years ago, representing 26 percent of all donations. If one assumes the average contribution was $100, these 870,000 people most likely cannot afford to stay at Trump's hotels, eat at Trump's restaurants, hire Trump's lawyers, or even buy Trump's office supplies. Yet, they have faith that a man who uses their money as a personal piggy bank will Make America Great Again. 

Categories: Latest News

The Right Wing in the US Has Long Tried to Destroy "Government Schools"

Truthout - Tue, 08/08/2017 - 21:00

When and how were the seeds sown for the modern far-right's takeover of American politics? Nancy MacLean reveals the deep and troubling roots of this secretive political establishment -- and its decades-long plan to change the rules of democratic governance -- in her new book, Democracy in Chains: The Deep History of the Radical Right's Stealth Plan for America. Get your copy by making a donation to Truthout now!

Nancy MacLean's Democracy in Chains: the Deep History of the Radical Right's Stealth Plan for America, is one of the most buzzed-about books of the summer. But her book is also about public education, and the right's long crusade to privatize what they call "government schools." In the latest episode of the Have You Heard Podcast, AlterNet education editor Jennifer Berkshire talks to MacLean about why public education is in the crosshairs of the radical right, and how the history of private school vouchers, a passion of Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos, is inextricably linked to efforts by Southern white elites to resist desegregation.

Jennifer Berkshire: There's a fierce debate right now about the racist history of school vouchers. But as you chronicle in Democracy in Chains, the segregationist South was really the testing ground for conservative libertarian plans for privatizing what they called "government schools."

Nancy MacLean: This was the moment, the crucible of the modern period in which these ultra free market property supremacist ideas got their first test, and it is in the situation of the most conservative whites' reaction to Brown. What was interesting to me, in finding this story and seeing it through new eyes, is that Milton Friedman, I learned, had written his first manifesto for school vouchers in 1955 as the news was coming out of the south. That was after several years of reports on these arch segregationists, saying they were going to destroy public education and send kids off to private schools. Friedman wrote this piece, advocating school vouchers in that context. He and others who were part of this libertarian movement at the time, I was shocked to discover, really rallied in excitement over what was happening in the south. They were thrilled that southern state governments were talking about privatizing schools. They were applauding this massive resistance to the federal government and to the federal courts because they thought it would advance their agenda.

The economist James McGill Buchanan, who is the subject of your book, was the architect of a plan to privatize Virginia's schools, including selling off its school buildings and even altering the constitution to eliminate the words "public education." He was basically making the same argument that school choice proponents continue to make today, that public schools were a "monopoly."

Two students from the economics department at the University of Chicago, James McGill Buchanan, who is my focus, and a man named Warren Nutter, who was Milton Friedman's first student, started pushing these voucher programs in the South and pushing them very opportunistically. They wanted to take away the requirement that there be public education in the constitution, which would then enable mass privatization. Friedman himself actually came down to University of North Carolina in 1957 to a conference designed to train these new arch free market economists, and he actually made schools the case in point, so he was really pushing for this in the South at the moment that it's happening.

Ten days after the courts ruled that Virginia couldn't shut down schools in some localities while leaving them open in others, Buchanan and Nutter issue this report calling for, essentially using the tools of their discipline to argue that it would be fine for Virginia to privatize its schools and sell off these public resources to private providers. In other words, what they were doing is using this crisis to advance their what some people would call neo-liberal politics or ultra free market politics or breaking down the democratic state. There's many ways of describing this, but whether they were or were not consciously racist or most motivated by racism, I don't know, and it's kind of almost not relevant. The thing is, they did not care at what they could tell would be the impact on black students of their pushing this agenda, and they capture that in saying, "Letting the chips fall where they may."

Much of your book centers on Virginia at mid-century, in the years leading up to and following the Supreme Court's Brown vs. Board of Education ruling. Yet the story you tell feels so relevant to today. You argue, for example, that what we've long viewed as a battle over segregation was also a fight over who pays for public education.  

Actually, what the white leaders always said is that black residents weren't paying enough taxes to have better schools in this situation of segregation, which was, of course, a total source of frustration to the black parents, because they said, "How can we make bricks without straw? If you don't give us education, how can we get better jobs in order to pay more taxes?" I just raise that, because the way that I look at Brown and the fight over schools in this book is a little different from what we've heard over the years, in that it draws attention to the public finance aspect of racial equality in the schools, and shows how even back in the time of the cases that led up to Brown vs Board of Education, these issues of taxes were always foremost. These white property holders, these very conservative white elites in Virginia, who suppressed the vote of all other citizens, really did not want to pay taxes to support the education of any but their own children. In that sense, I think it's a really contemporary story. It has such echoes of what we're hearing now.

I'm a devoted chronicler of Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos, who is an heiress to the right-wing libertarian vision that your book is about. One of my great frustrations is that people decided early on that DeVos is a dimwit and so they don't challenge her ideas, where they come from or how extreme they are.

I have to say I think that intellectual condescension is the Achilles heel of the left, particularly right now with the Trump administration and DeVos. There's a sense that, "Oh, these people are stupid," rather than, "No, these people are working with a completely different ethical system than the rest of us and a different philosophy, but it's a coherent one and they are pursuing their goals with very strategic, calculating tools." That's also why the right is so focused on the teachers' unions. It's not because they are only concerned about the quality of education and think that teachers are blocking that. First of all, this is a cause that hated public education—what they would call government schools; they don't even want to say public education—before there were teachers' unions. We can go back and trace the lineage of that. Today, with so many industrial jobs destroyed or outsourced or automated, our main labor unions are teachers' unions, and teachers' unions are really important forces for defending liberal policy in general, things like social security and Medicare as well as defending public education. In targeting teachers' unions, they're really trying to take out their most important opponents to the plans, the kind of radical plans that they're pushing through.

