The Far-Reaching Risks of Trump’s Jerusalem Decision

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(Ryan Rodrick Beiler / Shutterstock)

Trump’s plan to recognize Jerusalem as the capital of Israel, and potentially to move the U.S. embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem is not going to undermine peace efforts—because there are no peace efforts underway. Protests have already begun, and anger is rising not only among Palestinians but across the Arab and Muslim worlds, among numerous governments including key U.S. allies, and among people across the globe.  Understanding what this move represents means viewing it from two different perspectives.

Taken at face value, recognizing Jerusalem as Israel’s capital reflects Trump’s need to placate his key Israel-backing donors, particularly the casino mogul Sheldon Adelson, and the Christian Zionist component of his right-wing evangelical base. Pro-Israel partisans in Congress orchestrated a law in 1995 mandating the embassy move, but giving the president a way out—the president could waive the requirement if national security might be at stake. Every president since has taken advantage of that waiver—including Donald Trump six months ago. Congressional Israel-backers could blame the president, the White House could lament that security threats prevented the move… everyone was happy.  But Trump’s campaign commitment to move the embassy is more important to more influential supporters than was true of earlier presidents.  Plus Trump’s failure to win legislative victories (until the recent potential disaster known as the “GOP Tax Scam”) meant he had more incentive to make good on his Jerusalem promise.

Trump called this move “the recognition of reality.” It should be noted that it has been U.S. policy itself—support for Israel, billions of U.S. tax dollars sent to the Israeli military every year, acceptance of Jewish settlements in occupied Arab Jerusalem, protection of Israel in the United Nations—that is largely responsible for that reality.  The UN resolution partitioning Palestine into what were supposed to be [thoroughly unfairly apportioned] Jewish and Palestinian Arab states, also recognized a special status for Jerusalem—it was to belong to neither “state,” but rather be a corpus separatum, a separate body to remain under international control. Israel claimed West Jerusalem as its capital, and in 1967 when it illegally occupied the eastern half of the city after the Six-Day War, it announced the annexation of Arab Jerusalem and forcibly unified the city as its capital. No country in the world recognized the annexation, and since that time legally-binding UN Security Council resolutions continue to reaffirm that East Jerusalem remains occupied Palestinian territory. Trump’s decision stands in direct violation of international law.

But U.S. violations of international law regarding Israel is an old story.  Decades of U.S. actions accepting, acknowledging, allowing (even if sometimes rhetorically criticizing) the expansion of illegal Jews-only colonial settlements in occupied Arab Jerusalem and across the West Bank set the stage. Decades of rewarding Israeli violations of UN resolutions and international law concerning Jerusalem with billions of dollars in economic and military support set the stage. Vetoing Security Council resolutions condemning illegal Israeli settlement building in Jerusalem set the stage.  What’s new this time around is the deliberately provocative, reckless nature of the decision to placate donors whatever the risk — the risk of violent responses across the world, let alone the risk of further violation of Palestinian rights.

What is not at risk is the role of the United States as an honest broker in sponsoring peace talks. Why?  Because the U.S. never was an honest broker in Israel-Palestinian talks, it was always, as at least one longtime U.S. negotiator admitted, playing the role of Israel’s lawyer.  That hasn’t changed either. There are no negotiations underway to be threatened with cancellation.

Sowing Chaos and Threatening More War Across the Region

The second perspective has far more to do with the regional situation, and the war-driven anti-diplomacy foreign policy of the Trump administration.  Aside from donor pressure, U.S. recognition of Jerusalem as the capital of Israel and the threat to move the embassy, have to be seen in the context of the effort led by Trump son-in-law Jared Kushner to consolidate a powerful anti-Iran coalition across the Middle East with ostensible enemies Israel and Saudi Arabia at its core.

