After Only Two Weeks, Trump’s Buccaneer Presidency Falls Foul of the Constitution


Donald Trump has made an unprecedented attack on a federal judge, calling him a “so-called judge” and blaming him and the court system “if something happens.” The Bush appointee, James Robart of Seattle, suspended Trump’s immigration executive order on the grounds that it is unconstitutional and places an undue burden on the state of Washington and on its 25,000 residents from the 7 countries that it singled out; moreover, the judge held his ruling applied nationwide. The government appealed the decision, but the US appeals court denied its request for a reinstatement of the ban without further legal argument.

Trump’s anger reflects the significance of this decision, which asserts the responsibility of the government to the public and the constitution, not the executive. Juan Cole described the ruling as “incredible” and “tremendous.” “Robart stood up for the residents of Washington state who were unconstitutionally deprived of basic rights by the [executive order]. He also stood up for the economy of Washington state and its ‘tax base,’ playing turnabout with Trump by arguing that what he did is bad for the economy! … Robart is saying that residents of a state in the US have rights that the president cannot simply erase by fiat. He is further saying that institutions of the state itself, including universities, have a right to pursue their work unmolested by discriminatory policies.”

Constitutional lawyer Marci Hamilton described the conflict as “an epic confrontation between the presidency and the constitution,” while the attorney general of Washington state, Bob Ferguson, told reporters: “We are a nation of laws. Not even the president can violate the constitution. No one is above the law, not even the president. This decision shuts down the executive order immediately – shuts it down.”

The extremism of Trump’s executive orders has activated the Democratic base with a speed that has taken its own representatives by surprise. Chuck Schumer, the minority leader in the Senate, faced protesters outside his own home in Brooklyn who cheered and jeered as they held signs with slogans like “Buck Up Chuck”; “Resisting Trump Is Your Primary Duty”; and “Filibuster Filibuster Filibuster.” Gothamist reported: “Patrick Youngkin, a member of CWA Local 1102 and a former Marine, shouted gleefully, bringing the crowd to a fury. ‘I fought for the right to protest, I fought for the right to assemble, and hold elected officials accountable,’ he said. ‘Senator Schumer, your constituents, we’re going to take this fight to the street. But it’s your duty as Senate minority leader to take this fight to the floor’.”

The country is divided between those who believe that Trump is acting to keep them safe and those who are vigorously resisting him. The number of voters who support impeaching him has risen to 40 percent. But what will seriously undermine his presidency is the Republican effort to repeal the Affordable Care Act with no viable replacement. Legislators say they are inundated with requests for town hall meetings to discuss the issue: the Richmond Times-Dispatch reported that tea-party darling David Brat complained that he has been hounded by female constituents opposed to the repeal of the ACA. “Since Obamacare and these issues have come up, the women are in my grill no matter where I go,” he said. “They come up – ‘When is your next town hall?’ And believe me, it’s not to give positive input.”

In Roseville, California, police had to escort a Republican congressman from a meeting with his constituents. According to the Sacramento Bee, “facing a packed auditorium and raucous crowd, Republican Rep. Tom McClintock on Saturday defended his party’s national agenda and voiced strong support for President Donald Trump’s controversial executive actions to scale back Obamacare, ban visitors from seven predominantly Muslim countries and build a wall along the U.S.-Mexico border. ‘Vote him out,’ hundreds of demonstrators chanted outside the Tower Theatre in downtown Roseville, the Republican-heavy population center of McClintock’s sprawling congressional district. … Attendees, some carrying signs that read ‘Resist,’ ‘Dump Tom McTrump’ and ‘Climate change is real,’ pressed McClintock to denounce Republican plans to repeal the Affordable Care Act, acknowledge the science supporting the human causes of climate change, and oppose Trump’s executive order temporarily restricting refugee admissions to the U.S.”

Trump won’t succeed in creating the kind of working class jobs he promised during the election campaign for industries that are already failing. His populism is fake: the true basis of his support within the ruling elite is from aggressive financial operators like Goldman Sachs, heavily represented in his cabinet. Yves Smith says that while many business professionals are upset with Trump’s win, “the ideology that he represents is very much in line with the logic of corporate raiders, many of whom, like him, went to Wharton Business School. And many elite professionals, in particular lawyers and consultants, profited handsomely from the adoption of the buccaneer capitalist view of the world and actively enabled much of its questionable thinking and conduct.”

Trump had little to say on the campaign trail about wages or job protections, despite posing as a champion of American workers. “Make America Great Again” really meant conflating workers’ interests with those of American billionaires. What is characteristic of his presidency is his plan for a new executive order to scale back the 2010 Dodd-Frank law, part of a sweeping plan to dismantle much of the regulatory system put in place in the wake of the 2008 banking collapse. “This guy is a fraud,” Bernie Sanders told CNN on Sunday, pointing out that his Cabinet appointments and advisers directly contradict his pledge to take on Wall Street by re-instituting the Glass-Steagall Act, a regulation that separated commercial and investment banks, which was repealed under Bill Clinton.

Josh Marshall comments: “The unifying message of Trumpism is nationalism, and particularly an aggressive, zero-sum nationalism. … That is the focus around which all the actions of these rancorous 13 days come together into a unified whole – aggressive attacks on friends and foes alike, threats of tariffs against non-compliant foreign states, clampdowns on immigration, etc. … Trump is cozying up to the Wall Street barons he campaigned against. He’s about to throw 25 million Americans off their health care. ‘We expect to be cutting a lot out of Dodd-Frank, because frankly I have so many people, friends of mine, that have nice businesses and they can’t borrow money,’ he said again today, while he also talks about vast tax cuts for his wealthy friends and tax increases for many ordinary working and middle class families. This is a perfect evocation of government by the richest, for the richest, by the rich – and from the President’s own lips.”

