America Last: Will Trump Set a Record for the History Books?

By Tom Engelhardt
Reprinted from TomDispatch.com

In its own inside-out, upside-down way, it’s almost wondrous to behold. As befits our president’s wildest dreams, it may even prove to be a record for the ages, one for the history books. He was, after all, the candidate who sensed it first.  When those he was running against, like the rest of Washington’s politicians, were still insisting that the United States remained at the top of its game, not an — but the — “indispensable nation,” the only truly “exceptional” one on the face of the Earth, he said nothing of the sort.  He campaigned on America’s decline, on this country’s increasing lack of exceptionality, its potential dispensability.  He ran on the single word “again” — as in “make America great again” — because (the implication was) it just isn’t anymore.  And he swore that he and he alone was the best shot Americans, or at least non-immigrant white Americans, had at ever seeing the best of days again.

In that sense, he was our first declinist candidate for president and if that didn’t tell you something during the election season, it should have. No question about it, he hit a chord, rang a bell, because out in the heartland it was possible to sense a deepening reality that wasn’t evident in Washington.  The wealthiest country on the planet, the most militarily powerful in the history of… well, anybody, anywhere, anytime (or so we were repeatedly told)… couldn’t win a war, not even with the investment of trillions of taxpayer dollars, couldn’t do anything but spread chaos by force of arms.

Meanwhile, at home, despite all that wealth, despite billionaires galore, including the one running for president, despite the transnational corporate heaven inhabited by Google and Facebook and Apple and the rest of the crew, parts of this country and its infrastructure were starting to feel distinctly (to use a word from another universe) Third Worldish.  He sensed that, too.  He regularly said things like this: “We spent six trillion dollars in the Middle East, we got nothing… And we have an obsolete plane system. We have obsolete airports. We have obsolete trains. We have bad roads. Airports.”  And this: “Our airports are like from a third-world country.”  And on the nation’s crumbling infrastructure, he couldn’t have been more on the mark.

In parts of the U.S., white working-class and middle-class Americans could sense that the future was no longer theirs, that their children would not have a shot at what they had had, that they themselves increasingly didn’t have a shot at what they had had.  The American Dream seemed to be gaining an almost nightmarish sheen, given that the real value of the average wage of a worker hadn’t increased since the 1970s; that the cost of a college education had gone through the roof and the educational debt burden for children with dreams of getting ahead was now staggering; that unions were cratering; that income inequality was at a historic high; and… well, you know the story, really you do.  In essence, for them the famed American Dream seemed ever more like someone else’s trademarked property.

Indispensable? Exceptional? This country? Not anymore. Not as they were experiencing it.

And because of that, Donald Trump won the lottery.  He answered the $64,000 question.  (If you’re not of a certain age, Google it, but believe me it’s a reference in our president’s memory book.)  He entered the Oval Office with almost 50% of the vote and a fervent base of support for his promised program of doing it all over again, 1950s-style.

It had been one hell of a pitch from the businessman billionaire.  He had promised a future of stratospheric terrificness, of greatness on an historic scale. He promised to keep the evil ones — the rapists, job thieves, and terrorists — away, to wall them out or toss them out or ban them from ever traveling here.  He also promised to set incredible records, as only a mega-businessman like him could conceivably do, the sort of all-American records this country hadn’t seen in a long, long time.

And early as it is in the Trump era, it seems as if, on one score at least, he could deliver something for the record books going back to the times when those recording the acts of rulers were still scratching them out in clay or wax. At this point, there’s at least a chance that Donald Trump might preside over the most precipitous decline of a truly dominant power in history, one only recently considered at the height of its glory.  It could prove to be a fall for the ages.  Admittedly, that other superpower of the Cold War era, the Soviet Union, imploded in 1991, which was about the fastest way imaginable to leave the global stage.  Still, despite the “evil empire” talk of that era, the USSR was always the secondary, the weaker of the two superpowers.  It was never Rome, or Spain, or Great Britain.

When it comes to the United States, we’re talking about a country that not so long ago saw itself as the only great power left on planet Earth, “the lone superpower.”  It was the one still standing, triumphant, at the end of a history of great power rivalry that went back to a time when the wooden warships of various European states first broke out into a larger world and began to conquer it.  It stood by itself at, as its proponents liked to claim at the time, the end of history.

Applying Hard Power to a Failing World

As we watch, it seems almost possible to see President Trump, in real time, tweet by tweet, speech by speech, sword dance by sword dance, intervention by intervention, act by act, in the process of dismantling the system of global power — of “soft power,” in particular, and of alliances of every sort — by which the U.S. made its will felt, made itself a truly global hegemon.  Whether his “America first” policies are aimed at creating a future order of autocrats, or petro-states, or are nothing more than the expression of his libidinous urges and secret hatreds, he may already be succeeding in taking down that world order in record fashion.

Despite the mainstream pieties of the moment about the nature of the system Donald Trump appears to be dismantling in Europe and elsewhere, it was anything but either terribly “liberal” or particularly peaceable.  Wars, invasions, occupations, the undermining or overthrow of governments, brutal acts and conflicts of every sort succeeded one another in the years of American glory.  Past administrations in Washington had a notorious weakness for autocrats, just as Donald Trump does today.  They regularly had less than no respect for democracy if, from Iran to Guatemala to Chile, the will of the people seemed to stand in Washington’s way.  (It is, as Vladimir Putin has been only too happy to point out of late, an irony of our moment that the country that has undermined or overthrown or meddled in more electoral systems than any other is in a total snit over the possibility that one of its own elections was meddled with.)  To enforce their global system, Americans never shied away from torture, black sites, death squads, assassinations, and other grim practices.  In those years, the U.S. planted its military on close to 1,000 overseas military bases, garrisoning the planet as no other country ever had.

Nonetheless, the cancelling of the Trans Pacific Partnership trade deal, the withdrawal from the Paris climate accord, threats against NAFTA, the undermining of NATO, the promise of protective tariffs on foreign goods (and the possible trade wars that might go with them) could go a long way toward dismantling the American global system of soft power and economic dominance as it has existed in these last decades.  If such acts and others like them prove effective in the months and years to come, they will leave only one kind of power in the American global quiver: hard military power, and its handmaiden, the kind of covert power Washington, through the CIA in particular, has long specialized in. If America’s alliances crack open and its soft power becomes too angry or edgy to pass for dominant power anymore, its massive machinery of destruction will still be left, including its vast nuclear arsenal.  While, in the Trump era, a drive to cut domestic spending of every sort is evident, more money is still slated to go to the military, already funded at levels not reached by combinations of other major powers.

Given the last 15 years of history, it’s not hard to imagine what’s likely to result from the further elevation of military power: disaster.  This is especially true because Donald Trump has appointed to key positions in his administration a crew of generals who spent the last decade and a half fighting America’s catastrophic wars across the Greater Middle East.  They are not only notoriously incapable of thinking outside the box about the application of military power, but faced with the crisis of failed wars and failing states, of spreading terror movements and a growing refugee crisis across that crucial region, they can evidently only imagine one solution to just about any problem: more of the same.  More troops, more mini-surges, more military trainers and advisers, more air strikes, more drone strikesmore.

After a decade and a half of such thinking we already know perfectly well where this ends — in further failure, more chaos and suffering, but above all in an inability of the U.S. to effectively apply its hard power anywhere in any way that doesn’t make matters worse.  Since, in addition, the Trump administration is filled with Iranophobes, including a president who has only recently fused himself to the Saudi royal family in an attempt to further isolate and undermine Iran, the possibility that a military-first version of American foreign policy will spread further is only growing.

Such “more” thinking is typical as well of much of the rest of the cast of characters now in key positions in the Trump administration. Take the CIA, for instance.  Under its new director, Mike Pompeo (distinctly a “more” kind of guy and an Iranophobe of the first order), two key positions have reportedly been filled: a new chief of counterterrorism and a new head of Iran operations (recently identified as Michael D’Andrea, an Agency hardliner with the nickname “the Dark Prince”).  Here’s how Matthew Rosenberg and Adam Goldman of the New York Times recently described their similar approaches to their jobs (my emphasis added):

“Mr. D’Andrea’s new role is one of a number of moves inside the spy agency that signal a more muscular approach to covert operations under the leadership of Mike Pompeo, the conservative Republican and former congressman, the officials said. The agency also recently named a new chief of counterterrorism, who has begun pushing for greater latitude to strike militants.”

In other words, more!

Rest assured of one thing, whatever Donald Trump accomplishes in the way of dismantling America’s version of soft power, “his” generals and intelligence operatives will handle the hard-power part of the equation just as “ably.”

The First American Laster?