Trump has anointed Kushner his point man on reaching the “ultimate deal” on Israel-Palestine.  It’s less about any claimed interest in peace than about the collaborative regional plans being hatched by Kushner and his new BFF, Saudi Crown Prince Mohamed bin Salman, known as MBS. Together the two crown princes, as it were, are trying to bring Israel and Saudi Arabia together in a newly overt alliance against Tehran. To pull off that kind of normalization of relations between these ostensible enemies and not risk losing power or worse, requires changing the rhetoric, if not the actual circumstances. Enter the so-called “new Israeli-Palestinian talks.” If the ambitious young Saudi prince can convince the majority of the royal family and at least a majority of Saudi citizens that somehow new talks mean the end of the conflict and we can all stop worrying about the Palestinians, then normalization of relations with Israel suddenly looks more acceptable.  Such a partnership portends a serious rise in the threat of war—with not only the United States but Israel and Saudi Arabia, plus Jordan, the UAE, Egypt and more, openly unified against Iran.

Just a week or so before the announcement about Jerusalem, the Trump administration threatened to close the PLO office in Washington unless the Palestinians accepted Washington’s terms for new negotiations. Those U.S.-brokered talks would be based on pro-settlement, human rights-violating conditions that no Palestinian leader could ordinarily accept. If some Palestinian leader—the current head of the Palestinian Authority Mahmoud Abbas, or some other leader if the Saudis force Abbas to quit as they reportedly threatened—accepts a deal legitimizing permanent Israeli control of Palestinian land, Saudi Arabia can easily slip into a cozy partnership with their erstwhile enemy.

The timing remains a question. Why would Kushner and his father-in-law make the goal of an Israeli-Saudi alliance against Iran more difficult by such a provocative move regarding Jerusalem?  Part of the answer has to do with the primacy of Israel over Saudi Arabia in Kushner’s world—regardless of his recent bromance with MSB.  Kushner has been a supporter of illegal Israeli settlements for years; in his role in one of his family’s foundations he helped orchestrate tens of thousands of dollars donated to Israeli settlements. According to Newsweek, “The foundation donated at least $ 38,000 between 2011 and 2013 to a fundraising group building a Jewish seminary in a West Bank settlement known as Beit El. During that period, Kushner’s foundation also donated an additional $ 20,000 to Jewish and educational institutions in settlements throughout the region, the Associated Press reported.”

Somehow the Trump son-in-law forgot to mention those transactions when he filed financial reports required for his top-level security clearance. But it fits a pattern. In late 2016 Kushner ordered Michael Flynn, then the Trump campaign’s top foreign policy adviser, to persuade Russia to delay the imminent UN Security Council vote criticizing Israeli settlements. President Obama had decided to abstain and allow the resolution to pass; Trump wanted the Russians to delay the vote so the new administration could veto it. But Moscow refused to play along.

If you just listened to the official rhetoric from both governments, something like a Saudi-Israeli alliance appears unthinkable.  But it turns out that many “unthinkable” developments in the volatile Middle East are actually quite thinkable—although it usually means there’s a price to be paid. Washington’s recognition of Jerusalem as the capital has been bandied about as a threat for years despite international law. The fundamentalist Saudi government has all but publicly pined for open relations with Israel despite Tel Aviv’s continuing violations of Palestinian rights. National leaders may pay a political price for those moves. But the real price—potentially in destroyed lives, devastated cities and more—will be paid by the people of Iran, who will likely face even more crippling sanctions and a growing threat of war; by the people of Yemen, where the U.S.-backed Saudi war continues to escalate with horrific humanitarian consequences; potentially by Lebanon, where Saudi interference is again on the rise; and as always by the Palestinians, who have paid the price for U.S. support of Israeli occupation and apartheid for more than 70 years, and have just been sold out again.

There are no Israeli-Palestinian peace talks underway that might be threatened by U.S. recognition of Jerusalem. But the move certainly makes peace—or justice—anywhere in the war-torn region far less likely.

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Trump’s Tax Plan Taunts the Dignity of Labor

Solar panel workers

(Photo: Oregon Department of Transportation)

Most of us work for a living. We wait tables or write software. We teach kids or drive buses. We treat patients or lay block. Our income, just about all of it, comes from our work.

But some people — wealthy people — don’t depend on work for their living. They rely on their wealth. The stock they hold pays dividends. The bonds they own pay interest. The assets they sell bring capital gains.

