The Racial Wealth Divide in Trump’s America


(Photo: Ellie / Flickr)

The majority of Black and Latino voters didn’t pull the lever for Donald Trump last November. He is, however, the president — and thus has the power to leave a lasting effect on the trajectory of their lives.

Trump has recently made headlines for making significant reversals in policy positions on issues ranging from immigration to the national debt ceiling. Perhaps, he could change his tune on how he addresses the growing racial wealth divide as well.

Will the already deep racial wealth divide grow wider under Trump, or can we begin to close it?

Recently released figures from the Census Bureau show that Black and Latino families saw a slight uptick in their household income last year. They still lagged far behind White families — with median households earning more than $ 10,000 less than their White counterparts. The racial income gap did get a bit smaller over the very short term.

Unfortunately, the long term trends go in the other direction.

A just released report I co-authored titled “The Road to Zero Wealth” looks at trends in household wealth, which includes the total sum of a families’ assets minus their debts. Wealth, not income, is the better measure of long-term financial stability.

The median Black family today has just $ 1,700 in wealth, with Latino families not far ahead at just $ 2,000. White families, meanwhile, own more than $ 100,000. That gap is staggering.

And it’s getting worse.

The report looks at racial wealth data over the past 30 years to project what we can expect in the future if current trends continue. By 2020, the end of Trump’s first term, median Black and Latino households stand to lose nearly 18 percent and 12 percent of the wealth they held in 2013, respectively.

Median White household wealth, on the other hand, looks set to increase 3 percent.

At that point, White households will own 85 times more wealth than black households, and 68 times more wealth than Latino households. That’s in just three years — let that sink in for a moment.

Looking a bit further into the future, Black families are projected to own no wealth at all by 2053. By that point, our country will be majority non-White, but Whites and non-Whites will be farther apart than ever.

That’s assuming nothing changes. If Trump moves forward with the policies he campaigned on, especially his tax “reform” plan, the gap surely grows.

Trump’s tax plan is heavily skewed toward providing massive tax breaks for the ultra-wealthy. Half of the proposed cuts will go to millionaires, according to the Institute on Taxation and Economic Policy. Less than 5 percent go to families with household incomes below $ 45,000.

Perhaps more insidious is Trump’s plan to eliminate the federal estate tax, also known as the inheritance tax. This levy applies exclusively to the wealthiest 0.2 percent of households and is intended to curtail the growing concentration of wealth in families like, say, the Trumps.

Fortunately, the president has other options. He could choose to expand, rather than abolish, the estate tax.

He could also address the deep disparities in homeownership — and particularly in the mortgage interest deduction in the tax code, which benefits the wealthy and those who already own a house. Thanks to generations of discrimination in housing and credit, black families trail whites in homeownership by a margin of over 30 percent.

Unfortunately, it’s unlikely Trump changes course. While the president is nothing if not mercurial, his commitment to protecting the wealth of the already wealthy has remained steadfast.

That the vast majority of the nation’s wealth is, and always has been, held in predominantly white hands at the expense of non-whites hasn’t concerned him. Perhaps, however, he’ll change his mind.


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.


This Is What Reparations Could Actually Look Like In America


(Photo: Shutterstock)

Today’s racial wealth divide is an economic archaeological marker, embedded within the multigenerational story of slavery, racial plunder, and discrimination.

It is one way the legacy of racism shows up in people’s bank accounts and, if they own a home, in home equity. It is where the past is present, where the wound at the center of US history that goes back to the destruction of indigenous communities, slavery, and Jim Crow is still open and waiting for repair. Notably, the past few decades has “supercharged” historic racial wealth inequalities.

To repair this breach, it’s becoming increasingly clear that reparations for black slavery and its legacy—including Jim Crow—must be part of the equation. Facing what activist Randall Robinson calls “the debt” to people of African descent, those of us who are low on melanin content (aka “white”) will have to address the often uncomfortable history of how lighter skin color conferred, and continues to confer, economic advantage. To do otherwise is to live a destructive lie, perpetuating a perverted myth of deservedness that holds back our entire society and each of us individually.

As Ta-Nehisi Coates wrote in his groundbreaking 2014 Atlantic article, reparations are “the price we must pay to see ourselves squarely.” “Reparations,” he continues, “beckons us to reject the intoxication of hubris and see America as it is—the work of fallible humans. An America that looks away is ignoring not just the sins of the past but the sins of the present and the certain sins of the future.”

Read the full article on Quartz’s website. 