Truthout Progressive Pick

Revealing the architects of the right-wing movement to disempower the majority of Americans.

Click here now to get the book!

DeVos actually spoke to the conservative group ALEC a few weeks ago and she quoted Margaret Thatcher's famous statement "there is no society" to make her case for a libertarian vision of education that consists of individual students and families vs schools and school systems. Universal free public education, paid for by tax dollars, is among our most "collectivist" enterprises when you think about it.

They hate the idea of collectives they would call them, whether it's labor union, civil rights, women's groups, all these things they see as terrible, and any kind of government provision for people's needs. Instead, they think that ultimately, each individual, and then they sneak in the family because of course no individual could live free of being raised by a mother and parents. In their dream society, every one of us is solely responsible for ourselves and our needs, whether it's for education or it's for retirement security or it's for healthcare, just all these things, we should just do ourselves. They think it's a terrible, coercive injustice that we together over the 20th century have looked to government to do these things and have called on and persuaded government to provide things like social security or Medicare, Medicaid, or college tuition support or any of these things.

Unlike some of the other causes that you just mention, the push to privatize public education has support among Democrats too. What do you make of this?

Part of what's happened with the Democrats that's very sad I think is that once the spigots of corporate finance of elections opened and democrats are trying to stay competitive with republicans in this, they have gone overwhelmingly to the financial sector for contributions. There are so many hedge fund billionaires who are interested in transforming the education industry because it is such a vastly huge potential source of cash, right, that could go into new, private schools. There's this whole education industry that's developed, and a lot of democrats are really connected to that agenda. Corey Booker would be a case in point, and I'm sure you know about his work, but many other democrats. Obama and Arnie Duncan and all these other folks I think are destroying their party's own base and capacity to fight back against this horrible, anti-democratic agenda by attacking public education and teachers' unions as they have.

Categories: Latest News

The GOP Wrecking Machine Takes Aim at the Debt Ceiling, Again

Truthout - Tue, 08/08/2017 - 21:00

Rep. Tom Cole (right) presides over a hearing on the rules that will dictate debate on the American Health Care Act at the US Capitol March 24, 2017, in Washington, DC. (Photo: Chip Somodevilla / Getty Images)

October 1, 2017 will be the fourth anniversary of the last time Republicans shut down the government because they felt the rest of us had too many nice things. It happened then because of the debt ceiling, or more accurately, because a bunch of Tea Party wreckers tried to use the debt ceiling as a bargaining chip instead of treating it like what it is: an economic thermonuclear weapon that, if detonated, would lay waste to everything.

Why is the debt ceiling so important? According to Business Week at the time of the last crisis:

Failure by the world's largest borrower to pay its debt -- unprecedented in modern history -- will devastate stock markets from Brazil to Zurich, halt a $5 trillion lending mechanism for investors who rely on Treasuries, blow up borrowing costs for billions of people and companies, ravage the dollar and throw the US and world economies into a recession that probably would become a depression. Among the dozens of money managers, economists, bankers, traders and former government officials interviewed for this story, few view a US default as anything but a financial apocalypse.

Before 2013, no one in Congress had ever dreamed of screwing around with the debt ceiling. It was raised whenever necessary in a pro forma vote that was as common, and essential, as you and I taking our next breath. Suddenly, four years ago, there was an influx of right-wingers into Congress who went to the Tom Coburn School of Economics -- there actually is no such thing as the debt ceiling, don'tcha know -- and decided to wrap their hands around the lightning.

Back then, the fight was about defunding the Affordable Care Act; about cuts to Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security; about then-Speaker John Boehner getting dragged into battle by his Tea Party flank with the debt ceiling as their doomsday weapon. They tried this number in 2011 and managed to get the nation's credit rating downgraded. In 2013, it led to more than two weeks of government shutdown and an eventual humiliating retreat by the Republican Party. The federal government went back to work on October 17, and the issue of the debt ceiling has lain dormant ever since.

Here we go again, probably. The debt ceiling must be raised by congressional vote no later than September 29 of this year, and already, some of the same strange minds from 2013 are lining up to play with fire again. The song, as Led Zeppelin reminds us, remains the same.

Rep. Tom Cole (R-Oklahoma), channeling Speaker Boehner for The New York Times, October 2013: "Representative Tom Cole, an Oklahoma Republican close to Mr. Boehner, said he believed that the speaker would like to see a deal that included a new way of calculating inflation that would slow the growth of federal benefits; a means testing for Medicare, as well as some other Medicare savings; and at least some slight changes to the Affordable Care Act, like a repeal of a medical device tax unpopular with some Democrats."

Rep. Tom Cole (R-Oklahoma) this week on MSNBC: "Most Republicans want to do something to lower the trajectory of the debt. I mean, a clean debt ceiling hike is like having a credit card and saying 'I've reached my limit, I'm just going to change the limit higher without changing any of my spending habits.' That's a tough sell to Republicans."

Rep. Cole is not alone, but he and his cohort are definitely bucking Republican Party leadership this time around. House Speaker Paul Ryan and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, along with Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin, are desperate to see a "clean" debt ceiling bill pass both chambers of Congress as soon as possible.

Even Mick Mulvaney, the current director of the Office of Management and Budget who helped invent the idea of turning the debt ceiling vote into a hostage crisis back when he was in the House, is going along for the ride. Leadership needs this to go smoothly not only to keep the economy from eating itself, but to prove to the wider world that they can actually accomplish something with a government controlled in triplicate by their own party.

They know they'll need Democratic help to pass this, and the Democrats have made it abundantly clear that anything attached to a debt ceiling bill is dead on arrival. Democrats in the Senate also have the ability to filibuster anything they don't like on this issue, which adds to their leverage.

