Luxury Jets Are Getting Cheaper. That Means More Air Pollution and Traffic Jams For the Rest of Us.

(Flickr/ Richard Moss)

What a great time to be alive — if you’re sitting on a couple hundred million and have a hankering for your own private jet. Buying a pair of luxury wings has never been more of a bargain. Prices for new and “pre-owned” jets have simply gone “insane,” as aviation analyst Barry Justice puts it.

Gulfstream, for instance, has slashed the $ 43-million sticker price on the company’s G450 model by 35 percent. Bombardier has discounted the $ 26-million Challenger 350 by $ 7 million.

Prices for used jets, meanwhile, have plummeted 16 percent over the past year.

For deep pockets worldwide, says analyst Justice, the bargains have become too good to pass up.

So what should the rest of us think about all this? Should we be paying attention? Should we be at all concerned about how accessible — for the super rich — luxury private jets are becoming?

Actually, we probably ought to be much more than concerned. We ought to be horrified — on two levels.

The first: Luxury private jets may well be the most environmentally destructive means of transportation in the world today.

Aviation overall is degrading the atmosphere at a fearsome rate. If we counted the aviation industry as a nation, the industry would rate as one of our globe’s 10 biggest polluters. Within this polluting industry, private jets — pound for pound — do by far the most polluting. A mere hour’s flight on a private jet, notes science writer Fred Pearce, can “emit more carbon dioxide than most Africans do in a whole year.”

All this has been clear for some time now. Nearly a decade ago, one look at the private jet phenomenon — a report from the Institute for Policy Studies and Essential Action — concluded that private jets rank as one of the world’s “most powerful symbols of extreme inequality.”

For the general public, the report pointed out, flying has become “costly, uncomfortable, and degrading.” For the rich, private jets provide an oasis of luxury — at the expense of the environment and the rest of the flying public.

That oasis keeps expanding. The United States had about 1,000 private jets in service in 1970. That number passed 10,000 in 2006, right before the Great Recession, and is now hovering near 13,000. How ingrained into the daily life of America’s rich — and those who do their bidding — have private jets become? Deep pockets today simply can’t imagine getting in anything but a private aircraft, as we’ve seen in the growing private-jet travel scandal that’s already ensnared three top officials in the Donald Trump administration.

But we have another, perhaps deeper reason to feel horrified by private jets. These luxury aircraft remind us how high a price we pay, as a society, for tolerating grand concentrations of private wealth.

Consider, for instance, the reality of transportation in the contemporary United States. We have a terrible mess on our hands. Overcrowded roads and long commutes. Crumbling bridges. Unsafe subway systems.

Rich people don’t have to grapple with these problems. They can fly over them — in plush Gulfstreams. Soaring in the skies, these affluents feel no particular pressure to contribute to systemic solutions. Indeed, the private jets they’ve chosen as their personal “solutions” make our overall transportation problems worse.

These private jets divert resources and talent that could be delivering more sustainable approaches to moving the general public to the production and marketing of ever more luxurious transports designed exclusively for deep pockets.

Can we ground these jets? Sure. We just have to beat inequality first.

The post Luxury Jets Are Getting Cheaper. That Means More Air Pollution and Traffic Jams For the Rest of Us. appeared first on Institute for Policy Studies.

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The NFL Should Do More Than Just Take A Knee

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Colin Kaepernick (Photo: Kaepernick7.com)

When Colin Kaepernick began to protest during the national anthem at NFL games last year, he made his intent very clear. “I am not going to stand up to show pride in a flag for a country that oppresses black people and people of color,” Kaepernick told NFL Media.

“To me, this is bigger than football,” he explained, “and it would be selfish on my part to look the other way. There are bodies in the street and people getting paid leave and getting away with murder.”

Kaepernick made the brave decision to do this mostly alone — and of course faced the backlash and took the heat on his own. That was until President Trump decided to attack black sports players who raised awareness about racial injustice.

At a campaign rally in Alabama, Trump called out NFL players that chose to take a knee or sit during the anthem. “Wouldn’t you love to see one of these NFL owners, when somebody disrespects our flag, say, ‘Get that son of a b*tch off the field right now’?” Trump asked.

The following Sunday, a far greater number of NFL players stood up for those who protest inequity during the national anthem — and were joined, surprisingly, by many of the team owners Trump called out to.

While this was a good show of solidarity, it led some to wonder whether the NFL actually cares about black lives, or whether team owners were just looking to distance themselves from Trump’s problematic and divisive comments.

