Analysis of and progressive alternatives to the dead-end policies of Trump and the right-wing alliance
Bob Sheak, August 10, 2019
The evidence based on verifiable facts depicts a reality of the US that is deeply troublingly, especially when this evidence is so often missed, ignored, misconstrued, or intentionally distorted. It takes a bit of time and effort to stay informed on the array of important issues that confront us. Here is a sample of what so many people are missing from a report by Jake Johnson on the distribution of wealth that captures how badly the present political-economic system is so unequally skewed in favor of the rich and powerful among us (https://www.commondreams.org/news/2019/08/05/if-inequality-continues-grow-current-rate-richest-americans-will-own-100-us-wealth). The point is that, rather than trickling down, wealth has flowed up in torrents.
“If wealth inequality in the United States continues to soar at its current rate,” Johnson reports, “the top 10 percent of Americans could own 100 percent of the nation’s net worth by 2052.” The supporting data for this contention comes from the Federal Research, which document that “[f]rom 2013 to 2016, the top 10 percent of households increased their share of total wealth from an amazing 75.3 percent to a stunning 77.2 percent. That’s a share gain of 1.87 percent in just three years.’” If that rate of increase continues, they will take the 22.8 percent now held by the other 90 percent of the population, fueled by Trump’s massive tax cuts for the rich. Johnson also refers to the published research of the University of California Berkeley economist Gabriel Zucman that just 400 Americans “own more than the bottom 150 million Americans.” Between 1989 and 2018, “the top one percent increases its total net worth by $21 trillion.” At the same time, according to a report by Matt Bruenig published on Common Dreams in June, “Federal Reserve data…show that the bottom half of Americans lost $900 billion in wealth between 1989 and 2018.”
The Right-wing alliance
Presently, the chief beneficiaries of the opposition to scientific and verifiable evidence on the economic, political, and social conditions of the country are the groups that make up the right-wing alliance. It is based on an affinity of interests and ideologies, with a massive propaganda effort to sustain and consolidate the current unequal, environmentally destructive, and corporate-dominated capitalist system. The alliance includes Trump, his advisers, the Republican Party, the red state political leaders, Trump’s base of 63 million or so voters, the mega-corporations that dominate all sectors of the economy, and probably most businesses and trade associations, along with right-wing experts, think tanks, political-action groups, and right-wing media. This seemingly disparate assorted of groups find enough common ground in combining economic, militaristic, nationalistic, white supremacist, xenophobic, anything-goes gun advocates, evangelical fundamentalists, and anti-environmental ideologies and interests.
The base is regularly energized by Trump’s tweets and rallies and a broad right-wing propaganda establishment. Ari Rabin-Havt and Media Matters elaborates on “the world of post-truth politics” in their book, Lies, Incorporated. They document the existence of what they label “Lies, Incorporated,” which is “made of lobbyists, PR companies, media lackeys, unethical ‘experts,’ and unscrupulous think tanks. This is a “growing industry that exists to create and disseminate fictitious public policy ‘facts’ on behalf of business and ideological interests willing to pay for them,” and to identify strategies for sustaining support from the broad right-wing base (pp. 5-6).
The center of power
Not all segments of this right-wing alliance necessarily espouse or are even concerned about every aspect of the policies and practices that emanate from such a vast and variegated right-wing coalition. But there is a center of power that keeps the primary focus on economic and political issues.
This center revolves around the key activists in this coalition, including Trump and his key advisers and appointees, those who run the mega-corporations, the rich, and key Republicans in the US Congress. They are supported by major business groups such as the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, the Business Roundtable and the National Federation of Independent Businesses, The American Enterprise, and more more. They have their experts of all kinds to support their positions – trained staff, public relations advisers, lobbyists, lawyers, “conservative” economists, high-tech experts, etc. – who advance self-serving explanations and justifications to preserve and advance the advantages of the center of power, with a heavy dose of propaganda. And they use the most sophisticated computer hacking approaches from organizations like Quantum Analytica that use massive data bases on millions of people to manipulate how voters in key congressional districts vote or discourage people from voting. Then, focusing on those identified as “persuadable,” money pours in from “dark money” political contributors to barrage these citizens with misinformation and ads attacking Democratic candidates and their policies. This is supplemented by nefarious but often effective voter suppression efforts by the Republican Party establishment in the various states (e.g. gerrymandering, burdensome voter ID laws, misinformation about when and where to vote, the lack of reasonably located voting places, too few voting machines).
Those at the center of this right-wing coalition consolidate and advance their illiberal policies at home and abroad that are designed to favor the mega-corporations and the rich with selective and opportunistic support for programs of other parts of the society when politically it is expedient to do so. Domestically, neoliberal economic policies includes an emphasis on tax breaks for corporations and the rich, reducing regulations on the mega corporations and the private sector, re-directing government revenues away from public education, social-welfare programs of all kinds, as well as efforts to privatize or increase privatization of any parts of the public sector or public land from which there are potential profits to be made.
