Tuesday, March 31, 2020

Americans’ Revulsion for Trump Is Underappreciated

Published on Portside (https://portside.org/)

Americans’ Revulsion for Trump Is Underappreciated

Stanley B. Greenberg
March 24, 2020
The Atlantic


  The release on Friday of an ABC News/Ipsos poll indicating that 55 percent of Americans approved of Donald Trump’s handling of the coronavirus—12 points higher than the previous week—prompted another round of fatalistic chatter in certain quarters of the political establishment. Shocked by Trump’s victory in 2016, some left-leaning commentators and rank-and-file Democrats alike have been steeling themselves for his reelection in 2020, noting that most presidents win second terms; that, at least before the pandemic, the economy was humming along; and more recently that, during moments of national disaster, Americans tend to rally around the leader they have.

   But these nuggets of conventional political wisdom obscure something fundamental—something that even Democrats have trouble seeing: The United States is in revolt against Donald Trump, and the likely Democratic nominee, former Vice President Joe Biden, already holds a daunting lead over Trump in the battleground states that will decide the 2020 election. By way of disclosure, I am a Democratic pollster; for professional and personal reasons alike, I want Democratic candidates to succeed. But no matter what, I also want candidates and party operatives to base decisions—such as where and how to campaign—on an accurate view of the political landscape. At the moment, Democrats are underestimating their own strength and misperceiving the sources of it.

   Every time Americans have gone to the polls since Trump took office, they have pushed back hard against him. The blue wave that began in state elections in 2017 grew bigger in the 2018 midterms and bigger yet in 2019. Trump focused the Republican Party’s whole 2018 congressional campaign on immigrant caravans and the border wall, and he lost. Trump held rallies in support of the Republican gubernatorial candidates on the last nights before elections in the deep-red states of Kentucky and Louisiana, and they lost. The GOP losses right through the end of 2019 were produced by dramatic, growing gains for Democrats in the nation’s suburbs. Democrats took total control of the Virginia legislature, where the party held on to all the suburban seats it had flipped two years earlier and gained six more.

  Even so, a CBS News poll taken late last month found that 65 percent of Americans and more than a third of Democrats believed that Trump would win reelection. Trump has been confidently stalking Democrats, holding exuberant rallies in each of the early caucus and primary states.

  For a time, each week’s voting made Trump’s position look stronger. Bernie Sanders took a commanding delegate lead after the Nevada caucus, and Democratic leaders and many others in the anti-Trump world panicked. Sanders was widely viewed as Trump’s preferred opponent, and he looked unstoppable in the nomination battle. Republicans were rubbing their hands together, eager to spend millions “educating” the country about Sanders’s long-ago honeymoon in Moscow and his socialist plans to destroy American health care. Even after Joe Biden stunned himself and all the political analysts by winning the South Carolina primary by nearly 30 points, much of the subsequent commentary dwelled on the nearly 30 percent of Sanders voters who were not certain they would vote for the eventual nominee. The New York Times soon published a front-page story on the socialist podcast Chapo Trap House and a broader movement calling itself the “Dirtbag Left,” which embraced Sanders and attacked his Democratic opponents. The alienation of people like these would reelect Trump, supporters of other Democratic candidates feared.

   But Democratic voters took over the nominating process and changed everything. No group of voters felt more threatened by Donald Trump than African Americans, and no group was more determined to see him defeated. When a stunning 61 percent of black voters in South Carolina chose Joe Biden, other Democrats got the message. Turnout surged on Super Tuesday, led by Texas with a 45 percent increase over 2016 and Virginia with a 70 percent increase, for the highest turnout in state history. The increase was led by African Americans and voters in the suburbs. Two weeks later in Michigan, Tim Alberta declared in Politico, “Democratic turnout exploded,” led by a 45 percent increase in the state’s richest county.

  Trump has nationalized our politics around himself and his job performance, and that has created a nine-point headwind for the Republican Party. While the pessimists obsess over any of Trump’s most favorable polls, particularly in the Electoral College battleground states, Trump has never raised his approval rating above the low 40s in FiveThirtyEight’s average of public polls; 52 to 53 percent disapprove of his performance in office. And that remains true during the current crisis.

    Trump has improved his numbers with the evangelical Christians, Tea Party supporters, and observant Catholics who make up the core of his Republican Party, but it is a diminished party. The percentage of people identifying as Republican since Trump took office has dropped from 39 to 36 percent, according to an NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll. Trump has pushed moderates out of the party, and those moderates are changing their voting patterns accordingly. 
    Fully 5 percent of the voters in the South Carolina Democratic primary had previously voted in the state’s Republican primary. In Michigan, Republican strategists tried to make sense of the 56 percent increase in Democratic turnout in Livingston County, a white, college-educated, upper-class community that Trump won by 30 points. Republicans are shedding voters.

  Why don’t supposedly savvy people see the revolt that’s happening before their very eyes?
Well, everyone should pay less attention to the interviews with Trump voters at his rallies—of course people who attend his events still support him—and more to the fundamental changes in public attitudes that undercut Republican prospects. The signature policies that are cheered at every Trump rally are unpopular with most Americans.

  Trump’s reelection campaign is premised on voters embracing an “America first” vision on trade and immigration, a defense of the traditional family with a male breadwinner, and a battle for the forgotten working class. But the percentage of Americans who believe that free trade between the United States and other countries is mostly a good thing has jumped from 43 to 56 percent in three years—reaching 67 percent among Democrats. The percentage who believe that foreign trade is an opportunity for economic growth rather than a “threat to the economy” has jumped from about 60 to 80 percent since Trump took office. His tariffs and trade war have united much of the country against him.

