Hurricane Donald Hits the Republican Party


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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.


8 Lessons U.S. Progressives Can Learn From the U.K. Labour Party

(Photo: Victoria M Gardner / Shutterstock)

In March, progressive activists in the United Kingdom had reason to feel deeply discouraged. Nine months earlier, a majority had voted for Brexit, setting in motion plans to pull the U.K. out of the European Union. Then Conservative Prime Minister Theresa May decided to call a “snap election” with the goal of consolidating Tory power in Parliament in the face of weak opposition. The Labour Party, led by progressive Jeremy Corbyn, was polling at a miserable 24 percent and facing the possibility of further marginalization.

But on June 8, Corbyn and the Labour Party experienced a stunning reversal of fortune, almost winning the national election called in to vanquish them. And as of mid-July, Labour is 8 percentage points ahead of the Conservatives.

One key force in this change was a grassroots network called Momentum, formed in 2015 to build participation and engagement in the Labour Party. This election, Momentum mobilized 23,000 members and 150 local chapters through on-the-ground campaigning and social media. Think Our Revolution and with a powerful electoral field operation.

“The results were beautiful,” said Deborah Waters, a Momentum co-founder and volunteer. “I heard it described as ‘the bitterest of victories for the Conservatives and the sweetest of defeats for Labour.’ The winners didn’t really win and the losers didn’t really lose.”

How did this reversal happen? And what can those of us deep in this Trump presidency learn from it? What follows are eight lessons from Momentum and Labour’s remarkable campaign.

Read the full article on YES! Magazine.


UK Labour Party Proposes a Maximum Wage Gap


(Photo: Garry Knight / Flickr)

In 1942, Franklin Roosevelt advanced what may have been the most politically daring policy proposal of his entire presidency. FDR called for the equivalent of a maximum wage. No individual American after paying taxes, Roosevelt declared, should have an income over $ 25,000, about $ 370,000 today.

A half-century later, in 1992, Bernie Sanders — then a relatively new member of the House of Representatives — marked the 50th anniversary of FDR’s maximum wage initiative. Sanders placed a commentary on FDR’s 1942 proposal in the Congressional Record.

Last week, in the 75th anniversary year of Roosevelt’s 1942 proposal, British Labor Party leader Jeremy Corbyn gave FDR’s income cap idea a considerably wider public airing. In a series of media interviews, Corbyn called for a ceiling on UK individual income.

“There ought to be a maximum wage,” Corbyn told The Herald, a Scottish newspaper. “The levels of inequality in Britain are getting worse.”

The Labor Party leader repeated that call for “some kind of high-earnings cap” the same day in a radio interview with the BBC.

“We cannot set ourselves as being a sort of grossly unequal bargain basement economy on the shores of Europe,” Corbyn explained. “If we want to live in a more egalitarian society and fund our public services, we cannot go on creating worse levels of inequality.”

Corbyn didn’t have the time in his early Tuesday media interviews to spell out any specifics on the income cap he had in mind. He did have that time later in the day when he delivered a major policy address in Peterborough, a small city north of London.

Corbyn’s address pledged the Labor Party to creating “a more equal country, in which power and wealth is more fairly shared amongst our communities,” and then outlined a variety of initiatives to build that “genuinely inclusive society.”

The UK needed, Corbyn noted, a National Investment Bank to rebuild regional economies and mandates that require collective bargaining in key economic sectors “so that workers cannot be undercut.” The national minimum wage, he added, should be raised high enough to become a true living wage.

But the UK, Corbyn stressed, needed to do much more than “tackle low pay at the bottom.”

“We also have to address the excess,” he pointed out, “that drives that poverty pay that leaves millions of people in poverty even though they work.”

Where to start confronting that excess? A Labor government, Corbyn related, would deny government contracts to corporations that pay their top execs over 20 times what they pay their workers. Top UK execs currently take home nearly 150 times what average workers earn.

“It cannot be right,” the Labour Party leader declared, “that if companies are getting public money, that that can be creamed off by a few at the top.”

What else could government do to crack down on excess income at the top? Corbyn’s address listed an ambitious set of possibilities.

Companies that don’t pay any executive more than a modest multiple of the pay of the company’s lowest earners could get a reduced rate on their corporate taxes. The government — by making company pay ratio data publicly available — could also encourage consumers to patronize companies with modest pay gaps.

And the government could help stop excess at its source by mandating that top executive pay “be signed off by remuneration committees on which workers have a majority.” A more traditional egalitarian move — raising the income tax rate on top 1 percent incomes — could help slim down any windfall annual “earnings” not covered by other reforms.

In other words, Corbyn’s address summed up, we have “many options.”

