Can Anti-Racist Businesses Put Their Money Where Their Mouth Is?


(Photo: Stuart Monk / Shutterstock)

Donald Trump’s failure to condemn White supremacists after the violent neo-Nazi rally in Charlottesville several weeks back had an unexpected casualty: the president’s business advisory councils.

My partner works for a Fortune 500 company whose CEO sat on one those councils. Along with many other employees, my partner had been pressuring the CEO through an internal petition for some time.

Eventually, the dam broke: CEO after CEO decided they could no longer associate themselves with the White House after the incident, forcing Trump to dissolve two high-level panels.

I’m glad my partner’s efforts, along with bigger ones like a campaign to target “Corporate Backers of Hate,” rattled these major corporations’ top decision makers.

Corporate execs know that it’s bad for business to be affiliated with racists — and good for business to look like heroes. While rejecting racism is good, it’s a low bar — especially when many still profit off it.

Jamie Dimon, CEO of JP Morgan Chase, jumped into action after Charlottesville. He not only issued a statement, but also announced that JP Morgan Chase would donate $ 500,000 to the Southern Poverty Law Center, an organization that’s fought racism since the 1970s.

It was a smart business move. The last time JP Morgan was on the wrong side of racism, it cost them $ 55 million in settlements for charging Black and brown people higher rates for their mortgages. Looking at that number, a $ 500,000 donation is a drop in the bucket.

The company can’t take back the discrimination lawsuits or its part in the housing crisis, which slashed Black wealth in this country in half. That’s a huge percentage. Black families had already been denied centuries of wealth accumulation due to slavery and racist policies like redlining, and this crisis was a double whammy.

$ 500,000 also isn’t enough to make up for the bank’s financing of mass incarceration.

JP Morgan Chase lent hundreds of millions of dollars to Geo Group and CoreCivic, two major operators of private prisons and immigrant detention centers, despite investor concerns .

All that dirty money makes Dimon’s comments in support of DACA after Trump’s decision to repeal it also ring a little hollow.

DACA, or Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, is a program created by the Obama administration that protects some young undocumented immigrants from deportation.

It’s hard to believe that Dimon truly thinks that “when people come here to learn, work hard, and give back to their communities, we should allow them to stay in the United States” when his company supports corporations that profit from warehousing immigrants in detention.

White supremacy doesn’t just look like KKK hoods and swastikas — it can also wear a business suit on Wall Street. Of the top five Wall Street firms, the highest level decision makers are 86 percent white. That’s no coincidence.

Corporations have huge power they can use to fight structural racism. But it’s got to be more than just words.

JP Morgan and Goldman Sachs could publicly commit to pull contracts that contribute to mass incarceration. IBM could refuse contracts that contribute to violent immigration enforcement activities. Wells Fargo could halt its financing of the Dakota Access Pipeline on Native lands. At a minimum, that’s what the Corporate Backers of Hate campaign recommends.

And, by looking inward at their hiring policies, promotion policies, and pay scales, these businesses can begin building towards long term equality.

Don’t get me wrong, it is a good thing that they denounced hatred. I just hope they’ll put their money with their mouth is.


The Dark Side of Hosting the Olympics

Homeless man holding sign 'Very Hungry Please'

(Photo: EyeTunes / Flickr)

This summer, Los Angeles officials reached a deal with the International Olympic Committee to host the 2028 Olympic Summer Games.

For its trouble, the city hopes to generate hundreds of millions in savings and additional revenues. However, over the past few decades, world sporting events have come with a huge price tag for their host cities’ residents — especially the poorest ones.

After the medals are awarded and the fireworks die down, these are the residents are left to deal with the results.

I can still remember watching Dominique Dawes and the U.S. women’s gymnastics team win the first U.S. women’s gold medal in their sport at the Atlanta games in 1996. However, many Atlanta residents better remember the country’s first project housing project, Techwood, and the neighboring Clark Howell complex being destroyed to make way for this gold medal occasion.

The city relocated 6,000 residents from public housing leading up to the Olympics. After the games, rapid gentrification followed, displacing another 24,000 people, the Center on Housing Rights and Evictions calculates.

The pattern replayed itself in Brazil, which hosted the 2014 World Cup. I remember sitting in my apartment cheering on Ghana and laughing while my friends reenacted the soccer team’s dance moves. What we couldn’t see from our television screens were the stark levels of inequality that blighted the host country.

