Archive | September 27th, 2020

The USA: Global Leader in Election Interference Abroad and Now at Home

by MELVIN GOODMAN

Photograph by Nathaniel St. Clair

Walt Kelly’s Pogo remarked that “We have met the enemy, and he is us.” In terms of election interference, historically the United States has been the enemy abroad and now we are the enemy at home.  There is more than 70 years of evidence of U.S. election interference abroad; the current interference at home is far more threatening.  Donald Trump is prepared to do great harm to the November election, creating the kind of cynicism and disarray that will enable Russian President Vladimir Putin’s propagandists to kick on an open door.

The intelligence community is giving mounting attention to the problem of foreign interference in the presidential campaign.  Trump and the Republican emphasis on voter suppression, however, will do far more damage to the electoral process.  Too many Democrats believe that Putin’s Russia caused Hillary Clinton’s defeat in the 2016 election, failing to acknowledge her misuse of personal email and a flawed campaign strategy.  There’s much irony in the fact that the United States calls so much attention to the issue of foreign intervention.

Over the past few months, the Office of the Director of National Intelligence (ODNI) has given nearly 20 congressional briefings on election interference, and it appears the ODNI has politicized the intelligence on foreign interference.  CIA director Gina Haspel has avoided taking a public position on the issue of such interference, yielding the briefing responsibility to William Evanina, the principal counterintelligence official in ODNI.  The ODNI’s new director, John Ratcliffe, has a well-earned reputation for politicizing intelligence.

Evanina lacks the experience for the broad-based intelligence role he has been given.  His background is in law enforcement and not intelligence; law enforcement, particularly the FBI, has a reputation for preparing worst case assessments.  He is a certified SWAT team member as well as a certified sniper, not the best preparation for intelligence analysis.  Evanina has a bachelor’s degree in public administration from Wilkes University, and a master’s degree in educational leadership from Arcadia University.

Evanina is currently distorting the possible role of China and Iran in order to signal the While House that he has less concern with the impact of Russian involvement.  His linkage of Russia, China, and Iran is particularly ludicrous, but the mainstream media has already climbed aboard.  A headline in the Washington Post on August 22, for example, declared that “At least 3 nations aim to influence U.S. vote, officials say.”  Parroting the intelligence briefings, the media accuse Moscow, Beijing, and Tehran with stirring the “passions of voters, with a mix of covert ‘information laundering’ and some ham-handed propaganda.”  In fact, Russia for the most part is using social media in its typical influence operations that have been a part of the rivalry between Washington and Moscow since the end of World War Two.  There is no evidence thus far of Russian efforts to engage in the hacking and dumping of emails similar to the presidential campaign of 2016.

The efforts of China and Iran, moreover, are aspirational and in no way comparable to the efforts of the Kremlin.  China and Iran have good reason to prefer the election of Joe Biden in view of Trump’s tariff and trade war against China, and the campaign of maximum pressure against Iran.  Tehran would like to return to the Iran nuclear accord of 2015; Biden offers that possibility while Trump offers the possibility of war.  China for its part would like to forge the kind of correct state-to-state relations that existed for more than four decades under eight American presidents, both Democrats and Republicans.  Stable economic relations are the key to China’s national interest in the global community.

Russian influence operations in the 2016 election cannot be ignored, but U.S. voter suppression had a greater impact on the ultimate defeat of Hillary Clinton than anything orchestrated by the Kremlin.  Poll taxes and literacy tests were part of the voter suppression of the 19th and 20th centuries, and it wasn’t until the Voting Rights Act of 1965 that these tactics were made illegal.  Voter ID laws are still being used to prevent specific groups of people from voting, and Trump is threatening to place law enforcement officers at voting polls in November to intimidate potential voters.  In 2017, Trump established the Presidential Advisory Commission on Election Integrity, but appointed Kris Kobach, a staunch advocate of stricter voter ID laws, to head the commission.

In other words, Putin’s impact on the election is modest compared to the damage that Trump and Republican legislators throughout the country can inflict.  Voter suppression remains a huge problem, particularly in the wake of the Supreme Court decision in 2013 to weaken the Voting Rights Act.  The campaign against mail-in voting is creating uncertainty and cynicism throughout the country as is Trump’s constant ravings about vote by mail causing a fraudulent election.  The litigious and manipulative response of the Republican Party to the Florida election in 2000 presumably could be multiplied many times by various challenges and lawsuits to state elections throughout the country.  The Supreme Court placed George W. Bush in the White House in 2000; the court may not be needed to reelect Trump in 2020.

The history of the United States and the CIA in foreign election interference is one of tragic failure.  The classic case of CIA interference took place in Guatemala from 1952 to 1954, an operation codenamed PBSUCCESS.  The congressional investigations of illegal CIA activities in the 1970s omitted any discussion of the Guatemalan operation because it was such an embarrassment to the image of the United States and the Eisenhower administration.  For several decades, CIA directors denied numerous Freedom of Information requests to gain information on the operation.

David Shimer’s highly praised book on election interference (“Rigged: America, Russia, and One Hundred Years of Covert Electoral Interference”) obliquely refers to “CIA operations to topple the leaders of Iran and Guatemala in the early 1950s,” and offers no elaboration.  In Iran, the CIA harassed religious figures, even bombed their homes, to turn them against the democratically elected government of Mohammed Mossadegh and pave the way for the Shah of Iran.  In Guatemala, CIA operatives worked with military regimes that engaged in political assassinations.  The ease of President Dwight D. Eisenhower’s operations in Iran and Guatemala led directly to the disaster of President John F. Kennedy’s Bay of Pigs in Cuba.

Shimer’s book makes no mention of the CIA role in the elections in Indonesia or the electoral politics of the Congo.  In Indonesia, CIA’s efforts to overthrow the government led to the rise of the largest communist party outside of the Soviet Union and China.  In the Congo, President Eisenhower endorsed an assassination attempt against Patrice Lumumba, which led to the emergence of Joseph Mobutu, the worst tyrant in Africa’s history. In the wake of the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991, the United States invested several billion dollars on influence operations in Ukraine, including the promotion of anti-government riots, which is relegated to an obscure footnote in Shimer’s book.

We are accustomed to the evidence of Soviet and Russian interference in foreign elections, but we have failed to acknowledge the history of U.S. efforts to undermine even democratic governments in Iran, Guatemala, and Chile.  Now, we are faced with the White House itself engaging for the first time in overt and covert efforts that threaten our governance and even democracy itself.

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Notes From the Great Democratic Infomercial

by MATTHEW STEVENSON

Image Source: Screenshot of PBS cast of the DNC – Free Use

I can’t say I was surprised that the Democrats led off their four-day Zoom summer jamboree with one of the Desperate Housewives acting as the moderator. On the same day there appeared a newspaper picture of former president Bill Clinton getting a back rub from a young blonde while both were waiting to board pedophile Jeffrey Epstein’s Lolita Express plane. (As early Democrat Thomas Jefferson liked to say: “We hold these truths to be self-evident.”)

Presumably if the Democrats had given the gavel to someone less glamorous than Eva Longoria or someone more eager to ask questions about Social Security funding or the Israel’s deal with the United Arab Emirates, the ratings for the video national convention (already wobbly) would have gone in the tank.

Instead all the moderators and party front men pitched the 2020 election as democracy’s last chance to rescue the republic from the clutches of the Trump gang, and each one (save for AOC) emphasized that no one in the country was more qualified than Joe Biden to lead the United States out of Covid’s wilderness.

During the endless loop of what felt like Chevy ads (featuring mayors, Senators, governors, members of Congress, school kids, grandchildren, wayward Republicans, vets, union members, and all sorts of common men and women), whatever the story of hardship, and there were many, the cure-all was always the presidential election of Joe Biden, who was transformed from hack politician into A Great Tribal Chief, someone who, once in office, would comfort the sick, give hope to the unemployed, bring peace to the Middle East, end terrorism, fight racism, create jobs, fight for civil rights, clean dirty air, and redeem the nation, just as he raised his sons after unimaginable loss.

Over four days, the Democrats screened what amounted to a nine-hour infomercial on the life and times of the Scranton PA altar boy who has been chosen to carry the cross to Washington to save the American soul. —M.S.

Branding the Democrats

Before all the witnessing testimony, there was a branding exercise for the Democratic Party, in which it positioned itself in the pantheon of great American consumer companies, alongside the likes of Google, Southwest Airlines, CVS, and Ford.

The videos reminded me of halftime ads during the Super Bowl, only instead of happy Christmas shoppers at Walmart, Democrats were shown having social media inspiration from the likes of FDR, JFK, and Black Lives Matter.

“We are Democrats and we are ready to lead again…” was the outro line, said much the way that Exxon or BP ads end with the voiceover, “We stand for a renewable future” (cut to gleeful children in a playground…).

Otherwise the Democratic Party has the look and feel of a Johnny Carson Show in the late 1970s, although Biden himself has the aura of a Big Band leader at the Copacabana, getting ready to break into a Charleston.

A Senate Roll Call

Doug Jones, a senator from Alabama, was beamed in from an office somewhere, to make the point that “I’ve known Joe Biden for forty years” and that Joe “gets things done,” although I suspect one of the things Joe will not get done is to help Jones get re-elected to the Senate from Alabama.

Jones is running against a retired football coach (from such SEC schools as Ole Miss and Auburn) who wants to come back as one of Trump’s pulling guards, and in that game Jones is a tackling dummy.

Another Democratic Senate hopeful on the feed was Sara Gideon from Maine, who is running against incumbent Republican Senator Susan Collins, whose great contribution to the republic was to state that while she believed someone raped Christine Blasey Ford she was pretty sure it wasn’t the human kegerator and future justice Brett Kavanaugh.

A Wake for George Floyd

It tells you something about the quality of Democratic speakers that the most eloquent speech of day one came from one of the brothers of George Floyd, the Black man who was murdered by that police officer on the streets of Minneapolis.

Two of the Floyd brothers stood in what felt like their family’s living room, and their calm demeanor and moving remembrance of their brother made that tragedy all the more difficult to fathom, although I am sure that at the Republican convention George will be reincarnated as Willie Horton.

Chainsaw Bernie

I have heard Bernie speak in person about half a dozen times, and while I like what he says, and the conviction of his delivery, I will say that Bernie is also a broken record who says the same thing every time he gets in front of a microphone.

Here, to echo his log cabin affiliations, the DNC choreographers had him standing in front of a wall of chopped firewood, as though Bernie had come to the convention after just setting aside his chain saw.

In a dutiful way, although without much emotion, Bernie repeated the Sanders liturgy and even spread some incense in Biden’s direction, holding out the hope that it wasn’t too late for “my friend Joe” to see light on the road to socialism. (Lottery tickets have better odds.)

Listening to Bernie, I got the impression that he will be happier when this election is over (whoever wins), and he can go back to his rustic state of independence. Party loyalty doesn’t really suit him.

Kasich Heads North by Northwest

The weirdest stage set for a convention address was given to the former Republican governor of Ohio, John Kasich, who somehow scored face time at the Democratic National Convention (presumably in exchange for a job in a Biden administration).

In case you are weak on Republican presidential candidates who flamed out in the 2016 primaries, Kasich ran on a folksy ticket of midwestern optimism, although when you dig into his core beliefs you discover a clone of Richard Nixon and other dark princes of the right.

On Day One of this convention, he was recruited to raise Biden’s big tent of inclusivity, and he appeared on screen standing at a fork in the road in an Ohio corn field (the metaphorical divide for the nation).

He looked like Roger Thornhill (Cary Grant) in North by Northwest, about to be crop-dusted in the fields outside Chicago. As was said of the plane in the Hitchcock movie: “That fella’s dusting crops where there ain’t no crops.”

The View of Michelle Obama

I confess I can’t understand the national obsession with the greatness and goodness of Michelle Obama. I was happy, when she was first lady, that she championed the causes of kid’s exercise and nutritional school lunches (I was never really convinced that Reagan’s ketchup was a vegetable). But in the republic of ideas, I don’t see Michelle as one of the Corinthian columns.

Here her Zoom handlers had her aggressively forward on the screen (there was no chance of a cat strolling across her desk), and she lectured the Trump presidency for what sounded like bad taste and manners. (“He’s the wrong president for our country…. He’s just not up to the job.”)

She also spoke in the tones of a dowager on Downton Abbey, complaining that the family manor house had been sold off to a car dealer.

Michelle got a little misty-eyed in whispering that she hates politics—leaving aside that backroom deals paid for her beach house on Martha’s Vineyard and her husband’s $60 million book advance—and implored everyone in almost biblical tones (“we’re one nation under God…”) to vote.

Toward the end of her soliloquy she sounded liked a weary guest on The View confessing that she could be ready for that glass of chardonnay.

On the Waterfront with Chuck Schumer

The emcee for hagiography’s Day Two was TV star Tracee Ellis Ross (GirlfriendsBlack-ish) who praised Biden’s “steady, inclusive leadership” and passed the baton to the likes of Sally Yates, Chuck Schumer, John Kerry, Colin Powell, Bill Clinton, Caroline Kennedy, Jimmy and Rosalyn Carter, Jill Biden, and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, who stole the show just because she isn’t collecting social security.