If a Trump presidency achieves a record for the ages when it comes to the precipitous decline of the American global system, little as The Donald ever cares to share credit for anything, he will undoubtedly have to share it for such an achievement.  It’s true that kings, emperors, and autocrats, the top dogs of any moment, prefer to take all the credit for the “records” set in their time.  When we look back, however, it’s likely that President Trump will be seen as having given a tottering system that necessary push.  It will undoubtedly be clear enough by then that the U.S., seemingly at the height of any power’s power in 1991 when the Soviet Union disappeared, began heading for the exits soon thereafter, still enwreathed in self-congratulation and triumphalism.

Had this not been so, Donald Trump would never have won the 2016 election.  It wasn’t he, after all, who gave the U.S. heartland an increasingly Third World feel.  It wasn’t he who spent those trillions of dollars so disastrously on invasions and occupations, dead-end wars, drone strikes and special ops raids, reconstruction and deconstruction in a never-ending war on terror that today looks more like a war for the spread of terror.  It wasn’t he who created the growing inequality gap in this country or produced all those billionaires amid a population that increasingly felt left in the lurch.  It wasn’t he who hiked college tuitions or increased the debt levels of the young or set roads and bridges to crumbling and created the conditions for Third World-style airports.

If both the American global and domestic systems hadn’t been rotting out before Donald Trump arrived on the scene, that “again” of his wouldn’t have worked.  Thought of another way, when the U.S. was truly at the height of its economic clout and power, American leaders felt no need to speak incessantly of how “indispensable” or “exceptional” the country was.  It seemed too self-evident to mention. Someday, some historian may use those very words in the mouths of American presidents and other politicians (and their claims, for instance, that the U.S. military was “the finest fighting force that the world has ever known”) as a set of increasingly defensive markers for measuring the decline of American power.

So here’s the question: When the Trump years (months?) come to an end, will the U.S. be not the planet’s most exceptional land, but a pariah nation?  Will that “again” still be the story of the year, the decade, the century? Will the last American Firster turn out to have been the first American Laster?  Will it truly be one for the record books?


 

Tom Engelhardt is a co-founder of the American Empire Project and the author of The United States of Fear as well as a history of the Cold War, The End of Victory Culture. He is a fellow of the Nation Institute and runs TomDispatch.com. His latest book is Shadow Government: Surveillance, Secret Wars, and a Global Security State in a Single-Superpower World.

Follow TomDispatch on Twitter and join us on Facebook. Check out the newest Dispatch Book, John Dower’s The Violent American Century: War and Terror Since World War II, as well as John Feffer’s dystopian novel Splinterlands, Nick Turse’s Next Time They’ll Come to Count the Dead, and Tom Engelhardt’s Shadow Government: Surveillance, Secret Wars, and a Global Security State in a Single-Superpower World.

Copyright 2017 Tom Engelhardt

 


Democrats – Lemmings in Search of a Cliff: Why You Shouldn’t Bet the Ranch on 2018

Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), who soared to national prominence during last year’s presidential campaign, is now the most popular politician in the nation. (Photo: Common Dreams / CC BY 3.0)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Republicans should be on the run.  Trumpcare is toxic, the White House stumbles from disaster to disaster, Trump’s budget is a giant slap in the face to the people who voted for him, and Russiagate just gets worse and worse.

But Democrats—rather than catching what should be a progressive tsunami—are acting like lemmings in search of a cliff.  Here are the details.

The lesson from 2016 should be clear

The age of the neoliberal, elitist, insider politician is gone. The people are wise to it, and they won’t show up to vote for candidates who spout progressive rhetoric, while feeding at the corporate money trough, and backing policies that favor Wall Street and the uber-rich.

“The age of the neoliberal, elitist, insider politician is gone.”

The political mainstream of both parties is either ignoring the extent to which they’ve alienated the people, or they don’t care. Here’s just one finding from a landmark study called the Smith Project that summarizes people’s dim view of both political parties: “Americans overwhelmingly agree (78%–15%) that both political parties are too beholden to special interests to create any meaningful change.”

The analysis also found that “American voters strongly believe that corruption and crony capitalism are among the  most important issues facing our nation—almost equal to jobs and the economy. Political alienation has existed for decades, but it now envelops over three-fifths of all   voters. These are the numbers that precede a political upheaval. (emphasis added)

This kind of alienation explains how Trump got elected by less than 27% of the eligible voters.  The passionately ignorant minority responded to his limbic hymnal of hate, greed, fear, blame, jingoism and xenophobia and showed up; the progressive majority—offered pre-packaged, pseudo-progressive pablum—did not.

Make no mistake, Democrats lost because turnout was low.  And turnout was low because progressives were turned off by their choices—or rather, lack of choices.

Nowhere is this more evident than in the presidential vote in 2016. Despite the headlines about a large turnout, it’s clear that many people weren’t thrilled with their choice, and turnout was lower than anticipated. In fact, in fourteen states, candidates in down ballot races received more votes than candidates for president.

That is, people voted for down-ballot candidates but left the top of the ticket blank. And it would have been the case in fifteen states, but Nevada allows voters to choose “none-of-the-above.” This was unprecedented, and it confirms the public’s rejection of politics as usual found in the Smith Project and in virtually any poll addressing the issue.

The fact is, the majority of Americans hold progressive views on an issue-by-issue basis.

This is why Bernie Sanders is the most popular politician in America.  He says what he means; he doesn’t equivocate; he backs progressive policies without reservation; he doesn’t take money from dark money Super PACs. The Smith project and nearly all poll addressing voter preference tells us these are the qualities American voters are looking for.

That means many of these sidelined voters could be easily wooed back to voting if Democrats would only run true progressives. In fact, one of the reasons the Democrats have been losing ground at all levels of government since the 70’s is because they’ve abandoned the New Deal policies favoring people, and adopted raw deal policies favoring plutocrats.

So you would think the Democratic Party would be embracing the progressive wing of the party and backing progressive positions and candidates.

But you’d be wrong.

“You would think the Democratic Party would be embracing the progressive wing of the party and backing progressive positions and candidates. But you’d be wrong.”

Instead, the Democrats seem intent on playing the same old cynical, centrist game that has turned them into a minority party.  And that bodes ill for 2018.  Even as Trump lurches from disaster to disaster, the Democrats plot ways to snatch defeat from what should be—indeed, must be, given the stakes—certain victory.

Let’s look at the evidence.

Pushing Perez while derailing Ellison

When the Obama White House recruited Tom Perez to run for Chair of the DNC, Rep. Keith Ellison (D-Minn.) had been in the race for a month and had collected endorsements from many of the party’s power brokers, as well as the Sanders’ branch of the party. When progressives objected to Perez, Clinton and the Obama surrogates claimed that Perez was “just as progressive” as Ellison. As The New Republic‘s Clio Chang asked before the vote for DNC, if that was indeed the case, why insert him in the race?

While Perez was perhaps the most progressive member of Obama’s cabinet, he supported the controversial Trans Pacific Partnership (TPP) and, more importantly, he was firmly aligned with the establishment. The real reason for shoving him into the race was because Ellison was aligned with Sanders and the emerging progressive arm of the party, and with the Sanders supporters increasing their influence, they were afraid of losing control.  And it seems the establishment would rather lose elections than lose control.

The troubling “Ideas Conference” by the Center for American Progress

Imagine holding an “ideas conference” to seek new ideas, but not inviting one of the few people with new ideas to the discussion.

Imagine billing it as a gathering of progressives and not inviting the most popular progressive politician in America—and the most genuine.

That’s exactly what the Center for American Progress did last week, in their invitation-only gathering which specifically excluded Sen. Sanders.

Imagine realizing you have to have a more populist appeal to win elections, then holding your conference in one of the most expensive hotels in Washington, complete with a $1000 a plate dinner and no website allowing for … well … ideas from the people.

In fact, one of the biggest topics at the CAP conference seemed to center on blaming the Russians for Clinton’s defeat. And yes, she won the popular vote, but in our current system, that’s a consolation prize.

“Trump’s rank idiocy offers Democrats the opportunity of a lifetime.  But the establishment arm of the Democratic Party is apparently more interested in maintaining control of the party than it is in winning elections.”

So let’s say it again, one more time—it was the content of those emails, not the emails per se, that helped to sink Clinton. The emails revealed that, contrary to her progressive rhetoric, Hillary Clinton subscribed to the neoliberal consensus that has empowered the plutocracy, disempowered and impoverished the people, and that is resulting in the wholesale destruction of our planet and our climate.

About the only idea of substance to come out of the CAP meeting was the Marshall Plan for jobs, an ill-conceived hodge podge that contained as much rhetoric about protecting the private sector as it did about guaranteeing jobs.

Now consider the election to head California’s Democratic Party: Here again, the power elite fought off a serious challenge from the progressive wing. Long-time political operative Eric Bauman barely edged out progressive challenger Kimberly Ellis to take control of the California Democratic Party, winning by just 62 votes.

