A Dead Justice and A Split Court: Deadlock and Uncertainty Threatens the Legitimacy of the US State


Overnight the death of justice Antonin Scalia has made the role of the US Supreme Court a major issue in this year’s presidential elections. It has also undercut activist moves by the Supreme Court conservative majority to curb presidential power and roll back liberal laws on abortion, public sector unions, affirmative action, and political representation.

There is no pretense any more that the Court is an impartial body standing above politics. Within an hour after the announcement of Scalia’s death, the Republicans, led by Mitch McConnell, vowed to block any Obama nomination – implicitly rejecting the legitimacy of the 2012 election and the authority of the presidential office. So it appears that for the next 11 months at least, the court will be split 4-4 between liberals and conservatives.

Scalia was a pugnaciously partisan ideologue, constructing a rigidly “originalist” interpretation of the constitution that rationalized the reversal or gutting of liberal laws by prioritizing legal texts over legislative intentions. He was part of the majority that struck down the Voting Rights Act and upheld Citizens United. Activist Bianca Jagger tweeted: “I have never forgotten this quote ‘Mere factual innocence is no reason not to carry out a death sentence properly reached’.”

The implications of some of the court’s recent rulings now come sharply into focus. One in particular is the conservative majority’s shock decision last week to place a hold on implementation of the Obama administration’s Clean Power Plan that set emission standards on power plants. A lower court had already rejected state and coal industry appellants’ demand that the regulations be blocked while the case was heard, and normally the Supreme Court would have waited until the lower court had made its decision. The hold has the effect not only of neutralizing Obama’s regulatory agenda, but also sabotages international agreements on curbing carbon emissions.

The New York Times commented: “A clear majority of Americans, including many Republicans, agree that global warming is or will soon be a serious threat. Nearly two-thirds said they would support domestic policies limiting carbon emissions from power plants. But flexibility, a generous time frame for compliance and public opinion were not enough to sway 27 states that sued to stop what they call a ‘power grab’ by the federal government and Mr. Obama’s ‘war on coal.’ Many of these states depend heavily on coal-fired plants for their power and many are run by Republican governors, who either willfully disbelieve well-established climate science or find it politically impossible to take steps necessary to reduce emissions.”

The majority’s decision was also an unprecedented challenge to the legitimacy of executive action. Talking Points Memo noted: “the eagerness of the court to intervene in the implementation of the Clean Power Plan also plays into a larger narrative of a conservative Supreme Court preparing to wage war over how Obama has used his executive power. Coupled with how the Supreme Court has framed a blockbuster immigration case heading its way, the stage is set for the court to engage in the question of whether Obama’s executive powers need to be reined in.”

It stood to concretize a split between the three branches of government, encouraged by the polarization of state legislatures, a stalemate in Congress, and Republican ideological denial of the dangers of global warming that prevents a rational energy policy. Essentially, the erstwhile Court majority had openly set itself up against public opinion and thrown in its hand with the oligarchical opponents of any kind of regulation.

According to ThinkProgress: “This particular challenge to the Clean Power Plan does not arise in a vacuum, however. It is really only one face of a multi-faceted effort to shrink the powers of the presidency and prevent agencies like the EPA from carrying out their lawful authority. Last November, at an annual convention of the Federalist Society — a conservative legal organization whose members include several sitting senators and three Supreme Court justices — the gathered attorneys appeared obsessed with various plans to limit agency actions. … The states challenging the Clean Power plan rely heavily on a 2014 opinion by Justice Scalia suggesting that ‘clear congressional authority’ may be necessary when an agency takes a novel regulatory action. … The challenge to the Clean Power Plan… is also one of the most ambitious attempts to rethink the role of government to reach the Supreme Court in years. And five justices thought this challenge had enough merit that they halted the Clean Power Plan before any lower court had even considered those rules.”

Since Congress is likely to be deadlocked for the indefinite future, such a challenge to the legitimacy of the executive branch’s actions would have made it virtually impossible for it to function. A Democratic president, whether Clinton or Sanders, would have found the power of the office severely curtailed.

Scalia’s death has brought this challenge to a screeching halt. Under the court’s rules, 4-4 split decisions will not set precedents and will leave intact the lower court rulings under review. Linda Hershman pointed out in the Washington Post: “Most of the country, though, is governed by appeals courts dominated by Democrats. The suit against Obama’s environmental initiative, which the Supreme Court just stayed, came from the liberal D.C. Circuit, which had unanimously refused to grant the stay. Now the Obama administration can simply have the Environmental Protection Agency come up with a slightly different new plan and run to the liberal D.C. courts to bless it and refuse to stay it. … Even if the GOP blocks [Obama’s] nominee, the policy outcomes would be very similar to what they’d be if the court had a liberal majority.”