Indeed, the right-wing alliance can only win elections by using its political power by using manipulating the information received by undecided, moderate, and nonvoters in key congressional districts to support Republican candidates or by suppressing the vote of those likely to choose Democratic candidates. And they did this effectively enough in the 2016 election to elect a buffoon, malicious narcissist, and reckless President and an obstructionist and right-wing Republican candidates to the US Senate and House. It is not all bleak. The 2018 mid-term election gave Democrats, including progressive Democrats, control of the US House of Representatives. However, there is also reason to see a foreboding reality.
Central arguments of the right-wingers for “more of the same” – with some rebuttal
First, they contend that government spending, regulation and taxation should be avoided to the maximum extent – unless it benefits them.
They argue that government is mostly inefficient and wasteful, except when government reduces taxes, regulations, and opens public land, or schools, or prisons, or infrastructure to be privatized, or coastal waters to be mined for oil. They have had their eyes on privatizing Social Security and Medicare for a long time and do their best to oppose reforms that would strengthen these hallmark social programs. They make room for big exceptions. It’s okay to spend an enormous amount of taxpayer money on “national defense” for an already bloated military, far more than any other country. It’s okay for the government to do the basic research on new drugs if it then gives them long-term patents for-profit corporations to produce and sell the drugs for whatever price they chose. And it’s okay to run up the national debt without any real concern about the eventual disastrous economic consequences. There are plenty of such examples.
Steven Pearlstein writes on the anti-regulation views of the right wing as follows. “The mindless animosity toward all regulation…has now provided a rationale for handing over the keys to independent regulatory agencies to lobbyists and executives from the very industries they are supposed to regulate….Their aim is to hollow out these agencies from the inside – to maintain the fiction that the government is still protecting workers, consumers, investors and the environment while, in reality, trusting markets to restrain predatory business behavior.” And: “After gaining control of both the White House and Congress in 2016, Republicans moved aggressively to rescind dozens of Obama-era regulations that would surely strike most Americans as fair and reasonable. These include a rule setting strict environmental standards for oil and gas drilling in national parks and wildlife refuges, a rule barring federal student loans at for-profit colleges whose graduates never get jobs and a rule requiring financial advisers to act in the best interest of their customers. They include a rule preventing mines from dumping debris into nearby rivers and streams and a rule preventing cable and phone companies from collecting and selling information about the internet sites visited by customers. They even set out a to repeal a long-standing rule preventing restaurant owners from taking waiter’s tips for themselves” (Can American Capitalism Survive? Why Greed is Not Good, Opportunity is Not Equal, Fairness won’t make up Poor (2018). p. 14).
Pearlstein also points out that they want tax cuts so bad that “[e]ven the long-cherished conservative ideals such as balancing budgets and investing in infrastructure have been tossed overboard in the relentless pursuit of tax cuts, which are now the reflexive Republican solution to any problem” (p 15). Of course, for corporations and their political supporters the chase for profits continues to take precedence over all other interests.
Second, they contend that the unbridled “market” should be the rule in the economy, with some self-serving exceptions.
The right-wingers argue that generally a competitive “free market” is the best way to allocate the society’s resources, because, they say with a straight face, it unleashes the entrepreneurial spirt of investors and leads to innovation and capital accumulation. They ignore contrary evidence. They ignore the uncompetitive reality of oligopoly and concentrated corporate power (more on this point below). They ignore how corporate executives and the bankers have hollowed out US manufacturing, investing in low-wage economies rather than in the US economy and workers. They ignore, and welcome, the lavish compensation given to corporate executives. They ignore the principal of the polluter pays. Profits are foremost in their business decisions. Many executives act as though they are above the law.
The Corporate Crime Reporter publishes a running list of corporate crimes, posting examples every week (https://www.corporatecrimereporter.com/corporate-crime-morning-minute-podcast). Here are the examples for the last two weeks (as of this writing, Aug 9).
Week of August 5, 2019
Friday August 9, 2019 Is Amazon Liable for Defective Products Sold on Its Site?
Thursday August 8, 2019 Tech Millionaire Fined $3.7 Million After Destroying Wetlands for Winery
Wednesday August 7, 2019 How Trump’s Political Appointees Overruled Tougher Settlements With Big Banks
Tuesday August 6, 2019 NRA Chief Sought Help of Group’s Ad Agency in Trying to Buy $5 Million Mansion
Monday August 5, 2019 Defense Contractors Tighten Grip on Pentagon
Week of July 29, 2019
Friday August 2, 2019 Breast Implants Linked to Rare Cancer Recalled
Thursday August 1, 2019 Taco Seasonings Recalled
Wednesday July 31, 2019 FTC Fines Facebook $5 Billion
Tuesday July 30, 2019 3M China Bribery Probe
Monday July 29, 2019 Most California Lawmakers Took Money from Convicted Felon PG&E
There is another important point. The right-wing proponents of the “free market” dismiss the economic reality that a few mega-corporations control most of the assets, revenues, sales, and profits in most sectors of the economy and do their best to mislead the public about this reality. The real concern is that extraordinary economic power will distort markets and have a un-democratic impact on government. Here’s what I wrote about the concentration of corporate wealth in a post sent out on November 2, 2017, disputing the contention that the US has an economy driven by competitive markets.