Not all Trump voters are authoritarian white nationalists. Many voted for him despite their dislike of his crude propaganda because he presented himself as ready to make drastic political changes that would restore their living standards and job security. As Trump attempts to blame Mexicans and immigrants for the failure of his promises, Democratic activists need to turn out to the heartlands and campaign vigorously for a universal healthcare system that all can afford, free education, and stopping bank foreclosures on homes. In other words, a Sanders agenda that focuses on ending wealth inequality, making the billionaires pay their taxes, and that sweeps away the party leadership’s prevarications.

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Americans Rise Against the Neofascism of Trump and Bannon to Affirm the Foundation of the Republic: once again, E Pluribus Unum


Donald Trump’s executive order banning immigrants from Iraq, Syria, Iran, Yemen, Sudan, Libya and Somalia created chaos after its immediate enforcement at US airports on Saturday. Passengers with valid documentation and green cards were denied entry by immigration officials, a move that was both unconstitutional and illegal.

But Trump and his neofascist advisers did not anticipate the public response to this attack on the foundational ideas of America. At all major airports around the country spontaneous protests grew into thousands chanting: “No hate, no fear. Refugees are welcome here,” and hundreds of lawyers volunteered their services pro bono.

It’s clear that Trump has no idea about how to govern: after one week in power, his administration has provoked a constitutional crisis that pits the immigration bureaucracy, acting for the executive, against the legislature and the courts. While the botched executive order was crafted by neofascist Steve Bannon, it was defended by his tea-party fellow travelers Reince Priebus and Paul Ryan, revealing they are not only out of touch with the ideals and sentiments of the majority of  Americans, but actually believe their own lies about public hostility to Muslims.

According to the New York Times, Trump’s rush to enact his campaign promises bypassed all agency and legal reviews, and his executive order on immigration “had the most explosive implications. … But Mr. Bannon, who believes in highly restrictive immigration policies and saw barring refugees as vital to shoring up Mr. Trump’s political base, was determined to make it happen.” What Bannon really wants to achieve is to remove all checks and balances on Trump’s executive power. The sudden dismissal of senior officials at the State Department with no replacements in line, creating a vacuum of leadership, is designed to neutralize the agency in foreign relations. Angela Merkel was forced to “explain” to Trump the obligations of the Geneva refugee convention in a phone call on Saturday, reported the Guardian, in contrast to the toadying of British prime minister Theresa May on her recent visit.

The protests against the ban began on Saturday immediately after the news that two Iraqi refugees were being held at JFK airport in New York.  Gothamist reported the crowd numbered about 100 people shortly before 2 p.m., but 40 minutes later had doubled in size; people kept on coming until there were thousands lining the approach road and in the three floors of the parking garage overlooking the terminal. Shortly after noon on Saturday one of the Iraqi travelers was released. After nearly 19 hours of detention, Hameed Khalid Darweesh, an interpreter who worked for more than a decade as a translator for the US in Iraq, began to cry as he spoke to reporters after his humiliation by the authorities. But he said of the protesters who surrounded him, carrying supportive signs, “This is the humanity, this is the soul of America. This is what pushed me to move, leave my country and come here.”

The New York City Taxi Workers Alliance tweeted that they would undertake a one-hour strike on pickups at JFK, to stand in solidarity with the people protesting the immigration ban. At the same time, the ACLU mounted an emergency habeas corpus petition in Brooklyn federal court. An ACLU lawyer, Andre Segura, was at JFK by 1:30 p.m. on Saturday. He said that the outside section of a restaurant in Terminal 4 was “entirely taken over by attorneys,” all working to file petitions for individual clients with the help of the clients’ families. He added, “The dynamic between what was happening inside the terminal with all the attorneys, and outside with massive protests and people holding signs — I’ve never experienced anything like that.”

According to the New York Times, US district Judge Ann Donnelly, “ruled just before 9 p.m. on Saturday that implementing Mr. Trump’s order by sending the travelers home could cause them ‘irreparable harm.’ She said the government was ‘enjoined and restrained from, in any manner and by any means, removing individuals’ who had arrived in the United States with valid visas or refugee status.” She had been alerted by the ACLU to the fact that a Syrian woman with a valid green card attempting to enter the country had been placed on a plane to take her back to Syria within the hour; government lawyers were unable to provide assurances about her safety on her return without additional information.  The Guardian reported: “Well that’s exactly why I’m going to grant this stay,” Donnelly replied to muffled cheers in the room.

Back at JFK, a Gothamist reporter described the continuing protest. All of those he spoke to “were angry, many scared. But they didn’t seem demoralized. They stayed, for hours and hours. Pizza boxes became impromptu signs. Parents held onto their kids, fresh out of dance practice in Manhattan or coming from their homes nearby in Queens. A group of Yemeni men stood around, chatting and filming the action. … I assumed the combination of cold and darkness would start to thin the crowd, but people were still showing up at 7 p.m. They flooded out into the streets, still chanting, ‘Fuck the wall, we’ll tear it down’ and ‘Not on our watch, not in our name.’ A few folks danced. It was electric. Around 9 p.m., when word of the stay came through, spread along the human mic, there was just a surging roar, punctuated by people drumming on buckets. The crowd started to sing.”

The judge’s ruling had immediate national repercussions. Minutes later, another judge, Leonie Brinkema of Federal District Court in Virginia, issued a temporary restraining order for a week to block the removal of any green card holders being detained at Dulles International Airport. The Washington Post reported: “In Seattle, U.S. District Court Judge Thomas S. Zilly granted an emergency stay preventing the deportation of two people detained at the Sea-Tac International Airport …  Just before 2 a.m. Sunday in Boston, two federal judges ruled for two University of Massachusetts Dartmouth associate professors — Iranian nationals who are permanent legal residents in the United States — who were held at Logan International Airport when they landed after travel for an academic conference. The judges there also put a seven-day restraining order on Trump’s executive action.”