Senator Chuck Schumer, among those lionizing “my friend Joe”, spoke to the convention from the waterfront in Red Hook, Brooklyn, so that the viewers could commune with the egalitarian sentiments of the Statue of Liberty.

Schumer began by saying, “Behind me is a sight I see out of my window every night, the Statue of Liberty,” although like a good New York real estate booster (his one-time benefactor, Donald Trump, is another) Schumer was stretching the truth of his waterfront access, as he lives in Park Slope, some miles to the east.

Bill Clinton Kicks Back on his Sofa

When the DNC kiss cam caught up with former President Bill Clinton at his suburban New York home, he was seated on a sofa in his living room, although such was his cadaverous appearance that the DNC production room saw fit to add the words “Live Chappaqua, NY” to the upper right-hand corner of the TV screen, I guess so that viewers would be reassured that he was still breathing.

I cannot imagine that Clinton appreciated the lines he was asked to deliver during the national Zoom chat, as it was left to Bill—perhaps with a dollop of Shakespearean irony from some irreverent Democratic advisor?—to ridicule Trump’s Animal White House. Bill said:

At a time like this, the Oval Office should be a command center. Instead, it’s a storm center. There’s only chaos. Just one thing never changes—his determination to deny responsibility and shift the blame. The buck never stops there.

Imagine John Blutarsky delivering a lecture at Faber College on etiquette, although the Clintons can console themselves that while the Obamas appointed one member of the Democratic ticket (Biden) they got to select the vice-presidential nominee (Kamala Harris) who several years ago had received the Clinton seal of approval.

Will we ever be done with the Clintons? I suspect not. As Bluto said: “Was it over when the Germans bombed Pearl Harbor? Hell no!”

AOC’s Ninety Seconds of Wonder

Clearly Nancy Pelosi’s parental control had a hand in limiting Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez’s screen time to 90 seconds, but the member of Congress from the Bronx and Queens made the most of her spot by never mentioning Biden and using her time to second the nomination of “Bernard Sanders” for president.

AOC did mention the lack of basic health care for many Americans, although in the four days of the Democratic convention no one ever bridged the gap between Obama’s Affordable Care Act (once billed as “health care for all”) and the some 80 million Americans (it’s the figure that Sanders and Warren use in their speeches) who lack decent health insurance.

An Express Elevator to the Nomination

I realize that there was a common-man touch in having a Black elevator operator (ironically she works at the New York Times) place Joe Biden’s name in nomination for president.

Maybe it’s to Biden’s credit that at the Times he formed a better bond with an elevator operator than he did with the editorial board (in the primaries it endorsed both Elizabeth Warren and Amy Klobuchar).

At the same time Biden owes his nomination to the marked cards of Democratic power brokers (not elevator operators), who decided that Bernie, with all his talk about universal health care and cuts to military spending, was taking things “a little too far…”

Caroline Kennedy Collects Some More IOUs

The Democrats wheeled out two members of the Kennedy clan, Caroline Kennedy Schlossberg and her son Jack, who repeated the Biden catechism while standing in front of some Cape Cod grey shingles—the siding of choice in Hyannis Port and Camelot.

Caroline dropped in a humble brag to let us know that she had “helped to pick Joe” as Barack Obama’s running mate in 2008 (in the Kennedy world, the favor bank is about the size of J.P. Morgan).

It led to the slightly awkward passage when she talk about how she had “admired Joe since she was a Senate intern in 1974” (not exactly what you want on your CV these days) when he was pals with “Uncle Teddy”.

At that moment the Dems flashed up on the screen a flushed picture of the two womanizers-in-arms, attending to state affairs.

The Carters Speak Gravely

For a while I appreciated hearing the disembodied voices of Rosalynn and Jimmy Carter, who spoke with only place-holding photographs flipping on screen (a bit like those pictures used on cable TV to market life insurance coverage, which show sincere older couples happy with their caregivers) .

Yes, the Carters did sound as though they were speaking from the grave, but I admired the resonance of integrity in their voices, until Jimmy said Joe was “the right person for this moment in our nation’s history,” and I remembered how Jimmy’s erratic judgement in crises brought down his presidency.

Good Soldiers Powell and Kerry

To make the point that Biden will be a rock of stability in foreign affairs and a beacon of light in a world of shadows, the Democrats summoned two more ghosts from the American past, former secretaries of state Colin Powell and John Kerry, perhaps on the off chance that Biden wants another crack at winning either the Vietnam or Iraq wars.

Powell was on display as a lapsed Republican, a Bush family retainer who has seen the light on Trump and his deferment bone spurs.

Powell talked about growing up in the Bronx, his faith in the American dream, and his love of military service, and he had the good manners not to mention that he counseled Obama and Biden to stay out of Afghanistan, something they ignored.

I suspect the fix is already in for John Kerry to return as Biden’s secretary of state, as Kerry was with “my friend Joe” in Iowa and in other primary fields of dreams.

To hear Kerry tell the stories, the foreign policies of the “Obama-Biden administration” were the stuff of legends, with wins over Iran, ISIS, climate change, Ebola, etc. He said Joe’s “moral compass has always pointed in the right direction,” although I defy anyone to name three Biden foreign policy initiatives.

To the DNC Zoomers Kerry said reverentially: “Only Joe Biden can make America lead like America again,” although what I heard is: “Only Joe Biden will bring back John Kerry.”

Un-Democratic Primaries

Between some of the canned speeches, the Democrats piped in state delegations so that the party could formally count the votes and nominate Biden to run for president.

The delegation from Delaware cast its votes (remotely) for Biden from a dark platform at Amtrak’s Wilmington station while other states chose culturally sensitive backdrops from which to vote “for the next president of the United States, Joe Biden.”

Left out of the roll call feed was just how un-Democratic the party has become. In effect, Joe Biden wrapped up the nomination by winning 262,336 votes in the South Carolina primary (that’s .08 percent of the US population, for those keeping score at home).

After that, and before Super Tuesday, the Democratic elders (led by Barack Obama, Nancy Pelosi, and Chuck Schumer) chased Amy Klobuchar, Michael Bloomberg, Pete Buttigieg, and Tom Steyer (among others) from the race, assuring the investiture of Joe Biden, who had been left for dead after the primaries in Iowa and New Hampshire.

In a national primary of Democrats, using ranked choice voting (which assures a majority to the winning candidate), I suspect Biden would have finished fourth or fifth, but he was saved by divine intervention (Obama’s). He clearly said to some of the remaining candidates: “We know where you live…”

Library Joe

After the presidential nomination was confirmed, the cameras cut to an obviously happy Biden, who, in the presence of a few balloons (think of a kid’s birthday party), was killing time in the library of Brandywine High School while his wife was taping a speech in her old classroom.

Maybe Biden used the down time to check out a book, along the lines of The Internet Made Easy?

I suspect Biden is someone who has published (I didn’t say written) more books than he has read in the last fifty years. He just doesn’t look like a reader to me, although I could well imagine him dipping into a Tom Clancy thriller on a campaign plane.

On reading, I tend to agree with Lemony Snicket who said: “Never trust anyone who has not brought a book with them.”

Here’s the irony of Biden’s candidacy. There are only two jobs open to him in America: he can be president or he can be a greeter at The Home Depot.

Not many companies are hiring 77-year-old CEOs, and Little League teams and Uber tend to shy away from those publicly accused of sexual impropriety, whatever the merits of the case.

Jill Biden Goes Back to School

I have no doubt that Jill Biden loves her classes, students, and classrooms, and that she is a good teacher, but the media reviews of her Joe Biden lesson plan (“heartfelt…moving….compassionate….stirring…”) strike me as grade inflation.

As an English teacher, Jill surely knows the difference between bathos and pathos, although in reaching for the latter (with stories of personal and national tragedies), she delivered the former.

She said: “Yes, so many classrooms are quiet right now. The playgrounds are still. But if you listen closely, you can hear the sparks of change in the air…. And with Joe as president, these classrooms will ring out with laughter and possibility once again.”

Why in a functioning democracy does anyone need the spouse of a candidate to drone on in primetime about what a wonderful man or woman he or she is?

Haven’t we by now learned the lesson that, on average, political marriages are somewhat less than the average? (See Reade, Tara, “Come on, man, I heard you liked me.”)

Edith Galt Biden

To me Jill Biden is interesting as potentially the future Edith Galt of American politics.

As you may recall, the said Mrs. Galt, a Washington jeweler, became the second Mrs. Woodrow Wilson in 1915, and when the president became ill after the U.S. rejection of the League of Nations (he collapsed after a national speaking tour undertaken to persuade the country to join the alliance), Edith Galt Wilson ran the country, as a proxy for her incapacitated husband.

There’s no way of knowing, if Joe is elected president, whether he would survive a first or second term, but the chances of some medical crisis in the White House would seem to go up if and when the country were to install a 78-year-old man (with pre-existing conditions) as president.

Judging from her class lecture, Jill Biden would be fine as a substitute, and perhaps more capable than others on the national tickets in dealing with opposition spitballs.

I also came away from her class convinced that the most complicated relationship of a Biden presidency might well be between Jill Biden and Kamala Harris, who doesn’t strike me as a teacher’s aide.

Elizabeth Warren Warms Up Day Three

Elizabeth Warren was a warm-up band on Day Three, and, as with Jill Biden, the Democratic impresarios had her talk to an empty classroom (where before shutting down in March, the pre-K kids had the good sense to leave behind blocks spelling out “B L M”).

Warren came out of the race pretty much hated by everyone, although she ran an articulate and dignified campaign, which included her Golden Retriever Bailey.

The hard Democratic Left decided Warren had sold her soul to corporate moderation while the patriarchy came the conclusion that she was coming for their BMWs.

Actually she had only two flaws in her campaign: one was that her views were identical to those of Bernie Sanders, and he was the One True Great Believer.

The second was that she spoke in a breathless staccato voice, sounding more like a pilates instructor with car problems than a Harvard law professor.

Warren’s best issues were economic equality and health care—both in short supply these days—but only a handful of Democrats bought into her fall line.

Here in Springfield, Massachusetts (better optics than some charter school in Cambridge?), Warren reprised the family role of schoolmarm and put Trump in the corner for his Covid-19 inaction (“he failed miserably”).

She also hopped on the Biden peace train and tried to convince us that Joe has “some really good plans.” I am sure news of those plans came as something of a surprise to Biden.

“Madame Speaker” Pelosi

During the infomercial binge broadcast, the most bizarre sequence was a video montage that I am sure the producers referred to as “Madame Speaker,” in which House Speaker Nancy Pelosi morphs into an action power ranger.

Nancy’s MTV moment came before her formal, here-I-am-in-a-white-dress speech.

The sequence starts slowly, with Nancy as the mother of five transitioning from housewife to backroom pol. All of a sudden Nancy is striding into the camera, at the head of a rock phalanx, as if one of the Spice Girls—although in the highlight reel of “Madame Speaker” there are also touches of the Devil Wearing Prada.

Under a thumping soundtrack we are treated to a quick-cutting montage of magazine covers featuring Pelosi and reminded how the “power of the Speaker is awesome.” (So awesome, in fact, that if you were menaced by someone wielding a still-legal assault rifle and asked to name one Pelosi achievement in her last six years of running the House, you would come up empty.)

But wait, there is more: after film clips of Nancy finger-wagging Trump in the White House and storming out of it with Chuck Schumer (maybe they were taking his marbles and going home?), we are shown Nancy in a combat zone, wearing shades and getting off an attack helicopter surrounded by paratroops.

This time Madame Speaker is off to war, perhaps after mumbling (her voice is pretty tremulous) the words of John Rambo: “Sir, do we get to win this time?”

Hillary Clinton is Served Up Some Crow

I felt a little sorry (not an easy emotion when contemplating the Clintons) for Hillary being asked to go before the camera and recite lines scripted by others about having lost in 2016 to Donald Trump. (“Remember: Joe and Kamala can win 3 million more votes and still lose. Take. It. From. Me.”)

Hillary was decked out in the obligatory white suffragette dress and seated on Bill’s Chappaqua (Live!) sofa, and she was asked to speak in calm, modulated tones about the greatness of Joe Biden when I am sure what she wanted to say was, “Hey, America, I gave you a blanket of virgin snow, and you pissed on it.”

The signature line in Hillary’s speech was: “I wish Donald Trump knew how to be a president,” which suggests that he never bothered to read the instruction manual that the Clintons and Obamas worked on together and left behind in some drawer in the Oval Office.

In the draft of the speech released to the press, that line was written as: “I wish Donald Trump had been a better president.” Is it possible that Hillary is nervous speaking about Trump in the past tense? Or do the Clintons still feel proprietary about the Oval Office, having departed with so much of its loot?

Gabby Giffords Finds Her (Scripted) Words

It would be almost impossible for anyone not to admire the courage and fortitude of former member of Congress, and the victim of a mall shooting attack, Gabrielle Giffords in addressing the convention in her surgically reconstructed voice.