   As he demanded that Congress fund a border wall with Mexico, pushed migrants into new camps inside and outside the U.S., and dramatically reduced legal immigration, Americans suddenly embraced immigrants and America’s immigrant history. The percentage offering a warm response to the phrase immigrants to the U.S. grew from 52 percent in January 2019 to 59 percent in July and spiked in September to 67 percent.

   Women started the revolt against Trump’s America the day after his inauguration, and their opposition continues to deepen. In 2018, Democrats increased their margins relative to 2016 by more than double digits with white college-educated women—Hillary Clinton’s base—but also with white unmarried women and white working-class women. In 2018, black women turned out to vote in record numbers and gave Republicans only 7 percent of their votes.

   The women’s wave grew to a potential tsunami when I began testing the leading Democratic candidates against Trump in the 2020 presidential contest earlier this month. With Joe Biden as the candidate, Trump won only 4 percent of African American women. He lost Hispanic women by 25 points, white unmarried women by 18, white college women by 14, and white Millennial women by 12—all at historic highs for Democrats.

   Yet while the revulsion that women and suburbanites show toward Trump registers with elite commentators and Democratic operatives, the role that working-class voters have played in Republicans’ recent electoral troubles mostly does not.

  The white working class forms 46 percent of registered voters; most are women. Although these voters’ excitement and hopes made Trump’s 2016 victory possible, they were demonstrably disillusioned just a year into Trump’s presidency. They pulled back when the Republicans proposed big cuts in domestic spending, Medicare, and Medicaid and made health insurance more uncertain and expensive, while slashing taxes for corporations and their lobbyists. In the midterms, Democrats ran on cutting prescription-drug costs, building infrastructure, and limiting the role of big money, and a portion of the white working class joined the revolt. The 13-point shift against Trump was three times stronger than the shift in the suburbs that got everyone’s attention.

   Trump won white working-class women by 27 points in 2016. But at the end of 2019, Biden was running dead even with Trump nationally. Eight months before the election, Democracy Corps—of which I am a co-founder—and the Center for Voter Information conducted a survey in the battleground states that gave Trump his Electoral College victory. (Trump won them by 1.3 points in 2016.) Our recent findings showed Biden trailing Trump with white working-class women by just eight points in a head-to-head contest. These numbers herald an earthquake, but they have not penetrated elite commentators’ calculations about whether Trump will win in 2020.

   When President Barack Obama urged voters to “build on the progress” by supporting Hillary Clinton in 2016, he underestimated how much working-class voters felt Democrats had pushed their concerns out of sight. Democratic presidents championed NAFTA and presided over the outsourcing of jobs; bank bailouts, lost homes and wages, and mandatory health insurance further alienated working people; and Clinton did not hide her closeness with Wall Street or her discomfort campaigning to win working-class and rural communities. So working people had lots of reasons to consider voting for Donald Trump, who said he was battling for the “forgotten Americans,” but shocked Clinton supporters could see only the race cards he played to great effect the second he got off the escalator at Trump Tower. Now the failure of political elites to see the role working people played in the Democratic victories of 2018 makes them believe that Trump is headed for reelection.

   Earlier this year, I assembled an online sample of 250 Democratic base and swing voters to watch the president’s State of the Union address. They reacted second by second to his words and claims and, afterward, drew conclusions about the president. They turned their thumbs down when Trump hailed the “great American comeback.” He lost white working-class men and women on the comeback of jobs and income and “the state of the union is stronger than ever.” After listening to the president for more than an hour, 63 percent said he’s “governing for billionaires and big money elites.” The elites may not see working people, but working people see Donald Trump.

   Perhaps sensing the danger to the incumbent, Republican leaders in Congress appear willing to approve a massive stimulus plan in response to the coronavirus—a stimulus significantly larger than the one they ravaged Obama for pushing through. That could raise Trump’s prospects—but the potentially catastrophic human consequences of COVID-19 could also work against him. Trump, one can safely assume, will do almost anything to get reelected, and my fellow Democrats will do all they can to defeat him. But they also need to take into account this basic fact: Large portions of the electorate, knowing what the stakes are, have been rebelling against Trump for three years and are eager to finish off his vision of America.

Stanley B. Greenberg is a pollster who worked for Bill Clinton, Al Gore, Tony Blair, and Nelson Mandela. He is the author of R.I.P. G.O.P.: How the New America is Dooming the Republicans.

Donations can be sent to the Baltimore Nonviolence Center, 431 Notre Dame Lane, Apt. 206, Baltimore, MD 21212.  Ph: 410-323-1607; Email: mobuszewski2001 [at] comcast.net. Go to http://baltimorenonviolencecenter.blogspot.com/

"The master class has always declared the wars; the subject class has always fought the battles. The master class has had all to gain and nothing to lose, while the subject class has had nothing to gain and everything to lose--especially their lives." Eugene Victor Debs


The Corona Virus and the Limits of the Market: Convert Defense and Other Industries to Fight New Security Threats

The only light at the end of the tunnel is a recognition that we must renounce empire and then devote tax dollars toward sustainability and income equality.  Otherwise we are doomed.
Kagiso, Max
Published on Portside (https://portside.org/)

The Corona Virus and the Limits of the Market: Convert Defense and Other Industries to Fight New Security Threats

Jonathan Michael Feldman
March 25, 2020
Global Teach-In


A Crisis of Supply and Demand

The Corona Virus crisis is a crisis of both economic supply and economic demand. The supply crisis is triggered by factories closing to protect factory workers and other businesses doing the same (to protect workers or consumers). The demand side of the crisis is triggered by the fact that workers laid off often don’t have as great incomes, because many service businesses are closed or see less business for obvious reasons. The market, which often works as a useful coordinating mechanism, has proven to be limited in solving the supply and demand problems generated by this crisis.