Obama now has eleven months to craft his legacy. And the stakes in the presidential election have been raised significantly. As Josh Marshall commented: “Regardless of what happens with Justice Scalia’s replacement, there will be likely at least three other Justices to be appointed over the next 4-8 years of the next President’s term. The stakes on all the issues people care about—from abortion to guns, from campaign finance and voting rights to affirmative action and the environment, depend upon 9 unelected Justices who serve for life.”

Despite the Republicans’ plans to prevent Obama appointing a new justice, he must do so in order that government continues to function. Otherwise the US will further lose state legitimacy and become as fractured as the Republicans themselves.

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Filed under 2016 Election, Antonin Scalia, clean air act, State legitimacy, Supreme Court, Uncategorized

The Center Cannot Hold: The US Primary Season 2016


In all the hoopla about the presidential primary season, one thing has become clear: the fractures in the Republican and Democratic parties that have surfaced will long outlive this election.

Republican establishment candidates have been resoundingly rejected – Trump and Cruz are favored because of a xenophobic turn in the the party’s declining white base that the candidates have embraced and accentuated. The Washington Post’s E.J. Dionne commented that “the results in Iowa showed a party torn to pieces. Ted Cruz won because he understood from the start the importance of cornering the market on Christian conservatives who have long dominated Iowa’s unusual process. … Donald Trump has created a new wing of the Republican Party by combining older GOP tendencies — nationalism, nativism, racial backlash — with 21st-century worries about American decline and the crushing of working-class incomes. … Marco Rubio was the remainder candidate, pulling together most of the voters who couldn’t stand Trump or Cruz.”

What is more significant about Trump’s Bonapartist posturing, however, is that he has changed the alignment of conservative forces by his inflammatory rhetoric against opponents and, as a New York resident writes in Naked Capitalism, by building institutional links with the police. “This is an armed working class unionized pro-government demographic that is not especially fond of plutocrats and has no problem with the government taking responsibility for both full employment and, well, for social order. They are trusted with the legal authority to discipline citizens, and they are the basis for the enforcement of our legal system. A lot of them feel threatened by recent protests. And they are giving Trump enthusiastic endorsements.”

On the Democratic side, Sanders has confounded all predictions by matching Clinton’s vote in Iowa, despite an improbable series of coin tosses that gave her a marginal victory. However, Democrats are less divided over policy, more over who is electable. Dionne noted that most Democrats “share Clinton’s view that gradual reform is the most practical way forward. But most also agree with Sanders that even moderately progressive steps will be stymied if money’s influence is left unchecked, if progressives do not find new ways of organizing and mobilizing, and if so many white working-class voters continue to support Republicans.”

This was confirmed by Harold Meyerson, who attended a Democratic fund-raiser in New Hampshire where the supporters of both campaigns displayed a programmatic consensus. “Even as the Bernie kids erupted in a thunderstick-banging cacophony as Sanders emphatically delivered one progressive pledge after another, so, too, did the Hillary backers raise theirs and wave them about as Bernie unveiled his platform.”

The New York Times noted the differences in class alignment of the two campaigns. “Mr. Sanders has focused on class issues, unlike Mr. Obama, who focused on many of the priorities of well-educated voters, like climate change and foreign policy. Mrs. Clinton, meanwhile, has adopted a more pragmatic message that may have more appeal to affluent voters than a political revolution. Mr. Sanders might have also benefited from a change in the ideological composition of working-class voters. More conservative working-class whites may have switched over to the G.O.P. over the last few years, or simply found themselves unwilling to turn out this time for Mrs. Clinton, who has run a steadfastly liberal campaign.”

But Sanders’s challenge to Clinton’s closeness to Wall Street is muted in some respects. Columnist Greg Sargent notes: “Sanders constantly points to the funding of her campaign — and her acceptance of speaking fees — as symptomatic of this problem. But Sanders does not want to take the final step and say that Clinton personally is making the policy choices she does precisely because she is beholden to the oligarchy, due to its funding of her campaign. The upshot is that Sanders is indicting the entire system, but doesn’t want to question the integrity of Clinton herself — or perhaps doesn’t want to be seen doing that. This is the central tension at the heart of Sanders’s whole argument.”

Prominent feminists like Gloria Steinem and Madeline Albright have rebuked younger women for supporting Sanders over Clinton, who they want to be the first woman president. However, a special circle of hell surely awaits Albright, who when Secretary of State publicly claimed the death of tens of thousands of Iraqi children was acceptable collateral damage. And British citizens may well shudder at the memory of their first female prime minister.

Clinton has the support of the Democratic party machine and the union bureaucracy. She has already lined up several hundred so-called super delegates, who are the top elected Democratic officials in Congress and the states. In These Times reports: “She has also fielded the endorsements of a number of high-profile unions, including the American Federation of Teachers, the United Food and Commercial Workers Union and the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees. … One of the most important endorsements of the race could be that of the AFL-CIO, the nation’s largest union federation. A number of AFL-CIO local and state branches have endorsed Bernie, but they were rebuked in July by President Richard Trumka for doing so, as such endorsements are against the federation’s rules.” While union members tend to favor Sanders, their officials are firmly in the Clinton camp.