Giffords is a brave woman. I found her message compelling, especially when she said: “Words once came easily, today I struggle to speak. But I have not lost my voice. America needs all of us to speak out, even when you have to fight to find the words.”

Unfortunately, she was delivered up to the cameras not just as a victim of America’s gun fetish, but as a party prop. She wasn’t on stage to express her views about suffering or gun legislation but to recite the litany that the answer to all of the country’s problems is to elect Joe Biden as president.  (“We must elect Joe Biden. He was there for me, he’ll be there for you too.”)

Be great if it were true, Gabby, but Biden will duck and weave on guns (as with so many other issues) so that, depending on his audience, he will sound either like Inspector Harry Callahan (“You’ve got to ask yourself one question: ‘Do I feel lucky?’…”) or filmmaker Michael Moore (“We should be licensing everybody with a gun…”).

A truism of the Democratic party (unchanged in thirty years, as this convention makes clear with its time-warp parade of Clintons, Bidens, and Obamas) is that it lost the Congress in 1994 after Bill Clinton pushed through the ban on assault rifles, which explains why Obama ran in 2008 by genuflecting to the Second Amendment and why, after the 2012 Sandy Hook shooting, we only got crocodile tears from Obama and Biden. I’m not surprised that Gabby could not find those words.

Obama World

The reviews of the Obama speech to the Zoom DNC convention made it sound like Lincoln at Gettysburg, or maybe Churchill on the beaches during the Battle of Britain, so when I finally roused myself to watch it, I was surprised to tune into something as banal as the soundtrack of Disney’s Hall of the Presidents.

The speech was delivered in front of a display cabinet in Philadelphia’s Museum of the American Revolution. Obama stood in front of the museum words, “Writing the Constitution,” with a portrait of James Madison looking over his shoulder. From there Obama addressed the nation as if it were a third grade class on a field trip to colonial Philadelphia.

Before screening his homily on democracy and the need to vote (“You can give our democracy new meaning…”), DNC videographers aired a trailer that showed Obama in the White House awarding Joe Biden the Presidential Medal of Freedom, a merit badge for the smart set.

Obama made a big deal of the fact that Biden’s medal came “with distinction,” an honor of late only reserved for the likes of Colin Powell, Ronald Reagan, and the Pope, although earlier secretaries of state and defense, Dean Rusk and Donald Rumsfeld, both got their medals “with distinction.” (The medal Obama gave to Ellen DeGeneres was without.)

What is it about people in government that they feel such a need to hand each other so many awards? Aren’t the helicopters, private planes, free lunches, lifetime pensions, subsequent board memberships and speaking fees, golfing vacations, ceremonial palace guards, saluting Marines, presidential libraries, and million dollar book advances enough of an ego stroke?

James Madison, for one, would despair at this transformation of ordinary government officials into an aristocratic class, with ribbons around their necks and bended knees in their politics.

The Barack Obama Show

Obama’s twenty-minute address to the convention was largely given over to platitudes (“Our worst impulses unleashed, our proud reputation around the world badly diminished, and our democratic institutions threatened like never before…”), and the hero of the tale was Obama himself, who, by inference, did everything in office that Trump has not.

Hence the reason we need to install the soon-to-be octogenarian Joe Biden in office—so that we can be reminded of Obama’s transcendence.

Obama also spoke in the tones of a petulant academic, as if arguing against tenure for some voluble colleague. He said of Trump: “For close to four years now, he’s shown no interest in putting in the work; no interest in finding common ground; no interest in using the awesome power of his office to help anyone but himself and his friends; no interest in treating the presidency as anything but one more reality show that he can use to get the attention he craves.”

Trump may be a sociopathic liar who abuses women and his oath of office, but he’s free to govern in any style that he pleases (even in bed with cheeseburger wrappers on the floor) and he’s not the first president who turned the presidency into a sit-com, something that goes back at least to Ronald Reagan (a genial front man for a variety show owned by the Fortune 500 and a few Vegas casinos).

If Clinton’s presidency was a prequel for Desperate Housewives, W’s was a remake of Gunsmoke, Even Obama himself conceived of the office as something between The Cosby Show (less all the necrophilia) and some daytime talk show.

Why do we keep calling Obama “a brilliant politician” if his succession plan for the country consisted of Hillary Clinton and Joe Biden?

Kamala Harris Accepts with a Selfie

Before Senator Kamala Harris gave her acceptance speech, in a weirdly empty hotel ballroom (it looked like an odd cross between the starship Enterprise and a roller rink done over with velvet), she gave a little pep talk from a production supply room, as if she were about ready to guest-host Saturday Night Live (“Hey, everybody, it’s me, Kamala…).

Whatever Harris said in her acceptance speech was instantly forgettable. (It’s a good thing that in Trump’s recent mental acuity test they didn’t ask him, five minutes after it was done, what Kamala had said.)

The gist of her address was this: “Because I am a success, the country will be a success.” She didn’t waste anyone’s time talking about the Israeli annexations in the West Bank, fracking, Flint’s water supply, bankrupt state budgets, virus vaccines, or soil erosion. The speech was about the immaculate conception of self.

Day Four Dawns on Cory Booker, Mayor Pete, Tammy Duckworth, and Gavin Newsome

Senator Cory Booker from New Jersey led off the hit parade. I am sure he spoke eloquently and in a heartfelt manner about “his friend Joe,” but I remembered nothing of Cory’s tribute and when I went back to my notes, all I had written down were the words “Cory Booker.” The rest of the page was blank. Nor could I quite muster the enthusiasm to watch a replay of what he had said.

A grinning California Governor Gavin Newsome was patched in from a trench near a California forest fire, which I guess, from the headlines, could be almost anywhere in the state, even downtown LA.

At least he made the connection between the wildfires and climate change, and Trump’s climate denials, but instead of dwelling on the details of the crisis the oddly giddy Newsome switched gears to gush some over Biden. He said, breathlessly:

I couldn’t help myself on my way to one of our relief centers, one of our evacuation centers, just to jump out of the car and just express my deep reverence, my admiration to Joe Biden, to Kamala Harris, California’s own. To their faith, their devotion, their constancy to their commitment, not just to the environment, but to the Commonwealth. To our kids, our kids’ kids, our grandkids to our legacy…

Other senators, mayors, and representatives followed Newsome’s Tinder ad. I liked Illinois Senator Tammy Duckworth, for her direct manner of speaking, although her words seemed to accept America having to fight permanent wars.

As always, Mayor Pete Buttigieg sang a song of himself, while the upbeat Andrew Yang tried to convince himself that Biden (and his flip phone—it’s in all the videos) was best placed to lead the United States into the technological brave new world.

Jon Meacham’s Televangelism

Somehow the historian Jon Meacham bought himself about five minutes of air time during the Zoom convention. Last time we heard from Jon, he was serving as George Herbert Walker Bush’s court historian.

For a moment I thought maybe Meacham’s mission was to persuade the conventioneers that Martin Luther King Jr. was a great Democrat (actually, King had little time for either major party).

Meacham’s role turned out to be that of a hands-on-the-radio faith healer—“If we live in hope, we open our souls to the power of love…”—who was preaching a gospel that Biden is the spiritual heir to the likes of FDR and JFK (for the moment Jefferson and Wilson are banished from the Democratic temple for their racial indiscretions).

A little weepy, Meacham said: “That’s the issue of this election, the choice that goes straight to the nature of the soul of America…. It requires we, the people, and it requires a president of the United States with empathy, grace, a big heart and an open mind. Joe Biden will be such a president.” I thought historians only came out for the truth? Since when have they been shills?

You can be sure that this endorsement was the price that Meacham had to pay for consideration as the forthcoming Biden administration’s in-house historian, the over-the-shoulder (and sycophantic) role that Arthur M. Schlesinger Jr. played for John F. Kennedy.

Failed Candidate Hollywood Squares

About the only unscripted moment of the four days was when Cory Booker convened a little primetime game show made of up of also-ran Democratic candidates in 2020.

With each candidate shown in a Zoom box, it had the feel of Hollywood Squares, although in place of Paul Lynde we got the equally goofy Beto O’Rourke.

Bernie emphasized Biden’s only competitive advantage: he’s not Trump. And for a brief moment I thought maybe the candidates might speak from the heart about running for president in 2020.

Perhaps, as Seinfeld’s Julia Louis-Dreyfus was the evening’s moderator, there might even be what during Festivus is called an airing of grievances?

Order was restored when several of the losing candidates recalled divine interventions that Saint Joe had visited upon their sinful lives.

(If you have had a sadness or tragedy in your life, and Joe hasn’t given you his cellphone number or called yours, you’re not really trying.)

Mike Bloomberg Forecloses on Trump

Perhaps having been released from a #MeToo re-education camp, Mayor Michael Bloomberg (D-Billions) was the last speaker before Biden’s (nearly endless) acceptance speech.

As he should, Mike belittled Trump as a failed businessman:

Trump says we should vote for him because he’s a great businessman. Really? He drove his companies into bankruptcy, six times, always leaving behind customers and contractors who were cheated and swindled and stopped doing business with him. Well, this time, all of us are paying the price and we can’t let him get away with it again.

During his brief campaign, Bloomberg came across an undertaker’s assistant, and here he was a warm-up act on a slow convention night.

At least he made the point that Trump has reduced the country to yet another failed Atlantic City casino.

Beau Biden Ascends on the Fourth Day

Before Biden’s acceptance speech (“a path of hope and light…”), there was a newsreel of the candidate’s formative years, the video equivalent of the Lives of the Saints: Joe overcoming his stutter, Joe lifeguarding at a Black public pool, Joe as a public defender, Joe surviving his father’s unemployment, Joe losing his wife and daughter to tragedy, Joe honoring his sister and family, Joe finding salvation in public service, Joe as the senator from Amtrak, and Joe in Obama’s Nirvana.

Biden’s greatest video hits, plus an earlier tribute to his son Beau, who died in 2015, at least shows how the campaign plans to deal with the potential embarrassment that is his other son, Hunter.

In case you’ve forgotten, in 2019 Donald Trump was impeached for digging up dirt in Ukraine over Hunter Biden’s million-dollar directorship for Burisma, a dodgy Ukrainian oil and gas company, then under a corruption investigation.

Burisma paid Hunter about a million dollars in exchange for doing almost nothing, as at the same time Joe was Obama’s vice-president and co-ordinating American policy in Ukraine, which included pushing to sack the prosecutor who was looking into Burisma.

Trump shook down Ukraine so that it would investigate Hunter’s no-show directorship to reveal, he hoped, Joe Biden’s influence-peddling on behalf of his son’s client.

In Ukraine, both Trump and the Bidens committed major improprieties, and in non-virus times they could well become election issues.

The Democrats’ way out of this morass, should it come back to haunt the candidate during the campaign, is to beatify Beau and merge his identity with that of his surviving brother, Hunter. And then, on top of all this confusion, to play up how the grieving Joe Biden dealt with the tragedy of losing his wife (and the boys’ mother) in a 1972 car accident.

Not even the shit-stirring Trump will want to untangle Hunter from Beau and the halo of compassion that surrounds how the story how Joe Biden coping with his earlier family tragedy, which is at the core of his campaign identity.

Biden is now the candidate of empathy and understanding, someone capable of nurturing the grieving Covid nation much as he helped his struggling young sons, including Hunter.

Even more convenient is that the Democratic vice-presidential nominee Kamala Harris was a close friend to Beau Biden (both were their state’s attorney general during the 2008 financial crisis). I am sure she can be counted on, in a prosecutorial style, to keep Trump and the Republicans away from Comrade Hunter and the taints of scandal.

Joe Biden Accepts Deification

On Day Four it took almost two hours of filler and pre-recorded homilies about Father Joe before he was beamed up to the virtual Democratic cathedral and, in accepting the nomination, delivered his benediction and blessings for the lives and soul of the nation.

I know you have heard that Biden made “the speech of his life,” and maybe he did, as he hit the high notes of inclusiveness (“hope over fear…. It’s about winning the heart, and, yes, the soul of America…”) in promising, during his presidency, to end the racial divide, retool the economy, eradicate climate change, lower the cost of prescription drugs, defend Social Security, create five million new manufacturing jobs, reduce student debt, provide better health care, defeat the virus, stand tall against dictators, soak the rich, equalize pay for women, end discrimination, improve education, defend our troops, and stand tall against terrorism.

In the last fifty years, I have been hearing similar speeches from the presidential candidates of both parties, but for whatever reason, after four or eight years, most presidents leave office in disgrace, as will be the case with Trump.

A large part of the problem is that to get elected, candidates have to reinvent themselves as Olympian gods, part of a race that has slipped the bonds of earthly gravity, capable of feats worthy of King Arthur or St. Francis of Assisi.

In these four days of the Democratic national convention, the videographers of the Democratic party turned Biden into yet another celluloid saint, someone who gives his cell phone number to strangers, visits emergency rooms in the dead of night to comfort the afflicted, reaches out to stuttering school boys, and spends his days and nights working to cure hunger, cancer, and injustice.