Bauman is a typical DLC Democrat—a pragmatic power-broker who steers by the hood ornament, rather than by a set of values rooted in an ethical framework.  For example, Bauman lobbied heavily for the pharmaceutical industry, when California’s Prop 61 threatened to cut their obscene profits.  Ellis, on the other hand, was a Sanders supporter, who has backed a bold and progressive agenda.

So there you have it.  Trump’s rank idiocy offers Democrats the opportunity of a lifetime.  But the establishment arm of the Democratic Party is apparently more interested in maintaining control of the party than it is in winning elections, so expect a slate of split the difference Democrats, who will struggle at the polls.


John Atcheson is author of the novel, A Being Darkly Wise, and he has just completed a book on the 2016 elections, tentatively titled, WTF America? How the US Went Off the Rails and How to Get It Back on Track, which will be released in the Spring.


Steve Frisch: “It’s Time to Kill This Tired Old Cliche That Government Should Run Like a Business”

By SteveFrisch

Editor’s Note: Steve Frisch offered the following comments on his Facebook page in response to the article linked below, about Trump’s appointment of his son-in-law Jared Kushner to a “swat team to fix government with business ideas”

So I don’t think it’s a terrible idea to create an office to advance innovation in government. How we approach issues and how government provides services should always be getting a fresh look.

I am profoundly uncomfortable with the idea of putting someone in charge who has absolutely no experience in government, and whose success in business was inherited, reporting directly to someone else with equally no experience in government.

Government and business are not the same thing.

Government does the stuff business can’t do or won’t do because there is no profit in it, or the profits to be realized in it have such a long return on investment that the private sector won’t invest in it. The purpose of business is to maximize profit (much to my chagrin) and serving all of the people does not necessarily maximize profit.

Add to that the fallacy of the basic concept that competition inherently provides lower costs and higher efficiency. That concept has been disproved time and time again, in certain areas of investment. Sometimes it just provides an advantage for profit making businesses.

Let’s just take the example of pharmaceuticals. Costs are higher in the US with a basically unregulated market than they are in any other developed nation on earth, largely because government refuses to play the role of negotiating prices and centralizing supply.

Some things are simply so costly that the only way to provide them is for government to take on the burden. Infrastructure, basic research, national defense, and governance itself are prime examples.

The purpose of government as defined in our Constitution is to ‘promote the general welfare.” If one breaks that down based on the meaning of the words, it means, “to support or actively encourage advancements for most or all of the people that improve health, happiness or fortune.”

In essence business, with a mandate to maximize profits to shareholders, and government, with a mandate to promote the general welfare, have sometimes diametrically opposed objectives that are often in competition with each other….that is why we have governments, because what is good for GM is not necessarily what is good for the country.

The idea that reforming government to be like a business also ignores a basic reality of government itself, which Trump just learned by getting his ass handed to him over health care; government is inherently about collaboration between interests to get the best possible deal. Henry Paulson famously said, “You succeed in Washington by collaborating.” Business may be increasingly about collaboration but that ethic has not reached the board room yet; in the board room business is about making decision that affect shareholder value.

Finally this gets down to one basic truth, that not everything that is profitable is of social value and not everything of social value is profitable. Kim Kardashian is profitable but has low social value (I would argue the same of The Apprentice). Research has high social value but low profit. There is no worse place to be in business than “the first” one who pioneers a new idea or technology. They bear all the development cost and have to share the profit.

It’s time to kill this tired old cliche that government should run like a business. What we really mean is that government should run efficiently, should provide value, and should promote the general welfare.

There is no worse way to get to that ideal than to give the reins to a guy whose sole qualification for digging into the issue is running his parents real estate fortune.

If one is serious about governing one puts seasoned professional with a track record in the area of expertise being addressed in position of management authority.


Steve_FrischSteve Frisch is President of Sierra Business Council and one of its founding members. Over the last 20 years Sierra Business Council has leveraged more than $100 million of investment in the Sierra Nevada and its communities through community and public-private partnerships.  Sierra Business Council also manages the Sierra Small Business Development Center focusing on advancing sustainable business practices and linking new and expanding businesses to climate mitigation and adaptation funding. Steve manages SBC’s staff and programmatic development.

Prior to joining the Sierra Business Council, Steve owned and operated a small business in Truckee. Steve serves on the board of the California Stewardship Network, the Large Landscape Practitioners Network, the National Geographic Geo-tourism Council, Capital Public Radio, and Leadership For Jobs and a New Economy.  Steve is also a former Fulbright Exchange Program Fellow, sharing information and knowledge gained in the Sierra Nevada in China and Mongolia.  Steve is a graduate of San Francisco State University with a B.A. in Political Science.


The Other Right-Wing Tidal Wave Sweeping America: Federal and State Preemption of Local Progressive Laws

Preemption allows corporations to boost their profits by suppressing local government power, community groups and citizens.

By Don Hazen, Steven Rosenfeld / AlterNet

shutterstock_579559060

Photo Credit: Image by Shutterstock, Copyright (c) Cheapbooks

Last week, the National League of Cities released a report tracking an outbreak of state laws stepping on and nullifying local progressive laws and policies across the country. The picture it paints in seven key areas is shocking to anyone who believes in local democracy.

The report, “City Rights in an Era of Preemption,” says 24 states have preempted local minimum wage increases; 17 have stopped paid sick or family leave; three have voided anti-discrimination protections for LGBT individuals; three have stopped laws aimed at home sharing (like AirBnB that has tightened affordable housing options); 37 have blocked local regulation of ride sharing (that compete with the more heavily licensed taxis); 17 have blocked municipal broadband (challenging telecom monopolies); and 42 have limited local taxation and spending.

Preemption is the legal term that describes this legal assault, which extends to many more areas, among them firearms, factory farms, pesticide regulation, fracking, nutrition labeling, and e-cigarettes. In almost all instances, preemption is a deliberate state government-sanctioned corporate takeover to boost private profiteering by suppressing local government power, community groups and citizens. The big exception outside profiterting are anti-LGBT measures, which reflect another far-right agenda.

AlterNet’s Don Hazen and Steven Rosenfeld recently spoke to Mark Pertschuk, director of Grassroots Change and Preemption Watch about this insidious trend. Pertschuk discusses its growth in recent years, its explosion in 2016 and 2017 as Donald Trump has diverted media attention, and how grassroots protests have been effective in exposing, slowing and stopping some brazen corporate power grabs.

Pertschuk’s message is harrowing and hopeful. On the one hand, there is huge momentum behind preemption that often protects corporate interests, but sometimes is simply a stand in for right-wing ideology. There is hope, however, because there are key cases where community activists have been able to marshall broad public support and legislatures have backed down. And increasingly, elected officials like Tallahassee, Florida, Mayor Andrew Gillum, have beaten the GOP and gun lobby in court, and are creating coalitions with other elected officials to defend local democracy.

Steven Rosenfeld: Let’s start by asking what preemption is, because it’s kind of an opaque term.

Mark Pertschuk: Well, right… Like voting rights, federal and state preemption are very fundamental issues of democracy and they’ve become much more significant in the last 20 years. The new Trump administration poses a threat of federal preemption that we’ve never seen. I don’t think we’ve ever faced it on this level before in history.

Federal preemption is used to stop progress at both the state and local levels, particularly the local levels, which is where progress is now coming from. The reason that I say that preemption is like voting rights is that in many, many respects, the last operating bastion of democracy is at the local level: counties, cities, school boards, other types of local agencies. That’s where innovations and progress and policy have been made.

The opponents of public health and the opponents of progress know that and they’ve known it for decades. They’ve sewn up Washington. They did that before Trump. They feel very comfortable that they can control the agenda in Washington. And they’ve accomplished that in most states. Even in progressive states, ALEC [the pro-corporate American Legislative Exchange Council that drafts model bills and finds legislative sponsor, usually Republicans], the individual companies, industries, their lobbyists are confident… Proponents of preemption feel comfortable that they can control the agenda, that they can stop progress that will eat into their profits.

That’s the big picture. Preemption is a difficult term because it’s technical and it’s legal. It simply means when the federal government takes away the authority of states and local communities to pass stronger health, safety, and social justice laws; or when the state takes away the authority of cities and counties to pass stronger health, safety, or social justice policies at the local level. That’s where it’s mostly been in the past 20 years.

Don Hazen: This is across the board from plastic bags to minimum wage to fracking to….

MP: Every issue you can possibly imagine that anyone would care about that impacts workers, health, safety, or the natural environment.

SR: It’s an incredible list. It’s guns, sick pay, tobacco, e-cigarettes, LGBT rights, soda taxes, plastic bags, pesticides, local utility districts, fracking, and sanctuary cities. Even sprinklers!