  Cutting interest rates won’t provide a meaningful alternative to these supply and demand problems. Instead, we must ask basic questions about how resources are organized in society. The basic questions center on the role which security policies and globalization have played in diverting nations from priorities in health, welfare and equitable economic development. The health crisis is partially a production crisis.

  On the one hand, governments have invested in obsolete “hard power” military missions that increasingly waste resources needed to combat environmental and health crises. On the other hand, a team of writers at The New York Times have explained how globalization and outsourcing sustain the production crisis: “a shortage of masks has become a bottleneck slowing the rollout of testing, which experts say is crucial to containing the virus.” Various “companies are struggling to quickly expand their mask-making capacities, in part because of broken overseas supply chains and some countries’ restrictions on exporting protective gear during the crisis.”

The Threat of the Next Great Depression

A March 20, 2020 article by Laurence Darmiento in The Los Angeles Times discussed the potential of a Great Depression: “experts are grappling with a situation as novel as the virus that caused it, and they really don’t know how much our high-tech, interconnected and consumption-oriented economy can endure.” He quotes Roger Framer of UCLA and Warwick as follows: “The longer this disruption goes on, the more likely it will have a permanent effect…Three weeks we can bounce back from, three months is not so clear.” A report on March 17th on the USA noted about 18% of adults reported that “they had hours cut or had been laid off, with the workers in lower-income households hit hardest.” Moody’s Analytics claimed that “nearly 80 million U.S. jobs” have different risk levels with Darmiento suggesting  “it’s more likely some 10 million workers could either be laid off, furloughed or see their hours and wages cut.” While teleworking can help some, Darmiento noted: “Cashiers, waiters, construction workers and others in the blue-collar workforce don’t have that luxury as they sit at home without pay.”

Dion Rabouin in Axios went further in an article entitled, “Coronavirus could force the world into an unprecedented depression.” Rabouin began his essay as follows: “In its latest repricing of the economy, the market sees the now-expected global recession caused by the coronavirus outbreak morphing into an economic depression unlike any the world has seen in generations.” He identified “the big picture” by stating that “bankers and traders are looking to sell everything that isn’t nailed down to boost cash positions and hunker down for the worst.” Rabouin pointed to Deutsche Bank economists who predicted a “severe global recession occurring in the first half of 2020” and “quarterly declines in GDP growth we anticipate substantially exceed anything previously recorded going back to at least World War II.”

CNN on March 21st published a story, “Coronavirus spreads, raising threat of global economic depression.” An earlier CNN story on March 19th quoted former Trump economist Kevin Hassett as follows: “We’re going to have to either have a Great Depression, or figure out a way to send people back to work even though that’s risky…Because at some point, we can’t not have an economy, right?”

Finally, Nouriel Roubini, the business and economics scholar, wrote on March 24, 2020: “With the COVID-19 pandemic still spiraling out of control, the best economic outcome that anyone can hope for is a recession deeper than that following the 2008 financial crisis. But given the flailing policy response so far, the chances of a far worse outcome are increasing by the day.” He continued: “Not even during the Great Depression and World War II did the bulk of economic activity literally shut down, as it has in China, the United States, and Europe today. The best-case scenario would be a downturn that is more severe than the [2008 financial crisis] (in terms of reduced cumulative global output) but shorter-lived, allowing for a return to positive growth by the fourth quarter of this year. In that case, markets would start to recover when the light at the end of the tunnel appears.”

Roubini expressed doubts that the best-case would occur, however. One reason was that “the public-health response in advanced economies has fallen far short of what is needed to contain the pandemic, and the fiscal-policy package currently being debated is neither large nor rapid enough to create the conditions for a timely recovery.” Therefore, he concluded that “the risk of a new Great Depression, worse than the original – a Greater Depression – is rising by the day.”
A Depression Defined by Institutional Bottlenecks and Health Security Challenges

The bottlenecks in the economic/health system revolve around the following: a) vaccine production, b) protective equipment, c) ventilators and d) the design of workplaces. One way to respond to the failure of the market and private capitalist system is to supplement it with another kind of system that organizes supply or demand. A March 16, 2020 story in The Financial Times referred to Jagjit Chadha, director of the National Institute for Economic and Social Research, “who said policymakers could consider the kind of measures seen in a wartime ‘command economy’ — using spare capacity in manufacturing or the hotel sector for efforts to fight the virus, or training people for health work.”

The U.S. faces a critical shortage in protective masks because much of production has been outsourced. Farhad Manjoo at The New York Times described the shortage as rooted in “a very American set of capitalist pathologies — the rise and inevitable lure of low-cost overseas manufacturing, and a strategic failure, at the national level and in the health care industry, to consider seriously the cascading vulnerabilities that flowed from the incentives to reduce costs.” In less polite terms, transnational outsourcing corporations represent a Fifth Column, part of a long-term trend seen in how politicians and others have sold out the nation to short-term profit making.