There has been talk of Democrats using that leverage to extract some of their own concessions during the upcoming negotiations, like, for example, making sure President Trump and some congressional bitter-enders can't sabotage the Affordable Care Act from the inside out. Like as not, however, the Democrats will probably choose to try herding their noisy cousins to a "Yes" vote on a clean bill and get this damned thing off everyone's desk before someone gets hurt.

Don't count on smooth sailing with this, no matter how adamant the GOP leadership may be. Within the convoluted confines of the Republican Caucus, the Earth is flat, there is no gravity, dinosaurs never existed because they aren't mentioned in the Bible, and the threat of breaking the debt ceiling is an excellent way to transfer billions of dollars in social safety net funding to their wealthy benefactors.

These people have not made a habit of going gently into that good night, as the recent health care debacle made abundantly clear. There is no reason to expect anything different this time around. On the hook is nothing more or less than the economic existence of the United States. September 29 is D-Day. I'll see you on the beach.

Categories: Latest News

New York's Fracking Ban Was Supposed to Set a Precedent -- but Gov. Cuomo Is Going Back on His Word

Truthout - Tue, 08/08/2017 - 21:00

Anti-fracking protesters gather outside of the auditorium before New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo gives his fourth State of the State address on January 8, 2014, in Albany, New York. (Photo: Spencer Platt / Getty Images)

New Yorkers are beginning to suspect that Governor Cuomo's defiance of Trump's anti-environment agenda is just a lot of hot air. A ban on high-volume hydro-fracking implemented two years ago through the persistent efforts of activists is being completely undermined by a new power plant poised to make fracking infrastructure fully operational throughout the state.

Anti-fracking protesters gather outside of the auditorium before New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo gives his fourth State of the State address on January 8, 2014, in Albany, New York. (Photo: Spencer Platt / Getty Images)

New York banned high-volume hydraulic fracturing (fracking) two years ago, in a victory for persistent anti-fracking activists and a potential precedent for other states. Now, however, the state is poised to begin operating a power plant that will make fracking infrastructure fully operational throughout the state, completely undermining the ban. The $900 million power plant planned by Competitive Power Ventures (CPV) in Orange County, New York, requires permits for only two short pipelines before it may begin operating. CPV will be among the largest of New York's nearly 500 gas- and oil-fired power plants. Like more than half of currently proposed electricity generation in the state, this power plant will burn fracked gas from Pennsylvania's Marcellus Shale.

Opponents charge that the plant is not needed and serves only to further push a warming world to the tipping point of climate-change catastrophe.

On October 8, 2015, speaking with former Vice President Al Gore, New York Governor Andrew Cuomo said he would cut greenhouse gas emissions by 40 percent in the next 13 years, but climate scientists and engineers tell us CPV will emit 7 million tons of carbon-dioxide-equivalent pollution annually and add a full 10 percent from power generation to the state's current greenhouse gas inventory.

Natural gas produces less carbon dioxide to generate electricity than coal, but the methane leaked from gas wells, pipelines and compressor stations make fracked gas worse than coal for accelerating climate change.

When operating, the CPV plant, together with another power plant being developed by Cricket Valley Energy in Dover, New York, will provide 1750 megawatts to offset closure of the Indian Point nuclear power plant. Cornell University engineering professor Anthony Ingraffea lamented to Truthout, "New York had no plan 10 years ago for how to replace the nukes, and we still do not have a plan that replaces the nukes, shuts down all the gas fired plants, and keeps us from freezing in the dark. We need a comprehensive plan that decreases demand for, and supply of, fossil energy and increases the demand for, and supply of, renewable energy, for all sectors, so there are no surprises [like Cricket Valley and CPV] in the future."

The Fight Against the CPV Power Plant

Anti-fracking activists in New York have been tenacious, and the fight against CPV is no exception. In December 2015, trying to slow construction on the CPV plant, demonstrators blocked the drive to the site. Arrested for trespass, they called themselves the Wawayanda Six. Pleading guilty and choosing jail time rather than paying a fine, actor and activist James Cromwell called on New Yorkers to put themselves on the line for their principles and for the planet.

This past April the Wawayanda Six went on trial. There, Ingraffea and climate scientist Robert Howarth, also of Cornell University, testified that the project would produce millions of tons of carbon dioxide from burnt gas and leak millions of tons of methane, exacerbating global warming.

CPV is projected to burn about 130,000 dekatherms per day, which is almost 130 million cubic feet of gas. Since an average Marcellus well produces roughly four billion cubic feet of gas over its lifetime, this means that over forty years of operation CPV will require the fracking of nearly 500 gas wells. CPV will be the buyer, encouraging further toxic extraction, more leaking methane from gas wells to power plant, and tons more fracking waste requiring disposal -- despite the fracking ban.

Pramilla Malick, the chair of Protect Orange County, summarized the CPV project's impacts for Truthout: "It is not only massive itself but necessitates a vast network of infrastructure that creates an even greater impact footprint, spanning from Pennsylvania to New York and requiring hundreds of fracked wells and more pipelines."

New York State's Department of Environmental Conservation is now considering projects that Millennium Pipeline Company has proposed separately, a "segmented" approach that cloaks greenhouse gas impacts. Both the Eastern System Upgrade and the Valley Lateral pipelines are needed to fire up CPV. Residents whose townships have partnered with the Department of Environmental Conservation to form "climate smart communities" have protested what they see as betrayal by the department: The massive pollution load from this new gas infrastructure will be felt first in townships that have worked with the Department of Environmental Conservation to cut their emissions and switch to renewables.

