If the Trump Revolution Is Possible, So Is a Progressive One

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(Photo: Seth Anderson / Flickr)

Don’t kid yourself: 2016 was a revolutionary year in the United States.

Yes, I know, the United States is a deeply conservative country. Americans don’t engage in periodic attempts to overthrow the system. There is no viable political party that threatens the status quo. When protesters gather in Washington, they have no intention of storming Congress, the White House, or the Federal Reserve.

The most radical movements, like Occupy Wall Street, are leaderless and amorphous, and thus toothless.

Americans are so conservative that the revolution that created the country in the 18th century appears in history books as more a break from England than a break from tradition.

So, when a revolution does occur, Americans can’t even recognize what’s in front of their eyes.

The election of Donald Trump last year was revolutionary — even though it took place through established institutions and had all the hallmarks of a reaction (to the Obama “revolution”). Trump supporters thrilled to their candidate’s promises to tear down everything that hitherto represented the establishment: all politicians, Wall Street, the Pentagon, federal institutions, Hollywood, even the international community.

This urge to destroy even carried over to the cultural level, where Trump effectively abolished “political correctness” — a derogatory term for what other folks would just call being respectful. Such a sweeping transformation of social conventions was comparable to French revolutionaries creating their own calendar, replacing the names of the months with such peculiarities as Brumaire and Thermidor.

Don’t be fooled by Trump’s own elite cred. Many revolutionaries — George Washington, Lenin — came from the same segment of society that they aimed to overthrow. Also, don’t fall for the “restoration” rhetoric of the Trumpistas. The America of the past that they invoke is imaginary. They are out to construct a bold, new America that combines elements of the past — racism, homophobia, extreme wealth — with a new vision of shrunken government and corporations run amok. It is an overturning of the liberal order that has prevailed for much of the last century.

Of course, the Trump victory resulted from the same kind of improbabilities as most revolutions. His electoral margin was miniscule (a matter of some 80,000 votes in three key states, though he in fact lost the overall popular vote by millions more). He benefited from the huge intervention of unrestricted “dark money” made possible by the 2010 Citizens United decision by the Supreme Court. And he had the twin tailwinds of WikiLeaks and Russian digital skullduggery (which might have been a single tailwind, protestations of Julian Assange notwithstanding).

In other words, Trump didn’t represent an overwhelming urge by a majority of Americans to upend their own society. Ever since Russian revolutionaries called themselves Bolsheviks (the majoritarians) when they were so manifestly the political minority, insurrectionists have made misleading claims about their popular support. Trump is a man of the (ever-diminishing slice of the) people.

There’s another important revolutionary aspect to consider. All revolutions are doomed to eat their own. The insurrectionists have their knives out. The bloody feast has begun.

A Russian Meal

In the old days, when insurrectionists feared a counter-coup and had to clear out of the royal palace as soon as possible, they stole whatever they could easily transport — the silverware, a few bottles of fine wine, priceless paintings sliced from their frames and rolled up.

Trump and his cronies always planned a grand looting of the commonwealth. But the increased tempo of their snatch and grab in recent days suggests that they’re feeling a certain desperation as the Russiagate noose tightens. There’s the gerrymandering of the two national monuments in Utah that will open up vast tracts to energy and mineral companies. There’s the tax reform package that will reward America’s wealthiest. There’s the decision to recognize Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, which is a big give-away to Israeli leader Benjamin Netanyahu and his U.S. backers.

Even if they believe that they can escape the Russian probe, the Trump insurrectionists are certainly worried about next year’s mid-term elections. They are checking their watches to see how much longer they can use their positions for maximum personal benefit.

Yes, of course, they all protest loudly that they’re serving their country. But you probably didn’t hear the mumbled end of their sentence. They’re serving their country…to the wolves.

Now, in a fitting turnabout, they are also worried about being served.

Former National Security Advisor Michael Flynn has already pleaded guilty to lying about his Russia contacts. The plea also involves cooperation with special counsel Robert Mueller. That means that the investigation will acquire more details not only about what took place after the election, but also before the election.

In light of the ongoing revelations, major administration figures have had to recast their earlier stories of their contact with Russia and WikiLeaks, including the president’s son-in-law Jared Kushner and Attorney General Jeff Sessions. We used to call such initial statements “perjury.” But revolutionary times demand a new revolutionary language: and thus Kushner and Sessions simply “misremembered.”

The president has already tried to diminish the importance of earlier indictments against former campaign manager Paul Manafort and his business partner Rick Gates, as well as foreign policy advisor George Papadopolous. It won’t be so easy for Trump to diminish the importance of Kushner or Sessions. As we slouch further into this era of implausible deniability, the president himself will be backed against the wall, not by counter-revolutionaries with pitchforks but lawyers with summonses. Imagine all the delicious secrets contained in his tax returns alone.

Of course, it’s not just the Russia probe that’s causing a change of personnel in the Trump administration. Infighting, scandal, and sheer incompetence have already claimed Sean Spicer, Steve Bannon, Tom Price, Reince Priebus, Anthony Scaramucci, and Sebastian Gorka.

