Paul Jay and Abby Martin Say Goodbye to 2016

TRNN’s Senior Editor and the Host of Empire Files discuss the critical events of the year, including Trump’s victory, the Sanders breakthrough, and the worsening prospects for federal action on climate change

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PAUL JAY: Welcome to The Real News Network. I’m Paul Jay in Baltimore. Well, we’re near the end of 2016 and normally most news networks do a review of the year and highlights and, of course, we’re getting near the end of the Obama Administration and we’ll do a big review of the Obama Administration. But, frankly, there’s been so much news and so much to do to cover the incoming Trump Administration that we really haven’t had time to do much of the review. But we thought we would at least pick out a few highlights and ask Abby Martin to work with us in talking about them. So, now joining us from New York City is Abby Martin. Abby is the host and creator of The Empire Files, for TeleSUR. Thanks for joining us, Abby.

ABBY MARTIN: Thanks, Paul. You know, I wouldn’t really call these highlights as much as lowlights.

PAUL JAY: Yeah.

ABBY MARTIN: Because there’ve been so many devastating tragedies that have happened in the last year and I thought that we should just go over a few of them and talk about what the media missed and really, what happened. I wanted to start off with the Oakland fire, the Ghost Ship Warehouse fire that tragically went down a couple weeks ago. This was particularly close to my home and heart, being from Oakland.

My brother is very close to the community there. He’s an electronic music musician under the name of Fluorescent Grey. It’s very shocking because the way that this was covered was kind of, okay a bunch of irresponsible people had a rave and, you know, this was an unfortunate happenstance that comes with illegal activity, right? And I got a lot of people kind of trolling me about this and it was very insulting because I can’t think of another time in history, not only was this the deadliest inferno in Oakland’s history. But I can’t think of another time when so many tragic young artists’ souls were taken from us at such an early age, Paul, all at the same place. Because the people that died here were really, you know, these were staples in the art community and electronic music scene that have been either ostracized from the mainstream establishment — they don’t play shows in the mainstream venues. They aren’t as recognized.

A lot of them were trans-youth and a lot of these people were there early on setting up art installations, running the bar, running the sound. And so these were people who were such staples of the community and it is such a horrific, horrific loss for the Bay Area and, of course, the rental crisis. I mean, I wanted to talk to you and get your opinion on just what this really speaks to, which is an out-of-control rent crisis and housing crisis where Oakland is now the fourth most expensive city in the entire country. What do you think about that?

PAUL JAY: Well, one is the rent crisis in most of the urban centers where it’s really unaffordable — except in cities where you have deep poverty in the urban centers. In cities that have reclaimed and enlivened their downtowns it becomes unaffordable, and become places just for the rich. But what I thought was interesting about this is that people, to create these kinds of artists’ environments, not just because of the rent, but because there’s so little subsidy and support for the arts.

You know, we’re talking about an infrastructure program and Trump’s talking all about an infrastructure program. But the model of infrastructure program — that one worked and had a big impact was during the New Deal, when Roosevelt, where you had the Federal government directly employing, you know, tens of thousands of people. But within that, a lot of the funding went to the arts and you had, you know, artistic troupes and theater groups and right from across the country to New York City. And that culture and art was considered an important, legitimate place to put public funding.

And now, must of the public funding, although it’s very small, still goes to like, high art, like, stuff like opera and things that the elites like to go to. And I’m not putting down opera, but in terms of popular culture created by ordinary artists — ordinary meaning not famous and celebrity — there’s next to no support at all — anywhere from filmmaking to creative arts and graphic arts and so on. So, it’s a combination of crazy high rent and something the society just doesn’t consider artistic creativity something worth publicly investing in. It’s only whether it makes money in the marketplace. Other than that, it’s of no value at all.

ABBY MARTIN: You’re totally right, art and music are the first things cut from public education. We’re talking about hundreds of thousands of people across the country who are living in spaces like this because they are illegal. Because they can’t afford to live within the legal constraints of what has become an impossible situation of rent and housing. And we’re talking about landlords who exploit the poor, the young, the art community. I mean this guy Derick Ion, he’s a scumbag. He was taking thousands and thousands of dollars from the tenants, ignoring all the safety complaints. This started because of an electrical fire that could have been easily fixed with a couple $100 bucks covering the electric box, making sure it was properly managed. And he knew that he was hosting shows there, so people had tried to complain before. He had threatened them.