MP: Fire sprinklers are a good example. This is the other thing, with preemption, with state preemption historically, the way that cities and counties have lost their authority over guns, tobacco, paid sick days, minimum wage, is exactly the same from issue to issue. When you look at what happened in residential fire sprinklers, believe it or not, it is identical to what the strategies that are coming to bear now on paid sick days, for example.

There’s been quite a vital grassroots movement for 30 years that started in California to mandate residential fire sprinklers in all new homes, including single-family homes and town houses, as well as apartment buildings. It’s been quite successful because the main advocates are members of the fire service, fire chiefs and fire marshals. It’s also been a nonpartisan movement, grassroots movement and it started in San Clemente with the fire chief. Now there are more than 360 local ordinances and two states, California and Maryland, require universal fire extinguishers in all residences.

It was a grassroots movement. But about 10 years ago, give or take, the National Association of Home Builders, which is the organization that represents primarily the builders of large developments, decided that they wanted to stop this grassroots movement. It was almost reflexive. Fire sprinklers are very inexpensive in the places where they’ve been mandated just because the price has come down. When you’re doing them in new construction, they’re very cheap, but the industry did it [pushed preemption laws] to do something at the state level. Fifteen states ultimately preempted the local authority to strengthen the building codes or fire codes around residential fire sprinklers.

It’s the first time in history that states have ever taken away the authority of communities of local fire departments, local city councils to strengthen their building code or fire code on a specific issues.

SR: How did these laws get passed in the first place?

MP: There’s really three ways. The first way is raw money. I think it’s basically lobbying power, sophistication and campaign donations. I don’t think that’s a mystery.

The second way, and this is the way that you get legislators who maybe are arguably progressive, cut deals. For example, the other NRA, the National Restaurant Association, or their state affiliate will say, You can have a local law on food and nutrition or on paid sick days, but the only way you’re going to get it, is if you also preempt all stronger local ordinances. It’s used as a bargaining chip, but again it’s like bargaining for voting rights. It’s like saying, We will increase the minimum wage at the state level, but you’re only going to get two-thirds of a vote for every vote in the cities.

You know what I’m saying? In other words, it’s an elected official bargaining away…

Steven Rosenfeld: Their proactive agenda and local options….

MP: Right. You wouldn’t want to negotiate voting rights for cities and by the same token, you don’t want to bargain away local democracy. But that is how it is occurring.

The third way is emerging, which is you have these states where state fiscal mechanisms withhold funds from localities… Arizona is the poster child, where there’ve been these fights over tobacco and a few, a handful of other issues for a while, for decades. But now it’s every issue and you get into these almost grand fights between the state legislature and cities, and the legislature drops the fiscal bomb. They’ve preempted everything by using the fiscal mechanisms, the transfer of municipal funds from the state to the cities. This is over any issue that any single member of the legislature objects to… That also includes police and firefighter money. As a practical matter, that is stopping progress on every single social and health issue.

DH: There’s no backlash from the voters or the courts?

MP: This is a really important question. I’ll start with courts and then voters. This is where voting rights and preemption are radically different. Roughly speaking, the federal constitution is on the side of voting. There are lots of nuances in there.

But very clearly, the federal constitution is 100 percent on the side of [state and federal] preemption. Ultimately preemption is purely a matter of raw politics and grassroots mobilization because the U.S. Constitution says that the federal laws are the supreme law of the land, the Supremacy Clause. The federal constitution, let alone the state constitutions, give almost no fundamental authority to local subdivisions, to cities and municipalities. This is a fight that we cannot ultimately win in the courts… only temporarily perhaps.

SR: I thought Republicans were all for local control.

MP: With very few exceptions, this isn’t about ideology. This is all about money with the possible exception of the LGBTQ discrimination where preemption’s becoming a central issue.

Take a place like Texas where we’ve done a lot of work, and 10 years ago, most legislators, especially Republican legislators, would never have dreamed of preempting local authority because there is a deep tradition of local control. Oil and gas regulation wasn’t preempted in Texas until 2015 because the city of Denton banned fracking via initiative in November 2014.

There was virtually no preemption on any social justice or health or safety issue before that time. But that’s happening now and there’s legislation in their biannual legislature. There are more than 100 preemption bills, including a number of bills that are blanket preemptions like in Arizona. One out of 100 Republicans that have addressed this issue [honestly] have made a nod to the fact that this is a blatant violation of conservative values. Mostly, it’s pure politics.

SR: More than 100 bills in Texas. What’s the rest of the national landscape?

MP: Going back 50 years, 40 years, preemption was something that was just a mechanism for managing the relationships between federal, state and local government. It was really never used as a broad tool for policy change; it was rules of the road. It was not until the 1980s, the late 1980s that the tobacco industry turned state preemption especially into a weapon against a grassroots, health or social change movement. What’s happening today around preemption, both state and potentially federally, is a new phenomenon. It really started six or seven years ago.

It has two attributes. One is that now almost every issue that matters to American voters is at risk of being preempted by either the federal or state government or both. The second is, that the real change is that preemption is being used as a blunt instrument to destroy local democracy, and that’s new.

To get back to your question, what’s happening now and what’s different. In each of the last four years, the threat of preemption has grown and the number of bills introduced has grown. There has been a lot of pushback, but it has not generally been within the political parties. It’s generally been advocacy groups like Family Values @ Work, for example, or Americans for Nonsmokers’ Rights working on local smoke-free ordinances, and dozens of other great organizations. There has been success in stopping preemption, but the pressure has grown.

DH: What’s the threshold for success? What does it take—people in the streets?

MP: What industry is trying to do here, it’s almost always industry, is destroy grassroots movements or stop them before they start. Gun violence prevention is the example. Forty-three states have essentially comprehensive preemption, as is the case in Florida. What has happened historically is that when you have five to10 states, even 15 states, that preempt local authority, you still have say 35 states who have that ability to grow grassroots movements for the targeted policy. That means that on a national scale, the strategy of states’ preemption on a single issue has not succeeded in stopping progress. When you get to 20 to 25 states, certainly 30 states, it tends to stop national progress. When you get to 43, the case with firearms, I think we’ve seen the impact of that on the ability to grow a powerful and effective gun control movement.

Let me go back to your other question because it relates to public responses. Yes, 2016 was worse than 2015 in terms of the pressure to pass state preemption and the number of bills introduced. There was a fair amount of pushback, so it wasn’t all bad news. But two things fundamentally changed for 2017. One is that, we hear the term “chaos” around politics now and whether or not you agree that there is chaos, there is a sense among the industry lobbyists at the state level that the attention of the media and the public is on other things, potentially. ALEC sees this as a historic opportunity. What ALEC is really doing is almost a quantitative change, not a qualitative change; they’re just doing what they’ve done for the last six years, but they’re doing more of it. More bills, more pressure, more money to do state preemption across all these issues or ideally for some of these group, lobbyists, do it on all issues all at once if they can, like in Arizona.

The second thing that’s happening is that, we’ve had effectively a firewall at the federal level going back at least eight years, or longer where either whoever was the president or held the Senate majority, or the House was split between the parties. You might not be able to get good legislation passed, say on paid parental leave, paid family leave, but you could stop something really horrible from passing. So there’s been a firewall. Obama in 2009 published a memo saying, I’m directing all of the agencies of the federal government to avoid preemption whenever possible. It was one of the better things ever written about preemption. It was a very strong anti-preemption policy. Of course it’s no longer on the White House website.

We don’t know what’s going to happen at the federal level now, but there’s two things. One is, it is certainly conceivable Congress will pass and the president will sign legislation that preempts stronger state and local laws on any number of issues, that’s number one.

The second is that, a number of federal regulatory agencies already have significant authority to preempt stronger laws. I think of the EPA and toxic chemical regulation, which just got increased preemption that was signed by President Obama. Scott Pruit, who now leads the EPA, has the authority to do some pretty serious preemption of stronger chemical regulations in California and New York, and other states. A lot of those state laws are the underpinning for example, of environmental justice work across the country.

SR: And then there’s a corresponding push in the states with GOP political majorities.

MP: Yes. And we’re talking about probably 40 or more states. This is not just the number of states that may have switched [political majorities] and have trifectas [GOP control of statehouse chambers and governor]. You have the potential of preemption on one or more issues. The second is that, for the first time in memory, you have the potential for preemption of stronger state and local laws on tobacco, nutrition, the list is long.

Groups like the tobacco industry and ALEC, and all of these groups, they’ve been planning this for decades. This is a long-term strategy that they’ve been committed to. What they’re doing is they’re trying to finish a job that they started 20 years ago. They’ve systematically seen the reduction of democratic voice in federal decisions; reduce the voice of ordinary Americans in state decisions, and now the target is cities and counties, period.

DH: But you said that public protests can stop them.