Meanwhile, New Yorkers are beginning to suspect that Governor Cuomo's seemingly ambitious plans for greenhouse gas reduction may be a lot of hot air. The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, a national agency with wide jurisdiction over gas industry projects, approves almost all corporate requests, most recently including the CPV plant. State regulatory agencies may halt ventures approved by the federal commission by denying final permits. But New York's Department of Environmental Conservation has rubber-stamped all but a couple of projects in recent memory, often despite heated public outcry and civil protests.

Activists who are planning a rally against the CPV plant in Albany, New York, for August 10, say that to meet the state's greenhouse gas reduction commitments, the Department of Environmental Conservation should be rejecting every piece of proposed fossil fuel infrastructure. In fact, Gov. Cuomo himself proposed a plan to root out the sources of state methane leakage. But advocates argue that this effort, too, seems disingenuous, as studies have measured more methane leaking in Manhattan alone than the New York State Energy Research and Development Authority estimates statewide.

Damages to Public Health and the Environment

The toll on public health, the environment and the planet comes from burnt gas yielding carbon dioxide and from methane leaking at rates found to be anywhere between 5 percent and 12 percent from Pennsylvania well-heads to delivery. Thus, with 2.5 million metric tons of carbon dioxide from combustion and 4.5 million metric tons of carbon-dioxide equivalent emissions (using a conservative leakage rate of 5.8 percent), the total carbon dioxide emissions load is over seven million metric tons per year.

The EPA puts the social costs of carbon dioxide at $36/ton. At that rate, CPV will cost society a quarter of a billion dollars per year. This is a genuine toll -- in floods and droughts, in sicknesses, and deaths -- which the Department of Health, Department of Public Service, the Department of Environmental Conservation, and the Office of the State Comptroller don't seem to want to acknowledge. New York and the entire planet will pay the cost of this project in rising ocean levels and super storms.

Even these estimates don't tell the whole story. "Economists have found that the models typically used to measure the economic cost of climate change (and in turn, the social cost of carbon) do not take into account a number of significant costs," Jannette Barth, a specialist on the economic impacts of shale gas development, told Truthout. These costs include treatment for cancer and respiratory illnesses from toxic emissions, and for diseases related to accelerated climate change. There are also business costs from flood damage, and costs to communities, individuals and farms when aquifers dry up.

Barth says recent peer-reviewed research indicates that the full fiscal costs of extreme weather events have not been measured properly, and that the real costs of climate change are growing substantially with time. But none of the agencies in New York's alphabet soup of regulators wants to discuss the social costs incurred by carbon dioxide and methane emissions when natural gas projects are proposed.

New York's Empty Promises in the Fight Against Fracking

While Cuomo's defiance of Trump's anti-environment agenda has made the news, there has been little coverage of the disconnect between what the governor pledges to do and what his administration actually does. In his 2017 State of the State message Cuomo told New Yorkers we need to "double down" on our efforts to stem the import of fracked gas from neighboring states. Yet New York has increased its demand for shale gas every year since banning high volume hydro-fracking.

Cuomo's Reforming the Energy Vision  program encourages gas-centric microgrids and conversion of oil to gas for heating. If the state were serious about meeting its goal of 50 percent renewable electricity generation by 2030, we would see a visible surge of wind and solar construction underway across New York. That's not happening.

Instead, federal prosecutors and the media have showed that deception and betrayal are the real midwives of the CPV project. In September 2016 federal charges were announced against aides of Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo, among them Joseph Percoco and Todd R. Howe. According to a 79-page criminal complaint, Percoco and Howe sought personal gain by helping companies receive "hundreds of millions of dollars in state contracts and other official state benefits." Percoco, Gov. Cuomo's former executive deputy secretary, was accused of soliciting and taking more than $315,000 in bribes from Competitive Power Ventures, which was then trying to get approval for the power plant, and from another company seeking to build projects in the Syracuse region. The two companies were clients of Howe, who arranged the bribes.

The Cuomo administration is not the only entity whose actions don't match its words when it comes to addressing New York's emissions. Eager to maintain ties to the administration and consequently reluctant to challenge Cuomo's rhetoric, many "big green" non-governmental organizations have become part of the problem. Even while touting their anti-fracking stance, the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) and the Sierra Club have engaged in a campaign to shut down coal in New York that credits Cuomo for leading the way. These campaigns have provided cover for fossil fuel companies and government to promote "natural gas" as a solution. Meanwhile, cheap gas has all but shuttered coal-fired power plants in the state.

Times Union and Politico tracked donors who had given Cuomo over $100,000; among them is NRDC Board of Trustees Chair Dan Tishman. Tishman owns AECOM, which prepared air permits for the Minisink Compressor Station and more recently surveyed for the Millennium Valley Lateral Project. Pramilla Malick suggests this conflict of interest accounts for the fact that the NRDC has refused to oppose the Valley Lateral pipeline or CPV. Until 2013, Malick says, the NRDC's endorsement was on CPV's website.

This project is a climate boondoggle -- it just pours greenhouse gases into the atmosphere.

Climate-change activist Bill McKibben, who leads the effort, minces no words: "This project is a climate boondoggle -- it just pours greenhouse gases into the atmosphere, as if the scientists had taught us nothing. Real leadership demands saying no, loudly." 

Note for readers in the New York area: A final rally against the plant will be held Thursday, August 10, at 11 am, at the West Capitol Park in Albany, New York. For more information, see

Categories: Latest News

‘Fire and Fury’ Is Not a Strategy, We Need Diplomacy with North Korea

Commondreams - Tue, 08/08/2017 - 16:57
Peace Action

In response to reports that North Korea may have achieved the capability to miniaturize nuclear weapons and mount them on its missiles, and in response to President Trump’s belligerent threat that more aggression from North Korea will be met with “fire and fury,” Jon Rainwater, Executive Director of Peace Action, released the following statement:

Categories: Latest News

Global Zero Statement on North Korea Nuclear Crisis

Commondreams - Tue, 08/08/2017 - 16:55
Global Zero

According to several reports published earlier today, North Korea has successfully produced a miniaturized nuclear warhead designed to fit inside its missiles.