And I think this just really speaks to the system favors landlords. You know, we’re talking about… even if this guy is slapped with a huge fine, that’s no different than a permit for plunder that we see all across capitalism, right? BP the oil spill, all of these things are manageable for them. Because at the end of the day… maybe not someone like this guy who should be in jail, but the woman above him who is also the bigger landlord who owned multiple warehouses. It was the same kind of thing, this exploitation and just profiting and plundering, you know and whatever they get slapped with be worth it for them. These 36 souls that are gone will be worth it, because they will just pay a couple thousand dollars and move on, Paul, to the next project.

PAUL JAY: Right. Now, one of the other tragic events of the year was the Pulse killings in Orlando. What are your thoughts about the significance of that?

ABBY MARTIN: So, God, this is just such a horrific event. You know, in light of kind of these what seemed like a big move forward, you know, the Supreme Court ruling the year before; Obama’s kind of embracing LGBTQ rights and a lot of movements forward; especially, when you look at the media and entertainment culture — its acceptance and normalization of queer identity and gay culture. Unfortunately, with that comes a lot of visceral hatred and backlash. And so, what I think the media got wrong, of course, was immediately painting this as a terrorist attack affiliated with ISIS and making it all about Islamic terrorism.

As I was looking back in retrospect, a lot more people later on, took into account the LGBTQ aspect and of course, this was a huge hit for the community. I mean, it shook terror across the LGBTQ community, but the media really missed the boat, Paul. They made it all about Islamic terrorism and really missed that big analysis, that deep analysis on the struggle of gay rights in this country, and how much further we still have to go. I mean, we’re talking about an epidemic here and especially when you’re talking about trans people. Trans people of color? In 2015, there were 21 deaths of trans-gender people. In 2016 the same amount. And a lot of these people are misgendered. They’re never acknowledged as trans.

You know, even Breitbart has cited a hate group, an anti-LGBTQ hate group 19 times since March, to basically propagandize against trans medical… You know, basically its propaganda against medical care for trans-youth and this is in the era of the President, a Steve Bannon. So, you know, this is a huge issue and I think that we all need to really understand that aside from Trump getting elected and emboldening all these Fascists and racists on the ground, second to racially-motivated attacks, this is the next thing that’s happening, is sexual orientation-motivated attacks. And it’s happening all over the place.

PAUL JAY: And I thought something else interesting in this whole area that happened in 2016, was the kind of welcoming of sorts, by Trump at the Republican Convention of gays into the Republican Party and voting for Trump, and Peter Thiel, one of the Silicon Valley billionaires who had come out as gay, spoke at the Convention. And putting on this face of a welcoming face and I thought it’s interesting how much this is now also a class issue on how, you know, society and particularly conservative society looks at this, which is if you are gay, but you can make a lot of money, you’re within the business world, you stay kind of within the limits of accepting everything else about society as it is, well, we can kind of open a door, accept you of sorts. But if you are transsexual, and if in any way your sexuality also is connected to oppositional politics, where you, you know, are rejecting the political economics status quo as well, well, then, yeah we’ll completely marginalize you. So, it’s like a class division even within the way society is treating this community.

ABBY MARTIN: Yeah, and I mean, if you look at the gay community, huge gains in the last 10 years, it’s really, okay, marriage is an institution that’s based on property and ownership. And then you look at, you know, in the military, “Don’t ask, don’t tell”. I mean, that’s kind of crazy that those institutions are where gay rights have really moved forward the most. And I think that that’s a troubling aspect. We need legislation that protects every person in this country.

And when you look at Mike Pence who’s a notorious visceral homophobe, that’s really disturbing because just like abortion, you know, we think that these things are past us. No, contrary to that, we have to do everything in our power to actually move forward. Progress doesn’t happen in a straight line. And I really fear that we’re going backwards on this, especially with the new administration and I’m really worried about Mike Pence and what he’s going to do to roll back the little gay rights, you know, gains that we’ve made, Paul.

PAUL JAY: Well, it–

ABBY MARTIN: –And you know, I wanted to say… yeah, go on.

PAUL JAY: I was going to say the same thing applies to policing. In Baltimore where we’re based, the Department of Justice did a report on the Baltimore Police Department and everyone’s been using the word, so I will as well, because it’s correct. It’s a scathing report on the way police violate people’s constitutional rights. The police violate Federal law, which is a criminal act. They don’t use that conclusionary word, which they should but they go right up to the edge of that. And while the recommendations are pretty weak: more training, more data collection, the description of the problem is very strong.