MP: To an extent. There’s several factors, but simply put, the groups that fund and participate an ALEC; companies that participate in ALEC are generally scared to death of city and county action, policies, and more broadly real grassroots movements. The real grassroots movements come from local movements that get things done at the local level. When a city in Oklahoma uses its zoning to regulate factory farms… to protect the environment and human health, and that is part of an environmental justice movement, that’s really scary to industry, because there are thousands of cities and counties in the United States [that could follow that example].

That’s where the tobacco industry got beaten on smoking. That wasn’t just a fundamental policy change, banning smoking. I’m old enough to have smoked cigarettes on airplanes. I know that social movements changed it. It was a huge revolution in public health. These other companies, the other NRA [National Restaurant Association] doesn’t want to ever face what happened to the tobacco industry domestically in the U.S. They’re doing this as a fundamental way of stopping any kind of progressive or health or safety movement.

For example, look at an issue that on its face seems narrow, but is dear to us here and to people in public health—the new soda tax in Berkeley, other Bay Area cities and now Boulder and Philly.

DH: I was just going to bring it up, because the money that the soda industry threw at fighting the Berkeley and recent Bay Area ballot measures was enormous—millions.

MP: That’s a good example of a grassroots movement and impact. The soda tax has straight-up public health benefits. There’s a reduction in consumption. It raises local tax money. But then in all of these places, all, Boulder now, these have really become social justice movements as much as or more than public health movements. The money in Berkeley goes to a universal school gardening program. Every middle school, public school, will have this and it’s really good. It’s more than just good for public health.

The American Beverage Association in this case, Pepsi and Coke, are scared to death. If this is left to grow, in two years we’re going to have 60-70 of these laws, maybe more. They raise revenue and they make people healthier in the community, especially children. They change culture. The culture around soda in Berkeley, now it’s Berkeley, Albany, Oakland, San Francisco, the culture is going to change. The next generation … It’s a little bit like tobacco. People growing up who are at elementary school in Berkeley now are going to have a different attitude about soda than people growing up 10 years ago. This is scary to that particular industry, which also includes the other NRA [National Restaurant Association], which makes a lot of money off Big Gulps.

When there’s a grassroots response and they have one or two really engaged people on the side of local control in the legislature, it’s exposed as an ugly issue. Preemption’s ugly. It is among other things, completely against any true conservative ideology of free market competition and devolving democratic participation closer to the people. When you bring attention to it, including the media and also grassroots, you can show it is not a theory. Groups have been very successful.

DH: But people have to be organized and pay attention.

MP: That’s right. You probably don’t know this, but it’s one of my favorite examples: Ohio just preempted all local minimum wage and benefits, paid sick days, all those benefits. This happened in mid-December, with an amendment to another bill preempting local authority to ban puppy mills. Do you know what puppy mills are? I had no idea. Anyway, it was an amendment to a barely related bill that in the right code section in state law. It goes into effect in March… They did it like that because they don’t like attention from their constituents or from the media. They want to do this in the dark like cockroaches.


Don Hazen is the executive editor of AlterNet.

Steven Rosenfeld covers national political issues for AlterNet, including America’s democracy and voting rights. He is the author of several books on elections and the co-author of Who Controls Our Schools: How Billionaire-Sponsored Privatization Is Destroying Democracy and the Charter School Industry (AlterNet eBook, 2016).

 

 


The Constitutional Apocalypse

At the Kentucky Capitol in January, union leaders addressed those protesting a Senate-approved bill making it illegal for workers to be required to join a union or pay dues to keep a job. (Photo: Timothy D. Easley/Associated Press)

 
As Trump vilifies the press, the courts, immigrants, Muslims, Democrats, protestors and anyone who disagrees with him, it isn’t hard to imagine a modern day Mussolini… or worse. But, an even greater threat lies in the Republican’s march towards full control of state government. If they get there, they will have the frightening power to amend the Constitution into their own authoritarian image… or Ayn Rand’s.Republicans now control 32 state legislatures and 33 governorships. They have majorities in both state legislative chambers as well as the governorships in 25 states. The Democrats have total control in only six states and legislative control in two more (see here).If Republicans achieve veto-proof control in 38 states, they can do something that has never been done before ― hold a constitutional convention, and then ratify new amendments that are put forth. To date all amendments have been initiated from Congress where two-thirds of both houses are required. In either case 38 states would be needed to ratify the amendments. The Republicans are well on their way.We know what they are likely to do: end collective bargaining, outlaw abortion, forbid progressive income, estate and Wall Street taxes; prohibit class action law suits, privatize social security, guarantee “free choice” in all school systems, and so on. They would do what they’ve always wanted to do ― outlaw the New Deal and its social democratic programs. And if they get crazy enough, they could end separation of church and state and undo other portions of the Bill of Rights.A paranoid fantasy? Just say President Trump.How did we get here?

Ask the corporate Democrats who have turned losing into an art form.

Since 2008, they have lost 917 state legislative seats. Explanations range from Koch brothers funding to gerrymandering, to voter suppression to the rise of the Tea Party. All partially true.

The Democrats also shoulder a good deal of the blame. Ever since Bill Clinton triangulated into NAFTA and away from working people, the Democratic party’s embrace of financial and corporate elites have become the norm.

Hillary Clinton took $225,000 per speech from Goldman Sachs not because she was corrupt. Rather, this is simply the way the political game is played. You raise money from rich people, and then you back away from attacking their prerogatives while still trying to placate your liberal/worker base. Getting rich along the way is to be expected.

But as economist Jamie Galbraith put it, ultimately it is not possible for the Democrats to be both the party of the predators and the prey.


The failure and rebirth of progressivism?

The amazing acts of resistance popping up all over prove that the progressive spark is alive and well. Even seniors at the Progressive Forum in Deerfield Beach, Florida are planning to put their bodies on the line to stop ICE raids.

While raising hell all over the country, we also should re-examine how our strategies and structures may have contributed to the rise of the right. After all, this electoral coup happened on our watch.

Silo Organizing

Here’s our working hypothesis for how progressives contributed to the rise of the right: We have failed to come out of our issue silos to build a national movement that directly confronts runaway inequality.

For more than a generation progressive organizations have shied away from big picture organizing around economic inequality. Instead we’ve constructed a dizzying array of issue silos ― environment, LBGQ, labor, immigration, women, people of color, criminal justice and so on. We are fractured into thousands of discreet issues, enabled by philanthropic foundations that are similarly siloed.

Few of our groups focused on the way Wall Street and corporate elites strip-mined the economy. Very few of us mobilized around the great crash. Few of us noticed as the CEO/worker income gap jumped from 45 to 1 in 1970 to an incredible 844 to 1 by 2015. We collectively missed how this growing economic inequality was causing and exacerbating nearly all of our silo issues.

We didn’t connect the dots.

Most importantly, we failed to grasp how runaway inequality was alienating millions of working people who saw their incomes decline, their communities whither and their young unable to find decent jobs.

While the Tea Party and the right had a clear message ― big government is bad ― progressives had little to say collectively about runaway inequality.

Enter Occupy Wall Street

By the summer of 2010, the progressive failure was painfully obvious. After Wall Street had robbed us blind and crashed the economy, a Democratic president was about to enter a “grand bargain” with the Republicans to promote austerity. Think about this: While Wall Street got bailed out in full, Obama and the Democrats were about to cut Social Security. Amazing.

Then out of nowhere came Occupy Wall Street. (Out of nowhere is correct because the actions did not originate from any of our progressive silos.) In six months there were 900 encampments around the world. Thankfully, “We are the 99%.” shifted the debate from austerity to inequality.

Unfortunately, Occupy believed in spontaneous political combustion and shunned any and all organizational structures and agendas. Social media, consensus decision making, horizontal anti-organizing, and anti-leadership were to carry the day. In six months they were gone.

Meanwhile the traditional progressive groups watched it rise and fall from the outside. We were spectators as we continued to press forward in our issue silos.

Enter Bernie Sanders

We got a second chance. Bernie Sanders, an independent socialist with a clear social democratic agenda, decided to challenge Hillary Clinton, the presumptive nominee. At first, few of us took him seriously. After all, he’d been around for 40 years, saying the same things but never gaining any traction outside of Vermont.

But like Occupy, he and his message hit a nerve, especially among the young and among disaffected working people who were entirely fed up with the corporate Democrats.

In a flash, Sanders did the impossible. He beat Hillary in several primaries. He drew much larger crowds. He even raised more money from small donors than the Clinton machine could raise from the rich. Progressive unions like the Communications Workers of America and National Nurses United went all in. For a few months the dream looked possible.

But too many other large unions and liberal issue groups committed early to Clinton, thinking she would win easily. That would allow them to gain more access for their issues and for themselves. Didn’t happen.

Trump toppled the Clinton machine in the Rust Belt. Some say he did so with a toxic combination of racism, sexism and xenophobia and that certainly was the case for a good portion of his vote. Others are certain that Comey and Putin made the difference.