Two different classes of Americans, two different sorts of income. Now which class should pay tax at a higher rate, those who work for a living or those who let their wealth do their work?

Read the full article at the Dallas Morning News.

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We Worked on Tax Reform Under Reagan. Trump’s Is Much Worse.

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(Photo: Michael Fleshman / Flickr)

President Donald Trump frequently points to Ronald Reagan’s 1986 tax reform as a model for his own tax plan, which would drastically cut taxes on the wealthiest Americans. “Under this pro-America system,” Trump said in an August speech in Missouri, “our economy boomed. It just went beautifully — right through the roof.”

We were Senate staffers for Democrats back in 1986. There’s a lot about the Reagan reform that today’s Republicans appear to be forgetting. Indeed, what’s being proposed now is far, far friendlier to the rich and big corporations — and more harmful for everyone else.

Read the full article on TIME.

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Trump’s Tax Cuts Are the Biggest Wealth Grab in Modern History

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On Nov. 2, Republicans in Congress finally released the details for their tax plan. The Tax Cuts and Jobs Act is a massive overhaul of the tax code and spending priorities—and nothing short of a boon to the very wealthy at the expense of everyone else.

I’m old enough to remember way back to Nov. 1, when CBS released a poll showing most Americans wanted to see the wealthiest households and biggest corporations pay more, not less, in taxes. This is in sync with poll data from Gallup, collected year after year since 1992, that shows a solid majority of Americans believe the wealthy pay too little in taxes.

Given such overwhelming support for raising, not cutting, taxes on the wealthy, it makes sense that President Donald Trump and his allies in Congress would present their tax plan as benefiting the middle class rather than the rich. It’s about “people who are low- and middle-income,” says House Speaker Paul Ryan, “not about people who are really high-income earners getting a break.” Trump has even claimed “the rich will not be gaining at all with this plan.”

Unfortunately, those are bald-faced lies.

Read the full article on Fortune.

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‘De-certifying’ the Iran Deal May Be Trump’s Most Reckless Decision Yet

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(Image: SS&SS / Flickr)

Despite heavy competition, Trump’s latest Iran move ranks near the top of the list of the most reckless actions of this ever-so-reckless presidency. The president announced recently that he was refusing to certify Iran’s compliance with the landmark nuclear agreement it reached with the U.S. and several other world powers during the Obama administration.

This dangerous move won’t scuttle the deal entirely — at least not yet — but it undermines the strength of the international agreement and ultimately increases the threat of war. While Trump has said he’s not pulling out of the deal just yet, he’s threatening to do so if Congress doesn’t pass new sanctions .

With virtually every Iran expert on the planet in agreement that Tehran is keeping its end of the nuclear deal, it’s clear that Trump’s motives are purely political. That makes his decision only more dangerous.

Outright Lies

The Iran nuclear deal — officially known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, or JCPOA — is widely recognized as one of President Obama’s most important diplomatic successes, and it’s working exactly as it was designed to do.

The UN nuclear inspection agency, the U.S. intelligence community, and every serious expert on Iran’s nuclear program from across the globe, all agree that Iran is complying with the requirements of the deal. That means, among other things, that Iran’s supply of low enriched uranium is now about 1 percent of what it used to be, it has no highly enriched uranium, and its nuclear program is under tight international inspection.

Trump scorned pleas from key U.S. allies, members of Congress from both parties, and his own top security advisers, all of whom urged him to maintain the deal.

In withdrawing from a deal that Iran was keeping in good faith, Trump abandoned any pretense of maintaining U.S. credibility as a reliable negotiating partner. Instead, he justified decertifying Iranian compliance with a combination of exaggerations, complaints about actions that have nothing to do with the actual terms of the deal, and outright lies.

In remarks announcing his action, Trump claimed that “the Iranian regime has committed multiple violations of the agreement — for example, they exceeded the 130 metric ton limit of heavy water.” As the Guardian pointed out, that statement was “misleading at best. On two occasions, Iran’s stockpile of heavy water flowed over the ceiling imposed by the deal, but the situation was quickly rectified and Iran’s reserve is now below the limit. Nor is heavy water a direct proliferation threat.”