Now, of course, we know the DOJ plays this role because they want to mitigate the worst abuses of police departments because it tends to enrage people and cause uprisings and they don’t want the police violence to be so far over the edge. Of course, they don’t want a fundamental change in police culture which means — be the hammer to contain poverty in inner cities like Baltimore.

Now, on the other hand, what will happen next with Jeff Sessions as the Attorney General? You have Trump, the Law and Order President, all the speeches at the Republican Party were about being far more hawkish in relationship to policing. We know there are already more than a thousand people, killed by police now and way disproportionately people of color. What are your thoughts about this?

ABBY MARTIN: Yeah.

PAUL JAY: Especially what Trump’s election might do to policing.

ABBY MARTIN: Well, I think it says a lot to Obama’s Presidency that Black Lives Matter, erupted and, of course, Occupy Wall Street, erupted under the first African-American President that we’ve had in this country. He did not do a damn thing. Talk, talk, talk, reforms, body cameras, look, we’ve seen time and again, cops will either shut them off or throw them out. They don’t care. Like, the only thing that is going to be able to bring accountability to, and I will say killer police, because when I see a video of a cop literally chasing someone, shooting them in the back, I mean, that’s murder, alright? So, these people need to be in prison. And I think that until cops are put in jail for appropriate measures of time, for the acts that they commit, then nothing is going to move forward. It’s kind of the “permit for plunder” thing that we were talking about earlier. That’s a huge, huge problem.

I wanted to talk about some stats here. Like, you said, nearly a thousand people have been killed by police so far, this year. 227 of them were mentally ill. My friend, Apollo Lango, who I knew in college in San Diego, his brother was one of these people who was killed. He was holding a vape pen. Which is the thing that everyone smokes these days, you know, replacing cigarettes. And he was just holding it in his hand having kind of a manic episode, of course, he gets executed by police. This is a huge problem. And you know, you look at Israel where the Israeli military whose training with police officers in this country. So, I guess it’s kind of not surprising that you have summary execution as kind of the first line of defense for these police officers.

But you know, 500 of the people who have been killed, had a gun. And that doesn’t mean that they were threatening the police with a gun, as we saw time and again. Especially in open-carry States, you can have a gun, alright, as a person of color. I know that’s hard for some people to hear, you can have a gun in an open-carry State. That doesn’t mean you should get executed. So, and you know, think about that, 500 other people didn’t even have a gun. So, it just puts it into a giant, you know, perspective here.

This is an epidemic and Obama has done nothing, except talk and kind of, you know, offer some reforms here that really will not do anything, until police are tried, put in jail and none of these closed juries and none of these, you know, anything like that — we need a fair and open process and real accountability here, Paul.

PAUL JAY: And I think this sense that police departments feel they have impunity in using this kind of violence and because they do. But I would say, you know, again with the DOJ report in Baltimore and some of the other reports that have led to Consent Decrees in different cities in the country, as weak as they are, although as the actual Consent Decrees are, what police departments have to do — as I say, the critique in Baltimore was pretty good. But as weak as all that is, there is at least a modicum of pressure on city councils, on mayors, on police chiefs to at least rein in the worst of the excesses. I think what’s coming now with Trump and Sessions as Attorney General, is there’s not even going to be that, even a modicum of restraint — quite the contrary.

ABBY MARTIN: Right.

PAUL JAY: There’s going to be quite an emboldening of the worst elements of policing in the country. And you saw the tilling the ground for that at the Republican Convention. Sherriff David Clark, who’s the Sherriff of Milwaukee County, a black Sherriff gave the most, I mean, really fascist kind of speech and came very close to calling the leaders of the Black Lives Matter movement criminals and complicit in the assassination of police officers and it’s being… as weak as it’s been, it looks like it’s going to get far more Draconian.

You had Newt Gingrich a few months ago, calling for the reconstituting of the House of Un-American Activities Committee and how often have we seen that phrase used — “Un-American” — and applied it to the leadership of the movement for Black Lives and other progressives and left forces, antiwar forces. But really zeroing in on, targeting the leaders of the movement for Black Lives.

ABBY MARTIN: Absolutely, and we know stop-and-frisk is going to be a policy that Trump is going to employ. It doesn’t matter that facts have, you know… that it actually does not work at all and it’s nothing more than racial profiling. But he has embraced that. He says law and order, law and order, that’s all he can really say about the solution of over-policing. It makes no sense. You have Giuliani in his ear, Newt Gingrich, all these crazy outliers who are obsessed with over-policing and criminalization of minorities. I mean, we already know that Jeff Sessions is horrible on criminal justice reform and, you know, the private prison stocks, I’m sure are popping right back up after the election.