Though Brazil was ranked 12th globally in social inequality, the government managed to find $ 14 billion to host the games, money that could’ve been spent to benefit poor and working Brazilians. To make matters worse, more than 250,000 people were either directly or indirectly forced to leave their homes — often violently.

Brazil didn’t learn its lesson, apparently, because more violence followed in advance of the 2016 Olympics in Rio de Janeiro. About 70,000 people were displaced by the Olympics, and almost a thousand poor people — mostly black men — were killed during “pacification” efforts to clean up the city’s image between 2015 and summer 2016.

These examples only highlight a small picture of the inequality these games bring to hosting cities. According to a 2008 report, the six Summer Olympics held between the 1988 Seoul Games and the 2008 Beijing Games forcibly evicted or otherwise displaced more than 2 million people.

Though Los Angeles is famous for its conspicuous wealth, it also has the highest rate of chronic homelessness in the United States and struggles to provide affordable housing to its residents. Even with these issues, LA officials believe they can protect themselves from the dark legacy of world sporting events.

The city will receive $ 160 million from the IOC to fund youth sports programs in the city. They also plan to use facilities already there, including the new football stadium currently being built, and to use UCLA to host the Olympic Village.

By not having to build new facilities to host the games, officials believe they will minimize displacement. Officials also say the 11-year wait will give them an opportunity to develop a failure-proof plan.

L.A.’s bid committee estimated it will cost $ 5.3 billion to stage the games. But if they’re wrong about displacement, imagine the cost to the families left without homes.


Black and Latino Families Will Be Broke in a Few Decades if We Don’t Fix the Wealth Divide

Black women equal pay

(Image: Shutterstock)

Many people see progress on racial equity in the U.S. as a steady march forward, in which people of color become more equal with their White counterparts as the years go by.

Those are people who don’t pay attention to household wealth figures.

A new report I co-authored, “The Road to Zero Wealth,” looks at the past 30 years of wealth accumulation across racial lines, as well as what the future will bring if current trends continue. Our findings were bleak.

The divide between the wealth of a typical Black family and a typical White family today is vast. A median Black family has just $ 1,700 in wealth—total assets minus total debt. Thirty years ago, that same family had $ 6,800 in today’s dollars. Latino families at the median have similarly small assets, just $ 2,000, also seeing a decline over the past three decades.

White median household wealth, meanwhile, is significantly higher: $ 116,800, up from $ 102,000 over the same period.

So Black and Latino families at the middle have seen their wealth slip while white families in the middle saw their wealth rise. What does this look like projected into the future?

By 2053, just 10 years after the country is projected to become majority non-White, Black median families will own zero wealth if current trends continue. Twenty years later, Latino median families will follow suit. White median families will continue to own six figures.

Even those Black and Latino families who’ve achieved the traditional markers of middle class life—a good-paying job and a college degree—still lag far behind their White counterparts in terms of wealth. Black and Latino families with a member holding a four-year degree own just a fifth of the wealth of equivalent White families. In fact, they own less wealth than a White family whose head has just a high school diploma.

These numbers represent a troubling trend in which assets and economic opportunities are channeled away from families of color and toward White families.

The enduring legacy of slavery and the Jim Crow era contribute to this growing divide. For instance, just 2% of the heavily subsidized mortgages made available by the Federal Housing Administration in the 30 years following the Great Depression went to non-White households. Homes are the biggest asset most middle-class families own, so this sort of federally sanctioned discrimination created a huge, inter-generational disadvantage for the Black and Latino families left out.

Modern public policy decisions rooted in expanding inequality also play a significant role. One such policy is America’s complex system of tax expenditures—essentially discounts handed out to certain groups and individuals that together total more than a half a trillion dollars in public spending each year.
One example is the mortgage interest deduction, a tax break designed to promote homeownership. Unfortunately, the deduction is only available to those who itemize their tax returns, which skews the beneficiaries heavily toward the already wealthy—who are disproportionally White.

Changing our priorities around tax incentives, as well as investments in bold new programs like Children’s Savings Accounts (CSA) and a federal jobs guarantee, could reverse the decades-long rise in the racial wealth divide. Had Congress instituted a robust universal CSA program in 1979—seeding small savings and investment accounts for all children that could mature as they grew older—the white-Latino wealth gap would have disappeared by now and the white-black gap would have dropped by 82%.

Policy changes like these would require bold leadership from across the federal government, including Congress and the White House. In today’s political atmosphere, marked most often by scandal and regressive policy decrees as well as congressional gridlock, this does not appear forthcoming.

