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How Donald Trump Kingmaker-Billionaires Robert and Rebekah Mercer Have Poured Millions Into Climate Science Denial

By Graham Readfearn. This article was first published on Desmoblog.

Headlines about Mercer family

When it comes to climate science denial, some names come easily and deservingly to mind.

There’s oil giant ExxonMobil — a company that contributed millions of dollars to organizations that told the public there was no risk from burning fossil fuels.

There are the oil billionaire Koch brothers — Charles and David — and their ideological zeal against government regulations that drove them to pour vast amounts into groups spreading doubt on the realities of human-caused global warming.

But a name that has not yet reached those heights of climate science denial infamy — but likely should — is the Mercer family.

Who Are the Mercers?

A DeSmog analysis of Federal Electoral Commission returns shows Robert Mercer, the reclusive hedge fund manager, has donated $30.1 million to politics since January 2015 (a further $2.3 million has come from daughter Rebekah and wife Diana).

Some $15 million of Robert Mercer’s money went into the Make America Number 1 super-PAC that was headed by Rebekah Mercer and that bankrolled the final months of Donald Trump’s campaign. One source told The Hill: “The Mercers basically own this campaign.”

But DeSmog has found the Mercers have also pumped at least $22 million into organizations that push climate science denial while blocking moves to cut greenhouse gas emissions.

Trump too refuses to accept the evidence that climate change is caused by humans and has consistently called the issue a hoax.

Before diverting to Trump, the Mercers' cash was backing Senator Ted Cruz, who made climate science denial a main feature of his speeches.

Those positions on climate change, challenged by every major scientific institution in the world, are identical to those of the groups and individuals the Mercers have been handsomely funding through their own family foundation.

Climate science denial also fits well with Robert Mercer’s reported investment in Breitbart — the hyper partisan media outfit that calls climate change a hoax. Many see Breitbart as Trump’s very own propaganda vehicle — the Trump Pravda.

Steve Bannon, Breitbart’s former chief, was picked by Trump (or, more likely, by the Mercers) to lead his campaign. The controversial figure will be Trump’s chief strategist.

Climate Denial Funded

Very little is known about what the Mercers think about climate change or, for that matter, anything else.  Both father and daughter avoid media interviews.

But Rebekah has been described as the most powerful woman in GOP politics and is a pivotal member of the Trump team. Rebekah also runs her father’s charitable foundation.

So, the best way to get a handle on what the Mercers think, is to see where they spend their millions.

DeSmog has analyzed the Mercer Family Foundation’s tax returns since 2005 and finds some $22 million has gone to groups pushing climate science denial.

Across the board, the groups funded by the Mercers have misrepresented climate science, promoted fossil fuels, denigrated renewable energy, and pushed to strip powers from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).

The Chicago-based Heartland Institute has received $4,988,000 from the Mercers, cashing its first $1 million check in 2008.

The Heartland Institute holds regular “international climate change conferences” where denialists, fossil fuel-funded scientists, and politicians come together to talk tactics.

In 2012, the institute famously started a billboard campaign that used a picture of terrorist Ted “Unabomber” Kaczynski next to the phrase: “I still believe in global warming. Do you?”

Despite the generosity of the Mercers, the Heartland Institute does not publicly acknowledge the funding, perhaps indicative of the Mercers' desire to stay below the radar.

The Mercer name was even left out of internal Heartland budget documents leaked in 2012. If the Mercers had asked for anonymity, then Heartland’s coyness is not unusual.

Another organization shy about getting cash from the Mercer Family Foundation is the George W. Bush Foundation, the organization set up in 2006 to look after the official archive of the George W. Bush presidency.

The George W. Bush Foundation publishes a lengthy list of its financial supporters and the Mercers are not on it. But tax records show the Mercers have given the Bush Foundation $4.1 million since 2010.

Oregon Petition

Alongside funding for Breitbart and the Heartland Institute, Robert Mercer has also spent $1.25 million supporting an obscure group known as the Oregon Institute of Science and Medicine, led by Art Robinson.

Robinson was behind a long-debunked “survey” of university graduates, known as the Oregon petition. First published in 1998, the petition claimed that 30,000 “scientists” had declared humans were not to blame for global warming.

Robinson also thinks climate change is a hoax.  His institute sells nuclear survival manuals, is currently stockpiling human urine for testing, and sells home schooling kits for parents worried about their children being exposed to socialism.

Robert Mercer also supported Art Robinson’s failed 2010 Republican run for Congress.

As well as Robert and his family donating to Robinson’s campaign committee, Robert Mercer personally gave $643,750 to a super-PAC that ran attack ads against Robinson’s Democratic opponent (that opponent, Peter DeFazio, has noted that he had co-sponsored legislation to tax hedge fund transactions).

The biggest beneficiary of Mercer Family Foundation cash is the Media Research Center (MRC), a group which claims credit for convincing Americans that most of the media has a “liberal” bias.

The MRC’s outlets regularly give favorable coverage to climate science denialism, while ridiculing credentialed climate scientists and others who place a priority on cutting greenhouse gas emissions.

MRC alumnus Marc Morano, communications manager at the Committee for a Constructive Tomorrow, recruited his former employer to help him produce the climate science denial documentary Climate Hustle. Rebekah Mercer is an MRC director.

The Manhattan Institute for Policy Research is another group on the receiving end of the Mercers' generosity, to the tune of more than $1 million since 2011.

The institute’s researchers tend to argue against renewable energy while promoting fossil fuels and underplaying or ignoring the impacts of climate change.

Rebekah Mercer recently joined the institute’s board of trustees.