From November 2, 2017 post.
There is no doubt that we have a capitalist economy dominated by mega-corporations that measure their success by their profits and the value of their stocks compared to those of their domestic and foreign competitors. The Merriam-Webster dictionary defines a megacorporation as “a huge and powerful corporation.” You get some sense of the size of these corporations from the numbers generated each year by Fortune magazine in its “Fortune 500” list of the largest corporations in the economy. In the magazine’s most recent list for 2017, the magazine finds that “Fortune 500 companies represent two-thirds of the U.S. GDP [gross domestic product], $2 trillion in revenues, $890 billion in profits, and $19 trillion in market value, and employ 28.2 million people worldwide” (http://fortune.com/fortune500/list). The corporation with the most revenues in 2017 is Walmart, with $485.8 billion in revenues. The corporation with the most profits in 2017 is Apple, with $45.7 billion. The biggest corporations have more assets than most nations. According to Quora, there are 220 U.S. “firms” with revenues of $2 billion or more (https://www.quora.com/Forbes-400-How-many-companies-in-the-world-generate-over-US-1-billion-in-annual-revenue).
Here’s another way of thinking about the role played by mega-corporations. The domination of industry-specific markets by a few large corporations is defined as an oligopoly. In the U.S. economy, most industries are oligopolies. We have an economy in which virtually all industries and markets are dominated by a few mega-corporations. According to Wikipedia, “An oligopoly (from Ancient Greek ὀλίγος (olígos), meaning ‘few’, and πωλεῖν (polein), meaning ‘to sell’ is a market form wherein a market or industry is dominated by a small number of sellers (oligopolists). Oligopolies can result from various forms of collusion which reduce competition and lead to higher prices for consumers. Oligopoly has its own market structure.” Wikipedia continues: “With few sellers, each oligopolist is likely to be aware of the actions of the others. According to game theory, the decisions of one firm therefore influence and are influenced by decisions of other firms. Strategic planning by oligopolists needs to take into account the likely responses of the other market participants” (https://en/wikipedia/wiki/Oligopoly).
Tim Wu throws further light on this form of corporate concentration in an article for The New Yorker entitled “The Oligopoly Problem” (https://www.newyorker.com/tech/elements/the-oligopoly-problem). He refers to Barry Lynn’s 2011 book Cornered “which carefully detailed the rising concentration and consolidation of nearly every American industry since the nineteen-eighties.” Lynn’s chief finding is that dominance by two or three firms “is not the exception but increasingly the rule.” Wu gives this example, among others: “while drugstores seem to offer unlimited choices in toothpaste, just two firms, Procter & Gamble and Colgate-Palmolive, control more than eighty percent of the market….” Wu argues that there should be more government regulation of such arrangements.
The right-wing disinformation apparatus also ignores the obviously flawed medical system dominated by insurance, pharmaceutical, and medical-equipment corporations that keep prices rising for medical care, prescription drugs, hospital care, and a system in which tens of millions of American cannot afford insurance or afford medical care when they are insured. And they dismiss how the mega-banks and mega-auto corporations were among the principal causes of the Great Recession in 2007-2009, or that they were kept in business with an enormous federal government bailout, while millions of ordinary citizens lost their jobs and homes. They ignore furthermore how the Federal Reserve employed a method called “quantitative easing” to purchase hundreds of billions of dollars of toxic (valueless) assets that threatened the viability and bottom lines of the mega financial institutions on Wall Street. And, astoundingly and brazenly, the banks have grown bigger since the recession, while the “too big to fail” rule is now institutionalized in practice and in place for another taxpayer bailout the next time the mega banks and their speculative investment strategies lead to another market crash. The point: forget all this hogwash about a competitive economy based on a “free market.”
Third, they contend that only the free market economy can produce strong growth and the fruits of it will trickle down.
The economic growth that the “free” market produces is said to trickle down to the middle and working classes in jobs, income, wealth, and a slew of commodities of all sorts. However, the evidence indicates that more and more of the jobs are jobs that have little security, no benefits, low wages, and no union protection. And the distribution of incomes and wealth have reached record levels of inequality since the “roaring twenties,” as much of it goes to the most affluent and richest segments of the population. Examples abound of the lack of trickle down in the growing number of people who find it difficult or impossible to find decent and safe housing, or safe water to drink, or afford medical care, who or are “food insecure,” or whose children attend under-resourced schools, or whose parents must, if they are physically able, continue working into their 70s and 80s.