The good news, however, is that the policies needed to begin to turn the tide on our growing divide are readily at hand. We know what the problem is and how to fix it. Building the political will, and political power, to put such policies in play is the next step.



FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE, September 27, 2017

Contact: Jessicah Pierre, jessicah@ips-dc.org617-401-1470
Chuck Collins, chuck@ips-dc.org617-308-4433
Domenica Ghanem, domenica@ips-dc.org202 787 5205

Kip Tom, the Leesburg, Indiana farmer who will stand today with President Trump calling for repeal of the federal estate tax, has cashed in over $ 3.3 million in farm subsidy checks, including $ 2.6 million between 2004 and 2014, according to the most recent data available.

Research compiled by the Institute for Policy Studies based on publicly available data reveals that Kip Tom of Tom Farms, a large corn and soybean producer, is the ninth-largest farm subsidy recipient in the state of Indiana.

“The definition of hubris is to complain about your taxes but cash millions in checks provided by other taxpayers,” said Chuck Collins, a researcher at the Institute for Policy Studies.  “I’d be embarrassed.”

Tom Farms has changed legal status over the last 20 years, but received subsidies every year. Between 2004 and 2014, Tom Farms Partners received $ 2,612,561 in subsidies, mostly commodity subsidies. Between 1996 and 2006, Tom Farms LLC cashed $ 667,732 in farm subsidy checks. In 1995, Kip Tom took in $ 42,826 in subsidies, but then refunded $ 17,494 for a net subsidy of $ 25,332. Between 1995 and 2014, this amounts to over $ 3,305,625 in government subsidies.

Republicans have often used farmers and ranchers as props to give the impression that a wide swath of hard-working Americans are threatened by what they call the “death tax.”  In reality, only families with over $ 11 million in wealth and individuals with wealth over $ 5.45 million are subject to this tax.  Nationwide, fewer than two out of a thousand estates are subject to the estate tax, which, if left intact, would raise over $ 230 billion in much-needed revenue over the next decade.

“If you want to see who would benefit from estate tax repeal, look no further than President Trump and his cabinet,” said Collins, who co-authored a 2003 book with Bill Gates Sr. in defense of the estate tax, Wealth and Our Commonwealth.  Collins is director of the Program on Inequality at the Institute for Policy Studies, a 52-year old research institute, and co-editor of the website,

Very few farms are subject to the estate tax and already have different valuations and carve out provisions. Most of the people who pay the estate tax are wealthy and based in urban and coastal areas.

Organizations that represent small farmers, like the National Farmers Union and the Family Farm Coalition, support retention of the estate tax.  They believe concentrations of wealth, farmland and farm subsidies post a threat to competitive agriculture. Over 41 percent of Indiana farmers do not receive any subsidies, according to the USDA.



How Bush’s ‘New World Order’ Became Trump’s ‘No World Order’


(Photo: UNHCR Photo Unit / Flickr

George H.W. Bush made a bold pronouncement on September 11, 1990.

Even though Iraq had recently invaded Kuwait and the collapse of the Soviet Union was still more than a year away, Bush proclaimed the imminent dawn of a “new world order” that would be “freer from the threat of terror, stronger in the pursuit of justice, and more secure in the quest for peace.”

Despite the lofty sentiments, Bush’s “new world order” has dead-ended in the “no world order” of 2017.

What went wrong? For starters, it’s worth looking back at the term’s origins.

In early September 1990, the United States was pulling together a coalition of the willing, with the tacit approval of Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev, to repel Iraqi forces from Kuwait.

Confident that he could face down Saddam Hussein, Bush anticipated not only military victory but a different kind of international community. To describe it, Bush borrowed the “new world order” concept from Gorbachev, who two years earlier had used it to support a stronger role for the United Nations and a reduced role for violence in the international arena.

Yet Bush was less interested in the United Nations and more focused on insisting that “there is no substitute for American leadership.”

Indeed, Bush devoted nearly half his 1990 speech to strengthening U.S. power by setting “America’s economic house in order” — cutting taxes, debt, energy dependency and even (prudently) Pentagon spending. In this way, Bush aimed to provide a stronger underpinning for American leadership in the emerging post-Cold War era.

Bush may have talked of “a world where the rule of law supplants the rule of the jungle,” but the thrust of U.S. policy in the wake of Bush’s speech suggested a different world order altogether.

Bush’s decision to go to war against Iraq in early 1991 demonstrated the cold geopolitical calculations behind the “new world order.” The administration, despite considerable congressional and popular opposition, decided to pursue the military option against Saddam rather than wait to see if diplomacy or economic sanctions would achieve the same result.

