In the wake of the United States Civil War (1861-1865) fought for the emancipation of enslaved Africans and the elimination of chattel slavery, the 13th, 14th, and 15th Amendments to the US Constitution were passed, with the latter—the 15th Amendment, passed in 1870—guaranteeing African American men the right to vote by declaring that the “right of citizens of the United States to vote shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any state on account of race, color, or previous condition of servitude.”
Despite this Amendment, enacted on the graves of over a half million soldiers, this guarantee of voting rights for African Americans had to be reemphasized, once again, with the passage of the Voting Rights Act of 1965, signed into law by President Lyndon Johnson on August 6, 1965, which sought to overcome legal barriers at the state and local levels that prevented African Americans from exercising their right to vote under the 15th Amendment to the US Constitution.
The United States Department of Justice is a federal executive department, responsible for the enforcement of the law and the administration of justice. As such, its legal basis lies in Article II of the United States Constitution. To aid in these duties to enforce the law and administer justice, the United States Federal Bureau of Prisons (BOP), a subsidiary of the U.S. Department of Justice, was established in 1930 — as the agencies web page states — to “provide more progressive and humane care for federal inmates, to professionalize the prison service, and to ensure consistent and centralized administration of federal prisons” (“About Us”, 2016).
With 20 US Penitentiaries, 65 Federal Correctional Institutions, 13 Private Correctional Institutions, seven Federal Prison Camps, 19 Administrative Facilities, and 15 Federal Correctional Complexes, and multiple state and local prisons, jails, and detention facilities, the United States currently detains over two million prisoners each and every day, the world’s largest prison population on earth. China, with 1.3 billion total population compared to the US population of 321 million, is second with 1,548,498 prisoners (United States vs. China, 2016; World Prison Populations, 2016).
While “an estimated 65 million people in the United States have criminal records,” Blacks and Latinos comprise 71.4% of the total US federal prison population (Prison Statistics, 2016; Hernández, et al., 2015). As of September 2016, there are a total of 192, 628 federally-confined inmates, almost an eight-fold increase since 1980, with 156,778 inmates confined in BOP-operated facilities, 21,834 in privately-managed facilities, and 14,016 in “other types of facilities” (Prison Statistics, 2016). Since less than two hundred thousand inmates reside in federally-operated facilities, this means that of the two million plus total US prison population, over 1,800,000 inmates are housed in state and local detention facilities.
Four general theories have historically been advanced as justification for sanctioning the punishment of criminal behavior: deterrence, just deserts, incapacitation, and rehabilitation. The impetus behind deterrence is to make crime too costly for criminals to engage in it. Just deserts introduce the notion of proportionality such that one’s punishment should be commensurable with the moral gravity of the crime committed. Incapacitation, i.e. incarceration, removes law breakers from society, either permanently or temporarily. If incarceration is temporary, then offenders are deemed to have “done their time” and “paid their debt to society” for the offense committed and may now, once again, enjoy the rights and privileges of citizenship. As such, temporary incarceration suggests the possibility of rehabilitation (Muhlhausen, May 27, 2010). Societal chastisement, in the form of incarceration, is thus a penalty exacted from those who transgress the law, on the theory that humans are capable of learning from their errors.
While temporary incarceration and the theory of rehabilitation exist in the US criminal justice system, it is notable that ten US states permanently bar felons from ever voting once convicted, even after their sentences are completed. Twenty states restore inmate’s voting rights after they have served their time, parole, and probation; four states restore voting rights after inmates have served their time and parole; 14 states after incarceration is served; and in two states, viz. Maine and Vermont, felons may vote absentee while in prison (State Felon Voting Laws, 2016).
Recently, in the state of Virginia, Governor Terry McAuliffe (D-VA) restored voting rights to more than 200,000 former felons in April of 2016 only to see that state’s supreme court, only three months later, in July of 2016, agree with Republican legislators who had filed a petition accusing the governor of exceeding his authority. As Horwitz and Portnoy state: “The Democratic governor’s decision particularly affects black residents of Virginia: 1 in 4 African Americans in the state has been permanently banned from voting because of laws restricting the rights of those with convictions” (Horwitz and Portnoy, April 22, 2016). Thus, what is the basis for the non-restoration of voting rights once a criminal has served her or his time? Is there any merit to this denial or is it simply another method of racial discrimination?
In Virginia, as with so many states, the U.S. criminal justice system operates largely on a racialized basis, not only to maintain the class divisions within the larger society, but, as well, to divide prison populations amongst themselves. Because a disproportionate number of African Americans and Latinos are incarcerated in the United States and denied voting rights once their prison sentences are served, this effectively disenfranchises much of the working class in America, thus allowing the controllers of capital to rule with few checks to their aggrandizement of power and wealth. As such, the stigmatization of felons by permanently rescinding their voting rights in a number of states, constitutes a key indicator of how class rule is maintained in the United States.
 The five Federal Correctional Institutions in the State of West Virginia include prisons in Beckley, Gilmer, Hazelton, McDowell, and Morgantown. It is interesting to note that compared to West Virginia’s five federal correctional facilities, California has a total of six and New York has only two.
 These private FCIs are run by either Corrections Corporation of America, Management and Training Corporation, or the GEO Group, Inc.—the latter which maintains facilities in North America, Australian, South Africa, and the United Kingdom.
 West Virginia hosts one federal prison camp at Alderson, WV.