The Heritage Foundation is a relative newcomer to the Mercer family’s giving, but the think tank’s positions on energy, political ideology, and climate science fit the pattern perfectly — underplay and misrepresent the science, promote fossil fuels, and push for low government regulations.

Predictably, Rebekah Mercer is a trustee at Heritage, a think tank seen as influential in the Trump camp. The Trump team is drawing heavily from Heritage Foundation staff for its transition teams.

On the EPA “landing team” is Heritage’s David Kreutzer, who claims the recent run of record-breaking hot years globally is nothing unusual.

Rebekah Mercer is also on the board of the Moving Picture Institute (MPI), a group that helps finance and distribute movies which, according to its website, “make an impact on people's understanding of individual rights, limited government, and free markets.”

MPI even has a program to support stand-up comedians who promote this “freedom” ideology in their stand-up routines.

Climate Denial’s Most Powerful Ally?

Until now, the Mercer family’s funding of climate science denial groups has gone relatively unnoticed.

Most of the attention of investigative journalists had fallen on three overlapping groups that have either influenced or funded the climate science denial movement across the United States.

The first was the network of groups funded and orchestrated by the Koch brothers, who have invested millions into creating and sustaining conservative “think tanks” that take positions protecting the Koch brothers' fossil fuel interests.

Groups like the Cato Institute (which cashed a $300,000 Mercer check last year) and Americans for Prosperity have attacked the science of human-caused climate change while challenging the legitimacy of solutions, such as renewable energy and electric vehicles.

The second key funding stream for climate science denial organizations are two linked organizations called Donors Trust and Donors Capital Fund.

Both Donors Trust and Donors Capital Fund are “donor-advised funds” and are used by rich conservatives to funnel money to “libertarian” causes while hiding the identity of the donors.

A third major supporter of the climate science denial industry are those who stand to lose most from the public fully understanding the implications of climate change — the fossil fuel industry itself.

Companies including ExxonMobil, Peabody Energy, and Koch Industries, alongside trade groups representing the fossil fuel industry, have helped fund the machinery of doubt for decades.

Now, Robert Mercer’s fortune and the political prowess of daughter Rebekah have created another wealthy and powerful ally for the climate science denial industry.

President-elect Donald Trump is the most powerful vehicle yet for those billionaires willing to spend big to misrepresent climate science and gamble on society’s future.

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By the numbers: Barack Obama’s contribution to the decline of US democracy

By John Weeks. This article was first published on Open Democracy.

How neoliberal doctrine undermined the Obama administration and ushered in the age of Trump.

Obama meets Trump. Press Association/Pablo Martinez Monsivais. All rights reserved.

Yes, we can!

The iconic slogan “Yes, we can!” inspired the wave of enthusiasm that swept up millions of Americans during the presidential election of 2008 and carried Barack Obama to the White House. If that slogan epitomized the beginning of the Obama presidency, he had an equally iconic ending: the first African-American president shaking hands with the first president-elect in at least 100 years endorsed by the Ku Klux Klan.

In November 2008 Barack Obama won the presidency with almost 53% on a voter turnout of 58%. The winning percentage was the highest since 1988 and the turnout the largest for 50 years. The first non-white president took office on a surge of enthusiasm exceeding any since Franklin Roosevelt in 1932 (by comparison John Kennedy went to the presidency with less than half of total votes and a winning margin of 0.2 percentage points).

The enthusiasm for Obama arose from fervent hope for specific changes: 1) a universal, affordable health system; 2) the end of two disastrous wars (Afghanistan and Iraq); 3) economic recovery from the worst collapse in 80 years; and 4) action against banks and bankers to prevent a recurrence of the collapse.

To fulfil these hopes, Obama had majorities in both houses of Congress, 58 of 100 Senators (largest majority of any party in 30 years) and 257 seats in the House (most since 1992). By any measure the new president enjoyed an overwhelming majority.  Under some circumstances the Republican minority in the Senate could prevent voting, but a determined and bold president could force votes within the arcane Senate rules.

No he didn’t!

It quickly became obvious that Obama would be anything but determined and bold; on the contrary, avoiding conflict through compromise would guide his presidency. In face of a solidly right wing Republican opposition, attempting to compromise was recipe for failure, a disaster foretold and fulfilled.

Despite the large House and Senate majorities a litany of failure dogged the first two Obama years, some partial and others presented as success. Extension of the popular Medicare programme offered the obvious method of achieving a national health system (confusingly dubbed “single payer” by its adherents). Obama yielded before opposition from private “health care” corporations and drug companies.

The result was an extremely complicated, expensive and inefficient system acceptable to private interests. To make a bad outcome worse, seeking a non-existent compromise, the president delayed passage of the “The Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act” for so long that no one enjoyed the limited benefits before the mid-term election in 2010 (it became law in March 2010). The Republicans would use attacks on the president’s dubious triumph to regain control of the House of Representatives and almost seize the Senate.

The quickly enacted fiscal stimulus (February 2009), American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, brought the closest thing to success. Because the president failed to challenge the Republican hysteria over the fiscal deficit that the stimulus necessarily increased, the mildly successful recovery package would also serve Republican election propaganda.

Having lost the propaganda battle on health care and recovery, Obama scored a third own goal by declining to prosecute any financial executive for the illegal dealings that helped provoke the Great Recession of 2008-2010. This failure combined with massive capital replenishment of banks handed the right wing Republicans a slogan more natural to progressives, “bailout Main Street, not Wall Street”.

Finally, far from ending the two wars began by his predecessor, Obama continued to wage them, even expanding US military operations to other countries with extensive use of military drones as the preferred killing agent. The specific promise to close the brutal detention camp on Cuban soil is unfulfilled.