As in any revolution, the truly ruthless are waiting in the wings for their chance. Rumors abound of a shake-up at the highest level that would expel Rex Tillerson, a relative vegetarian among the carnivores, and replace him at secretary of state with the truly repellent Mike Pompeo. The new CIA chief, according to The New York Times report that Trump later blastedas “fake news,” would be Tom Cotton. The young Arkansas Republican will soon be the standard-bearer for the new Republican Party, someone who can combine the aggression of the neo-cons with the social conservativism and “common touch” of the Trump wing.

Look upon 2020 and despair! Cotton is far more dangerous than Trump or even the telegenic evangelist Mike Pence.

Such is the logic of revolution. After Lenin: Stalin.

On the Bright Side

As with all revolutions, the Trump insurrection has opened people’s eyes to the potential instability of all that had previously seemed solid. If the Clinton dynasty could come to an end at the hands of someone so obviously ill equipped to lead the country, then perhaps the institutions of the status quo are not as firmly entrenched as conventional wisdom would make them out to be.

First off, the victory of an outsider has encouraged other outsiders, this time on the progressive side of the spectrum, to get involved in politics, from transgender candidate Danica Roehm snagging a seat in the Virginia state house to Liberian refugee Wilmot Collins becoming mayor of Helena, Montana. There are two Indivisible chapters in every congressional district, and much of the new electoral energy is coming from women. According to Emily’s List, 20,000 women have thrown their hat into the political ring (including my former IPS colleague Daphne Wysham, who is running for a seat in the Oregon statehouse).

The resistance is not confined to the electoral arena. The Black Lives Matter movement is mobilizing with renewed energy against the uptick in racism in the Trump era.

Then there’s the widespread resistance to sexual harassment.

At one level, the accusations that continue to take down powerful men in the entertainment industry, politics, commerce, and journalism represent the determination by victims to get rid of the “bad eggs.” But such a campaign promises to be much more: a thoroughgoing resistance to the combination of privilege (generally male) and power (also overwhelmingly male).

Replacing a few malefactors is hardly revolutionary. Transforming American institutions so that they no longer reproduce patriarchy — well, that’s a paradigm shift.

Revolution is in the air. Why should the far right have all the fun?

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VIDEO: Trump Is All in on the Philippine Drug War

U.S. President Donald Trump recently met Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte for the first time — in fact, the two were photographed clinking champagne flutes. Duterte’s brutal war on drug users, which has left upwards of 13,000 dead from extrajudicial executions, has been roundly condemned by world leaders — except for Trump himself.

The U.S. president has praised Duterte and even invited him to the White House. In return, Duterte made the developer of Trump Tower Manila his envoy to the United States. Emolument clause, anyone?

The post VIDEO: Trump Is All in on the Philippine Drug War appeared first on Institute for Policy Studies.

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Trump Plans to Make It Easier to Kill Civilians with Drones. Sadly, We Can Thank Obama for That.

 

(Photo: Debra Sweet / Flickr)

Barely a month after President Donald Trump announced plans to deepen and extend the now 16-year-old U.S. war in Afghanistan, reports surfaced of plans to expand another signature Obama-era policy: the drone war.

Specifically, The New York Times reported in late September that the administration is relaxing Obama-era restrictions on who can be targeted and removing a requirement that strikes receive high-level vetting before they’re carried out. According to the paper, the new rules would also “ease the way to expanding such gray-zone acts of sporadic warfare” into new countries, expanding the program’s already global footprint.

Across administrations, the use of drones has increased exponentially throughout the course of the war on terror. Even before the rule change, Micah Zenko of the Council on Foreign Relations estimated that the pace of drone strikes and special forces raids had increased from one every 5.4 days under President Obama to one every 1.25 days under President Trump.

In addition to increasing the pace of these operations, the Trump administration has also loosened guidelines designed to protect civilians in areas like Yemen and Somalia, and overseen a notable increase in civilian casualties in war zones like Iraq and Syria.

In this environment, rescinding the Obama administration’s already lax restrictions on drone attacks — coupled with Trump’s overt and express disregard for human rights and the rule of law — is clearly cause for concern. But that also shouldn’t be a pathway toward normalizing the Obama administration’s own use of drones.

Instead, we need to understand the excesses of the war on terror as a trajectory: The abuse of power under one administration leads to the abuse of power under another. Trump may be driving it more recklessly, but he’s still operating a machine the Obama administration built.

Licensed to Kill

The controversy over drones during the Obama administration reached an early flashpoint in 2011, when a drone pilot assassinated a U.S. citizen in Yemen by the name of Anwar Al-Awlaki — followed, two weeks later, by the U.S. killing of his 16-year-old son.

It was another two years before Obama’s Department of Justice released a white paper that detailed its legal argument sanctioning Al-Awlaki’s murder. As the ACLU’s Jameel Jaffer explained, the paper said the government would only target “imminent” threats, and only when “capture was infeasible.” But in practice, Jaffer noted, the administration used an extremely expansive definition of “imminent” that “deprives the word of its ordinary meaning.”

