To Pay For His Military Budget, Trump Will Have to Cut Services His Base Depends On

At CPAC, Trump vowed to greatly increase the military budget while simultaneously lowering taxes on the middle class, an idea that IPS’ Phyllis Bennis argued is not actually possible unless he also cuts funding to the social services his base depends on.

“I think he’s counting on people not doing the math,” Bennis said. “If you’re cutting everybody’s taxes, you’re not going to have a whole lot of money available for a massive military budget — unless you’re prepared to get that money from slashing social security, Medicare, education, jobs,” things that people in who voted for him strongly rely on.

With 54 cents out of every federal dollar going to the military, there’s already less money  available for jobs, healthcare, and education, an issue that’s only going to get worse if Trump’s proposed military budget goes through, Bennis argued.

“If he’s saying  we have to massively re-fund the military in whole new ways with new amounts  then we’re talking about slashing what’s left of the social safety net — and that’s going to play very, very badly in Trump’s heartland,” Bennis said.

Trump spewed rhetoric about the  U.S. being  unprepared to fight conventional wars as a way to justify building up an arsenal of war planes, submarines, and aircraft carriers. “You’re not talking about going to war against ISIS with an aircraft carrier,” Bennis said. “In that kind of a war, you’re talking about going up against Russia or China.”

This notion of entertaining the possibility of such a war “just speaks to the incredible chaos even at the messaging level,” Bennis said, when you have Trump supporters at the Committee waving Russian flags with ‘Trump’ written across them.

Watch the full interview on the Real News Network.

Phyllis Bennis directs the New Internationalism project at the Institute for Policy Studies.


The Hunt for Black Family History

Family Tree

(Photo: Niall Williams / Flickr)

Maybe you’ve seen those commercials pushing Americans to “discover their stories” by digging into their family histories.

Millions of Americans find meaning from these searches. My mom is one of them. She’s doing a deep dive into our family history, reviving the stories of past ancestors in America.

She discovered that the German last name we have wasn’t our original family name. Somewhere — perhaps in Ellis Island, once a gateway for millions of European immigrants — our name was changed. That’s made it hard to learn about our history before emigration.

On my father’s side, though, the fog of history hides much more than names — and it’s incredibly more painful. You see, my father is African-American. And for black Americans, searches on sites like yield blank spots on the family tree.

Before the Civil War, after all, our ancestors were considered property, not people. This means there are no marriage certificates, medical records, or school or census records. Instead, pre-Civil War family research means sifting through bills of sale, auction records, and property ledgers with uncertainty as families were often torn apart.

Even if my family had lived in a state that abolished slavery before the Civil War, or if someone from my family was a freed person in the North, I’d still have to do extensive research to find them. Many free blacks were kidnapped and forced back into slavery under federal laws like the Fugitive Slave Acts of 1793 and 1850.

African-American genealogy is also difficult because of names.

Enslaved Africans were forced to take the last names of slave owners, which were often changed when individuals were sold to another family or institution. After the Civil War, emancipated blacks sometimes took on the names of their former masters, as is the case with part of my family, or made up new last names altogether.

Even after emancipation, black Americans continued to face persecution in the South and beyond. Many fled West or North or elsewhere, and the paper trail is nonexistent or impossible to follow.

When they did make it somewhere else, they still faced lynchings, arson attacks, bombings, and theft from hostile whites. These acts of terror erased records and histories, along with families and people.

Now, however, there are some exciting breakthroughs in the search for family history for African Americans.

The Freedmen’s Bureau Project recently launched a new website,, which includes the names of almost 2 million men, women, and children.

It brings together resources from various archives, museums, libraries, and digitized documents collected by the Freedmen’s Bureau, which was established in 1865 to provide services to newly emancipated communities. Its archives include bank records, marriage and death certificates, military service records, migration information, and so much more.

The new site also allows a partial name search, a game changer.

Oral histories of formerly enslaved people are another invaluable resource — check out the Library of Congress to start. Others include records kept by African-American newspapers, Benevolent Societies, churches, and so forth, which are available online and in public libraries.

Finally, DNA tests are another new tool for people tracing their ancestry.

But DNA can reveal a painful lineage. For example, black women were often raped by slave owners or forced to have intercourse with enslaved men to bear children into slavery. How do you deal with that in a family tree?

I’m grateful for the chance to glimpse new branches of my family tree. But ultimately, every one of my African ancestors was kidnapped from Africa. So even if I find a ship manifest or pay for a DNA test, I’ll never fully know the places, stories, and families that are my ancestry.