Like Bill Clinton before him, Obama remained popular despite his failures. Like Clinton his eight years as president would after the initial hope decline deeper and deeper into failure.  Perhaps the most shocking of these was the failure to mount serious opposition to the Republican gutting of the law protecting the right to vote, a savage blow to his fellow African-Americans. Weakening of the Voting Rights Act was de facto endorsement of state laws throughout the country restricting the rights of citizenship.

Had Obama ended two unpopular wars, supported an effective recovery programme, quickly forced through a Medicare-based health system for all, and aggressively reformed the US financial sector, he would be hailed as the greatest president since Franklin Roosevelt. Instead, he leaves condemned, yet another Democratic president whose neoliberal economic policies fed a rising of inequalities and shrinking of the well-being of the vast majority.

New Deal to neoliberalism

Wars, a flawed health care law and high unemployment did not give Donald Trump the key to the White House. The Chief Justice of the Supreme Court will swear in the most dangerous president in American history for a different reason. Beginning with Jimmy Carter in the 1970s the leadership of the Democratic Party enthusiastically worked to make neoliberal ideology mainstream consensus and Donald Trump is the outcome.

An equitable sharing of the benefits of economic growth is the necessary condition to sustain democracy in a capitalist society.  This condition was the basis for the so-called New Deal coalition forged by Franklin Roosevelt in the depths of the Great Depression of the 1930s. It would serve as the guiding principle of the Democratic Party through the presidency of Lyndon Johnson.

The policies to achieve this equitable sharing had a common theme, restrictions on the functioning of markets, with the purpose of preventing the anti-social consequences of capitalist competition. Concretely these restrictions were 1) trade unions to limit labour market competition, 2) anti-monopoly laws and strict regulations to prevent concentration of corporate power, and 3) severe constraints on financial capital.

Neoliberalism was and remains the antithesis of the New Deal political economy. In contrast to preventing the anti-social consequences of market competition, neoliberalism celebrates that competition, attributing its excesses to public regulation. With this inversion of logic, apologists for financial capital blamed the infamous “sub-prime crisis” on public regulation not fraud and deception by bankers.

From labour to capital

As America entered the twenty-first century, four decades of increasing inequality caused falling working class incomes and stagnation for the middle classes. Loss of hope in fulfilling “the American dream” increasingly undermined faith in US democracy. In 1932 an analogous crisis brought Franklin Roosevelt to the presidency to execute economic and social reforms that arrested the growth of inequality and, facilitated working class power through trade unions. In doing so Roosevelt “saved US capitalism”.

In 2008 a similar task fell to Barack Obama, to propose and implement the reforms that would preserve popular support for globalization capitalism. America’s first African-American president chose instead to intensify the economic forces undermining that support.

When Roosevelt became president in 1933, US income inequality as measured by the most commonly used index, the “Gini coefficient”, was over 50, and dropped to 44 by the beginning of this third term in 1941 (down to 37 by his death in 1945 and not above 40 again until 1982). The chart below shows changes in that index of inequality during the George W Bush and Barack Obama presidencies, calculated compared to 2001 when the Bush was inaugurated.

During the Bush years inequality fluctuated, slightly higher at the end of the eight years than at the beginning (up to 45.0 from 44.6). In every year of the Obama presidency through 2015 inequality was greater than in every year that George W Bush occupied the White House.

Changes in the “Gini coefficient” measure of inequality compared to 2001, 2002-2015

Note: A coefficient of 100 means one person has all income, 0 is an equal distribution across population. Source: US Bureau of the Census

A second chart shows rising inequality with more familiar numbers. By the end of the Bush years the share of income going to the richest 20% rose by a modest 0.4 percentage point compared to 2001, with the share of the bottom 60% down by less than a percentage point (-0.7). Except for 2009, the share of the richest 20% during the Obama period was higher than in any year Bush was president. The bottom 60% had a lower share in every year Obama was president.

Percentage point change in incomes compared to 2001, shares of lowest 60% (red) and richest 20% (blue), 2001-2015

Source: US Bureau of the Census

The final chart, taken directly from the Monthly Labour Review of the US Bureau of Labor Statistics, shows the inequality story for all US wage earners from 2007 to 2014. The vertical axis measures percentage changes in constant dollars, while the horizontal axis shows wage earners from the lowest paid to the highest.

Only the employees in the top 15% of the distribution gained an increase in real pay. The red line that includes all wage and non-wage benefits shows less concentrated gains, but even by that measure over sixty percent of earners suffered declining income. These statistics demonstrate not only the decline of working class incomes, but also the famous “hollowing out” of the American middle class.

Percentage change in real compensation & wages, US civilian workers, 2007-14

Compensation & wages vertical axis, position in distribution horizontal axis. Source: US Bureau of Labor Statistics. “Compensation” includes all non-wage benefits.

Ushering in Trump

Fifty years of democratic capitalism was the historic accomplishment of the New Deal. Relatively low and stable inequality provided the basis for what some call the “Golden Age” of US capitalism. In 1974 under a Republican presidency (Richard Nixon, replaced in mid-year by Gerald Ford) US income inequality dropped to its lowest as measured by the Gini coefficient.

Subsequently, under presidents both Democrat (Jimmy Carter, Bill Clinton, Barack Obama) and Republican (Ronald Reagan, George H W Bush, George W Bush) inequality rose inexorably. Rising inequality revived social divisions subsumed by prosperity during the “Golden Age.” Donald Trump encouraging and exploiting those divisions is the vehicle for a transition to authoritarian capitalism.

With Donald Trump neoliberalism fulfils its logic, destroying even the illusion of a just society.