Who wouldn’t want this Biden mounted on his charger, prepared to slay the Trump dragon, or benevolently running the country from being the curtains in Oz, despite Dorothy’s exchange with the Wizard (“I think you are a very bad man,” said Dorothy. “Oh, no, my dear; I’m really a very good man, but I’m a very bad Wizard…”)

The problem is that American federalism wasn’t designed as a prime-time monarchy to be operated from the top down; it was put together as a democracy that works best, in the hands of good men and women, from the bottom up.

Perhaps Biden is a good man? I have no way of knowing. But I can tell you this: American presidents, as they are currently schemed and packaged into office, make very bad Wizards.

Posted in USA0 Comments

COVID-19 Changed Work in Germany

by THOMAS KLIKAUER – NADINE CAMPBELL

Photograph Source: Michał Beim – CC BY 2.0

Germany is generally known as a high-tech country producing machinery and cars. But a few decades ago, Germany passed the 50% mark, entering the service industry. The 50% mark indicated that more than half of Germany’s wealth now comes from the service industry and no longer from making machines like Porsches and Volkswagens. By 2020, the Coronavirus hit the workers of Germany’s service industry. While the car industry stopped production, office workers in Germany’s service industry went home. Workers moved from the corporate office into the home office.

Concerned with the health impact of this transition, Germany’s third-largest non-profit health insurer, DAK, surveyed its predominately white-collar workers. The not-for-profit insurer analysed the digitalisation of work linked to the move to working from home (WFH) under the conditions of the Coronavirus. The goal was to find out how companies reacted to the Coronavirus, what has changed, and how did the change impact workers.

The survey found that the Corona pandemic has changed work. Work will not go back to what it was before the Coronavirus, and many changes will be permanent. It also found that we might need to re-define what Occupational Health and Safety (OHS) means in a future defined by WFH. To ascertain this, DAK asked 7,054 workers between December 2019 and January 2020 and again 7,226 workers between April and May 2020. Five thousand eight hundred fifty-four workers participated in both surveys.

About 36% of all workers found that their company moved towards the use of IT [Zoom, etc.] only after seeing that other companies had done so. Only 16% of German white-collar workers thought their company was ahead of the game. A staggering 70% said, their employer moved very rapidly towards new IT systems and WFH as the Coronavirus was hitting their workplace.

One of the most significant increase, workers said, occurred in the area of phone conferencing and video conferences. Workers experienced a marked increase between Dec/Jan and Apr/May. The upsurge was a stunning 100% – from 17.4% to 34.9%. Meanwhile, the increase of smartphone use was less marked, with only a 17% uptake.

In terms of which economic sector moved towards WFH, DAK found that banks and insurance companies had been the most significant movers. Eighty per cent of them moved to WFH. It was closely followed by the IT industry, Germany’s massive chemical industry (BASF, Bayer, etc.) as well as Germany’s substantial public service (72%) and the art and media industry (68%). Somewhat surprisingly, at the lower end of moving towards per cent were commerce and trading (37%). As expected, Germany’s age care industry (29%) and public health (29%) were at the lower end.

Many workers (39%) found that the increased use of IT was useful for their work. They thought that new work methods were relief from out-dated work practices. Even more so, 64% said, IT made work easier. Most workers also thought that productivity did neither increase nor decline (57%) during the Coronavirus crisis.

Before the Coronavirus hit German companies, 95% of workers said, their immediate boss insisted that they work in the office. Only 49% of bosses considered working from home as a serious option before the crisis. Forty-four per cent of middle managers doubted WFH, usually for the perceived lack of managerial control and because of their own usefulness as managerial apparatchiks.

This sort of thinking changed most dramatically during the Coronavirus crisis. German office workers experience a staggering increase in home office work. Between Dec/Jan and Apr/May 2020, workers saw a whopping 116% increase in WFH either as a daily occurrence or at least several times per week – up from 18% before the crisis to 39% during the crisis.

Predictably, around 25% of all office workers thought that WFH increases productivity which is roughly in line with the commonly assumed 20% productivity increase. Still, only 18.1% said, they are free to arrange their own working time. 41.3% thought they are more productive at home while 41.7% said, they missed the regular engagement with co-workers. Worse, 54.2% of home office worker said, the lack of a clear separation between work and family life is a problem.

Still, 37.7% said that WFH improved their work-life balance. Men and women do not seem to differ when it comes to their ideas about work-life balance as 47% of men and 46% of women miss a clear separation between work and private life. Overall younger workers miss such a separation (52%) more than older workers (34%).

German office workers found that they saved time when there was no longer a need to travel to work. 68% appreciated the elimination of travelling. 6% appreciated an increase in flexibility. Just about half (54%) preferred WFH instead of going to the company’s office.

Improvements in work-life balances were experienced by men (68%) slightly more than women (63%). The group that gained most from new forms of work-life arrangements were those between the age of 30 to 39 (71%). The group that gained the least were aged between 60 and 65 (43%). While many valued WFH, there are also negatives. Seventy-five per cent said they missed their co-workers. Forty-eight per cent also said that WFH makes it challenging to communicate with other office workers and their managers. Forty-one per cent found that their work has become difficult because they could not access essential documents held in their company’s office. Much of this also impacts on the general health and wellbeing of German office workers.

White-collar work is often associated with increased levels of occupational stress. DAK’s survey found that the level of stress actually declined as working from home increased. Before WFH, 21% reported high levels of stress. During the Coronavirus pandemic, only 15% reported stress.

On the upswing, 57% of home office workers said they do not experience stress at all, not even only once in a while. Similarly, the percentage of workers who experiences problems with falling asleep only increased from 62% (before the Corona crisis) to 66%. Still, overall, two-thirds of German office workers experience sleep problems – a high number that only increased during the Corona crisis, which fostered anxieties over infections and illness. Perhaps one of the most important findings of the DAK survey has been the fact that 75% of German office workers favour working from home and are interested in maintaining working from home as a permanent change to work.

Overall, the survey of German home office workers found that most thought it makes them more productive. This is a fact that aligned with the commonly assumed 20% productivity increase. Their experience was that they could do their work just as well as from home as they can do it in the company’s office. Most actually thought that WFH is preferable compared to going into the office. Workers also agreed that the absence of work-related travel was positive. Additionally, most agreed that work-life balance has improved and that they can arrange the daily working time and have more flexibility than before.

Many also thought that it was positive how quickly their company reacted to the Coronavirus crisis by transitioning to working from home. Overall, this transition has not led to serious health issues, the survey found. Still, many home office workers have also experienced negatives. Most commonly, workers noted the lack of direct engagement with co-workers as one of the key disadvantages of working from home. It leads to social isolation. Between 49% and 54% of German office workers prefer to continue working from home because of the noted advantages of improved work-life balance.

In the midst of the Coronavirus crisis, working from home appears to have been an unexpected positive for many workers. This comes on top of the aforementioned decline in stress – one of the most serious OHS issues of white-collar work. Naturally, working from home reduces the infection rate of the Coronavirus. Especially, open-plan offices are almost by design set up to spread a virus. As a consequence, workers feel safer at home rather than being crammed into an open-plan office.

Finally, there are two more negatives. For some reason, younger workers experienced more problems with adjusting to the home office. Secondly, many German workers do not have a home office to go to. They do their work in the kitchen, the bedroom or in the living room. These are not set up for eight hours of computer work. This creates serious problems in terms of ergonomics. Since the survey found that about 85% of all office work can be performed at home, it is to be expected that for many German office workers, there will be no return to full-time office work.

For many German office workers this will most likely mean that they will not work five days per week at home. It also means that they will never work five days in a company. It is to be expected that many workers will work from home at least some days of the week. This will be a permanent change for most German office workers. Meanwhile, Greenpeace has calculated that if Germany’s white-collar workers just work two days per week from home, it would reduce Germany’s CO2 emissions by 5.4 million tonnes per year – a worthwhile enterprise.

Posted in Germany, Health0 Comments

How to Remember a Feminist Movement That Hasn’t Ended

by ERIN L. THOMPSON

On August 26, 2020, Alice in Wonderland will get some company. She will be joined in New York City’s Central Park by Susan B. Anthony, Elizabeth Cady Stanton, and Sojourner Truth, the first statues there of women who, unlike Alice, actually existed. The monument is a gift to the park from Monumental Women, a non-profit organization formed in 2014. The group has raised the $1.5 million necessary to commission, install, and maintain the new “Women’s Rights Pioneers Monument” and so achieve its goal of “breaking the bronze ceiling” in Central Park.

Preparations for its unveiling on the centennial anniversary of the ratification of the 19th Amendment, which granted suffrage (that is, the right to vote) to women, are in full swing. Celebratory articles have been written. The ceremony will be live-streamed. Viola Davis, Meryl Streep, Zoe Saldana, Rita Moreno, and America Ferrera have recorded monologues in English and Spanish as Stanton, Anthony, and Truth. The Pioneers Monument, breaking what had been a moratorium, is the first new statue placed in Central Park in decades.

As statues topple across the country, the Pioneers Monument is a test case for the future of public art in America. On the surface, it’s exactly what protesters have been demanding: a more diverse set of honorees who better reflect our country’s history and experience. But critics fear that the monument actually reinforces the dominant narrative of white feminism and, in the process, obscures both historical pain and continuing injustice.

Ain’t I a Woman?

In 2017, Monumental Women asked artists to propose a monument with statues of white suffragists Anthony and Stanton while “honoring the memory” of other voting-rights activists. In 2018, they announced their selection of Meredith Bergmann’s design in which Anthony stood beside Stanton who was seated at a writing desk from which unfurled a scroll listing the names of other voting rights activists.

Famed feminist Gloria Steinem soon suggested that the design made it look as if Anthony and Stanton were actually “standing on the names of these other women.” Similar critical responses followed and, in early 2019, the group reacted by redesigning the monument. The scroll was gone, but Anthony and Stanton remained.

The response: increasing outrage from critics over what the New York Times’ Brent Staples called the monument’s “lily-white version of history.” The proposed monument, wrote another critic in a similar vein, “manages to recapitulate the marginalization Black women experienced during the suffrage movement,” as when white organizers forced Black activists to walk at the back of a 1913 women’s march on Washington. Historian Martha Jonesin an op-ed in the Washington Post criticized the way the planned monument promoted the “myth” that the fight for women’s rights was led by Anthony’s and Stanton’s “narrow, often racist vision,” and called for adding escaped slave, abolitionist, and women’s rights promoter Sojourner Truth.

Although the New York City Public Design Commission had approved the design with just Anthony and Stanton, Monumental Women did indeed rework the monument, adding a portrait of Truth in June 2019. The sculptor would later make additional smaller changes in response to further criticism about her depiction of Truth, including changing the positioning of her hands and body to make her a more active participant in the scene. (In an earlier version, she was seated farther from Stanton’s table, her hands resting quietly as if she were merely listening to the white suffragists.)

Their changes didn’t satisfy everyone. More than 20 leading scholars of race and women’s suffrage, for instance, sent a letter to Monumental Women, asking it to do a better job showing the racial tensions between the activists. Their letter acknowledged that Truth had indeed been a guest in Stanton’s home during a May 1867 Equal Rights Association meeting. They noted, however, that this was before white suffragists fully grasped the conflict between the fight for the right of women to vote and the one for the political participation of African Americans, newly freed by the Civil War, in the American democratic system. Stanton and Anthony came to believe that, of the two struggles, (white) women’s votes should take precedence, though they ultimately lost when Congress passed the 15th Amendment in 1870, extending the vote to Black men.

The tensions between race and women’s rights arose again when, in 1919, Congress finally passed the 19th Amendment, intending to give women the right to vote. Its ratification, however, was delayed largely because Southern states feared the very idea of granting the vote to Black women. During the summer of 1920, realizing that they still needed to convince one more Southern state to ratify the amendment, white suffragists began a campaign to remind white southerners that the Jim Crow laws already on their books to keep Black men from voting would do the same for Black women. Tennessee then voted to ratify.

The white suffragists would prove all too accurate. When southern Black women tried to exercise their new right to vote, they would be foiled by discriminatory literacy tests, poll taxes, or just plain violence. In 1926, for instance, Indiana Little, a teacher in Birmingham, Alabama, led a march of hundreds of African Americans on the city’s voter registration office. They were not, however, permitted to register and Little was both beaten and sexually assaulted by a police officer. (Meanwhile, Native American women remained without American citizenship, much less the right to vote, until 1924.)

For Black women, according to Martha Jones, author of the forthcoming book Vanguard: How Black Women Broke Barriers, Won the Vote, and Insisted on Equality for All, the 1965 Voting Rights Act would prove to be the “15th and 19th Amendments rolled into one.” It would give teeth to what had been merely a promise when it came to granting them the vote. And they would prove a crucial part of the fight to make it a reality. Amelia Boynton Robinson, the first Black woman in Alabama to run for Congress (her campaign motto: “A voteless people is a hopeless people”), even turned her husband’s memorial service into Selma’s first mass meeting for voting rights. She then became a key organizer of the 1965 march from Selma to the state capital, Montgomery, during which an Alabama state trooper beat her brutally as she tried to cross the Edmund Pettus Bridge. A widely published photograph of her lying on the ground, bloody and unconscious, would form part of the campaign that led to the passage of the Voting Rights Act a few months later.