“Without saying so explicitly,” Jaffer worried, the government was effectively claiming “the authority to kill American terrorism suspects in secret,” virtually anywhere in the world.

That same year, responding to increasing criticism, Obama himself gave a speech attempting to clarify the boundaries of this particular tactic. “America’s actions are legal,” the president asserted of the drone war, which he claimed was being “waged proportionally, in last resort, and in self-defense.”

So it was perfectly legal, in the Obama administration’s view, to launch 10 times more strikes than the Bush administration, according to the Bureau of Investigative Journalism, in a vast arc extending from Libya to the Philippines.

Meaningless Standards

But if the war on terror has taught us anything, it’s that legality is malleable — and never transparent. It’s taught us that accountability is impossible when the laws obscure the crime.

In his 2013 speech, for instance, Obama referenced a set of presidential policy guidelines on drone strikes. Yet these weren’t released until August 2016, more than three years after Obama’s attempt at “transparency.” Two of those guidelines stated that there must be “near certainty” that a lawful target is present before a strike is approved, as well as a “near certainty that non-combatants will not be injured or killed.”

Yet it was never clear what this meant. “The [United States] has never described what post-strike standards, protocols, and mechanisms exist to systematically verify compliance with this policy standard,” Amnesty International noted in a critical 2013 report.

Indeed, the Obama administration seemed to take an expansive view of who counts as a “lawful target.” It embraced a practice of launching “signature strikes” where the targets were unknown altogether to the people who approved them. Such targeting was based on behaviors deemed to be indicative of terrorist activity, though what exactly that means was never clear either.

In fact, the White House apparently didn’t designate many victims as “lawful targets” until after they’d been killed. “It in effect counts all military-age males in a strike zone as combatants,” the Times reported in 2012, “unless there is explicit intelligence posthumously proving them innocent.”

That’s why government estimates of civilian causalities have been routinely lower than counts by NGOs. For example, the U.S. government estimated civilian deaths at between 64 and 116 in Pakistan, Yemen, Somalia and Libya combined between January 2009 and December 2015. The Bureau of Investigative Journalism’s estimate was substantially higher — between 380 and 801, using relatively conservative criteria.

Worse still, there’s been no accountability for the government officials responsible for civilian deaths. “[N]o such amends exist for civilians harmed by US drones in Pakistan,” the Center for Civilians in Conflict reported in 2012. And no one in Pakistan or Yemen had received “apologies, explanations or monetary payments as amends from the U.S. government.”

In other words, not only was the White House’s commitment to avoiding civilian deaths a largely symbolic gesture, there was in fact no apparatus for justice at all. If legality is an assertion, and if breaches of the law have no consequences, what could ever make the drone war illegal?

Underlying Violence

These are a mere handful of the serious moral, ethical, and legal problems surrounding Obama’s use of drones. They point to inconsistencies, performative justice, and a wholesale lack of accountability — all of which characterized the modest restrictions Trump is now rolling back on the global killing program.

Across all administrations, the logic that maintains a seemingly insignificant line between legal and illegal tactics in the war on terror has a great deal to do with Islamophobia. The victims are all Muslims, or those racialized as Muslims, and are mostly out of sight and out of mind.

Most Americans don’t see the violence and can’t comprehend it — a fact that’s abetted not only the escalation of drone warfare, but also the endless wars in the greater Middle East and the erosion of civil liberties at home under the war on terror more generally. And it’s why Muslim victims have few prospects for accountability.

It is this system of oppression that ultimately underlies drone warfare, whether under Bush, Obama, or Trump. It’s what allows the violence to escalate each year as the war on terror continues — and October 7 marked the start of its 17th year.

Human rights safeguards are meant to be absolute, not relative. Obama’s Democratic Party affiliation doesn’t make his drone warfare program any less illegal than Trump’s brutish brand of Republican politics. It was Obama’s skirting of these standards, in fact, that enables Trump to be all the more brutal.

We must demand standards for the war on terror that are based on international human rights and humanitarian law. As Trump’s abuses become increasingly clear, let’s re-imagine what the protection and preservation of human rights looks like and work to ensure that it’s our standard regardless of who’s in power.

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Don’t Believe the Trump Administration: MS-13 is Not Ravaging the United States.

Flickr: Mara Salvatrucha

Immigration rates are slowing, and violent crime is at historic record lows, yet the rhetoric about both could not be more heated. The number of new legal immigrants leveled off starting with the Great Recession, while the absolute number of unauthorized immigrants has been falling since 2007. Crime rates have been dropping sharply for far longer, especially for violent crimes, which are just half as common as in 1993, according to FBI statistics.

Yet if you didn’t know better, you might think we’re living in a crime-ravaged dystopia out of “RoboCop,” where foreign gangs prey on fearful citizens in lawless sanctuary cities. That’s certainly the impression one gets from President Trump, who spoke of “American carnage” in his inauguration speech and has proposed a federal agency to track crimes by immigrants, even though research has shown immigrants commit less crime than U.S.-born citizens. Attorney General Jeff Sessions has been leading a crusade against sanctuary cities — cities that limit their cooperation with federal immigration authorities to encourage immigrant cooperation with local police — claiming that these cities have higher rates of violent crime than other cities. The report he cited, however, actually showed this is not true.