“But what we cannot accept,” the Labor leader stressed, “is a society in which a few earn in two and a bit days what a nurse, a shop worker, a teacher do in a year. That cannot be right.”

Britain’s conservative media outlets, predictably enough, almost immediately subjected Corbyn and his egalitarian pronouncements to some maximum abuse. They ridiculed his sentiments as an “attempt to ‘reboot’ marred by confusion and contradictions.”

Right-wing think tanks chimed in with more vituperation. Corbyn, the Adam Smith Institute charged, had gone “bananas.” The leader of Donald Trump’s favorite UK party, the anti-immigrant UKIP, claimed that Corbyn was practicing the “politics of envy.”

Franklin Roosevelt’s critics made the same sort of hyper-ventilating attacks 75 years ago when FDR proposed his cap on the income of the awesomely affluent. In the end, Roosevelt didn’t get from Congress everything he wanted on the pay-cap front. But the political courage he showed helped pave the way for the much more equal — and average-people friendly — America of the mid-20th century.

Jeremy Corbyn, to be sure, may well have some envy in him. Not for the rich, of course. For FDR.

The post UK Labour Party Proposes a Maximum Wage Gap appeared first on Institute for Policy Studies.

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


?What the Democratic Party Platform Tells Us About Where We Are on War


(Photo: Flickr / Bradley Siefert)

On July 1 the Democratic Party released its draft platform, which went before the full platform committee on July 8-9, and will debated at the Democratic Party Convention in Philadelphia at the end of this month.

The 35-page draft reminds us of two crucial realities: the limits of party politics while corporate and military interests dominate both parties, and, crucially, the necessity of social movements to challenge those limits and—sometimes—to win.

The 2016 draft includes some significant progressive positions which were the targets of strong social movements: on immigrant rights, taxing the rich, abortion rights, raising the federal minimum wage to $ 15, ending the death penalty, and more. The platform doesn’t reflect real policy commitments, of course, or rejection of the powerful economic forces behind the Democratic Party.

Bill Clinton’s Labor Secretary Robert Reich described the platform draft as providing “a relatively easy way for so-called mainstream and centrist Democrats to make progressive Democrats feel included without really changing the status quo or ruffling feathers on Wall Street.” Platform language, he said, is “still just rhetoric… It reveals the current limits of what is acceptable political discourse inside the party.”

But it does show that committed and strategic movements can have impact. The sections of the platform on Wall Street and tax reforms, in particular, are much bolder than those in the 2012 draft. For example, the new draft expresses support for “a financial transactions tax on Wall Street to curb excessive speculation and high-frequency trading, which has threatened financial markets.” This idea of a small tax to curb financial speculation while generating funds for job creation, climate programs, and other social needs was still on the political margins in 2012.

And yet on other key issues—most notably the Trans-Pacific Partnership—even a strong and militant trade-union-led opposition, backed by a host of civil-society organizations and even key Democratic Party figures, was unable to achieve its goal. While Bernie Sanders strongly opposes the corporate-empowering TPP, and even longtime “free trade” backer Hillary Clinton moved to reluctantly and tentatively oppose the agreement, the Democratic leadership was unwilling to directly challenge President Obama in the platform. The language instead is limited to the acknowledgment that there is a “diversity of opinion” in the party on the TPP.

But it is on the platform’s dealing with issues of war and peace, militarism and diplomacy, Palestine and Israel, that both the potential and the limitations of social movements are most clear. Discussion of today’s U.S. wars—with thousands of ground troops, warplanes and pilots, drone bombers, special forces, CIA paramilitaries, and so many more now actively at war in Afghanistan, Iraq, Syria, Yemen, Libya, and beyond; with thousands dying and millions displaced; with hundreds of billions of dollars squandered on these wars—was virtually absent during the platform debates.

Read the full article on the Nation’s website.

The post ?What the Democratic Party Platform Tells Us About Where We Are on War appeared first on Institute for Policy Studies.

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


The Democratic Party Platform Addresses Issues of Structural Inequality that it’s Dismissed in the Past


(Photo: Flickr / Phil Roeder)

In an era of seemingly endless commentary and online content, you could be excused for not digging into the 40-page prose that makes up the working draft of the Democratic Party platform. But you’d be missing out.

This year’s platform, while far from perfect, contains an abundance of bold progressive ideas to halt economic inequality in its tracks. It stands in stark contrast to previous platforms, especially those of the Bill Clinton administration.

Among the dense pages of the platform is an acknowledgement that inequality is rising and that one of the main drivers is our broken tax code. The opening of the tax section comes straight from Bernie Sanders’ playbook: “At a time of massive income and wealth inequality, we believe the wealthiest Americans and largest corporations must pay their fair share in taxes.”