A report in The New York Times explains how the Command Economy could take the form of a U.S. president using “the Defense Production Act “which was passed by Congress at the outset of the Korean War and grants presidents extraordinary powers to force American industries to ensure the availability of critical equipment.” President Trump said recently “that he had used the law to spur the production of ‘millions of masks,’ without offering evidence or specifics about who was manufacturing them or when they would reach health workers.”

The Times noted that when the Defense Production Act was originally passed, it “granted President Harry S. Truman the power to spur the production of aluminum, titanium and other needed materials during wartime.” It has since “been used for both the prevention of terrorism and to prepare for natural disasters.” While some U.S. companies are cooperating with the Trump Administration efforts, “without the Defense Production Act, the government will lack the ability to channel these supplies to areas that need it most — or to persuade companies to act quickly and without regard for their profits.”

What does the “command economy” mean, however, when globalization hollows out supply chains? How can the state bark orders at factories that are so subject to vertical or horizontal disintegration that they can’t deliver the goods? By March 27, The New York Times reported that President Trump threatened to “invoke the Defense Production Act, which would enable the federal government to mobilize privately-held companies to produce critically-needed supplies.” Yet, it was “not clear that will speed the process.” In the case of ventilators, their complexity means that they use “upwards of 1,500 unique parts from more than a dozen nations, and the manufacturers say they will be limited in part by the availability of parts.”
The Solution is Economic and Political Redesign

Returning to the question of ventilator production and the design of workplaces, we confront various design questions. These questions involve production design and political/economic design. When it comes to Ford and GM making ventilators a recent report in Politico noted: “Automakers are offering up their factories to help solve the shortage of ventilators needed to treat an expected crush of coronavirus patients, but production likely won’t begin for months — too late to help ease the immediate need.”

One key problem is the need for social distancing which requires a redesign of the assembly line. Flavio Volpe, head of the Automotive Pars Manufacturers’ Association in Canada explained: “If you were to start a new production line making medical goods, from scratch, you could design [social distancing] into the line and for a lot of these, they’ll have to be made in medical clean rooms…You’re addressing, by definition, a whole bunch of the concerns that employees have on the cleanliness and the spread in the workforce.”

A German/Swiss Company called Schilling Engineering has a homepage in which they profile different kinds of turnkey clean rooms. Here we see very clearly a variety of clean room solutions which could be developed for factories in the U.S. and elsewhere. Willis Whitfield, an American, was the inventor of the clean room. A profile in The New York Times explains what he accomplished: “His clean rooms blew air in from the ceiling and sucked it out from the floor. Filters scrubbed the air before it entered the room. Gravity helped particles exit. It might not seem like a complicated concept, but no one had tried it before. The process could completely replace the air in the room 10 times a minute. Particle detectors in Mr. Whitfield’s clean rooms reported showing numbers so low — a thousand times lower than other methods — that some people did not believe the readings, or Mr. Whitfield.”

The development of a facility to make ventilators is not simply a production design problem. It is also a political economic design problem. By the auto industry’s own admission, they lack proper cleanrooms such that there will be a production lag in producing them. Where then could such clean rooms be found? Well, it turns out that various countries have a number of such rooms only they are designed to meet security needs which correspond often to threats that are either: a) non-existent or b) exaggerated. I am of course speaking of the so-called “defense industry.”

The SOSCleanRoom site explains the sectors having such cleanrooms as follows: “The optics and defense industries use cleanrooms for many applications, including microelectronic, biotech and pharmaceutical, and medical device[s].” Such “applications also include things like chip making for controlling missiles, radar and electronic components, laser development for guidance systems and even biological components for vaccines and test agents.” A 2010 study shows that cleanrooms are not only used in the defense industry, but also in “biotechnology, microelectronics, pharmaceuticals and nanotechnology.” They vary in “size from small to complex multilevel structures with large serviced equipment and utilities.”

Convert the Defense and Pharmaceutical Industries

 The defense industry is a key sector because it utilizes many cleanrooms and is vast in scale. The aerospace industry can also make ventilators. Deloitte recently documented how vast the defense industry is. On the global level, “defense expenditure is expected to grow between 3 and 4 percent in 2020 to reach an estimated US$1.9 trillion, as governments worldwide continue to modernize and recapitalize their militaries.” Much of the growth was “driven by increased defense spending in the United States, as well as in other regions, such as China and India.” Here we have an industry that already has many cleanrooms and the production capacity to eventually convert to making other equipment in safe assembly lines.

While the U.S. and other governments should study the possibilities for converting defense and other industries, one should also note that the U.S. defense industry potentially is seeking further government support: “The U.S. aerospace and defense sector is feeling the impact of the coronavirus, with companies limiting travel, defense trade events scuttled and contingency planning underway.” Politicians should leverage any defense industry requests for support by demanding conversion in exchange.

In theory the U.S. defense industry should have been immune to shocks in supply chains, but this industry has also gone global on certain production items. Defense News pointed to the U.S. Chamber of Commerce’s Defense and Aerospace Export Council’s president, Keith Webster who explained that “‘Buy-America’ regulations and other controls mean the U.S. defense industry’s supply chains may be less susceptible to disruption than some consumer sectors, where reliance on China-made components is more widespread.” The F-35 fighter aircraft is a supply chain that is very much “globally linked,” however.

