Monday, September 19, 2016

What’s Behind the Latest Government Scam to Rob You Blind?

“The fact is that the government, like a highwayman, says to a man: Your money, or your life. And many, if not most, taxes are paid under the compulsion of that threat. The government does not, indeed, waylay a man in a lonely place, spring upon him from the road side, and, holding a pistol to his head, proceed to rifle his pockets. But the robbery is none the less a robbery on that account; and it is far more dastardly and shameful.”—Lysander Spooner, American abolitionist and legal theorist

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If a cop wrongfully attacks you, you cannot fight back.

If a SWAT team wrongfully raids your home, you cannot defend yourself.

If a highway patrol officer wrongfully takes your money or your valuable possessions, you cannot get them back without a lengthy, costly legal battle.

It used to be that the Constitution served as a bulwark against government abuses, excesses and wrongdoing.

That is no longer the case.

Having been reduced to little more than a historic document, the Constitution now provides scant protection against government abuses, misconduct and corruption.

Not only are “we the people” painfully vulnerable to the whims of any militarized cop on the beat, but we are also sitting targets for every government huckster out to fleece the taxpayer of their hard-earned dollars.

We get taxed on how much we earn, taxed on what we eat, taxed on what we buy, taxed on where we go, taxed on what we drive, and taxed on how much is left of our assets when we die.

Because the government’s voracious appetite for money, power and control has grown out of control, its agents have devised other means of funding its excesses and adding to its largesse through taxes disguised as fines, taxes disguised as fees, and taxes disguised as tolls, tickets and penalties. For example, red light cameras, which were sold to the public as safety measures, have in practice become backdoor taxes aimed at swelling government bank accounts.

The government’s schemes to swindle, cheat, scam, and generally defraud Americans have run the gamut from wasteful pork barrel legislation, cronyism and graft to asset forfeiture schemes, the modern-day equivalent of highway robbery, astronomical health care “reform,” and costly stimulus packages.

Americans have also been made to pay through the nose for the government’s endless wars, subsidization of foreign nations, military empire, welfare state, roads to nowhere, bloated workforce, secret agencies, fusion centers, private prisons, biometric databases, invasive technologies, arsenal of weapons, and every other budgetary line item that is contributing to the fast-growing wealth of the corporate elite at the expense of those who are barely making ends meet—that is, we the taxpayers.

Those football stadiums that charge exorbitant sums for nosebleed seats? Our taxpayer dollars subsidize them. Those blockbuster war films? Yep, we were the silent investors on those, too. Same goes for the military equipment being peddled to local police agencies and the surveillance cameras being “donated” to local governments.

Now the government and its corporate partners in crime have come up with a new scheme to not only scam taxpayers out of what’s left of their paychecks but also make us foot the bill, and it’s coming at us in the form of a war on cash.

What is this war on cash?

It’s a concerted campaign to do away with large bills such as $20s, $50s, $100s and shift consumers towards a digital mode of commerce that can easily be monitored, tracked, tabulated, mined for data, hacked, hijacked and confiscated when convenient.

According to economist Steve Forbes, “The real reason for this war on cash—start with the big bills and then work your way down—is an ugly power grab by Big Government. People will have less privacy: Electronic commerce makes it easier for Big Brother to see what we’re doing, thereby making it simpler to bar activities it doesn’t like, such as purchasing salt, sugar, big bottles of soda and Big Macs.”

Much like the war on drugs and the war on terror, this so-called “war on cash” is being sold to the public as a means of fighting terrorists, drug dealers and tax evaders. Just the mere possession of cash is enough to implicate you in suspicious activity and have you investigated. In other words, cash has become another way for the government to profile Americans and render them criminals.

The rationale is that cash is the currency for illegal transactions given that it’s harder to track, can be used to pay illegal immigrants, and denies the government its share of the “take,” so doing away with paper money will help law enforcement fight crime and help the government realize more revenue.

Despite what we know about the government and its history of corruption, bumbling, fumbling and data breaches, not to mention how easily technology can be used against us, the campaign to do away with cash is really not a hard sell.

It’s not a hard sell, that is, if you know the right buttons to push, and the government has become a grand master in the art of getting the citizenry to do exactly what it wants. Remember, this is the same government that plans to use behavioral science tactics to “nudge” citizens to comply with the government’s public policy and program initiatives.

It’s also not a hard sell if you belong to the Digital Generation, that segment of the population for whom technology is second nature and “the first generation born into a world that has never not known digital life.”

And if you belong to the growing class of Americans—46% of consumers, approximately 114 million adults and rising—who use your cell phone to pay bills, purchase goods, and transfer funds, then the government is just preaching to the choir when it comes to persuading you of the convenience of digital cash.

In much the same way that Americans have opted into government surveillance through the convenience of GPS devices and cell phones, digital cash—the means of paying with one’s debit card, credit card or cell phone—is becoming the de facto commerce of the American police state.

It is estimated that smart phones will replace cash and credit cards altogether by 2020. Already, a growing number of businesses are adopting no-cash policies, including certain airlines, hotels, rental car companies, restaurants and retail stores. In Sweden, even the homeless and churches accept digital cash.

Making the case for “never, ever carrying cash” in lieu of a digital wallet, journalist Lisa Rabasca Roepe argues that cash is inconvenient, ATM access is costly, and it’s now possible to reimburse people using digital apps such as Venmo. Thus, there’s no longer a need for cash. “More and more retailers and grocery stores are embracing Apple Pay, Google Wallet, Samsung Pay, and Android Pay,” notes Roepe. “PayPal's app is now accepted at many chain stores including Barnes & Noble, Foot Locker, Home Depot, and Office Depot. Walmart and CVS have both developed their own payment apps while their competitors Target and RiteAid are working on their own apps.”