The latest boogeyman is MS-13, a gang network that is playing a larger-than-life role in the Virginia gubernatorial election, with encouragement from Trump. Last week, he tweeted that Democratic candidate Ralph Northam “is fighting for the violent MS-13 killer gangs & sanctuary cities.” The tweet echoed television ads that Northam’s Republican opponent Ed Gillespie has been airing throughout the commonwealth, which state Northam “voted in favor of sanctuary cities that let dangerous illegal immigrants back on the street, increasing the threat of MS-13,” while flashing the words “Kill, Rape, Control.”

Read the full article at The Washington Post.

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Trump Is Signaling an Unprecedented Right Turn on Foreign Policy

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Every few years — sometimes four, sometimes eight — America’s political mood swings from one pole to another.

It’s a not-uncommon disorder for democracies. Voters get disgusted with one flavor of politics and opt for another. For better or worse, the United States doesn’t have a Baskin-Robbins democracy. So, the vacillations in Americans’ political taste can only pendulum between chocolate and vanilla.

It’s one thing for America to lurch from one end of the spectrum to the other on fiscal matters, the advisability of universal health care, or the economic impact of immigration.

On foreign policy, however, the shifts are not just mystifying to those outside U.S. borders, they’re downright frightening.

Consider the Trump administration’s decision to make a U-turn on Iran policy. This week, Trump has pledged to go against the previous administration, many of his own top advisors, the International Atomic Energy Agency, and an overwhelming majority of the world’s nations in decertifying that Iran has abided by the terms of the nuclear deal negotiated back in 2015.

For Trump’s critics, including virtually all Iran policy experts at the moment, this attempt at scuttling the world’s most sophisticated arms control agreement sends absolutely the wrong signal to Iran. Trump is essentially saying, “It doesn’t really matter whether you have adhered to the letter of the agreement, we’re still going to break our commitment because, honestly, we just don’t like you. And by the way, you can’t count on the United States to keep its word in the future.”

Trump is sending an even more damaging message to the rest of the world: “We as a country suffer from mood swings so severe and delusions so enduring that we can no longer be a responsible member of the international community.”

After deep-sixing the Trans-Pacific Partnership and pulling the United States out of the Paris climate agreement, the Trump administration is making good on this one campaign promise even as all the others stall in Congress or the courts. Trump will make America First even if it means going against obvious American national interests, even those defined by the Chamber of Commerce.

This is not the first time that other countries have witnessed the political instability of the United States. But in the past, some underlying continuity provided a measure of reassurance to other countries. Voters might choose vanilla or chocolate, but the world still expects in the end to get some variety of ice cream.

What makes the Trump era different is the lack of that underlying continuity. Trump might look like vanilla or chocolate or some kind of swirl, but in reality he’s Semtex in a cone. After pretending for a year or more that he’s a natural product of the system, even top members of the governing party have become deeply worried about the orange brick of plastic explosive that now occupies the Oval Office.

Past Mood Swings

The last 40 years of American political life have been a series of switchbacks. Ford made way for Carter who made way for Reagan. After George H.W. Bush came a leftish turn under Clinton, a rightish turn under George W. Bush, then a left with Obama, then a hard right with Trump.

In some cases, the new party in power instituted a profound policy transformation. Ronald Reagan ushered in a new economic order. George W. Bush introduced a new post-Cold War unilateralism.

Trump has vowed to destroy the old order altogether.

Adversaries and allies alike can be excused for suffering from whiplash trying to keep up with the changes. Let’s consider this problem from the vantage point of North Korea, which has had only three leaders in over 70 years and no significant U-turn in policy during that time.

The North Korean leadership negotiated a deal with the Clinton administration in 1994 only to come face to face six years later with open hostility from the George W. Bush administration. It was a bewildering experience. Kim Jong Il apparently mourned what had been possible under Clinton, saying to the former president when he visited in 2009 that “The United States would have had a new friend in Northeast Asia in a complex world.”

Then, after finally managing to secure agreement with this initially hostile Bush administration in 2005, North Korea came up hard three years later against the cautious indifference of the Obama administration. The North Koreans were not entirely blameless in this shadow play, but still they must think that the United States has cyclical bouts of insanity.

It’s not just the North Koreans. The democratic world, for instance, found the transition to the George W. Bush years particularly bewildering. Even before the attacks of September 11, 2001, the Bush administration announced that it wouldn’t implement the Kyoto Protocol on global warming. After the attacks, the administration broke with international law by embarking on a “preventive” war, violating the Geneva Conventions on treatment of captured combatants, and engaging in torture. The administration also backed away from the Rome statute establishing the International Criminal Court in May 2002 and withdrew from the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty with the Russia in June 2002. All of these actions profoundly troubled America’s allies.