Sanders, on the other hand, has generated huge enthusiasm in the liberal base, especially among the generation of Occupy Wall Street. Salon notes the leftward shift in the potential future leaders of the Democratic party: “The breakdown between supporters of Clinton versus supporters of Sanders falls along shockingly clear generational lines, and should absolutely terrify any centrist Democrat holding national office. Among caucus-goers age 17-29, Sanders won 84-14; among those 65 and over, Clinton won 69-26. … Consider, briefly, the challenge facing Democratic National Convention chairwoman Debbie Wasserman Shultz, who is facing a primary opponent for the first time in her six terms serving in the House. Shultz is opposed by a lawyer and former Occupier named Tim Canova, an almost too-perfect avatar of the changes roiling through the party base.”

Nobody can deny the adeptness of the Clintons’ grasp of the levers of power. But between now and the election, what unanticipated events might have their impact on public consciousness? Incremental progress on social issues is possible when there is a growing economy, but political shocks can change what the public demands.

What it comes down to is this: the public have rejected the oligarchical establishment. But can democracy be sustained when the electorate sees so clearly the corruption of the political system?

 

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Filed under 2016 Election, Bernie Sanders, Democratic primaries, donald trump, Hillary Clinton, republican primaries, Uncategorized

Obama’s Last State of the Union: A Flight of Fancy Dedicated to a Neoliberal Presidency


Obama made his final State of the Union speech last week a rhetorical rebuke to Trump and other Republican presidential contenders. He deprecated the fear being generated against immigrants and minorities, especially Muslims: “Will we respond to the changes of our time with fear, turning inward as a nation, and turning against each other as a people?” he asked.

But he showed himself singularly insensible to the actual political struggles of his presidency when he bemoaned the fact he had not been able to achieve bipartisanship in the manner of Lincoln. His failure to grasp the social roots of Republican intransigence parallels his misjudgment of the contribution of his own neoliberal administration to the cynicism Americans feel about government. Trump is able to capitalize on this feeling together with the decline of the American Dream to win support from working-class whites by imagining a new “greatness” for America based on racist attacks and demagogic threats of military force.

Obama himself boasted of US military prowess and the killing of Osama bin Laden in his speech, essentially coopting Republican rhetoric. As Roberto Lovado commented in Alternet: “Democrats have either coded and softened the right-wing message and politics of decline (i.e. Obama and the Dems standing up for Syrian refugee children while simultaneously jailing and deporting thousands of Central American refugee children) or simply not offered the kind of unifying narrative that appeals to the solidarity between working-class whites and other non-white working-class groups.”

The fears that Obama hoped to counter don’t grow out of nothing. Trump’s supporters “feel marginalized economically, politically, and socially … [but] their concerns for our future have led to an overwhelming need to see all of our problems as someone else’s fault,” writes Kaddie Abdul, who went to a Trump rally in her hijab to engage his followers in a dialog. “The people who used to be Tea Partiers, who supported Michelle Bachmann or Sarah Palin or any one of a number of politicians who’ve used this rhetoric before Trump – aren’t going to go away. Whether Trump wins or loses, his supporters will still be out there, longing for another leader to ‘make America great again’.”

His indifference to the social protests that have arisen during his presidency – Occupy Wall Street, the struggle against police shootings of black youth, the Fight for 15 campaign of low-paid workers, the Chicago teachers strike, the DREAM movement – and his detachment from the causes of the protests was expressed in his abstract sermonizing that: “democracy breaks down when the average person feels their voice doesn’t matter; that the system is rigged in favor of the rich or the powerful or some special interest.”

Black Lives Matter founder Alicia Garza commented: “The thing that I think was glaringly missing from the conversation last night was really the conversation around not just gun violence broadly, although that is a major issue in our country, but police violence as it relates to black communities … many people who have been involved in this movement certainly wanted to hear President Obama, possibly the last black president in our country’s history, really talk about what’s going on in black communities specifically … about what kinds of proposals are on the table to ensure that black people can live full lives in this country like everyone else.”

Obama’s leadership failed because he was constitutionally incapable of harnessing the social coalition that elected him in 2008. Once elected, he uncoupled from this mass movement and appointed a cabinet dominated by Wall Street insiders and neoliberals, leading to political capitulation over banking regulation and healthcare reform, and an inability to control the workings of the vast federal bureaucracy. The net effect was that he did little to shield the most vulnerable Americans from predatory capitalism.