African-American males are only 6 percent of the United States population, but comprise nearly 70 percent of NFL players. It’s no wonder that issues around race are making their way into the NFL spotlight.

Black issues have never been a concern for NFL officials when it came to causes worthy of their monetary support. Instead, many NFL officials have donated millions to causes that were openly hostile to the Black Lives Matter movement — such as the Trump campaign.

CNN Money reports that “at least $ 7.75 million of the $ 106 million raised for Trump’s inaugural committee came from NFL owners and the league.” Several owners, many of whom supported Trump — and seven of whom had donated at least $ 1 million to him — released statements denouncing Trump’s comments.

Yet none have used their economic power to actually address the problem that brought the protest on in the first place.

Now would be a fine time to take the next step. While there are a number of ways the league can contribute to this movement, there’s one obvious way: supporting the Colin Kaepernick Foundation.

After Kaepernick began to raise awareness on the field, he put his money where his mouth is and created a foundation aimed at fighting oppression of all kinds globally, through education and social activism. Through this foundation, he made a pledge to “donate one million dollars plus all the proceeds of my jersey sales from the 2016 season to organizations working in oppressed communities.”

Imagine what could really transpire if NFL officials decided to make this same commitment.

We need to hold the NFL accountable, just as we do for other powerful American organizations. Taking a knee, banding arms, and releasing statements of support is easy compared to what the league can actually do to help fight racial injustice.

It’s time for the NFL to stand up for black lives and the rights of all Americans.

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It’s a Myth That Corporate Tax Cuts Mean More Jobs

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Photo: Shutterstock

“The arithmetic for us is simple,” AT&T’s chief executive, Randall Stephenson, said on CNBC in May. If Congress were to cut the 35 percent tax on corporate profits to 20 percent, he declared, “I know exactly what AT&T would do — we’d invest more” in the United States.

Every $ 1 billion in tax savings would create 7,000 well-paying jobs, Mr. Stephenson went on to say. The correlation between lower corporate taxes and more jobs, he assured viewers, runs “very, very tight.”

As Congress prepares to take up tax legislation this fall, including an effort to reduce the corporate tax rate, this bold jobs claim merits examination. Notably, it comes from the chief executive of a company that’s already paying comparatively little in federal taxes.

According to the Institute on Taxation and Economic Policy, AT&T enjoyed an effective tax rate of just 8 percent between 2008 and 2015, despite recording a profit in the United States each year, by exploiting tax breaks and loopholes. (The company argues that it pays significant taxes, at a rate close to 34 percent in recent years, but that includes deferred taxes and state and local levies.)

Read the full article on the New York Times’ website.

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White Supremacy Carries More Than a Tiki Torch

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(Photo: John Gomez / Shutterstock)

Our president has no trouble naming his enemies — CNN, Rosie O’Donnell, Nordstrom, immigrants, Muslims, the all-women version of Ghostbusters, etc. etc.

But when it comes to violent white supremacists, his passive streak is impossible to miss. When neo-Nazis and Klansmen incited a riot in Charlottesville, Trump famously blamed “many sides.”

Even after a belated statement finally condemning the racist perpetrators, Trump immediately backtracked. The very next day, he blamed the fictitious “alt-left” for the violence and insisted there were “many fine people” among the torch-bearing Confederates.

This was far too much even for many Republicans.

Senator Jeff Flake accused the president of “making excuses” for “acts of domestic terrorism.” John McCain insisted “there’s no moral equivalency between racists” and their opponents. Marco Rubio worried the president was resurrecting an “old evil,” while Texas Rep. Will Hurd called on Trump to apologize.

These Republicans (and many others) deserve credit for speaking out. But condemning Nazis is the lowest bar in the broader fight against white supremacy.

The fact is, the policy machinery of that supremacy — that is, the laws that systematically ensure negative outcomes for people of color — hums hot as ever. No hoods or flags required.

I wonder, for instance, whether these Republicans will also condemn their former Senate colleague Jeff Sessions. As Trump’s attorney general, Sessions is preparing an assault on affirmative action practices at universities as we speak.

Before that, Sessions ordered federal prosecutors to seek stiff mandatory minimum sentences for nonviolent drug offenders, which is a major driver of the mass incarceration crisis that disproportionately locks up nonwhite Americans (“the new Jim Crow,” law professor Michelle Alexander calls it).