- THE DISGRACEFUL DEATH OF AMERICAN MAINSTREAM MEDIA
- THE VICTORY OF DONALD TRUMP AND AMERICAN NATIONALISM
- THE DEFEAT OF HILLARY CLINTON AND WALL STREET LIBERALISM
- THE LIBERATION OF ALEPPO
- THE LOUISIANA FLOODS
- THE DALLAS SHOOTING
- THE ORLANDO SHOOTING
- THE FLINT WATER SCANDAL
- THE NORTH DAKOTA PIPELINE PROTESTS
Given the launch of SP News at the beginning of the new year and after consultation with (being ordered by) my dear editor, we decided to begin this series of columns with everyone’s favorite journalistic guilty pleasure format: “The Top Stories of 2016.”
In this case, it is the top stories of 2016 but with insights and twists which our readers might not have encountered in other similar pieces. With that said, let’s begin this new year with a look at what was an extraordinary year by any standard.
THE DISGRACEFUL DEATH OF AMERICAN MAINSTREAM MEDIA
There is death - graceful, dignified, in peace, surrounded by loved ones. And then there is death - disgraceful, undignified, crazy, cardiac-arrest-naked-on-the-toilet kind of death.
The American mainstream media - television, newspapers, magazines - showed their real lying, sycophant, arrogant selves in 2016. This was particularly evident in three major stories: the presidential elections, the Syrian war and the Louisiana floods. I could add the police killings of young black men, the Flint water scandal, the Dakota pipeline story and all the others on our list as evidence, but these three are enough to make the point.
By “death” I do not mean that the mainstream media no longer exists, or that it has somehow disappeared or dissolved. By death I mean that it no longer has any credibility - not even with the so-called “dumb masses.” Nobody believes it anymore. Nobody listens to it anymore. For the mainstream media, this is death.
The important point is that this disgraceful death is the mainstream media’s, which includes the owners, editors, writers, presenters, experts, own fault. They lied, they behaved like sycophants and most importantly they could no longer hide their arrogant, visceral dislike of the “dumb masses.”
In the America of the early 21st century, the America of the very rich and the America of the very poor with nearly nothing in-between, they clearly showed their allegiance to the very rich outdoing each other in displays of sycophancy for the system of oligarchy that owns the news organizations that employ them and that owns the candidates that seek office. Or like some, they themselves are millionaires or even billionaire/celebrity/news anchors and scions of oligarchs with multi-million dollar homes in exotic locations. This makes “connecting with normal people” a bit problematic.
The billionaire oligarch who himself ran for office without needing “them” - neither the mainstream media to give him name recognition nor other billionaire oligarchs to finance him - “messed up” the whole racket.
You see, the mainstream media’s job in post-Vietnam America is to tell the “dumb masses” what to think and more importantly, what to feel, especially and particularly at election time and as it relates to foreign wars. The mainstream media are supposed to make you feel good about neoconservative globalism (mass murder of foreigners) and domestic neoliberalism (oligarchy in the US where none of us will ever be the oligarch).
This worked fine from the Reagan administration until the Obama administration, but you can only continue a lie for so long. In other words the essence, the substance of neoconservatism globally is essentially a lie, it does not conform to truth. The same goes for the substance of neoliberalism- “Wall Street liberalism”- domestically.
Domestically, the mainstream media tried to get Hillary elected at any cost and with total disregard of any journalistic ethics. I remember thinking to myself during the televised debates that if Hillary’s head began spinning continuously 360 degrees, and she began speaking in tongues while her eyeballs rolled back into her skull, and then she started spewing blood on the lectern, CNN would have still called the debate in favor of Hillary.
Globally in the Syrian war, the mainstream media became the knowing aiders and abettors of al-Qaeda, DAESH, Saudi Arabia and NATO intelligence services who were committing the most disgusting war crimes and crimes against humanity. They lied, misinformed, disinformed, created false videos, created false sources, purposely gave information out of context - in a word - propaganda at its worst and most shameful, with skills they honed during the Iraq war which was based on “fake news.”
Speaking of which, they told all these lies while the “dumb masses” had access to “real news” - funny how that sounds, through non-mainstream media, you know what these media criminals are now calling “fake news.” The mainstream media’s rigged monopoly on news, its iron-fisted occupation of news, was broken. In addition to all this real/fake news, the candidate of the Republican Party was calling the mainstream media out on their lies at every opportunity, particularly as it relates to the lies about the Syrian war and American complicity with DAESH there. This alone is a noteworthy moral and civic achievement by Donald Trump and his campaign for which they should be duly praised.
To these two stories, let’s add the absolutely disgraceful lack of coverage of the Louisiana floods by the mainstream media. Well, if you don’t want to tell the truth about some folks in a war thousands of miles away that’s one thing, but what about in your own country? Let me say it very clearly: When the mainstream media reports overwhelmingly more about a few hundred homes threatened by wildfires in California than about over a hundred thousand homes engulfed by floods in Louisiana at the same time, it is telling you which one of the two it truly cares about. The “deplorables” and “irredeemables” got the disgraceful message loud and clear.
Michael Moore said during the election that voting for Donald Trump would be the biggest eff-you have ever given to elites. If this is true than at least half of that outstretched middle-finger is directly pointed towards the disgraceful mainstream media, rather the media war criminals, the walking dead, zombie mainstream media, who have the blood of Syrian children and Louisiana senior citizens on their hands.
THE VICTORY OF DONALD TRUMP AND AMERICAN NATIONALISM
Beyond the person himself and as alluded to earlier, Donald Trump’s victory in the presidential elections is significant because it is a victory of what we can call “American nationalism” over neoconservatism and neoliberalism.
This two-headed neo-neo beast, this hellish conjoined twin, was, and unfortunately remains, the dominant view of nearly all American governmental elites since the end of the Cold War. Actually, the Bill Clinton presidency and the “New Democrats” was about getting the Democratic party into lock-step with this monster, similar to the Tony Blair and “New Labour” horror show in Britain.