It’s not just cash that is going digital, either.

A growing number of states—including Delaware and California—are looking to adopt digital driver’s licenses that would reside on your mobile phone. These licenses would include all of the information contained on your printed license, along with a few “extras” such as real-time data downloaded directly from your state's Department of Motor Vehicles.

Of course, reading between the lines, having a digital driver’s license will open you up to much the same jeopardy as digital cash: it will make it possible for the government to better track your movements, monitor your activities and communications and ultimately shut you down.

So what’s the deal here?

Despite all of the advantages that go along with living in a digital age—namely, convenience—it’s hard to imagine how a cashless world navigated by way of a digital wallet doesn’t signal the beginning of the end for what little privacy we have left and leave us vulnerable to the likes of government thieves and data hackers.

First, when I say privacy, I’m not just referring to the things that you don’t want people to know about, those little things you do behind closed doors that are neither illegal nor harmful but embarrassing or intimate. I am also referring to the things that are deeply personal and which no one need know about, certainly not the government and its constabulary of busybodies, nannies, Peeping Toms, jail wardens and petty bureaucrats.

Second, we’re already witnessing how easy it will be for government agents to manipulate digital wallets for their own gain. For example, civil asset forfeiture schemes are becoming even more profitable for police agencies thanks to ERAD (Electronic Recovery and Access to Data) devices supplied by the Department of Homeland Security that allow police to not only determine the balance of any magnetic-stripe card (i.e., debit, credit and gift cards) but also freeze and seize any funds on pre-paid money cards. The Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals ruled in June 2016 that it does not violate the Fourth Amendment for police to scan or swipe your credit card.

Third, as the ever insightful Paul Craig Roberts observes, while Americans have been distracted by the government’s costly war on terror, “the financial system, working hand-in-hand with policymakers, has done more damage to Americans than terrorists could possibly inflict.” Ultimately, as Roberts—who served as Assistant Secretary of the Treasury for Economic Policy under Ronald Reagan—makes clear, the war on cash is about giving the government the ultimate control of the economy and complete access to the citizenry’s pocketbook.

Fourth, if there’s a will, there’s a way. So far, every technological convenience that has made our lives easier has also become our Achilles’ heel, opening us up to greater vulnerabilities from hackers and government agents alike. In recent years, the U.S. government has been repeatedly hacked. In 2015, the Office of Personnel Management had more than 20 million personnel files stolen, everything from Social Security numbers to birth dates and fingerprint records. In 2014, it was the White House, the State Department, the Post Office and other government agencies, along with a host of financial institutions, retailers and entertainment giants that had their files breached. And these are the people in charge of protecting our sensitive information?

Fifth, if there’s one entity that will not stop using cash for its own nefarious purposes, it’s the U.S. government. Cash is the currency used by the government to pay off its foreign “associates.” For instance, the Obama administration flew more than $400 million in cash to Iran in January 2016, reportedly as part of a financial settlement with the country. Critics claim the money was ransom paid for the return of American hostages. And then there was the $12 billion in shrink-wrapped $100 bills that the U.S. flew to Iraq only to claim it had no record of what happened to the money. It just disappeared. So when government economists tell you that two-thirds of all $100 bills in circulation are overseas—more than half a trillion dollars’ worth—it’s a pretty good bet that the government played a significant part in their export.

Sixth, this drive to do away with cash is part of a larger global trend driven by international financial institutions and the United Nations that is transforming nations of all sizes, from the smallest nation to the biggest, most advanced economies.

Finally, short of returning to a pre-technological, Luddite age, there’s really no way to pull this horse back now that it’s left the gate. While doing so is near impossible, it would also mean doing without the many conveniences and advantages that are the better angels, if you will, of technology’s totalitarian tendencies: the internet, medical advances, etc.

To our detriment, we really have little control over who accesses our private information, how it is stored, or how it is used. Whether we ever had much control remains up for debate. However, in terms of our bargaining power over digital privacy rights, we have been reduced to a pitiful, unenviable position in which we can only hope and trust that those in power will treat our information with respect.

America’s founders, however, did not believe in trusting government officials or giving them too much power. In fact, they believed those entrusted with power will eventually pervert it into tyranny. As Thomas Jefferson observed, “Let no more be heard of confidence in man, but bind him down from mischief by the chains of the Constitution.”

Unfortunately, that Constitution has since been shredded.

Our republic has been transformed into an oligarchy.

We have come full circle, back to a pre-revolutionary era of taxation without any real representation.

Lysander Spooner, a 19th century American abolitionist and legal theorist, was right when he concluded that the government is far more disingenuous and dangerous to the rights, property and lives of the citizenry than the common criminal or highwayman. As Spooner points out:

[Unlike the government,] the highwayman … does not pretend that he has any rightful claim to your money, or that he intends to use it for your own benefit…  He has not acquired impudence enough to profess to be merely a “protector”… He does not persist in following you on the road, against your will; assuming to be your rightful “sovereign,” on account of the “protection” he affords you. He does not keep “protecting” you, by commanding you to bow down and serve him; by requiring you to do this, and forbidding you to do that; by robbing you of more money as often as he finds it for his interest or pleasure to do so; and by branding you as a rebel, a traitor, and an enemy to your country, and shooting you down without mercy, if you dispute his authority, or resist his demands… In short, he does not, in addition to robbing you, attempt to make you either his dupe or his slave.
How tragically apropos the analogy remains today.