Sessions also looks likely to tear up federal reform plans for police departments with documented histories of brutality and racism.

What does his party have to say about that?

I wonder, too, whether they’ll call out Trump’s bogus panel on “voter fraud” led by Kris Kobach. Every study on the subject shows that “voter ID” laws and other restrictions do almost nothing to reduce in-person voter fraud. Makes sense: In-person fraud is virtually non-existent.

But these laws do have a proven effect in keeping African-Americans, Latinos, and poor people away from the polls. That’s exactly why they’re still cropping up in GOP-controlled states all over the country.

And what will these Republicans say about the states — all 27 of them — who’ve passed laws preventing cities from raising their minimum wages? That directly lowers wages in jobs dominated by women and people of color, who lag far behind white men in both income and wealth.

Finally, will they speak out against the several states now considering laws that would let drivers run over protesters who block roadways?

Those roadway-blocking tactics were popularized by Black Lives Matter activists and supporters of indigenous pipeline resisters, so it’s little wonder who these lawmakers imagine being run over. Especially after a neo-Nazi rammed his car into the anti-racists gathered in Charlottesville.

I’m glad the Republicans now speaking out say they loathe white supremacy. Good.

But white supremacy is more than racist name-calling or flag-waving. Most days, it’s a mundane system that pits the law against our non-white neighbors — and laws don’t need anyone to “feel” racist for them to work. They can look perfectly colorblind on paper, but they’re not.

Republicans — and all of us — need to be every bit as ready to name the machinery of white supremacy as we are to condemn its nastiest supporters. Otherwise we’re just making excuses, too.

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On Fighting Inequality, Which Nations Do More than Pay Lip Service?

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Student Debt Means Fewer Public Servants — and More Bankers

college graduates looking onto horizon

(Image: Shutterstock)

Cum laude, my diploma reads — “with honor.” But cum debitum, “with debt,” is a bit more accurate.

Collectively, America’s student borrowers owe $ 1.7 trillion. On average, each graduating senior this year is beginning their life around $ 37,000 in the hole.

That looks like a lot, but when you’re living with student debt, you look at that number and don’t even flinch. The debt is so normal it’s like an inside joke for pretty much everyone in my generation. Except we’re the punch line.

I graduated class of 2015 from a private, liberal arts college — a “most selective” one, U.S. News and World Report assures me. It was also an expensive degree, Sallie Mae reminds me. Monthly.

Yes, I chose to go to a private, expensive college. There was a calculus there, and one part of it was “I liked the feeling of it.”

I know, this type of sentimental idealism is a privilege. It’s no surprise I came out with the equally sentimental notion that I wanted to do non-profit work — which makes it that much harder to pay those loan bills.

It’s baffling to my Filipino parents. They didn’t cross the ocean and consign themselves to discrimination and demeaning jobs because they liked the “feel of it” — or even on the promise that their lives would be better. They did it on the promise that my life would be better. And that I wouldn’t owe anyone anything.

They could live underwater, they decided — but they at least expected their children to take a breath of fresh air. Well, sometimes it feels like the air is polluted. And the water is teeming with loan sharks.

So much so that some companies — among them many banks, financial institutions, and other large for-profit businesses — have begun including student loan repayment assistance in their salary packages.

I have to admit it’s tempting, especially since the Trump administration wants to end a federal program that would forgive the student loans of people who commit to public service work.

What’s the alternative, after all?

Having a non-profit career in something you care about can require years of barely remunerated labor: an unpaid internship, volunteer work, a minimum-wage second job, or a salary that barely meets the threshold for a living wage.

Prioritizing a career in something you care about, in addition to paying rent and groceries, requires consigning yourself to a debt you’ll live with until you have children. That is, if you have children — since you don’t want to deal with their student debt either.

It’s not surprising to me that some of my classmates decide to return to school — maybe if they add more letters to their degree they’ll magically land a job they’re passionate about with a salary that can pay the bills.

It’s also not surprising that some of my peers decide to join the other side, cashing in on connections and scooping up those high-paying corporate jobs. But what happens when you have a generation of people trained to enter the public service entering Wall Street instead?

What a loss.

This is just one facet of the student debt crisis — others include putting off starting a family or buying a home. Too many of us are saddled with debt, and too many of us are structuring our lives around this ledger.

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CEOs Now Make 300 Times More Than Their Workers. This City Is Putting a Stop to That.