He also tossed out the line, without a shred of evidence, that “many people believe Iran is dealing with North Korea.”

He lied about Iran getting “paid up front” when the deal was signed, “rather than at the end of the deal when they have shown they’ve played by the rules.” Trump implied this was a payout from the West to Iran, but didn’t mention this was Iran’s own money, long frozen by the United States and its allies. And in point of fact, those funds weren’t released until the UN nuclear inspectors had determined that Tehran was indeed complying with the rules.

Finally, Trump lied about conditions inside Iran, claiming that the deal resulted in sanctions being lifted “just before what would have been the total collapse of the Iranian regime.” Despite U.S. threats and crippling sanctions (which had far more impact on Iran’s civilian population than on the government), the Iranian regime was and remains very far from “total collapse.”

Trump also refused to acknowledge that Iran and the United States are actually fighting on the same side across the region. Washington and Tehran support the same governments in Afghanistan and Iraq. Both have deployed troops and planes to fight against ISIS in Syria and Iraq. (Of course, this isn’t particularly good news — both the Afghan and Iraqi governments are deeply corrupt, and the U.S. and Iran have each been responsible for war crimes in Syria — but it shows the hypocrisy in Trump’s deeply oppositional view of Iran.)

Furthermore, while they support different sides in the Syrian civil war, U.S. and Iranian military forces are often close together, and remain in constant communication to prevent any friendly fire attacks on each other. Indeed, while Trump announced new sanctions against the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps for their alleged support for terrorism, he was careful not to add the IRGC to Washington’s list of Foreign Terrorist Organizations, because that would threaten U.S. soldiers fighting near IRGC troops in Syria.

Because Trump couldn’t point to any actual violations of the terms of JCPOA by Iran, he claimed instead that Tehran “is not living up to the spirit of the deal.” He condemned Iran’s missile developments, bemoaning the deal’s “failure” to deal with them. But of course, it wasn’t a deal about missile technology — it was a deal about nuclear enrichment. That was the only way to get all sides on board, and scuttling it when Iran’s in compliance will inevitably make it more difficult to strike a deal on missiles or anything else in the future.

Rogue State Behavior

Trump’s new Iran position doesn’t end the multi-party Iran deal; it doesn’t even pull the United States out of the deal or end U.S. obligations under the deal — yet.

Instead, it tosses the decision back to Congress. The JCPOA is a multi-lateral agreement, not a treaty, and didn’t have to be ratified by the Senate. In order to prevent political problems, Obama negotiated a separate deal with Congress, which requires the president to certify every 90 days that Iran is still in compliance with the deal.

If the president refuses to do so, as Trump just did, Congress then has 60 days to decide whether or not to re-impose nuclear-related sanctions on Iran. That decision would indeed violate Washington’s obligations (which included ending nuclear sanctions), and Iran and the other signatories would rightly blame the U.S. for wrecking the deal.

Trump’s “America First” actions have seriously damaged Washington’s already-dubious standing in the world. This latest move goes further, gravely weakening international cooperation, concern for civilian populations, efforts towards non-proliferation and disarmament, respect for international law, and the credibility of the United Nations, which endorsed the deal.

It’s dangerous because it tells Iran, Washington’s negotiating partners, and the world that the United States isn’t committed to the deal it signed, and is looking for a way out. It’s dangerous because it tells North Korea that they might as well not bother negotiating with Washington, because the United States can’t be counted on to abide by its agreements.

It’s dangerous because there’s already strong anti-Iran and anti-JCPOA sentiment in Congress, as well as strong outside pressure (from Israel’s supporters, among others) on legislators to follow Trump’s reckless decision with an equally reckless move of their own. If Congress imposes new nuclear sanctions on Iran, that would threaten the real collapse of the deal — unless, as has happened before, the Iranian government shows more restraint and more political maturity than its U.S. counterpart.

Abandoning the nuclear deal shows utter disdain for our negotiating partners in China, France, Germany, Russia, and the UK, which together helped craft the deal, as well as for Iran itself. It also slaps the unanimous UN Security Council Resolution 2231 endorsing the deal, which reminded signatories that they were obligated under international law “to accept and carry out the Security Council’s decisions,” including by carrying out the “full implementation” of the JCPOA.