This is the painful legacy of our collective American history.

Mandisa Routheni is a New Mexico fellow at the Institute for Policy Studies.


Trump Proved He Doesn’t Think Much of Working People


(Photo: Gage Skidmore / Flickr)

On February 15, Donald Trump’s first nominee for secretary of labor, Andrew Puzder, withdrew his name when it became clear the Senate would vote him down.

The next day, Trump selected Alexander Acosta, a new nominee who looks to fare better. Of course, it’s hard to look worse than Puzder.

He may be gone for now, but it’s worth looking deeper at Puzder, whose nomination tells us a great deal about how little Trump actually thinks of the working people he promised to put first.

It’s fair for U.S. workers to ask how Trump could fulfill that promise if his top labor protector had been a man who’s based his career on stealing from workers and stripping away their rights. If confirmed, Puzder would’ve been in charge of a department that’s repeatedly brought complaints against his own company, CKE — the parent of the Hardee’s and Carl’s Jr. chains.

In fact, Puzder has faced dozens of state and federal claims over sexual harassment, wage theft, abuse of overtime rules, and other unfair labor practices. In addition, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration has found 98 safety violations at Carl’s Jr. and Hardee’s locations since he became CKE’s CEO.

Puzder is also notorious for boasting about his blatantly sexist ads, featuring bikini-clad women simulating sex acts with hamburgers.

More seriously, in a recent survey of Puzder’s workers by the Restaurant Opportunities Centers United, 66 percent of female respondents reported experiencing unwanted sexual behaviors at work, compared to 40 percent of women in the fast food industry overall.

Is this the man we would’ve wanted enforcing workplace discrimination laws? Because it’s the man Trump wanted.

And while Trump has promised to create 25 million new jobs, Puzder would rather replace workers with robots. Robots are “always polite,” he told Business Insider. “They always upsell, they never take a vacation, they never show up late, there’s never a slip-and-fall, or an age, sex, or race discrimination case.”

The U.S. Labor Department has a proud history. It was created in 1913 after a decades-long struggle by workers and unions for a federal agency to protect the basic rights of working people. In the following decades, ordinary Americans took great risks to stand up for greater rights that we now take for granted — the eight-hour day, minimum wage, protections against child labor.

All this would have been threatened by a man who believes that cutting the price of a hamburger is more important than protecting workers from harm and ensuring dignity in the workplace. He’s even fought to take away his employees’ right to a short break during a long shift — something he would never have to imagine.

I was proud to watch millions of Americans urge Trump to withdraw Puzder’s nomination, and I was proud when the majority of senators indicated on February 15 that they wouldn’t vote for him.

But, I ask you to pause and reflect on what this nomination reveals about Trump’s view of workers. As senators now review Acosta, the new nominee, let’s hope he stands up better as a protector of U.S. workers.

John Cavanagh is the director of the Institute for Policy Studies.


Wall Street Hopes You’ve Forgotten the Crash Already

Fat Cats

Remember October 2008 — the bank bailouts, the spiking unemployment rate, the stock market free fall?

Maybe you lost a job, got a pay cut, or saw your retirement savings or home value evaporate. Maybe you even lost your home altogether, or saw your small business wither and die.

It’s a hard thing to let go. But Wall Street is hoping you’ve already forgotten it.

That’s because their allies in Congress and the Trump administration are poised to scrap the reforms lawmakers put in place to prevent another meltdown.

For starters, they’re trying to gut the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, the first independent agency with the sole mandate of protecting consumers against scam artists, predatory lenders, and bad actors in the financial sector.

The agency proved its mettle last year, when it caught Wells Fargo — the second biggest bank in the country — creating millions of bogus accounts without their customers’ permission. The bureau exposed that cheating and put an end to it.

Dodd-Frank, the law that created the bureau, also made rules to keep banks from making risky bets with your money.

For instance, it requires banks to keep some skin in the game by maintaining a 5 percent stake in loans they originate, so they have a stake in the success of the borrower and the loan. It also encourages banks to keep some cash on hand in case of emergencies, just like the rest of us try to do at home.

Yet lately, bankers have been complaining that financial regulation is hurting the economy. Gary Cohn, a former Goldman Sachs president — and now a Trump economic adviser — whined recently that banks are being forced to “hoard capital.”

If maintaining a prudent reserve is hoarding, then yes. And that’s a good thing.

Bankers like Cohn say abolishing these rules will help ordinary consumers. When you hear things like that, hold tight to your wallets and purses.