And yet in some respects even the Bush years seem like a golden age of multilateralism compared to the present moment. The Bush administration mobilized international support against al-Qaeda and Osama bin Laden. It attempted to fashion its own “coalition of the willing” to invade Iraq. It would put together six-party talks to negotiate a deal with North Korea. It pushed through a Central America Free Trade Agreement. Bush may have been a cowboy, but he didn’t embrace an entirely go-it-alone ethos.

In other words, even with its sharp turn toward unilateralism, the Bush administration held to a bipartisan consensus in favor of multilateral initiatives that benefit the United States. In some ways Bush offered only a variation on the Clinton theme of “a la carte multilateralism” in which the United States picks and chooses the international structures with which it wants to cooperate.

This kind of Bush-style unilateralism wrapped in a-la-carte multilateralism has returned to the White House. It’s represented by most of the top administration officials involved in foreign affairs: Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, Pentagon chief James Mattis, and National Security Advisor H.R. McMaster. These are the so-called adults in the room.

But Trump is something different. And that’s what has thrown Republicans like Bob Corker (R-TN) into a tizzy.

Corker and Iran

When the Obama administration was trying to win congressional support for the Iran nuclear deal back in 2015, the Republican Party was skeptical, to say the least. In the Senate, Republican lawmakers even managed to attract four Democrats to their effort to break a Democratic filibuster against a resolution to reject the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA). But the effort still fell two votes short, and the deal went through.

Bob Corker was part of this Republican bloc. But his role behind the scenes was more complicated than this vote might indicate. Together with Ben Cardin (D-MD), Corker negotiated a series of deals with the Obama administration that ultimately eased passage of the bill by requiring not congressional approval but, rather, congressional disapproval of the agreement (which required more than a simple majority vote). In return, the administration agreed to various oversight mechanisms — including one that requires the president to certify Iranian compliance with the deal every 90 days. Corker and Cardin also worked to expand non-nuclear sanctions against Iran.

Bob Corker is not a moderate Republican. He has an 80 percent ranking from the American Conservative Union for 2016 (by comparison, Susan Collins of Maine clocks in at 44 percent). He’s no softie on Iran, either. Last year, he continued to try to pile on additional sanctions against Iran. Ultimately, he had to content himself with an extension of the Iran Sanctions Act for another 10 years. During the presidential campaign, Corker advised Donald Trump on foreign policy and was even in the running for secretary of state.

Corker is cut from the same cloth as Rex Tillerson. They’re conservative Republicans who believe in “America First.” But they’re also committed to preserving a measure of professionalism, if nothing else, when it comes to U.S. foreign policy. They want to preserve U.S. alliances. They want to advance the interests of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce.

They’re not isolationists, and they’re not exactly internationalists either. They occupy the right wing of the underlying foreign policy consensus that encompasses the think tanks, lobby shops, and mainstream media in DC. They play ball whether it’s a Democrat or a Republican in the White House and whichever party controls Congress. They are part of the continuity in American foreign policy that transcends the elections.

So, when Bob Corker takes aim at Donald Trump, it represents a serious breach not just within the Republican Party but within the foreign policy establishment. Over the weekend, Corker charged that Trump was making threats toward other countries that could send the United States reeling toward “World War III.” Later, Corker tweeted in response to Trump, “It’s a shame the White House has become an adult day care center. Someone obviously missed their shift this morning.” Having decided not to run for re-election, Corker is now free to speak truth to power.

Corker’s most proximate concern is Trump deciding to bomb North Korea. But the issue of Iran is also on the senator’s mind. Trump has blamed Corker for the Iran deal when in fact the Tennessee senator was merely trying to give Congress some say over the process. When the president decertifies Iran’s compliance, according to the legislation that Corker helped to pass, Congress will then have the authority to re-impose the nuclear-related sanctions that the JCPOA lifted. But the Republicans have a slim majority in the Senate and the president can’t afford to alienate a single member of his party.

So, why pick a fight with Corker just when the president will need him most on the congressional battle over any new Iran sanctions? Writes Adam Taylor in The Washington Post:

By handing off any real decision to Congress, [Trump] can avoid having to make a hard decision himself. And by picking a fight with Corker, he has a scapegoat if his supporters grow frustrated with a lack of action in Congress. It seems plausible that Trump’s allies are simply being prepared for another legislative failure.

In other words, it’s all about the war that Trump and his still-loyal lieutenant Steve Bannon, assisted by UN ambassador Nikki Haley, have declared on the “deep state.” They want to dismantle the foreign policy establishment that has presided over America’s engagement in the world. A progressive might find much to rejoice in this attack, given that America’s engagement with the world has often been through war and corporate penetration. But the establishment is more than that, and Trump/Bannon also want to unravel everything of diplomatic and humanitarian value as well.

Also, Trump and Bannon aren’t really interested in draining the foreign policy swamp in DC. They simply want to install their own cronies who will ensure that war and globalization benefit them rather than Kissinger and his ilk. It’s a shell game designed to fool Trump’s base, but the rest of the world has kept its eye on the ball. That’s why Israel and Saudi Arabia, who also benefit from Trump-style war and globalization, continue to rejoice at White House policies when everyone else is aghast.