Anand Giridharadas refers to examples of widespread deprivation in his book, Winners Take All: The Elite Charade of Changing the World, where he writes: “the average American’s health remains worse and slower-improving than that of peers in other rich countries”; “the average twelfth grader tests more poorly in reading than in 1992”; “the share of young people who own a business has fallen by two-thirds since the 1980s”; “illiteracy has remained stubbornly in place and that the fraction of Americans who read at least one work of literature a year has dropped by almost a quarter in recent decades”; “the average pretax income of the top tenth of Americans had doubled since 1980, that of the top 1 percent has more than tripled, and that of the top 0.001 percent has risen more than sevenfold – even as the pretax income of the bottom half of Americans has stayed almost precisely the same” (p. 4).
Jake Johnson, whose article on the highly unequal distribution of wealth I cited on the first page, reports on a study that uses figures from the U.S. Census Bureau and the Kaiser Family Foundation that finds the costs of employer-sponsored health insurance soared from 1999 through 2017 by 127 percent, while the median -household income rose only 2 percent, reflecting the stagnation in wages (https://www.commondreams.org/news/2019/08/07/eating-away-workers-wages-employer-sponsored-health-insurance-soared-121-1999). Johnson adds: “‘By 2017, family coverage absorbed more than double that amount, to about 31 percent of take-home pay,’ according to Axios. ‘Health insurance has hovered consistently around 31 percent of household income since 2012, as companies shifted their employees to plans that had steady premiums but higher deductibles and out-of-pocket costs.’”
Additionally, Robert Reich offers a refutation of the “free market” narrative as well. He writes that in the US there is “Socialism for the rich” (https://truthdig.com/articles/robert-reich-america-is-a-socialist-country-for-the-rich). For right-wingers, Reich points out, “socialism means getting something for doing nothing.” And that “pretty much describes the $21 billion saved by the nation’s largest banks last year thanks to Trump’s tax cuts” and the “$31.4 billion that “went into massive bonuses for bank executives.” At the same time, more than 4,000 lower-level bank employees lost their jobs. Reich gives other examples of how Trump is “promoting socialism for the rich and harsh capitalism for everyone else, pointing to how under Trump “GM has got more than $600 million in federal contracts plus $500 million in tax breaks.” He continues: “Some of this has gone into the pockets of GM executives. Chairman and CEO Mary Barra raked in almost $22 million in total compensation in 2017 alone.” These lucrative subsidies, tax breaks, and executive compensation occurred while “GM is planning to lay off more than 14,000 workers and close three assembly plants and two component factories in North America by the end of 2019.”
Here are some other examples identified by Reich: “Sears is doling out $25 million to the executives who stripped its remaining assets and drove it into bankruptcy, but it has no money for the thousands of workers it laid off.” And: “As Pacific Gas and Electric hurtles toward bankruptcy, the person who was in charge when the deadly infernos roared through Northern California last year (caused in part by PG&E’s faulty equipment) has departed with a cash severance package of $2.5 million. The PG&E executive in charge of gas operations when records were allegedly falsified left in 2018 with $6.9 million.” Then there was Equifax’s Richard Smith who retired in 2017 “with an $18 million pension in the wake of a security breach that exposed the personal information of 145 million consumers to hackers,” and “Wells Fargo’s Carrie Tolstedt departed with a $125 million exit package after being in charge of the unit that opened more than 2 million unauthorized customer accounts.” And, to rub it in, Trump wants to cut the estate tax for the superrich, many of whom have never done a day’s work in their lives, to apply only to estates valued at over $22 million per couple.” Over the next three decades, “an estimated $30 trillion will go to their children.” Reich notes that “Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell is now proposing that the estate tax be repealed altogether.”
Government supported research has been critical in spurring innovation
There is yet another point worth making, that is, innovation generally and high-tech innovations specifically have often stemmed from research in government labs, or subsidized research in universities, or public-private partnerships with researchers from the private sector. Economics professor Mariana Mazucato has written a brilliant book, The Value of Everything, thoroughly documenting this fact. Here just a sample of what she has found.
“…the iPhone…depends on publicly funded smartphone technology, while both the Internet and SIRI were funded by the Defense Department of Defense; GPS by the US Navy; and touchscreen display by the CIA. In the pharmaceutical sector, research has shown than two-thirds of the most innovative new drugs (new molecular entities with priority rating) trace their research back to funding by the US National Institutes of Health. Meanwhile, some of the greatest advances in energy – from nuclear to solar to fracking – have been funded by the US Department of Energy, including recent battery storage innovations by ARPA-E, DARPA’s sister organization. Both Bill Gates, CEO of Microsoft, and Eric Schmidt, Executive Chairman of Alphabet (the parent company of Google), have recently written about the immense benefits their companies gained from public investments: as well as the Internet and the html code behind the worldwide web written in CERN, a pubic lab in Europe, Google’s very algorithm was funded by a National Science Foundation grant” (p. 194).