The truth is, cheap credit is abundant. The commercial and industrial business industries are booming. Credit card and auto lending are at record highs, and mortgage loans are almost back to their pre-2008 crisis high.

If that’s not enough for Wall Street lenders who want to gamble, they should go to the casino. And if venture capitalists want to take great risks in search of great rewards, blessings upon them. But they shouldn’t expect the rest of us to bail them out after their next binge.

What about Donald Trump? Will he protect us?

Trump campaigned as a champion for the “little guy,” beholden to no one because of his independent wealth. He smeared opponents like Ted Cruz and Hillary Clinton for being “puppets” of big banks like Goldman Sachs.

My advice? Watch what Trump does, not what he says.

After all, Trump just installed the most pro-Wall Street team our nation has ever seen. Three of his senior advisers — including Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin — have a combined 40 years at Goldman Sachs.

Now they’d like to remove the sheriff from the financial sector. If they get their way, I’ll give you better odds than Vegas that they’ll crash the economy again — and stick you and me with the bill.

Lock up your treasure. Call your lawmaker. Don’t go back to sleep.

Chuck Collins is the director of the Inequality and the Common Good Project at the Institute for Policy Studies.


Divisions of Labor: The New Struggles of the Working Class

Construction Worker

(Photo: kuzmafoto / Shutterstock)

The working class, or at least the white part, has emerged as our great national mystery. Traditionally Democratic, they helped elect a flamboyantly ostentatious billionaire to the presidency. “What’s wrong with them?” the liberal pundits keep asking. Why do they believe Trump’s promises? Are they stupid or just deplorably racist? Why did the working class align itself against its own interests?

I was born into this elusive class and remain firmly connected to it through friendships and family. In the 1980s, for example, I personally anchored a working-class cultural hub in my own home on Long Island. The attraction was not me but my husband (then) and longtime friend Gary Stevenson, a former warehouse worker who had become an organizer for the Teamsters union. You may think of the Long Island suburbs as a bedroom community for Manhattan commuters or a portal to the Hamptons, but they were then also an industrial center, with more than 20,000 workers employed at Grumman alone. When my sister moved into our basement from Colorado, she quickly found a job in a factory within a mile of our house, as did thousands of other people, some of them bused in from the Bronx. Mostly we hosted local residents who passed through our house for evening meetings or weekend gatherings — truck drivers, factory workers, janitors and eventually nurses. My job was to make chili and keep room in the fridge for the baked ziti others would invariably bring. I once tried to explain the concept of “democratic socialism” to some machine-shop workers and went off on a brief peroration against the Soviet Union. They stared at me glumly across the kitchen counter until one growled, “At least they have health care over there.”

Read the full article on the New York Times Magazine.

Barbara Ehrenreich is a board member at the Institute for Policy Studies.


To Billionaire Doomsday Preppers: Your Wealth Won’t Save You


(Photo: Democracy Chronicles/ Flickr)

With Donald Trump’s election and the rising perils of war, climate upheaval, accelerating inequality, and civil unrest, some of the richest people in the United States are making escape plans.

In a recent New Yorker article, “Doomsday Prep for the Super Rich,” Evan Osnos writes that “even financiers who supported Trump for president … have been unnerved at the ways his insurgent campaign seems to have hastened a collapse of respect for established institutions.”

Osnos recently visited survivalist condos being built in former missile silos in Kansas and interviewed Silicon Valley billionaires and centimillionaires who are hedging against future social breakdown by investing in “bug out” escape homes in remote corners of the world.

This idea of privatized survival is extremely limited. In the face of growing inequalities and ecological crisis, the wealthy will not be able to build a wall high enough or a silo deep enough.

Why? Two simple, interconnected reasons, one ecological and the other economic:

1. There is no Planet B.

2. Your wealth won’t save you.

As a planet, we are experiencing an ecological crisis that will transform our daily lives. Climate change and ocean acidification—along with breaches of other planetary boundaries—will alter our food and energy systems and transform our way of life.

Read the full article on Yes! Magazine’s website. 

Chuck Collins directs the Program on Inequality and the Common Good at the Institute for Policy Studies.


Right-Wingers Want Us to Accept Inequality and Move On


(Photo: Prazis/Shutterstock)

Cheerleaders for concentrated wealth have a new reason to cheer. They have chanced upon a fresh rationalization for inequality.

This new rationalization comes from an unlikely source, a sober and thoughtful just-published book from a distinguished historian and classicist, Stanford’s Walter Scheidel.