In his speech he appropriated the language of Martin Luther King to argue for a corporatist version of politics. “Voices that help us see ourselves not first and foremost as black or white or Asian or Latino … but as Americans first, bound by a common creed. Voices Dr. King believed would have the final word – voices of unarmed truth and unconditional love. They’re out there, those voices … I see it in the worker on the assembly line who clocked extra shifts to keep his company open, and the boss who pays him higher wages to keep him on board.” This flight of fantasy only has a basis in workers clocking extra shifts because they fear the closure of their plants and losing their jobs as part of America’s industrial decline, not out of brotherly love for their bosses.

But while the social movement Obama energized in 2008 may have dissipated as a political force, it has morphed into many other forms of resistance. In particular, the American labor movement is not dead. Although major strikes are infrequent, thanks to repressive legislation, when they do take place they are solid. For example, workers at Wisconsin’s Kohler Company stayed out picketing for over a month at the end of last year after a 94% strike vote against a two-tier wage system that gave younger workers 35% less than those on the top tier. They won an increase in the lower wage to $15 an hour; older workers on the picket lines said they were expressing their solidarity for the younger generation.

The Chicago Teachers’ Union has also voted overwhelmingly to strike if necessary, for the second time in three years. In 2012, the discredited Chicago mayor, Rahm Emanuel, also exploited civil rights rhetoric to cover a neoliberal push to force give-backs from the teachers. As Shaun Richman notes, the public on the other hand “overwhelmingly viewed the CTU as striking for the common good. Partly, this was thanks to two years of deep and meaningful community organizing and partnerships that the union diligently pursued knowing there would likely be a strike. And partly, this was thanks to the union bargaining for school resources demands that resonated beyond just their membership.”

The Fight for 15 is another sign of growing resistance. Richman argues: “Some have dismissed the series of rolling one-day strikes for increases in the minimum wage and organizing rights as mere P.R. stunts. But there is something deeply radical and significant at play here. Workers who don’t even technically have a union are proving their value—and their power—to their bosses by withholding their labor. … The great potential of Fight for 15 is that unorganized workers see reflections of themselves in the strikers and begin to fantasize about what a job action could look like at their workplace.”

Obama’s legacy is a disappointment to many who voted for him, but there is a potential for Bernie Sanders to energize the kind of political excitement that Obama did in 2008. While Hillary Clinton is tied by her umbilical cord to Wall Street, Sanders is getting major support for his anti-corporate message. He still has to reach many voters in the south, however, although his willingness to take on board actual movements of dissent is a huge positive. And as his poll numbers rise, he will get more exposure to potential supporters who would respond to his call for universal healthcare and free higher education.

Whether or not he succeeds in becoming the Democratic presidential candidate, his campaign has connected with the same kind of anti-oligarchic sentiment as did Occupy Wall Street. The hunger for real hope and change is stronger than ever.

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Filed under Bernie Sanders, Fight for 15, Neoliberalism, Obama, Rahm Emanuel, Uncategorized

Trump and the Young Americans: Do You Remember Your President Nixon?


According to the media, the most significant political event of 2015 was the meteoric rise of Donald Trump in the Republican presidential primaries. Trump kicked off 2016 with a new campaign ad that ramped up fearmongering to new levels, featuring his demand to halt entry of all Muslims into the US, together with a mash-up of photos of the San Bernardino killers, Islamic State fighters, a US warship firing cruise missiles, exploding buildings and footage of migrants supposedly crossing a desert border.

Stoking up fear is as central to Trump’s strategy as it is to the Republican leadership’s. It enables him to promote himself as a Bonapartist strongman: too rich to be corrupted, able to overcome Congressional deadlock with his no-nonsense “management” skills, and capable of directing arbitrary acts of military retaliation. US News & World Report’s Mort Zuckerman comments: “He swoops in on his helicopter and proudly asserts, ‘Hey, I’m rich.’ Why pretend? His wealth conveys the impression he is incorruptible and thus above our campaign finance system which now allows politicians to garner unlimited funds from unidentified wealthy donors and corporations. … The public likes Trump’s self-description as a strong leader who will take charge, rip up opponents and make the big problems go away.”

The sensationalist media reporting of terror attacks energizes his supporters’ xenophobic resentment at demographic change that reduces their privileged access to resources and opportunities. And this resonates with the Republican base. The Washington Post found that the threat of terrorism was the most important political issue for 39 percent of Republican voters, outranking by far domestic issues like tax policy or healthcare, and half of all Republicans named Trump as the candidate they would most trust to handle it. Commentator Josh Marshall noted that December’s Republican primary debate was marked by “repeated invocations of fear, the celebration of fear, the demand that people feel and react to their fear. This was logically joined to hyperbolic and ridiculous claims about ISIS as a group that might not simply attack America or kill Americans but might actually destroy the United States or even our entire civilization.”