As Iran’s UN Ambassador Javad Zarif told CBS:

“You know, the United States is a permanent member of the Security Council. And if it’s not going to uphold a resolution, that not only it voted for but it sponsored, then the credibility of the institution that the United States considers to be very important would be at stake. Nobody else will trust any U.S. administration to engage in any long-term negotiation because the length of any commitment, the duration of any commitment from now on with any U.S. administration would be the remainder of the term of that president.”

Trump’s cascading recklessness in his Iran policy continues to put the United States, Iran, the Middle East, and indeed the world at great peril. His actions make the threat of war far more likely. And if Congress doesn’t fall into Trump’s trap, and instead rejects his demand to impose new nuclear sanctions, Trump will come face-to-face with his promise to cancel the agreement himself.

Such an act would indeed prove, to anyone not yet convinced, that the United States is a rogue state.

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Trump’s Enablers Should Be Shamed Out of Public Life

(Photo: White House/ Flickr)

In the middle of September, Harvard University announced that it was inviting two controversial new fellows to the Institute of Politics at the Kennedy School: former Trump administration spokesman Sean Spicer and whistleblower Chelsea Manning. At the august institution, they would be joining Corey Lewandowski, one of Trump’s campaign managers, along with several Democratic Party operatives.

But it was not to be. Within a day of the announcement, Harvard rescinded Chelsea Manning’s invitation because of “controversy” attending the offer. Dean of the Kennedy School Douglas Elmendorf had this to say: “I see more clearly now that many people view a Visiting Fellow title as an honorific, so we should weigh that consideration when offering invitations.”

Strangely, the invitation to the thoroughly dishonorable Lewandowski did not seem affected by this rationale.

Harvard snubbed Manning in part because people like Mike Pompeo, current head of the CIA, cancelled an appearance at a Harvard forum, saying that “I believe it is shameful for Harvard to place its stamp of approval upon her treasonous actions.”

I’m not a big fan of WikiLeaks — even before its conduct in the 2016 elections — but I’d still be interested in hearing Chelsea Manning interact with other folks at the Kennedy School on questions of public service and morality. So, I’m upset at Harvard’s retraction of the invitation.

But what really bugs me is Harvard’s pandering to the Trump crowd as if they were legitimate political actors. They’re not. They’re collaborationists. They may or may not have collaborated with a foreign power against the United States (let the various investigating committees determine that). But I’m expanding the term here to mean that they are collaborating with a political figure — Donald Trump — whose behavior is inimical to American democracy.

Even if they aren’t ultimately thrown into jail for a variety of improprieties, the Trump collaborationists should be frozen out of the mainstream. Obviously I’m thinking about the future, since places like Harvard are always kowtowing to those in power in the present. But I’m looking forward to a day after, say, 2020, when America goes through its own de-Baathification process, and the leading lights of the Trump administration are purged from public life.

Okay, maybe you don’t want to go that far. De-Baathfication, after all, had lousy consequences for Iraq. Then let’s just use Harvard’s language but apply it more appropriately. “Many people view a Visiting Fellow title as an honorific, so we should weigh that consideration when offering invitations,” Elmendorf said. Those who collaborated with the Trump administration — those who served in high positions and profited materially and professionally from those positions — should simply not be honored. Even if a departing Trump pardons all his cronies, they should feel the sting of public exclusion.

Call it an anti-Trump blacklist, a political boycott comparable to the economic boycott of Trump products. Perhaps, you’re wondering, why I’m focusing on Trump. Many of his policies resemble those of previous administrations like those of Ronald Reagan or George W. Bush. Why not expand the boycott to include all the neoconservatives responsible for the Iraq War, among other catastrophes? It’s equally galling to see a war criminal like Elliott Abrams still accepted in polite company (and the Council on Foreign Relations).