Interestingly the very first social-democratic, left, labor party to undergo this transformation in the west was the old, venerable Socialist Party of Austria which in the late-1980’s went down this path during the chancellorship of ex-banker Franz Vranitzky. This is relevant because the reaction of the socially conservative relatively poorer working class Austrians who were the base of the socialist party, was to immediately start voting for a nationalist called Joerg Haider and his Freedom Party, a party that advocated strict immigration control and political and economic nationalism over pan-Europeanism and economic globalism. Sound familiar? It sure does to folks in Pennsylvania, Ohio, Michigan and Wisconsin.
This was in the late 1980s mind you, but what’s more interesting is that years later when Joerg Haider, who enjoyed a mild personality cult among his voters, began turning socially and economically liberal as governor of the province of Carinthia (the neighbor of the new First Lady’s native Slovenia), the party and more importantly the voters on the national level rejected him and he was driven out of his own party.
Yes, the neoconservative and neoliberal viruses are trying to infect the Trump administration, because it is the nature of filthy, dirty viruses to do so, and so probably the biggest challenge for Trump will be to avoid being infected by them the way the Democratic Party was. We will be watching.
THE DEFEAT OF HILLARY CLINTON AND WALL STREET LIBERALISM
Some might ask, why are you rubbing salt into the wound, why is this a separate story? Isn’t this what you said before just with different words?
First, let me say that Hillary, her campaign and these no-good warmongering Wall Street liberals deserve to have salt rubbed into their wounds, and much more! Don’t get me started.
Second, they might say, well she won the popular vote, it’s not a defeat defeat! Well, let’s see. If Hillary had won the electoral college vote and Trump the popular vote, would they be saying the same thing? Probably not. Okay, so we can move on from this one now, right?
Third, this defeat is itself a separate story because of the sheer arrogance and totally unjustified assumption displayed by this bunch that this election would be a coronation for Hillary. How dare anybody seriously challenge the Queen! As they say, “when you assume, you make an…”
Also let us not forget the totally undemocratic methods of the Democratic Party in creating this fantasy creature called “super-delegate”- without whom maybe (well more than just maybe) the Democratic candidate would have been Bernie Sanders. Maybe Sanders would have then nominated Iraq war veteran Tulsi Gabbard of Hawaii as VP candidate. So let’s see, Sanders/Gabbard versus Trump/Pence in the general elections - now that would have been a good one! How do you think that would have played out in Pennsylvania, Ohio, Michigan and Wisconsin?
Honestly, those dumb celebrity Hillary sycophants who condescendingly spoke down to Sanders supporters after the Hillary anointment, as punishment, they should have their shows suspended for a year or two and then be forced to watch Jeff Foxworthy and re-runs of Duck Dynasty while gagged, bound and dressed as Guantanamo prisoners (waterboarding included) which you know, isn’t “technically” torture. For the “deplorables” there is a bus load of top-notch jokes in all this, all at the expense of these glorified clowns with television shows.
Of course the most stupid of all of them in this whole story is none other than Bernie Sanders himself. And you can add Michael Moore to that as well. Wait, hear me out! So let’s be clear about what happened, you spend a lifetime and an incredible campaign successfully beating the life out of warmongering, Wall Street liberalism (a major accomplishment) and then after they steal the nomination from you, you endorse warmongering, Wall Street liberalism! Why? This is textbook stupid! Let me say it in a different way: On the economic matters which are the heart and soul of Sanders’ political life, Trump is actually better than Hillary! Let that one sink in slowly.
But unfortunately the matter is worse than this. What people like Sanders and Michael Moore have done (either knowingly but more likely as patsies) is offer honest, well-meaning, idealistic young people who otherwise might have thrown these warmongering, neoconservative Wall Street liberal scum into the Hudson river years ago, a “faux-socialism,” a chic, safe-for-the-oligarchy socialism and thus, let us be generous and say unwittingly, make sure that no serious challenge to the warmongering, Wall Street liberalism of the Clintons and Barack Obama could ever emerge. The best case is that they are dumb patsies.
And so the normal working class folks vote for Trump, including Michael Moore’s cousins in Michigan. Well, good for them with the likes of Sanders and Moore “defending” the working class and blowing historical opportunities such the one that was given to Bernie Sanders this year.
THE LIBERATION OF ALEPPO
I mentioned some points about the Syria war earlier which can put this discussion in context so I won’t repeat them here. There are some very important points as to why the liberation of Aleppo is a top story of 2016. And let me say more: The liberation of Aleppo is one the most important events and turning points of contemporary human history. That’s right, it is major.
First let us emphasize the word liberation. Yes , “liberation”, not “conquest,” “re-conquest,” “occupation,” “fall” or any other deceitful euphemism. Aleppo was liberated in the full meaning of the word. Ask the local Christians who are openly and happily celebrating Christmas this year, after years of not being able to, if you don’t get it. Merry Christmas indeed.
From whom? By whom?
Aleppo was liberated from the vicious, inhumane, brutal occupation of an axis consisting of DAESH, al-Qaeda, Saudi Arabia (Wahhabi tafkiris), Turkey (confused), Qatar (whatever will guarantee the survival of the Emir), Israel (Zionists), the United States of America, France, and the United Kingdom (warmongering neoconservative liberals).
By whom? Aleppo was liberated by an alliance consisting of Syrian government forces (Arab nationalists), Russia (Russian nationalists), Iran, Lebanese Hezbollah and associated Iraqi, Afghan and Pakistani volunteer militias (Shia Islamists).
So an axis of Wahhabi takfiris, Zionists, and western warmongering neocon liberal governments occupied Aleppo for years and this occupation came to an end when an alliance of Arab and Russian nationalists and Shia Islamists liberated the city? I’m purposely spelling the matter out clearly just so we are clear about the facts which the mainstream media war criminals don’t tell us.