Black-led Labor Organizers Discuss Challenges and Tactics of Black Worker Organizing in the Trump Era at State of Black Workers in America Conference


(Photo: Victoria Borneman / Institute for Policy Studies)

(Washington, DC) – Six months into the Trump administration Black labor organizers are facing new and old challenges. The Institute for Policy Studies held its 3rd State of Black Workers in America Conference at historic Howard University led by our Black Worker Initiative project to discuss big-picture national trends impacting black workers, as well as the innovative Black-led labor organizing happening in the U.S. Panelists engaged with the audience to talk about topics from the women of color-led fight for a domestic worker bill of rights, to alternative power for Black workers, to partnerships for workforce training with German corporations in the Deep South.

Three dynamic panels included:

We Dream In Black: Telling the Story of Black Women Low-Wage Domestic Organizing in the South, moderated by Alicia Garza of the National Domestic Workers Alliance. This all women of color led panel introduced the partnership between We Dream in Black and the Black Worker Initiative. It focused on telling the compelling stories of Black female domestic workers in North Carolina and Georgia who are fighting for better wages, access to benefits, and a Domestic Workers Bill of Rights at the state level. This project hopes to move both hearts and policy in the coming years.

“While Black women are working hard, democracy isn’t working for us. Black families depend on Black women, yet Black women face the highest poverty rates in the nation, second only to indigenous women,” Alicia Garza of the National Domestic Workers Alliance and Black Lives Matter said. “We do our part to make this country better—we vote at higher rates than any other racial or ethnic group. It’s time for an agenda that puts Black women at the center. When Black women succeed, all women succeed.”

What the Hell do We Have to Lose? Black Workers Reflect on the First Six Months of the Trump Administration, moderated by MSNBC’s Joy Ann-Reid. This panel featured Carmen Berkley of Planned Parenthood (formerly the Civil Rights Director for the AFL-CIO), Tanya Wallace-Gobern of the National Black Worker Center Project and the Black Worker Initiative’s own Marc Bayard.  The panel discussed big-picture national trends impacting black workers, especially in the Deep South. These former and current labor leaders and activists discussed the effects of this administration on civil rights, the shift in focus back to white male workers, alternative power for Black workers, and the power of narrative change.

“This Trump moment has shown the world that the needs of U.S. workers have not been met and many of them are suffering. But if we continue to leave Black workers out of the conversation, we will never see a revitalization of a labor movement that serves the people,” Marc Bayard, director of the Black Worker Initiative at the Institute for Policy Studies said.

Building Bridges Between German Corporations, the Civil Rights Movement, and Labor. The Black Worker Initiative is seeking to build stronger and more positive relationships between German firms working in the U.S. and civil rights, academic, labor and racial justice organizations.  Our focus states are Mississippi and Alabama.  This panel showed the success of our early efforts. This panel including powerful opening remarks from DNC Chair Tom Perez. Perez set up an important frame as to the value of the German apprenticeship model for education, jobs and dignity at work.  Perez stated, “In Germany, everyone has the same stature.  We devalue apprenticeship here. [We] need to change that perception.” representatives from the Mississippi NAACP, Foundation for the Mid South and Adah International discussed vigorously the role of German corporations in the Deep South and their relationship to the Black communities that live and work there. Conversations about future partnerships and access to workforce skills and training in German companies for Black high school and college students was a key to the discussion.

This day-long event attended by one hundred and fifty labor, civil rights, women’s and community activists as well as a number of foundations and academics.

See the full program here.



IPS to Host 3rd State of Black Workers in America Conference


Media Contacts:
Domenica Ghanem,, 202 787 5205

(Washington, DC) – The Institute for Policy Studies will host The State of Black Workers in America Conference led by our Black Worker Initiative project on June 7 from 10:00AM to 4:00PM at the Howard University School of Social Work. This day-long conference will feature three panels discussing the best and most innovative organizing led by Black workers in the U.S. because the role of Black workers is key to the revitalization of the labor movement. Opening statements will be made by Marc Bayard, Director of IPS’ Black Worker Initiative, and Clarence Lusane, Professor of International Relations at Howard University.

Panelists will be available for interviews at the conference.

Panels will include:

We Dream In Black: Telling the Story of Black Women Low-Wage Domestic Organizing in the South, moderated by Alicia Garza of the National Domestic Workers Alliance. This all women of color panel will introduce a project led by Black domestic workers in North Carolina and Georgia who are fighting for better wages, access to benefits, and a Domestic Workers Bill of Rights at the state level.