I certainly disagreed with those figures and their policies. But this administration is different. Donald Trump has crossed the line on so many fronts. To ensure that his “innovations” in the realms of racism, misogyny, militarism, deception, secrecy, and the “deconstruction of the administrative state” do not become institutionalized in U.S. society requires not only broad-based condemnation but, eventually, public exclusion as well.

Adults in the Room

Shortly after the 2016 election, I was on an NPR program making my case for non-engagement with the Trump administration. The host was aghast: Didn’t I acknowledge the important of “adult supervision” in the White House? Wouldn’t it be better to have some sensible people near Trump to prevent him from flying off the nuclear handle?

And who would these adults be exactly, I retorted? Steve Bannon? Michael Flynn? I doubted that anyone who made it through the vetting process would necessarily qualify as an adult — at least in the sense that the NPR host meant — and even if such a grey eminence managed to get into the administration, he or she would likely be brought down to Trump’s level, not the other way around.

In a recent article in The New York Review of Books, James Mann traces the origins of the phrase “adults in the room” and its associated phrase of “adult supervision.” “Before Trump, this Washington lingo was usually a cover for policy differences,” Mann writes.

The “adults” were usually those who didn’t stray too far from the political center, however that was defined at the moment. Bernie Sanders has never qualified as an “adult” in the Washington usage of the word, although he is old enough to collect Social Security; nor did Ralph Nader; nor did Rand Paul, though he is old enough to perform eye surgery. What made them deficient was not their character or their immaturity, but their views.

Now, however, the phrase refers less to ideology and more to behavior. “For the first time, America has a president who does not act like an adult,” Mann continues. “He is emotionally immature: he lies, taunts, insults, bullies, rages, seeks vengeance, exalts violence, boasts, refuses to accept criticism, all in ways that most parents would seek to prevent in their own children.”

And thus, America is supposed to breathe easier because a trio of military men (John Kelly, James Mattis, H.R. McMaster) and an oil company executive (Rex Tillerson) are in place to rein in Trump’s more infantile impulses.

Moreover, a rogue’s gallery of non-adults have already departed the administration as a result of scandal or sheer incompetence: the aforementioned Sean Spicer, his almost replacement Anthony Scaramucci, Steve Bannon, Sebastian Gorka, Tom Price, Reince Priebus, Mike Flynn. Some, like Trump’s pick to head the Drug Enforcement Agency, withdrew from consideration even before he had to face withering questions about his support for the pharmaceutical industry. Surely the process works if it ejects such ridiculous figures as if they were tainted food in the political digestive tract.

Poking fun at this list of not-so-dearly-departed administration officials is too easy. More important is to demonstrate that the so-called adults are doing as much if not more damage to this country than the people who didn’t spend enough time in their jobs to screw things up royally.

So, before assigning blame on specific issues, let’s take a look at exactly how “adult” U.S. foreign policy has been over the last ten months. The United States has come close to tearing up the most important arms control deal of the last 25 years and edging closer to war with Iran. It has escalated the conflict with North Korea, which has raised the risk of a nuclear exchange. It has extended the longest American war by sending thousands more troops to Afghanistan. It has continued a misguided “war on terrorism” by supporting the Saudi devastation of Yemen, expanding the CIA’s capacity for conducting drone strikes, and helping to create the next generation of anti-Western jihadists in Syria and Iraq.

Beyond war and peace issues, it has pulled out of the Paris climate accord, withdrew from UNESCO, and reinstituted the “global gag rule” on abortion that will affect nearly $ 9 billion in U.S. funding of health initiatives around the world. It has continued to push for the building of the infamous wall on the border with Mexico, implemented several travel bans that disproportionately target Muslims, and gone after the Dreamers. It has proposed slashing foreign aid and State Department funding more generally. It has driven a stake through the heart of multilateralism.

What exactly is “adult” about this rash and destructive foreign policy? Yes, the world hasn’t been destroyed (yet) by nuclear war. But that’s a pretty low bar for the administration’s accomplishments.