Categories: Latest News

Thousands of Constituents to Take Part in ‘Resistance Recess’ at August Break Town Halls Nationwide

Commondreams - Tue, 08/08/2017 - 12:59

With members of Congress in their districts for the four-week August Recess, thousands of constituents will join in the “Resistance Recess,” a nationwide call-to-action with more than 200 events taking place at elected officials' town halls, and public appearances, or at self-organized “constituent town halls” and speak outs.   


Categories: Latest News

The Trump Administration Must Not Delay or Misrepresent Climate Science Report

Commondreams - Tue, 08/08/2017 - 12:51
Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS)

Federal scientists are waiting for approval from the Trump administration to publish a climate science report that contradicts the president and members of his cabinet who claim it’s not clear whether carbon pollution from burning fossil fuels is changing the climate.

Categories: Latest News

Civil and Human Rights Coalition: Justice Department Continues to Undermine Voting Rights

Commondreams - Tue, 08/08/2017 - 11:36
The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights

Vanita Gupta, president and CEO of The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights, released the following statement in response to the latest Department of Justice filing in Husted v. A. Philip Randolph Institute, a pending Supreme Court case concerning Ohio’s procedure for removing voters from the rolls:

Categories: Latest News

Trump Administration Denies Pacific Bluefin Tuna Endangered Species Act Protection

Commondreams - Tue, 08/08/2017 - 10:00
Center for Biological Diversity

Yesterday, the Trump administration rejected a petition to protect imperiled Pacific bluefin tuna under the Endangered Species Act. This powerful apex predator, which commands top prices at fish auctions in Japan, has been overfished to less than 3 percent of its historic population.

Categories: Latest News

ACLU and SPLC Sue to End Racketeering Scheme that Forced People Awaiting Trial to Pay Fees to Private Company for Freedom

Commondreams - Tue, 08/08/2017 - 08:36

People awaiting trial before a Baton Rouge criminal court were coerced into paying hundreds of dollars to a company before they were released from jail — even after they had paid their bail, according to a lawsuit filed last night by the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC), the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), andthe ACLU of Louisiana.

Categories: Latest News

42 Groups and 64,000 Americans Send Messages to Treasury Department Against Repeal of “Earnings Stripping” Rule

Commondreams - Tue, 08/08/2017 - 07:37
Americans for Tax Fairness

Forty-two national organizations and more than 64,000 Americans sent comments in recent days to the Trump Administration’s Treasury Department to express their opposition to the administration’s announcement that it intends to modify or repeal the “earnings stripping” rule put in place under the Obama Administration last year to curb offshore tax dodging deals known as “inversions.” The rule is targeted for changes due to a Trump executive order in April. Yesterday, the Treasury Department closed the public comment period on the proposed rule change.

Categories: Latest News

Lawyers' Committee for Civil Rights Under Law Condemns Latest Justice Department Action Condoning Voter Purge Programs

Commondreams - Tue, 08/08/2017 - 07:33
Lawyers' Committee for Civil Rights Under Law

Yesterday, in Husted v A. Philip Randolph Institute, the U.S. Justice Department filed a brief in a critically important case about whether the National Voter Registration Act (NVRA) prevents certain types of purge programs.  The brief represents a reversal of the Justice Department's position on the NVRA and opens the door for purge programs across the nation.    

Kristen Clarke, president and executive director of the Lawyers' Committee for Civil Rights Under Law stated:

Categories: Latest News

Richard D. Wolff Debates FOX's Stuart Varney About Socialism

Truthout - Mon, 08/07/2017 - 21:00

Economist and Democracy At Work founder Richard Wolff joined Fox Business on July 31 to debate with Stuart Varney about socialism, capitalism and taxes. Capitalism is responsible for a level of inequality not seen since the time of the ancient Pharaohs, says Wolff. The return to socialism as a better alternative in current US society is not because Americans inherently favor socialism, but because capitalism has failed them.

Categories: Latest News

Formerly Jailed CIA Whistleblower John Kiriakou: Jeff Sessions Is Extending Obama's War on Leaks

Truthout - Mon, 08/07/2017 - 21:00

Attorney General Jeff Sessions has announced that the FBI has formed a new team focused on investigating potential leaks to the press. During a press conference on Friday, Sessions said that leak investigations have tripled since President Donald Trump took office. Civil liberties groups criticized Sessions's remarks. Ben Wizner of the ACLU said, "A crackdown on leaks is a crackdown on the free press and on democracy as a whole." We speak with John Kiriakou, the former CIA analyst who exposed the Bush-era torture program and became the only official jailed in connection with it.

Please check back later for full transcript.

Categories: Latest News

Fines for Big Financial Firms Have Plunged Under Trump

Truthout - Mon, 08/07/2017 - 21:00

The amount of penalties that federal regulators have collected from misbehaving financial firms has declined sharply in the first 200 days of Trump. (Photo: franckreporter / iStock / Getty Images Plus)

The amount of penalties that federal regulators have collected from misbehaving financial firms has declined sharply in just the first 200 days of the Trump administration.

The immediate reduction amounts to a tangible benefit for Wall Street brokers, courtesy of a President who's filled his executive offices with former bankers, and has signed executive order to roll back financial regulations.

A Wall Street Journal analysis shows that The Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC), the Commodity Futures Trading Commission (CTFC) and the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority (FIRA) have levied, in total, $489 million in fines against banks so far in 2017. That's a two-thirds decline from the first six months of 2016, when penalties totaled $1.4 billion.