America’s overwhelming use of force turned the first Gulf War into a “turkey shoot” that killed more than 20,000 Iraqi soldiers and 3,000 civilians. Rather than herald a new order for the Middle East, the war aggravated the existing Arab/Israeli, Saudi/Iranian, Shia/Sunni, and nationalist/Islamist divides.

Bush’s new world order turned out to be the Cold War warmed over. Instead of just containing the Soviet Union, the United States shouldered the burdens of the sole superpower — responsible for countering threats to peace everywhere, primarily by military means.

When the Soviet Union collapsed in December 1991, Washington set about consolidating its unipolar status. The cooperative vision of Gorbachev and (to a lesser extent) Bush Sr. hardened into a post-Cold War U.S. triumphalism that would eventually expand NATO to the borders of Russia.

The prospect of a stronger United Nations became instead the a la carte multilateralism of the Bill Clinton years, when the U.S. acted with others only on a selective basis — and on Washington’s terms. U.S. meddling in the Middle East, particularly the U.S. support for (and military presence in) Saudi Arabia, helped grow radical Sunni groups like al-Qaeda, which would later attack the “new world order” on the anniversary of Bush’s speech in 2001.

A bipartisan fear of global anarchy pushed a succession of U.S. leaders to attempt to maintain American dominance. While that might have been possible for a brief moment in the early 1990s, it was inherently unsustainable. The failed efforts in Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya and elsewhere testify to the impossibility of imposing a new world order by force.

Donald Trump, despite his calls as presidential candidate to focus on rebuilding the U.S. economy, is just the latest adherent to the U.S. unipolarism that the “new world order” ultimately fostered. He sends more troops to Afghanistan, threatens North Korea with “fire and fury,” and continues the worldwide war without end against terrorism.

The United States could have helped build a truly cooperative world order in 1990. Because it didn’t, the world now faces the twin challenges to the international rule of law: the Islamic State and Donald Trump. The anarchy that many feared is now just around the corner.


It’s Not Too Late to Reverse the Road to Zero Wealth for Households of Color

What would U.S. society be like if a majority of families had no wealth – no savings, no home equity, no investments of any kind?

That is exactly where the country is headed if we continue on our current path toward economic dystopia for black and Latino families.

While we celebrate a modest reduction in poverty rates and an encouraging uptick in median income, as disclosed in this week’s Census report, the stagnation and decline of wealth remains a troubling indicator.

Between 1983 and 2013, median black household wealth decreased by 75%  to $ 1,700 and Latino household wealth fell 50% to $ 2,000. At the same time, median white household wealth rose 14% to $ 116,800.

If this trend continues, an African American born in 2013 will see her household wealth hit zero by the time she turns 40. Her Latino peers will suffer the same fate 20 years later.

This is happening as households of color make up a growing share of the population and are projected to reach majority status by 2043. If the accelerating racial wealth divide isn’t halted, a majority of U.S. households will no longer have enough wealth to stake a claim in the middle class. The consequences for the economy and society as a whole will be devastating as racial and political polarization deepens and intensifies.

A combination of bold societal and policy changes is the only way out of this crisis.

We have a choice to make. Do we want to become a country like Brazil where staggering wealth inequality is the norm? Or do we want to be more like Canada, where there is far less inequality and greater opportunities for all?

Read the full article on USA Today.


America is Ready for Universal Health Coverage


Flickr / Molly Adams

The United States today is the only industrialized nation that doesn’t guarantee health care as a basic right to all its citizens. Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., introduced legislation this week to change that.

The bill, titled “The Medicare for All Act,” would gradually expand Medicare coverage to all Americans by reducing the program’s eligibility age incrementally over four years. In essence, the health insurance currently provided to seniors over 65 would be accessible to everyone.

More concretely, it would replace private health insurance corporations, and the immense profits, power and administrative bloat that goes along with them.

As Congress remains stymied in partisan gridlock and the president teeters between scandal and incoherence, now is precisely the time to put forward a bold vision for a more civilized, caring country.

Sanders campaigned around the country during the 2016 Democratic primary to massive, adoring crowds sharing his ideas for universal health care. While he gained widespread support from coast to coast, and especially in the Midwest, his colleagues in the Senate kept a measured distance. That’s changed.