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Earth Day Denial that War Causes Climate Change

By David William Pear, April 26, 2017

The liberal-middleclass is brain dead about the wars.  They do not want to hear about war, speak about war or see war protesters.

The liberal-middleclass has emotionally numbed out.  They have a complete lack of empathy for the millions of people that the USA has slaughtered, the nations that the USA has bombed to piles of rubble, and the suffering the USA has caused to tens of millions of people.

Out of sight and out of mind, the USA has destroyed millions of minds, bodies, homes and lives forever.  The indifference of the liberal-middleclass is mind boggling.  Some sadistically see the war images as entertainment and even beautiful displays of power.

I am still reeling from Earth Day and the March for Science.  Where was the message that war is destroying the Earth?  The Pentagon is the number one consumer of fossil fuels and the number one polluter of the Earth.  Why was the Pentagon given a pass on Earth Day?

Do scientists deny that war causes global warming?  The liberal-middleclass should not feel superior to Republicans and Donald J. Trump about climate change.  They have their heads stuck in the sand too.  At least the Republicans are honest in their stupidity of denial about climate change.

The liberal-middle-class’s dishonest stupidity is to lie by omission and not confront war as the number one polluter.  The Pentagon and militarism are the greatest danger to the Earth and every living creature on it.  The world is racing headlong towards nuclear war and the liberal-middleclass is in deep denial.

Earth Day and the March for Science were more hypocrisy and feel good faux solidarity of concern for the Earth.  Earth Day was carefully stage-managed to not offend or affect any change.

Earth Day was just a fun day.  Those that attended appeared to be mostly liberal-middleclass families, couples, singles and students.  It was a sterile showing of solidarity, with the bonus activity of hugging science.  Science is worth hugging, but scientists were mum on Earth Day that the Pentagon, militarism and war are the number one threat to the Earth.

There were very few speeches, posters or demonstration against war.  None of the “Top Ten Posters” were antiwar.  Talking about war was a conversation stopper and spoiled the fun for others who just wanted to enjoy organic snacks, browse among sustainable gadgets and grandstand.

George Orwell wrote about the mind control effect of conformist demonstrations.  They let the public blow off a little steam without any risk, and they reinforce the status quo.  It also gives the Thought Police an opportunity to take names of anybody that does not conform.

Earth Day was like Orwell’s two minutes of hate.  Climate Change is the liberal-middle-class’s hated Emmanuel Goldstein.  Big Brother and the main stream media know how to co-opt dissent and make it meaningless, while letting the people feel relevant and powerful.  Real protests and real power of the people are brutally crushed by the police state.

Any act considered unpatriotic was discouraged during Earth Day.  There was no mourning for the millions of people the USA has slaughtered in the past couple of decades.  There was no mention of the USA poisoning South Asia with uranium and burn pits billowing out a smorgasbord of carcinogenic chemical pollution.

There was no scientific discussion of the poisonous ingredients in the Mother of All Bombs and the pollution caused by war.  No discussion of nuclear winter, radiation sickness, and mass starvation from a nuclear war.  Nor were there any pledges by scientists not to work for the military industrial complex.

Like Mark Twain said about the weather:  everybody talks about climate change but nobody does anything about it.  And they won’t until there is a stop to war.  Until then there will be no budget for doing something about climate change.  Nor will there be any budget for healthcare, education, mass transportation and relieving suffering and ignorance.  Lacking is a massive anti-war movement.

I had the personal experience of being a spoiler on Earth Day.  I belong to St. Pete for Peace in Saint Petersburg, Florida.  It is an anti-war group that has been able to survive the peace drought after the USA invasion of Iraq in 2003.  We thought it would be a good idea to take an anti-war rally to Williams Park in downtown St. Petersburg where there was an Earth Day fair.  Our reception was anything but warm.  It was like a cold bucket of Agent Orange.

We were warned not to take our anti-war posters into Williams Park.  It was not the police that warned us, it was the organizers of St. Pete Earth Day.  They told us to stay on the corner across the street and out of sight or they would have us arrested.

Thinking that I had a Constitutional right to do so, I walked through the park anyway with an upside down American flag as a freedom of speech statement.  I was immediately accosted and told that no demonstrations were allowed.  I thought Earth Day was supposed to be a demonstration, and a protest against the continued destruction of the Earth and all its living creatures.

Florida is one of those “Stand Your Ground” states.  So we stood our ground with open carry of anti-war signs.  We were not going to go quietly.  As we walked through the fair with our anti-war signs we said “Happy Earth Day” to the vendors and attendees.  Their responses were a few polite “thank you’s”.  Mostly we got cold stares or avoidance of eye contact.  My upside down flag of distress got a few hoots and confrontations.  But few people wanted any dialog about war.

Normally I do not write about myself, but Earth Day has been eating away at me.  It left me angry and dumbfounded.  I keep asking myself, “is the liberal-middleclass braindead?”  Is it possible for people to want to do something about climate change and not see the connection to war, militarism and empire?  They just don’t get it:  war, climate change, war, climate change, war…

The liberal-middleclass is as stuck in the American mythology as conservative Republicans.  They still think that capitalism is the best of all possible worlds; that America is the best country in the world; that America cares about democracy and human rights; and that being anti-war is unpatriotic.

The liberal-middleclass are too comfortable in their isolated world of high rise condominiums and SUV’s.  What will it take to bring them down from their ivory tower in the mostly white Northside of St. Petersburg?  Do they ever think about the mostly black Southside of St. Petersburg and its lack of basic social services?

During the rainy season in Florida, the Southside is flooded with raw sewage because the city closed the Albert Whitted sewage treatment plant for lack of funds.  The city saved $32 million a year by letting raw sewage flood the black neighborhood and flowing into Tampa Bay where it pollutes the water.