However, the application of the ruling – which prevents deportations of people already on US soil – is being challenged by Homeland Security officials who are still preventing immigration lawyers from contacting people detained at airports. At Dulles airport in Virginia Customs and Border Protection (CBP) officials were refusing to comply with the court order on Sunday, denying detained immigrants access to lawyers and turning away members of Congress who demanded officials comply with the federal court.

Becca Heller, director of the International Refugee Assistance Project, told reporters on Sunday morning: “Rogue customs and Border Patrol agents continue to try to get people on to planes. A lot of people have been handcuffed, a lot of people who don’t speak English are being coerced into taking involuntary departures.” Heller said in one case, an Iranian Fulbright scholar had been forced on to an Air Ukraine flight at JFK – hours after agents had received the court order to stop. “The flight started taxiing away from the gate,” Heller said. “She was on the phone with us and stood up and asked to get off the flight the crew just ignored her.” The attorneys made desperate calls to higher-level officials, and the plane was eventually turned around on the tarmac and the woman returned to detention.”

The New York Immigration Coalition announced Sunday that volunteer lawyers remain at JFK’s terminals to help travelers caught by the ban, as well as “non-legal volunteers, community members, and even people who had just gotten off their flights [who] offered their time and energy to support the effort.” Camille Mackler, director of the group’s legal initiatives, said: “I think people reacted to how fundamentally un-American the [Executive Orders] and values put forth are. This is what has propelled people to the streets, what has pushed people out there to protest and to keep showing up. Lawyers have a skill and want to put it to work—they came out to the point that we had to turn people away. This all has been overwhelming but amazing.”

Trump’s extremism has alienated Americans from all classes of society, from ordinary members of the public to legislators and lawyers. They immediately understood the deep betrayal of American ideals and the Constitution that Trump and his enablers are trying to impose, and which the authoritarian elements in Homeland Security are following to the detriment of the rule of law. The United States cannot be ruled by fiats or tweets.

Trump’s aggressive executive orders threaten the legitimacy of his government and the presidency itself. The executive branch has been hijacked by a group of dangerous men who have to be stopped before they have inflicted irreparable damage. The ground has been created for a mass movement unlike any seen before that aims to defend the fundamental pluralistic premises of the United States. The left in America and Britain needs to grasp this reality and participate without preconceptions about political leadership. And Theresa May is exposed as the appeaser of a would-be fascist dictator.

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Trump’s NeoFascist Treason Attacks the Foundation of U.S. Democracy, E pluribus unum


boston-march

Saturday’s Women’s March for America mobilized 125,000 protestors in Boston

Donald J. Trump’s inaugural speech on Friday proclaimed himself as the sole representative of the authentic American “people”– which is why he was so enraged by the comparison of the size of his inauguration crowd with that of Obama’s, and by the mass demonstrations against his presidency on Saturday. When he asserts “America first,” he reserves for himself the right to decide who to include in the category of “American,” and that definitely is not anyone who is brown or black or Muslim.

He commenced his presidency with a flurry of executive orders aimed at reversing Obama’s policies which, while meaningless without Congressional funding, have the effect of giving direction to the federal bureaucracy. The appearance of speed at getting things done is a two-edged sword: while enthusing his base, he is also provoking mass opposition to the attempt to unravel the social contract that has been constructed over the last 50 years, and evolved from the foundational idea of the United States: E pluribus unum—out of many, one.

Trump’s order to “build the wall” along the Mexican border, along with new anti-immigrant measures, signifies to his white nationalist supporters that he will restore and restructure the racial hierarchy with Muslims at the bottom and Latinos just above them; it’s understood that African Americans and Jews will soon be joining them. Trump’s rhetoric about Mexico paying the billions of dollars it will take to construct the wall is so obviously phony that, as Josh Marshall points out, his intention is really to create the appearance of dominance and humiliation at Mexico’s expense. “After all the promises about his strongman power, … [he] now is sticking taxpayers with the cost of his nonsensical promises about how we’re just ‘fronting’ the money. He got owned. He lied. And now he’s resorting to the same ‘oh you’ll get paid later’ flimflam he’s used to rip off countless investors over the years.”

The swift rollout of these orders has sparked defiance at state and local level: the Mayor of Boston, Marty Walsh, called Trump’s executive order to strip federal funding from sanctuary cities (where local law enforcement and city agencies generally refuse to cooperate with immigration authorities) a “destructive and unAmerican threat” and “a direct attack on Boston’s people.” “I will use all of my power within lawful means to protect all Boston residents — even if that means using City Hall itself as a last resort,” he said. “If people want to live here, they’ll live here. They can use my office. They can use any office in this building.” He was joined in his rebellion by Bill DeBlasio of New York, and the mayors of Chicago, Washington, San Francisco and Seattle.

In New York, the city of immigrants, thousands of protesters streamed into Washington Square Park on Wednesday evening for an emergency rally after leaked documents showed Trump is preparing to sign an executive order blocking visas from being issued to anyone from Syria, Iraq, Iran, Libya, Somalia, Sudan and Yemen. Gothamist reported: “Throughout the course of the night, elected officials, faith leaders, organizers, and activists called for solidarity with immigrants and Muslims, and spoke about the importance of maintaining New York’s status as a sanctuary city. … Fear of Trump’s agenda – and recognition of the need for multi-ethnic solidarity in fighting that agenda – seemed to be a driving force in bringing out those who’d previously shunned political protests. Meret Openheim and Susan E. Meret, longtime members of the LGBT synagogue Congregation Beit Simchat Torah, said that while they’d not previously considered themselves political, Trump’s victory had left them with little choice but to join the protest movement. … ‘We have a country that is [over] 200 years old, and it could be gone in an instant if we don’t stand up for it,’ added Openheim. ‘I think that’s politicized a lot of us’.”