What the Hell do We Have to Lose? Black Workers Reflect on the First Six Months of the Trump Administration, moderated by MSNBC’s Joy Ann-Reid. This panel will discuss big-picture national trends impacting black workers, especially in the Deep South. Former and current labor leaders and activists will discuss the effects of this administration on civil rights, the shift in focus back to white male workers, alternative power for Black workers, and the power of narrative change. *Please note, this panel may not be video recorded or broadcast.*

Building Bridges Between German Corporations, the Civil Rights Movement, and Labor, moderated by Marc Bayard of the Black Worker Initiative. This panel, including DNC Chair Tom Perez, representatives from Adah International, Foundation for the Mid South, and the NAACP, will discuss German corporations in the Deep South and their relationship to the Black communities that live and work there. They will have a conversation about future partnerships and access to workforce skills and training in German companies for Black high school and college students.

WHO:     Marc Bayard, Black Worker Initiative, Institute for Policy Studies
Clarence Lusane, Howard University
Alicia Garza, National Domestic Workers Alliance and Black Lives Matter
Kimberly Freeman Brown, Race and Gender Equity and Inclusion Consultant
Tamika Middleton, National Domestic Workers Alliance
Premilla Nadasen, Barnard College
Joan Samuel Lewis, We Dream in Black
Joy Ann-Reid, MSNBC
Carmen Berkley, Planned Parenthood
Tanya Wallace-Gobern, National Black Worker Center Project
Tom Perez, Democratic National Committee and former U.S. Secretary of Labor
Derrick Johnson, NAACP Mississippi
Nadja Dalberg, Adah International Inc.
Ivye L. Allen, Foundation for the Mid South

WHAT:    State of Black Workers in America Conference to feature panels discussing most innovative organizing led by Black workers in the U.S. in the Trump era.

WHERE: Howard University School of Social Work
601 Howard Place NW
Washington, DC 20059

WHEN:   June 7, 2017
10:00 AM – 4:00 PM



Undocumented Filipinos Are Living a Different Nightmare in Trump’s America


(Photo: Pilipino Workers Center)

As paranoia spreads over the Trump administration’s promised immigration crackdown, there’s a video circulating around California’s immigrant communities.

In it, two people — Lolita Lledo, an immigrants rights activist, and Steve Angeles, a reporter — are making rounds in a Los Angeles neighborhood. Lledo has of late been bombarded with rumors of immigration officers poking around local businesses. To keep the hysteria at bay, the two have been investigating the claims.

Lledo’s organization is erring on the side of caution — a day later they run a “know your rights” workshop for locals. Someone posts a picture on Facebook, grabbing only the backs of participants so that it’s a sea of black hair. “Standing room and fully-packed,” the caption reads.

Lledo has a reason to be on-edge. Recently, headline-grabbing ICE raids were carried out on Asian-American communities like theirs.

Yes, Asian communities. Lledo and Angeles are Filipino-American — or Fil-Am, as many in the community shorten it.

Donald Trump distinguished himself last year by calling Mexicans rapists and vowing to build a wall along the southern border. Elected into office, he ante-ed up on the anti-Mexican demagoguery with a travel ban on Arab and African Muslim travelers. But promises to end undocumented immigration target so-called “model minorities” too.

In fact, in addition to having the fastest-growing documented immigration rate in the United States, Asian-Americans also have the fastest growing rate of undocumented immigration. A sizable number of these, like the nervous residents of Lledo’s community, are Filipino.

According to American governmental agencies, there were 2.1 million Filipino immigrants in 2015, making it the fourth largest immigrant community in the U.S. The Commission of Filipinos Overseas, an agency of the Philippine government, pegs the number even higher, at 3.5 million.

The number of undocumented Filipinos, or TNTs — for tago ng tago, literally “in perpetual hiding” — is also in contention. The Department of Homeland Security places the number at 310,000, but other estimates range as high as 800,000.

Colonial Roots

But how did this many people get here? Better yet, why are there so many Filipinos on this side of the Pacific? The answer is partly historical: The Philippines used to be a colony of the United States (though the “used to be” is also in contention).

Filipino migration to the U.S. first began after the country was passed from Spanish hands to American ones around the turn of the 20th century. Filipino workers were lured over to Hawaii and California with promises of good jobs in the agricultural industry.

The jobs weren’t that great, it turned out, but Hawaii and California were apparently worth writing home about — they’re still home to the highest number of Filipino immigrants among U.S. states. Los Angeles alone has 250,000 Filipinos.

Then the Great Depression hit and immigration stopped. Nativists complained that too many Filipinos — who were then American nationals — were taking too many not-so-great jobs. Quietly, U.S. authorities gave the Philippines commonwealth status and promised independence in 1945, and those Filipino-American nationals were reclassified as aliens.