But in the Rust Belt Trump won because he picked up millions of those who previously had voted for Obama and Sanders. It is highly likely that runaway inequality, and the trade deals that exacerbated it, defeated Clinton in the Democratic strongholds of Wisconsin, Michigan, and Pennsylvania. In Michigan alone Hillary received 500,000 fewer votes than Obama. (see here)

What now?

We need to turn the marvelous anti-Trump resistance into a common national movement to that binds us together and that directly confronts runaway inequality. We need to come out of our silos because nearly every issue we work on is connected by growing inequality.

Such a movement requires the following:

1. A common analysis and agenda: As we’ve written elsewhere, resisting Trump is not enough. We need a proactive agenda about what we want that goes beyond halting the Trump lunacy.

The Sanders campaign offered a bold social democratic agenda to young people in particular. Progressive should be able to build broad support around a Robin Hood Tax on Wall Street, free higher education, criminal justice reform, humane immigration policies, Medicare for All, fair trade, real action on climate change, and a guaranteed job at a living wage for all those willing and able.

2. A common national organization: A big problem. We have no equivalent to the Tea Party. We have no grand alliance that links unions, community, groups, churches and our issue silos. There are excellent websites like Indivisible that are successfully encouraging widespread resistance on the congressional level. But they consider themselves to be purely defensive against Trump.

There are hundreds of demonstrations popping up all over but no organizational glue to hold them together. There’s Our Revolution ― an outgrowth of the Sanders campaign ― that is still getting its sea legs. But to date we have no common center of gravity that is moving us forward organizationally.

Ideally we should all be able to become dues paying members of a national progressive alliance. We should be able to go from Paterson to Pensacola to Pomona and walk into similar meetings dedicated to fighting for our common agenda to reverse runaway inequality. Perhaps the hundreds of town hall meetings will head that way? It’s too early to tell.

3. An education infrastructure: The Populist movement of the late 19th century waged a fierce battle against Wall Street. It wanted public ownership of banks and railroads. It wanted livestock and grain cooperatives. It wanted a progressive income tax on the rich and public banks. The organization grew by fielding 6,000 educators to explain to small farmers, black and white, how the system was rigged against them and what they could do about it.

We need about 30,000 educators to hold similar discussions with our neighbors about runaway inequality, how it binds us together and what we can do about. (If you’re interested in getting involved see here.)

4. A new identity: Our toughest challenge. For 40 years we’ve been conditioned to the idea that runaway inequality is an immutable fact of life ― the inevitable result of automation, technology and competitive globalization. Along the way, neoliberal (free market) values shaped our awareness.

  • We accepted the idea that going to college meant massive debts for ourselves and our families;
  • That there was nothing abnormal about having the largest prison population in the entire world;
  • That it was part of the game to pay high deductibles, co-pays and premiums for health insurance;
  • That it was OK for the super-rich to hide their money off-shore;
  • That there was nothing to be done about chronic youth unemployment, both rural and urban, other than to try harder and pull themselves up;
  • That it was perfectly natural for a factories to pick up and flee to low wages areas with no environmental enforcement;
  • And that somehow private sector jobs, by definition, were more valuable to society than public ones.

These mental constraints have got to go. We got here as the result of deliberative policy choices, not by acts of God. We need to reclaim a basic truth: the economy should work for its people and not the other way around.

Most importantly, we have to relearn the art of movement building which starts in our own minds―we have to believe that it is both necessary and possible, and that each and every one can contribute to it.

We desperately need a new identity―movement builder.

Is this so difficult to imagine?

Les Leopold

Les Leopold, the director of the Labor Institute in New York is working with unions, worker centers and community organization to build a national economics educational campaign. His latest book, Runaway Inequality: An Activist’s Guide to Economic Justice (Oct 2015), is a text for that effort. All proceeds go to support this educational campaign. (Please like the Runaway Inequality page on Facebook.) His previous book is The Looting of America: How Wall Street’s Game of Fantasy Finance destroyed our Jobs, Pensions and Prosperity, and What We Can Do About It (Chelsea Green/2009).

(Join Us! at Runaway Inequality: Resistance is breaking out all over. Millions are eager to help take back our country from the hard right. To get there, we need educators — thousands of them — to spread the word.) 


A California State-Owned Bank Could Help Finance Single-Payer

Editor’s Comment: It seems like serendipity: The Trump administration and the GOP Congress are both hell-bent on dismantling the Affordable Care Act, California state senators  Ricardo Lara (D-Bell Gardens) and Toni G. Atkins (D-San Diego) introduce the single-payer Californians for a Healthy California Act (SB 562), and public banking proponent Ellen Brown (who ran for California treasurer in 2014) is now pitching again for state-run banks.

So where’s the serendipity? A California state-run bank could help finance a single-payer health care system in California. The financing of single-payer has so far been the biggest stumbling block in the way of its success in other states — like Vermont and Colorado — where it has been proposed, but defeated.

Ellen Brown, attorney, author of The Public Bank Solution and President of the Public Banking Institute explains in the following article the advantage of public banking.

How to Cut Infrastructure Costs in Half

Americans could save $1 trillion over 10 years by financing infrastructure through publicly-owned banks like the one that has long been operating in North Dakota.

by Ellen Brown

President Donald Trump has promised to rebuild America’s airports, bridges, tunnels, roads and other infrastructure, something both Democrats and Republicans agree should be done. The country needs a full $3 trillion in infrastructure over the next decade. The $1 trillion plan revealed by Trump’s economic advisers relies heavily on public-private partnerships, and private equity firms are lining up for these plumbing investments. In the typical private equity water deal, for example, higher user rates help the firms earn annual returns of anywhere from 8 to 18 percent – more even than a regular for-profit water company might expect. But the price tag can come as a rude surprise for local ratepayers.

Private equity investment now generates an average return of about 11.8% annually on a 10-year basis. For infrastructure investment, those profits are made on tolls and fees paid by the public. Even at simple interest, that puts the cost to the public of financing $1 trillion in infrastructure projects at $1.18 trillion, more than doubling the cost. Cities often make these desperate deals because they are heavily in debt and the arrangement can give them cash up front. But as a 2008 Government Accountability Office report warned, “there is no ‘free’ money in public-private partnerships.” Local residents wind up picking up the tab.

“As a 2008 Government Accountability Office report warned, ‘there is no ‘free’ money in public-private partnerships.’ Local residents wind up picking up the tab.”

There is a more cost-effective alternative. The conservative state of North Dakota is funding infrastructure through the state-owned Bank of North Dakota (BND) at 2% annually. In 2015, the North Dakota legislature established a BND Infrastructure Loan Fund program that made $50 million in funds available to communities with a population of less than 2,000, and $100 million available to communities with a population greater than 2,000. These loans have a 2% fixed interest rate and a term of up to 30 years. The proceeds can be used for the new construction of water and treatment plants, sewer and water lines, transportation infrastructure and other infrastructure needs to support new growth in a community.

If the Trump $1 trillion infrastructure plan were funded at 2% over 10 years, the interest tab would come to only $200 billion, nearly $1 trillion less than the $1.18 trillion expected by private equity investors. Not only could residents save $1 trillion over 10 years on tolls and fees, but they could save on taxes, since the interest would return to the government, which owned the bank. In effect, the loans would be nearly interest-free to the government.

New Money for Local Economies

Legislators in cash-strapped communities are likely to object, “We can’t afford to lend our revenues. We need them for our budget.” But banks do not lend their deposits. They actually create new money in the form of bank credit when they make loans. That means borrowing from its own bank is not just interest-free to the local government but actually creates new money for the local economy.

As economists at the Bank of England acknowledged in a March 2014 report titled “Money Creation in the Modern Economy”, the vast majority of the money supply is now created by banks when they make loans. The authors wrote:

The reality of how money is created today differs from the description found in some economics textbooks: Rather than banks receiving deposits when households save and then lending them out, bank lending creates deposits. . . . Whenever a bank makes a loan, it simultaneously creates a matching deposit in the borrower’s bank account, thereby creating new money. [Emphasis added.]

Money is not fixed and scarce. It is “elastic”: it is created when loans are made and extinguished when they are paid off. The BOE report said that private banks now create nearly 97 percent of the money supply in this way.

Richard Werner, Chair of International Banking at the University of Southampton in the UK, argues that to get much-needed new money into local economies, rather than borrowing from private investors who cannot create the money they lend, governments should borrow from banks, which create money in the form of deposits when they make loans. And to get that money interest-free, a government should borrow from its own bank, which returns the interest to the government.

Besides North Dakota, many other states and cities are now exploring the public bank option. Feasibility studies done at both state and local levels show that small businesses, employment, low-cost student loans, affordable housing and greater economic stability will result from keeping local public dollars out of the global banking casinos and in the local community. Legislation for public banks is actively being pursued in Washington State, Michigan, Arizona, Philadelphia, Santa Fe, and elsewhere. Phil Murphy, the front-running Democratic candidate for New Jersey governor, is basing his platform on a state-owned bank, which he says could fund much-needed infrastructure and other projects.