In The Great Leveler: Violence and the History of Inequality from the Stone Age to the Twenty-First Century, Scheidel builds upon his considerable academic expertise on the ancient world and explores how and when societies have actually become less unequal. In the process, he has brought forth a book that could hardly be more profoundly depressing.

Scheidel’s basic thesis: Down through history, only “massive and violent disruptions of the established order” have generated “big equalizing moments.”

“It is almost universally true,” he advises, “that violence has been necessary to ensure the redistribution of wealth at any point in time.”

The violence that Scheidel details has taken various forms over the millennia, from war and plagues to revolutions and utter collapses of civil authority. All this violence has exacted a heavy price on humanity, in everything from lives to liberty.

Even worse, the greater levels of equality this violence has ushered in, The Great Leveler relates, has never been sustainable. In instance after instance, inequality has always returned, often at even fiercer levels than before.

The good news? Scheidel essentially has none. On the one hand, “nobody in his or her right mind” welcomes violence. On the other, Scheidel sees no easy, peaceful, incremental route to more meaningfully equitable distributions of income and wealth.

“Business as usual may not be enough,” Scheidel cautions. “We have to think harder about how to bring change in today’s world.”

By change, Scheidel means greater equity, an outcome most people in the world today would likely consider worth pursuing. But not all people. In our contemporary unequal world, we have among us a number of folks who see nothing particularly wrong with grand concentrations of private wealth and power. These folks now seem to see Scheidel as an ideological godsend.

Scheidel hasn’t invited this bubbly appreciation from the right. The Great Leveler offers up no impassioned defense for maldistributions of income and wealth. Quite the opposite. Scheidel invites us to think deeply about inequality and come up with something “innovative and original” enough to “create lasting change.” The conservatives now celebrating Scheidel’s book don’t want us thinking at all about “lasting change.” They want us to simply accept our current maldistributions as inevitable and irreversible.

Only “bloody suffering,” as the Cato Institute’s Ryan Bourne puts it, ever produces more equality, and that equality “comes at too high a cost.” So let’s simply instead “accept the historical facts” that Scheidel gives us, he counsels, and abandon “equality as a central ambition.”

For fans of grand fortune like Bourne, the notion “that more equality generally is necessarily better” amounts to a silly “value judgment” that “should surely be put to bed by the long sweep of history.”

We need not, in other words, make any moves that challenge our top-heavy world economic order. We don’t need, Bourne believes, “much higher minimum wages” or “unionization” or “punitive income tax rates” on our wealthiest. Just keep government at bay and let the market work its magic.

And if we do, the Cato Institute analyst assures us, “our modern, dynamic world” economy will surely bring us “opportunities to continue to alleviate poverty.” A rising tide will lift all boats. So what if the income gap widens. That widening, “absent violence,” will always be with us.

George Will, America’s prime gatekeeper to conservative orthodoxy, fully shares Bourne’s gratitude for The Great Leveler’s take on inequality’s history. His write-up on the book, published earlier this month in the conservative National Review, carries a headline that neatly sums up how the right is reading Scheidel: “The most potent ‘solutions’ for inequality are unpleasant.”

The quote marks around “solutions” subtly carry their own message: We don’t need to “solve” inequality because inequality poses no problem that should give a civilized society pause.

Will goes on to not so subtly amplify that same message in the text of his contemplation over what Sheidel has wrought. Inequality surely rates as a fact, Will contends, but inequality only rates as “a problem when, and to the extent that, a critical mass of people decide that it is.”

This claim from Will will not go down well with the legions of social scientists who’ve spent recent decades researching and revealing the many social ills that inequality creates and nurtures. Wide divides between the rich and everyone else, these researchers have shown, are ripping safety nets and degrading our environment, subverting democratic norms and eroding our economy.

Maldistributions of income and wealth, epidemiologists inform us, are even limiting how long we live. And what about violence? Some 40 studies link inequality and homicides, the ultimate in violent acts. The wider a society’s inequality, the higher the murder rate.

Yes, inequality does rate as a problem, a reality that you don’t have to be a social scientist to recognize. Every great religious tradition in the world frowns on maldistributions of wealth. We put ourselves and our societies at risk, our greatest thinkers have always recognized, if we let these maldistributions fester.

But do we have no choice in the matter? Is inequality, as the most dispiriting reading of Scheidel would imply, our inevitable natural order?

In fact, we certainly do have choices. Scheidel may know the historical literature on social cataclysms. But he has less familiarity with the debates over antidotes to inequality that have coursed — and continue to course — through movements for social change.