The issue is so big that the President-elect of the United States repeatedly and very clearly sided with the Russians on this matter during the elections, against the incumbent administration, and still managed to win the elections. Something really strange is going on here! What is it?
What’s going on is that there is a country in the Islamic world which has established a model of governance which successfully allows it to be a modern-nation state - with all the material and moral consequences this entails - without having to get rid of its religion and traditional culture. This country is called the Islamic Republic of Iran. This successful model, despite the shortcomings that exist in Iran, like in any other country, is juxtaposed to the Saudi-takfiri model, the Turkish-Ikhwan model and the Zionist-apartheid model in Israel. These are the options that exist for folks in the region. You can guess which one looks most attractive to folks in the region.
Yes I know, you will be shouting, but what about the young Iranians who don’t like the system there? Answer: It’s all relative to the real existing alternatives, and the alternatives look really bad, including immigrating to Europe, the US or Australia which is actually not a real option for most inside Iran.
And if we forget about the youth for a moment and we ask any official in any country – any - who they would be rather dealing with - the Saudis, Turks, Israeli or the Iranians - again the overwhelming answer would be Iran. In other words, the future of the region and the Islamic world is Iran and the others in their current form are “on the wrong side of history.”
Now guess which side of history the United States of America is on as displayed so clearly for all to see in the Syrian war? Now guess which side the Russians are on?
I know all this goes against the indoctrination we get in the US - in school, in universities, in the media and from so-called experts. In sum, America is blowing it big-time in the Middle East and the Islamic world and has been since 9/11.
This reality showed itself clearly during the Syrian war and culminated in America and its allies’ dismal defeat in the battle of Aleppo. The basic problem is that even if American officials decided to strategically abandon Saudi Arabia and Israel in favor of Iran and Russia they couldn’t politically. Yes, Trump has said some truths about Saudi Arabia and in the beginning he even dared to hint at some matters regarding Israel. But in the case of Israel, he was quickly brought back in line and well anyway, how would the atmosphere be the next time the in-laws came for dinner if he dogs Israel too much, right?
On Saudi Arabia, the talk is still tough but as a businessman he understands that credit-ratings, liquidity of financial markets, dollar stability and the all-important arms industry need Saudi Arabia more than Saudi Arabia needs them. Not to mention Saudi financing and human resources for America black ops in various regions of the world, particularly in the Islamic world that shall not be reported to Congress through the legally mandated budgeting process. It’s a very dark and evil thing this relationship, which even Trump probably can’t end.
In the case of Russia, well you can see the open warfare between Trump and the establishment that’s going on at the moment.
So after the liberation of Aleppo, Iran and Russia will go from strength to strength and America will not because of the near-total corruption of its domestic political and intelligence system by Saudi and Israeli forces and the Russophobia that is an essential part of the DNA of the American national security caste.
THE LOUISIANA FLOODS
A storm dumps three times as much rain on Louisiana as Hurricane Katrina, close to 200,000 homes and millions of people are engulfed by flooding, a dozen dead and the mainstream media spend more time reporting about wildfires that threaten a few hundred homes in wealthy California suburbs.
President Obama visits, but not before completing his vacation on Martha’s Vineyard. Hillary Clinton doesn’t visit in the middle of an election raising questions about her humanity, Mike Pence and Donald Trump visit (let’s be cynical and say because of the elections). For many people, this is where Hillary morally lost the elections.
THE DALLAS SHOOTING
The Dallas shooting is important because it ties together global and domestic matters in a way that might not be apparent at first glance.
A young African-American veteran of the so-called “War on Terror” starts picking off police officers in Dallas in such an expert fashion that police initially think they are dealing with three shooters.
The motives of the shooter are related to a wave of police killings of young black men across the country and the lack of legal punishment for the majority of the police officers involved. More than that, after returning from the war, he witnesses a militarized police force perceived as occupiers by many in his community, using techniques he was taught and technology he used as an occupying force in Afghanistan against terrorists.
In the end and for the first time in US history, he was “neutralized” by a police robot that was initially developed for the military to use in the war of terror against terrorists.
If we flashback to the 1940s, we see that one of the roots of the civil rights movement of the 1950s and 1960s was African-American WWII veterans returning home to Jim Crow and American apartheid. Right now, it’s not exactly clear to me what will happen in our time, but something is definitely going on here.
THE ORLANDO SHOOTING
The closeted gay son of a former Afghan army colonel who was a CIA asset in America’s endless Afghanistan wars now living a suburban life in the US, enters a gay nightclub and shoots dozens of patrons, some of whom he had relations with previously, committing the largest terrorist attack in the US since 9/11. Wow, so many places that one could start on this one, but my guess is that Americans are no longer intellectually and spiritually capable of processing and understanding such complicated and twisted tales any more. Maybe that’s the real story here.
THE FLINT WATER SCANDAL
The Flint water scandal is the story of total post-industrial urban decay in America. In the US, when one region is done feeding the insatiable beast of profits, it is discarded like used toilet paper and the beast moves on to another frontier.
The city that was once the desired place to live and work for millions from around the US and the world as a center of industry and progress is today poisoning its children with lead-infested water. Again, remember Michael Moore’s cousins - actual and proverbial - who voted for Trump are locals.
Silicon Valley, take note.
THE NORTH DAKOTA PIPELINE PROTESTS
Evil oil companies with the help of corrupt local politicians, the feds and the Army Corps of Engineers want to build an oil pipeline over pristine sacred Native American grounds. A left-progressive’s wet-dream!