Fourth, they contend that economic inequalities are not a problem because they reflect differential achievements and perhaps even genetic differences, not differential opportunities.
The historic and rising inequality that has been recorded since the 1970s should not be of concern to policymakers, they contend, because incomes, wealth, and other benefits are said to be based on merit, that is, hard work, IQ, the right education, and moral rectitude. From this view, the richest are the most meritorious of all, while the poor are said to deserve their desperate positions because of their own bad decisions and/or lack of a work ethic. Consistent with this Social Darwinist view, the right-wing leaders and propogandists want public assistance to be kept at a minimum or eliminated altogether to avoid giving incentives to the poor and needy a “free ride.” The same is true, they say, of minimum wages, that is, keep it low or eliminate it.
Such claims that government benefits to people with lower incomes are bad for society because there are too many people who don’t want to work for a living are challenged by historic examples. From 1939 to 1969, for example, there were opportunities related to WWII and the fact there was a labor shortage as a result of 11 million men and women in the armed forces, and then unique conditions that existed in the ensuing decades that gave great advantages to the US economy. According to estimates based on officially-based poverty standards, the poverty rate fell from 64-68 percent in 1939 to 12 percent by 1969 (from Sheak’s unpublished 2002 book draft, Poverty, Corporate Power, and the Welfare State – can send info on request; also see the extraordinary analysis of sociologist Edward Royce in his book, Poverty & Power: The Problem of Structural Inequality, 3rd ed).
The implication is that when there were opportunities, people who had previously been left and out and poor and/or because of racial or gender employment discrimination took advantage of the opportunities. These years, from the late 1930s to 1969, had high rates of economic growth (4% +), strong unions, job security for many with benefits and good wages, high taxes, the GI bill, the building of the inter-state highway system, the inclusion of the disabled under Social Security, a minimum wage that approximated labor productivity, the introduction of Medicare and Medicaid, food stamps, and more.
It was far from perfect, as the country was still affected by institutional racism and sexism. This was a period, moreover, when the ratio of CEO pay to workers’ pay was about 30-to-1. In recent years, according to one major study of 225 companies, it is now 339-to-1overall, and 997-to-1 in fast food and retail (https://www.theguardian.com/us-news/16/ceo-worker-pay-ratio-america-first-study). Since the 1970s, the average wage of workers has stagnated, while the compensation of corporate CEOs has skyrocketed. This had little to do with meritocracy and more to do with corporate power, the primacy of keeping stocks high in value, corporate policies of deindustrialization and corporate investment abroad to low-wage countries, the right-wing assault on labor law and its enforcement, the increase in the number of right-to-work states, a falling minimum wage, the replacement of workers by automation, contracting out work to non-union firms, and similar practices, as well as trade policies that are devoid of protections for worker rights, human rights, the environment , and that prioritized corporate interests over democratic interests.
Fifth, they contend that the economic and political systems we have and US foreign interests need to be protected from foreign enemies as well as keeping markets open for US corporate exploitation through an ever-more profligate “national defense.”
The makers and shakers in this right-wing coalition benefit from or go along with pouring ever-more money into “national defense,” as the basis for a foreign policy that is increasingly based on war or the threat of wars, military interventions, 800 to 1,000 military bases located in 70 or more countries. According to the online encyclopedia Wikipedia, the US, for example, has “the highest combined battle fleet tonnage and the world’s largest aircraft carrier fleet, with eleven in service, and two new carriers under construction.” Continuing: “With 319,421 personnel on active duty and 99,616 in the Ready Reserve, the U.S. Navy is the third largest of the U.S. military service branches in terms of personnel. It has 282 deployable combat vessels and more than 3,700 operational aircraft as of March 2018, making it the third-largest air force in the world, after the United States Air Force and the United States Army” (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/United_States_Navy).
William D. Hartung and Mandy Smithberger give us some in-depth understanding of the extraordinary amount of taxpayer money that goes to pay for national “defense” and defense- related expenditures in an article for The Nation magazine. (https://www.thenation.com/article/tom-dispatch-america-defense-budget-bigger-than-you-think). Taking their numbers from Trump’s FY2020 budget proposal, the base budge for national defense is $750 billion, which would be “one of the largest military budgets in American history, topping peak levels reached during the Korean and Vietnam wars.” This money would pay for the 1.8 million military personnel, the 800,000 in military reserve units, and the 600,000 private contractors, and for the costs of maintaining facilities, housing, uniforms and equipment, feeding the troops, medical care, transportation, adding a Space Force, and a huge array of weapons from small-arms weapons to major weapons’ systems.