Activists today are exploring encouraging pathways to a New Economy that sustain both our planet and greater equality. The work of veteran activist scholar Gar Alperovitz stands as just one heartening example.

Walter Scheidel asks us to “think harder about how to bring change in today’s world.” In truth, we already are.

Sam Pizzigati is an associate fellow at the Institute for Policy Studies.


Gezocht: 2 leden voor de Raad van Toezicht

Fairfood is een innovatieve non-profit campagneorganisatie die zich hard maakt voor eerlijke en transparante voedselketens. Oftewel, fair food.

Wij zijn er om de mensen te helpen die ons voedsel zaaien, oogsten en verwerken. Want bitter genoeg leiden juist díe mensen vaak een leven vol armoede en honger. Op ons bord willen we voedsel dat afkomstig is van mensen die in waardigheid leven en werken. Waar het milieu niet onder lijdt en waarbij iedereen er sociaal én economisch op vooruitgaat.

Wij zoeken twee enthousiaste leden voor onze Raad van Toezicht.

Raad van Toezicht
De RvT van Fairfood bestaat uit vijf leden die gezamenlijk een betrokken, multidisciplinair team vormen. De leden vullen elkaar aan voor wat betreft kennis, ervaring en relevante netwerken. De onbezoldigde leden bewaken de missie van Fairfood en houden toezicht op de bestuurder. De RvT komt minimaal 4 maal per jaar bijeen.

Profiel leden Raad van Toezicht
Naast affiniteit voor eerlijke voeding zoeken we één kandidaat met de kwalificatie ‘ervaring met consumentengedrag, marketing & communicatie’, en de andere kandidaat met de kwalificatie ‘senior executive in de Nederlands voedingsmiddelen- en retailsector’.

Als lid van de Raad van Toezicht:

  • heeft u een brede maatschappelijke betrokkenheid;
  • heeft u aantoonbare affiniteit met de missie van Fairfood;
  • bent u bereid om uw netwerk actief in te zetten;
  • houdt u toezicht door een kritisch, onafhankelijke en open houding, gericht op verbetering;
  • heeft u bestuurlijke en/of toezichthoudende kennis en ervaring;
  • kunt u snel overzicht en inzicht verwerven;
  • heeft u inzicht in het veld van belanghebbenden.

Voor meer informatie kunt u contact opnemen met Jolande Sap (voorzitter RvT) of Sander de Jong (managing director). Uw gemotiveerde sollicitatie met curriculum vitae ontvangen wij graag voor 31 maart aanstaande via


Killer Presidents

Killer Presidents

(Image: DonkeyHotey / Flickr)

During the presidential campaign, when he was still battling an array of Republican heavyweights for the party’s nomination, Donald Trump indulged in a bit of hubris that would have buried a more conventional candidate.

“I could stand in the middle of Fifth Avenue and shoot somebody and I wouldn’t lose voters,” Trump said at a campaign rally in Iowa in January 2016.

Trump was praising, in an off-kilter way, the steadfastness of his supporters. He was also subtly emphasizing his disdain for gun control. Perhaps most ingeniously, he was playing on the rivalry between the heartland and the Big Apple, putting some distance between himself and the cosmopolitans of his hometown.

“I’m no East Coast snob,” Trump was dog-whistling to his fans. “I’d be happy to prove it by taking out a few of those snotty New Yorkers.” No doubt some in the adoring crowd would have stood shoulder to shoulder with Trump, locked and loaded and ready to bag some Knickerbockers.

Trump likes to be the king of the hill in everything. But he’s been outdone in this particular category. Before the year was out, the leader of the Philippines, Rodrigo Duterte, admitted that he not only directed a bloody campaign against suspected drug dealers when he was mayor of Davao City, but that he’d actually killed people himself.

“In Davao I used to do it personally. Just to show to the guys [police] that if I can do it why can’t you,” Duterte told business leaders in December at the presidential palace in Manila. “And I’d go around in Davao with a motorcycle, with a big bike around, and I would just patrol the streets, looking for trouble also. I was really looking for a confrontation so I could kill.”

As president, Duterte has gone national with his violent anti-drug campaign, with more than 6,000 suspected drug dealers and users killed in his first six months in office. He hasn’t indicated, however, whether he’s still leading his forces into battle. Even after his self-incriminating remarks, Duterte’s popularity remains around 83 percent in the Philippines.

The bar has officially been raised. To prove that you’re a tough guy in the dog-eat-dog world of politics, shooting a mean round of golf is no longer sufficient. Nor is simply ordering the murder of an opponent or two. Perhaps it’s just a matter of time before Vladimir Putin confesses that he has used his black belt judo skills for more than just tossing people around the mat.