It goes on to list a multitude of loopholes to close, including tax breaks for hedge fund managers, oil and gas companies, and offshore tax shelters. The plan also includes a multimillionaire surtax and a commitment to restore a fair estate tax. In a nod to the groundbreaking December 2015 New York Times exposé, it also vows to “shut down the ‘private tax system’ for those at the top.

The draft includes commitments to spend revenue from these tax changes to rebuild our nation’s infrastructure and invest in opportunity building for all Americans through initiatives like tuition-free higher education. This is in stark contrast to the 1992 Democratic Party platform when Bill Clinton first ran for office that said, ““We reject… the big government theory that says we can hamstring business and tax and spend our way to prosperity.”

The plan also includes a strong commitment to ensuring the long term viability of Social Security by lifting the cap on payroll taxes that enables millionaires to pay the same rate as those making $ 118,000. This is again in sharp contrast to 1992 which read, “We must also tackle spending, by putting everything on the table; eliminate nonproductive programs… reform entitlement programs to control soaring health care costs.”

On Wall Street, the 2016 platform doesn’t pull any punches. It calls for “a financial transactions tax on Wall Street to curb excessive speculation and high-frequency trading, which has threatened financial markets.” This is in sharp contrast to the 2012 platform that ignored such a tax and the Obama administration that has opposed it.

It also calls for breaking up the big banks if necessary and voices support for a modern Glass-Steagal Act.

The platform also acknowledges the racial wealth divide for what may be the first time ever, devoting four paragraphs to the issue. It is nonspecific in its policy prescription for this social ill, but commits to “close this racial wealth gap by eliminating systemic barriers to wealth accumulation for different racial groups and improving opportunities for people from all racial and ethnic backgrounds to build wealth.”

The platform comes up short on other fronts, as many have pointed out, on issues of trade and climate. A full-throated opposition to the Trans-Pacific Partnership has not yet made it into the text, nor has support for a carbon tax, or a $ 15 an hour minimum wage.

The draft is provisional until it is ratified at the Democratic Convention in Philadelphia, so opportunities still exist for adding important provisions.

The post The Democratic Party Platform Addresses Issues of Structural Inequality that it’s Dismissed in the Past appeared first on Institute for Policy Studies.

Josh Hoxie directs the Project on Opportunity and Taxation at the Institute for Policy Studies.


Democratic Party Platform: Lots of Hot Air on Climate Change

“It’s not being taken seriously enough,” Janet Redman said about the DNC’s policy agenda on climate change. “The fact that they’ve said no to different financial tools for cutting carbon, the fact that they’ve said no to keeping fossil fuels in the ground.”

While Hillary Clinton has been pressured to say she wouldn’t vote for the Trans-Pacific Partnership as it is right now, there is still concern over whether or not she supports the investor state dispute clause, Redman told the Real News Network.

That particular provision enables companies from other countries to sue the government for things like protections for workers and the environment. There is a real concern, Redman said, that if we sign on to agreements like the TPP, we will not be able to uphold the labor and environmental standards we have in the U.S.

Redman testified at the DNC platform planning committee about climate change as a foreign policy and security issue. While there has been some support for stopping fracking at home, that push has not been reflected internationally, where we continue to support the expansion of natural gas fracking and export of our technologies around the world, Redman said.

On the other hand, there was unanimous agreement that the Department of Justice should be investigating fossil fuel companies that misled shareholders by not making them aware of public interest concerns, Redman said. So, for example, EXXON Mobil would be held accountable for being knowledgeable about the fact that burning carbon would create a climate crisis for the people that actually hold shares in that company.

“That’s an interesting knock on corporate power,” Redman said. “But this does not go far enough.”

Redman said she was not as disappointed as others might be that the platform did not adopt a carbon tax policy.

“A carbon tax is unfortunately regressive unless a lot of work is done to make sure that there are rebates to low-income folks,” Redman explained. Since low-income people spend more on their energy bills — about 15 percent of their income — we need to make sure that the policies we propose to curb carbon are fair and equitable.

The best ways to reduce carbon are regulations on power plants and changing the way we move our goods from trucks to rail lines, Redman said. One kind of market mechanism that we could use right away, Redman said, is taking away tax subsidies that we give to the fossil fuel industry.

“That in itself would make burning oil, coal, and gas less profitable right off the bat,” Redman said. “There are some easy potential victories that could’ve been in this platform that aren’t right now.”


The post Democratic Party Platform: Lots of Hot Air on Climate Change appeared first on Institute for Policy Studies.

Janet Redman directs the Climate Policy program at the Institute for Policy Studies.


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