Also, according to Hartung and Smithberger, the base budget does not include the regular “cost overruns on major weapons programs like the Ground-Based Strategic Deterrent—the Pentagon’s unwieldy name for the Air Force’s new intercontinental ballistic missile—and routine overpayments for even minor spare parts (like $8,000 for a helicopter gear worth less than $500—a markup of 1,500 percent).” There is more like “the overpriced weapons systems the military can’t even afford to operate, like a $13 billion aircraft carrier, 200 nuclear bombers at $564 million a pop, and the F-35 combat aircraft, the most expensive weapons system in history, at a price tag of at least $1.4 trillion over the lifetime of the program, the latter a program, this F-35 that “may never perform as advertised.”
The Pentagon “also maintains its very own slush fund, formally known as the Overseas Contingency Operations account, or OCO, which is supposed to pay for the War on Terror—that is, the US wars in Afghanistan, Iraq, Somalia, Syria, and elsewhere across the Middle East and Africa. In practice, it does that and so much more.” This includes a proposed nearly $174 billion, only $25 billion of which “is meant to directly pay for the wars in Iraq, Afghanistan, and elsewhere. The rest will be set aside for what’s termed enduring activities that would continue even if those wars ended or for routine Pentagon activities that couldn’t be funded within the constraints of the budget caps.” Hartung and Smithberger note that the “2020 OCO also includes $9.2 billion in ‘emergency” spending for building Trump’s beloved wall on the US-Mexico border.”
Then there are other military-related operations and costs that are not included in the basic national defense budget. Part of the Department of Energy’s budget, about $24.8 billion, is dedicated to running “a nationwide research, development, and production network for nuclear warheads and naval nuclear reactors that stretches from Livermore, California, to Albuquerque and Los Alamos, New Mexico, to Kansas City, Missouri, to Oak Ridge, Tennessee, to Savannah River, South Carolina. Its laboratories also have a long history of program mismanagement, with some projects coming in at nearly eight times their initial estimates. $9 billion goes to “the FBI for homeland security-related activities, $216 billion for Veterans Affairs, a substantial part of which is for providing care for veterans who suffer from “the physical and mental wounds of war.” The sad fact is this: “Hundreds of thousands of returning troops suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder, illnesses created by exposure to toxic burn pits, or traumatic brain injuries.” The cost of caring for these vets will total “more than $1 trillion in the years to come.” The estimated budget for the Department of Homeland Security is $69.2 billion, with “nearly a quarter of a million employees, includes spending budgets for “the Coast Guard, the Federal Emergency Management Agency, Customs and Border Protection, Immigration and Customs Enforcement, Citizenship and Immigration Services, the Secret Service, the Federal Law Enforcement Training Center, the Domestic Nuclear Detection Office, and the Office of Intelligence and Analysis.”
Hartung and Smithberger say that all the proposed activities thus far identified add up to $1.0469 trillion for 2020. But there are three more items. One, the international affairs budget of $51 billion has been cut under the Trump administration but still includes in the president’s 2020 budget the money for “the budgets of the State Department and the US Agency for International Development Diplomacy.” Two, “The proposed $80 billion budget for intelligence is $80 billion, for “the CIA, the National Security Agency, the Defense Intelligence Agency, the State Department’s Bureau of Intelligence and Research, the Drug Enforcement Agency’s Office of National Security Intelligence, the Treasury Department’s Office of Intelligence and Analysis, the Department of Energy’s Office of Intelligence and Counterintelligence, the National Reconnaissance Office, the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency, the Army’s Intelligence and Security Command, the Office of Naval Intelligence, Marine Corps Intelligence, Coast Guard Intelligence, and Air Force Intelligence, Surveillance and Reconnaissance.” The Office of the Director of National Intelligence, set up to coordinate the activities of the other 16. And, three, the defense share of the national debt is $156.3 billion.
Hartung and Smithberger arrive at a “final tally” of “$1,254,200,000,000. Thus, when all the spending they identify is considered, the Trump government wants to spend $500 billion more than the base budget of approximately $750 billion, plus the uncalculated costs of overruns and inflated prices, or of the unnecessary wars, or of a military presence all over the world. They expect that if the average taxpayer was “aware that this amount was being spent in the name of national defense—with much of it wasted, misguided, or simply counterproductive—it might be far harder for the national-security state to consume ever-growing sums with minimal public pushback. For now, however, the gravy train is running full speed ahead, and its main beneficiaries—Lockheed Martin, Boeing, Northrop Grumman, and their cohort—are laughing all the way to the bank.”
It might be added. Trump and his advisers, with the support of the military contractors and compliance of the military brass, are drumming the war beats for a war with Iran, withdrawing from arms control treaties with Russia, preparing for war (a nuclear war) with Russia and China, modernizing the US nuclear arsenal, while, as just outlined, increasing spending on an already bloated and over-extended national defense. Bear in mind that the US still has a policy that allows for the first (preemptive) use of nuclear weapons, allows for lunch on command, and that embodies the irrational belief that the US could “win” a nuclear war, with only a few tens of billions of American casualties. (Read Daniel Ellsberg’s in-depth analysis of this craziness in his book, The Doomsday Machine, 2017).