Trump is calculating that every defeat he’s handed by the foreign policy establishment will only boost his standing for the next election. The outrage of Bob Corker and the international community only burnishes his reputation among those who want to build walls everywhere, from the border with Mexico to the public bathrooms of North Carolina, and destroy everything else.

But those elections are still some time away. In the meantime, Corker and other freethinking conservatives in his party may be the only thing that can contain the politician of mass destruction that is Donald Trump.

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VIDEO: The U.S. War in Afghanistan Is Now 16 Years Old. Trump Has No Plans to End It.

On October 7, 2001, the U.S. invaded Afghanistan. The war is now 16 years old — and that’s not even counting the decade of U.S. intervention in the country during the Cold War.

Donald Trump once advocated the “speedy withdrawal” of U.S. troops from that country. As president, however, he’s gone in the opposite direction, demanding the U.S. must now “fight to win.” 

As Phyllis Bennis, director of the IPS New Internationalism project, explains in this short video, Trump’s plans to extend the war he once supported ending are even more worrisome for their lack of transparency. He’s not said how many new troops he’ll send or how long they’ll be deployed. Worse still, civilian casualties in multiple U.S. wars have been on the rise since he took office — by 67 percent in just six months.

It’s clear by now that the solution to terrorism won’t come from using military power, Bennis explains. That can only be achieved by diplomacy. “It’s harder, it takes longer, it’s not as sexy, it’s not sexy on CNN, it’s not any of those things,” she concludes. “But it’s the only thing that will work.” 

Video by Victoria Borneman and Peter Certo.

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INDIANA FARMER CAMPAIGNING WITH TRUMP TO REPEAL ESTATE TAX CASHED $3.3 M IN FARM SUBSIDY CHECKS

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE, September 27, 2017

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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How Energy Department Whistleblowers Outsmarted the Trump Administration

rick perry

Energy Secretary Rick Perry (Photo: Gage Skidmore / Flickr)

The Department of Energy just issued a new study on alleged threats to the reliability of the electric grid. Maybe that sounds boring and arcane to you, but the backstory is actually quite gripping.

It’s a tale of high-level government corruption, an Inquisition-like atmosphere for career government scientists, and a sinister agenda that appears to be going off the rails, thanks partly to brave whistleblowers. In short, it has all the ingredients of what in normal times would’ve been a classic Washington scandal.

A bit of background: In April, Energy Secretary Rick Perry ordered his staff to perform a study on how “continued regulatory burdens, as well as mandates and tax and subsidy policies, are responsible for forcing the premature retirement of baseload power plants.”

The term “baseload” refers to fossil fuel and nuclear power plants that can generate power continuously, unlike intermittent renewable sources that generate power only when the sun shines or the wind blows.

Cutting through the jargon, Perry ordered the study with a clear outcome in mind: to suggest that regulations on coal and government supports for clean energy were somehow destabilizing the U.S. power grid.

Evidently Perry doesn’t know much about advances in energy.

Technological change and market forces are making clean energy competitive with dirty fossil and nuclear energy, helped along by small tax credits (which are nonetheless dwarfed by much larger fossil fuel and nuclear subsidies).

Coal-fired power generation capacity has decreased, nuclear capacity has stagnated, and even natural gas capacity has barely ticked upward — while solar and wind capacity have grown by double digits. Plus, according to Perry’s own department, wind and solar now employ hundreds of thousands more Americans than older industries like coal.

Together with impressive advances in energy storage and smart grid technology, those trends are reducing the need for a large baseload capacity by making it possible to store renewable energy and distribute it wherever it’s needed.

Thankfully, career experts at the Energy Department don’t share Perry’s ignorance or bias. To prove it, they leaked a draft of their completed study before political appointees could alter or bury the results.

Unsurprisingly, they concluded that Perry’s starting premise was faulty — even as coal and nuclear plants are retired and the share of renewables in the grid grows, the grid has become more reliable. A number of independent experts share this conclusion.

Thanks to these brave whistleblowers, it’s easy to spot the subsequent meddling by political hacks.

And meddle they did. However, the degree of tampering was less than what it could have been had the earlier draft not been released. The overarching conclusion that the reliability of the grid has not been compromised — and in fact the grid has become more reliable — has not been altered.

But new policy recommendations have been added that betray an obvious political footprint. For instance, the revised version actually calls for easing pollution control requirements for coal-fired power plants — a backwards and potentially illegal move.

Another troubling recommendation calls for a mechanism to “compensate grid participants for services that are necessary to support reliable grid operations.” One such mechanism would be to add a premium to the price of coal power to pay for its supposed reliability — a ratepayer subsidy, in short, for struggling coal-fired power plants.

Still, it could’ve been much worse. The administration could’ve used the report to argue for eliminating “Renewable Portfolio Standards” (RPS) that mandate grid space for non-polluting energy.

RPS policies have been instrumental in driving the rapid growth of solar and wind energy in the U.S. in recent years — in fact, 29 states and D.C. have them. So it’s no surprise Perry’s fossil fuel allies are taking aim at them.