We the people, once free citizens of a free nation, are now at the mercy of cutthroats and villains masquerading as government agents and elected officials.

We continue to be robbed at gunpoint, treated like cattle, tracked incessantly and forced to serve and obey.

We continue to be branded rebels and traitors and enemy combatants, shot without hesitation for daring to resist an official order or challenge injustice, and duped into believing all this was done for our “good.”

In the end, as I make clear in my book Battlefield America: The War on the American People,we are no better than when we first started out more than 200 years ago as indentured slaves to a government elite intent on using us for their own profit and gain.

The Courtiers and the Tyrants

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Thomas Frank’s marvelous scorched-earth assault on the Democratic Party and professional elites in his book “Listen, Liberal: Or, What Ever Happened to the Party of the People?” has one fatal flaw. Frank blames the liberal class, rather than the corporations that have seized control of the centers of power, for our descent into political dysfunction and neofeudalism.

Yes, self-identified liberals such as the Clintons and Barack Obama speak in the language of liberalism while selling out the poor, the working class and the middle class to global corporate interests. But they are not, at least according to the classical definition, liberals. They are neoliberals. They serve the dictates of neoliberalism—austerity, deindustrialization, anti-unionism, endless war and globalization—to empower and enrich themselves and the party. The actual liberal class—the segment of the Democratic Party that once acted as a safety valve to ameliorate through reform the grievances and injustices within our capitalist democracy and that had within its ranks politicians such as George McGovern, Gaylord Nelson, Warren Magnuson and Frank Church and New Deal Democrats such as Franklin D. Roosevelt—no longer exists. I spent 248 pages in my book “Death of the Liberal Class” explaining the orchestrated corporate campaign to erase the liberal class from the political landscape and, more ominously, destroy the radical labor and social movements that were the real engines of social and political reform in the 19th and 20th centuries.

The Democratic and the professional elites whom Frank excoriates are, as he points out, morally bankrupt, but they are only one piece of the fake democracy that characterizes our system of “inverted totalitarianism.” The problem is not only liberals who are not liberal; it is also conservatives, once identified with small government, the rule of law and fiscal responsibility, who are not conservative. It is a court system that has abandoned justice and rather than defend constitutional rights has steadily stripped them from us through judicial fiat. It is a Congress that does not legislate but instead permits lobbyists and corporations to write legislation. It is a press, desperate for advertising dollars and often owned by large corporations, that does not practice journalism. It is academics, commentators and public intellectuals, often paid by corporate think tanks, who function as shameless cheerleaders for the neoliberal and imperial establishment and mock the concept of independent and critical thought.

The Democratic and the professional elites are an easy and often amusing target. One could see them, in another era, prancing at a masked ball at Versailles on the eve of the revolution. They are oblivious to how hated they have become. They do not understand that when they lambast Donald Trump as a disgrace or a bigot they swell his support because they, not Trump, are seen by many Americans as the enemy. But these courtiers did not create the system. They sold themselves to it. And if Americans do not understand how we got here we are never going to find our way out.

During Barack Obama’s administration there has been near-total continuity with the administration of George W. Bush, especially regarding mass surveillance, endless war and the failure to regulate Wall Street. This is because the mechanisms of corporate power embodied in the deep state do not change with election cycles. The election of Donald Trump, however distasteful, would not radically alter corporate control over our lives. The corporate state is impervious to political personalities. If Trump continues to rise in the public opinion polls, the corporate backers of Hillary Clinton will start funding him instead. They know Trump will prostitute himself to money as assiduously as Clinton will.

Our political elites, Republican and Democrat, were shaped, funded and largely selected by corporate power in what John Ralston Saulcorrectly calls a coup d’├ętat in slow motion. Nothing will change until corporate power itself is dismantled.

The corporate elites failed to grasp that a functioning liberal class is the mechanism that permits a capitalist democracy to adjust itself to stave off unrest and revolt. They decided, not unlike other doomed elites of history, to eradicate the liberal establishment after they had eradicated the radical movements that created the political pressure for advancements such as the eight-hour workday and Social Security.

Lewis Powell, then the general counsel to the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, in August 1971 wrote a memocalled “Attack on American Free Enterprise System.” It became the blueprint for the corporate coup. Powell would later be appointed to the Supreme Court. Corporations, as Powell urged, poured hundreds of millions of dollars into the assault, backing candidates, creating the Business Roundtable, funding The Heritage Foundation, the Manhattan Institute, the Cato Institute, Citizens for a Sound Economy, and Accuracy in Academia. The memo argued that corporations must marginalize or silence those who in “the college campus, the pulpit, the media, and the intellectual and literary journals” were hostile to corporate interests. Powell attacked Ralph Nader and called for a concerted campaign to discredit him. Lobbyists eager to dole out huge sums of cash flooded Washington and state capitals. It soon became difficult and often impossible, whether in the press, the political arena or academia, to challenge the dogma of neoliberalism.

“It laid out a strategy to attack democracy in America,” Ralph Nader said of the Powell memo. “He basically said to the business community, you’ve got to hire a lot more lobbyists swarming over Congress, you’ve got to pour a lot more money into their campaigns, both parties’, Republican and Democrat. You’ve got to get out on the campuses and get right-wing speakers to combat progressive speakers.”