The Journal's data suggests a reversal of a trend during the Obama presidency of increasing enforcement against firms. Between 2010 and 2015, regulators increased their annual fines from just over $1 billion to roughly $4.5 billion. Policing by the CFTC was responsible for most of the increased actions.

Agencies told the WSJ that first-years of a new presidency are always characterized by declines in federal oversight, due in large part to staff turnover. The first year of the Obama administration, however, saw a slight increase in annual fines from the final years of the Bush presidency in 2008.

Higher penalty figures in previous years could be explained by the Obama administration's handling of financial crimes related to the 2008 housing meltdown and market crisis.

President Trump has promised to deconstruct many of the reforms created post-financial crisis.

In April, he ordered his Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin to conduct a review of all regulation enshrined under the 2010 Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform Act. Trump previously called the law a "disaster."

Categories: Latest News

Slouching Toward Mar-a-Lago: The Post-Cold-War Consensus Collapses

Truthout - Mon, 08/07/2017 - 21:00

Like it or not, the president of the United States embodies America itself. The individual inhabiting the White House has become the preeminent symbol of who we are and what we represent as a nation and a people. In a fundamental sense, he is us.

It was not always so. Millard Fillmore, the 13th president (1850-1853), presided over but did not personify the American republic.  He was merely the federal chief executive.  Contemporary observers did not refer to his term in office as the Age of Fillmore.  With occasional exceptions, Abraham Lincoln in particular, much the same could be said of Fillmore's successors.  They brought to office low expectations, which they rarely exceeded.  So when Chester A. Arthur (1881-1885) or William Howard Taft (1909-1913) left the White House, there was no rush to immortalize them by erecting gaudy shrines -- now known as "presidential libraries" -- to the glory of their presidencies.  In those distant days, ex-presidents went back home or somewhere else where they could find work.

Over the course of the past century, all that has changed.  Ours is a republic that has long since taken on the trappings of a monarchy, with the president inhabiting rarified space as our king-emperor.  The Brits have their woman in Buckingham Palace.  We have our man in the White House.

Nominally, the Constitution assigns responsibilities and allocates prerogatives to three co-equal branches of government.  In practice, the executive branch enjoys primacy.  Prompted by a seemingly endless series of crises since the Great Depression and World War II, presidents have accumulated ever-greater authority, partly through usurpation, but more often than not through forfeiture.  

At the same time, they also took on various extra-constitutional responsibilities.  By the beginning of the present century, Americans took it for granted that the occupant of the Oval Office should function as prophet, moral philosopher, style-setter, interpreter of the prevailing zeitgeist, and -- last but hardly least -- celebrity-in-chief.  In short, POTUS was the bright star at the center of the American solar system.   

As recently as a year ago, few saw in this cult of the presidency cause for complaint.  On odd occasions, some particularly egregious bit of executive tomfoolery might trigger grumbling about an "imperial presidency." Yet rarely did such complaints lead to effective remedial action.  The War Powers Resolution of 1973 might be considered the exception that proves the rule.  Inspired by the disaster of the Vietnam War and intended to constrain presidents from using force without congressional buy-in and support, that particular piece of legislation ranks alongside the Volstead Act of 1919 (enacted to enforce Prohibition) as among the least effective ever to become law.

In truth, influential American institutions -- investment banks and multinational corporations, churches and universities, big city newspapers and TV networks, the bloated national security apparatus and both major political parties -- have found reason aplenty to endorse a system that elevates the president to the status of demigod.  By and large, it's been good for business, whatever that business happens to be.

Furthermore, it's our president -- not some foreign dude -- who is, by common consent, the most powerful person in the universe.  For inhabitants of a nation that considers itself both "exceptional" and "indispensable," this seems only right and proper.  So Americans generally like it that their president is the acknowledged Leader of the Free World rather than some fresh-faced pretender from France or Canada.

Then came the Great Hysteria.  Arriving with a Pearl Harbor-like shock, it erupted on the night of November 8, 2016, just as the news that Hillary Clinton was losing Florida and appeared certain to lose much else besides became apparent.

Suddenly, all the habits and precedents that had contributed to empowering the modern American presidency no longer made sense.  That a single deeply flawed individual along with a handful of unelected associates and family members should be entrusted with determining the fate of the planet suddenly seemed the very definition of madness.

Emotion-laden upheavals producing behavior that is not entirely rational are hardly unknown in the American experience.  Indeed, they recur with some frequency.  The Great Awakenings of the eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries are examples of the phenomenon.  So also are the two Red Scares of the twentieth century, the first in the early 1920s and the second, commonly known as "McCarthyism," coinciding with the onset of the Cold War.

Yet the response to Donald Trump's election, combining as it has fear, anger, bewilderment, disgust, and something akin to despair, qualifies as an upheaval without precedent.  History itself had seemingly gone off the rails.  The crude Andrew Jackson's 1828 ousting of an impeccably pedigreed president, John Quincy Adams, was nothing compared to the vulgar Donald Trump's defeat of an impeccably credentialed graduate of Wellesley and Yale who had served as first lady, United States senator, and secretary of state.  A self-evidently inconceivable outcome -- all the smart people agreed on that point -- had somehow happened anyway.

A vulgar, bombastic, thrice-married real-estate tycoon and reality TV host as prophet, moral philosopher, style-setter, interpreter of the prevailing zeitgeist, and chief celebrity?  The very idea seemed both absurd and intolerable.

If we have, as innumerable commentators assert, embarked upon the Age of Trump, the defining feature of that age might well be the single-minded determination of those horrified and intent on ensuring its prompt termination. In 2016, TIME magazine chose Trump as its person of the year.  In 2017, when it comes to dominating the news, that "person" might turn out to be a group -- all those fixated on cleansing the White House of Trump's defiling presence.