This, and other cases like it, always goes back to the issue of tribal sovereignty. The problem is and will always be that white progressive limousine liberals just can’t get themselves to support full tribal sovereignty because in the end they really love a powerful, central federal government, especially when the President is black and/or a liberal woman, who will “guide” the nation and world towards the equivalent of paradise on earth. It’s a sad tale and one can get a sense of it when one remembers that the late Russell Means ended up supporting the Libertarian party and abandoning the progressives and liberals because of these things.
In the end it is very unlikely that these United States will readjust the path of their sacred oil pipeline or cede the lands in the Dakotas under which the next holy oil boom lies and which will be the next fodder of the idol-beast of profits, to its real owners. It has never happened and they will be damned if it ever will!
As a child growing up in Atlanta, Georgia, USA, I used to absolutely love to watch science fiction television shows. Especially the ones that were “safely” scary, like Rod Serling’s The Twilight Zone in which my mind would be tickled without too much gore and violence. As I explore his Cabinet picks, who would have thought that fifty years later, I’d actually have a front-row seat with an intimate view in a real-life Twilight Zone called the Administration of the 45th President of the United States, Donald J. Trump?
Trump Swearing In
Many who tuned in to see the swearing in of the 45th President of the U.S. thought it was the beginning of yet another U.S. Presidential Administration. But, this is not just any other U.S. Administration: the Donald J. Trump Presidency has already been declared in the media over 1,000 times as an uncomfortable episode in the 1950s US science fiction television series, The Twilight Zone.
“You unlock this door with the key with the key of imagination: beyond it is another dimension—the dimension of sound; the dimension of sight; a dimension of mind. You’re moving into a land of both shadow and substance of things and ideas. You’ve just crossed over into the twilight zone.”
So begins one of the versions (I found three) that introduced the TV series. It is this intro that I read into the Congressional Record about the Presidency of George W. Bush. But, only a few days into his Presidency, I do believe that Donald J. Trump has even surpassed W. After his election win, there was much media speculation on how the spoils of war would be distributed—and who would get what plum positions. On November 15, Trump tweeted that only he knew who his finalists would be; therefore, all the wild speculation was just that. Now, one week into his Presidency, let’s just take a look at who actually got what, focusing on his Cabinet picks thus far.
Alabama U.S. Senator, Jeff Sessions, was President Trump’s first nomination, for the Attorney General slot, taking over leadership of the Justice Department from President Obama’s Loretta Lynch. Although he was the Trump’s first nomination, Sessions is yet to be confirmed by his Senate colleagues. Southerners who are “men of their times” are often dogged by allegations of being racist because they did not rise above that time. I personally know some of those making the most egregious allegations against the Senator whose judgeship aspirations were derailed due to the charges. This time, the Senator seems poised to take office in the Trump Administration—maybe before this month ends.
Next, Trump announced that he was considering General James “Mad Dog” Mattis as his Pentagon Secretary. Of course, I objected because of the doctrine of civilian control that Trump was just obliterating with his nominations. Then, Dr. Ben Carson was announced as Trump’s choice for HUD (Housing and Urban Development) and I complained because despite Dr. Carson’s obvious talents as a world renowned neurosurgeon, and despite his knowledge of health care and how the neoliberal health industry drains dollars from the public, but fails to demonstrate enough care about public care, it appeared to me that Trump had selected the Black man to deal with the Cabinet post perceived to deal with the issues of urban America—a euphemism in polite circles for Black and Brown people in the U.S. So, I tweeted back to Trump, “Why HUD and not HHS [Health and Human Services]??????” This is a classic way to pigeon-hole someone with the intent to “keep them in their place.” Tellingly, Congressman Dr. Tom Price from my home state of Georgia, an orthopedic surgeon, was selected by Trump to serve as his HHS Secretary. Trump nominated Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell’s wife, and previous Secretar
y of Labor under President George W. Bush, Taiwan-born Elaine Chao, to serve him at the helm of the Department of Transportation.
In stunning fashion, Trump kicked off nominations on what seemed to be “Billionaire Week” when he selected billionaire Betsey DeVos (who is also the sister of Blackwater founder, Erik Prince) to serve as his Secretary of Education. He rounded out the week by tapping Wilbur Ross to become the country’s Secretary of Commerce; hundred millionaire Steve Mnuchin (who is registered to vote in both California and New York, according to Fortune) to serve as Treasury Secretary; and from a billionaire family, Todd Ricketts, to back up Ross as the second in command at Commerce. A few days later, Trump stuck with the hundred millionaire club when he nominated Rex Tillerson, Chairman and CEO at ExxonMobil, for Secretary of State.
Serving at Cabinet-level positions, while not formally being in the Cabinet, are Former South Carolina Governor Nikki Haley and White House Chief of Staff Reince Priebus. Haley is already on the job representing the U.S. at the United Nations while President Trump is rumored to be considering an executive order threatening drastic cuts in current U.S. funding levels at the global body. Therefore, as of this writing, President Trump has only two Cabinet officials actually serving in office right now, other than his Vice President: Secretary of Defense General Mattis and Secretary of Homeland Security General John Kelly, who oversaw torture and illegal detentions at the U.S.-held prison at Guantanamo Bay on the island of Cuba. Thus, so far, the Trump Cabinet can be seen largely as a group of multimillionaires and billionaires and generals. Former Assistant Treasury Secretary Dr. Paul Craig Roberts says that President Trump needs strong personality types who won’t be pushed around by bullies in the press or in Congress. While that is probably true, too, still I wonder if this is the right mix of leadership to put the U.S. on the right track. And honestly, I wonder if people who have been so consumed with personal interest and bottom line corporate interest even possess the necessary character and personality ingredients to become servants of the public interest—a greater good than the bottom line. I wonder if generals who are trained and prepared to go to war at the drop of a hat should command offices like Pentagon Secretary; and if the general at Homeland Security is willing to work his way out of a job by abolishing that Bill of Rights nightmare after ushering in immigration reform and securing U.S. borders— whatever that means—when a clear and more present danger to the U.S. honestly exists within the U.S. Congress. But that’s another topic for another day. Therefore, I have to end this article exactly where I began it: on the outskirts of The Outer Limits (another popular TV show of the same genre and time period) and on my way to my ringside seat in The Twilight Zone.