The spontaneous upsurge of opposition to Trump’s presidency on Saturday reached  small towns that Clinton lost badly, like Wichita, Kansas, reported the Washington Post. Sizable crowds gathered “in red states and small towns across the country — in villages on the Aleutian Islands in Alaska, in conservative pockets across the heartland, in rural towns in states like Virginia, and down throughout the South. In Anchorage, thousands of protesters gathered despite an unforgiving snowstorm and 10-degree temperatures, holding signs with slogans such as ‘My body. My rights. My choice.’ Farther north, in Fairbanks, thousands were undeterred by the extreme temperature, which approached minus-20 degrees. At the same time, thousands marched outside the Idaho Statehouse in Boise as snow fell over them. Even in rural Onley, Va., dozens of men and women gathered along a highway in solidarity with the larger Women’s March on Washington.”

Paul Mason writes in The Guardian: “The DC hotel I stayed in turned, on the eve of the Women’s March, into an organising base for 200 low-paid cleaners and care workers. Spanish, Filipino and Caribbean-English words began to drown out the chatter of journalists and politicos. …Winnie Wong, a key figure in organising the march told me: ‘The beauty of the Women’s March as a fledgling movement, which is now both decentralised and already global in scale, is that it will be very hard for any one institution to co-opt the messaging’.” He commented: “It is not only by obliterating truth that the authoritarian beguiles the masses, but by constant recourse to drama: the midnight speech, the military parade, the unexpected deal, the overnight invasion or the extrajudicial killing of an enemy. But the Women’s March showed us the gestural power of mass action.”

Saturday’s marches were powerful in their diversity, as an unprecedented and preemptive show of force against Trump. They also presented a moral challenge to Democratic legislators to fight tooth and nail to block Trump’s policies; but as Robert Reich points out, “Democrats also need to fight for a bold vision of what the nation must achieve—like expanding Social Security, and financing the expansion by raising the cap on income subject to Social Security taxes; Medicare for all; and world-class free public education for all.”

This is an unprecedented moment in American history, and the average person is conscious of Trump’s attack on the founding idea of the country. The left needs to join with and learn from this spontaneous outburst of resistance. It faces a challenge to develop political concepts that will enable it to orient itself and facilitate pluralist alliances in a common struggle to defeat Trump’s neofascist onslaught.

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Confounder in Chief Trump Cons America into Republican Repeal-and-Run of Obamacare


As the inauguration of Donald J. Trump as US president approaches, it’s still uncertain how exactly he is going to govern, since his actions before and after the election show his total disregard of accepted political norms.

He has surrounded himself with a billionaire cabinet whose members have political views that conflict with each other and himself; but this may in fact be how he intends to rule, elevating himself above clashing voices like a Mafia Godfather. The Washington Post comments: “A number of people have been given the highest level of White House jobs without a clear indication of who is in charge. By some accounts, Trump likes this sort of management chaos around him. But it is not conducive to policy creation.”

Trump specializes in creating political confusion while promoting his next “big reveal,” such as a “beautiful” health care plan with “insurance for all.” But regardless of these promises, the ultimate outcome of the chaos and corruption within his cabinet can only be the Republican agenda of dismantling state regulations and agencies on behalf of corporations and the plutocracy.

Healthcare is a concrete example of policy confusion that eventually defaults to the position of the Republican right. On the campaign trail, Trump vowed to repeal Obama’s Affordable Care Act but at the same time save Medicare and Medicaid. He repeated his promise last weekend, telling the Washington Post he would unveil a nearly finished plan that would guarantee “insurance for everybody.” This conflicted with Republican rhetoric that they would focus on lower costs to ensure “access” to insurance, rather than universal coverage.

But Wednesday, the day of the confirmation hearing for Tom Price, his nominee to lead Health and Human Services, Trump backtracked on the promise in two separate interviews. The Washington Post’s Greg Sargent comments: “While he reiterated that people without money will get coverage, he clarified that he’s considering a mechanism to do this: Medicaid block grants. … Progressives tend to oppose Medicaid block grants because they are all but certain to get cut, and because states would restrict eligibility requirements. … Thus, this idea – which seems likely to be at the center of the Trump/GOP replacement plan – would dilute the guarantee of coverage that Obamacare is striving to make universal. … Republicans just don’t believe health reform should guarantee coverage in the manner that the ACA does. … But the point is that Trump and his advisers are trying to obscure this. Trump does not want to be the guy who kicked millions off insurance. But it appears congressional Republicans philosophically cannot support anything that does not do this.”

In the confirmation hearings, Price himself twisted and turned to avoid answering a question from Elizabeth Warren if Medicare or Medicaid would be cut. Asked point-blank if dollars would not be cut, he replied: “We should put forward the resources to take care of the patient.” Earlier, he repeated the Republican line that individuals should have the opportunity to “gain access” to coverage, as opposed to “insurance for everybody.”

Trump’s role in this scenario is to create public uncertainty about what his administration is actually going to do about healthcare, a smokescreen for what Republican legislators like Price are preparing. This is a big deal because the deindustrialization of America has eliminated most unionized jobs with health benefits. The Republican rush to repeal the Affordable Care Act and remove coverage from up to 32 million Americans will affect many Trump voters who believed his promises of a better healthcare plan. But since the Republican strategy is to repeal the funding for Obamacare before a new plan takes effect – described by Elizabeth Warren on Sunday as “repeal and run” – it will be politically impossible to restore the taxes that will pay for any of the things he or his spokespeople have promised.

Many people who voted for Trump believed he would stop short of removing the coverage they were already receiving under the ACA. Greg Sargent reports a CNN feature about “people who live in Eastern Kentucky coal country and backed Trump because he promised to bring back coal jobs. Now, however, they worry that a provision in the ACA that makes it easier for longtime coal miners with black lung disease to get disability benefits could get eliminated along with the law. That provision shifted the burden of proving that the disability was directly caused by work in the mines away from the victim” and placed it on the owners.