New Money for a Federal Infrastructure Program

What about funding a federal infrastructure program with interest-free money? Tim Canova, Professor of Law and Public Finance at Nova Southeastern University, argues that the Federal Reserve could capitalize a national infrastructure bank with money generated on its books as “quantitative easing.” (Canova calls it “qualitative easing” – central bank-generated money that actually gets into the real economy.) The Federal Reserve could purchase shares, whether as common stock, preferred stock or debt, either in a national infrastructure bank or in a system of state-owned banks that funded infrastructure in their states. This could be done, says Canova, without increasing taxes, adding to the federal debt or hyperinflating prices.

Another alternative was proposed in 2013 by US Sen. Bernie Sanders and US Rep. Peter DeFazio. They called for a national infrastructure bank funded by the US Postal Service (which did provide basic banking services from 1911 to 1967). With post offices in nearly every community, the USPS has the physical infrastructure for a system of national public banks. In the Sanders/DeFazio plan, deposits would be invested in government securities used to finance infrastructure projects. Besides financing infrastructure without raising taxes, the plan could save the embattled USPS itself, while providing banking services for the one in four households that are unbanked or under-banked.

Reliance on costly private capital for financing public needs has limited municipal growth and reduced public services, while strapping future generations with unsustainable debt. By eliminating the unnecessary expense of turning public dollars into profits for private equity interests, publicly-owned banks can allow the public to retain ownership of its infrastructure while cutting costs nearly in half.


This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 License

Ellen Brown is an attorney and founder of the Public Banking Institute. She is the author of twelve books, including the best-selling Web of Debt, and her latest book, The Public Bank Solution, which explores successful public banking models historically and globally.


Loving America and Resisting Trump: The New Patriotism

By Frida Berrigan

So reality has inexorably, inescapably penetrated my life.  It didn’t take long. Yes, Donald Trump is actually the president of the United States. In that guise, in just his first weeks in office, he’s already declared war on language, on loving, on people who are different from him — on the kind of world, in short, that I want to live in. He’s promised to erect high walls, keep some people in and others out and lock up those he despises, while threatening to torture and abuse with impunity.

Still, a small personal miracle emerges from this nightmare. It turns out that, despite growing up an anarchist protest kid who automatically read Howard Zinn’s A People’s History of the United States alongside the official textbooks, I love this country more each day.  So I find myself eternally upset about our new political reality-show, about a man so thin-skinned he lashes out at everything and so insulated in his own alt-reality that no response to him seems to matter.

Above all, I am so mad. Yeah, I’m mad at all those people who voted for Trump and even madder at the ones who didn’t vote at all. I’m mad at everyone who thinks the sum total of their contribution to the political well-being of this country is voting every two or four years. I’m mad at our corporate-political system and how easily distracted people are. I’m steaming mad, but mostly at myself.

Yep, I’m mad at myself and at the Obamas. They made empire look so good! Their grace and intelligence, their obvious love for one another and the way they telegraphed a certain approachability and reasonableness. So attractive! They were fun — or at least they looked like that on social media. Michelle in the karaoke car with Missy Elliot singing Beyoncé and talking about global girls’ education! Barack and a tiny Superman at a White House Halloween party. Michelle, unapologetically fierce after Trump’s demeaning Access Hollywood comments came to light. I loved those Obamas, despite my politics and my analysis. I was supposed to resist all his efforts at world domination through drones and sweeping trade deals and instead I fell a little bit in love, even as I marched and fasted and tried to resist.

Falling in Love With My Country

Now, we have a new president. And my love is gone, along with my admiration, my pride, and my secret wish to attend a state dinner and chat with the Obamas over local wine and grass-fed beef sliders.

What’s not gone, though, what’s strangely stronger than ever, is my love for this country.

I didn’t love the United States under Jimmy Carter or Ronald Reagan or Bush the First. I was a kid and they were names on protest banners and headlines in the news. My parents were the Catholic peace activists Liz McAlister and Phil Berrigan, and I grew up in an anarchist collective of Christian resisters. My parents and their friends went to jail repeatedly and resolutely. We demonstrated, rallied, and railed at every institution of power in Washington. Those presidents made the adults around me angry and agitated, so they scared me.

I didn’t love the United States under Bill Clinton either — I was young and in college and opposed to everything — nor under George W. Bush. I was young and in New York City and still opposed to almost everything.

I started calling myself a “New Yorker” three years after moving there when, on a sunny Tuesday morning, airplanes became weapons, tall towers fell, and 3,000 people died. I emerged from my routine subway ride at 14th Street, unaware and unscathed, to stand still with the rest of the city and watch the sky turn black. I spent the rest of that day in Manhattan with friends trying to reach my parents and following the news, as we all tried (and failed) to come to grips with the new reality. Once the bridges reopened, we walked home to Brooklyn that evening, terrified and shell-shocked.

9/11 provided the rationale for sweeping changes in Washington. War by fiat, paid for in emergency supplementals that circumvented Congressional processes; a new Department of Homeland Security (where did that word “homeland” even come from?); a proliferation of increasingly muscular intelligence agencies; and a new brand of “legal” scholarship that justified both torture and indefinite detention, while tucking secret black sites away in foreign countries. All this as the United States went to war against “terrorism” — against, that is, an idea, a fringe sentiment that, no matter how heavily weaponized, had been marginalized until the United States put it on the map by declaring “war” on it.

The U.S. then invaded and occupied big time, including a country that had nothing to do with the terrorists who had attacked us, and we’ve been at war ever since at a heavy cost — now inching toward $5 trillion. Conservative estimates of how many people have been killed in the many war zones of what used to be called the Global War on Terror is 1.3 to 2 million. The number of U.S. military personnel who have lost their lives is easier to put a number to:more than 7,000, but that doesn’t count private contractors (aka mercenaries), or those (far more difficult to quantify) who later committed suicide. Now, President Trump has begun adding to this bloody death toll, having ordered his first (disastrous) strike, a Special Operations raid on Yemen, which killed as many as 30 civilians, including children, and resulted in the death of an American Navy SEAL as well.

September 11th was a long time ago. But I finally fell in love with my country in the days following that awful attack. I saw for the first time a certain strain of patriotism that swept me away, a strain that says we are stronger together than alone, stronger than any blow that strikes us, stronger in our differences, stronger in our unities. I’m talking about the kind of patriotism that said: don’t you dare tell us to go to Disney World, Mr. President! (That was, of course, after George W. Bush had assured us that, while he made war, our response as citizens to 9/11 should be to “get down to Disney World in Florida.  Take your families and enjoy life, the way we want it to be enjoyed.”)

Instead of heeding that lame advice, some of us went out and began to try to solve problems and build community. I had read about it in books — the labor movement of the 1920s and 1930s and the civil rights movement of the 1950s and 1960s — but I hadn’t seen it myself, hadn’t been a part of it before, and I fell in love.

Of course, the drumbeat for war started instantly in Washington and was echoed throughout the nation, but many of us — the intended victims of that attack — said “our grief is not a cry for war.” We circled around the victims’ families; we reminded America that it wasn’t only lawyers and hedge-fund managers who died that day, but cooks and couriers and homeless people and undocumented immigrants, too.

We pulled people from the rubble.  We made the “pile” a place of sacred memory long before a huge monument and gift shop were erected there.  We honored the first responders who died, we stood up for Muslims and Arabs and all those whom ignorance scapegoated.  We marched against war in Afghanistan and then in far vaster numbers against war in Iraq.  We called for an international police response to those acts of terrorism — that weapon of the weak, not the powerful — instead of the unilateral, militarized approach adopted by the Bush administration. We celebrated, and saw as a strength, New York’s incredible diversity. We made art and music and poetry. We prayed in all languages to all the names of God.

The Donald, a One-Man 9/11

I guess I’ve been thinking about September 2001 again because, only weeks into his presidency, Donald Trump already seems like a one-man 9/11. He’s ridden roughshod over business as usual without even a geopolitical crisis or calamity as an excuse — and that’s not so surprising since Trump himself is that calamity.

With a razor-thin mandate, considerable bluster, and a voracious appetite for alt-facts (lies), he’s not so much tipping over the apple cart as declaring war on apples, carts, and anything else beginning with the letter A or C.

It seems almost that random and chaotic. In these weeks, he’s shown a particular appetite for upending convention, saying screw you to just about everyone and everything, while scrapping the rules of decorum and diplomacy. With a sweep of his pen and a toss of his hair, he takes away visas, nullifies months of work by advocates for refugees, and sends U.S. Special Forces off to kill and be killed. With a few twitches of his thumbs he baits Mexico, disses China, and throws shade at federal judges. With a few ill-chosen words about Black History month (comments that would have been better written by my 10 year old), he resurrects Frederick Douglass, disparages inner cities, and slams the “dishonest” media again (and again and again). His almost-month as president can be described as busy and brash, but it barely hides the banality of greed.