Actually, it was a newspaper in Scotland that first intoned The Twilight Zone moniker for the Trump Presidency by publishing this: “After a long absence, The Twilight Zone returns with one of the most ambitious, expensive, and controversial productions in broadcast history.” It was writing about the Trump inauguration. But in an even stranger twist of facts, some intrepid social media maven was able to track down a 1950s-era TV show entitled Track down which focuses on the Wild West of the U.S. during the late 1800s. One particular 1958 episode is entitled “The End of the World.” And believe it or not, the star of this episode is a fellow by the name of Dr. Walter Trump who claims that by building a wall he can prevent the world from coming to an end by midnight at the end of that very day—November 14th. Robert Culp (1930–2010) plays the role of Hoby Gilman, the Texas Ranger charged with tracking down crooks and criminals—and in this episode, the crook is Dr. Trump. In the end, Gilman gets his man, arresting Dr. Trump for fraud. Yes, truth can be stranger than fiction—including science fiction. And every time I think about the Trump Cabinet of Generals and Billionaires, I can’t help but wonder if I’m a two-bit star in The Twilight Zone, The X Files, or The Prisoner.
In decadence and decline, the U,S. has produced two strong strains of fascism that now vie for supremacy. The First Black President, now outgoing, represents the “cosmopolitan, global obsessed” variety of fascist. Donald Trump hails from an older fascist strain, “crude and petty, too ugly for global prime time.” At this stage in history, the two corporate parties seem incapable of producing anything other than fascists of one kind or the other.
Locating Fascism on the Home Map
“The merciless downsizing of the American worker is a central element of Obama’s legacy.”
Barack Obama was a savior – of a drowning ruling class. Under his administration, Wall Street rose from near-death to new heights of speculative frenzy, awash in capital brutally extracted from the vanishing assets and past and future earnings of the vast majority of the population, or gifted in the form of trillions in free money at corporate-only Federal Reserve windows. The Big Casino, reduced to a rubble of its own contradictions in 2008, ushered in the New Year just shy of the once-fantastical 20,000 mark. Analysts credited Donald Trump’s victory for the bankers’ bacchanal, but it was Obama who made the party possible by overseeing the restructuring of the U.S. economy to accommodate and encourage the hyper-consolidation of capital -- another way to describe the deliberate deepening of economic (and political) inequality. Having accomplished the mission assigned him by Wall Street in return for record-breaking contributions to his first campaign, Obama is said to be angling for a hot-money squat in Silicon Valley, the super-rich sector that was most supportive of his presidency.
Meanwhile, Hillary Clinton is melting quicker than the Wicked Witch of the West, principally due to the failure of traditionally Democratic working (and out of work) people of all races to turn out on November 8 -- a perfectly understandable response to a party and a system that offers them absolutely nothing but grief, in ever quickening increments. The merciless downsizing of the American worker is a central element of Obama’s legacy. Real wages had been frozen or declining for decades. However, economic restructuring in the Age of Obama demanded that millions of workers be crushed all the way through the floor to a lower level of hell: temporary, contract, not-really-a-job, part-time “gig” employment. If the 1930s squatter shanty-towns called “Hoovervilles” were testaments to President Herbert Hoover’s economic policies, then the maddeningly precarious, no guaranteed hours, no benefits, zero job security, fraction of a shift, arbitrarily scheduled employment of today should be called “ObamaJobs”. A new study by economists at Princeton and Harvard universities shows that an astounding 94 percent of the 10 million jobs created during the First Black President’s two terms in office were “ObamaJobs”. This sub-sector of employment increased by almost half under Obama, from 10.7% of the working population to 15.8%.
“The structural lowering of the employment floor to a precariat sub-basement makes all workers more insecure and less able to bargain with the bosses.”
According to the study, one million fewer people are working under any kind of formal employment than before the Great Recession. The researchers also calculate that Obama’s claim of creating 15 million new jobs is off by 5 million.
Low income workers, especially females, were hurt worst under the “ObamaJobs” regime. But, the structural lowering of the employment floor to a precariat sub-basement makes all workers more insecure and less able to bargain with the bosses -- which is precisely what the new employment order is designed to do, and what Barack Obama intended. The President’s apologists claim Republican obstructionists prevented Obama from acting on his alleged progressive instincts. However, as frequent BAR contributor Pascal Robert points out, Obama “expended no political capital to push a jobs agenda at any time in his presidency.”
Republicans did not force Obama off his stride, causing him to stumble and lose his bearings on the way to a progressive agenda. From the very beginning, this consummate corporate politician had a grand social/economic strategy, beyond the overarching mission of resurrecting the Gilded Age of finance capital.
First, he would insulate the pharmaceutical and insurance industries from the threat of single payer, the world standard of health care that has been favored by 60-plus percent of Americans for at least the past three decades. Once those corporate interests were made safe -- possibly for a generation -- Obama immediately began attempting to forge a Grand Bargain with the Republicans to establish a bipartisan austerity regime. Core labor issues, including the “card check” bill that would have allowed unions to reverse their membership death spiral, were nowhere on his agenda.
“Obama’s assault on FDR’s New Deal and LBJ’s War on Poverty seemed to come from out of the blue.”