Sixteen of Sanders’ Democratic colleagues have come out to co-sponsor the legislation, including rumored presidential hopefuls Sens. Cory Booker, D-N.J., and Kamala Harris, D-Calif. The list of supporters includes moderates in swing states like Sen. Jeanne Shaheen, D-N.H., as well as the expected progressive champions like Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass.

To show just how far the idea has come in such a short amount of time, consider former Senator Max Baucus, D-Mont., an outspoken critic of single payer who was active in blocking consideration of the idea during debate over the Affordable Care Act in 2009. Sanders was quoted at the time claiming Baucus wouldn’t support single payer in “a million years.”

Yet the week before Sanders introduced his latest bill, Baucus himself told a crowd in Montana: “My personal view is we’ve got to start looking at single-payer … It’s going to happen.”

Life comes at you fast.

If Medicare for all can no longer be cast aside as a fringe idea in Washington, it’s gone downright mainstream in the rest of the country. An April 2017 poll from The Economist and YouGov found that 60 percent of the country supports “expanding Medicare to provide health insurance to every American.”

The reasoning behind this support isn’t complicated. Anyone who’s had to deal with the complexity of buying insurance and comparing co-pays, deductibles, and premiums knows the system is in rough shape despite progress made by the Affordable Care Act. And that’s aside from all the headaches and heartaches that go along with actually trying to use your insurance, only to be told the care you need isn’t covered.

No other civilized country has a system like this. It’s time for the United States to join the civilized world.

The U.S. spends nearly twice as much per capita as any other nation on health care and has the highest prescription drug prices in the world. That means that any talk about serious change to the system is going to be expensive — and measured in trillions, with a T.

Rather than directly including the pay-for in the legislation, Sanders’ team put out a six-page memo outlining various viable revenue raising proposals, ranging from modest changes to the federal income tax to bold proposals for a wealth tax on the top 0.1 percent.

As the memo lays out, the 20 wealthiest Americans now own more wealth than the bottom half of the country combined. (That stat comes from a 2015 report I co-authored.) Increasing taxes on the wealthy is a logical way both to fund expansions in health care coverage and to reduce the growing concentration of wealth and its deleterious effects on society.

A coalition of grassroots support has rallied behind the bill, buoyed by National Nurses United and a wide range of doctors and other health care providers and patient advocacy groups. The path to passing the bill will be long, likely measured in years. Sanders’ legislation, and the widespread support from inside and outside the formal halls of power, is a big step forward.


Racial Inequality Is Hollowing Out America’s Middle Class

Kenneth Worles Jr. / Institute for Policy Studies

America’s middle class is under assault.

Since 1983, national median wealth has declined by 20 percent, falling from $ 73,000 to $ 64,000 in 2013. And U.S. homeownership has been in a steady decline since 2005.

While we often hear about the struggles of the white working class, a driving force behind this trend is an accelerating decline in black and Latino household wealth.

Over those three decades, the wealth of median black and Latino households decreased by 75 percent and 50 percent, respectively, while median white household wealth actually rose a little. As of 2013, median whites had $ 116,800 in wealth — compared to just $ 2,000 for Latinos and $ 1,700 for blacks.

This wealth decline is a threat to the viability of the American middle class and the nation’s overall economic health. Families with more wealth can cover emergencies without going into debt and take advantage of economic opportunity, such as buying a home, saving for college, or starting a business.

We looked at the growing racial wealth gap in a new report for the Institute for Policy Studies and Prosperity Now.

We found that if these appalling trends continue, median black household wealth will hit zero by 2053, even while median white wealth continues to climb. Latino net worth will hit zero two decades later, according to our projections.

It’s in everyone’s interest to reverse these trends. Growing racial wealth inequality is bringing down median American middle class wealth, and with it shrinking the middle class — especially as Americans of color make up an increasing share of the U.S. population.

The causes of this racial wealth divide have little to do with individual behavior. Instead, they’re the result of a range of systemic factors and policies.

These include past discriminatory housing policies that continue to fuel an enormous racial divide in homeownership rates, as well as an “upside down” tax system that helps the wealthiest households get wealthier while providing the lowest income families with almost nothing.

The American middle class was created by government policy, investment, and the hard work of its citizenry. Today Americans are working as hard as ever, but government policy is failing to invest in a sustainable and growing middle class.

To do better, Congress must redirect subsidies to the already wealthy and invest in opportunities for poorer families to save and build wealth.

For example, people can currently write off part of their mortgage interest payments on their taxes. But this only benefits you if you already own a home — an opportunity long denied to millions of black and Latino families — and benefits you even more if you own an expensive home. It helps the already rich, at the expense of the poor.