Nor is it possible to argue that Trump himself is solely responsible for this foreign policy. Trump has only a vague grasp of foreign policy to begin with. His impulse is to oppose whatever the Obama administration put together — the Iran deal, participation in the Paris accords, various trade deals — even where there might be bipartisan support. To get any of these concrete policies implemented, Trump needs foreign policy professionals who can, at the very least, spell words correctly and use the proper names of foreign leaders. Trump relies on these “adults” not to restrain him but to implement his craziest ideas.

So, the only conclusion is that Tillerson, Mattis, McMaster, and Kelly have at least some, if not sole, responsibility for Trump’s foreign policy. Tillerson has presided over the destruction of the State Department — its personnel cuts, its circumscribed influence. Mattis has facilitated the significant budget increases for the Pentagon. McMaster has called the president’s tweets on North Korea “completely appropriate” and shares the president’s distaste for the Iran nuclear deal. John Kelly, in his former role as head of Homeland Security, was a big booster of the travel ban.

The evidence is in. Engagement at the very highest levels with the Trump administration has not tempered its worst qualities. If anything, these “adults” have been the chief enablers of this most reckless of presidents. They’ve given him the thinnest frosting of legitimacy. Moreover, even these so-called adults don’t rescue the Trump administration from being outside the norms of democratic discourse in this country.

The Politics of Lustration

In Eastern Europe, after the changes of 1989, the successor governments considered laws that would prevent those who collaborated with the Communist apparatus from serving in public office. These were controversial laws. It was often difficult to determine who had collaborated (as opposed to simply been accused of collaborating), and the process was quickly politicized by various political parties. Also, what constituted collaboration: membership in the Communist Party, working in the secret police, or just communicating with the secret police?

Still, lustration served as a way of distinguishing one era from another, of drawing what the Poles called a “thick line” between unacceptable collaboration and legitimate politics.

Lustration, like de-Baathification, was a deeply flawed process. But I’m attracted to the idea of eventually drawing a thick line between acceptable democratic practice and what the Trump administration has attempted to do in this country. I’m not talking about going after civil servants or low-level appointees. I’m certainly not talking about Trump voters. No, only the topmost officials in the administration, including his Cabinet of Horrors, should be subjected, post-2020, to an informal ban on further public service or the receipt of anything that might be construed an honor at a major institution.

Let me be clear. I’m not talking about Republicans. Many Republicans have already taken strong stands against Trump’s excesses, and many more will do so over the next three years. No, this campaign against collaborationists must be bipartisan. And the targets should certainly include registered Democrats like chief economic advisor Gary Cohn.

It won’t be a witch hunt. These people are extraordinarily rich and powerful. Their wealth and power will survive public shaming. But such a process will be absolutely important to discredit Trumpism not just as a belief system but as an ideology of power in which all methods of achieving wealth and position are legitimate.

We can’t put Trump and his claque into the stockade like in Puritan America. We can’t ostracize them — send them into foreign exile for 10 years, as the ancient Athenians did. But we can declare the collaborationists, including the “adults in the room,” an affront to human dignity and threaten to resign from, boycott, or malign any institution that dares to hire them, honor them, or work with them.

It’s something to look forward to during the long political winter ahead.

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The Racial Wealth Divide in Trump’s America

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(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.

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VIDEO: Busting Trump’s Tax Myths

President Trump begins a barn-storming tour to tout his tax plan, we’ve released a short video rebutting some of the most common Republican myths about corporate tax cuts. Trump has claimed that we’ll “see a rocket ship” once his tax plan is adopted — that’s just how much he wants us to believe the economy will take off.

But as predicted, the plan he and congressional Republican leaders released on September 27 would primarily benefit the wealthy and big corporations. For the rest of us, it would be a dud.

In this video, IPS tax expert Sarah Anderson goes head-to-head with President Trump to rebut his corporate tax cut claims. Trump says his plan will make the economy take off like a rocket. Anderson explains why it will really be a “Rocket for the Rich.”

On the corporate side, the video shows Trump claiming that slashing the federal tax rate from 35 percent to 20 percent will lead to huge numbers of new U.S. jobs. Many researchers have dispelled this myth, including the U.S. Federal Reserve, theEconomic Policy Institute, and the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities.