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(Photo: Flickr/ Democracy Chronicles)

With national policy likely to compound the income and wealth gap in the coming years, states and localities are fighting back.

Across the country, local jurisdictions aren’t waiting for federal action or corporate governance reforms to close the wage gap. In December, for example, the city of Portland, Oregon, passed an ordinance to raise the business tax on companies with CEOs who earn more than 100 times the median pay of their workers. Portland officials said the ordinance is the first of its kind in the country. And now, more cities and states are poised to follow suit.

“The huge divide in income and wealth has real-world implications,” Steve Novick wrote last October in Inequality.org. Novick sponsored the ordinance when he was on the Portland City Council. “Too many Americans cannot get a leg up,” he wrote. “Income inequality undermines the American dream.”

Portland city government projects the tax will raise $ 2.5 million to $ 3.5 million a year, which city officials have said will likely help pay for the city’s homeless programs.

Inspired by the living wage movement, Portland’s ordinance comes on the heels of decades of grassroots activism around the issue of wage inequality.

Starting in the 1990s, the failure of Congress to adequately raise the federal minimum wage gave rise to a prairie-fire movement of local activists pressing for local and state living wage ordinances. Living wage ordinances typically cover a segment of workers, such as employees of government contractors, while minimum wage laws cover all workers. By 2010, over 120 jurisdictions had passed local living wage laws, and at present, 41 jurisdictions have passed minimum wage laws.

“I expect this pay gap reform movement to spread like wildfire, just as the living wage movement did,” said Sarah Anderson from the Institute for Policy Studies. “I’ve gotten inquiries from over two dozen states and cities about how to establish a pay gap ordinance.”

Anderson lobbied the Portland City Council in support of the policy and testified at a public hearing. She has since compiled resources for communities interested in instituting a CEO-worker pay gap penalty.

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

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Under Trump, the U.S. May Now Be Killing More Civilians Than Russia

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(Photo: Wikimedia Commons)

In a desolated patch of Mosul, Iraq, people are still digging through the rubble. Rescuers wear masks to cover the stench, while anxious family members grow desperate about missing loved ones.

The full story of what happened in the al-Jidideh neighborhood isn’t yet clear, but the toll is unmistakable. A New York Times journalist reported stumbling across charred human limbs, still covered in clothing, while a man stood nearby holding a sign with 27 names — extended family members either missing or dead.

All told, 200 or more civilians may be dead there following a U.S. airstrike on the densely populated neighborhood. The military has acknowledged the strike, but says it’s still investigating the deaths. If the allegations are true, this was by far our deadliest attack on innocents in decades.

The carnage comes amid a push by the U.S. and its Iraqi allies to reclaim Mosul, Iraq’s second most populous city, from the Islamic State (or ISIS).

That’s making life terrifying for the city’s residents, who’ve endured years of depredations from ISIS only to fall under U.S. bombs — and to face possible human rights abuses from Iraqi soldiers they don’t trust. “Now it feels like the coalition is killing more people than ISIS,” one resident told the UK’s Telegraph newspaper.

Unfortunately, that may not be so far from the truth. AirWars, which tracks civilian casualties in Iraq and Syria, counted over 1,300 reports of civilian deaths from coalition airstrikes in March alone. That’s about triple the count from February.

In fact, AirWars estimates, more U.S. coalition strikes are now causing civilian casualties than strikes by Russia, which was loudly (and appropriately) accused of war crimes for its bombing of Aleppo, Syria last year.

Is this the simple result of the fight heating up in Mosul? Not quite.

In the same month, at least 30 civilians were reported killed by a U.S. airstrike outside Raqqa, Syria — where the real battle with ISIS hasn’t even begun yet — and up to 50 more may have died when the U.S. bombed a mosque in Aleppo.

Instead, some observers suspect the Trump administration is relaxing Obama-era rules designed to limit civilian casualties in war zones. They deny this, but the Times reports that field commanders appear to be exercising more latitude to launch strikes in civilian-heavy areas than before.

During the campaign, Trump himself famously promised to “bomb the s—” out of ISIS. That sounds extreme, and it is.

But it’s only a few steps beyond the Obama administration’s approach of gradually expanding our air wars outside the public eye. Trump’s just taking it to another level by putting virtually all key foreign policy decisions in military hands, while gutting resources for diplomacy and humanitarian aid.

The human costs of this will be enormous. The political costs will be, too.