The eight-page memo, Nader went on, said, “Look, galvanize, come into Washington like a swarm, media, lobbying, put your high executives into government offices, regulate offices, Department of Defense, and so on. But that wasn’t the most successful strategy, although it was successful. The most successful was that the Powell Memorandum led to the massive corruption of the Democratic Party. And that came at the same time that Tony Coelho, who was a congressman from California, took over the fundraising for the House of Representatives Democrats.”

The infusion of corporate money into the Democratic Party left the liberals in the party with a stark choice—serve corporate power or get pushed out. Those, like the Clintons, who were willing to walk away from the core values of liberalism profited. At that point they became liberals only in name. They were assigned their part in the empty political exercise, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing. Nader calls these faux liberals “rhetorical snake charmers.”

Once corporate money started to pour into the Democratic Party in the early 1970s, legislation that sought to check or regulate corporate power—the auto and highway safety laws, oil pipeline safety laws, product safety laws, the revised Clean Air Act, the Occupational Safety and Health Act and the measure that established the Environmental Protection Agency—was no longer possible. The Democrats began to compete with the Republicans to propose legislation that would provide tax loopholes for corporations. Such legislation now legally permits oligarchs such as Trump and corporations to engage in a de facto tax boycott. The system, designed to exclusively serve corporate power, fell into political paralysis. The consent of the governed became a joke.

“There hasn’t been a single major piece of legislation advancing the health, safety and economic rights of the American people since 1974, arguably since 1976,” Nader told me. “That’s the effect of money in politics. That’s the effect of a totally subservient strategy by the liberals.”

Labor, which once put about one in every four dollars into the Democratic Party, was sidelined as a political force. The corporate campaign of union busting, deregulation, automation and off-shoring of jobs accelerated. And the class of faux liberals, such as the Clintons, played its assigned role, speaking in the old language of liberal values while betraying working people.

“[Bill] Clinton was an enemy of environmental, consumer, and worker issues,” Nader said. “He broke the modest welfare system for single moms. He sold out to the agribusiness companies. He allowed huge mergers in a bill he signed for the communications and the media giants, all in 1996, and this was quite apart from bombing Iraq illegally, killing civilians. He never opposed a swollen military budget that was unauditable.

“If you can smile and have the right rhetoric—Reagan did that, too—you get away with it,” Nader said. “… All you’ve got to do in politics is say the right thing, even though your whole record is contrary, and you’re on your way.”

Those agencies tasked with protecting the citizen from corporate abuse were consciously underfunded or turned over to corporate-approved staff members. Politics, like very other aspect of American life, was commercialized. Everything, from public lands to politicians, was now for sale.

“There’s got to be sanctuaries in a democratic society where nothing is for sale,” Nader said. “Government shouldn’t be for sale. Childhood should not be commercialized and be for sale. The environment shouldn’t be for sale. Our genetic inheritance shouldn’t be for sale. Elections shouldn’t be for sale. They’re all for sale now.”

Out of this rot and corruption, as it always does, arose a class of privileged elites who wallow in self-adulation and will do anything to further their personal self-advancement. Thomas Frank, who is a gifted writer and reporter, peers into the hermetic and exclusive world of the professional Democratic power elite—the vacations in Martha’s Vineyard, the hipster innovation districts for budding tech entrepreneurs in cities such as Boston, the Ivy League pedigrees, the open disdain for the working class and the blind faith in a functioning meritocracy. The elites believe they are privileged, Frank writes correctly, because they are convinced they are the smartest, most creative, most talented and hardest working. They cap this grotesque narcissism, he points out, with a facade of goodness and virtue. They turn their elitism into a morality play.

In Frank’s book there is a wonderful depiction of an event called No Ceilings, held in March 2015 on the day after International Women’s Day and sponsored by the Clinton Foundation at New York City’s Best Buy Theater (now the PlayStation Theater). The participants spent most of the time gushing over each other and uttering vague and amorphous calls for innovation and empowerment that have become to economic advancement what phrenology once was to science. They, like all other courtiers, cannot distinguish between reality and the masquerade.

“This is not politics,” Frank writes. “It’s an imitation of politics. It feels political, yes: it’s highly moralistic, it sets up an easy melodrama of good versus bad, it allows you to make all kinds of judgments about people you disagree with, but ultimately it’s a diversion, a way of putting across a policy program while avoiding any sincere discussion of the politics in question. The virtue-quest is an exciting moral crusade that seems to be extremely important but at the conclusion of which you discover you’ve got little to show for it besides NAFTA, bank deregulation, and a prison spree.”

But Frank fails to grasp that, as C. Wright Millsunderstood, the Republican and the Democratic elites, along with our financial and corporate elites, are one entity. They are formed in the same institutions, run in the same social circles and cross-pollinate like bees. This has been true since the country’s formation. Harvard and Yale were designed, like Oxford and Cambridge in Britain, to perpetuate the plutocracy. They do an admirable job.

Hillary Clinton sat in the front row for Donald Trump’s third wedding. And Chelsea Clinton, living in a multimillion-dollar penthouse in New York City, was until the current presidential campaign a close friend of Ivanka Trump. George W. Bush, although doltish and inept, graduated from Andover, Yale and Harvard Business School. His appointees were no less steeped in elitist Ivy League credentials than those around Bill Clinton or Barack Obama. Paul Wolfowitz attended Cornell and the University of Chicago. Donald Rumsfeld went to Princeton. Henry “Hank” Paulson graduated from Dartmouth and Harvard Business School before working for Goldman Sachs. Lewis “Scooter” Libby went to Yale and Columbia Law School (as well as the pre-prep school that I attended). Joshua Bolten, a chief of staff for President George W. Bush, went to Princeton and Stanford Law School.