Summing up the critique of the right-wing assumptions
If not effectively contested politically, the agenda of the right-wing alliance will further consolidate corporate power, increase the already extraordinary wealth of the rich, make government less democratic, irrationally do little to reverse the accelerating climate disruption, do little to rebuild the manufacturing sector, do too little to prevent further deterioration in the nation’s infrastructure, drive more Americans into insecure, low wage jobs and poverty, foment divisions and racism, pour vast resources into “securing the border,” put more people into the prison system, do nothing about the regulation of guns, and pursue foreign policies that rely on the threat of military force and nuclear war, and sanctions, and trade wars. The “America First” slogan that is so dear to the hearts of Trump’s base stupidly ignores the fact that the US economy is highly dependent on other countries for vital raw materials and goods of all kind, and that, like it or not, we live in a highly interdependent and interconnected world. The path on which the right-wing activists, their enablers, and supporters are taking us will lead us to economic ruin, environmental calamity, unprecedented inequality, the loss of allies abroad, and war, if not nuclear war.
Items for an incomplete alternative progressive agenda to advance democracy, equality, fairness, and sustainability
#1 – Reduce the size and power of the mega-corporations
• anti-trust enforcement
• eliminate corporate money in political campaigns
• limit corporate lobbying
• no more bailouts, no more quantitative easing, no “too big to fail” bailouts
• support public banks
• limit copyrights and patents
• reform corporate governance by requiring the participation of workers, consumers and others to have representation on corporate boards
#2 – Strengthen democracy
• make it easier to register to vote
• take steps to end the voter suppression tactics of the Republicans
• work to repeal “corporate personhood”
• promote public funding of political campaigns
• limit “special interest” money in politics
• enfranchise ex-felons who have served their time
• takes steps to stamp out domestic terrorism
• take steps to protect the privacy of Americans from “capitalist surveillance” (see Shoshana Zuboff’s book by that title)
#3 – “green” the economy
• phase out fossil fuels as quickly as feasible
• end government subsidies for fossil-fuel companies
• put solar panels on very government and military building and facility
• support companies that manufacture solar panels and wind turbines domestically
• support organic farming, while reducing support for industrial agriculture
• protect the viability of national parks and endangered species
• plant lots of trees
#4 – implement a plan to address the national infrastructure problem
• e.g.: highways, roads, ports, sanitation and water systems, high-speed rail, low-emission public transportation
#5 – raise taxes on the rich and corporations
• raise the corporate and individual tax rates
• raise tax on short-term capital gains and dividends
• institute a transaction tax on stock trading
• increase the estate tax by lowering the amount of inherited wealth that is untaxed
#6 – reduce the “defense budget”
• directly reducing the amount spent on the military
• reconsider the policy of “modernizing” the nuclear arsenal
• enter or re-enter treaties that aim to reduce and eventually eliminate nuclear weapons
• comply with obligations under the Nuclear Non-Proliferation treaty
#7 – strengthen the economic position of the working and middle classes
• push for a full-employment policy, which includes the creation of jobs in the public sector
• raise the minimum wage
• strengthen collective bargaining law for public as well as private sector workers
• oppose “right to work” proposals and laws
• pass legislation that would guarantee paid maternity leave, vacations, paid sick days
• expand the Earned Income Tax Credit
• Subsidize child care
• Share profits with employees
#8 – take steps to fix the public education system through college
• increase federal financial support for schools and teacher education
• support the idea that teachers and community officials and citizens should have a major say
• redraw school district boundaries to end segregation by class and put students in same school systems
• reduce, excuse, and find alternative ways to deal with the huge and rising student debt
• increase and encourage support for community colleges
• support an interim program of bussing, as the Marshall plan to end poverty is implemented
#9 – build a progressive social-welfare security system
• support universal health care legislation – e.g., “Medicare for all”
• do what it takes to maintain the solvency of all aspects of Social Security – e.g., eliminate the ceiling on the “wage tax”
• reduce the high rates of poverty, homelessness, and food insecurity, say with a Marshall Plan for poor communities or a “universal basic income”
#10 – have a foreign policy that aims to strengthen peaceful, non-military options, arms reduction, mutual trade arrangements, and non-exploitative investment rather than policies that assert “America First”
• rebuild the state department
• support the United Nations efforts to address the problems of the world’s nations, the poor, the environment, and economic development
• don’t support authoritarian governments or allow weapons to be sold to them
• better regulate and reduce the foreign sales of weapons to “developing” countries
• emphasize “development” projects in relations to “developing countries” that build their domestic economies – e.g., work to realize “the Sustainable Development Goals”
• enter into multilateral trade agreements that prioritize workers’ rights, human rights, environmental protection, green energy, and international tax avoidance
• avoid attempts to gain advantages and enhance America’s interests through sanctions, military and covert interventions, threats of conventional or nuclear war, tariff wars
Some of the challenges
The situation is clear: There’s a lot that needs to be done if Americans are going to reverse the un-democratic, corporate-dominated economy, the rising inequalities, the environmentally-devastating policies and practices, the war-mongering path that Trump and his administration are taking us. And there are additional concerns and questions about whether the process of robust change will even have a chance to begin.