The U.S. has been “bombing the s—” out of Iraq for decades now, which has consistently created more terrorists than it’s killed. Extremists are flourishing in Iraq. The same can’t be said for the civilians now burying their dead in Mosul.

Of course, ISIS is guilty of its own innumerable atrocities. But the war-torn sectarian politics that gave rise to the group are a direct result of this military-first foreign policy. There’s simply no reason to believe that reducing Iraq’s cities to rubble will give way to less extremism in their ashes.

Iraqis will still have to wrest their country back from ISIS. But if it’s ever going to get back on its feet, what the country truly needs is a political solution. That’s going to require a surge of aid, diplomacy, and honest brokering — all of which are in short supply now.

Peter Certo is the editorial manager at the Institute for Policy Studies.

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Why Spend $54 Billion More on the Pentagon? To Start a War, Obviously.

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(Photo: Joint Chiefs of Staff / Flickr)

So, let me see if I’ve got this right.

North Korea has been pushing its ally China to rein in the United States. Pyongyang is worried that Washington is about to launch a preemptive attack, so it has tried to use whatever minimal amount of influence it has to persuade China to use its considerable economic leverage with the United States to get those knuckleheads inside the Beltway to listen to reason.

Or maybe I misheard the report on the radio.

How about this: As a presidential candidate, Donald Trump promised to stop reckless U.S. military interventions overseas, like the one he so disliked (after it failed) in Iraq. So, as president, he is withdrawing all troops from Syria, reducing U.S. military presence in Asia, and pulling the United States out of NATO. Oh, and he’s going to cut the military as part of his overall promise to downsize government.

Perhaps I misheard that report as well.

During the Obama administration, the comic duo of Key and Peele famously introduced the “anger translator” who could give voice to what President Obama was really thinking as he provided measured responses to all manner of nonsense lobbed in his direction. Ah, those were halcyon days when we made fun of the American president for not giving voice to his true feelings.

What kind of translator do we need for the Trump era? Perhaps a “reality translator” that reveals the simple, id-like intentions behind the current president’s Tweet-rants and policy proposals.

Type in “Obama bugged Trump Tower” and out comes: “Hey, hey, stop looking at my links to Russia, okay!?” Type in “2017 budget proposal” and out comes: “I’m gonna destroy every potential source of resistance to me and my ambitions.” Type in “Trumpcare” and out comes “I’m going to rob poor Peter to pay propertied Paul.” (To quote just one example: Trumpcare would encourage health care companies to pay their overpaid CEOs even more money!)

I’ve come to the conclusion, after about 60 days of presidential antics, that the problem is not “fake news.” The problem is a fake administration.

It’s no surprise that Donald Trump, as president, just makes things up. He’s been doing that all his career. But now an entire government is being re-engineered around the pathological dishonesty of the executive and his advisors. This is bait-and-switch on a level never seen before in the United States.

It would all be rather amusing if millions of lives weren’t at stake — both domestically through the self-destruction of the federal government and internationally through the very real prospects of war.

This president, with his insuperable ambition to score some “wins,” is in search of some missions to declare accomplished. North Korea and the Islamic State are at the top of the list. But don’t be surprised if the $ 54 billion that Trump wants to add like an enormous cherry on top of the Pentagon’s over-rich sundae will translate into even more conflicts around the world.

Let’s Go to the Numbers

If Trump’s proposed Pentagon increase of $ 54 billion were the military budget of a distinct country, it would come in fifth on the list of global military expenditures. Basically, Trump wants to add an entire annual British military budget on top of what the United States already spends — which already towers above any imaginary coalition of potential rivals.

With the rest of his deplorable budget request, Trump will encounter pushback from Congress and cities and major constituencies like the over-65 set. Some of his own voters might finally come to their senses when they realize that Trump the Great is waving his magic hand in the air to distract them from seeing the other hand pick their pockets.

But on the military side, Trump has, if anything, underbid. Congressional hawks are complaining that Trump is not throwing enough money at the Pentagon. They say that he’s only offering a 3 percent increase over what the Obama administration estimated for 2018, that Trump the candidate made even grander promises, that the Pentagon should get at least another $ 37 billion. If Congress comes back with this figure, it would increase the increase to $ 91 billion. Trump’s boost alone would then rise to number three on the list of global spenders, after the United States and China.