Congress should reform that deduction and other tax expenditures to focus on those excluded from opportunity, not the already have-a-lots.

Other actions include protecting families from the wealth stripping practices common in many low-income communities, like “contract for deed” scams that can leave renters homeless even after they’ve fronted money for expensive repairs to their homes. That means strengthening institutions like the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau.

The nation has experienced 30 years of middle class decline. If we don’t want this to be a permanent trend, then government must respond with the boldness and ingenuity that expanded the middle class after World War Two — but this time with a racially inclusive frame to reflect our 21st century population.


Hurricane Donald Hits the Republican Party


Apic World /

The storm inside the Republican Party has reached Category Four.

At the end of August, as Hurricane Harvey tore through Texas and Hurricane Irma was poised to devastate Florida, the hard right was experiencing its own high winds and pelting rain. On the TV show Fox and Friends, conservative commentator Laura Ingraham took aim at the Trump administration for being ill prepared to handle the incoming storms:

We can all look at these horrific pictures, and we can conclude that a federal government does need staff. We see it acutely in need of staff in a situation like this. This isn’t the only crisis we’re facing. This is massive, humanitarian. We’re also facing a huge crisis with North Korea. We’re facing a crisis of confidence across the country where people wonder even with President Trump in, he said he was going to drain the swamp, can we have a government that works for the people and not just have a people enslaved to the government.

The president, a big fan of Fox and Friends, immediately responded in his inimitable style through his medium of choice, Twitter: “We are not looking to fill all of those positions. Don’t need many of them — reduce size of government.”

Ingraham, not usually an advocate of the sensible, was pointing out an inescapable fact of modern politics. If you want to change the direction of a country, you have to have people to do it. She called Trump’s sentiment “laudable,” but wanted to know “why our USTR” — the U.S. Trade Representative, that is — “doesn’t have a single Deputy in place during NAFTA talks.”

Good question, Laura! But it’s a little late in the game to realize that, with football season already underway, the Trump team showed up on the field with little more than an erratic quarterback, several tough-looking linebackers, and a couple of utility players trying to fake it at unfamiliar positions. There’s a vocal cheerleading squad on the sidelines and a small claque of fervent fans, but nothing can substitute for a roster of players who actually know how to run plays. It’s no surprise that the Trump team is facing a shutout at the end of the first quarter.

Of course it’s not just Trump. Ingraham should also direct her attention to all the “small government” conservatives who are busy in Congress — and have been for years — subjecting the institutions they serve to a death by a thousand cuts.

For instance, in the budget bill that the Republican-controlled Congress proposed before Hurricane Harvey hit, the agency tasked with dealing with emergencies like the twin hurricanes faced nearly a $ 1 billion in cuts, with the funds to be reallocated to building Trump’s promised wall with Mexico. Although FEMA is likely to see at least some of that money restored, other agencies won’t be so lucky. Trump wanted to cut the Environmental Protection Agency budget by $ 2.6 billion, while Congress is proposing somewhat less aggressive surgery. In all, Trump wanted to cut $ 54 billion from domestic programs, a shock-and-awe opening bid that makes the congressional counter-offer of $ 5 billion in cuts more politically feasible.

Meanwhile, presented with a golden opportunity to legislate a massive change in policy, the Republicans in Congress fumbled: no new health care bill, no new tax reform, no new infrastructure legislation. Given this poor record, President Trump had to turn to the Democratic Party to raise the debt limit temporarily and push through funding for hurricane relief. This is no dawn of a new age of bipartisanship. Trump wanted to send a message to the Republicans that they can’t take him for granted. He’s also is setting up Republican legislators he didn’t like in the first place to take the fall for everything that has gone wrong in the first year of his term.

Steve Bannon, now restored to his perch at Breitbart, has articulated this strategy in starker terms. Trump’s former senior advisor is working with mega-donor Robert Mercer to develop a slate of Trump-style challengers to unseat Republican incumbents in the 2018 primaries. That includes Senators Jeff Flake of Arizona and Dean Heller of Nevada, both of whom had the temerity to challenge the more hare-brained of Trump’s policies.

The superstorm that Trump and Bannon are about to unleash on the Republican Party — on the heels of the electoral hurricane that brought them both to Washington in 2016 — has the potential to permanently remake American politics.