The end of World War II saw another wave of immigration. Anywhere from 100,000 to 250,000 Filipino servicemen were promised American citizenship for fighting the Japanese. That didn’t happen, but Filipina war brides and health care workers did make it to the U.S., racking up the numbers of Fil-Ams by the thousands

The Immigration and Nationality Act of 1965, which loosened long-standing restrictions on immigration from Asia, changed things again, leading to a robust Fil-Am community that today numbers in the millions.

Between Trump and Duterte

On the other side of the Pacific, Trump’s tough talk on immigration is worrying Filipinos, many of whom rely on remittances from family members who work abroad. But one Philippine leader who doesn’t seem concerned is the country’s hardline president, Rodrigo Duterte — sometimes called “Asia’s Trump.”

Regardless — or maybe because — of their oft-noted bromance, Duterte has proved unwilling to capitalize on being one of the few international leaders friendly with Trump to help Filipinos in the United States. Instead, he’s pushing a line on immigration as hard as his one on drugs: “If you are caught and deported,” Duterte said of Filipinos overseas, “I will not lift a finger.”

His vow of non-interference drew critique from both sides of the Pacific. Aside from concern about the sizable Filipino community within the U.S., many Filipinos rely on the Fil-Ams. In 2015, remittances to the Philippines accounted for over 10 percent of the country’s GDP — and nearly half of that came from the United States. Though that number doesn’t account for money transfers through informal channels.

For now, Filipino immigrant organizations across the U.S. have been organizing. Abandoned by Manila and targeted by Washington, they’re joining forces with everyone else under attack from the Trump administration.

In a Long Beach rally directly after the Muslim ban was put in place, Nikole Kababa of the Filipino Migrants Center spoke. “Solidarity is our weapon,” she said. “A weapon against hate, a weapon against an administration that is going to unleash more attacks.”

Alyssa Aquino is a Next Leader at the Institute for Policy Studies.


Steven Bannon’s Real Vision Isn’t America First. It’s America Alone.


(Photo: Der Spiegel)

Donald Trump is holding up the severed head of the Statue of Liberty.

It’s a striking image for a magazine cover. But it’s not the front of the Nation or the ACLU newsletter. It’s this week’s issue of Der Spiegel, Germany’s version of Time Magazine. To punctuate the point, one of Spiegel’s articles declares Donald Trump “the world’s most dangerous man.”

Der Spiegel is channeling a widespread European sentiment. It took only a couple weeks for the Trump administration to make transatlantic relations so toxic that Donald Tusk, the president of the European Council, felt the need to slap an orange alert on the orange-haired president. The new administration has seemingly “put into question the last 70 years of American foreign policy,” Tusk wrote in a letter read round the world. In his urgent missive, Tusk identifies the United States as an external threat to Europe comparable to Russia or the Islamic State.

Because Brussels can no longer depend on Washington, Tusk’s letter amounts to an EU declaration of independence. What’s next? German activists dumping Snapple iced tea into the Rhone?

I can feel Tusk’s pain. The European Union faces a serious existential crisis, and Trump has made matters worse by supporting the EU’s dissolution. But this is just one of the fronts in America v. World.

The Trump administration has alienated seven Muslim-majority countries by attempting to ban their residents from entering the United States. One of those countries, Iran, is the subject of escalating rhetoric from National Security Advisor Michael Flynn — he “officially put Iran on notice” on Friday — which threatens not only the nuclear agreement but raises the potential of war.

China has been “on notice” ever since Rex Tillerson, in his confirmation hearing for secretary of state, suggested that the United States would stop Beijing’s activities in the South China Sea. North Korea has been warned not to test an ICBM. The Islamic State is presumably bracing to be bombed out of existence.

Trump himself has blasted Australia for its refugee policy, Japan for its currency manipulation, Germany for the temerity of acting like a sovereign country, and Mexico for the misfortune of bordering the United States. Some presidents pride themselves on visiting as many nations in the world as possible. Donald Trump, the Don Rickles of American presidents, prides himself on insulting as many nations as he can — late at night and with fewer than 140 characters. So sad!

There are several pariah states in the world. The head of Sudan is a mass murderer. No UN member states recognize the independence of Transnistria, a Russian puppet state that seceded from Moldova. North Korea is effectively frozen out of the international economy.

But these are small countries. What does it mean for international relations when the most powerful country in the world becomes a pariah state?

Trump’s got it wrong. It’s not America First.