Obama declared war on social spending before even taking the oath of office. In early January, 2009, he informed the editorial boards of the New York Times and the Washington Post that all “entitlements” would be “on the table” for cutting under his presidency, including Medicare and Social Security. Obama’s assault on FDR’s New Deal and LBJ’s War on Poverty seemed to come from out of the blue; the battered Republicans were in no position to pressure anybody, and remembered how badly George Bush had been burned when he attempted to privatize Social Security, in his first term.
Obama seemed positively relieved when the GOP took control of the House, in 2010; he needed a stronger Republican Party on Capitol Hill to make his planned Grand Bargain look like a compromise, so that he would appear like a statesman practicing the politics of bipartisan give and take. But the GOP, the “White Man’s Party” whose organizing principle is race, could not bring itself to seal the deal, even after Obama offered a package of spending cuts approximating the Republicans’ own demands: about $4 trillion. Instead, Democrat-GOP relations calcified into gridlock. Thus, the nation was saved from Obama’s Grand Bargain, which Kansas City Black Congressman Emanuel Cleaver, then chairman of the Congressional Black Caucus, called a “Satan Sandwich.”
Obama has not offered a comprehensive economic plan of any kind since the collapse of his courtship with the GOP, which was too mean, narrow and racist to accept his eagerly offered surrender.
“Barack Obama dared to push through Congress a bill authorizing the indefinite detention of U.S. citizens by the military, without trial or charge.”
One does not embark on a campaign to lower wages and savage the social safety net without simultaneously buttressing the national security state. In addition to the exponential expansion of the U.S. domestic and global surveillance regime inherited from George Bush, Barack Obama dared to push through Congress a bill authorizing the indefinite detention of U.S. citizens by the military, without trial or charge. The 2011 New Years Eve insert to the National Defense Authorization Act (NNDA) effectively demolished the principle of due process of law in the United States. Although George Bush claimed the same authority, as inherent in the powers of the commander-in-chief, he never attempted to pass legislation to that effect, knowing that Democrats and some Republicans on Capitol Hill would fight him, tooth and nail. But, Obama’s bill sailed through both chambers of Congress.
When Donald Trump moves into the White House on January 20, he will be empowered to imprison whomever he chooses, without recourse to law as we know it, thanks to Barack Obama. Who, then, is the “fascist”?
President Obama’s greatest foreign policy challenge was to put the United States back on the global military offensive, following George Bush’s humiliation in Iraq. This required a new doctrine, to replace Bush’s discredited crusade to “spread democracy.” On March 17, 2011, Obama loosed his “humanitarian” military intervention doctrine on Libya, effectively negating centuries of international law and custom. As interpreted by Obama, national sovereignty and the inviolability of borders means nothing if the superpower, standing in for the planet, deems a government to be a threat to its own people -- even if crimes against humanity have not yet occurred. Absent the principle of sovereignty, international law ceases to exist.
Obama’s methodical nullification of international law is, itself, the gravest aggression and crime against peace. The U.S. and its NATO and Gulf Arab allies deployed massive air power and foreign and Libyan jihadists to destroy the Libyan state and its leader, Muammar Gaddafi, butchered thousands of his supporters, and ethnically cleansed Black Africans from much of the country.
“Obama’s methodical nullification of international law is, itself, the gravest aggression and crime against peace.”
On a roll, Obama and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton moved thousands of jihadists to Syria, whose largest city, Aleppo, was captured by sectarian terrorists in 2012. From the moment Obama became the protector-in-chief of jihadists in Libya and Syria, virtually all the “news” about the wars in the region has been fake, false, lies. The now indisputable fact that the U.S. has, variously, armed, financed, shielded, transported, trained, directed and otherwise nurtured Islamic jihadists, including al-Qaida, is the truth that cannot be spoken on corporate media. If widely understood and internalized by the public, such a truth would shatter U.S. ruling structures. Therefore, it must be suppressed at all costs.
The sick superpower fends off the smell of death with a daily diet of lies: mainly about Russia and China and other states that refuse to buckle under to U.S. imperialism. The U.S. rulers’ biggest secret -- the one that requires many layers of lies to conceal -- is that the Lords of Capital see their demise as imminent and inevitable unless they somehow alter the general scope and direction of global economic development. The U.S. share of the world economy is inexorably shrinking -- which means, the only way the U.S. can sustain its superpower status is through lawless force of arms abroad, and a crackdown on dissent (truth-telling, or just being Black) at home.
If you are searching for the real meaning of fascism in the superpower under late stage capitalism, you will find it in the nexus between the presidencies of Obama and Trump. Donald Trump’s fascism is the vintage kind that held sway for 70 or 80 years in Dixie under Jim Crow. Still stuck in apartheid, it seems inflexible, crude and petty, too ugly for global prime time. In some ways, this kind of fascist’s ambitions have shrunk to U.S. territorial size, or less.
Obama’s fascism -- of the same brand as the Clintons’ -- is global-obsessed, because it needs to feed on the whole planet to survive. It’s a cosmopolitan, world-stealing Dracula, that cannot imagine life on Earth without itself in charge. It no longer indulges heavily in ideological justifications for its predations; whatever detracts from its hegemony is the enemy. Increasingly, it is engaged in a War Against All. Most recently, it simultaneously attacked both Russia and Donald Trump’s apartheid branch of fascists.
One fascist is fond of race war. The other isn’t so picky.
When looking over the newsworthy events that took place in the United States throughout 2016, a common thread ties many of them together. So many major events illustrate a real failure of the powers that be to solve problems.
And these problems are not new. The epidemic of opiate addiction has been brewing since the 1990s when American doctors, incentivized by medical drug manufacturers, began over-prescribing pain killers. The crisis intensified when the US invasion of Afghanistan unleashed the country's poppy growers, flooding the market, and driving the price down. Now, cheap heroin is everywhere and people are dying. In 2015, more Americans died from drug overdose than from gun violence, another problem plaguing America. As 2016 comes to a close, the numbers of drug-related deaths are still rising.