Months ago, when asked about whether he’d use the findings to block state RPS policies, Perry stooped to the lowest trick of contemporary American demagogues — invoking “national security.” That framing led some to worry that Perry was plotting an unprecedented federal intervention in state energy policy.

But thanks to career public servants who reported the facts and made it far more difficult for Perry’s cronies to manipulate or hide them, these destructive ideas didn’t make it into the report. That was no small risk in an administration that’s censored climate science on government websites and undermined the independent scientific boards that advise the EPA. (Not to mention that President Trump, EPA head Scott Pruitt, and Rick Perry himself all publicly deny much of the climate science — even though, in Perry’s case, his home state of Texas is presently underwater from Tropical Storm Harvey.)

The anonymous Energy Department whistleblowers are unsung heroes of our time, helping to derail part of the administration’s destructive agenda on energy and the environment.

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Trump Promised to Put American Workers First. He Lied.

jobs-working-class

(Photo: Maryland GovPics / Flickr)

ADonald Trump celebrates Labor Day by proposing to slash taxes for CEOs such as himself, it may come as a shock that a president who was previously best known for firing people on TV might not have been completely sincere in his promise to put “American workers first”.

And like most things he says, it’s hard to tell what that’s supposed to mean. This is the same man who, as a candidate, said US workers’ salaries were “too high”, something even the most reactionary politician knows not to say out loud.

So when he proclaims that “lower taxes on American business means higher wages for American workers”, the fact that this statement is demonstrably false is beside the point: as a new report from the Institute for Policy Studies shows, the job growth rate for corporations that paid the least amount in taxes over the past eight years was negative 1%, compared to 6% for the private sector as a whole; businesses for the most part spent tax breaks not on job creation but on stock buybacks and executive pay.

It’s also beside the point whether Trump actually believes corporate tax cuts benefit workers. They benefit him, and the people he goes golfing with, and that’s all that matters. This is a president who embodies rent-seeking at its purest.

Read the full article in the Guardian.

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Trump: The Anti-Gorbachev

Mikhail Gorbachev and Ronald Reagan

Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev and US President Ronald Reagan sit down together inside the Hofdi in Reykjavik, Iceland on Saturday, Oct. 11, 1986 at the start of a series of talks. (Photo: Scott Stewart / AP)

Back in the late 1980s, Mikhail Gorbachev had a magic touch internationally. Traveling outside the Soviet Union, he often received the adulation that was so frequently lacking at home. When Gorbachev visited other Communist countries, crowds would turn out to welcome him as a savior.

He had that effect in Beijing when he visited on May 16, 1989. The protests in Tiananmen Square had started the month before, and the protesters saw in Gorbachev a possible future trajectory for China. According to a contemporary account in The New York Times:

The demonstrations were doubly embarrassing for the Chinese leaders because of the obvious enthusiasm that many of the protesters felt for Mr. Gorbachev. Several had prepared banners in Russian hailing him as a great reformer, and a crowd of workers and bicyclists applauded when he drove past them on his way to the Great Hall of the People.

Even more startling was his appearance at East Germany’s celebrations of its 40th anniversary on October 7, 1989. As he passed along Unter den Linden, crowds on either side of East Berlin’s famous boulevard cried out, “Gorby, help us.” Two days later, 70,000 people showed up to demonstrate, non-violently, in Leipzig. The East German regime, as Gorbachev had warned, was living on borrowed time. The Berlin Wall would fall a mere one month later.

Gorbachev made other important visits — Czechoslovakia in April 1987, Romania in May 1987, Cuba in April 1989 — that contributed to a wave of transformation that took place in East-Central Europe (though not China or Cuba). Of course, Gorbachev failed to transform the Soviet Union as he’d hoped and ended up destroying the very structure he wanted to rehabilitate. Still, he’ll be remembered for his contributions to ending the Cold War and bringing hope to many throughout the Communist world.

Now along comes Donald Trump, the head of another putative superpower desperately in need of internal reform. Trump has promised his own form of perestroika in the form of his attacks on the “administrative state.” He offers his own form of glasnost with his obsessive tweeting. Trumpeting a xenophobic foreign policy, he’s also vowed to thoroughly transform the bloc that he nominally leads.

And when Trump goes abroad, he has his own transformative effect. But while Gorbachev promoted democratization in his wake, Trump promotes exactly the opposite.

The Trump Touch

Donald Trump is the Tinkerbell of tyranny. He sprinkles pixie dust on autocracies to make them more so and on democracies so that they move ever closer to dictatorship.

Trump’s touch was on full view in Saudi Arabia during his first overseas stop as president of the free world. It was an odd choice of destinations, since Saudi Arabia is one of the key leaders of the unfree world.

But Saudi Arabia is Trump’s kind of place, where oil is king, women are submissive, no one protests on the street, and the ruling clique does pretty much whatever it wants to do. Trump seemed fully at home in this feudal kingdom, and he had nothing but praise for his hosts. While there, he also met with other autocrats of the Gulf, such as those ruling Bahrain and the United Arab Emirates.