At the Institute for Policy Studies, we recently took a novel approach by analyzing the 92 U.S. publicly held corporations that paid an effective tax rate of less than 20 percent from 2008-2015. What we found is that overall these tax-dodging firms had median job growth of negative one percent, compared to a six percent employment increase among U.S. private sector firms as a whole. Not surprisingly, we found that some of the proceeds from this tax savings were winding up instead in higher-than-average pay for their CEOs.

The video also rebuts the president’s claim that U.S. corporations pay more in taxes than firms in other globally competitive countries. Because of all the loopholes in the U.S. tax code, government revenue from corporations is actually lower in the United States than the average for industrialized countries. And the new Republican plan gives very little detail on what loopholes they might close. At the same time, the plan offers huge new tax breaks to corporations, including allowing multinationals to pay little-to-no taxes on the profits they book offshore.

In short, Trump’s tax cuts would be like a rocket ship — but only for big corporations and the 1%. For ordinary Americans, it would mean deep cuts to Medicare, Society Security, and other services.

As he travels around the United States, let’s hope Trump hears from the majority of Americans who reject the “trickle down” theory that tax cuts grow the economy and create jobs. It’s time for the wealthy and big corporations to pay their fair share.

Video by Victoria Borneman and Peter Certo.

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

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(Photo: UNHCR Photo Unit / Flickr

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Trump’s Pardon of Joe Arpaio Is Deeply Disturbing

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(Photo: Caravan 4 Peace / Flickr)

During a speech to a group of police officers in July, President Trump returned to one of his favorite themes of the campaign season: violence. “Please don’t be too nice” to the “thugs being thrown into the back of a paddy wagon,” Trump advised the officers. Be “rough.”

The president’s endorsement of police brutality was met with applause from the officers and shock from activists and pundits alike.

Sensing the brewing backlash, the White House insisted that the president was simply making a joke. Even Attorney General Jeff Sessions, the country’s top law enforcement official — a man with his own complicated history of encouraging the worst impulses of the police — attempted to distance himself from the controversy.

Yet the president just proved that when it comes to endorsing police brutality, especially against communities of color, he’s dead serious.

For more than 20 years, Sheriff Joe Arpaio of Maricopa County, Arizona terrorized Latino communities, harassed immigrants, and made life a living hell for prisoners in his care in order to build a reputation as “America’s toughest sheriff”.

These systematic violations of human and constitutional rights eventually landed Arpaio in legal trouble of his own. Then President Trump pardoned him.

Arpaio had been awaiting sentencing for a July conviction of criminal contempt.

Back in 2011, a federal judge ordered Arpaio to stop targeting and detaining Latinos just to inquire about their immigration status. Nevertheless, Arpaio persisted for another 18 months, insisting that his racial profiling was lawful. He emasculated inmates, forcing them to wear pink underwear, and attempted to starve them with food that was called inedible.

He tortured them, too: Beginning in the 1990s, Arpaio opened Tent City Jail, which forced inmates to live outside in the extreme Arizona heat. An untold number of inmates died.

To the law, Arpaio is a convicted criminal who built his career on denying the constitutional and human rights of the most vulnerable among us. To Trump, he’s “a patriot” who kept “Arizona safe.”

“Throughout his time as sheriff,” a White House statement bleated, “Arpaio continued his life’s work of protecting the public from the scourges of crime and illegal immigration.” In other words, the innocent immigrants who were harassed, and the prisoners who were tortured, were the real criminals.

Trump promised to be the “law and order candidate” during his campaign. He codified this promise once he became president in the “Standing Up For Our Law Enforcement Community” section of the White House website. “The Trump administration will be a law and order administration,” it echoed.

For the president, it seems, “standing up” for law enforcement includes allowing officers to subvert the rule of law to commit acts of brutality with impunity. Empowering law enforcement to “keep our streets free of crime and violence” means supporting racial profiling. And “law and order” only applies to some, namely those that support the president.

With Trump’s pardon of Arpaio, a message has been sent: When it comes to police brutality of the kind Arpaio perpetuated for decades, the Trump administration won’t simply be complicit in it. It will promote it.

And that’s nothing to joke about.

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