What does Trump want to spend all this extra money on? He wants a 350-ship navy — even though the Navy is already undertaking a 30-year program to raise the number of ships from the current 272 ships to 308. He has hinted at pulling out of the New START treaty with Russia — once he found out what it was — so that he could build more nukes. There would be more soldiers, including as many as 60,000 more in the Army.

But all of this is just skirting the real issue. Donald Trump wants to spend more money on the military because he wants to go to war.

First: Islamic State

As a candidate, Donald Trump focused most of his martial fury on the Islamic State. He promised to “bomb the hell” out of ISIS and, within 30 days in office, come up with a plan to defeat the entity. When he was elected, radical jihadists predictably rejoiced: Bring it on, they effectively said.

Within 30 days, Trump indeed published a memorandum on defeating ISIS. Bottom line: We need to come up with a plan.

In the absence of a strategy, what Trump has done is chilling enough. He has unleashed the CIA to conduct drone strikes, reversing an Obama administration order. He has continued to sanction B-52 strikes, like the one this month in the Syrian village of Al Jinah that killed dozens of civilians. He’s sending 1,000 troops to join the fight against ISIS in Syria. He wants to rely more on Special Forces in raids like the one in Yemen in January that went so spectacularly wrong, leaving one Navy SEAL and several civilians dead.

In some ways, Trump is merely continuing Obama-era practices. But it promises to be a no-holds-barred version of the last administration counter-terrorism program.

Even our allies in the region are getting concerned. Trump met this week with Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi, pledging to stand side-by-side with Iraq in the campaign to defeat ISIS.

But after the meeting, Abadi apparently had second thoughts. “Committing troops is one thing. Fighting terrorism is another thing,” he said at the U.S. Institute of Peace. “You don’t defeat terrorism by fighting it militarily. There are better ways.” Perhaps Abadi was thinking of the Trump administration’s initial inclusion of Iraq among the seven countries on the “Muslim travel ban” list. Or maybe he was thinking of Trump’s alarming pledge to seize Iraqi oil now under ISIS control.

Or perhaps the “better ways” simply referred to all the non-military parts of U.S. foreign policy — diplomacy, food aid, cooperation with international organizations — that Trump wants to ax from the federal budget. Even stalwart Trump supporters like Bob Dole are up in arms about humanitarian programs — like the Dole-McGovern initiative that provides school meals to 40 million children around the world — that are now on the chopping block.

What better way of creating the next generation of America haters?

Next: North Korea

Rex Tillerson, the empty suit that Trump has installed in the now supererogatory position of secretary of state, is trying to get back in on the action. On a recent trip to Asia, Tillerson sat down with Chinese premier Xi Jinping to plot the further isolation of North Korea.

Tillerson pointed out that the “strategic patience” approach toward North Korea had failed over the last eight years. That’s obviously true. The alternative, however, was much worse: Tillerson said that all options, including military ones, were on the table.

All of the military options come with unacceptable risks of retaliation and escalation to full-scale war. The United States could try to destroy a single missile launch, take out as much of North Korea’s nuclear complex as possible, or attempt a full regime change à la Iraq. “North Korea would perceive even a limited strike as the start of a war,” Max Fisher points out in The New York Times, “and respond with its full arsenal.”

Given the relatively crude ICBM capability that North Korea currently possesses, those who would suffer from an escalation would be Korean, Japanese, and Chinese people.

Perhaps Trump is simply trying to scare Beijing into doing more to rein in its erstwhile ally. But China doesn’t have that kind of influence in Pyongyang (just as it doesn’t have that kind of influence in Washington to change the Trump administration’s policies).

Or perhaps the Trump administration will go to war simply out of a general attitude of un-strategic impatience.

Beyond ISIS and Pyongyang

Building the Navy up to 350 ships and inducting another 60,000 people into the Army have little to do with dealing with either ISIS or North Korea, unless the Trump administration anticipates sending another large occupation force to the Middle East or Asia. Even Trump knows that dispatching tens of thousands of American troops to a warzone is a political mistake.

Partly Trump’s moves are about ensuring that the military is on his side. Partly it’s about tilting government in general away from soft power and toward hard power. Partly it’s about Trump’s personal vulnerability on military matters given his decision not to fight in Vietnam. It wouldn’t be the first time that a guy stocked up on weapons as part of a grand scheme of compensation.