It’s America Alone.

The Powerful Pariah

It’s not the first time that Americans traveling abroad have had to pretend that they’re Canadians out of fear or embarrassment.

The George W. Bush years featured torture, extraordinary rendition, and military invasions that went terribly, horribly wrong. The Reagan era brought the world close to nuclear war. Nixon’s term-and-a-half was full of dirty tricks at home and abroad. It wasn’t only Republican presidents who sullied the reputation of the United States, but these three took an almost perverse delight in thumbing their noses at international norms.

Previous U.S. administrations have taken an a la carte approach to global policy, picking and choosing what they want from the kitchens of the world. The Trump administration, on a strict diet of fast food, refuses to order anything on the menu, except perhaps a small bowl of borscht — and it’s even reserving judgment on that.

Yet it was the United States that cooked up this whole world order in the first place and seasoned it specifically for American tastes. After World War II, the global economy ran on the dollar. America had disproportionate influence over institutions such as the World Bank and International Monetary Fund. The U.S. military ensured access to the necessary raw materials to fuel the rise of a large American middle class. The U.S. government facilitated the spread of American music and movies.

But the United States couldn’t go it alone. It needed secure allies to reduce the threat to the American homeland and stabilize the global economy. A united Europe emerged as a bulwark against the Soviet Union. Alliances with Japan, South Korea, and the Philippines were supposed to prevent the spread of Communism throughout Asia. Washington also needed Europeans and Asians to become middle-class consumers of American goods and services: their prosperity was linked to our prosperity. American car manufacturers and software producers need access to a global market. American businesses rely on international talent — otherwise known as immigrants — to fuel innovation.

Being a pariah, meanwhile, is generally bad for business and the economy, as any average North Korean or Eritrean could tell you. The reaction of American businesses to the Trump administration’s executive order on travel restrictions for Muslims — with protests coming from Starbucks, Silicon Valley, and major executives — indicates just how big the cleavage within the Republican Party will grow if Trump remains on this trajectory.

Meanwhile, consumers are building their own domestic BDS (Boycott, Divest, Sanction) movement, like #grabyourwallet, to target the Trump web of oligarchs. The prospect of a trade war with China, Mexico, and other countries that provoke Trump’s ire has Wall Street in total freak-out mode.

Other countries are poised to take advantage of America’s new pariah status. Germany finds itself the default “leader of the free world.” Russia has become a more pivotal wheeler-dealer. China is fancying itself the great helmsman of the global economy. “If people want to say China has taken a position of leadership, it’s not because China suddenly thrust itself forward as a leader,” a Chinese foreign minister official told reporters. “It’s because the original front-runners suddenly fell back and pushed China to the front.”

Even the Islamic State is cheered by the loss in U.S. stature. As Samia Nakhoul writes for Reuters, “Jihadists are still celebrating Trump’s election triumph in online forums, saying it vindicates their argument that his views show the United States’ true face and that his policy will polarize communities, one of the militants’ goals.”

Immediately after September 11, Jean-Marie Colombani penned the famous essay in Le Monde in which he asserted that “we are all Americans.” It was not an entirely complimentary article, however. Further down in the essay, the French journalist observed, “America, in the solitude of its power, in its status as the sole superpower, now in the absence of a Soviet counter-model, has ceased to draw other nations to itself; or more precisely, in certain parts of the globe, it seems to draw nothing but hate.”

The Trump administration is not interested in drawing other nations to itself. It seems reconciled to inspiring hatred. The new crew is comfortable with the solitude of its power — and the zealotry of its vision.

The Zealots

Reza Aslan’s 2013 book Zealot is an attempt to extract the historical Jesus from all the layers of commentary that has blunted his message over the centuries.

Aslan argues that the real Jesus was a revolutionary who wanted to sweep away the corrupt Jewish religious authorities of the time, cleanse the land of foreign elements, and champion the interests of all Jews who’d been left behind by the economic changes of the 1st century CE. This Jesus chased the moneychangers out of the temple. This Jesus preached only to the Jews and kept his distance from the gentiles. This Jesus said, “I came not to bring peace, but to bring a sword.”

Because of the failure of various Jewish revolutionary movements of the time, the writers of the Gospels distanced themselves from the insurrectionary events that led to the Roman destruction of the Temple in Jerusalem in 70 CE. They emphasized instead a different kind of Jesus, one focused more on heavenly concerns and not the matters of the material world.

The historical Jesus was a zealot. Like his predecessor Hezekiah, Jesus believed in an uncompromising assault on the orthodoxy of the time, namely the collaboration between corrupt Jews and the Roman authorities, and a restoration of a Jewish theocracy in Palestine.