PAUL JAY: So, let me raise this. The couple of things that are somewhat positive out of 2016, because so far, it’s been, I know a lot of people are saying, “We can’t wait for 2016 to be over, worst year of my life,” and so on and so on. But there are a few things. I thought the movement to elect Bernie Sanders made some significant breakthroughs. There were limits to the campaign, we know, and a lot of people didn’t like the way Bernie Sanders in the end endorsed Hillary Clinton. Some people didn’t like him endorsing her at all. Some people didn’t like the way he endorsed her. And you can have the whole debate. I understand why Sanders considered Trump, such a danger and frankly, I think, Trump is such a danger. But that being said, the Sanders movement and Bernie Sanders group that led that campaign, they did a few things, I think, that had never been done before and they point to what’s possible in the future.

One is, they broke the monopoly on who’s got money to fund elections. And I thought that was an enormous breakthrough, to compete with Clinton and come close to beating Clinton with a small donor-funded campaign. And it’s something entirely new. I don’t think these parties, Democratic and Republican parties would ever bill with that even in mind, that it was possible for a candidate not to have to go to the well of billionaires in order to fund a campaign. So, I thought that was really important and significant.

The second thing is, Sanders certainly for his campaign, and not as strongly after he endorsed Hillary Clinton, but during his campaign, re-introduced language of class. There’s a billionaire class, there’s an oligarchy and that resonated with people and certainly youth just were so thirsty to hear such language. Because everyone knows it’s true, it just never gets spoken in polite conversation and it doesn’t get spoken especially on mainstream television. I thought that was significant, the fact that he called himself a socialist. You can debate how much of a socialist, or he isn’t a socialist, but the fact that he used the word, and millions of people responded. That tells us there’s a future here that something that can be built on. What were your thoughts?

ABBY MARTIN: Well, my number one bad thing that happened was Trump winning, but not just for the reason that, you know, Trump is necessarily made President. It’s the emboldening of his supporters, the racists, all these psychos on the ground who, you know, are committing hate crimes and attacks against minorities. So, I think that that is really bad but like you said, there’s this populist sentiment, this anti-establishment sentiment that has grown and fostered during the entire election process. And I think that is extremely positive. It’s just that it was syphoned in a negative way, to say the least. But I do think that a lot of these people can move over because they saw Trump as this savior from the billionaire class, even though he is a billionaire. Don’t ask me how that logic works.

I’m just saying I think that there is a positive outcome where there is some crossover between the two camps. And of course, Bernie Sanders, you know, I think he really missed the boat on a lot of things. But you’re right, introducing socialism, for the first-time people actually are not averse to, you know, the official religion of the US which is anti-communism for the last 50 years. So, I think that that’s a huge step forward, is kind of understanding, having a broader economic analysis of what the problems are structurally in the world, and understanding how they fit them into income inequality in the US. Making that a primary issue and hammering that over and over again on the media was great. It shows you that there’s a lot of potential.

All the young people voted for Bernie. All the young people were disillusioned with the two-party system. A lot of young people don’t trust the mainstream media. These are huge significant trends that are really good and positive and we can harness them and utilize them to build an actual united progressive front. But, you know, I do think that Trump winning has made us “lose the plot” on a lot (laughs) to be illustrative. You know, I just think it’s funny that after all this time there’s still zero self-reflection from the Democratic Party and they just can’t believe it still. And, you know, blame Russian third parties I guess — never themselves.

But, look, the Trump thing, at the very least, I mean, he removed that bureaucratic middleman, right? So, he removed… So, what’s the difference between Citigroup appointing Obama’s Cabinet and Trump appointing Goldman Sachs’ Head for his Economic Advisory team? Yes, yes, I know that there are a lot of other crazy things like, Sessions, and all the other people in his Cabinet. But I mean, when you’re talking about, like, these corporate CEOs coming in and getting gifted giant positions, it’s not really that different. I don’t think that Trump is going to bring fascism. I think fascism has been coming. This seed has been sown for a very long time and we’re in a dangerous climate. But I don’t think that Trump is an anomaly, if you know what I mean.

PAUL JAY: Yeah, I think that’s very important. I don’t think Trump’s an anomaly at all. Trump is a legitimate representative of just how degenerate finance has become.

ABBY MARTIN: Exactly.

PAUL JAY: And so directly, as you said, there used to be at least sort of a middleman relationship. Now you have direct rule by the billionaires and in Trump’s case, specifically Robert Mercer who represents probably the most parasitical type of finance on Wall Street, which is this quantitative high-speed trading. And Mercer is Co-CEO of Renaissance Technology which is the most profitable hedge fund on Wall Street by a long shot, 500 of the best mathematicians and physicists all working on how to game the stock market.