There’s been speculation that Trump is really bulking up for a showdown with China. Given Trump’s phone call with Taiwan, his threats to impose tariffs on Chinese imports, and his bellicose rhetoric about China’s role in the island dispute in the South China Sea, there does seem to be some good evidence for this possibility. But the Trump administration has recently dialed back the hostility. Trump himself assured Chinese leader Xi Jinping of U.S. commitment to the “one-China” policy. Tillerson followed with a visit in Beijing that emphasized “mutual respect.”

The uncomfortable truth is that Trump probably doesn’t have any specific war-fighting scenario beyond laying waste to ISIS territory and declaring mission accomplished over the smoking ruins. Rather, he wants to put the United States on a permanent war footing as a way to sustain his unpopular presidency.

Until a challenger emerges that can focus U.S. national security concerns, Trump will let fire at a range of targets such as terrorists, journalists, and Germans. Perhaps his provocative rhetoric and actions will encourage some small country to stand up suicidally against the United States and allow Trump to declare a Grenada-like or Panama-like victory.

Like the $ 19.5 billion that the Trump administration is giving NASA for its Mars program, Trump’s war plans are a long shot. Casinos know that once a gambler wins on a long shot, they’ll go bankrupt trying to reproduce that once-in-a-lifetime event. Unfortunately, bankruptcy in Trump’s case means collective ruin for the rest of us.

Any chance we can convince NASA to send Trump on its first manned mission to Mars — so that he can return to the planet that birthed him?

John Feffer directs the Foreign Policy in Focus Project at the Institute for Policy Studies.

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More Americans Are Drowning Financially in Underwater Nation

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(Photo: Emiel de Lange / Shutterstock)

Are you or a loved one having trouble staying afloat? You’re truly not alone.

While the media reports low unemployment and a rising stock market, the reality is that almost 20 percent of the country lives in “Underwater Nation,” with zero or even negative net worth. And more still have almost no cash reverses to get them through hard times.

This is a source of enormous stress for many low and middle-income families.

Savings and wealth are vital life preservers for people faced with job loss, illness, divorce, or even car trouble. Yet an estimated 15 to 20 percent of families have no savings at all, or owe more than they own.

They’re disproportionately rural, female, renters, and people without a college degree. But the underwater ranks also include a large number of people who appear to be in the stable middle class. Health challenges are a major cause of savings depletion for these people, both in medical bills and lost wages.

Plenty more Americans could be vulnerable.

A financial planner will advise you to put aside three months of living expenses in financial reserves, just in case. So if your living expenses are $ 2,000 a month, you should try to have $ 6,000 in “liquidity” — money you can easily get to in an emergency.

But 44 percent of households don’t have enough funds to tide themselves over for three months, even if they lived at the poverty level, according to the Assets and Opportunity Scorecard.

Even having a positive net worth doesn’t mean you can always tap these funds, especially if wealth takes the form of home equity or owning a car.

Bankrate survey found that 63 percent of U.S. households lack the cash or savings to meet a $ 1,000 emergency expense. They’d have to borrow from a friend or family, or put costs on a credit card.

Seven percent of U.S. homeowners are underwater homeowners, with mortgage debt higher than the value of their homes. And more and more people have taken on credit card debt to pay the bills. Meanwhile, student debt is rising rapidly and is projected to become one of the biggest factors in negative wealth.

Conservative scolds will blame individuals for “living beyond their means” and being financially irresponsible. And individual behavior is important. But the financial stresses facing millions of families are more likely the result of four decades of stagnant incomes.

Half the workers in this country haven’t shared in the economic gains that have mostly gone to the rich. Their real wages have stayed flat while health care, housing, and other expenses continue to rise.

So not everyone is on the edge at this time of dizzying inequality, after all. The 400 wealthiest billionaires in the U.S. have as much wealth together as the bottom 62 percent of the population.

This is only possible because of the expanding ranks of drowning Americans.

Some politicians will scapegoat immigrants or other vulnerable people for this suffering. When this happens, hold on tight to your purse or wallet. They’re trying to distract you from the rich and powerful elites who are rigging the rules to get more wealth and power.

They want to deflect your attention away from the reality that your economic pain is the result of deliberate government rules that give more tax cuts to the super-rich and global corporations, keep wages down, push up tuition costs, and let corporations nickel and dime you for all you’re worth.

Congress and the Trump administration are proposing to cut health care, pass more tax cuts for the rich, and give global corporations even more power over you. They promise benefits will “trickle down.”

Unless we speak up, the only trickle will be the expansion of Underwater Nation.

Chuck Collins is a senior scholar at the Institute for Policy Studies.

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