Sargent argues that “while Trump did repeatedly vow repeal, these voters were absolutely right to conclude that he would not leave them without the sort of federal protections they enjoy under Obamacare. That’s because Trump did, in fact, clearly signal to them that this would not happen. … Yes, Trump said endlessly that he’d do away with the ACA instantly. Yes, his own replacement plan would leave millions without coverage. But here’s the rub: Trump also went to great lengths to portray himself as ideologically different from most other Republicans on fundamental questions about the proper role of governmental intervention to help poor and sick people without sufficient access to medical care. … Trump also repeatedly vowed not to touch Medicare, explicitly holding this up as proof he is not ideologically aligned with Paul Ryan on the safety net.”

Now the reality of Trump’s plans is not only causing extreme emotional distress but also imperiling the health of people currently covered by the law. Although under-reported, Bernie Sanders’ “Our Revolution” organized a day of action against ACA repeal on Sunday. At least 40 rallies took place in different cities, the highest profile one in Macomb County just outside of Detroit, Michigan, drew up to 10,000 in below-freezing weather to hear Sanders call for the defense of the ACA and the creation of a Medicare-for-all, single-payer system. Some in the crowd were Trump supporters now scared of losing their coverage. Elizabeth Warren spoke to 6,000 people at the historic Faneuil Hall in Boston – the rally was intended to be inside the hall, but had to be moved outside because of the size of the crowd.

In Price’s confirmation hearing, Democratic Senator Patty Murray told him: “My constituents are coming up to me with tears in their eyes, wondering what the future holds for their health care given the chaos Republican efforts could cause.” And in local meetings, Republican legislators are confronting angry constituents demanding answers on Obamacare repeal. The Houston Chronicle reported that far-right Ways and Means chair Rep. Kevin Brady, a vocal critic of the law, encountered 50 people at a meeting where he expected them to share “experiences with rising costs and loss of coverage and choice.” Instead they grilled him about his support for repeal without a replacement. “Don’t lie!” shouted Emily Hoppel, a 39-year-old with her 2-year-old son perched on her hip, when Brady moved from one goal of dismantling ACA to another of defunding Planned Parenthood, which he said used taxpayer money for abortion. “The Hyde Amendment,” she sputtered, incredulously, as Brady continued to talk over her. In Grand Rapids, Michigan, Rep. Justin Amash was repeatedly interrupted by constituents concerned about the repeal of the Act during a packed town hall meeting. After Amash referred to the healthcare law as “Obamacare,” a number of audience members interrupted to insist that he call it the “Affordable Care Act” instead.

The left needs to cut through the smoke-and-mirrors rhetoric that Trump, the Confounder in Chief, uses to dominate the media and work to build support for Sanders’ and Warren’s defense of the ACA, together with other movements of mass resistance to corporate hegemony. This means developing an organized opposition to the Democratic leadership which failed to mobilize the party’s voters in the 2016 election.

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Water Wars Herald Fightback against Trump’s Presidency


Media speculation about Donald Trump’s wild and contradictory policy tweets is focusing on the wrong thing. Trump used Twitter during the election to create political turbulence that concealed his authoritarian objectives, revealed more clearly by the consistency in his extremist cabinet picks: they are all from the top executives of business and military organizations where they were able to give orders which would then just get done. That won’t happen with the federal government.

The election has created an unstable political structure, where the orientation of the executive branch is in conflict with the federal bureaucracy, something whose conservatism embodies the results of past social struggles in its laws and restrictions. This instability has been years in the making: for the entirety of Obama’s administration Republicans have campaigned to subvert government and make it less effective. They were able to do this because of long-term social processes connected to deindustrialization and demographic change that not only generated middle-class fear but also undermined political legitimacy.

Each of Trump’s cabinet picks seems designed to put longstanding opponents of the regulatory activities of each agency in charge. For example, Scott Pruitt, a close ally of the fossil fuel industry, installed as head of the EPA; Andrew Puzder, a fast-food chain executive and viciously hostile to the living wage campaign, as Labor Secretary; and Betsy DeVos, a charter-school activist and big Republican donor, as Education Secretary. Trump is surrounding himself, Ayn Randian style, with people who want to shrink the federal state to a minimum and act as a conduit for big business.

During his election campaign, Trump’s rhetoric built on many years of big business’s political disinformation strategies, “devised by a number of public affairs practitioners who recognized that lies were the most potent weapon in the fight against progress. … In the 1970s, scientists at Exxon (now ExxonMobil) knew that their products were changing the climate, but the company nonetheless funded think tanks and organizations dedicated to denying the existence of global warming, such as the Heartland Institute and the Competitive Enterprise Institute. Donald Trump has appointed Exxon’s chief executive Rex Tillerson as his secretary of state, while Myron Ebell, who heads Trump’s Environmental Protection Agency transition, directs the Competitive Enterprise Institute’s anti-‘global warming alarmism’ Center for Energy and the Environment, an outfit straight out of the tobacco lobby’s handbook.”

Political science professor Leo Panitch argues that, compared to the more internationally-oriented Bush administrations, staffed by Republican patricians, Trump’s cabinet “has very little autonomy from the capitalists that it represents.” His insistence on recruiting authoritarian “deal-makers” is a shift away from neoliberal “rule-makers” like Robert Rubin who wielded power under the Democrats; but, Panitch says, “then it becomes more difficult for a state to act as the Executive Committee, as Marx once put it, of the whole bourgeoisie. It makes it more difficult for them to do a reading of what’s in the class interests of the bourgeoisie as a whole and, in that sense, what’s in the national interest of a capitalist United States, in a global capitalism. And this could lead – it could lead – to a lot of jerkiness and scandals and dysfunction in such an administration.”

The state of Michigan is a prototype of just such dysfunctional Republican rule and it also shows how the burgeoning mass opposition to it can develop outside of the two-party political structure. Just one of the many scandals of its Republican administration is the unjust denial of unemployment benefits to claimants by an $45 million automated system, which was found to be wrong in 93% of cases. And all indications are that the source of the Flint water supply health disaster lies in governor Rick Snyder’s austerity policies. Four former Flint officials, including two state-appointed emergency managers, Darnell Earley and Gerald Ambrose, have been charged with criminal conspiracy to violate safety rules.