Steve Bannon is a zealot in two senses of the word. He is an extremist who doesn’t believe in ordinary political compromise. But he’s also a zealot in the more historical sense that Aslan outlines.

He wants to cleanse America of all foreign elements — not just immigrants (who stand in for the non-Jews of Biblical time), but also “globalists” (who stand in for Rome). He wants to chase the moneychangers of what he calls “crony capitalism” from the temples of American life (and don’t most of our banks and financial institutions resemble ancient temples?). He speaks to those left behind by economic change. He is opposed to Islam, secularism, and any religious sentiment that contradicts his own Salafist interpretation of Catholicism. And he comes not to bring peace — domestically or internationally — but to bring a sword, the same sword that Trump wields on the cover of Der Spiegel.

Jesus became a pariah for his efforts. He was opposed by the Jewish orthodoxy that he wanted to eliminate. He was crucified by the Roman authorities he wanted to oust from Palestine. Only much later did he become a symbol of power and authority when the Roman Empire officially adopted Christianity in the 4th century CE.

Bannon is comfortable having the United States raked over the coals by international leaders, the Trump administration “crucified” in the press, and his own name vilified by protestors in the street. To effect a thorough, bottom-to-top revolution in domestic and international affairs, the United States must risk pariah status. Such is the way new orders are born. Nor is Bannon alone in his efforts. He is joined by both religious zealots (like Mike Pence) and geopolitical zealots (like Mike Flynn).

Donald Trump, meanwhile, is not particularly religious, not particularly ideological, not particularly interested in the world beyond what his stubby fingers can grasp. He is merely a meat puppet, a random Tweet generator, a distraction on two legs, a convenient stalking horse. He’s old and greedy, interested only in the short con. He wants to be admired, not reviled as a pariah. But he’s also capable of monumental self-deception, which extends to his mistaken belief that the “real people” have all rallied behind him.

Bannon and his fellow extremists, by contrast, are in it for the long haul. As zealots, they’re willing to put up with pariah status for as long as it takes. Make no mistake: it will get ugly. The liberal internationalists that they excoriate as “globalists” are putting up a fight. So is the not-so-silent majority.

The question is: How long will the wealthy of Wall Street and the well-connected of Washington continue to follow Bannon and company down this road of reactionary revolution?

The post Steven Bannon’s Real Vision Isn’t America First. It’s America Alone. appeared first on Institute for Policy Studies.

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


? America Must Choose Diplomacy Over War


(Photo: United Nations Photo / Flickr)

The 2016 election and its terrifying aftermath have pulled millions of Americans into a maelstrom of racism, xenophobia, anti-immigrant hysteria, and Islamophobia, which simultaneously reflects and prepares the ground for an even more militarized, private-profit-driven, anti-Muslim, and anti-immigrant foreign policy. We don’t yet know whether Donald Trump’s foreign policy will reflect his earlier dalliance with isolationism or move closer to the rabid military interventionism favored by so many of his chosen generals. Even without knowing, though, we should identify what a new, non-imperial, truly internationalist foreign policy would look like—one in which international law, human rights, and global solidarity replace the “Global War on Terror.” That starts with cutting military budgets and ending the wars, occupations, and climate injustices that are generating the world’s many refugee crises.

A new US foreign policy must be broad in its vision and scope, and it must acknowledge that war cannot defeat terrorism. Despite some good intentions and powerful speeches, and despite renaming the “Global War on Terror,” President Obama was unable to break from it; in fact, he ended up significantly expanding its reach, with the use of US Special Forces and bombing campaigns increasing in Syria, Libya, Yemen, and elsewhere, along with Iraq and Afghanistan. Further escalation of that policy by a Trump administration would only result in the escalation of failure.

A progressive foreign policy means ending the economic as well as the political privileging of military profiteers. It means lifting up diplomacy over war, while rejecting isolationism and recognizing the obligations that come with being the wealthiest and most powerful nation in history.

Read the full article on The Nation.

The post ? America Must Choose Diplomacy Over War appeared first on Institute for Policy Studies.

Phyllis Bennis is the director of the New Internationalism project at the Institute for Policy Studies.


A Failed State in Latin America?


Opposition activists and Chavistas confront each other in Caracas. (Photo: Rodrigo Suarez)

Venezuela is at the mercy of its fluids.

For a country that depends on oil for 95 percent of its exports, the prolonged drop in the price of crude has been a serious financial blow.