But it’s not only the Republicans. Since so many Americans live precariously from paycheck to paycheck, the disruption of a symbol of civilizational stability – like Paris – creates the fear of a descent into chaos, a breakdown of order, endangering life and property. Muslims are then demonized by the authorities as the unreasoning, nonhuman embodiment of this scenario. Tom Engelhardt notes that in 2015: “Hoax terror threats or terror imbroglios shut down school systems from Los Angeles to New Hampshire, Indiana to a rural county in Virginia. The Dallas Symphony Orchestra, citing terror attacks in Paris and San Bernardino, cancelled a prospective tour of Europe thanks to terror fears, issuing a statement that ‘orchestra management believes there is an elevated risk to the safety of musicians and their families, guest artists, DSO personnel, and travelling patrons’.”

The other side of this heightened fear is the increased political influence of minorities and women, codified by Trump and other Republican candidates as “political correctness.” One of his supporters, a retired college administrator, explained how her frustration with political correctness connected with her hostility to minorities. “When we wrote things [at her college], we couldn’t even say ‘he’ or ‘she,’ because we had transgender. People of color. I mean, we had to watch every word that came out of our mouth, because we were afraid of offending someone,” she said. “And you look at these people who have never worked and they’re having babies and they’re getting free rent and free food stamps and free medical care. … Something has to be done because we’re shrinking, we’re being taken over by people that want to change what America is. You can’t say it nicely,” she added.

Sometimes political correctness campaigns in colleges can be disproportionate and teachers’ speech needs to be protected; however, as well as sometimes showing a lack of judgment, youth are proving they want to tackle deeply-rooted racism and sexism and insist on real changes in what is socially acceptable. Protests at the University of Missouri over the racial insensitivity of the administration forced the resignation of the president and chancellor in November; the dean of students at Claremont McKenna in California also resigned after an email she sent to a Latina student saying she would try to better serve minority students who “don’t fit our CMC mold” surfaced. At Ithaca College in New York State, protesters accused the college president of responding inadequately to an incident where an African-American graduate was repeatedly called a “savage” by two white male alumni.

The heightened militancy of college students over institutional racism is closely connected to the rise of the “Black Lives Matter” movement. According to Al Jazeera, “Jonathan Butler, the Mizzou graduate student who went on a hunger strike to bring about Wolfe’s resignation, has said that the former college president’s demise started with ‘MU for Mike Brown,’ a Black Lives Matter-affiliated student group formed in solidarity with the uprisings in nearby Ferguson over the shooting death of unarmed teenager Michael Brown. At Boston College, student organizer Sriya Bhattacharyya has also cited the importance of BLM: ‘At the core of all these [campus] movements is the unifying belief that black lives matter’.”

Al Jazeera also pointed out that the media has ignored activism at the high school level. After the white police officers responsible for the deaths of Michael Brown and Eric Garner were not indicted, “high school students across the country organized solidarity protests in Seattle; New York; Denver; Oakland, California; Minneapolis and Boston. In February, about 250 high school students in Santa Fe, New Mexico left school to protest constant testing and the state’s new mandated exam. In June, Milwaukee high school students walked out of class to protest against the county executive takeover of low-performing schools. And this fall, high school students in Allentown, Pennsylvania, organized a district-wide student walkout demanding the resignation of the superintendent, the inclusion of a student representative on the school board and summer youth employment opportunities. There were also student walkouts in Chicago; Berkeley, California and Philadelphia that occurred this fall.”

Whoever the candidates are in this year’s presidential election, 2016 is going to be all about the growing power of these young Americans and their determination to fight unprosecuted police killings of young people of color. To quote David Bowie: “We live for just these twenty years. Do we have to die for the fifty more?”

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Filed under Black Lives Matter, donald trump, latino americans, police violence, Republicans, Uncategorized, Xenophobia

Heckuva Job, David! Is Flooding in Northern England Cameron’s Katrina?


British Prime Minister David Cameron is trying to cover the government’s tracks as disastrous flooding in the north of England makes a mockery of his claims to be taking responsibility for citizens’ safety. The press and parliament have so far not made an effective challenge to his public relations spin, but victims of the floods have shown their contempt. In a rare sighting of the prime minister by a member of the public, a woman shouted: “No more cuts to public services.”

During a photo-opportunity visit to emergency workers in York on Monday (so avoiding working-class Leeds), Cameron called the disaster unprecedented, rhetorically disconnecting it from his government’s defunding of state agencies. In reality it is a disaster of refusing to act on documented warnings by state officials and a willingness to take risks with people’s lives and property for the sake of advancing a destructive agenda of austerity.

After the flooding of three major British cities – York, Leeds, and Manchester – Cameron claimed that a lot of money was already being spent on flood defences and thousands of homes had been protected, pledging that the government would “help people in their hour of need and respond to unprecedented levels of rainfall.” As the Independent pointed out, “the implication here is that the freakish weather is so outlandishly unreal, so Old Testament, that no amount of government preparation, no flood defences, no civil contingency planning could possibly have mitigated its effects.”