Not long after he left, Bahrain decided that Trump had effectively given the country a green light to crack down on its opposition. A mere two days after meeting Trump in Riyadh, where the president assured King Hamad bin Issa al-Khalifa that his administration wouldn’t complicate bilateral relations with anything so trivial as human rights considerations, the Bahraini government used force to disband a nonviolent sit-in in support of the country’s most prominent Shiite leader. Five protesters died, and the authorities arrested hundreds. Then, the government shut down al-Wasat, the most prominent independent newspaper, and the Trump administration uttered not a peep of protest.

Saudi Arabia, having extracted a promise of even more U.S. military assistance with which to prosecute its war in Yemen, decided to see how far it could go to leverage its new relationship with the Trump administration. Together with the UAE, Bahrain, and Egypt, it moved against Qatar, a Gulf outlier for its relatively cordial relations with Iran and its relative tolerance for independent journalism in the form of Al Jazeera. This time, the Trump administration was divided, with Trump himself seeming to side with Riyadh while the State Department and the Pentagon stuck up for Doha, a key ally on military matters in the region.

The latest place to experience this Trump effect is Poland. Since Poland is a democracy, at least for the time being, the people fought back and produced an unexpected result.

The Putative Polish Putsch

Trump’s decision to visit to Poland just before the G20 summit was just as pointed as his choice of Saudi Arabia as a first overseas stop. The Polish government that took over 2015, led by the Law and Justice Party (PiS), has taken just the kind of stances that Trump loves: against immigration, against a free press, against the rule of law.

Poland was the perfect place for Trump to hammer home his veiled white supremacist message. Peter Beinart, in The Atlantic, contrasts Trump’s speech in Warsaw to George W. Bush speech there in 2003:

In his 2003 speech, Bush referred to democracy 13 times. Trump mentioned it once. And for good reason. Ideologically, what links the current American and Polish governments is not their commitment to democracy — both are increasingly authoritarian. It is their hostility to Muslim immigration. The European Union is suing Poland’s government for refusing to accept refugees. Among Trump’s biggest applause lines in Warsaw was, “While we will always welcome new citizens who share our values and love our people, our borders will always be closed to terrorism and extremism of any kind.” Given that Trump had linked “our values” to America and Poland’s “tradition,” “faith,” “culture,” and “identity,” it wasn’t hard to imagine whom that leaves out.

Equally important, at least for the PiS audience, was the benediction Trump gave to Poland’s leadership. Poland, Trump said, is “an example for others who seek freedom.”

Shortly after the visit, the Polish ruling party decided to remind the world of precisely what that example represents. It attempted to ram through several laws that would have severely hobbled rule of law in the country. One would have allowed the government to fire all Supreme Court justices and appoint its own replacements; a second would have given parliament, controlled by PiS, the authority to appoint members of the National Council of the Judiciary, a body designed to preserve the independence of the judiciary.

Building on earlier moves to eliminate any pesky judicial constraints on its authority, which prompted an EU “probe” into Polish actions, PiS was following a game plan devised by Viktor Orban and Fidesz in Hungary: to clear away all constitutional barriers to creating an illiberal democracy.

The surprise came when Polish President Andrzej Duda vetoed the two bills. A former PiS stalwart — he had to resign from the party when he became president — Duda was responding to an EU threat to suspend Poland’s voting rights as well as the enormous wave of protests that had washed over the country. Hundreds of thousands of Poles took to the streets in Warsaw, and many veterans of the Solidarity era, including Lech Walesa himself, spoke out vehemently against the government.

PiS was furious at this apostasy. It put enormous counter-pressure on Duda to force him to sign the third bill in the package, which gives the justice minister the power to appoint the heads of all lower courts.

The EU is nevertheless following through on its threat to begin proceedings against Poland, beginning with a legal suit filed by the European Commission against the country for breaking rules on judicial independence and sizeable fines from the European Court of Justice.

In Poland, Donald Trump sees a future trajectory for his own administration. He hasn’t yet attempted to change the laws regulating the courts because he’s been too busy packing them with right-wing ideologues, starting with Neil Gorsuch at the Supreme Court and including 27 lower-court judges (three times what Obama nominated over the same period). Trump has been woefully slow in filling administration positions, particularly at State, but he’s moved at lightning speed to transform the judiciary.

More generally, Trump’s trips to Saudi Arabia and Poland are part of a new geopolitical realignment that advisers like Steve Bannon are pushing. Forget NATO. Forget the Community of Democracies. Donald Trump wants nothing less than a worldwide suppression of liberal values such as rule of law, freedom of speech and assembly, and an independent press.

Gorbachev presided over the end of a geopolitical system — the Cold War. Popular protest — in East-Central Europe and in the Soviet Union itself — led to the unraveling of Soviet-bloc Communism as well. Trump may inadvertently preside over the end of U.S. hegemony, as both Europe and Asia chart more independent paths.

Let’s hope that popular resistance destroys his Trumpian perestroika as well, before it gets any further off the ground.

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