Thus, the globalization of defense production reveals the how economic considerations hollow out the security of the U.S. and others seeking cost savings. Yet, defense products were supposed to be “beyond economic considerations” according to the dogma of many economists. In this dogma, defense products meet “security considerations” and thus we can’t talk about shifting budgets from military items because these items are defined by security needs rather than economic choices. Yet, our current use of defense or military resources increasingly represents an economic, political and security opportunity cost.

In 2018, the cleanroom-rich global pharmaceutical industry was worth $1.2 trillion dollars according to statistics published by Statista. Some of the capacity of this industry could in theory be converted to more severely needed medical-related products. The pharmaceutical industry, however, is part of the larger medical industrial complex which has often acted against public interest. Barbara and John Ehrenreich were among the first to address this sector in a 1970 book entitled, The American Health Empire: Power, Profits and Politics. In the 1960s there was a boom in health industries that was largely based on “government subsidization of the market.” Over many years the government “directly or indirectly fed dollars into the gaping pockets of the dealers in human disease.” These payments include direct funding for health care, education of health workers, hospital construction, and tax deductions for individuals’ medical expenses. The government has also aided “nonprofit hospitals” with tax exemptions and supported basic chemical and biological research worth billions of dollars. 

In 1966, Medicare and Medicaid, launched “the biggest government subsidy of all.”
Much like the defense industry, which has received trillions of dollars of government and taxpayer support over the years, the medical industrial complex also represents a system that robs the public interest. As the Ehrenreichs explained: “Much of the money which flows through the delivery system to the health industry’s drug and hospital supply and equipment companies never returns to the delivery system in any medically useful form, or in any form at all.” As much as “five to ten percent is raked off directly as profits, and these by and large vanish into the larger economy, going to stockholders and going to finance the companies’ expansions into other enterprises.” Increasingly “health industry firms are conglomerates, whose holdings in drugs or hospital supplies help finance their acquisitions in cosmetics, catering, or pet food.”

Some Early Data on Other Industrial Platforms

Some early data is available on alternative platforms for making ventilators and other medical-related equipment. David E. Sanger, Maggie Haberman and Zolan Kanno-Youngs at The New York Times reported on March 26th about a joint venture production arrangement between auto giant General Motors and Ventec Life Systems. The plan was originally expected to lead to the production of up to 80,000 ventilators. In this plan, General Motors (GM) would have retooled an automotive parts plant in Kokomo, Ind. with the ventilators manufactured using Ventec’s technology. The announcement about an actual deal was called because “the Federal Emergency Management Agency said it needed more time to assess whether the estimated cost was prohibitive.” In addition,  government officials claimed “that an initial promise that the joint venture could turn out 20,000 ventilators in short order had shrunk to 7,500, with even that number in doubt.”

The joint venture provides us with many useful pieces of information about the possibilities for GM to diversify. First, GM says “there’s no issue with retooling,” i.e. there are no technical diversification barriers. This assessment was shared by Ventec. GM has expertise in manufacturing, purchasing and logistics which were viewed as complementary capacities for Ventec. Nevertheless, FEMA believes it “would have to select multiple manufacturers, in part to avoid the risk that one production line runs into technical trouble.”

Second, the very plant selected by GM was closed in part because of the corona crisis, i.e. the health bottleneck in production looms over this plan: The plan was considered as GM’s “factory floor in Kokomo was grinding to a halt and workers were being sent home — partly because the market was collapsing but also because workers would otherwise risk exposure to the coronavirus.” Similarly, FEMA was also considering multiple production sites because of fears that workers would “contract the very virus the ventilators are being built to defeat.”

Third, past research suggests that the government can be a key agent to steer and promote successful diversification (by generating new markets and contributing to performance specifications). Yet, Sanger and his colleagues report that “the effort to produce [ventilators] has been confused and disorganized.”

Fourth, one reason for delay in the GM-Ventec plan was its cost, yet cost decisions have not stopped overly expensive military production plans. As the Times reported: “The $1.5 billion price tag comes to around $18,000 a ventilator. And the overall cost, by comparison, is roughly equal to buying 18 F-35s, the Pentagon’s most advanced fighter jet. Yet, just last year The New York Times described the F-35s as “America’s Dysfunctional Trillion Dollar Fighter-Jet Program.”

Fifth, the GM-Ventec deal reveals how parts of corporate America are organizing politically to advance ventilator production. The two companies joined a coalition of business executives called StopTheSpread.org in advancing the plan. The network’s homepage claims that “thousands of CEOs, executives, and leaders around the country have committed to #StopTheSpread of COVID-1.”

Finally, in contrast to the hang ups involving GM, innovators at universities and elsewhere are already developing ventilators with no apparent cost barrier or with designs that may not be cost prohibitive. A Sky News report described how a team of persons from Oxford University and King’s College London “took less than a week” to take a plan for a ventilator “from the drawing board to working prototype, so that it can soon help.” They cited Andrew Orr, an Oxford University engineer who said “Sony confirmed that it could turn what is currently a jumble of wires into a printed circuit board – and produce 5000 of them in a week.” While it is too early to tell whether such efforts will be sufficient, they do suggest the possibility that the big overhead production model of GM should be complemented by other efforts to give grants to a decentralized network of producers. Research by Charles Perrow indicates that such a decentralized network could address the vulnerability of a centralized production point.