Egged on and abetted in every way by Trump himself, the anti-Trump resistance has made itself the Big Story.  Lies, hate, collusion, conspiracy, fascism:  rarely has the everyday vocabulary of American politics been as ominous and forbidding as over the past six months.  Take resistance rhetoric at face value and you might conclude that Donald Trump is indeed the fifth horseman of the Apocalypse, his presence in the presidential saddle eclipsing all other concerns.  Pestilence, War, Famine, and Death will just have to wait.

The unspoken assumption of those most determined to banish him from public life appears to be this: once he's gone, history will be returned to its intended path, humankind will breathe a collective sigh of relief, and all will be well again.  Yet such an assumption strikes me as remarkably wrongheaded -- and not merely because, should Trump prematurely depart from office, Mike Pence will succeed him.  Expectations that Trump's ouster will restore normalcy ignore the very factors that first handed him the Republican nomination (with a slew of competitors wondering what hit them) and then put him in the Oval Office (with a vastly more seasoned and disciplined, if uninspiring, opponent left to bemoan the injustice of it all).

Not all, but many of Trump's supporters voted for him for the same reason that people buy lottery tickets: Why not?  In their estimation, they had little to lose.  Their loathing of the status quo is such that they may well stick with Trump even as it becomes increasingly obvious that his promise of salvation -- an America made "great again" -- is not going to materialize.

Yet those who imagine that Trump's removal will put things right are likewise deluding themselves.  To persist in thinking that he defines the problem is to commit an error of the first order.  Trump is not cause, but consequence.

For too long, the cult of the presidency has provided an excuse for treating politics as a melodrama staged at four-year intervals and centering on hopes of another Roosevelt or Kennedy or Reagan appearing as the agent of American deliverance.  Donald Trump's ascent to the office once inhabited by those worthies should demolish such fantasies once and for all. 

How is it that someone like Trump could become president in the first place?  Blame sexism, Fox News, James Comey, Russian meddling, and Hillary's failure to visit Wisconsin all you want, but a more fundamental explanation is this: the election of 2016 constituted a de facto referendum on the course of recent American history.  That referendum rendered a definitive judgment: the underlying consensus informing U.S. policy since the end of the Cold War has collapsed.  Precepts that members of the policy elite have long treated as self-evident no longer command the backing or assent of the American people. Put simply: it's the ideas, stupid.

Rabbit Poses a Question

"Without the Cold War, what's the point of being an American?"  As the long twilight struggle was finally winding down, Harry "Rabbit" Angstrom, novelist John Updike's late-twentieth-century Everyman, pondered that question. In short order, Rabbit got his answer.  So, too, after only perfunctory consultation, did his fellow citizens.

The passing of the Cold War offered cause for celebration.  On that point all agreed.  Yet, as it turned out, it did not require reflection from the public at large.  Policy elites professed to have matters well in hand.  The dawning era, they believed, summoned Americans not to think anew, but to keep doing precisely what they were accustomed to doing, albeit without fretting further about Communist takeovers or the risks of nuclear Armageddon.  In a world where a "single superpower" was calling the shots, utopia was right around the corner.  All that was needed was for the United States to demonstrate the requisite confidence and resolve.

Three specific propositions made up the elite consensus that coalesced during the initial decade of the post-Cold-War era.  According to the first, the globalization of corporate capitalism held the key to wealth creation on a hitherto unimaginable scale.  According to the second, jettisoning norms derived from Judeo-Christian religious traditions held the key to the further expansion of personal freedom.  According to the third, muscular global leadership exercised by the United States held the key to promoting a stable and humane international order.

Unfettered neoliberalism plus the unencumbered self plus unabashed American assertiveness: these defined the elements of the post-Cold-War consensus that formed during the first half of the 1990s -- plus what enthusiasts called the information revolution.  The miracle of that "revolution," gathering momentum just as the Soviet Union was going down for the count, provided the secret sauce that infused the emerging consensus with a sense of historical inevitability.

The Cold War itself had fostered notable improvements in computational speed and capacity, new modes of communication, and techniques for storing, accessing, and manipulating information.  Yet, however impressive, such developments remained subsidiary to the larger East-West competition.  Only as the Cold War receded did they move from background to forefront.  For true believers, information technology came to serve a quasi-theological function, promising answers to life's ultimate questions.  Although God might be dead, Americans found in Bill Gates and Steve Jobs nerdy but compelling idols.

More immediately, in the eyes of the policy elite, the information revolution meshed with and reinforced the policy consensus.  For those focused on the political economy, it greased the wheels of globalized capitalism, creating vast new opportunities for trade and investment.  For those looking to shed constraints on personal freedom, information promised empowerment, making identity itself something to choose, discard, or modify.  For members of the national security apparatus, the information revolution seemed certain to endow the United States with seemingly unassailable military capabilities.  That these various enhancements would combine to improve the human condition was taken for granted; that they would, in due course, align everybody -- from Afghans to Zimbabweans -- with American values and the American way of life seemed more or less inevitable.

The three presidents of the post-Cold-War era -- Bill Clinton, George W. Bush, and Barack Obama -- put these several propositions to the test.  Politics-as-theater requires us to pretend that our 42nd, 43rd, and 44th presidents differed in fundamental ways.  In practice, however, their similarities greatly outweighed any of those differences.  Taken together, the administrations over which they presided collaborated in pursuing a common agenda, each intent on proving that the post-Cold-War consensus could work in the face of mounting evidence to the contrary.

To be fair, it did work for some. "Globalization" made some people very rich indeed.  In doing so, however, it greatly exacerbated inequality, while doing nothing to alleviate the condition of the American working class and underclass.