Flying Our Flag

Sure, Donald Trump’s a new breed, but perhaps in the end our resistance will make him the aberration he should be, rather than the new normal. So many of his acts are aimed at demeaning, degrading, demonizing, and denigrating, but he’s already failing — by driving so many of us to a new radical patriotism. I’m not the only one falling in love with this country again and this love looks like resistance — a resistance that, from the first moments of the Trump era, has seemed to be almost everywhere you looked.

Even at his inauguration, a group of young people stood on chairs wearing matching sweatshirts spelling out R-E-S-I-S-T in big letters. They had positioned themselves in the inner ring of the Capitol and were loud and visible as Chief Justice John Roberts swore the new president into office. The environmental group Greenpeace greeted Trump’s White House with a daring banner drop from a crane across the street — a huge, bright banner also emblazoned with RESIST. Pink woolen “pussy hats” were popularized by the Women’s March, a global event and possibly the largest demonstration in American history, one that rekindled our hope and strengthened our resolve on inauguration weekend. Now, those hats help us recognize and salute one another.

We’re working hard. We’re tying up the phone lines all over Capitol Hill, turning town halls into rowdy rallies for health care and human rights, shelling out money to support Planned Parenthood, the ACLU, the immigration lawyers fighting for people barred from the U.S. and the closest Black Lives Matter chapter. We’re getting organized, getting trained, getting prepared, and getting connected. And we’re doing it all with a sense of humor: the Bowling Green Massacre Victims Fund? Priceless!

We are, in short, resisting in old ways and new.

Given my background, it’s no surprise that I’m not a flag waver. While growing up, I learned a lot more about what was wrong with my country than about what was right with it. But I’m seeing so much that’s right about it in this new Trump era of engagement or, if you prefer, call it radical patriotism. I’m mad… I’m scared… I’m hopeful… I’m still in love — more so than ever — with this country Trump is trying to hijack.

I don’t live in a big city any more. I’m not a scrappy kid in my early thirties either. I’m a mother of three kids and a homeowner. I’ve sunk my roots in a small, struggling, stalwart community along Connecticut’s eastern shoreline and I’m planning to live here for the rest of my life.

New London is a community of 27,000 or so, poor and diverse.  It’s almost a majority-minority community, in fact. We’re home to three refugee families settled from Syria and Sudan. We have a good school system, getting better all the time. Every Wednesday, the chefs at the middle school up the street from my house cook a meal, open the cafeteria, and invite the whole community to eat dinner for five dollars per person. I went with my girls a couple of weeks ago for Cajun shrimp stew and white rice. The room was full and the mood was high. Young professionals and hipsters with kids ate alongside folks who had just stood in line for an hour and a half for a free box of food from the United Way across the street and gotten a free meal coupon as well for their troubles.

New London’s mayor held a press conference soon after in the lobby of City Hall where the heads of all the city departments asserted their support for immigrants and refugees in our community. The last city council meeting was standing room only as people pushed an ordinance to keep fracking waste out of our area.

The weekend after the inauguration, my husband and I raised a flagpole on the second story porch of our house and hung a rainbow peace flag from it. I look up at it every morning waving in the breeze and I’m glad I live here, in this country, in this moment of radical upsurge and a new spirit of patriotism.

I’m talking to my neighbors. I’m going to city council meetings. I’m writing letters to the editor of our local paper. I’m taking my Sudanese neighbors grocery shopping and to the post office. I’m loaded for bear (nonviolently, of course) if anyone tries to mess with them.

american_rainbow_flags_thumbMy kids are the anti-Trumps. “We went to the women’s march in Hartford, Mommy,” two-year-old Madeline shouts every time she hears the word woman. She knows enough to be proud of that. “Look, Mommy! They have a flag like ours!” says four-year-old Seamus with delight whenever he sees another rainbow, even if it’s just a sticker. He’s learning to recognize our tribe of patriots.

We’re engaged, we’re awake, we’re in love, and no one is taking our country from us.


Frida Berrigan, a TomDispatch regular, writes the Little Insurrections blog for WagingNonviolence.org, is the author of It Runs In The Family: On Being Raised By Radicals and Growing Into Rebellious Motherhood, and lives in New London, Connecticut.

Follow TomDispatch on Twitter and join us on Facebook. Check out the newest Dispatch Book, John Feffer’s dystopian novel Splinterlands, as well as Nick Turse’s Next Time They’ll Come to Count the Dead, and Tom Engelhardt’s latest book, Shadow Government: Surveillance, Secret Wars, and a Global Security State in a Single-Superpower World.

Copyright 2017 Frida Berrigan


Ordinary Americans carried out inhumane acts for Trump

By Chris Edelson

Baltimore_Demonstrator“A week ago, men and women went to work at airports around the United States as they always do. They showered, got dressed, ate breakfast, perhaps dropped off their kids at school. Then they reported to their jobs as federal government employees, where, according to news reports, one of them handcuffed a 5-year-old child, separated him from his mother and detained him alone for several hours at Dulles airport.

“At least one other federal employee at Dulles reportedly detained a woman who was traveling with her two children, both U.S. citizens, for 20 hours without food. A relative says the mother was handcuffed (even when she went to the bathroom) and threatened with deportation to Somalia.”

Read the full article in the Baltimore Sun, here.


Chris Edelson (edelson@american.edu) is an assistant professor of government in American University’s School of Public Affairs. His latest book, “Power Without Constraint: The Post 9/11 Presidency and National Security,” was published in May 2016 by the University of Wisconsin Press.


State Was Warned in 2005 About Inadequacy of Emergency Spillway

Oroville_Dam_SpillwayFrom the OrovilleMR:

“More than a decade ago, federal and state officials and some of California’s largest water agencies rejected concerns that Oroville Dam’s emergency spillway — at risk of collapse Sunday night and prompting the evacuation of 130,000 people — could erode during heavy winter rains and cause a catastrophe.

“Three environmental groups — the Friends of the River, the Sierra Club and the South Yuba Citizens League — filed a motion with the federal government on Oct. 17, 2005, as part of Oroville Dam’s relicensing process, urging federal officials to require that the dam’s emergency spillway be armored with concrete, rather than remain as an earthen hillside.

“The groups filed the motion with FERC, the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission. They said that the dam, built and owned by the state of California, and finished in 1968, did not meet modern safety standards because in the event of extreme rain and flooding, fast-rising water would overwhelm the main concrete spillway, then flow down the emergency spillway, and that could cause heavy erosion that would create flooding for communities downstream, but also could cause a failure, known as “loss of crest control.”

Read the full article here.


Lawsuit Reveals Melania Trump Saw Presidency as Potential Profit Machine

Lawyers representing the first lady claim President Trump’s wife missed out on ‘once in a lifetime’ endorsement opportunities because of false escort claims

by Nadia Prupis

Reprinted from CommonDreams under a Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 License

First_Lady_TrumpFirst Lady Melania Trump on Monday revealed that she had intended to leverage the presidency into a lucrative venture for herself, with plans to establish “multimillion dollar business relationships” during her time as “one of the most photographed women in the world.”

An attorney for the first lady filed a lawsuit arguing that Trump had missed out on a “once in a lifetime” opportunity to grab up “licensing, branding, and endorsement” deals because of a Daily Mail article that alleged she had once worked for an escort service.

The Washington Post reports:

The suit—filed Monday in New York Supreme Court, a state trial court, in Manhattan—against Mail Media, the owner of the Daily Mail, said the article published by the Daily Mail and its online division last August caused Trump’s brand, Melania, to lose “significant value” as well as “major business opportunities that were otherwise available to her.” The suit said the article had damaged her “unique, once in a lifetime opportunity” to “launch a broad-based commercial brand.”

“These product categories would have included, among other things, apparel accessories, shoes, jewelry, cosmetics, hair care, skin care, and fragrance,” according to the lawsuit, which was filed on Trump’s behalf by California attorney Charles Harder.

The lawsuit comes amid numerous ethical issues surrounding the Trumps’ attempts to profit off the presidency, from sons Eric and Donald Jr. selling private hunting excursions, to daughter Ivanka auctioning off a coffee date, to Trump himself refusing to divest from his corporate empire.

Richard Painter, a White House ethics counsel under former President George W. Bush who co-filed a lawsuit against President Trump for constitutional violations, told the Post that the first lady’s plan to turn her role into a business was troubling.

“There has never been a first lady of the United States who insinuated that she intended to make a lot of money because of the ‘once-in-a-lifetime’ opportunity of being first lady,” he said.


Next Page »