National leaders have been known in the past to notch a few kills. Andrew Jackson, one of Trump’s heroes, killed a man in a duel after himself taking a shot near the heart. Teddy Roosevelt boasted of killing at least one enemy combatant in the battle of San Juan Hill. Former Mexican President Carlos Salinas, however, gets the littlest assassin award. He was only three years old when he very well may have killed the family’s 12-year-old maid as part of a “game” with his older brother and a friend.

Until recently, killing people in battle or by accident has generally fallen off the list of qualifications for modern leadership. Today, presidents and prime ministers are still responsible for the deaths of others, but they generally delegate the actual task to third parties. Indeed, one of the definitions of the modern state is its bureaucratic method of dispatching opponents both domestic and foreign. Even the barbaric Hunger Games, after all, followed certain procedures in setting up the annual battle royal among selected youth.

Perhaps Trump and Duterte, leading the new crop of populist leaders, are reviving a tried and true method of demonstrating leadership that goes all the way back to the Stone Age. Our leaders are setting an example for the rest of society. The loosening of gun control regulations and the ever increasing proliferation of arms exports will allow all of us to be leaders in our community — the old-fashioned way.

The Kill List

The introduction of drones into modern warfare in the 1990s made state-directed assassination a great deal easier. Drones also helped to further concentrate killing power in the executive branch. In previous eras, analyst Tom Engelhardt points out,

presidents either stayed above the assassination fray or practiced a kind of plausible deniability about the acts. We are surely at a new stage in the history of the imperial presidency when a president (or his election team) assembles his aides, advisers, and associates to foster a story that’s meant to broadcast the group’s collective pride in the new position of assassin-in-chief.

Barack Obama, the constitutional scholar turned president, ushered in this new stage in history.

As Jo Becker and Scott Shane wrote back in 2012 in The New York Times, Obama decided to take on the task of determining whether to order drone strikes that might also kill civilians. The strikes largely obviated the need for the controversial extraordinary rendition program that whisked suspects off to secret sites for interrogation and torture.

There was just one problem. The president, with his “kill list,” was acting as judge and jury. However much the United States was committed to the rule of law, counterterrorism trumped all other considerations.

Liberal critics fretted. They acknowledged the uses of a drone program but worried about what would happen when a constitutional lawyer no longer presided over the kill list. No one imagined that the White House would fall into the hands of someone with the ethical profile of Donald Trump.

It’s bad enough that Trump has the nuclear football. But raging narcissists with properties all over the planet will think twice about blowing up their holdings and possibly themselves. The kill list, on the other hand, is just the kind of lethal accoutrement that goes with the Trump presidential brand. During the campaign, he talked about his faith in torture. He liked the idea of resurrecting the CIA black sites where torture took place. He recommended killing the families of terrorist suspects. Hypothetically mowing down people on Fifth Avenue was just another way of demonstrating this ruthlessness.

Trump has never had much interest in rule of law. Worse, he also possesses an almost pathological revenge streak. Little prevents him from pushing a much broader definition of terrorism. He already has plans to designate the Iranian Revolutionary Guards a terrorist organization. Then, thanks to Congress, it will be the Muslim Brotherhood. After that, a few more steps down the slippery slope, come Arnold Schwarzenegger, Meryl Streep, anyone who wears a pink hat, and all those who refuse to buy Ivanka’s merch.

Trump has excelled at character assassination. Why stop at Twitter when you have drones at your disposal?

Kill for Peace

In detouring around the rule of law, Trump seems to be quite taken by the example of Duterte. He reportedly told the Philippine leader back in December that he was addressing the country’s drug problem “the right way.”

In a two-part series in The New York Review of Books, James Fenton describes the two ways that Duterte’s regime has transformed itself into a killing machine. In the first, the “buy-and-bust,” undercover cops pretend to buy drugs from a pusher and end up killing him. One-third of the killings, about 2,000 people, have happened this way.

The other method is extra-judicial killings (EJK) — essentially, assassinations:

What we hear, and what we can extract from the president’s monotonously droning speeches, sounds like (and is meant to sound like) scraps of confidential instructions to the police: if the victim doesn’t have a gun, give him one; don’t waste the effort on torturing him—just kill him. But as soon as the president is taken up on such remarks, there is either an aide on hand to say that he was exaggerating when he said that, that his words are to be taken seriously but not literally, or the president himself is denouncing his critics in another speech, calling them any name that comes into his head. Meanwhile the message to the public at large is: whatever happens, Duterte’s hand is in it; and there is no real distinction between a buy-bust and an EJK.