As for militarized American global leadership, it has indeed resulted in various bad actors meeting richly deserved fates.  Goodbye, Saddam.  Good riddance, Osama.  Yet it has also embroiled the United States in a series of costly, senseless, unsuccessful, and ultimately counterproductive wars.  As for the vaunted information revolution, its impact has been ambiguous at best, even if those with eyeballs glued to their personal electronic devices can't tolerate being offline long enough to assess the actual costs of being perpetually connected.

In November 2016, Americans who consider themselves ill served by the post-Cold-War consensus signaled that they had had enough.  Voters not persuaded that neoliberal economic policies, a culture taking its motto from the Outback steakhouse chain, and a national security strategy that employs the U.S. military as a global police force were working to their benefit provided a crucial margin in the election of Donald Trump. 

The response of the political establishment to this extraordinary repudiation testifies to the extent of its bankruptcy.  The Republican Party still clings to the notion that reducing taxes, cutting government red tape, restricting abortion, curbing immigration, prohibiting flag-burning, and increasing military spending will alleviate all that ails the country.  Meanwhile, to judge by the promises contained in their recently unveiled (and instantly forgotten) program for a "Better Deal," Democrats believe that raising the minimum wage, capping the cost of prescription drugs, and creating apprenticeship programs for the unemployed will return their party to the good graces of the American electorate. 

In both parties embarrassingly small-bore thinking prevails, with Republicans and Democrats equally bereft of fresh ideas.  Each party is led by aging hacks.  Neither has devised an antidote to the crisis in American politics signified by the nomination and election of Donald Trump. 

While our emperor tweets, Rome itself fiddles. 

Starting Over

I am by temperament a conservative and a traditionalist, wary of revolutionary movements that more often than not end up being hijacked by nefarious plotters more interested in satisfying their own ambitions than in pursuing high ideals.  Yet even I am prepared to admit that the status quo appears increasingly untenable. Incremental change will not suffice.  The challenge of the moment is to embrace radicalism without succumbing to irresponsibility.

The one good thing we can say about the election of Donald Trump -- to borrow an image from Thomas Jefferson -- is this: it ought to serve as a fire bell in the night.  If Americans have an ounce of sense, the Trump presidency will cure them once and for all of the illusion that from the White House comes redemption.  By now we ought to have had enough of de facto monarchy. 

By extension, Americans should come to see as intolerable the meanness, corruption, and partisan dysfunction so much in evidence at the opposite end of Pennsylvania Avenue.  We need not wax sentimental over the days when Lyndon Johnson and Everett Dirksen presided over the Senate to conclude that Mitch McConnell and Chuck Schumer represent something other than progress.  If Congress continues to behave as contemptibly as it has in recent years (and in recent weeks), it will, by default, allow the conditions that have produced Trump and his cronies to prevail. 

So it's time to take another stab at an approach to governance worthy of a democratic republic.  Where to begin?  I submit that Rabbit Angstrom's question offers a place to start:  What's the point of being an American?

Authentic progressives and principled conservatives will offer different answers to Rabbit's query.  My own answer is rooted in an abiding conviction that our problems are less quantitative than qualitative.  Rather than simply more -- yet more wealth, more freedom, more attempts at global leadership -- the times call for different.  In my view, the point of being an American is to participate in creating a society that strikes a balance between wants and needs, that exists in harmony with nature and the rest of humankind, and that is rooted in an agreed upon conception of the common good.

My own prescription for how to act upon that statement of purpose is unlikely to find favor with most readers of TomDispatch.  But therein lies the basis for an interesting debate, one that is essential to prospects for stemming the accelerating decay of American civic life. 

Initiating such a debate, and so bringing into focus core issues, will remain next to impossible, however, without first clearing away the accumulated debris of the post-Cold-War era.  Preliminary steps in that direction, listed in no particular order, ought to include the following: 

First, abolish the Electoral College.  Doing so will preclude any further occurrence of the circumstances that twice in recent decades cast doubt on the outcome of national elections and thereby did far more than any foreign interference to undermine the legitimacy of American politics.

Second, rollback gerrymandering.  Doing so will help restore competitive elections and make incumbency more tenuous.

Third, limit the impact of corporate money on elections at all levels, if need be by amending the Constitution. 

Fourth, mandate a balanced federal budget, thereby demolishing the pretense that Americans need not choose between guns and butter. 

Fifth, implement a program of national service, thereby eliminating the All-Volunteer military and restoring the tradition of the citizen-soldier.  Doing so will help close the gap between the military and society and enrich the prevailing conception of citizenship.  It might even encourage members of Congress to think twice before signing off on wars that the commander-in-chief wants to fight.

Sixth, enact tax policies that will promote greater income equality.

Seventh, increase public funding for public higher education, thereby ensuring that college remains an option for those who are not well-to-do. 

Eighth, beyond mere "job" creation, attend to the growing challenges of providing meaningful work -- employment that is both rewarding and reasonably remunerative -- for those without advanced STEM degrees.

Ninth, end the thumb-twiddling on climate change and start treating it as the first-order national security priority that it is.

Tenth, absent evident progress on the above, create a new party system, breaking the current duopoly in which Republicans and Democrats tacitly collaborate to dictate the policy agenda and restrict the range of policy options deemed permissible.

These are not particularly original proposals and I do not offer them as a panacea.  They may, however, represent preliminary steps toward devising some new paradigm to replace a post-Cold-War consensus that, in promoting transnational corporate greed, mistaking libertinism for liberty, and embracing militarized neo-imperialism as the essence of statecraft, has paved the way for the presidency of Donald Trump. 

We can and must do better. But doing so will require that we come up with better and truer ideas to serve as a foundation for American politics.

Categories: Latest News


Subscribe to Peace Action of San Mateo County aggregator - Latest News