In 1917, Russia experienced two revolutions. The first one, in February, was more or less democratic. The second one came eight months later and installed the Bolsheviks. Bannon thinks of himself as a Leninist dedicated to destroying the establishment. Now he’s preparing for this second revolution.

Other countries are taking note.

Smaller Government, Smaller Empire?

In his incisive new book, In the Shadows of the American Century, historian Alfred McCoy assesses the rise and decline of the U.S. empire. In an especially provocative part of the book, he investigates the methods by which the Obama administration attempted to check China’s influence and how the Trump administration has unraveled that particular project.

While Beijing was maneuvering to transform parts of Africa, Asia, and Europe into a unified “world island” with China at its economic epicenter, Obama countered with a bold geopolitical vision meant to trisect that vast landmass by redirecting its trade toward the United States.

Obama translated that vision into the Trans Pacific Partnership (TPP), a free agreement for most of Asia minus China, and the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) designed to further strengthen the U.S. trade alliance with Europe. Added to that was Obama’s effort to gradually reorient the Pentagon’s hitherto obsessive focus on the Middle East and Afghanistan over to the Pacific Rim.

These best laid plans went awry during the extreme political weather events of 2016. Donald Trump cancelled the TPP in his first week in office and froze negotiations for the TTIP. He has also called into question the free-trade agreement with South Korea.

Needless to say, China is thrilled at this opportunity to cement its economic position in Asia. Since China is Mexico’s third largest trade partner (though at a rather low 1.4 percent) and Canada’s second largest trade partner (at a more substantial 4.1 percent), Beijing is no doubt eyeing Trump’s short-handed effort to renegotiate NAFTA as a potential chance to get more of an economic foothold in North America as well.

On military issues, it’s more of a mixed bag. Bannon wanted Trump to focus more on China — and forget about North Korea. He’s gone, and the “globalists” who remain, like chief economic advisor Gary Cohn, are not keen on antagonizing Beijing. Still, the “generals” want to preserve at least part of the Pacific Pivot, if only to demonstrate resolve in the face of North Korea’s nuclear ambitions.

China watches all this with trepidation and amusement. It can’t quite believe the auto-destruction of the U.S. state. To put it mildly, China isn’t interested in small government. Beijing believes in the power of markets and capitalism, but it also places a lot of credence in state-led economic development. Moreover, it takes climate change seriously and has invested a huge amount of capital into sustainable energy and infrastructure.

To return to the football metaphor, the Trump team is now realizing that it has to play away games against teams from other countries. It will soon discover that the Chinese have mastered the tactics of geopolitical football. Beijing fields a full squad of competent, if not exactly flashy, players, and boasts a strong bench as well.

“Small government” might have a certain appeal in certain quarters of the United States. But slashing the State Department budget and failing to replace personnel that have left puts the United States at a tremendous disadvantage geopolitically. China, in other words, is ready to pounce on all the errors made by the Trump team because of its failures to prepare for the game.

For all those who exult at the prospect of an imminent collapse of the American imperium, however, it’s premature to pop the champagne.

Military First Foreign Policy

When Donald Trump tweeted that the United States would respond to North Korea’s missile launches with “fire and fury,” he sounded as if he’d hired Pyongyang rhetoricians to staff his Twitter feed. But the resemblance between Trump policy and North Korea doesn’t end there.

Like North Korea, the United States is willing to prioritize military spending even as natural disasters eat away at the edges of domestic infrastructure. In fact, the Trump administration has embraced something very similar to North Korea’s “military first” policy. Pyongyang’s implementation of this songun ideology in the 1990s not only directed more state resources to the military but also accorded more power to the generals to determine state policy.

In his own version of songun, Trump has brought the generals into high-ranking positions in the administration — John Kelly as chief of staff, Jim Mattis as head of the Pentagon, H.R. McMaster as national security advisor.

And the president has offered a major budget increase for the Pentagon that, including a significant war budget (known as the overseas contingency operations account) totals about $ 640 billion. Throw in the other items in the budget that are actually defense-related, such as nuclear weapons, homeland security, military aid, and intelligence, and the overall national security budget nears $ 1 trillion. Well, let’s just make it a cool trillion by throwing in the (as-yet-determined) cost of that wall with Mexico.

But the real bankrupting of the state will come with Trump’s tax reform, which will add $ 3-7 trillion to the national debt over the next decade.

That’s the likely end game for the Trump team: to destroy politics as we know it, to destroy democracy as we know it, to bankrupt the state as we know it, but to hold on to a massive military and a large nuclear arsenal.