The problem is not the liberal elites. The problem is the elites. They serve the same ideology. They work in the same financial institutions, hedge funds and foundations, including the Council on Foreign Relations, where government officials often are parked when they are out of power. They belong to the same clubs. They are stunted technocrats who function as systems managers for corporate capitalism. And no class of courtiers, going back to those that populated the Ottoman palaces, Versailles or the Forbidden City, has ever transformed itself into a responsible elite. They are, as John Ralston Saul writes, “hedonists of power.”

I, like Frank, have no affection for liberals. They are, and have always been, a smug, self-absorbed group who talk eloquently, even passionately, about justice and equal rights until their own privileges and sense of entitlement are questioned and threatened. They supported Martin Luther King Jr., for example, as long as he confined his struggle to integration. They abandoned him when he began to call for economic justice. But to blame liberals for our corporate system of “inverted totalitarianism” is ridiculous. They saw what had to be done to serve the centers of power, and they obliged. Those liberals with integrity, those who actually believed—as McGovern did—in reform and a liberal democracy, have been pushed out of the political system.

Contrary to what Frank asserts, the Democratic Party was never the party of the people. It functioned, at best, as a safety valve during periods of discontent. It made possible modest reforms. It was tolerated by the elites because it set the limits of dissent. It permitted a critique of the excesses of the system but never a critique of capitalism, the structures of power or the supposed virtues of those who exercise power. Noam Chomsky has amply elucidated the role of liberals in a capitalist democracy. The liberal class is used to discredit radicals, like Chomsky, and radical movements. It carries out reforms, which are often later revoked, when capitalism extracts too much blood or when it breaks down as it did in the 1930s.

Roosevelt did not institute Social Security and public works projects, create 12 million jobs or give legal status to labor unions because he and other oligarchs cared about the working class. They enacted socialist reforms because—and we know this from Roosevelt’s private correspondence—they feared revolt or, in Roosevelt’s precise word, “revolution.” They established the New Deal programs in order to save capitalism, which Roosevelt later said was his greatest achievement. They realized they would have to give up some of their money; it was that or risk losing all of their money. And they allowed the New Deal to be born because they felt the growing pressure of radical movements such as those of the socialists and communists. Politics is a game of fear. And if you lose the capacity to make the power elites afraid, you become their plaything. This, in the simplest terms, is what has happened to us.

One of Frank’s most misguided attempts to pin our debacle on liberals is his critique of the 1972 campaign of George McGovern. He argues that this moment marked the Democratic Party’s pivot away from working people and organized labor and into the embrace of the white-collar professional class. The McGovern campaign, mistake-plagued though it was, had an admirable platform that called for full employment, a guaranteed minimum income—well above the poverty line—and a redistribution of wealth through a new system of taxation. McGovern had long been a proponent of universal health care. He called for a union-like organization to be formed to advocate on behalf of welfare recipients. These were not concerns of the professional class. McGovern also stood up to the war industry. And, not unlike what is happening to the Republican Trump, the elites in his own party joined with the elites in the other major party to attack their own candidate’s campaign.

The big problem for McGovern was not that he or the Democrats abandoned labor but that labor through the numerous anti-communist purges during the previous decades had been domesticated and turned over to Cold War troglodytes like Lane Kirkland, Walter Reuther and George Meany who worked overseas with the CIA to break radical labor unions. Organized labor, especially the AFL-CIO, embraced Richard Nixon’s war in Indochina. It denounced the hippies in the streets. Labor was transformed into a junior partner of capitalism. It was severed from its radical roots. And its ideological capitulation to capitalism, along with deindustrialization, doomed it to oblivion.

McGovern’s last act of political courage was as chairman of the Select Committee on Nutrition and Human Needs. The committee issued a report in 1977 called the “Dietary Goals for the United States.” It warned of the health risks of having a diet rich in meat, sugar, saturated fat and cholesterol. McGovern hoped the report would “perform a function similar to that of the Surgeon General’s Report on Smoking.” His committee called on Americans to dramatically decrease their consumption of meat, dairy fat, eggs and other high-cholesterol sources. The animal agriculture industry went berserk. It exerted tremendous pressure to get the report rewritten to obliterate the health warnings. The committee was soon disbanded. Its functions were turned over to the Agriculture Committee, run by officials in the pocket of the animal agriculture industry. McGovern, like most liberal politicians who refused to sell out, lost his seat, ousted from the Senate in 1980 by a Republican cattle rancher.

The destruction of radical movements, begun by President Woodrow Wilson, removed the pressure placed on the liberal class. Once our radical movements were destroyed, corporations decimated the tepid liberal class itself. No institution in America can any longer be considered truly democratic. And self-identified liberals, like every other participant in the political charade, act out their assigned parts to maintain the fiction of electoral politics, voter choice and a liberal democracy. But it is a charade. We must not, however, confuse the courtiers with the tyrants.

Inmates Launch Series of Work Stoppages to Protest ‘Slave Labor’

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Prisoners in dozens of correctional facilities around the nation launched a labor strike Sept. 9, a day that, appropriately, was the 45th anniversary of New York’s Attica prison rebellion. The U.S. incarcerates the greatest number of people in the world, and most of them are expected to work inside the prisons that hold them, usually for well below minimum wage.

Inmates say the system is akin to slavery and hence unconstitutional. In fact, the prison system in some states is financially dependent on the underpaid labor of inmates. In stopping their work, prisoners in states like Alabama, Ohio, Mississippi and Texas are risking serious forms of retaliation in order to call attention to their exploitation.