What has happened in St. Petersburg has happened in cities all over America.  It is called austerity.  Funding that should be going to education, housing, mass transportation, healthcare, poverty programs and infrastructure are being sucked out of the economy.  The money is going for militarism, war making and war profiteering.  The money spent by the Department of Defense, Homeland Security and the Police State are making us less secure, less safe, and less free.

Empire building, imperialism and war are perverting the domestic economy, sucking out its resources and denying citizens of the socialist programs that the Bernie Revolution talked about.  Even Bernie Sanders does not take on the military industrial complex.

Either Bernie is just another politician or he suffers from cognitive dissonance.  His supporters made excuses for him that being anti-war during his 2016 presidential campaign would be “political suicide”, and that secretly Bernie was anti-war.

If being anti-war would be political suicide, then how did Bernie’s supporters think that the country could pay for popular social programs like healthcare for everyone and free college?  There is not enough money for Bernie’s boondoggle F-35 that doesn’t fly right, never ending wars that cannot be won and popular socialist domestic programs?

In a recent CNN interview Bernie said:  "Assad has got to go. ISIS has got to be defeated, but I do not want to see the United States get sucked into perpetual warfare in the Middle East.”  Bernie is part of the problem, not the solution.

“Assad has to go and ISIS has to be defeated” is magical thinking without “getting bogged down in perpetual war”.  Thinking so is unconsciously letting the warmongers continue the status quo.  It is saying more war, more destruction, more death and more climate change.  Bernie’s revolution has melted like the Arctic ice.

Nothing.  Absolutely nothing of significance is going to improve in America until the dogs of war are leashed.  Education will not improve.  There will be no single payer healthcare, no mass transportation, no free college, no antipoverty programs, no reparations for the oppressed, and no progress made against climate change until we stop the wars.  Foreign wars and empire mean more austerity at home.

We can be relevant, powerful and do something about climate change and save millions of lives.  We can hit the streets with mass protests against war.  Support whistleblowers and those that refuse to obey illegal orders.  Refuse to cooperate.  Be disruptive.  Use non-violent civil disobedience to sabotage the war machine.

Otherwise, wars have doomed us to the ravages of climate change.  Nuclear war is a real possibility that the public is in denial about.  A group of scientists just advanced the Doomsday Clock to 2 ½ minutes until midnight at which time we are doomed permanently.  Is anybody listening to these scientists?

 

 

 

 

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Why I Fear and Loathe Trump Even More Now Than On Election Day

By Andrew Levine. This article was first published on Counterpunch.

Long before Hillary Clinton was parachuted into New York State to become its Senator, I was certain that she was a disaster waiting to happen.  Nothing that has happened in the years since has disabused me of that belief.  Now that the Democratic Party has taken up her reckless anti-Russia campaign with a degree of enthusiasm that only sore losers in denial can muster, I am more convinced than ever that I was right.

For a variety of reasons that I have discussed many times on this site and elsewhere and that I will not go back over now, I opposed lesser evil voting in the 2016 presidential contest.  I am as confident now as I ever was that this was the right thing to do.  In elections for President, it almost always is.

Nevertheless, I had no doubt that of the two god-awful choices voters faced, Trump was worse.  I never gave this much thought, however, because it seemed inconceivable that any Democrat, even one with a proven record of failing at everything she does, could lose to such a buffoon.

The conventional wisdom has it that Hillary is a “pragmatist,” who has been around the block a dozen times and who knows how to get things done.  I, along with many others who had been paying attention, knew better.  I knew that as a First Lady she was no prize, that she had done a lackluster job as a Senator, and that, as Barack Obama’s first term Secretary of State, she brought chaos, destruction, misery and death to every geopolitically significant project the two of them undertook.

There was Libya, of course, but that was only the most blatantly tin-eared and wrong-headed example of Clinton’s interventions into Middle Eastern politics as the Arab Spring unfolded.   She left her mark on large swathes of Africa and Asia, creating humanitarian catastrophes in her wake and helping to bring on the refugee crisis now spilling over into Europe.  Latin America and East Asia suffered from her cluelessness and ineptitude too.  In short, she caused or exacerbated problems all over the whole world.

Still, I never thought that she would lose to Trump.   She is a certifiable world-class fuck up, but there are limits.

Obviously, I was wrong.  I was wrong about Trump too.  He has turned out to be even worse than I thought.

Hillary was only partly wrong years ago when she spoke of herself and her husband as victims of “a great rightwing conspiracy.”  There was no conspiracy, but the rightwing was certainly on their case.  Trump coopted their fervor and, insofar as they had any, their ideas; he gave the “deplorables” an outlet and a home.

Not all Trump supporters were deplorable; some were good people expressing contempt for the neoliberal political order that the Clintons had done so much to fashion.  They were, however, in the thrall of false beliefs about Trump.  They deserve blame for deceiving themselves or allowing themselves to be deceived.

Some Hillary supporters were – and still are — similarly blameworthy.  In the face of overwhelming evidence to the contrary, they too stood by unjustified false beliefs about the merits of their candidate.

However, on Trump, their instincts were sound.  They mostly still are, though now that Trump seems to be dropping his “populist” pretenses and falling into line behind the foreign policy establishment, there have been signs of defection within their ranks.

It is amazing what a willingness to inflict senseless violence on Syrians and Afghanis, and to risk an exchange of nuclear weapons with North Korea, can do.  There is actually a movement afoot in Clintonian political and media circles to depict the Donald as a man fighting his way up a steep learning curve and becoming “presidential.”