Social and Economic Reconstruction is Urgently Needed

In sum, we need to begin to investigate how to convert both the military and health industrial complexes to the urgent needs required by the Coronavirus crisis. In Italy, the military has sent technicians to aid the production of ventilators. The logic of the health economic crisis and StopTheSpread.org’s efforts both show how some parts of the business and capitalist class, as well as millions of workers, NGOs, and other groups now have a vested interest in the conversion of another part of the capitalism system. Face-to-face food service industries, industrial manufacturers, airlines, the tourist sector and countless other business sectors whose livelihoods, profits and employees have an immediate and dramatic interest in conversion. The immediate question, however, is whether political and social movement entrepreneurs can seize the opportunities presented by this crisis.

Progressive forces should focus more on how to exploit the looming potential split among business groups rather than simply call for a total redesign of the system outside any specific policy framework. In contrast to an abstract set of proposals for remaking society, we need to figure out how to build new institutional leverage points tied to: a) conversion, b) alternative budget priorities and c) distribution of grants to individuals or businesses. This incremental strategy can tie into the large scale policy discussions that need to occur about ratcheting up production of new health security production runs. One opening is that British universities have begun to play a key role in addressing the health production crisis by developing a ventilator prototype.

Social and economic reconstruction involves the redesign of political, economic and media spaces to advance public needs and interests. The political is reconstructed to advance greater citizen participation and representation. The economic is reconfigured to advance human needs rather than simply profit and pollution. The media is reshaped such that participation and education take preference over political marketing by various vested interests. In addition to Barbara and John Ehrenreich, thinkers like Gar Alperovitz, Barry Commoner, Seymour Melman, Marcus Raskin and Simone Weil, as well as countless others, have each contributed to the ideas of such reconstruction.

The new economic design and conversion changes we require depend on political innovations. The left has been totally derelict in advancing a politics of production, with a few notable exceptions. The right has been wedded to obsolete models of security, markets and limited government. The critical failures of globalization are self evident now. To move beyond these limitations, we need to advance a new institutional platform that can transform media power into political and ultimately economic power. There are various models for doing so, so one of the most urgent problems we face is the crippled political imagination of the societies we live in. This imagination should link cooperative and community ownership, the efforts of the Bernie Sanders presidential campaign, and various other circuits of economic, political and media power.

Donations can be sent to the Baltimore Nonviolence Center, 431 Notre Dame Lane, Apt. 206, Baltimore, MD 21212.  Ph: 410-323-1607; Email: mobuszewski2001 [at] comcast.net. Go to http://baltimorenonviolencecenter.blogspot.com/

"The master class has always declared the wars; the subject class has always fought the battles. The master class has had all to gain and nothing to lose, while the subject class has had nothing to gain and everything to lose--especially their lives." Eugene Victor Debs



Monday, March 30, 2020

12 Ways the US Invasion of Iraq Lives On in Infamy

Tuesday, March 17, 2020

12 Ways the US Invasion of Iraq Lives On in Infamy

The most serious consequences of the disastrous invasion and occupation of Iraq confirm what millions of people around the world warned about 17 years ago.

Seventeen years later, the consequences of the Iraq invasion have lived up to the fears of all who opposed it. (Photo: Alisdare Hickson/flickr/cc)

While the world is consumed with the terrifying coronavirus pandemic, on March 19 the Trump administration will be marking the 17th anniversary of the U.S. invasion of Iraq by ramping up the conflict there. After an Iran-aligned militia allegedly struck a U.S. base near Baghdad on March 11, the U.S. military carried out retaliatory strikes against five of the militia’s weapons factories and announced it is sending two more aircraft carriers to the region, as well as new Patriot missile systems and hundreds more troops to operate them. This contradicts the January vote of the Iraqi Parliament that called for U.S. troops to leave the country. It also goes against the sentiment of most Americans, who think the Iraq war was not worth fighting, and against the campaign promise of Donald Trump to end the endless wars.

Seventeen years ago, the U.S. armed forces attacked and invaded Iraq with a force of over 460,000 troops from all its armed services, supported by 46,000 UK troops, 2,000 from Australia and a few hundred from Poland, Spain, Portugal and Denmark. The “shock and awe” aerial bombardment unleashed 29,200 bombs and missiles on Iraq in the first five weeks of the war.

The U.S. invasion was a crime of aggression under international law, and was actively opposed by people and countries all over the world, including 30 million people who took to the streets in 60 countries on February 15, 2003, to express their horror that this could really be happening at the dawn of the 21st century. American historian Arthur Schlesinger Jr., who was a speechwriter for President John F. Kennedy, compared the U.S. invasion of Iraq to Japan’s preemptive attack on Pearl Harbor in 1941 and wrote, “Today, it is we Americans who live in infamy.”

Seventeen years later, the consequences of the invasion have lived up to the fears of all who opposed it. Wars and hostilities rage across the region, and divisions over war and peace in the U.S. and Western countries challenge our highly selective view of ourselves as advanced, civilized societies. Here is a look at 12 of the most serious consequences of the U.S. war in Iraq.