Amazingly, one inmate, who goes by the name of Bennu Hannibal Ra-Sun, obtained a cellphone and is giving interviews from within the isolation unit where he is being held at the William E. Donaldson Correctional Facility in Bessemer, Ala. Ra-Sun, whose birth name is Melvin Ray, is a member of the prison-activist organization Free Alabama Movementand has become a spokesman for the nationwide prison labor strike. In a video interviewon my program, “Rising Up With Sonali,” Ra-Sun told me that in addition to the work stoppage, the strike is taking other forms, including “protesting by boycotting the canteen [and] by hunger-striking.” Because of the challenges of communicating within and between prisons, it is nearly impossible to estimate how large the strike is unless state prison authorities issue statements that accurately reflect reality. Ra-Sun estimates that it could take a month or two to determine how widespread and effective the strike has been.

There are two broad types of labor inside prisons. First is the required maintenance of the prisons themselves, which Ra-Sun said includes “laundry, painting, plumbing.” In addition, many prisons have factories that produce all sorts of things, from McDonald’s uniforms to Victoria’s Secret lingerie. Ra-Sun explained that “depending upon which prison you’re at, you could be making car parts, furniture, license plates. You could be running a goat farm, poultry farm, fish pond or recycling plant, making computer parts, hamburger patties or more.”

U.S. prisons create products that garner $500 million a yearin sales and pay inmates as little as 23 cents an hour. Some of the work is hazardous and involves exposure to toxic materials.

Ra-Sun sees this exploitation of prison labor as a violation of the 13th Amendment, which says, “Neither slavery nor involuntary servitude, except as a punishment for crime whereof the party shall have been duly convicted, shall exist within the United States, or any place subject to their jurisdiction.” He cited an anecdote about a fellow prisoner who, after working for eight years at one job, was earning a mere 50 cents an hour.

Perversely, the government sells its prison labor program as beneficial to inmates by casting it as a jobs-training program. UNICOR, the government agency previously known as the Federal Prison Industries program, says it is “dedicated to employing inmates across the U.S. and providing them the job skills needed to succeed in life.” The agency website, which also touts its products as “American made” and “eco-friendly,” is chock full of rosy images of smiling inmates in clean work environments and is geared toward businesses looking for cheap labor. In only one instance does it address the appallingly low pay, but only within the context of possible “unfair competitive advantage” over other businesses. UNICOR’s answer is:

Inmates are paid considerably less than minimum wage, but this is offset by the labor intensive use of a large number of inmates, additional costs for inmate training and staff supervision, as well as efficiency constraints associated with a prison work environment.
In other words, the cost to the state of incarcerating a prisoner is deducted from his or her wages. In many cases, after fees, fines, court costs and housing costs are deducted from a prisoner’s meager pay, there is literally nothing left, and the labor is not compensated at all. This appears to fit the definition of slave labor quite well.

Ra-Sun had an eloquent explanation for how prisoners end up participating in a system that is so exploitative:

Something has to happen to make a person work for free. That person has to be denied all access to education. An educated man and a thinking man is not going to go for it. There has to be brutality. That person has to understand that he has no rights, no voice, no one to turn to. The courts are not going to be there, the Department of Justice is not going to be there. These tools of control—the force, the police brutality, the solitary confinement, the inhumane living conditions—these are all part of the breaking process to get you to the point where you’ll work for free.
In addition to the inherent unfairness of paying prisoners paltry or no wages, there is a racial-justice aspect to this story. Black and brown Americans are significantly overrepresented in the criminal justice system, all the way from first contact with police to sentencing biases in courtrooms. Of the country’s 2.2 million incarcerated Americans, 37 percent are African-American and 22 percent are Latino, compared with the general population, which is 13 percent black and 17 percent Latino.

The history of American enslavement of African-Americans is extremely relevant to the conditions of prison labor today. According to Ra-Sun, “In the streets when you see police officers gunning down black people ... it is to control these communities. Those that they don’t kill in the streets, they kill behind these walls in prison.” He added, “They have a license to repress, suppress and oppress our communities, and then they capitalize on it” by exploiting their labor.

In early 2015, the Free Alabama Movement published a treatise entitled “Let the Crops Rot in the Fields,” which the group described as “a call for new strategy in the national movement against mass incarceration and prison slavery.” The idea is that ending mass incarceration overall requires applying economic pressure to the economic underpinnings of the system. The document outlines a three-pronged strategy that includes work stoppages, increasing public awareness of prison labor by leafleting at stores where prison-made products are sold and encouraging nonprisoners to hold solidarity protests and rallies outside prisons.

Political organizing is a difficult enough task for those of us who have escaped the clutches of the criminal justice system. But imagine trying to organize masses of people separated by bars and walls, with little to no access to digital communication. Activists like Ra-Sun are paying a heavy personal price for organizing prison labor. He explained that he was picked out as a leader by prison authorities two weeks before the strike was launched and placed in solitary confinement, where he spoke to me using a contraband cellphone. “When they brought me back here, they took away all of my books, all of my reading materials, newspapers and hygiene and personal effects,” he told me. “I’m in total isolation, they don’t want me talking to anyone. ... They don’t want me being able to communicate about the struggle we have going on.”

The retaliation that prisoners are facing for protesting is all too real. But as Ra-Sun pointed out, “These are nonviolent, peaceful protests. We’re not advocating any violence. We’re not harming anyone.” His mastery of the Constitution and Bill of Rights was impressive as he rattled off his First Amendment rights to free speech word for word.