However, the Guardian reported, as late as October this year the government decided not to develop a strategy to address the risk of increased flooding even after being warned by its official climate change advisers that it urgently needed to take action. And the cautions were specific: “Yorkshire’s regional flood and coastal committee (RFCC) warned about the potential impact of the region’s revenue funding gap just weeks before floods overran towns and cities in the region.” The actual state of the defences was brought into sharp relief after pumping equipment in York was overwhelmed by the sheer volume of water.

The conservative Yorkshire Post said Cameron “was left on the back foot after Judith Blake, the leader of Leeds Council, claimed the disaster was ‘preventable’ and would not have been allowed to occur in the South. … [he] is facing a tide of public anger after it emerged that the Government dug deep last December to finance a £300m scheme to protect the Thames Valley after previously rejecting a £180m scheme to safeguard 4,500 homes in Leeds city centre, one of the areas worst affected by the Christmas deluge.”

The same paper commented in an editorial: “The prime minister repeatedly used the word ‘unprecedented’ to describe this winter’s storms. Yet every fortnight brings ‘unprecedented’ levels of new flooding and the same pious platitudes from politicians, such as the environment secretary, Liz Truss, whose rhetoric is increasingly economical with the truth.” While claiming her department is spending more on flood prevention, “she chooses to overlook the fact that many schemes are subject to partnership funding from councils and other agencies whose budgets have been decimated by spending cuts.”

Earlier, in 2012, “the government’s own research showed increased flooding is the greatest threat posed by climate change in England. But when heavy flooding hit in the summer of 2012, the Guardian revealed that almost 300 proposed flood defences had not gone ahead as planned following the cuts. A £58m scheme in Leeds – one of the cities hit in the latest round of flooding – was one affected project, which would have saved many times its cost in avoided damages.”

In Mytholmroyd, West Yorkshire, residents attacked the government’s inaction. The town was devastated by floods in 2012, but the latest flooding was worse, they said. “The government has done nothing to help us,” said local shop owner Janet Chew-Tetlaw. “They come round and say what they are going to do and make big promises, but nothing ever comes out of it. … All this is because culverts do not get cleared by the Environment Agency, the water is running off the moors because the trees are being cut down – destroying natural flood defences – and planning permission has been given for big housing developments on the hillsides, so there is no earth to soak up the water.”

What the situation demands is a bold political intervention to change land usage and to rebuild flood defences for future storms, like the Dutch, who have spent the past decade “deepening and widening rivers, creating new side canals that provide extra capacity, and setting aside land as dedicated flood plains. … All this so that when the water does come, the swollen rivers can expand without flooding homes and causing misery.” However, the British government’s role is one of cutting infrastructure spending and succumbing to business interests like farming and real estate that put short-term profit over longer-term safety.

Cameron’s social base is the financiers of the City of London who want negligible taxation on their wealth to avoid contributing to the common good. While in the last election he was successful in convincing enough of the property-owning middle class that austerity would secure their fortunes, it is now clear that defunding the state destroys essential conditions for normal life.

The only politician who has consistently spoken out for higher spending on public assets is Jeremy Corbyn. His social base is people who have already been affected by government cuts, for example in social services and public housing. Instead of repeatedly trying to undermine Corbyn, Labour MPs like the right-wing Simon Danczuk should forget about sending a few jets to Syria and get more helicopters to northern Britain. The biggest danger facing the British is not the threat of terrorism, but the Cameron government’s readiness to risk the lives of its own citizens in order to hang on to its support in the City of London.

Vying with UKIP leader Nigel Farage to be Britain’s answer to Donald Trump, Danczuk now calls for diverting the whole of foreign aid into shoring up the country’s aging infrastructure. This demagogic posturing accepts there is no alternative to austerity budgets by assuming no more money can be forthcoming for essential public projects from taxing the rich.

Will Cameron’s dishonest platitudes generate enough pushback from the electorate for this to be his Katrina moment? It certainly should. Heckuva job, David!

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Filed under Britain, British Labour party, british parliament, Cameron, David Cameron, financiers, Jeremy Corbyn, political analysis, Uncategorized

The Racist Fury Behind Trump’s “Make America Great Again” Campaign Will Break the Republicans


Donald Trump’s increasingly inflammatory statements have caused consternation among the political establishment and fear among minority groups. His media coverage, however, is out of all proportion to his actual influence in the country. He has a vociferous following of white voters, and polls continue to show him leading the Republican presidential primaries. But even after the terrorist attacks in Paris and San Bernadino, his call to exclude Moslems from the United States is opposed by most Americans.