Evidently, our defenders of the status quo cannot oppose power for long, no matter how great the provocation or how preposterous the inhabitant of the Oval Office.  Servility has become a habit for them, and it is too ingrained not to prevail.

I have no idea whether the pundits pushing the line that Trump’s is becoming a normal presidency believe it themselves, but I have enough faith in the good sense of the general public to be confident that, outside the corporate media bubble, they won’t find a lot of support for that view.

I would venture that I am far from alone in thinking that Trump is a lot worse than anybody thought last November or even before his first hundred days, and that, from this point on, he will only get worse, and it will only get wore for him.

I cannot speak for others, but I can say that one reason why I underestimated Trump’s vileness was that I focused too much on what he would say while campaigning, and not enough on his character and life.

Another reason, related to the first, was that, in several respects, Hillary seemed even worse.  She seemed more wedded than he to neoliberal economic nostrums, and more eager to fuel America’s perpetual war regime.

The main reason, though, was that I did not know enough about Trump to take the full measure of the man.

I was aware, of course, that he had been, and maybe still was, a fixture in the tabloids, and could therefore surmise that there was a lot of dirt out there about him.  I also knew that he had a lot of public exposure on reality TV.   I knew next to nothing about the shows he starred in, but it was a safe bet that they were anything but thoughtful or edifying.

I had some awareness too of his shady business dealings in Manhattan, Atlantic City, and elsewhere, and I knew that the name “Trump” carried a certain cachet for people around the world who are fond of glitz and who have more money than taste.

I was also aware that shallow and unaccomplished people could be famous nowadays just for being famous.  I admit, however, that I don’t understand how this works, and that Paris Hilton and Kim Kardashian are just names to me.

Until he started trumpeting “birther” nonsense, so was Donald Trump.  The difference was that I couldn’t pick the first two out of a lineup if my life depended on it, while Trump’s look is unmistakable and unforgettable; gaze upon a picture of that face just one time and it stays imprinted forever in that part of the mind where monsters dwell.

Even after it became apparent that Trump would be more than just a sideshow in the 2016 election, I had only a vague understanding of how much his fortune depended on his father’s money and connections, and on the mentoring of such miscreants as Roy Cohn.  Over the years, I must have glanced at news reports about Trump’s connections to nefarious financiers around the world; the stories were out there, but I never paid them any mind.  Why would I?  There are too more inherently interesting things to think about.

The Donald has too little depth to be interesting in his own right, and, even as the primaries and caucuses got underway, the idea that he would be the nominee still seemed too preposterous to take seriously, notwithstanding the undeniable fact that he was trouncing each and every stooge the Republican establishment could scrape up to run against him.

I would say, though, that, as the campaign wore on, Trump did become more interesting in at least one respect: from time to time, he would say something true about how corrupt American politics is.  He broke other taboos as well, but this one actually served a useful, educational purpose.

Centuries ago, fools and Court Jesters would also say what others would never dare to utter publically.  Trump was too full of himself to play the fool role outright.  But he stood out from the crowd nevertheless.  All of the candidates for the Republican nomination were bad jokes, but Trump’s coarseness and bluster made him special.

He was not the only one to strike a “populist” chord, but he was the only one to outflank Hillary from the left on such issues as trade, infrastructure and “regime change.”  Later, of course, Russia could be added to the list.

Needless to say, most of it was only talk; Trump was not about to turn back the neoliberal tide even if he could, and he was hardly a man of peace.  Still, the contrast with Hillary was refreshing, as was the fact that, along with Bernie Sanders, he was raising pertinent questions and stirring up discontent.

The difference was that the discontent Sanders stirred up was salutary.  Even when Trump would voice similar themes, the impact he had was ominous.

My view, before Election Day, was that it was of paramount importance to combat the racist, nativist, and Islamophobic stirrings oozing out of the Trump camp, but that the danger would fade after Trump’s all but certain defeat, and that the hell he was raising might even be useful, in its own demented way, for encouraging opposition to the next President Clinton and therefore to her neoliberal, liberal imperialist warmongering.

I confess that I also thought that at least part of Trump’s overblown faith in his own abilities had to be at least somewhat justified.   He did start out, as they say, on third base, but he went on from there to enrich himself egregiously, and he did manage to become the Republican nominee.  Surely, a complete dunce could not have done all that.

Moreover, I didn’t, and still don’t, think that Trump is a reactionary at heart.  I thought he was a conman and an opportunist, and that, he was coming on like a troglodyte in order to win against his Republican rivals, and then to keep them fired up as he ran against Clinton.  I never thought that he meant most of it – not that this would matter one way or another because he was bound to lose in any case.

Therefore, after he won – or, rather, after Clinton lost – I found consolation in his insincerity.  If he could go from endorsing positions that pass for normal in New York City to positions reactionary enough to win over the hearts and minds of retrograde Republicans in the Deep South, why wouldn’t he again take up positions that fall more or less in the normal – or at least not profoundly disturbing — range when there would no longer be any percentage in coming on like Ted Cruz?

However, as news of his cabinet and cabinet level appointments started to trickle in, it became clear that this was wishful thinking; even Cruz could not have done worse. The people Trump assembled were a Freedom Caucus member’s wet dream.

The only high level Trump appointees who fall anywhere near the normal range are two retired Generals who, according to reliable reports, are a good deal fonder of murder and mayhem than most of their colleagues, some hyper predatory Wall Street buccaneers, a fossil fuel promoting ex-honcho from Exxon Mobil, and an Ambassador to the United Nations whose highest qualification for that job is an undergraduate degree in accounting.  These are the adults in the room.  How pathetic is that!

It is true that Trump has neither an ideology nor settled convictions that he wants to promote.  But he isn’t just an opportunist who can be counted on to adjust his course when public opinion calls for it.