Forty-five years ago, prisoners in Attica, N.Y., rose up and demanded their rights. Their demands were humble: “Better nutrition, some educational opportunities and access to more than one shower per week.” Ra-Sun says that for prisoners like him, the anniversary of the Attica rebellion is “not a holiday, not something we’re celebrating.” Rather it is “part of our legacy and our struggle ... and a reminder to everyone of the resistance and the spirit that we must have in order for us to change our conditions."

World Socialist Web Site The threat of world war: The great unmentionable in the 2016 campaign

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The most important issue in the US presidential election is the one neither of the two main capitalist candidates, Democrat Hillary Clinton and Republican Donald Trump, is talking about: the increasing likelihood that the next US president will order direct military action against Russia, China or North Korea, all countries that possess nuclear weapons.
The mounting danger of such a war was underscored by the US bombing of a Syrian government military post on Saturday, killing dozens of Syrian army soldiers. The US claim that this was done accidentally—against a major, well-known Syrian military installation, the Deir ez-Zor Air Base—has no credibility. A similar US “mistake” could easily lead to the death of Russian soldiers and escalate into a full-scale military confrontation between the two powers that control 93 percent of the world’s nuclear weapons.
The corporate-controlled American media is complicit in maintaining a blackout on the mounting danger of war. While US forces conduct almost daily dress rehearsals on the Russian border with Eastern Europe, in the coastal waters adjacent to China, and on the Korean peninsula, the media diverts public attention to such comparatively trivial questions as Clinton’s bout with pneumonia, Trump’s brazen lying about his role in the anti-Obama “birther” campaign, and endless speculation on which candidate is gaining an edge in their mutual mudslinging.
One of the few exceptions to the silence on the question of war was an op-ed column by former Secretary of Defense Robert Gates—who held the position under both George W. Bush and Barack Obama—published in the weekend edition of the Wall Street Journal, under the headline, “Sizing Up the Next Commander-in-Chief.”
Gates criticizes Clinton for (purely verbal) concessions she has made to popular anti-war sentiment, mainly her statement during a September 7 forum in New York City ruling out putting US ground forces into Syria and Iraq, which he calls “a politically driven categorical declaration of a sort no president (or candidate) should make…” He warns Clinton to “speak beyond generalities about how she would deal with China, Russia, North Korea, Iran, the Middle East” in order to earn his support.
He is far harsher, however, towards Trump, flatly declaring him “beyond repair. He is stubbornly uninformed about the world and how to lead our country and government and temperamentally unsuited to lead our men and women in uniform. He is unqualified and unfit to be commander-in-chief.”
In this assessment, Gates reflects the consensus within the military-intelligence apparatus, which views Trump as unreliable on Russia, given his flattering references to President Vladimir Putin, and regards Trump’s militaristic bluster against ISIS as more bark than bite. Clinton, on the other hand, has been tested over a protracted period of time and gave her backing to a whole series of military actions, including US wars in Bosnia, Kosovo, Iraq and Libya, as well as the ongoing intervention in Syria.
But the most important element of the Gates column is his basic premise that the United States is heading inexorably towards war. He writes: “You wouldn’t know it from the presidential campaigns, but the first serious crisis to face our new president most likely will be international. The list of possibilities is long—longer than it was eight years ago.” He then ticks off a list of potential military crises: with China in the East and South China Sea, with Russia in Ukraine, the Baltic states or Syria, with North Korea and Iran, and with “a Middle East in flames,” including Syria, Iraq and Libya.
“Each of these challenges may require the use of the American military, the most powerful the world has ever seen,” the former Pentagon chief writes. In other words, Gates envisions the next president ordering US military action against either Russia or China, the nuclear powers with the world’s second- and fourth-largest arsenals. Beyond that, there is potential for US military action against North Korea, which possesses nuclear weapons, and against Iran, a country of 70 million people, more than the size of Iraq and Syria combined.
Here Gates gives a glimpse of the discussions that are taking place throughout the US military and foreign policy establishment. It is largely taken for granted in these circles that US forces will soon be engaged in large-scale military operations, not guerrilla warfare or counterterrorism, involving some combination of land, sea, air, cyberwarfare and even nuclear forces.
These discussions are taking an increasingly reckless form, expressed in another commentary published this weekend, on the web site of Newsweek magazine, under the attention-grabbing headline, “Should we nuke Kim Jung Un before he nukes us?”
The author, Michael O’Hanlon, is a longtime foreign policy operative at the Brookings Institution, a major think tank for the Democratic Party. O’Hanlon supported the Iraq war and now backs Hillary Clinton. He notes that when the Obama White House briefly considered announcing a no-first-use policy on nuclear weapons, it was opposed by those at Brookings “who argue that Northeast Asia might be a special case, given North Korean nuclear weapons.”
While O’Hanlon himself professes to oppose a US first-strike with nuclear weapons against North Korea—purely on the grounds of expediency, because of the superiority of US and South Korean forces in conventional armaments—the very fact that such a debate is taking place within the US national security establishment is significant.
Not one in a thousand Americans is aware that those who direct US foreign policy, in both the Democratic and Republican parties, are actively discussing nuclear war, not hypothetically, but as a practical question, arising out of escalating confrontations with Russia and China. This is the inexorable result of the development of American imperialism over the past quarter century, when it has been engaged in nearly continuous warfare.
The war danger arises out of the very nature of capitalism as a world system. US imperialism is the most dangerous force on the planet, as it seeks to offset its declining position in the world economy by using its military superiority. The only force which can avert a catastrophe for humanity is the international working class.