What Trump has succeeded in doing is to bring outrageous ideas like internment camps into the political mainstream. His speeches are legitimizing racist attacks on minorities and Scalia’s open dismissal of integration in colleges. His support has crystallized out of a layer of white, non-college educated workers who have lost jobs and houses through two recessions and are now facing a downward slide into poverty. They are animated by resentment of immigrants and minorities, and by hostility to government, which they see as corrupt and in the pockets of big business. This is the same demographic that between 1998 and 2013 saw a marked increase in the death rate from suicide, drugs and alcohol poisoning, while that for all other groups declined.

New industries that require semiskilled labor of the kind that in the past elevated many Americans into the middle class are no longer being created in the US. Trump references a time when the lack of a college degree was not a barrier to well-paid industrial work – and when white skin implied social privilege. In These Times writer Walid Shaheed comments: “His high poll numbers among white voters in the Midwestern rustbelt show his appeal to people in this region who have been dealing with an economic collapse that has completely changed how millions of people live their lives. As those who came before them, these white voters blame their woes on immigrants and people of color who are ‘taking over the country.’ When Trump declares he will ‘Make America Great Again,’ he appeals directly to the heart of this demographic.”

It’s important to realize that Trump didn’t create his following from scratch: his bombast has gained traction because he was able to pick up the racist subtext of the Republican party’s rhetoric and make it explicit. Political commentator Josh Marshall pointed out: “What Trump has done is taken the half-subterranean Republican script of the Obama years, turbocharge it and add a level of media savvy that Trump gained not only from The Apprentice but more from decades navigating and exploiting New York City’s rich tabloid news culture. He’s just taken the existing script, wrung out the wrinkles and internal contradictions and given it its full voice.”

However, in doing so he is also voicing and legitimizing the suppressed prejudices of people who feel themselves losing an imaginary past cultural unity because of the growth and increase in political influence of the nonwhite population. The New York Times commented: “He harnessed feelings that long predated his candidacy — feelings of besiegement and alienation, of being silenced — and gave them an unprecedented respectability. … America is living through an era of dramatic changes: its demographics shifting, its middle class contracting, its institutions grappling with the pressures of the networked age.”

His supporters come from the most rightwing Republican voters. According to CNN: “A recent poll found that three quarters of Trump’s supporters are in favor of deporting all of the 11 million-plus undocumented immigrants and banning any Syrian refugees from seeking shelter in America. In contrast, Marco Rubio only has 5% and Jeb Bush 6% of those far-right voters.” The Washington Post explains: “Trump draws strong support from the kinds of voters who see illegal immigration as eroding the values of the country and who might worry that their jobs are threatened by the influx. About half of those Republicans who favor deporting immigrants who are here illegally back Trump for the party’s nomination. These are also the kinds of voters who agree most with Trump’s call to ban the entry of Muslims into the United States until security concerns are laid to rest.”

This is by no means a majority of Republican voters, likely less than a third of them, located in areas that have been hit hardest by the economic downturn like the South and Midwest. After years of dog-whistle campaigning by Republican politicians blaming minorities and immigrants for crime and lack of jobs, this social layer is angry and contemptuous of its political leaders for their perceived inaction. It has the potential to break the Republican party apart.

Surveys show that “white working-class Republicans made clear their conviction that government policies favor minority and immigrant interests over their own, and that the nation — its economy and its culture — has gone into decline as, and because, it has become more racially diverse. It’s those beliefs that have driven a large share of the white working class into Donald Trump’s column rather than Sen. Bernie Sanders’s, even though its members plainly agree with Sanders and Sen. Elizabeth Warren’s perspective that the economy is rigged to favor the wealthy and big business. … years of talk radio, Fox News and now the Trump campaign have tapped into and built a right-wing populism that focuses the white working class’s blame for its woes downward — at the racial other — rather than up.”

On the other hand, there is bipartisan agreement on whose interests the government is acting for. The same survey found “Ninety-three percent of Democrats and 88 percent of Republicans said it tended ‘very’ or ‘somewhat well’ to the interests of the wealthy; 90 percent of Democrats and 86 percent of Republicans said it did the same for big corporations.” By nearly a 2-to-1 margin Americans believe their “vote does not matter because of the influence that wealthy individuals and big corporations have on the electoral process.”

Support for Bernie Sanders among the public is actually a lot greater than for Trump, although you wouldn’t know it from the media, which has devoted 80 times more airtime to Trump than Sanders. He has the challenge of making his presidential candidacy believable to the electorate, despite the pundits’ claims of Hillary Clinton’s inevitability, and of generating enough excitement among new voters to get them to the polls. He continues to advocate a $15 hourly minimum wage and free college education, but, like Corbyn, finds it difficult to get traction for a rational policy on terrorism.

If the Republican vote indeed splits over a Trump or Cruz presidential run, this presents Sanders with an opportunity to win national support on a left populist platform that extols the contribution of immigrants and minorities to the country and advocates stringent controls on foreclosures and Wall Street speculation. He has to foreground policies that will win the less prejudiced sections of the white working class away from supporting corporate billionaires against their class interests.