ACLU investigator Curt Guyette, who helped bring the health crisis to light, told Democracy Now: “it was all an attempt to save money. They said that by using the Flint River for two years while a new pipeline was being built, bringing water from Lake Huron to Genesee County, they would save about $5 million. And so, their charge is to cut expenses, to bring the budget in balance, and at any cost. And in this case, the cost was the contamination of a city’s water supply. … they were in such a rush to save money and use the river, that they went ahead before it was safe.” Guyette added that the decision to use the river “ultimately came out of the Governor’s Office.”

Nayyirah Shariff, a director of “Flint Rising”, a coalition of activists and advocates in Flint, travelled to Standing Rock in North Dakota to support the fight against the Dakota Access pipeline. She said: “we’re in this nascent stage of these water wars. And hopefully, what’s happening at Standing Rock—we have the same corporations and the same ideology that is pushing for DAPL. It’s the same ideology that created the emergency manager law, this thing for austerity and privatization and resource extraction for short-term gain, without the impact—without humanity being in that equation.”

The emergency manager law was introduced by governor Rick Snyder and his administration to slash expenditure on schools, pensions, and welfare after giving a multi-billion-dollar tax break to corporations and the rich. As Michael Moore explains: “Then he invoked an executive privilege to take over cities (all of them majority black) by firing the mayors and city councils whom the local people had elected, and installing his cronies to act as ‘dictators’ over these cities. Their mission? Cut services to save money so he could give the rich even more breaks. That’s where the idea of switching Flint to river water came from. To save $15 million!”

The idea of emergency managers was pushed by a Republican think tank called the Mackinac Center for Public Policy, which has urged the state since 2005 to employ drastic measures to fix budgets of local towns (in crisis because of the cuts in state funding) by sending in state-appointed financial czars who have the power to override elected officials and tear up union contracts. The group is closely tied to the Republican establishment in Michigan and its funders include the Koch brothers and the same Betsy DeVos who Trump has appointed Education Secretary.

The crisis in Flint is not over: residents still pay the highest water rates in the US (average $200 per month) for water they cannot drink or cook with, and have long-term health problems arising from lead poisoning. But the town’s plight would never have come to national attention if it had not been for its residents who faced arrest when they challenged officials who claimed the water was safe, and on their own initiative contacted the EPA before working with researchers from Virginia Tech to prove the water contained poisonous quantities of lead. They are continuing to fight the state of Michigan and, through groups like Flint Rising, are calling for the prosecution of governor Rick Snyder.

The Michigan Democratic party also reflects the political corruption of the state: its officials are still rigging elections for the discredited party leadership. Sanders supporters were physically ejected from a meeting to vote on delegates to represent Michigan on the Democratic National Committee, when they protested the lack of transparency and openness in the nomination process. “This [presidential] election was a repudiation of elitist politics. The establishment had their candidate and they lost,” said Sam Pernick, president of the Young Democrats of Michigan. “It’s time we started listening to the grassroots. If we have to do the work ourselves, we will. We won’t be stopped by violence and we will continue to peacefully protest and to actively work to change the party from within.” Pernick and other activists are organizing meetings across the state to encourage youth and progressives to engage with the state and local Democratic Party, and to push for reforms.

To break from the corporatist Democratic leadership – which cravenly is suggesting cooperating with Trump’s phoney infrastructure spending – requires a fight from both within and without the party. The resistance of Flint residents to being treated as expendable is a signal of the kind of opposition Trump will face when his corporate-friendly policies begin to bite and voters realize there will be no new working class jobs for them.

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Filed under 2016 Election, African Americans, Democratic Party, donald trump, fast-food workers, Flint, Michigan, Uncategorized

People Who Have Captured the Imagination of the Country: The Victory of Americans Standing Together at Standing Rock


The victory of Standing Rock protesters over the Dakota Access pipeline displays a microcosm of the social forces realigning themselves in the struggle against the rapacity of corporate America. The US Army Corps of Engineers finally denied permission for the section of the pipeline that would run under the Missouri river near the Standing Rock Sioux reservation, saying there was “a need to explore alternate routes.”

The media has minimized the significance of the victory, like the Washington Post which editorialized that “these pipelines, at their core, are nothing more than routine infrastructure projects, thousands of which underpin the U.S. economy.” But like the blocking of the Keystone XL project, the protests have come to symbolize social resistance to corporate hegemony and have brought together many strands of struggle against state oppression.

The protesters had resisted not only the fossil fuel industry’s drive for the pipeline’s construction, but also the militarized local police and private security contractors who had unleashed attack dogs, water cannons (in subfreezing temperatures), rubber bullets, pepper spray and tear gas grenades in unsuccessful efforts to clear the “water protectors” off the land, resulting in the hospitalization of a number of people and the permanent maiming of Sophia Wilansky and Vanessa Dundon. Police use of military-grade equipment, including landmine-resistant trucks and armored personnel carriers, prompted Standing Rock Sioux tribal chairman Dave Archambault II to appeal to the Justice Department to investigate civil rights abuses.

According to one eyewitness, “I watched as grandmothers with red feathers in their hair, Oglala elders in ceremonial regalia, and teens astride horses were teargassed, tased, and arrested. Cops fired rubber bullets at protesters and blasted them with earsplitting whines from Long Range Acoustic Devices. As the police marched down the highway, the crowd, echoing Black Lives Matter protesters, held their arms in the air and shouted, ‘Hands up, don’t shoot!’ ”

The optics of these attacks, recalling nineteenth-century slave patrols and military massacres of native peoples, galvanized a large contingent of US veterans to travel to North Dakota to defend the protesters against an expected intervention by the authorities on Monday December 5, the deadline set by the army corps for the protesters to vacate the site. They joined with representatives from over 200 native American nations, indigenous peoples from Norway to New Zealand, and environmental activists.