Glamour Shots in Bronze

With its gentle portraits of Stanton, Anthony, and Truth, the Women’s Rights Pioneers Monument is far from that image of a bloodied protester. In following the model of the very kind of traditional monument it means to replace, it leaves out the pain and the struggle of the women’s movement.

It didn’t have to be that way. In 2015, one of Monumental Women’s leaders told the New York Times that they wanted a memorial that wouldn’t be “old-fashioned.” Nonetheless, the design they ultimately selected, with its realistic, larger-than-life portrait statues on a pedestal, would prove to be in precisely that traditional style.

The group has claimed that just such a stylistic compromise was necessary because the New York Parks Department refused to allow an “overtly modern” monument in Central Park. (That department disagrees that it should be blamed for the monument’s style. Its press officer told me that they “encourage innovative contemporary art” and pointed to a number of examples of modern, abstract monuments that “grace our parks” in QueensManhattanStaten Island, and Brooklyn.) The Pioneers Monument sits on a leafy promenade nicknamed “Literary Walk” because of its statues of authors like William Shakespeare and Robert Burns. It fits in perfectly there, and would go hardly less well with the future “National Garden of American Heroes” President Trump demanded in response to Black Lives Matter protests. In his executive order to make it so, he specified that the statues in his garden must be realistic, “not abstract or modernist.”

Monumental Women’s style choice conveys important messages. For one, monuments traditionally show the people they honor in the most flattering form imaginable and this one is no exception. Bergmann has sculpted the women as attractively as possible (while being more or less faithful to the historical record). If the monument represents the moment in 1857 when the three women were together, Truth would have been 70 years old and Anthony, the youngest, in her late 40s. Yet all three are shown with unwrinkled faces, smooth hands, and firm necks. Stanton’s hair falls in perfect curls. While they may not look exactly young, neither are they aging. Think of the monument as the equivalent of Glamour Shots in bronze.

As historian Lyra Monteiro, known for her critique of the way playwright Lin-Manuel Miranda erased the slave past in his Broadway hit “Hamilton” — even as he filled the roles of the founding fathers with actors of color — pointed out to me, the monument makes the three women into feminists of a type acceptable even to conservative viewers. Besides portraying them as conventionally attractive, the sculpture uses symbols that emphasize the more traditional feminine aspects of their lives: Truth’s lap full of knitting; Stanton’s delicate, spindly furniture; and Anthony’s handbag. Who could doubt that their armpit hair is also under control?

The women’s faces are, by the way, remarkably emotionless, which is unsurprising for a monument in the traditional style. Since Greco-Roman antiquity, heroic statuary has famously sported faces of almost preternatural calm. Such expressions, however, only contribute to what Monteiro called the concealment of “the struggle” that marked feminism from its first moments.

Sojourner Truth, for instance, was known for speeches like “Ain’t I a Woman?” in which she drew deep and emotional reactions from listeners by describing the sufferings she experienced before escaping from slavery. The triumphalist calm of the Pioneers Monument avoids those emotions and so belongs to a long tradition in American statuary that celebrates revolutionary deeds as, in Monteiro’s words, “very old and very, very done.” Such monuments ask viewers to offer thanks for victory instead of spurring them on to continue the fight.

Monteiro also points out that the choice of commemorating universal suffrage is telling in itself. No matter how many fierce debates it once inspired, the idea that women should have the right to vote is today uncontroversial. But other women’s rights issues remain hotly debated. Imagine statuary celebrating the fight for the right to abortion or to use the bathroom of your choice.

As an example of monuments that energize viewers in an ongoing fight instead of tranquilizing them into thinking victory has been won, Monteiro pointed to Mexico City’s antimonumentos (anti-monuments), large if unofficial displays aimed at calling out government negligence. A typical one, made of metal and portraying the international symbol for women with a raised fist at its center, installed during a 2019 protest march in one of that city’s main squares, bears an inscription indicating that protestors were not going to shut up when it came to the gender-based violence that then continues unchecked in their country. City officials have let such antimonumentos remain in place, undoubtedly fearing negative publicity from their removal. So they continue to act as reminders that the government’s actions are both questionable and being scrutinized.

The triumphalism of the Pioneers Monument suggests that the problem of women’s rights is oh-so-settled. But of course, in the age of Donald Trump in particular, the kinds of oppressions that Truth, Stanton, and Anthony fought couldn’t be more current. Many feminists of color feel that white feminists still tend to ignore racial issues and seldom have the urge to share leadership in activism.

And today, despite Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden’s recent choice of Kamala Harris as his running mate, the voting rights of women of color remain imperiled. Since a 2013 Supreme Court decision struck downone of the Voting Rights Act’s key protections, minority voters have found it ever more difficult to exercise their theoretical right to vote amid growing efforts by Republican officials to suppress minority (and so Democratic) votes more generally. The fight for women’s votes is hardly over, no matter what the Pioneers Monument might have to say about it.

Todd Fine, a preservation activist, told me that he wishes Monumental Women had focused their discussions on what a truly diverse community might have wanted for such a commemoration rather than responding to bursts of criticism with modest tweaks of their proposed statue.

One explanation for the group’s resistance to change is that it is led by exactly the type of well-off, educated, white women whose right to vote hasn’t been in question since 1920. In the same period that they were reacting to criticism of their proposed monument’s exclusion of women of color, I found that Monumental Women’s tax filings reveal that they added three women of color to their board of directors. Diversification of leadership is certainly a positive step, but the organization’s president and other officers remain the same. And at least two of the new directors had already raised funds for the planned Stanton and Anthony monument, writing and speaking positively about the organization and its goals, and so could be expected to be at best modest critics of its path.

Historic Lies and Scented Candles

One reaction to the debate around the Pioneers Monument is to think that Monumental Women simply didn’t make the best decision about whom to honor or how to do it. But historian Sally Roesch Wagner has no doubt that searching for the right honoree is itself not the right way to go. She told me that, when it comes to the feminist movement, monuments to individuals are “a standing historic lie” because women’s rights have been won “by a steady history of millions of women and men… working together at the best of times, separately at the worst.” Wagner believes that to honor individuals for such achievements today is to disempower the movement itself.

Early feminists horrified the public. The Pioneers Monument is designed to soothe. It invites you to light a scented candle rather than to burn your bra. Bronze is long-lasting, but perhaps it’s no longer the best material for monuments. In a moment when a previously almost unimaginable American president is defending traditional Confederate monuments in a big way, perhaps something else is needed.

The playwright Ming Peiffer will premier “Finish the Fight,” an online theatrical work, as August ends. She aims to let us listen to some of the Black, Asian, Latinx, and Native American activists whose roles in the fight for the vote have been forgotten. Perhaps in 2020, the best monuments to the fight for women’s rights — for all our rights — may look nothing like what most of us would imagine.

Posted in USA, Politics0 Comments

Thanks, Obama: You Lie

by PAUL STREET

Photograph Source: Barack Obama’s speech at the 2020 Democratic National Convention – Fair Use

Record-Setting Absurdity and Mendacity

The malignant fascist sociopath Donald Trump lies so voluminously and absurdly that many Americans will believe he said or Tweeted almost anything, no matter how offensive and ridiculous. Every few months for the last three years I’ve been making up off-the-wall Trump statements and sending them out on so-called social media to see if people will take them as genuine. Many readers do indeed see them as bona fide Trump comments. Here’ a recent example, a spoof I put up on Mindfuck three days ago:

“Trump is tweeting that Joe Biden ‘faked the death of Beau Biden for sympathy’ and that Beau is ‘alive and working with the Chinese to spread a new coronavirus through the radical Left Marxist organization Black Lives Antifa.’ Trump says ‘the Bull Durham Report will show the not-dead Chinese agent Beau Obiden to have been behind the Beirut explosion and the anarchist craziness in the Russian state of Belarus.’ Trump suggested also that Jill Biden was involved in 9/11, ‘had an affair with John Lewis,’ and has been ‘paying bounties to Mexican murderers for every border agent they kill.’”

Numerous folks believed that Trump wrote what I made up. Who can blame them? Trump says and Tweets stuff nearly as ridiculous as this on a regular basis. He misstates reality 16 times a day. He says and Tweets that COVID-19 will magically disappear, that Joe Biden is a tool of “the Radical Left,” that “socialist” Kamala Harris can’t legally be Vice President, that the world looks to the United States as the leader in the struggle with the coronavirus, that a “beautiful wall” is being built on the southern border (and paid for by Mexico), that children don’t get COVID-19, and…the examples are endless.

But here’s the thing about Trump’s epic mendacity: it’s transparent to most serious adults. Almost everyone knows that Trump lies and says crazy stuff. He’s the all-time Dear Leader of two plus two equals five. If Trump ever says that two plus two equals four, people check the multiplication tables to make sure it’s true.

Trump’s serial un- and anti-reality is disturbing, of course. It is a nonstop assault, aided and abetted by the corporate media (and that includes you, Joy Reid), on the citizenry’s capacity to grasp objective truth.

But also dangerous is the more elegantly stated and expertly cloaked serial deception conducted by the Inauthentic Opposition Party of Fake Resistance – the dismal Democrats. Listen, for example, to this statement on Trump from Barack Obama in his much-ballyhooed online Democratic National Convention speech last Wednesday night:

“I’m in Philadelphia, where our Constitution was drafted and signed…The one Constitutional office elected by all of the people is the presidency. So at minimum, we should expect a president to feel a sense of responsibility for the safety and welfare of all 330 million of us — regardless of what we look like, how we worship, who we love, how much money we have — or who we voted for.

We should expect a president to be the custodian of this democracy. We should expect that regardless of ego, ambition, or political beliefs, the president will preserve, protect, and defend the freedoms and ideals that so many Americans marched for and went to jail for; fought for and died for.

I have sat in the Oval Office with both of the men who are running for president. I never expected that my successor would embrace my vision or continue my policies. I did hope, for the sake of our country, that Donald Trump might show some interest in taking the job seriously; that he might come to feel the weight of the office and discover some reverence for the democracy that had been placed in his care.

But he never did. For close to four years now, he’s shown no interest in putting in the work; no interest in finding common ground; no interest in using the awesome power of his office to help anyone but himself and his friends; no interest in treating the presidency as anything but one more reality show that he can use to get the attention he craves.

Donald Trump hasn’t grown into the job because he can’t. And the consequences of that failure are severe. 170,000 Americans dead. Millions of jobs gone while those at the top take in more than ever. Our worst impulses unleashed, our proud reputation around the world badly diminished, and our democratic institutions threatened like never before.”

What Democracy?

Okay, so that’s 319 sophisticated and stylishly delivered words containing no small measure of mendacious falsehood from the silver-tonged Harvard Law graduate and former president Barack Obama. He’s not wrong on the terribleness of the tangerine Antichrist, of course. Trump does have to go, one way or another.

Still, the former constitutional law professor Obama knows damn well that the President of the United States is NOT “elected by all the people.” Thanks to the openly undemocratic Electoral College system, the winner of the national presidential popular vote has failed to win five U.S. presidential elections so far, including the last one.

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And to what “democracy” is Obama referring? The United States is a corporate and financial oligarchy. This is an open secret understood very well (in private) by the onetime record corporate fundraiser Obama. Even some conservative elites like the veteran federal jurist and economist Richard Posner concede this basic reality.  As the distinguished liberal political scientists Benjamin Page (Northwestern) and Marin Gilens (Princeton) showed in their expertly researched book Democracy in America? (written and researched during the highly instructive years of Obama’s Citigroup presidency):

“the best evidence indicates that the wishes of ordinary Americans actually have had little or no impact on the making of federal government policy.  Wealthy individuals and organized interest groups – especially business corporations – have had much more political clout.  When they are taken into account, it becomes apparent that the general public has been virtually powerlessThe will of majorities is often thwarted by the affluent and the well-organized, who block popular policy proposals and enact special favors for themselves…Majorities of Americans favor…programs to help provide jobs, increase wages, help the unemployed, provide universal medical insurance, ensure decent retirement pensions, and pay for such programs with progressive taxes.  Most Americans also want to cut ‘corporate welfare.’ Yet the wealthy, business groups, and structural gridlock have mostly blocked such new policies [and programs] (emphasis added).”

By Gilens and Pages’ findings, based on exhaustive inquiry into hundreds of bills and policies enacted and blocked since the 1980s, the basic same rule – concentrated wealth wins, the populace loses – holds regardless of which major party or party configuration holds or distributes nominal power in in Washington.

The “hope” and “change” Obama administration, loaded with agents of high finance, was a case in point. It gave Americans a blunt object lesson on who really owns and runs the country, helping thereby to spark the Occupy Wall Street rebellion, which Obama’s Department of Homeland Security helped crush (along with hundreds of Democratic city governments from coast to coast).

Seven in the ten Americans currently support Medicare for All – a desperately needed policy that the current pretend-progressive Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden suggests he would veto if it came to his desk as president!