If nothing else, though, Venezuela should be able to use its oil resources to keep the lights on and the factories going. After all, Venezuela has the largest proven oil reserves in the world. It has more

than Saudi Arabia. It has more than Africa, Eurasia, and Asia combined. Only Russia and Iran are sitting on more overall energy resources.

But most of Venezuela’s energy is slated for export or is hard to access. Not to worry: Some years ago, the country diversified its electricity supply to rely more on renewables. Hydroelectric power now supplies 60 percent of the country’s energy.

Ordinarily, diversifying away from fossil fuels is a smart move.

But not when there’s a drought, which the country experienced in 2010 and again even more devastatingly this spring. Thanks to a combination of El Nino and global warming, the dams are dry. The result: widespread power outages.

Even the best-managed government would have difficulties coping with these twin problems of oil and water. Venezuela is not blessed with such a government. Nicolas Maduro, who took over from Hugo Chavez in 2013, has not been adroit in his handling of the crisis.

To retain public support, he’s tried to keep consumer prices low and wages flowing by printing money and maintaining government subsidies. As a consequence, the country has suffered hyperinflation, the highest in the world last year. The economy shrank by nearly 6 percent in 2015 and is expected to contract another 8 percent in 2016. The country owes $ 120 billion, with a $ 7 billion debt repayment expected this year. Default is a possibility, though the government has gone to great lengths to meet its obligations.

Some Venezuelans are doing well. For instance, black marketeers are making a killing by reselling subsidized goods at higher prices. Political insiders have privileged access to hard currency, which one former government adviser estimates has cost the country $ 25 billion. Some of the corruption is even uglier. High-level officials — including the former head of the anti-narcotics agency, the former speaker of the national legislature, various military officers, and two nephews of the first lady — have been charged with drug trafficking.

Virtually everyone else in Venezuela is frantic. The lack of food in supermarkets has created long lines and the prospect of widespread food riots. The crime rate has surged. Government services, once the pride of the government of Maduro’s predecessor Hugo Chavez, have practically disappeared, with government offices open only two days a week to save electricity. A huge swath of the population is sinking into poverty as inflation and recession have eliminated the gains made during the Chavez years. The medical system, with shortages of critical drugs, verges on collapse.

As New York Times reporter Nicholas Casey observes, parts of the country now look like a war zone:

And these hospitals, they look like — they look like hell on earth, basically. You’re seeing people on gurneys and on the floor in their own blood. One of the hospitals that we went to, there had been a number of newborn infants who had died the day before when there was also a power outage.

Maduro’s Response

President Maduro has reacted to this economic decline with bluster, nationalism, and his now routine reliance on ruling by decree.

As if soldiers can defeat global warming and economic mismanagement, he recently put together the largest military exercise in his country’s history. His specific recommendations — for instance, that women should forgo blow dryers to save electricity — have attracted the ridicule of none other than late-night TV host John Oliver.

Last December, the political opposition to Maduro, a coalition of not terribly united parties, won the legislative elections. The elections, moreover, were free and fair. All of this seemed to disprove the contention of critics both inside and outside the country that Venezuela had departed from democracy.

Unfortunately, Maduro has gotten around these electoral results in a classic autocratic manner by declaring a state of emergency and then expanding and extending this period until at least the end of 2017. The Supreme Court, which Maduro allies in parliament packed with supporters just before they lost control of the legislature in December, nullified the election results in Amazonas state and prevented the opposition from acquiring a sufficient parliamentary majority with which it could, for instance, remove Supreme Court justices. The court has granted Maduro his emergency powers and prevented the opposition from having much influence at all over the country’s direction.

In early May, the opposition put together a petition demanding the removal of Maduro from power. Nearly 2 million people signed (out of a population of 30 million). Indeed, two-thirds of Venezuelans want the president to resign this year before his term is up. But even if the authorities validate the petition, organizers will then have to collect another 4 million signatures to trigger the recall referendum.

Meanwhile, street protests continue. But they’re not as big as they were a couple years ago. Many people are worried about violence — dozens died in the 2014 protests — or are preoccupied with survival issues. Plus, a lot of people have voted with their feet. In the last 15 years, a million people have left Venezuela, and of those remaining, an astounding 30 percent of the population is making preparations to leave.

Venezuela’s descent into chaos owes much to factors beyond Madura’s control, such as the price of oil and the scarcity of rain. But Venezuela, under both Chavez and Maduro, failed to break its dependency on oil for its exports earnings.