[UPDATE:] Wesley Clark Jr., the veterans’ contingent organizer, writes that upwards of 4,000 veterans arrived at Standing Rock to fight the pipeline, twice the number expected.

The announcement of the pipeline permit’s denial was a vindication of the nonviolent strategy advocated by tribal chairman Dave Archambault, who had used all his moral authority to prevent a confrontation between more militant native Americans and the police, insisting that the camp was a place of prayer. However, not all protesters believe that the path through official channels will result in their favor – citing years of bad experiences with the authorities.

The pipeline is being built to carry 470,000 barrels per day from the Bakken shale oil fields in North Dakota to a refinery in Illinois. It was originally set to cross the Missouri ten miles north of the state’s capital, Bismarck, but local fears of water pollution led the construction company to move the path south to a point less than a mile from the Sioux reservation.

Some media accounts emphasize that the Army Corps’ decision could be overturned by president-elect Donald Trump after his inauguration on January 20. But this is not as certain as might be assumed from his general support for fossil fuels. In the first place, the economic justification for the pipeline is fast eroding. It was started when oil prices were high as $100 a barrel, and shale oil production in North Dakota was projected to expand considerably. However, oil prices are now down to $50 a barrel and producers are likely to use the opportunity to shed their financial commitments to the pipeline.

The Economist reports: “The developers are rushing to finish the construction of the controversial pipeline because they are under financial pressure, not because of a need for increased local pipeline capacity, argues Clark Williams-Derry of the Sightline Institute, an environmental-research institution. According to court documents oil drillers have the right to void their contracts with ETP if the pipeline is not finished by January 1st, which could result in steep losses for the developers. … Mr Williams-Derry argues that the pipeline is a superfluous project being built to preserve the favourable contract terms negotiated by its developers before the oil price tanked.”

Secondly, if Trump were to send in state forces to push through a pipeline in which he himself has a financial interest, overriding the legal process set in motion by the Army Corps, that would establish his administration from the get-go as so corrupt as to warrant his impeachment. And thirdly, this would set him up against the federal bureaucracy, and given that his appointments to office have been selected from the wildly incompetent to the spectacularly inexperienced, he needs its cooperation. He will find it difficult to reverse years of federal law by executive fiat.

As climate change activist Bill McKibben wrote in the Guardian: “Trump, of course, can try and figure out a way to approve the pipeline right away, though the Obama administration has done its best to make that difficult. (That’s why, instead of an outright denial, they simply refused to grant the permit, thus allowing for the start of the environmental impact statement process). But if Trump decides to do that, he’s up against people who have captured the imagination of the country. Simply spitting on them to aid his friends in the oil industry would clarify a lot about him from the start, which is one reason he may hesitate.”

The company building the pipeline, Energy Transfer Partners, now says it doesn’t need the permit from the Army Corps and they will continue to build, anticipating support from the future Trump administration. However, the lawyer representing the Standing Rock Sioux, Jan Hasselman, pledged continued court battles in that event. “If an agency decides that a full environmental review is necessary, it can’t just change its mind with a stroke of a pen a few weeks later. That would be violation of the law, and it’s the kind of thing that a court would be called upon to review. It doesn’t mean they’re not going to try.”

On Monday a hugely symbolic forgiveness ceremony connected the veterans with the Sioux nation. Wesley Clark Jr., son of the retired Army general, apologized to an assembly of tribal elders for actions of the US military against Native Americans, kneeling and begging forgiveness. “We took your land,” he said, “We signed treaties that we broke. We stole minerals from your sacred hills.” While the veterans who joined him there had little interest in electoral politics, the reasons they gave for being there “demonstrate a commitment to fundamental American rights: to defend the Constitution, to protect innocent civilians, to protect water. They may have lost their faith in our politics, but their actions are still plenty patriotic,” commented Slate magazine.

Arthur Woodson, a Marine veteran from Flint, Michigan, told ABC News that he views the purpose of the growing veterans’ protest movement as being able to “stand up to the elites and the 1 percent.” The next destination for the group is going to be Flint, he said, where people still have to drink bottled water because of the high lead levels in the municipal system. “We don’t know when we are going to be there but we will be heading to Flint,” Wesley Clark Jr. said. “This problem is all over the country. It’s got to be more than veterans. People have been treated wrong in this country for a long time.” A surplus of bottled water that was donated to Standing Rock protesters could not be used, and will be rerouted to the Michigan city.

The multiracial alliance that has taken form at Standing Rock projects the future of resistance to right-wing corporate rule, uniting veterans with African, Latino and Native Americans. Trump is adept at seizing the headlines of the gullible media, but he is not going to win over Americans who remember his false promises and attacks on union officials. What is needed is clear opposition from leading Democrats to Republican efforts to dismantle Medicare and the remaining social safety net. They were notably missing from support for Standing Rock protesters, apart from Bernie Sanders and Hawaiian representative Tulsi Gabbard – although local Democratic party branches gave moral and material support – but nothing was heard from Hillary Clinton or even Elizabeth Warren, despite her claims to native heritage.

Opposition to the Trump agenda is going to come from within all layers of society, including the federal bureaucracy itself. Sanders’ supporters should get over their shock from the presidential election result, and make sure this opposition is expressed within the Democratic party as well as outside it, building multiracial alliances to defend the American public against the Trump administration’s expected onslaught on the $15 minimum wage, unions, civil rights, working class rights and environmental justice.

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Filed under aggressive policing, donald trump, Hillary Clinton, racial justice, standing rock, Uncategorized, US Veterans

Trump and May: Wrecking the Social Compact in the U.S. and Britain (if we let them)


Despite the different social contexts, there are significant transatlantic parallels between the political situation in Europe and America. Sarkozy’s humiliation in France’s centre-right presidential primary has been attributed to a “revolt by the French people against the political class” by François Fillon, the winning candidate. In the US, the election of Donald Trump is equivalent to a Nigel Farage or Marine Le Pen achieving presidential office, against the wishes of the political class. Now the centralization of executive branch powers that continued under Obama will be handed over to Trump, whose politics are scaringly shallow.