1. Millions of Iraqis Killed and Wounded
Estimates on the number of people killed in the invasion and occupation of Iraq vary widely, but even the most conservative estimates based on fragmentary reporting of minimum confirmed deaths are in the hundreds of thousands. Serious scientific studies estimated that 655,000 Iraqis had died in the first three years of war, and about a million by September 2007. The violence of the U.S. escalation or “surge” continued into 2008, and sporadic conflict continued from 2009 until 2014. Then in its new campaign against Islamic State, the U.S. and its allies bombarded major cities in Iraq and Syria with more than 118,000bombs and the heaviest artillery bombardments since the Vietnam War. They reduced much of Mosul and other Iraqi cities to rubble, and a preliminary Iraqi Kurdish intelligence report found that more than 40,000 civilians were killed in Mosul alone. There are no comprehensive mortality studies for this latest deadly phase of the war. In addition to all the lives lost, even more people have been wounded. The Iraqi government’s Central Statistical Organization says that 2 million Iraqis have been left disabled.

2. Millions More Iraqis Displaced
By 2007, the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) reported that nearly 2 million Iraqis had fled the violence and chaos of occupied Iraq, mostly to Jordan and Syria, while another 1.7 million were displaced within the country. The U.S. war on the Islamic State relied even more on bombing and artillery bombardment, destroying even more homes and displacing an astounding 6 million Iraqis from 2014 to 2017. According to the UNHCR, 4.35 million people have returned to their homes as the war on IS has wound down, but many face “destroyed properties, damaged or non-existent infrastructure and the lack of livelihood opportunities and financial resources, which at times [has] led to secondary displacement.” Iraq’s internally displaced children represent “a generation traumatized by violence, deprived of education and opportunities,” according to UN Special Rapporteur Cecilia Jimenez-Damary.

3. Thousands of American, British and Other Foreign Troops Killed and Wounded
While the U.S. military downplays Iraqi casualties, it precisely tracks and publishes its own. As of February 2020, 4,576 U.S. troops and 181 British troops have been killed in Iraq, as well as 142 other foreign occupation troops. Over 93 percent of the foreign occupation troops killed in Iraq have been Americans. In Afghanistan, where the U.S. has had more support from NATO and other allies, only 68 percent of occupation troops killed have been Americans. The greater share of U.S. casualties in Iraq is one of the prices Americans have paid for the unilateral, illegal nature of the U.S. invasion. By the time U.S. forces temporarily withdrew from Iraq in 2011, 32,200 U.S. troops had been wounded. As the U.S. tried to outsource and privatize its occupation, at least 917 civilian contractors and mercenaries were also killed and 10,569 wounded in Iraq, but not all of them were U.S. nationals.

4. Even More Veterans Have Committed Suicide
More than 20 U.S. veterans kill themselves every day—that’s more deaths each year than the total U.S. military deaths in Iraq. Those with the highest rates of suicide are young veterans with combat exposure, who commit suicide at rates “4-10 times higher than their civilian peers.” Why? As Matthew Hoh of Veterans for Peace explains, many veterans “struggle to reintegrate into society,” are ashamed to ask for help, are burdened by what they saw and did in the military, are trained in shooting and own guns, and carry mental and physical wounds that make their lives difficult.

5. Trillions of Dollars Wasted
On March 16, 2003, just days before the U.S. invasion, Vice President Dick Cheney projected that the war would cost the U.S. about $100 billion and that the U.S. involvement would last for two years. Seventeen years on, the costs are still mounting. The Congressional Budget Office (CBO) estimated a cost of $2.4 trillion for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan in 2007. Nobel Prize-winning economist Joseph Stiglitz and Harvard University’s Linda Bilmes estimated the cost of the Iraq war at more than $3 trillion, “based on conservative assumptions,” in 2008. The UK government spent at least 9 billion pounds in direct costs through 2010. What the U.S. did not spend money on, contrary to what many Americans believe, was to rebuild Iraq, the country our war destroyed.

6. Dysfunctional and Corrupt Iraqi Government
Most of the men (no women!) running Iraq today are still former exiles who flew into Baghdad in 2003 on the heels of the U.S. and British invasion forces. Iraq is finally once again exporting 3.8 million barrels of oil per day and earning $80 billion a year in oil exports, but little of this money trickles down to rebuild destroyed and damaged homes or provide jobs, health care or education for Iraqis, only 36 percent of whom even have jobs. Iraq’s young people have taken to the streets to demand an end to the corrupt post-2003 Iraqi political regime and U.S. and Iranian influence over Iraqi politics. More than 600 protesters were killed by government forces, but the protests forced Prime Minister Adel Abdul Mahdi to resign. Another former Western-based exile, Mohammed Tawfiq Allawi, the cousin of former U.S.-appointed interim prime minister Ayad Allawi, was chosen to replace him, but he resigned within weeks after the National Assembly failed to approve his cabinet choices. The popular protest movement celebrated Allawi’s resignation, and Abdul Mahdi agreed to remain as prime minister, but only as a “caretaker” to carry out essential functions until new elections can be held. He has called for new elections in December. Until then, Iraq remains in political limbo, still occupied by about 5,000 U.S. troops.

7. Illegal War on Iraq Has Undermined the Rule of International Law
When the U.S. invaded Iraq without the approval of the UN Security Council, the first victim was the United Nations Charter, the foundation of peace and international law since World War II, which prohibits the threat or use of force by any country against another. International law only permits military action as a necessary and proportionate defense against an attack or imminent threat. The illegal 2002 Bush doctrine of preemption was universally rejected because it went beyond this narrow principle and claimed an exceptional U.S. right to use unilateral military force “to preempt emerging threats,” undermining the authority of the UN Security Council to decide whether a specific threat requires a military response or not. Kofi Annan, the UN secretary-general at the time, said the invasion was illegal and would lead to a breakdown in international order, and that is exactly what has happened. When the U.S. trampled the UN Charter, others were bound to follow. Today we are watching Turkey and Israel follow in the U.S.’s footsteps, attacking and invading Syria at will as if it were not even a sovereign country, using the people of Syria as pawns in their political games.