It’s Mercer who Kellyanne Conway worked for before she took over the Trump campaign and before that helped Mercer finance the Cruz campaign. Steve Bannon, who’s the chief strategist of Trump now, worked for Mercer at Breitbart News. Of course, the biggest investor in Breitbart News is Mercer. And Mercer’s daughter, Rebecca is on the Trump transition team. So, you have direct control of one of the most parasitical sections of capital directly in the White House and we should, of course, not forget, Mr. Parasitical Capital himself, Sheldon Adelson.

ABBY MARTIN: Oh, yeah.

PAUL JAY: Who gave Trump $25 million and is also on the Inauguration Committee and clearly does not give $25 million to someone he doesn’t expect will do a pro-Israel policy to Sheldon’s liking. So, but this is very much the outgrowth of what’s happened to Wall Street and finance with Bill Clinton, certainly under Bush and certainly under Obama, which is essentially giving finance a free hand, and with a free hand, the most parasitical gambling sectors of finance take control and now they’ve got direct control of the White House. They had pretty much control before, now it’s just direct.

ABBY MARTIN: Yeah, this is a crisis of global capitalism and we’re seeing an emergence and resurgence of the right-wing in Japan, all across Europe, some of South and Latin America, and India even. So, I think that it’s happening here. I think that there’s two ways it can go. Right now, we’re seeing a huge uptick and resurgence of the right-wing on the ground, this emboldening of alt-right kind of trolls, who now feel victorious. But I think in that same kind of movement and feeling, there is a huge opportunity for us to galvanize, energize, unite and build that progressive front that we really need, Paul, to win.

PAUL JAY: Let me just add one thing — this is my hope for 2017 then. And it is that this issue of climate change, which is a human existential crisis, and a society and particularly mainstream media with no sense of urgency about it at all. If there’s some silver lining in this Trump storm cloud, is that although he’s going to reverse the very small measures that were taken under Obama to pull back on carbon emissions, and a certain amount of regulation, a last-minute pull back on drilling in the Arctic, and on the North-east shore, that the fact that there’s climate deniers now, completely, running the White House — I hope will energize people to actually make this front and center. That this issue of climate change cannot be put on the back burner.

You can’t have some vague notion in our head that, yes, Obama’s going to do something, the EPA is going to do something — tt will get looked after. No. Now it’s really clear. Nothing is going to be done. There’s no illusions about any policy that’s going to address climate change coming out of the White House. And the building of this broad front that’s going to have to deal with this growing fascism potential — certainly I think they’re going to try and reinstate full sanctions on Iran, if not bomb Iran and geo-political strife, and now climate change. If there isn’t a broad front now with a sense of urgency, we’re running out of time, in terms of you know, human society as we know it.

ABBY MARTIN: Yeah, and I think we totally forgot Standing Rock as a huge great, great thing that happened this year. It showed direct action succeeding. It showed a huge emboldening of the Native American population that we’ve never seen before. And I’m speaking on behalf of people who have been leaders, you know, the American Indian movement who have said that there’s nothing that has ever happened on this level, on this scale. So, I think that that is a huge, huge positive step. And it’s kind of a big awakening also, right — that we need to almost go to that length in order to stop these people. And we saw even Obama putting a stop to the permit. The company said, “No, we’re going to move forward anyway.”

So, we’re seeing Energy, we’re seeing Finance acting completely without constraints and they know moving forward — you know, Rick Perry’s obviously invested in the Dakota Access Pipeline. You have Trump who’s also invested in it. So, I think that moving forward, this is a huge wake-up call. We’ve seen that it will work and this is the only thing that we can do, especially on the climate front, Paul. And I’m going to be there every step of the way and I just feel really pumped up to get involved and get on the ground.

PAUL JAY: Well, as people watching Real News know, we’re in the midst of our year-end fundraising campaign. And next year we’re going to be pushing very hard to create the Global Climate Change Bureau so we can do daily climate news, both in terms of urgency and solutions. So, if you haven’t donated yet to our matching grant campaign, please, there’s only a few days left, maybe a couple of weeks I guess, for us to reach our goal. So, if you’re watching Real News and you haven’t donated, now’s the time to click the donate button. Abby, thanks very much for joining us.

ABBY MARTIN: Thanks so much, Paul.

PAUL JAY: And thank you for joining us on The Real News Network.

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