When Hurricane Donald gets through with the United States, we’ll be left with a Dear Leader, a bunch of nukes, and a garrison state, with no one but China to keep us afloat. Welcome to Pyongyang on the Potomac.


The War on Terror Has Targeted Muslims Almost Exclusively


Photo: Fibonacci Blue / Flickr

Every year on September 11, the United States mourns the innocent lives that were lost in the terrorist attacks of 2001.

Each year I remember these victims, too. But I also mourn the often forgotten victims of the never-ending wars and draconian counter-terrorism policies of the post 9-11 world: the Muslim community.

In a speech to Congress shortly after the attacks, then-President Bush addressed a portion to Muslims. “The enemy of America is not our many Muslim friends; it is not our many Arab friends,” he said. “Our enemy is a radical network of terrorists, and every government that supports them.” Yet despite Bush’s attempt to distinguish between the “good” and “bad” Muslims, the war on terror has targeted the Muslim community at large almost exclusively.

Abroad, several Muslim nations have been devastated by U.S. invasions and military operations. As of 2015, Physicians for Social Responsibility estimated that 1.3 million Iraqis, Afghans, and Pakistanis had died in the course of the war on terror — a figure the group called “conservative,” noting that it doesn’t include figures from other war zones like Yemen and Somalia. Civilian casualties run high in all of these places, and alleged combatants have died by the hundreds in U.S. military custody.

Domestically, law enforcement has systematically singled out Muslims for special abuse.

Muslim congregations and student groups have suffered intrusive surveillance. And federal agencies have systematically entrapped alleged Muslim “terrorists,” with one 2014 Human Rights Watch report finding that informants had played an active role in hatching at least 30 percent of the plots they prosecuted suspects for.

Meanwhile, so-called communication management units — where federal prison inmates are barred from virtually all contact with the outside world and other inmates — were built and used to warehouse Muslim prisoners. At one point, over 60 percent of inmates housed in them were Muslim, despite Muslims making up just 6 percent of the prison system.

In the even more extreme Guantanamo Bay prison, that number rises to 100 percent.

But it doesn’t end there, because the laws and policies of the war on terror have created a culture of fear — one that teaches American society to fear Muslims, and one that teaches Muslims to fear the U.S. government. While it’s gotten worse under Trump, it’s not something that started under him. The Bush administration built the violent infrastructure of the war on terror, Obama expanded it, and Trump is simply building on it still.

Earlier this year, President Trump signed two executive orders, commonly referred to as the Muslim Ban and Muslim Ban 2.0, which halted the issuing of visas to people from seven (and later six) majority-Muslim countries.

While many were surprised by this overt act of racism and xenophobia, the war on terror has taught Muslims like me that this is nothing new. The orders came amid a surge of hate crimes against Muslims, which recently reached their highest levels since 9/11 itself. Furthermore, the number of hate crimes this year has far surpassed that of 2016 — by 91 percent, according to the Council on American Islamic Relations.

“While the bias that motivates a hate crime may be unusual in its ferocity,” a Human Rights Watch report explained way back in 2002, “it is rooted in a wider public climate of discrimination, fear, and intolerance against targeted communities, which may also be echoed in or enhanced by public policy.”

As a Muslim American who has lived in the United States for most of my life, September 11 taught me a few things. It taught me that collective responsibility is at the heart of the laws and policies that have unfolded in the war on terror — that we’ll be targets till we prove we’re “good” Muslims who are uncritical of foreign policy and who believe in the American dream.

It taught me that religious freedom is a value that the United States cherishes, until of course Muslims try to claim it. Then it becomes a security concern.

It taught me that this is actually what many groups have experienced in our country. Different groups are targeted at different times under different umbrellas for our “national security,” which is nothing more than legitimized and institutionalized racism and xenophobia.

This year will mark 16 years of the war on terror — 16 years of military and militaristic means to allegedly abate the terrorist threat, but which have in fact terrorized my own community.

This year, as part of the DC Justice for Muslims Coalition, I’m leading a campaign called #MySept11MuslimStory to provide a space for Muslims to share their stories on the consequences they’ve experienced post-9/11 — not just from the U.S. government, but from society at large. This is my way of empowering the Muslim community to resist the oppression we’ve experienced on the basis of collective responsibility.

The war on terror was supposed to be about making our country safer. But as a Muslim American, I don’t feel any safer. Instead, I suspect those feelings of safety were never meant to be extended to me, or my community. As we prepare for what’s ahead, empowering ourselves couldn’t be more important.