Obama Hoped for Decency from a “Fascist”?

Obama expected Trump to develop “reverence for the [supposed] democracy that had been placed in his care”? Really? We know from the documentary film Hillary that Obama said this about Trump to the corporate imperialist presidential candidate Hillary Clinton’s amazingly uninspiring and dismal centrist vice-presidential running Tim Kaine in October of 2016: “Tim, this is no time to be a purist. You’ve got to keep a fascist out of the White House.”

Read that again: “you’ve got to keep a fascist out of the White House.” That was an all-too accurate characterization of Donald Trump. Obama is a lot of nasty things, but stupid and ill-informed is not one of them. He had read enough history and political science, and had also personally experienced enough vicious racist, Birtherist, and nativist targeting by Trump, to know very well that the next president and most of his allies and backers had no respect for the rule of law, democracy, and the common good. Speaking to New Yorker editor David Remnick on a campaign trip to North Carolina four days before the election, Obama said “We’ve seen this coming. Donald Trump is not an outlier; he is a culmination, a logical conclusion of the [authoritarian and racist] rhetoric and tactics of the Republican Party for the past ten, fifteen, twenty years…we’ve seen it for eight years, even with reasonable people like John Boehner, who, when push came to shove, wouldn’t push back against these currents.”

But that was the private and candid Obama, someone rather different from public and dissembling Obama. The public Obama would never and can still not speak the truth that Trump is a fascist arch-authoritarian in line with far-right currents developing well before his ascendency to the world’s most powerful office. Here’s some of what Obama told the American people the day after Trump was collegiately selected:

“Now, everybody is sad when their side loses an election. But the day after, we have to remember that we’re actually all on one team. This is an intramural scrimmage. We’re not Democrats first. We’re not Republicans first. We are Americans first. We’re patriots first. We all want what’s best for this country. That’s what I heard in Mr. Trump’s remarks last night. That’s what I heard when I spoke to him directly. And I was heartened by that. That’s what the country needs—a sense of unity; a sense of inclusion; a respect for our institutions, our way of life, rule of law; and a respect for each other. I hope that he maintains that spirit throughout this transition, and I certainly hope that’s how his presidency has a chance to begin.…A lot of our fellow Americans are exultant today. A lot of Americans are less so. But that’s the nature of campaigns. That’s the nature of democracy.”

“America[ns] First!”

Again, what democracy, Obama?

Trump Doesn’t Take the Presidency Seriously?

Is the problem with Trump really that he doesn’t take the presidency seriously? The Trump presidency, in line with Obama’s unspoken presentiment of it as “fascist,” has been as serious as a heart attack. Trump and his shift cast of henchmen., including authoritarian white supremacists like the (newly indicted) Steve Bannon, Stephen Miller, and Attorney General William Barr have waged an unrelenting top-down blitzkrieg-like assault on social justice, environmental sanity, the rule of law, civilized norms, human decency, constitutional principles, and what’s left of “democracy” in the United States.

Trump and his team have taken the “awesome power” of the imperial U.S. presidency quite seriously indeed, as one would expect arch-authoritarian white nationalists to do. Just watch how expertly these vicious bastards use the presidency to attack the normal operation of the bourgeois electoral process this late summer and fall. And Trump’s “[un]reality television show” is part of the far-right operation.

No Empathy Joe

Which brings me to, well, yes, sleepy (not everything Trump says is wrong or a lie) Joe Biden, whose worrisome presence on the center stage of history in this precarious moment is owed to Obama no less than Sarah Palin owed her Trump-anticipating moment to John McCain. Last Wednesday night in Philadelphia, Obama tried to sell the fading, cognitively challenged 77-year old man he would like to make the nation’s oldest newly elected president as a shining model of human “empathy” with “the ability to lead this country out of these dark times and build it back better.

Less than two years ago, Mr. Empathy, corporate “blue collar” Joe Biden said that he had “no empathy” for Millennials’ struggle to get by in the savagely unequal and insecure precariat economy he helped create over his many years of abject service to the Lords of Capital. “The younger generation now tells me how tough things are—give me a break,” said Biden, while speaking to Patt Morrison of theLos Angeles Times two years ago. “No, no, I have no empathy for it, give me a break.”

Read that a second time: “No, no, I have no empathy for it, give me a break.” So what if Millennials face a significant diminution of opportunity, wealth, income and security compared to the Baby Boomers with whom Biden identifies? Who cares if “lunch bucket Joe” helped shrink the American Dream for young people with the neoliberal policies and politics he advanced as a long time pro-corporate center-right imperialist U.S. Senator and Vice President?

The Man to Lead Us Out of the Darkness?

Obama is not being truthful when he says he thinks Biden is the man for the world’s most powerful job in its current moment of true crisis. A recent POLITICO report is titled “‘The President Was Not Encouraging’: What Obama Really Thought About Biden.” It shows that President Obama and his top operatives viewed his doddering vice president as a slow-witted relic who was less-than-ready for prime time when the time came to choose his successor in 2015 and 2016 (and yes, we know how the Hillary pick worked out). Biden’s long-winded, generally off-point interjections and stories were tolerated but not taken seriously by Obama and his top administration players.

“The Reason I’m Here”

Not everything Trump says is complete horseshit. “The reason I’m here,” Trump opines, “is because of President Obama.” That’s true on different levels. Obama’s technically Black identity predictably helped spark an ugly white-supremacist reaction – a racist backlash that was ironic given Obama’s nasty habit of blaming Black folks for their disproportionate poverty and incarceration and Obama’s failure to undertake any specific federal programs to tackle the nation’s stark racial disparities.

At the same time, Obama’s service to wealthy elites during his militantly neoliberal class-rule presidency helped feed mass cynicism about the effectiveness of voting and America’s supposed grand electoral “democracy.” It combined with the complimentary neoliberal awfulness of Hillary to help de-mobilize the Democratic Party’s majority progressive base so that Trump was able to squeak by with help from racist and partisan voter suppression and the ridiculous, democracy-flunking, right-leaning Electoral College. Trump didn’t win the 2016 election. The neoliberal Goldman Sachs and Pentagon Dems lost it.

Thanks Obama.

Ironically intensified by the awfulness of the Trumpenstein the Obama helped hatch, ObamaLust is a deadly and dysfunctional virus that works against popular resistance. Luckily the antidote is now available over-the-CounterPunch: Hollow Resistance: Obama, Trump, and the Politics of Appeasement.

Posted in USA0 Comments

COVID-19 and the Nakedness of the Corporate University

by DAVID SCHULTZ

Photograph by Nathaniel St. Clair

The coronavirus pandemic has both changed everything and accelerated trends that were already occurring across the world in business, politics, and how people shop and interact. The same is true with American higher education. As colleges and universities across America are restarting, Covid-19  has laid bare the nakedness of the corporate university, revealing how education and learning have long been displaced as the primary purpose of colleges and universities.

The corporate university is a product of the 1970s and 1980s.  After World War II  government funding for higher education, especially state universities, was seen as a tool of economic development, a battle line in the Cold War, and an instrument of democracy.  Science and technology were important, but arts, humanities, foreign languages, and the social sciences were part of a traditional liberal arts education that benefited society and produced, as philosopher John Dewey once said, the next generation of democratic leaders.  The benefits of college education were a public good, worthy of public investment.  But beginning with the economic retrenchments of the 1970s and the onset of neo-liberalism, higher education changed.  States cut investments to their universities, grants to students shrank, and college education increasingly came to be viewed as a private good or investment.

Higher education responded by turning corporate.  Colleges and universities sought business sponsorships and partnerships.   They restructured and assumed top-down management styles that increasingly viewed faculty as workers and less as co-participants in education.  Boards of trustees become more heavily composed of business leaders who in turn hire school presidents with corporate tendencies or experiences and less traditional education backgrounds or resumes.  Higher education, as did corporate America, restructured and replaced workers (full time tenured professors) with part time and contingent staff, and layered yet pricey middle and senior management with little knowledge or affection for traditional liberal arts education.

But colleges and universities also turned corporate in transforming education into a commodity and students into customers.  One, students were told college was an investment in their future and therefore borrowing to finance it became a cost-benefit decision in their career options.  Two,  admissions departments increasingly sold schools not on the basis of the quality of education they received but on career placement.  Then schools emphasized internships, dorm life,  on-campus activities, sports, technology, and internet connectivity for convenience. Three, at the graduate level, the expansion of face-paced but expensive professional programs (often offered without the traditional rigor of a master’s thesis or doctoral dissertation) in business and other fields  were sold as career investments for Baby Boomers anxious for credentials, with the tuition reaped by the schools helping to finance undergraduate programs.  Four, going to college was all about the amenities of learning and not learning itself.  Higher education transformed the college experience into a cash nexus–pay us a lot of money and we will provide you with a host of on-campus activities and connections that will be a worthy return on your investment.

The 2008 global recession destroyed the business plan for American higher education.  Public education budgets were slashed and student debt topped that of personal credit cards.  Students were tapped out, and the number of eligible and college ready 18-year olds was declining.  Higher education should have collapsed but it managed to limp along by intensifying its cost cutting and tuition hiking measures.

Then came Covid-19.  When schools went on-line last spring students rightly revolted.  They demanded  refunds not just for dorms but on tuition.  They argued that the college experience they were sold included all those campus-based experiences, internships, and connections that they no longer were receiving.    College administrators were in a bind.  They tried to say the tuition was justified because they were still getting an education but such a claim was shrill at best since this aspect of college experience had long since disappeared or had become merely one stick in a bundle of goods sold as the university experience.

Students and their parents are not buying this argument. Take away all these other amenities and what do you really have?  The nakedness of colleges and universities that is about anything but education.  College has become a collection of  commodified externalities surrounded by a central core of educational nothingness.  For this fall, the reality is, as recent decisions by Notre Dame and the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill already show, on-campus learning is a huge public health risk.  Yet no college wants to say it is going completely on-line for fear that students will not attend or want price reductions.   Yet what will happen is that much of higher education will do a bait and switch–begin school in-person and once the tuition dollars are in switch back on-line.  This will be the short-term fix for the crisis of corporate universities, yet it does little to address decades of damage to the disappearing educational mission of higher education.

Posted in USA, Health, Politics0 Comments

Socialist or Capitalist: What is China’s Model, Exactly?

by RICHARD D. WOLFF

Beijing skyline from northeast 4th ring road of Beijing CBD, Chaoyang Park, and east 4th ring road at dusk. Photograph Source: Picrazy2 – CC BY-SA 4.0

Near the end of his life Lenin gave a speech that referred to the USSR as a transitional society. He explained that socialists had taken state power and could thereby take the post-revolutionary economy—which he labeled “state capitalism”—further. The socialists’ state could achieve transition to a genuinely post-capitalist economy. He never spelled out exactly what that meant, but he clearly saw that transition as the revolution’s goal. In any event, conditions inside and outside the USSR effectively halted further transition. Stalin’s USSR came to define socialism as state power in socialists’ hands overseeing an economy that mixed private and state enterprises with market and state planning mechanisms of distribution. The state capitalism originally conceived as a transitional stage en route to a socialism different from and beyond state capitalism came instead to define socialism. The transition had become the end.*

The “different from and beyond” faded into a vague goal located in a distant future. It was a “communism” described by slogans such as “from each according to his ability, to each according to his need.” It named a party with communism as its goal, but socialism as its present reality.

The hallmark of capitalism, what distinguished it from feudalism (lord/serf) and slavery (master/slave), was the employer/employee relationship structuring its enterprises. In Stalin’s USSR and since, the employer/employee relationship became, instead, a necessary, unquestioned presumption common to any and all “modern” economies, capitalist and socialist alike (rather like machinery or raw materials). That Stalinist view of the universality of the employer/employee relationship was also the view of all major strains of economic thought in the capitalist world outside the USSR.

China’s Communist Party largely replicated the USSR’s history in terms of constructing a state capitalism overseen by the party and the government it controls. One key difference from the USSR has been China’s ability to engage with the world market in ways and to degrees the USSR never could. China also allowed a far larger component of private enterprises, foreign and domestic, alongside state-owned and operated enterprises than the USSR did. Yet China today, like the USSR a century ago, faces the same transition problem: transition to a post-capitalist society has been stalled.

In China since at least the 1970s, the Communist Party and the government it controls have managed state-owned and supervised private enterprises. Both kinds of enterprise exhibited the same employer/employee structure. Chinese state capitalism is a hierarchy with the party and government at the top, state and private employers below them, and the mass of employees comprising the bottom. Western private capitalism has a slightly different hierarchy: private employers at the top, parties and government below them, and the mass of employees comprise the bottom.

China’s economy has grown or “developed” much faster over recent decades and now rivals the United States and EU economies. China was better prepared for and better contained the damages flowing from the 2000 dot-com crisis, the 2008-09 Great Recession, and the 2020 COVID-19 crisis. The party and government in China mobilized private and public resources to focus on prioritized social problems that also included reduced dependence on exports and massive infrastructural expansion.