Chavismo, though it pulled many out of poverty, also constructed an economic patronage system — or, rather, replaced the old patronage system with a new one — that guaranteed political loyalty but at the expense of building durable democratic institutions or a sustainable economy. Venezuela could have broken the resource curse — the convergence between resource wealth and corruption, mismanagement, and gross economic inequity.

Instead, Chavez redistributed the windfall profits from the oil industry and did little to prepare for the future.

Chile Redux?

Maduro has pinned much of the blame for his woes on the United States.

“Washington is activating measures at the request of Venezuela’s fascist right,” he intoned recently. Washington has indeed applied sanctions against Venezuela, but they focus only on a handful of individuals. The United States also supported a coup against Hugo Chavez back in 2002, and the Obama administration would surely like to see a different team in charge in Caracas. But “Yankee imperialism” is not really a major contributing factor in Venezuela’s current crisis.

The great irony, of course, is that the Obama administration has expended considerable political capital in pursuing a rapprochement with Cuba, a country that’s had a more implacably hostile relationship with the United States for a much longer period. The U.S. Congress maintains an economic embargo against Cuba even as the two countries reestablish diplomatic relations. The United States and Venezuela enjoy very close economic ties, by contrast, but haven’t hosted each other’s ambassadors since 2010.

In March 2015, a few months after the United States and Cuba announced that they would restore diplomatic relations, Maduro reached out quietly to Washington to see whether he could benefit as well from the new good-neighbor policy. Washington responded positively, and a two-track set of negotiations began, with one track devoted to shared interests and the other to disagreements.

A détente has yet to materialize. Even though diplomatic relations between the two countries remain in limbo, business as usual has proceeded. Venezuela has major economic interests in the United States — including the Citgo refining complex in Lake Charles, Louisiana, and thousands of gas stations. Meanwhile, the United States is Venezuela’s largest trading partner, with 500 U.S. companies invested in the country.

Although Maduro suspects that Washington is plotting a coupe, the Obama administration seems more worried of late about Venezuela becoming a failed state than Maduro maintaining his hold on power. The Obama administration has been quietly supporting Spanish efforts to mediate between Maduro and the opposition-controlled parliament, and has even been trying to rope in the Vatican, a key mover behind the Cuba détente.

No doubt Washington would prefer a more pliant partner in Caracas. But with Venezuela one of the top five suppliers of oil to the United States, Washington doesn’t want the country to disappear into the black hole of chaos.

In other words, the standoff in Venezuela today is not Chile 1973 all over again. It’s not the United States that has destabilized the Maduro government. And Maduro is not a noble, idealistic leader, like Salvador Allende, who is trying to take his country in a bold new direction. If you want to see what the United States would look like after a dozen years of Trumpismo, behold Venezuela.

International Response

International pressure has been building against the Maduro administration.

Human rights organizations have slammed the government’s record. The head of the Organization of American States, Luis Almagro, has been complaining that Venezuela has violated the organization’s charter through its undemocratic practices, thus risking suspension. Almagro published a detailed report backing up his charge. Maduro responded with characteristic bluntness:

I suggest you put this democratic charter in a very thin tube and find a better use for it, Mr. Almagro. You can shove that democratic charter wherever it fits. Venezuela has self-respect and no one will apply this charter to Venezuela.

But it’s not just organizations like the OAS, which has a reputation of being a U.S. lapdog, that are criticizing the Maduro government. The Socialist International — to which Maduro’s United Socialist Party of Venezuela belongs — has slammed the Venezuelan government on several occasions, most recently around democratic irregularities, political prisoners, and the overall “deterioration of institutional life.”

So, let’s put to rest the notion that the travails of Nicolas Maduro are in any way connected to some retreat of the “pink wave” that swept away decades of authoritarian, right-wing rule in Latin America. Venezuelans are tired of corruption, economic mismanagement, and political repression. Fewer than half of those who self-identify as leftists believe that the country is heading in the right direction, according to a December Pew poll. Venezuelans of all persuasions want a change.

In a future column, I’ll take a big-picture look at the Latin American left and what’s happening in Argentina, Brazil, Chile, and elsewhere. But the turn against Maduro has little to do with any rejection of the left. Maduro is a populist with autocratic tendencies, and the opposition coalition consists of parties across the entire political spectrum, including Radical Cause, the Progressive Movement of Venezuela, Progressive Advance, and several social democratic parties.

Hugo Chavez is dead. Chavismo, which was more of a cult than a political ideology, is on its last legs. Before Venezuela succumbs as well, it’s time for a radical restart in the land of Bolivar.

The post A Failed State in Latin America? appeared first on Institute for Policy Studies.


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