He flits from one position to another and flip-flops shamelessly not because public opinion is leading him, but because he is a narcissistic bully with the disposition of an adolescent boy afflicted by a mildly out-of-control case of Attention Deficit Disorder.

His mind, such as it is, goes wherever his attention alights; and that, it seems, depends mainly on what Fox News has on at the moment.  This is why efforts to discern consistency or rhyme or reason in his tweets are almost always in vain.

***

Trump decimated the Republican Party.  This is no longer as clear as it used to be now that Republicans are riding high after Clinton blew a sure thing, taking down ticket Democrats down with her.   Nevertheless, Trump did do the GOP in; this will become clear again in due course.

Despite their limitations, it is a good bet that the Party’s leaders understand this well.  For the time being, though, they remain determined to see what they can get by playing along with their standard-bearer.  Their support, however, hangs by a thread.

Trump has no fondness for them either.  But, having no organization of his own to help him govern, if that is the right word for what he is doing, he needs Republicans even more than they need him.  Therefore, he is playing along too.

If the latest polls are on track, Trump’s base has not yet deserted him, though his approval rating in general is abysmal and tracking downward.

But since Trump is now deserting his base – reneging on one campaign promise after another – it is only a matter of time before all but his most willfully blind supporters follow the public’s lead.

The excuse that Trump needs more time to do what he said he would is starting to get old; and his defenders cannot blame the other party, the way that Obama’s supporters would blame Tea Partiers and “moderate” Republicans for making the words “hope” and “change” stick in the craw.  Republican obstinacy was indeed a factor back in the (seemingly long ago) Obama days, but there is no real counterpart to anything like that now on the Democratic side. With the likes of Nancy Pelosi and Chuck Schumer calling the shots, there never will be.

Therefore, how much longer can it be until even his most ardent fans realize what a loser he is?

That is the crucial question because their support for him, in the first place, was based in large part on their patently ridiculous belief that he would somehow make “deals” that would set the world aright and “make America first again.”   They hardly counted on him making himself, and America with him, a laughing-stock.

Republican leaders must realize by now that the way to make the best of the situation would be to dump Trump as soon as they can.  How much better off they would be with one of their own, Mike Pence, a bona fide reactionary with deep ties to the libertarian and theocratic wings of the party, in command!

This is one of those rare instances in which what is good for the Republican Party actually is good for the country and the world — if only because with Pence in charge instead of Trump, there would be less danger of a nuclear conflagration being set off in a fit of pique.  The “darker angels” of our nature would also get less encouragement from the commanding heights.

But how to get from here to there?

The best way would be for the anti-Trump resistance movement to grow to a point where it could force Trump out.  This is only a pipedream, however.  To be more than that, there would have to be an organized political force in place capable of taking the lead and showing the way.

Unless it somehow manages in short order to transform itself beyond recognition, the Democratic Party is worse than useless for that.   It is something to resist in its own right

Meanwhile, Democratic Party spokespeople and pundits are working overtime to coopt every bit of resistance there is.  With lucidity in short supply within the resistance movement and generally within our political culture, and in the absence of a clear alternative, they could well succeed.

But even if deeply entrenched practices, institutions and modes of thought make it all but impossible for a “third” party to take the place of the Democrats, insurgents probably could take over the Democratic Party in much the way that the Tea Party took over the GOP.  As of now, this isn’t likely either.  There are so many Clintonites, and there is so little time.

But there are less than ideal ways that could lead to the defeat of the Trumpian menace.

Ideas and convictions don’t motivate the Donald; vainglory and cupidity do.  This is why, as the level of disgust he evokes rises, and the more it affects the buying habits of the kinds of people his enterprises target, the better off we all will be.

By going after his vanity and his and his family’s bottom lines, a far-reaching boycott-all-things-Trumpian campaign just might suffice to get Trump to “self-impeach,” as the hapless Mitt Romney might put it.

A problem with that strategy, though, are all those damn foreigners — not the “bad” (actually good) “hombres” whom the Donald vilifies, the “huddled masses yearning to breathe free” or, more realistically, to be free from the horrors brought on by American military and trade policies, but the filthy rich of the less developed world, eager to curry favor with America’s Commander-in-Chief.

There may be no effective way to influence them, but we can shame our fellow citizens who patronize Trump hotels and resorts and who buy the crap he and his children peddle.  This would probably be more effective than piling on yet more marches and demonstrations; it would certainly be easier to organize.  Indeed, there is no need to organize anything at all; everybody can boycott the Trump brand on his or her own.

For removing the menace, there is also the way that the Constitution prescribes – impeachment.   Democrats would have to make this a priority however, and “therein lies the rub.”

The pusillanimity of the average Democratic politician is limitless; to get any significant number of them to move on impeachment, public opinion would have to sharpen to the point where even they could not stay back.

Democratic politicians also tend to be too clever by half; some of them might figure that the presence of a dangerous and despicable ignoramus in the Oval Office helps their electoral prospects.

Republicans generally have better sense.

As more people in Trump’s base come to realize how thoroughly he conned them, the Donald will become even more of a liability to the Republican establishment than he already is.  Perhaps then they will take the lead and do what their less odious counterparts in the other bought and paid for capitalist party would otherwise be too timid to attempt.

Of course, with the Donald, anything could happen.

So far, it seems, scandals – “conflicts of interest” that would do any other politician in — have only strengthened his hand.  There are so many of them, though, just as there are so many grounds for impeachment; indeed, the two are often one and the same.  It is hard to see how Trump can keep evading their consequences much longer.   But where Trump is, absurdity reigns and anything could lie in store.