This is the “right way” that Trump admires. No doubt, the U.S. president is also fond of how Duterte and his aides make outrageous statements, dial them back, and then issue fresh outrage the next day. The media is flummoxed by this audacity and manipulation. Kellyanne Conway and Sean Spicer are taking notes.

Not everyone in the Philippines is taken in by Duterte. According to former Philippine Congressman Walden Bello, Duterte’s

charisma is not the demiurgic sort like Hitler’s, nor does it derive so much from an emotional personal identification with a “nation.” Duterte’s charisma would probably be best described as carino brutal, a Filipino-Spanish term that denotes a volatile mix of will to power, a commanding personality, and gangster charm that fulfills his followers’ deep-seated yearning for a father figure who will finally end what they see as the “national chaos.”

Sound familiar?

Trump’s description of the American landscape as “carnage” in his inaugural address was the first sign. His three executive orders on “crime reduction” — and their failure to address the epidemic of police brutality — are the second sign.

How far will Trump go to emulate the Philippine leader? I don’t quite see the U.S. president riding around on a motorcycle dispensing justice Duterte-style. He likes the Mar-a-Largo lifestyle too much to get his little hands dirty. The corrupt and violent criminal justice system, unshackled from federal oversight, will do the job for him.

But there’s still EJK outside the United States.

Taking Them Out

Assassination is all the rage these days.

Kim Jong Nam, the half-brother of and potential rival to North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, died in Kuala Lumpur this week after a Vietnamese woman reportedly poisoned him. Russian oppositionist Vladimir Kara-Murza has slipped into a mysterious coma after what seems to be a second attempt by forces unknown to put him out of commission. A lawyer and adviser to Aung San Suu Kyi was shot dead in Burma at the end of January. An off-duty policeman shot and killed Russia’s ambassador to Turkey in Ankara in mid-December.

But these are still the killings of the ancient regime. They were done with conventional methods, at close range, and by specific assassins.

The future of assassination is drones, and Donald Trump has already taken up the mantle.

In the first three days of his administration, he authorized strikes in Yemen that killed five suspected al-Qaeda members. The overall death toll was 30, including 10 women and children. Among the dead was the eight-year-old daughter of an American citizen, Anwar al-Awlaki, who’d been killed by a previous drone strike under the Obama administration. Trump has now fulfilled one of his campaign promises: to kill the families of terrorism suspects.

The notion that Donald Trump will be in charge of the kill list is of course deeply troubling. Equally troubling is the possibility that authority for launching drone strikes will not be in his hands.

Writes Micah Zenko in Foreign Policy:

Though nobody can know how carefully Trump — who has promised to both “eradicate radical Islamic terrorism” and avoid overseas commitments — intends to weigh evidence for proposed strikes, you might be able to guess. And this would mean there would be less apparent accountability at lower levels in the chain of command because it’s not clear who is weighing the evidence, if the buck doesn’t stop with the president. Indeed, commanders for Yemen are reportedly preparing to ask the White House for more direct authority over lethal counterterrorism operations, in a sign that they believe they should be empowered to conduct drone strikes and raids without sign-off from Washington.

Ultimately it’s not who’s in control of the kill list that’s the problem. It’s the existence of a kill list in the first place.

Unless the United States takes the lead in developing global restrictions on drone use — and gives up its controversial kill list in the process — it’s just a matter of time before North Korea, Russia, and other countries eliminate their enemies by this most modern of means. I’m not optimistic in the short run. The same president who pooh-poohed new rules in football to reduce injuries to the players is probably not going to do anything to hamper Washington’s ability to play fast and dirty internationally.

The best we can do at this point is throw sand in the gears of the mechanisms of the state. By wrapping the administration in scandals that take down top officials, we might have a fighting chance at blunting the amount of damage our latest killer president can do.

John Feffer is the director of Foreign Policy in Focus at the Institute for Policy Studies.


This Trump Appointee Says He’s Standing Up for ‘Bullied’ CEOs


(Photo: Glynnis Jones /

Michael Piwowar has been seething for some time. Now he’s getting to take his revenge — against the new federal regulation that’s driving America’s mega-millionaire CEOs crazy.

This particular regulation spells out how corporations must go about complying with an innovative provision of the Dodd-Frank Act, the Wall Street reform legislation enacted in 2010. The provision requires corporations to annually disclose the ratio between what they pay their CEOs and what they pay their median — most typical — workers.