In the UK, after the Brexit vote to leave the EU, the Conservative party establishment quickly asserted control over its anti-EU faction. Prime Minister Theresa May rode the Brexit tiger by moving the government sharply to the right, but while she maintains a Thatcher-like image of unflappable control, in reality she is improvising from day to day in negotiations over the country’s transition. She hints she will keep key industries in the single market while being able to reduce immigration from within the EU, which European leaders have already denounced as unacceptable.

Her Cabinet is reportedly split to the point of paralysis over what strategy to follow. A recent memo by a Deloitte analyst pointed out that more than 500 separate commercial treaties would have to be re-negotiated in the event of a hard Brexit (leaving the single market), which would need the recruitment of another 30,000 civil servants and would be far “beyond the capacity and capability” of the government.

Across the Atlantic, the Washington Post argues that “Trump took the elements of an independent candidacy — the lack of clear ideology, the name recognition of a national celebrity and the personal fortune needed to fund a presidential campaign — and then did what no one seemed to have thought of before. He staged a hostile takeover of an existing major party. He had the best of both worlds, an outsider candidacy with crosscutting ideological appeal and the platform of a major party to wage the general election.”

Now that he has been elected, however, Trump has turned to the Republican establishment for help in building his administration. Trump’s initial appointments, including the neo-fascist Steve Bannon, appear to be aimed at appeasing his energized base – the tea party and hard-right racist wings of the Republicans – but he is already negotiating with establishment figures like Romney and Priebus and has embraced Paul Ryan’s budget plans.

Political theorist Theda Skopcol writes that after his unexpected election victory, Trump’s inner circle “provided little in the way of expert allies to help him fill tens of thousands of federal government jobs and plan comprehensive policy agendas. Especially on the domestic side, Trump has responded by immediately outsourcing much of this work to experienced GOP officials, including key players in his emergent White House and in Congress who have long been groomed by the Koch network. After apparently denouncing and opposing GOP House Speaker Paul Ryan during the election campaign, President-Elect Trump did a quick about-face to fully embrace Ryan and his radical government-shrinking policy agenda.”

This means the Republican-controlled government will ram through the Koch policy agendas of privatizing Medicare, cutting taxes even more for the rich, busting unions, deregulating business and abandoning environmental regulation. Some Democratic politicians like Chuck Schumer advocate holding Trump to fulfil the more populist of his campaign promises. But this can only sow illusions about the new administration: it will be the most corrupt, anti-labor and anti-jobs government in the U.S. since 1776.

Trump’s plan for rebuilding infrastructure, for example, which sounds like it would create construction jobs, is in reality “a tax-cut plan for utility-industry and construction-sector investors, and a massive corporate welfare plan for contractors. The Trump plan doesn’t directly fund new roads, bridges, water systems or airports, as did Hillary Clinton’s 2016 infrastructure proposal. Instead, Trump’s plan provides tax breaks to private-sector investors who back profitable construction projects. … Because the plan subsidizes investors, not projects; because it funds tax breaks, not bridges; because there’s no requirement that the projects be otherwise unfunded, there is simply no guarantee that the plan will produce any net new hiring.”

Skopcol points out that “Liberals and Democrats could be so focused on Trump’s racial and international policies that they fail to mobilize widespread American popular support to save programs like Medicare. Ironically, however, the pending Koch-inspired eviscerations of the U.S. social insurance system are likely to disillusion many of Trump’s ‘make America great again’ voters. … With total GOP control of Washington DC about to happen, the Koch network dream of an enfeebled U.S. domestic government is on the verge of realization. Unless Democrats learn to speak clearly and organize in many states and counties, no one will even be available to make the key changes visible or explain what is happening to disillusioned voters.”

That’s the key issue: Democrats must speak clearly and organize against the dismantling of social entitlements, but that means overcoming the corporate Wall Street Democrats who are responsible for the party’s electoral defeat. Adam Green of the Progressive Change Committee criticized Clinton for not addressing the central issue of a rigged economy that was so important to voters. “The Democrats need to be willing to say that our economy is rigged against the little guy, our democracy is corrupted by big money and we will fight Trump’s pro-corporate agenda and dedicate ourselves to fixing this rigged system,” he said.

And Robert Reich slams the Democratic party for its corporate perspective. “The entire organization has to be reinvented from the ground up. The Democratic Party has become irrelevant to the lives of most people. It’s nothing but a giant fundraising machine. … “This new Democratic Party has got to show very vividly that Donald Trump … is fraudulent. And expose that fraud. And offer people the real thing, rather than the fake variety. … we need a political party, a progressive, new Democratic Party that’s going to be organizing in every state. And not only for the state elections, but also organizing grassroots groups that are active on specific issues right now in many, many states – including many of the groups that worked for Bernie Sanders – that need to be connected.”

While being in the forefront of the fight against the racist policies of the state, the left must participate in this struggle to change the Democratic party from within, as the only organization that can coordinate national resistance to Trump’s presidency. Millions of Americans are afraid of what they expect to happen and want to know what to do. They urgently need a roadmap of how to succeed in the fight for adequate housing, health, jobs, and a $15 minimum hourly wage; and a clear strategy to defend constitutional civil liberties and the hard fought gains of the Civil Rights Era. That makes it necessary to campaign on issues that will unite disparate groups and undermine Trump’s political support. A major battle inside and outside Congress to defend Medicare is an ideal opportunity to drive a wedge between Trump and those who supported him in the belief he cared about the needs of ordinary people like them.

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Filed under 2016 Election, Democratic Party, donald trump, Hillary Clinton, Medicare, political analysis, Trump, Uncategorized