Minnesota nurses strike highlights militant mood of US workers

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Nearly 5,000 nurses are continuing to walk the picket lines at five hospitals in the Minneapolis-St. Paul area in Minnesota. The strike, now in its third day, highlights the sharp class tensions in the United States on the eve of the 2016 presidential elections and the growing mood of militancy in the working class.
The nurses have repeatedly rejected concession demands by Allina Health, which is seeking, like so many other US employers, to force workers into inferior healthcare plans with higher out-of-pocket costs. Striking workers also want to reduce dangerously high patient-to-nurse ratios and stop management from piling on more work responsibilities on an understaffed workforce. The company’s demands are in line with the cost-cutting drive at the heart of Obama’s misnamed Affordable Care Act (ACA).
The strike erupted despite the best efforts of the Minnesota Nurses Association (MNA) and a federal mediator dispatched by the Obama administration. The union offered to give into Allina’s major demand to replace four union-backed health plans with the company’s in-house plan—if only Allina made a conciliatory gesture in order to sell the agreement to resistant workers. Although all nurses in the Twin Cities face the same struggle, the MNA is keeping another 7,000 nurses in the largest hospitals on the job.
The capitulation of the union has only emboldened Allina, which planned for a walkout for months and has hired a small army of strikebreakers from around the country to maintain operations. Allina’s intransigence is not the product simply of multi-millionaires like Penny Wheeler who run the “non-profit” hospital, but also powerful financial interests that want to get their hands on millions of dollars in healthcare benefits.
Over the last decade, US Bank entangled Allina in interest rate swaps and other financial swindles and is now extracting millions of dollars each year from the hospital chain. The top six executives at the bank made more than $30 million combined in executive compensation last year—three times the annual savings Allina is seeking by stripping nurses of affordable healthcare.
With nine weeks to go before Election Day, both Democrat Hillary Clinton and Republican Donald Trump are offering tens of millions of workers no relief from the relentless destruction of their living standards. The billionaire real estate mogul is demanding even more corporate tax cuts and the lifting of virtually all regulations on big business. Hillary Clinton is a warmonger and the favored candidate of Wall Street whose husband oversaw the deregulation of the finance industry that led to the crash of 2008.
During the last two weeks of August alone, Clinton raked in roughly $50 million—or $150,000 an hour—at 22 fundraising events in the Hamptons, Martha’s Vineyard, Beverly Hills and Silicon Valley, according to an article in the New York Times titled, “Where Has Hillary Clinton Been? Ask the Ultrarich.”
Since taking office nearly eight years ago, President Obama has overseen the greatest transfer of wealth from the bottom to the top in US history, with the richest 1 percent capturing 95 percent of all income gains since the so-called recovery began. The bank bailouts and free money policies of the Obama administration have led to a tripling of the value of the stock market even as workers have seen their wages stagnate or fall, student loan and household debt rise to crushing levels, and the cost of healthcare and their meager pension benefits shifted onto their already over-burdened shoulders.
While tens of millions face economic insecurity, Corporate America is sitting on an estimated cash hoard of $1.9 trillion and is squandering billions on stock buybacks, dividend payments and mergers and acquisitions that destroy thousands of jobs and only benefit wealthy investors and executives.
Shortly after taking office in 2009, Obama met with CEOs from Xerox, AT&T, Honeywell, Coke and other top Fortune 500 corporations. He praised the “change in corporate culture” in the 1980s that “significantly boosted corporate productivity for a long time and helped create the boom of the 90s,” in a reference to the union-busting, deindustrialization and brutal attacks on the working class of the Reagan years. Obama pledged to work with the corporate executives to “introduce the same sort of productivity” in the healthcare industry, education and the rest of the public sector.
Regardless of who wins the election—Clinton or Trump—the war against the working class in the United States will be escalated in conjunction with the expansion of imperialist wars to grab markets, resources and new areas of cheap labor around the world.
The last year has been marked by increasing resistance of the working class in the United States, which has coincided with the growth of the class struggle in Europe, Latin America and Asia, including last week’s general strike by tens of millions of Indian workers.
In early 2015, thousands of oil workers in the US struck followed by the bitter lockout of 20,000 West Coast dockworkers and 2,200 steelworkers at Allegheny Technologies. In September 2015, autoworkers rebelled against the sellout contracts pushed by the United Auto Workers (UAW) and defeated the first UAW-backed national contract in 33 years. This was followed by sickouts by Detroit teachers carried out in defiance of their union, and then the nearly two-month strike by 39,000 Verizon telecom workers.
In each case, the AFL-CIO and other unions, working with the Obama administration, isolated and betrayed these struggles, but opposition continued to emerge again and again. On Tuesday, hundreds of teachers packed into a union meeting on the first day of school to listen to the sellout agreement reached by the Detroit Federation of Teachers (DFT) and the new Detroit Community Schools District, which is essentially run by the banks and proponents of school privatization. Opposition arose to the DFT’s demands that teachers, who have suffered years of wage and benefit cuts, accept one-time bonuses.
The Minnesota nurses strike is just one indication of the reemergence of the class struggle, which has been artificially suppressed by the pro-capitalist and nationalist trade unions for so long. The mass support for Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders was a sign of the growth of anti-capitalist sentiment and political radicalization that will continue despite Sanders’ efforts to channel opposition behind Clinton.
The sleeping giant of American politics—the working class—is beginning to emerge. It is this immense social force, united with its class brothers and sisters around the world, which will put an end to capitalism, the source of war and social inequality.