Piwowar has been trying to stop this disclosure from going into effect ever since he became a member, four years ago, of the five-member panel that runs the Securities and Exchange Commission, the federal watchdog over Wall Street.

In 2013, Piwowar’s initial year as an SEC commissioner, he had his first chance to fulminate against pay-ratio disclosure when a draft of the agency’s enforcement rule came up for a vote. Ratio disclosure, Piwowar charged, would “unambiguously harm investors.”

Piwowar lost that vote, by a 3-2 margin. Two years later, he had another crack at stopping corporate pay disclosure when the SEC’s draft rule came up for final adoption. This time around, Piwowar, a former Senate GOP committee staff economist, unleashed a much shriller stream of vituperation.

Pay ratio disclosure, Piwowar blasted out, rewards “Saul Alinskyan tactics by Big Labor.” Adopting a disclosure rule, Piwowar pronounced, would signal a surrender to “politically-connected special interests” and an “acquiescing to the bullying tactics of their political allies.”

“Acquiescing to bullies,” he then declaimed, “only gives them more ammunition and makes it worse.”

A more than slightly bemused Commission majority ignored all this invective and went on to approve the pending pay-ratio disclosure regulation. Under the Commission decision, corporations had more than a year to get prepared for calculating the new requited disclosures.

Last  month, on January 1, the Dodd-Frank pay ratio disclosure mandate finally went fully into effect, and corporate human resources departments are now calculating their fiscal 2017 CEO-worker pay differentials. The first corporate proxy statements carrying these pay ratio figures will start appearing early in 2018.

Or at least that’s how things stood before Donald Trump’s inauguration. Since then, things have changed. President Trump — who loudly inveighed against excessive CEO pay throughout his campaign for the White House — has appointed Piwowar, Washington’s most outspoken apologist for CEOs, the acting SEC chairman.

Earlier this week, as acting chair, Piwowar began flexing his CEO-friendly muscles. Corporations, he announced, “have begun to encounter unanticipated compliance difficulties that may hinder them in meeting the reporting deadline” of the new pay-ratio disclosure mandate.

“Relief” from the disclosure mandate, Piwowar continued, may be needed. Corporations will now have 45 days to share “any unexpected challenges” they “have experienced as they prepare for compliance.” Piwowar is also directing SEC staff “to reconsider the implementation of the rule based on any comments submitted.”

In other words, Piwowar wants to see the pay-ratio disclosure regulation relitigated — and delayed to whenever Congress can finally get around to repealing Dodd-Frank.

What’s driving Piwowar’s intense hostility toward disclosing how much more that CEOs make than their workers? His ostensible objections fill a 4,156-word, 76-footnote diatribe that Piwowar filed back in 2015. But just one of those objections may explain the real source of his continuing unease. Piwowar sees critics of corporate power using the “CEO pay ratio for substantive purposes.”

Those critics are indeed doing just that. This past December, in Portland, Oregon, city officials adopted the first-ever municipal tax on excessive corporate compensation. Companies doing business in Portland that pay their CEOs over 100 times what their median workers make will now face a special surcharge on their taxes due.

San Francisco has begun considering a similar move, as have a number of other cities across the United States. Action is also brewing at the state level. Rhode Island lawmakers will soon be debating legislation that both ups taxes on corporations with wide gaps between CEO and worker pay and gives corporations with narrow gaps preferential treatment in the bidding for government contracts.

The Donald Trump who campaigned for President left the unmistakable impression that groundbreaking moves like these might be right up his alley. On the campaign trail, candidate Trump labeled corporate executive pay an outright “disgrace.”

“You see these guys making enormous amounts of money,” Trump railed. “It’s a total and complete joke.”

Now the joke seems to be on voters who took Trump’s attacks on excessive executive pay seriously. President Trump has already issued an executive order that starts the process of undoing Dodd-Frank. And Trump has also nominated an elite Wall Street lawyer, Jay Clayton, to become the new SEC chairman. In short order, Michael Piwowar will be part of an SEC commissioner majority.

That prospect has some Wall Street observers describing Piwowar’s move to reopen the debate over pay ratio disclosure as “likely a first step to killing off the provision that was deeply unpopular with many corporations.”

But Piwowar, Clayton, and Trump will need a filibuster-proof majority in Congress to fully wipe out Dodd-Frank and pay-ratio disclosure. We still have time to deny them that majority.

Sam Pizzigati is an associate fellow at the Institute for Policy Studies.