One, will the Democratic Party have the vision, courage, and ability to advance a progressive agenda in the 2020 elections? It’s worrisome that many Democrats have been overly dependent on donations from corporate PACs, have been willing to support large increases in the military budget, flawed educational policies, a reckless “all-of-the-above” energy policy, a Federal Reserve board dominated by the mega-banks, etc.?
Two, will the American electorate in 2020 be able to understand what is at stake and not succumb to the fear-mongering, racist, divisive rhetoric, disinformation, and duplicitous policies of Trump and the Republican Party and/or have so many of their votes denied by Republican voter suppression tactics?
Julia Conley reports on a study by the Brennan Center for Justice that found how millions of Americans “are still suffering the consequences of the 2013 Supreme Court decision [Shelby County v. Holder] that loosened restrictions of the Voting Rights Act, giving states with long histories of voter discrimination free reign to purge voters from their rolls without federal oversight” (https://www.commondreams.org/news/2019/08/02/17-million-americans-purged-voter-rolls-between-2016-and-2018). The study found “that 17 million Americans were dropped from voter rolls between 2016 and 2018—almost four million more than the number purged between 2006 and 2008.” Furthermore: “The problem was most pronounced in counties and election precincts with a history of racial oppression and voter suppression. In such areas voters were kicked off rolls at a rate 40 percent higher than places which have protected voting rights more consistently.” Indeed: “The Brennan Center said that while there are legitimate reasons for removing names from a state’s voter database, such as a relocation to another state or a death, many voters’ names—especially those of minority voters—are purged even though they meet the state’s requirements for casting a ballot.” And: “Voters often do not realize they have been purged until they try to cast a ballot on Election Day—after it’s already too late,” according to one of the researchers. Bear in mind that this is only one method for suppressing the vote of those who would otherwise vote for Democratic candidates.
Three, if Democrats win the 2020 elections and control the White House and both chambers of the US Congress, will they be able to find ways around Republican obstructionist tactics (e.g., the filibuster) and advance elements of the progressive agenda?
Four, can a progressive agenda be advanced without further increasing or having a plan to reduce expeditiously the already unsustainable national debt, which exceeds $22 trillion and is steadily rising?
Five, should the issue of some sort of “reparations” to African-Americans in compensation for the long history of slavery and racial oppression continuing to this day is an issue be prioritized? Or is the progressive agenda already sufficient, if implemented, to address many of the unfair and pressing issues African Americans still face?
Six, amidst the plethora of issues that need serious attention, there is one that is definitive in its deleterious and destabilizing effects, that is, climate change, or, as Dahr Jamail labels it, anthropogenic climate disruption. (See his book, The End of Ice.) Everything humans do depends on a relatively stable climate. We’re told by scientists that the US government – and other governments across the globe – has only a limited time to act to drastically reduce greenhouse gas emissions, perhaps 10-30 years before the disruptive climate change already well underway will be beyond control and reach a point that threatens life as we know it. Therefore, if nothing else, the massive fossil fuel complex must be rapidly phased out and replaced by renewables, energy efficiency measures, and whatever else will reduce greenhouse emissions (e.g., electric cars, eco-designed or revamped cities), along with efforts to extract the extraordinary level of carbon that is already in the atmosphere (e.g., protecting and enhancing public land, stopping deforestation, along with massive reforestation and regenerative farming). On the latter subject, see the article by Juliett Majo, “Landmark UN Report Emphasizes Crucial Role of Regenerative Farming Practices to Address Climate and Food Emergencies (https://www.commondreams.org/views/2019/08/09/landmark-un-report-emphasizes-crucial-role-regenerative-farming-practices-address).
In the meantime, the effects of climate disruption continue to be shockingly manifest all around us. Andrea Germanos reports on the July 2019 report of the World Meteorological Organization that July “may go down as the hottest month the planet has seen thus far in recorded history and “on track to be among the five warmest on the books, from 2015 to 2019” (https://www.commondreams.org/news/2019/08/02/july-has-re-written-climate-history-month-could-go-down-planets-hottest-ever). The WMO chief is quoted: “The extraordinary heat was accompanied by dramatic ice melt in Greenland, in the Arctic, and on European glaciers” while “[u]nprecedented wildfires raged in the Arctic for the second consecutive month, devastating once pristine forests which used to absorb carbon dioxide and instead turning them into fiery sources of greenhouse gases.”
The time is not for moderation but for transformative change.