China’s party and government have produced a huge, well-educated labor force working for private and state enterprises, foreign and domestic. Popular support for China’s existing economic system seems widespread notwithstanding considerable criticism and some opposition. Rising labor productivity yielded rising average real wages (also rising far faster than in the West). Across these years, no Chinese troops fought in any foreign wars. Housing, education, health care, and transportation received massive investments; their supplies often grew ahead of Chinese demand for them.

A key lesson of Chinese development is that economic objectives are better met faster if a dominant social agency prioritizes achieving them and can mobilize the maximum resources, private as well as public, to that end. China’s party and government were that agency.

In Western capitalism, no comparably empowered social agency possessed that power. Private and public sectors stayed separate. Ideology and politics generally kept the public subordinate to the private. The private employers’ differing particular interests and profit-driven goals discouraged many kinds of coordinated behavior among them as did their system’s structures of competition. Party and state apparatuses depended on corporate donations and corporate media supports. Thus, in Western capitalism, no social agency played the national resource-mobilizing role that the party and government played in China.

Some Western capitalist countries embraced social democracy (as in much of western Europe). There states provided major social supports (national health insurance, subsidized schools, transport, housing, etc.) that enabled some state-mobilized national resources for social priorities. The less capitalist countries embraced social democracy—the more committed to laissez-faire ideology and private-sector dominance—the less they could mobilize national resources. The United States and UK are prime examples of such countries; hence their poor preparations for and containments of the COVID-19 pandemic and the capitalist crash of 2020.

A second lesson China offers the world concerns the relationship between the basic structure its private and public enterprises share and the nature of its socialism. Almost all enterprises in China have an employer/employee internal structure; they differ in who the employers are. In state owned and operated enterprises, state officials occupy the employer position. In private enterprises, the employers are private citizens; they occupy no position within the state apparatus.

China’s economic system differs sharply from a Western capitalist system. First, it has a larger sector of state owned and operated enterprises than what Western capitalisms display. Second, it accords a dominant political and social role to the party and government. The latter together direct the economy’s development and coordinate how economy, politics and culture interact to achieve its goals.

China’s economic system is also clearly not a communism in the sense of having overcome the employer/employee structure or mode of production. To the extent that such overcoming once occurred during the era of communes early in the history of the People’s Republic of China, it mostly vanished. Employer/employee structures of enterprises are today’s Chinese norm. China is not post-capitalist. China is, as the USSR was, socialist in the sense of a state capitalism whose further transition to post-capitalism has been blocked.

There is an alternative way of drawing a second lesson from China’s remarkable history over the last half-century. We could infer that by socialism with Chinese characteristics, China means its system of a socially dominant party and state directing a mix of private and state-owned enterprises, both organized in the typically capitalist structure of employer and employee. Western European “socialisms” (Scandinavia, Germany, Italy, etc.) would thus also, like China, fall somewhere in the blocked transition from capitalism to post-capitalism. Despite Europe’s different politics and multiple-party system, most of its parties accept and reinforce a commitment to a kind of state capitalism.

The socialisms of the USSR, China, and western Europe were and are transitional. They all embody a process that got stopped or stalled en route to a post-capitalist society barely imagined. “Actually existing socialisms” were actually state capitalisms ruled, more or less, by persons and associations who wanted to go somewhere further, beyond, to a society much more different from capitalism. Hence the gap felt deeply by so many socialists and socialist organizations (parties, etc.) between what motivates their commitment (socialist ideals) and what they can and must do in their practical lives.

The Cold War waged against the USSR added to the pressures that blocked transition from going beyond state capitalism. A cold war now against China will do the same. Even without cold wars, internal pressures in the USSR and China likely sufficed then and suffice now to stall any transition beyond state capitalism. And so it is as well with western European-type socialisms. The only way the transition can be resumed would be if some force within the private and/or state capitalisms emerged that defined its project as precisely that resumption.

Global capitalism today exhibits historic difficulties: pandemic closures, global depressions (in 2008 and worse in 2020), extreme and deepening inequalities within nations, unsustainable government, corporate and household debts, and collapsing coordination among blocs (the United States, China, the EU, Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa, etc.). Long-deferred social problems (global warming, racism, labor migration, and gender inequality) are exploding as partial effects and partial further causes of those difficulties. Everywhere social movements are emerging or struggling to emerge in response to the difficulties and problems besieging modern societies.

All those movements share the problem of defining just what they will do to solve the problems motivating them. Many will yet again see government as the solution. Their program will give the state more power to oversee, regulate, control, and spend for the solution. Those people may or may not label their views as “socialism.” Either way, their proposals advocate for or sustain another blocked transition: from a private to a state capitalism or from a lesser to a greater degree of state capitalism.

Over the last century, many attracted to socialism have come to understand that blocked transitions did not and do not suffice to solve the problems created by modern capitalism. Those people can now become the new social force to unblock the socialist transition. From below, they can demand an end to the employer/employee structure of enterprises, public as well as private.

That end would help define the new society to which an unblocked socialist transition can and must now proceed. That society would be post-capitalist: different from and beyond all actually existing socialisms. It will have displaced the employer/employee structure of enterprises in favor of the democratic, worker cooperative structure.

In the late 18th century, the French and American Revolutions marked the transition from feudalism to capitalism. Leaders of those revolutions believed that they would bring into being a new society characterized by liberty, equality, fraternity, and democracy. But that transition also stalled: it did achieve the change from lord/serf to employer/employee, but it did not achieve the further changes to that desired new society. Socialism mostly represented the continuation of the drive toward those further changes.

But the socialisms of the USSR, China and western Europe stalled too. Their advocates and leaders had believed that a transition from private to state capitalism would bring those further changes that capitalism never did. The lessons of Soviet and Chinese socialisms offer a profound critique of stalled socialism, their own and others’. The completion of the passage from capitalism and beyond socialism as a transitional stage requires a micro-level economic revolution. The dichotomous employer/employee relationship inside enterprises must give way to a democratically organized community of workers who collectively employ themselves as well as direct the enterprise. That economic foundation—what communism concretely means—offers us a better chance to realize the goals of liberty, equality, fraternity, and democracy than capitalism or socialism ever could.

*A full exposition of this argument concerning the rise and fall of the USSR is available in Stephen Resnick and Richard Wolff, Class Theory and History: Capitalism and Communism in the USSR. New York: Routledge Publishers, 2002.

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President Trump, Child-Trafficker-in-Chief

by: SONALI KOLHATKAR

President Donald Trump thinks of himself as a champion against human trafficking. He addressed a White House Summit on the issue in January claiming there was a “humanitarian crisis” at the border fomented by criminal organizations and that “traffickers victimize countless women and children.” He signed an executive order and diverted $400 million in funding to combat the issue, boasting in his usual manner that “we have signed more legislation on human trafficking than any other administration has ever even thought about.” But in recent months, the administration has been found to be flouting the United States’ own anti-trafficking laws by deporting thousands of children and families seeking asylum, practically delivering them into the hands of traffickers across the border in Mexico.

Dr. Amy Cohen, executive director of Every Last One, explained to me in an interview that under the Trump administration’s so-called “Remain in Mexico” program, “the United States has been essentially feeding vulnerable migrant children and families to cartel traffickers in Mexico continuously.” The program, officially known by the Orwellian-sounding title of “Migrant Protection Protocols” (MPP), sends immigrants seeking entry into the United States across the border to Mexico to await the adjudication of their cases. While the Department of Homeland Security claimed that MPP would “decrease the… ability of smugglers and traffickers to prey on vulnerable populations,” in fact it does the opposite.

Cohen elaborated on this horrific phenomenon, saying, “migrants are dropped off with nothing on the other side of the border, with no shelter, with no protection, with no food, with no money. And within minutes, they are picked up by cartel gangs that are waiting.” As a child and family psychiatrist who works closely with traumatized migrant children, she did not mince words, saying that families are, “kidnapped and used for extortion, which is a form of trafficking. Sometimes they are tortured. Sometimes they are raped. Children are compelled to watch. Sometimes children themselves are raped.”

The only way to view the outcome of this policy is that the United States is actively participating in a trafficking operation. The Trump administration cannot claim ignorance of the outcome of MPP. According to Cohen, “This is happening in cities literally all along the border. This is not a secret; this is widespread.” So extensive is the abuse that according to her, “The vast majority of asylum seekers who we’ve placed into the MPP program have at one time or another experienced at least one, sometimes multiple, episodes of what I would consider trafficking, of kidnapping, and some form of psychological or physical torture.”

Because of the extreme danger that the Trump administration has put families in, according to Cohen it has “forced many parents into a decision” about whether to keep their children with them or send them unaccompanied across the U.S. border.

But under cover of the coronavirus pandemic, the federal government has accelerated the expulsion of even unaccompanied children to Mexico and Central America—in violation of federal law. The Associated Pressexplained that “More than 2,000 unaccompanied children have been expelled since March under an emergency declaration enacted by the Trump administration, which has cited the coronavirus in refusing to provide them protections under federal anti-trafficking and asylum laws.”

Now reports have emerged of the government hiring a private security and transportation firm to move immigrant families and children into hotels in the United States before expelling them. According to the New York Times, which broke the story, the Trump administration has created “a largely unregulated shadow system of detention and swift expulsions without the safeguards that are intended to protect the most vulnerable migrants.” Children, some as young as one year old, are being cared for in hotels like Best Western and Hampton Inn by private security personnel who have no childcare training.

Cohen says advocates like her believe that “this has been a way for the United States to try to hide a number of these children who they are deporting.” Those children held in government facilities have to be registered as having entered the United States, which then triggers legal protections for them. But by holding children in hotels, effectively off the books and out of public view, “government attorneys are denying that they are actually in the custody” of the Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency, says Cohen. Bizarrely, they are claiming that the children are in the custody of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) over concerns of COVID-19, and thereby flouting the legal mandate known as the Flores Settlement to maintain the safety, care, and oversight of the children.

Where the children end up once they are removed from the U.S. is not known, and the Customs and Border Protection (CBP) agency will not say. According to Reuters, “Between April and June, U.S. officials arrested more than 3,300 unaccompanied children on the southwest border, but CBP has declined to say how many have been expelled under the new process or give a breakdown of arrests by nationality for that time period.” During that same time frame, out of the thousands of children apprehended, only about 160 remain in U.S. custody.

It is ironic, to say the least, that some of Trump’s most loyal followers are conspiracy theorists who label themselves QAnon claiming that the president is facing off against a “cabal of Democratic pedophiles.” So mainstream is this movement that one of its followers just won a GOP congressional primary in Georgia. QAnon is now appropriating the social media hashtag #SaveTheChildren and promoting fantastical claims of a widespread child sex trafficking ring. Its followers have even joined the anti-trafficking movement in the United States. But they have entirely ignored the very real trafficking and exploitation of children at the U.S. border that their president has unleashed.

More than two years ago, then-Attorney General Jeff Sessions claimed that the government cared about children when he officially announced Trump’s “zero tolerance” policy, saying, “If you are smuggling a child, then we will prosecute you and that child will be separated from you as required by law.” It was a thinly veiled attempt to punish those fleeing poverty and violence for a better life in America. And while mass public outrage forced Trump to back off (he signed an executive order in June 2018 to end what his own discretionary policy initiated), in truth the torture and trauma facing immigrant families did not end. It was simply moved out of our view across the border into even more dangerous conditions.

As America hurtles toward November 3 with a desperation unlike any we’ve felt for previous presidential elections, the issue of how President Trump has treated immigrant families and children has been largely off the radar. But if we care about children and about protecting them from horrific torture and abuse, Trump’s role as Child-Trafficker-in-Chief ought to be central to our election discourse.

Posted in USA, Human Rights0 Comments

The Republican Convention Opens With a Night of Fascist Fan Fiction

Kimberly Guilfoyle pre-records her address to the Republican National Convention at the Mellon Auditorium on August 24, 2020, in Washington, D.C.
Kimberly Guilfoyle delivers her address to the Republican National Convention at the Mellon Auditorium on August 24, 2020, in Washington, D.C.

BYWilliam Rivers Pitt

Truthout

The Los Angeles Times wins the prize for best description of the thing that happened on my TV last night: “Welcome to a parallel universe.”

You cannot fully wrap your mind around what took place on the first evening of the Republican National Convention unless and until you bear witness to what took place that morning. Donald Trump was re-nominated in Charlotte via a genuinely creepy delegate roll-call video that looked like a flip-card cartoon of aggrieved mostly white male faces. The production value was shabby in its speediness — a bunch of delegates were chopped off mid-word as they endorsed — and then, of course, it got worse.

None other than the nominee himself suddenly appeared before the mostly-unmasked crowd of delegates for the first of multiple appearances at the convention that day. CBS and ABC cut into their regular daily programming to carry chunks of Trump’s volcanically fact-free rant to the faithful, an eerie flashback to 2016 and the $2 billion in free air time the networks gave the Trump campaign because mayhem is good television.

“This is the greatest scam in the history of politics, I think, and I’m talking about beyond our nation. What they’re doing is using COVID to steal an election. They are using COVID to defraud the American people, all of our people, of a fair and free election, and we can’t do that,” Trump told the crowd. “We’re going to win this election. The only way they can take this election away from us is if this is a rigged election. We’re going to win this election.”