8. Iraq War Lies Corrupted U.S. Democracy
The second victim of the invasion was American democracy. Congress voted for war based on a so-called “summary” of a National Intelligence Estimate (NIE) that was nothing of the kind. The Washington Post reported that only six out of 100 senators and a few House members read the actual NIE. The 25-page “summary” that other members of Congress based their votes on was a document produced months earlier “to make the public case for war,” as one of its authors, the CIA’s Paul Pillar, later confessed to PBS Frontline. It contained astounding claims that were nowhere to be found in the real NIE, such as that the CIA knew of 550 sites where Iraq was storing chemical and biological weapons. Secretary of State Colin Powell repeated many of these lies in his shameful performance at the UN Security Council in February 2003, while Bush and Cheney used them in major speeches, including Bush’s 2003 State of the Union address. How is democracy—the rule of the people—even possible if the people we elect to represent us in Congress can be manipulated into voting for a catastrophic war by such a web of lies?

9. Impunity for Systematic War Crimes
Another victim of the invasion of Iraq was the presumption that U.S. presidents and policy are subject to the rule of law. Seventeen years later, most Americans assume that the president can conduct war and assassinate foreign leaders and terrorism suspects as he pleases, with no accountability whatsoever—like a dictator. When President Obama said he wanted to look forward instead of backward, and held no one from the Bush administration accountable for their crimes, it was as if they ceased to be crimes and became normalized as U.S. policy. That includes crimes of aggression against other countries; the mass killing of civilians in U.S. airstrikes and drone strikes; and the unrestricted surveillance of every American’s phone calls, emails, browsing history and opinions. But these are crimes and violations of the U.S. Constitution, and refusing to hold accountable those who committed these crimes has made it easier for them to be repeated.

10. Destruction of the Environment
During the first Gulf War, the U.S. fired 340 tons of warheads and explosives made with depleted uranium, which poisoned the soil and water and led to skyrocketing levels of cancer. In the following decades of “ecocide,” Iraq has been plagued by the burning of dozens of oil wells; the pollution of water sources from the dumping of oil, sewage and chemicals; millions of tons of rubble from destroyed cities and towns; and the burning of huge volumes of military waste in open air “burn pits” during the war.The pollution caused by war is linked to the high levels of congenital birth defects, premature births, miscarriages and cancer (including leukemia) in Iraq. The pollution has also affected U.S. soldiers. “More than 85,000 U.S. Iraq war veterans… have been diagnosed with respiratory and breathing problems, cancers, neurological diseases, depression and emphysema since returning from Iraq,” as the Guardian reports. And parts of Iraq may never recover from the environmental devastation.

11. The U.S.’s Sectarian “Divide and Rule” Policy in Iraq Spawned Havoc Across the Region
In secular 20th-century Iraq, the Sunni minority was more powerful than the Shia majority, but for the most part, the different ethnic groups lived side-by-side in mixed neighborhoods and even intermarried. Friends with mixed Shia/Sunni parents tell us that before the U.S. invasion, they didn’t even know which parent was Shia and which was Sunni. After the invasion, the U.S. empowered a new Shiite ruling class led by former exiles allied with the U.S. and Iran, as well as the Kurds in their semi-autonomous region in the north. The upending of the balance of power and deliberate U.S. “divide and rule” policies led to waves of horrific sectarian violence, including the ethnic cleansing of communities by Interior Ministry death squads under U.S. command. The sectarian divisions the U.S. unleashed in Iraq led to the resurgence of Al Qaeda and the emergence of ISIS, which have wreaked havoc throughout the entire region.

12. The New Cold War Between the U.S. and the Emerging Multilateral World
When President Bush declared his “doctrine of preemption” in 2002, Senator Edward Kennedy called it “a call for 21st century American imperialism that no other nation can or should accept.” But the world has so far failed to either persuade the U.S. to change course or to unite in diplomatic opposition to its militarism and imperialism. France and Germany bravely stood with Russia and most of the Global South to oppose the invasion of Iraq in the UN Security Council in 2003. But Western governments embraced Obama’s superficial charm offensive as cover for reinforcing their traditional ties with the U.S. China was busy expanding its peaceful economic development and its role as the economic hub of Asia, while Russia was still rebuilding its economy from the neoliberal chaos and poverty of the 1990s. Neither was ready to actively challenge U.S. aggression until the U.S., NATO and their Arab monarchist allies launched proxy wars against Libya and Syria in 2011. After the fall of Libya, Russia appears to have decided it must either stand up to U.S. regime change operations or eventually fall victim itself.

The economic tides have shifted, a multipolar world is emerging, and the world is hoping against hope that the American people and new American leaders will act to rein in this 21st-century American imperialism before it leads to an even more catastrophic U.S. war with Iran, Russia or China. As Americans, we must hope that the world’s faith in the possibility that we can democratically bring sanity and peace to U.S. policy is not misplaced. A good place to start would be to join the call by the Iraqi Parliament for U.S. troops to leave Iraq.

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"The master class has always declared the wars; the subject class has always fought the battles. The master class has had all to gain and nothing to lose, while the subject class has had nothing to gain and everything to lose--especially their lives." Eugene Victor Debs