I have high hopes for Melania.  There is every sign that she concluded long ago that her association with the Donald is too high a price to pay for whatever benefit she once thought she could gain from his riches.

If she were to free herself from her gilded prison, leaving her repellent and misogynistic husband in the lurch, she just might be able to do what nothing else so far has: embarrass the man in a way that would diminish, not strengthen, his standing with his base.

That alone would make her by far the most meritorious presidential consort, official or otherwise, since Eleanor Roosevelt; and, no, I haven’t forgotten Hillary Clinton.

Her only serious competitor would be Monica Lewinsky.  She served her country well, albeit unintentionally, by involving Bill Clinton in a scandal that kept him from going after Social Security.  Were Malania to hobble Trump by humiliating him, her contribution to the public weal would make Monica’s seem almost petty.

On the other hand, I have no hope whatever for Ivanka or her husband Jared, two fruits of poisonous trees (only one of which has so far done time).  The idea that either or both of them could save the world from the Donald is unadulterated wishful thinking.

The two of them do seem to have the Donald’s ear, but this is no more comforting than knowing that the pseudo-intellectual fascisant guru Steve Bannon and his minions do.  Ivanka is better turned out than her father and more poised.  But she is all the more insidious for that.

Meanwhile, Jared, Trump’s de facto Secretary of Everything, may be good for boosting the morale of the Israeli Right as the BDS movement gathers steam, and good for causing thoughtful people to despair of the human race, but not for much else.  His only virtue is that, unlike his father-in-law, he doesn’t talk.

For keeping the Orange Menace at bay, when all else fails, there is still, of course, a functioning federal judiciary.  It is chock full of Republicans and Democrats, however; and therefore not good for much except introducing a moderating influence.  There is not much solace in that.

But, for now, this is the best we’ve got – beyond what we, the unorganized people, can muster in the face of Democratic Party efforts to coopt all the “resistance” they can.

Sanders and his remaining supporters call for a “political revolution.”  What they have in mind is a good deal less radical than that, but their words, if not the ideas behind them, are on target.

It is either that or more degrading electoral spectacles guaranteed to produce pernicious outcomes that will make life worse for the vast majority of human beings, and that could well prove fatal to humankind itself and to many of the other plant and animal inhabitants of our planet.

ANDREW LEVINE is the author most recently of THE AMERICAN IDEOLOGY (Routledge) and POLITICAL KEY WORDS (Blackwell) as well as of many other books and articles in political philosophy. His most recent book is In Bad Faith: What’s Wrong With the Opium of the People. He was a Professor (philosophy) at the University of Wisconsin-Madison and a Research Professor (philosophy) at the University of Maryland-College Park.  He is a contributor to Hopeless: Barack Obama and the Politics of Illusion (AK Press).

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Palestine, Trump

By Vijay Prashad.

Ten days have passed since roughly 1500 Palestinian political prisoners went on hunger strike. There has been little coverage of the condition of the prisoners and almost none of the strike itself. This Freedom and Dignity Hunger Strike is the largest one yet, and it has received the support of the entirely of the Palestinian polity and of society.

At Alternet today, I have a report on the strike which relies on the dogged work of Addameer Prisoner Support and Human Rights Association based in Palestine and of Madalena Mughrabi of Amnesty International. I have been reading the novelist Ngugi wa Thiong'o's prison diary as it happens and was struck by his observations on isolation. They made their way into the essay, as well as the Darwish line that he quotes in his book.

'This strike, the largest such demonstration inside Israel’s colonial prisons, is called the Freedom and Dignity hunger strike. It suggests that the people who sit in cold, lonely cells remain confident of their cause and of their victory. Dignity is important. It is the opposite of occupation'.

You can read the rest here. Please tell others about this strike. The prisoners deserve our solidarity.

The Associated Press's White House correspondent, Julie Pace, sat down with Donald Trump to discuss his first hundred days. This was a sprawling interview, whose transcript should be read over and over again by those who are interested in the world. In her article, Julie Pace has a little detail that I appreciated. She writes, 'A man accustomed to wealth and its trappings, Trump has embraced life in the Executive Mansion, often regaling guests with trivia about the historic decor. With the push of a red button placed on the Resolute Desk that presidents have used for decades, a White House butler soon arrived with a Coke for the president'.

When I read of the red button, I immediately thought of the nuclear arsenal of the United States. There is another red button hidden somewhere in that office. It is the mad man who toys with the world, either to get a Coke one hour or to annihilate the world in another.

The current issue of Frontline is devoted to the foreign policy of Donald Trump. My report is on the Mad Man Theory of International Affairs, pioneered by Richard Nixon as an idea and put into practice by Trump. Here's the close,

  • Richard Nixon pioneered a theory of foreign affairs known as the “Madman Theory”. He told his Chief of Staff H. R. Haldeman: “I call it the Madman Theory, Bob. I want the North Vietnamese to believe I’ve reached the point where I might do anything to stop the war.” Nixon’s people would spread the rumour, he said, that the nuclear option was available and that Nixon was mad enough to use it. “Ho Chi Minh himself will be in Paris in two days begging for peace,” Nixon said. Perhaps Trump, like Nixon, believes in the Madman Theory, one pioneered by Machiavelli, who wrote: “It is a wise thing to simulate madness.” It terrifies one’s adversaries. It pleases the bloodlust of one’s supporters. But it does not make the world a safer place.

The entire report can be read here.

I also wanted to share with you two radio shows I did recently, one a retrospective of Trump's 100 days with Dennis Bernstein of KPFA radio (here) and the other on Syria and Trump's interventions there with Doug Henwood of Jacobin Radio (here).

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