In the background, as Trump raved about Democrats using the pandemic he failed to contain as a vehicle for stolen electoral victory, shouts of “Yes!” and “Right!” could be heard. This was the appetizer, the tone-setter for the remainder of the day. GOP promises of an upbeat, optimistic convention went by the boards before lunch. From that point on, it was the Trump Show from soup to nuts.

“The absence of Republican Party heavyweights is vivid,” I wrote yesterday morning. “Instead, a great many of the week’s speakers are either family-connected to Trump, or are people who gained fame by going viral in a video that Trump likely saw in his Twitter feed. Due entirely to the influence of the man at the middle of it all, the Republican National Convention appears poised to be little more than a trolling festival designed to ‘own the libs.’”

So it was. A part of my skull is going to vibrate forever with the fear-fetishing of Kimberly Guilfoyle, campaign official and girlfriend of Donald Trump, Jr. “They want to destroy this country and everything that we have fought for and hold dear,” she warned. “They want to steal your liberty, your freedom. They want to control what you see and think and believe so that they can control how you live.”

Was she the worst of the lot? Not by many long nautical miles.It’s not real, what was portrayed last night, any more than all of the pig-eyed lies Trump has unspooled over these long years were real.

There was Don Jr., looking like a bad advertisement for Just For Men’s beard treatment, staring daggers at the camera with eyes borrowed from Keith Richards as he raved of anarchists flooding the streets. Rep. Matt Gaetz of Florida declared Democrats would “lock you in your home and invite MS-13 to live next door.” Georgia state Rep. Vernon Jones — before praising the legacy of notorious racist segregationist Strom Thurmond — claimed Trump “ended, once and for all, the policy of incarceration of Black people.” Right-wing activist Charlie Kirk somberly declared that Trump is “the bodyguard of Western civilization.”

“As an act of communication with the American public, it was a dishonest travesty,” writes Washington Post columnist Alyssa Rosenberg. “But as entertainment tailored for President Trump’s hardcore base, it was a brilliant act of fan service.”

And that, right there, is the final takeaway from a nightmare evening of far-right fantasy nonsense, fear-mongering, brazen lies and racist dog whistles that were shrill enough to crack crystal: The dystopian socialist hellscape described by Trump and his friends last night was meant to be heard by a small segment of the population, half of half of the country, the devoted Trumpian base which needs feeding lest it stop patrolling the yard like an angry hound at the end of a frayed length of rope.

It’s not real, what was portrayed last night, any more than all of the pig-eyed lies Trump has unspooled over these long years were real. The damage being suffered by the nation is not due to some left-wing revolution, but by the collapse of a right-wing revolution that began more than 50 years ago.

The first night of the GOP convention was fascist fan fiction, no more and no less. Why? Because that base is all Trump has left to reach out to, and they already believe all this shit anyway. Fish in a barrel make for more difficult targets than the folks last night’s message was meant for.

The real and ongoing damage caused by this administration went unmentioned. COVID and its 180,000 victims all but disappeared last night. The millions who are unemployed and still waiting for Republican Senators to get off their dime were elbowed aside for an ersatz rendering of a “great” economic recovery lurking just over the horizon, one that will somehow come to pass even as the Trump administration continues to stagger through its pandemic response. Fossil fuels and fracking were cheered. Basic human decency was stopped at the door, and in two separate sit-downs between Trump and supporters in the White House, nobody wore a mask.

While last night’s high-voltage hate festival will surely buttress Trump’s standing with his devotees, a vast majority of the country has been moving steadily away from that worldview for many months now. People want mask mandates and testing. People want Black lives to matter, and not to be used merely as props in Trump’s theater of the absurd.

All of Trump’s bridges to various portions of the electorate — older voters, younger voters, women voters, voters of color, COVID-concerned voters — are either burning or burnt at this juncture, so he stormed across the one bridge he had left. Where did it bring him? Right back to where he started.

“Jacob Blake, a 29-year-old Black man who Wisconsin officials say was ‘shot in the back seven times’ by law enforcement in front of his three sons, is paralyzed from the waist down, according to his father,” reports Matt Naham for Law & Crime. The whole world is watching, again.

Trump and his conventioneers can splash all the white paint in the world over the America that is. They are trying to conjure a wildly false image of a country that is simultaneously under mortal threat from the left even as it has already been perfected by the right, and they want to sell it to you at twice the staggering price. The real America is falling down around our ears, and most of us see it with clear eyes. Three more nights of this will only reinforce the yawning chasm between Trump and the nation he has so enthusiastically run into the ground.

Posted in USA, Politics0 Comments

Half of the US Population Lacks Adequate Protections Against Evictions

Renters and housing advocates attend a protest to cancel rent and avoid evictions in front of the court house amid the COVID-19 pandemic on August 21, 2020, in Los Angeles, California.
Renters and housing advocates attend a protest to cancel rent and avoid evictions in front of the court house amid the COVID-19 pandemic on August 21, 2020, in Los Angeles, California.

BYSasha Abramsky

Truthout

In the aftermath of the 2008 housing market collapse, I spent many months reporting on the “collateral damage” caused by a systemic failure. I remember going into campgrounds in California’s Central Valley, where homeless people crowded in the communal bathrooms, prepping for work. I remember huge homeless encampments alongside railway tracks and dotting the sides of freeway embankments.

I also remember going into towns like Stockton and Las Vegas and seeing entire neighborhoods suddenly vacant, the original owners and tenants foreclosed on or evicted. Empty houses had been stripped of their copper wiring by scavengers. Swimming pools, in some abandoned homes, had been taken over by wildlife. It looked post-apocalyptic.

In other neighborhoods, I saw unemployed people selling off their life possessions in yard sales — not to raise petty cash for holidays or kids’ school trips, but in a frantic effort to raise enough to cover the next month’s rent or mortgage. As the real estate market imploded, half-developed suburban tracts and malls were left as ghostly reminders of what could have been. I remember street signs poking out from overgrown grass, in one tract that had been carefully divided into streets and avenues, but in which the houses had never actually been built. When the recession hit, they became signs to nowhere, mementoes of a boom that had bellied up.

None of that damage was ever really fully dealt with: California’s freeway embankments, riverfronts, city centers and railway tracks are still home to tens of thousands of houseless people. And the phenomenon isn’t limited to the West Coast. For, while California’s homelessness crisis is particularly visible, this is a human catastrophe that affects people nationwide. Many of those who lost their savings and their assets in that last recession have never fully regained income stability or housing security.

Now, 12 years after that collapse, a second, far bigger economic implosion, triggered by the coronavirus pandemic, is layering itself upon the earlier housing crisis. The numbers are extraordinary, hinting at a ballooning homelessness crisis redolent of the Great Depression, and, at the same time, a deepening structural challenge to the economy. Combined, these crises could weaken not only the housing market but also the banking system — much as the housing crisis of 2007-08 ultimately morphed into a bank-busting fiasco that risked putting a match to the viability of the entire economy.

An analysis of U.S. Census Bureau data found that in 29 states, at least 40 percent of households that rent their homes are at risk of eviction. In Mississippi, that number rose to a stunning 58 percent. In New York, it was 45 percent; in California, 42 percent. Some of these renters are already behind on rent; others likely will be now that the increased weekly unemployment insurance payments passed by Congress in March are being whittled back down again. In smaller states, that translates to a shortfall in rent of several hundred million dollars per month; in larger states, the shortfall rises into the billions.In 29 states, at least 40 percent of households that rent their homes are at risk of eviction.

As fewer people remain able to afford rent in big cities, more leave those cities for cheaper regions, or simply fall out of the housing market and into homelessness.

The Federal Home Loan Mortgage Corporation, better known as Freddie Mac, recently released a report detailing higher-than-normal vacancy rates in multifamily units in many cities, especially throughout the Sunbelt, as the economic toll of the pandemic intensifies. Because of this, the report also detailed how fewer large housing units would be built in the coming years, thus further undermining the long-term stability of rental markets.

In San Francisco, the median rental price for a one-bedroom has dropped nearly 12 percent in the last few months. In New York, Manhattan median rents are down nearly 5 percent, and vacancy rates are at their highest level since the early 2000s.

Now, lower rental prices aren’t necessarily a bad thing — in fact, so long as those who remain can pay the lower rents, they could be a necessary corrective to a market that, in cities such as San Francisco, has been over-inflated for years. But, as the economic crisis worsens, there’s a real risk that even these lower prices won’t be affordable to San Franciscans and New Yorkers, to Chicagoans and Los Angelenos, and residents of other cities. There is a risk that, absent coherent and coordinated policy interventions, U.S. metropolises will enter a destructive downward spiral in which widespread loss of income leads to waves of evictions and empty properties, which then often lead to foreclosures as landlords can’t pay their mortgages. Foreclosures can in turn lead to collapses in urban infrastructure, triggering a broader exodus from the cities and more downward pressures on real estate and on urban tax bases.

After plummeting earlier this year due to the web of moratoriums put in place by states and by Congress, foreclosures have also begun creeping up this summer. And, absent legislation or executive actions to protect homeowners, mortgage service analysts now predict huge increases in foreclosures over the coming year, especially in high-cost-of-living states.

In some scenarios, foreclosure filings could triple throughout much of the West and double in the Northeast. At the same time, the number of home sales is also falling, affecting the high numbers of workers employed in the real estate sector in states like California.Trump’s recently issued executive memoranda on evictions merely advise federal agencies to not facilitate evictions, rather than setting in place real, ongoing, economic assistance to struggling families.

The U.S. banking system is already exposed to loans given out to “troubled” businesses and then repackaged, mixed in with other debt, and sold on the secondary market. This secondary market, as The Atlantic recently reported, looks strikingly similar to the bundled junk mortgages that were traded among banks and other investors in the early years of the century and that brought the financial system to its knees in 2008. Layer onto that a mortgage crisis, and parts of the banking system start to look awfully shaky.

Congressional Research Service report from June found that nearly 400 banks around the country had more than 50 percent of their total assets in the form of household loans. If a wave of mortgage payment defaults begins to crest over the coming year, and a significant percentage of those loans aren’t repaid, the risk of bank failures grows.

Cities and states have tried to extend eviction moratoriums on a piecemeal basis. A “moratorium,” while better than nothing, is not the same as “debt forgiveness” or a true rental subsidy; it merely delays the date at which renters have to pay back the rent that they owe, and it also leaves the owners of the properties, many of whom are reliant on monthly rental payments from their tenants, at risk of defaulting on their mortgages. Over the last few months, Congress and the Trump administration have also, in fits and starts, made efforts to federalize the response since the pandemic took root.

But, like so much else in the world of D.C. politics, the inability of the parties to come together on this, and the continual sabotage of smart public policy approaches to this crisis by the Trump administration, have rendered this response largely toothless, and thus left both the mortgage and the rental markets vulnerable to sudden shocks as the months of pandemic-related economic disruption continue.

Earlier in the crisis, all but eight states had eviction moratoriums in place. Today, only about a dozen do — and even though this list includes large states, such as California and New York, it still leaves roughly half the country’s population with no genuine protections against evictions that follow as a result of pandemic-created economic hardship.

Federally, the CARES Act, passed in March, did include an eviction and foreclosure moratorium; but, like most of the state efforts on this, it, too, has expired. The HEROES Act, passed by the House, would extend that moratorium until next March, but Mitch McConnell’s Senate has shown no interest in passing it. And Trump’s recently issued executive memoranda on evictions merely advise federal agencies to not facilitate evictions, rather than setting in place real, ongoing, economic assistance to struggling families. At most, these memoranda, little more than political stage-props, will delay the problem of mass evictions beyond the election; what they won’t do is truly rescue struggling renters from their economic insecurity.

Held hostage to political posturing, millions who have lost their wages or their businesses are now being pushed ever closer to the housing abyss. U.S. Census Bureau data show one in five renters are already behind on their rent. Over the coming months, those numbers will almost certainly soar. According to data generated by the Center for American Progress, the housing crisis is disproportionately impacting nonwhite familiesIn Florida and other states, local housing activists have already chronicled a vast increase in eviction filings against renters of color.

Around the country, think tanks and activist groups are thinking outside the box to try to tackle this growing crisis. The Urban Institute has pushed for federal properties and hotels to be opened up to house the growing number of homeless Americans. The Brookings Institute has suggested that local and federal level governments step in to directly cover rent payments for low-income families during the pandemic. Housing activists have pushed “rent cancellation” proposals. In California, state politicians are debating a multibillion-dollar measure that would give renters 10 years to pay back the rent they are behind on, with the state taking on the risk by giving landlords short-term tax breaks that equal out to the amount of outstanding rent the tenants owe.

With big and bold policies, the worst can still be avoided in housing and rental markets. Those policies, however, must be embraced not just by a few states and localities, but by every level of government in the country. Absent that, the country risks a 2008-style housing catastrophe on top of the public health and employment catastrophes that have already brought the U.S. to its knees.

Posted in USA, Human Rights0 Comments

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