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Political Economy of Flexible Accumulation: Part Three – Finance Capital


The flexible accumulation strategies of companies like Amazon and Apple don’t solve the overall problem of capital accumulation – a superabundance of capital chasing opportunities for valorization. They are only a temporary fix to the reduction of the rate of profit in manufacturing, as technology reduces the socially-necessary labor time involved in the production of commodities.

The specific nature of these strategies is not an inevitable result of fundamental laws of capitalism, which could have taken many other forms of development, but depends on contingent historical and geopolitical factors that created the conditions for distributed production and accelerated consumption, together with the opening up of low wage areas of the world to capital. The end result, however, has been the consolidation of the centrality of finance capital in the circulation process.

From the end of the 1970s, writes Canadian Marxist Gary Teeple, the post-Fordist, computer based “new economy” “created the basis for a massive increase in productivity and consequently a relative decline in demand for labour. Increased productivity, in turn, lowered the cost or cheapened the world’s supply of goods and services and created an ever-greater impetus for global chains of production and distribution.” [Teeple and McBride, eds, Relations of Global Power: Neoliberal Order and Disorder, Toronto 2011:233]

The preconditions for corporations in the developed nations to outsource production to developing countries included technological and logistical advances like shipping containerization, control of inventory with barcoding, deskilling of labor processes, the proliferation of electronics component production in Japan, Korea and Taiwan, and the availability of a large disciplined semiskilled labor force in China. However the decisive factor was the ability of financial capital to freely cross borders, achieved by a sustained campaign by US capitalism to deregulate capital flows dating back to 1945, which consolidated its strategic role in world capitalism and restructured foreign companies to do business in dollars and along American lines.

“By the 1980s and 1990s the greater mobility of financial capital across sectors, space, and time … greatly intensified domestic and international competition at the same time as it brought a much greater degree of financial volatility. … The networks of transnational production as well as finance that characterized [globalization] more than ever linked other capitalist states and economies to American capitalism’s central place in global capitalism. This was seen in the extent to which other countries’ exports depended on access to the US consumer market, and in the increasingly integrated production networks that emanated from US [multinational corporations’] foreign direct investment, on the one hand, and the flow of global investment into the US itself on the other.” [Leo Panitch and Sam Gindin, The Making of Global Empire: The Political Economy of American Empire, Verso 2012:20, 311]

Financial capital and the development of new financial instruments such as complex derivatives functioned in this scenario to smooth out and accelerate capital flows between the developing countries and metropolitan markets, eventually driving the integration of global economies. At the same time it made them vulnerable to possible interruptions of the flow of capital in the form of a crisis.

Panitch and Gindin comment: “The development of derivative markets provided risk insurance in a complex global economy without which the internationalization of capital via trade and FDI would otherwise have been significantly restricted. … By the 1980s and 1990s the greater mobility of financial capital across sectors, space, and time (especially via derivatives—that is, financial capital’s quality as general or ‘abstract’ capital) —greatly intensified domestic and international competition at the same time as it brought a much greater degree of financial volatility. … [This] was accepted because financial markets had become so crucial to the domestic and global expansion of capitalism in general.” [2012:14, 20]

Because of the centrality of finance to capitalist production and accumulation, financial capitalists are able to cream off and concentrate the surplus value generated by the system, shifting power away from production. Derivatives and bond funds soon became the target of hedge funds and venture capitalists seeking higher profits through the exponential expansion of debt. Their insistence on austerity to repay bond loans has collapsed the economies of Puerto Rico and Greece, and looks likely to soon bankrupt Europe.

These structural changes in capitalism are permanent: this is what the left has to grasp and confront. But the extension of global capitalism has also globalized resistance: in China, for example, strikes and worker protests have increased noticeably over the 1,400 strikes recorded in 2014. In the US, although unions face declining membership and hostile laws, strikes and battles over factory recognition continue.

Significantly, workers involved in the supply chain in shipping, transport and warehousing have begun to challenge the employment agencies that supply labor to large corporations like Walmart. Their essentiality to the process of realization of surplus value gives them more leverage than they realize. Moreover, struggles of the lowpaid are merging with the Black Lives Matter fight: the Fight for 15 campaign called for boycotts and protests against shopping on the day after Thanksgiving, but the largest demonstration targeting Black Friday shopping was in Chicago protesting the police shooting of Laquan McDonald. Many elite stores in the high-end North Michigan Avenue were shut down, including Nieman Marcus and the Apple Store.

The anti-Wall Street message of the Occupy movement continues to resonate in the 2016 US presidential elections, with the leading Democratic candidates calling for strengthening of regulations on the financial industry. While none of their measures will reverse the structural changes in capitalism that have led to the dominance of big finance, they anticipate the mobilization of the public against the monopolization and commodification of all human needs.

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