The Pulse nightclub shooting broke records in 2016 for America's ongoing problem of gun violence. Mass shootings, in which deranged individuals with guns begin slaughtering people, have become a regular occurrence in recent years. Many times President Barack Obama has appeared on television to comfort a grieving nation and call for tighter gun control. The present order is unable to adequately address the issue, and the shootings continue.
Guns, Racism & Discontent
One could say that problems related to race are almost a built-in problem for the United States, which defined African enslaved persons as 3/5 of a human being in its Constitution. Since the end of slavery, after a bloody civil war, there have been endless protests, tensions, and controversies, both violent and peaceful, related to racial questions. The death of Muhammad Ali, the world heavyweight boxing champion who had aligned himself with Black nationalism and converted to Islam during the 1960s, gave the country a moment to reflect on the long history of racial strife.
2016 is the final year of the presidency of Barack Obama. His presidency began with so much optimism about a "post racial society" and the belief that this age-old source of disagreement on the American continent could be finally resolved with a dark skinned man as commander in chief. This final year of Obama's presidency is notable for illustrating how one blatantly unfulfilled these expectations.
Protests swept Charlotte, North Carolina in response to the killing of Keith Lamont Scott by police. The country nervously watched as unrest swept yet another city, with fresh memories of the violence that swept Baltimore and Ferguson in the previous year.
In addition to the thousands of peaceful protests, in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, and Dallas, Texas, police officers were shot and killed by individuals who were angry about the documented wave of unpunished police brutality. After these shootings, many mostly white Americans, who had been almost silent during the continuous wave of "Black Lives Matter" protests, expressed sympathy for police. A huge gap in public opinion became very apparent.
The isolated, violent individuals who were outraged by police brutality were certainly not the only Americans to express their political views with firearms. The year of 2016 began with the seizure of federal property from January 2nd to February 11th by "sovereign citizens" and right-wing militia organizations in Oregon. A shootout with the FBI and state police eventually ensued. One of the armed militants was killed, and 27 were arrested. Gun-toting, right-wing organizations that talk of "constitutional liberties" and opposing the federal government are notably present across the US.
A Twist in American Politics
The 2016 presidential election, much like the increase of protests and political gun battles, revealed how divided, and desperate the country is. Bernie Sanders, a US senator from Vermont who describes himself as a "socialist," long a forbidden term in Americana, was welcomed onto the national political stage.
Millions of Americans voted for Sanders in the Democratic presidential primary. Leaked emails showed that the Democratic National Committee was working behind the scenes to ensure his defeat, and secure the nomination for longtime party power broker Hillary Clinton. The revelations showed a kind of cynical and dishonest internal atmosphere at the top of the Democratic Party, and therefore disillusioned many activists.
Sanders' challenge within the Democratic Party seemed mild compared to Trump's complete shake-up of the Republican Party. Donald Trump, a New York City real estate tycoon and billionaire, who declared his candidacy was at first treated almost as a joke, but ultimately won the election.
Trump's campaign used crass language, demonized Muslims and immigrant workers, opposed international trade deals, and criticized the failures of US military interventions. With slogans like, "America First" and "Make America Great Again," Trump won the electoral college vote, despite proof of a solid majority of voters favoring Clinton.
Neither Trump nor Sanders were, in reality, a very big departure from the American political status quo. Sanders talk of socialism was not a call for a centrally-planned economy, but just for some European-style welfare state reforms. Trump's nationalism and derogatory words for certain demographics is a far cry from fascism or Nazism. The sudden, unpredicted success of both political mavericks was based on an extreme dissatisfaction and a longing for "an outsider."
"You're on Your Own"
American political discourse has long been defined by liberalism. The ideals of the European enlightenment, expressed by John Locke, Immanuel Kant, and others, and applied by Washington, Jefferson, and Hamilton put the individual above all else. In a repudiation of feudalism, the revolutionaries of 1776 embraced "freedom" as the true value of America.
In economic terms, this has meant unrestricted capitalism. Unlike most western countries, the US government does not provide public healthcare to its citizens. American college students, even those who attend public universities, must pay for their education, and millions remain in debt for decades. Employment is not guaranteed, and social services for low-income families are limited.
The American economic mantra is "personal responsibility," i.e. "you're on your own." While the US has the richest of the rich, measurements of basic societal health show that many get left behind. The rates of infant mortality, life expectancy, and poverty are statistically much worse than other western industrialized countries.
In social terms, American liberalism has meant an ever increasing break down of traditional structures. Religion is considered to be a personal matter, and government institutions are forbidden from expressing faith or invoking divine authority. The US Supreme Court has declared same-sex marriage is a constitutional right. Now debates about whether or not bathrooms in elementary schools should be gender segregated have erupted across America.
The ideology of liberalism, which has escalated over the course of American history, prescribes for the citizen to be like Thomas Jefferson's ideal "yoeman'; alone, unmolested and unattached to others, free to "pursue happiness" on his own, with no obligation to society, to his family, to God, or to anyone else.
However, as the crisis of racial tension illustrates, "No man is an island." Americans can watch the exact same video recordings, yet a majority of whites will defend the police, while African Americans will see brutality. Despite the obsessive individualism, Americans still identify themselves with groups they consider to be similar to themselves, and thus view the world accordingly.
Group identification is natural, and people have always had a collective nature. The entire history of humanity consists of humans cooperating, working together, agreeing on rules and expectations, and in the process, advancing civilization toward greater heights.
Liberalism & The American Dream
A severe lack of collective identity is very apparent in present day America. Items considered to be "public property" are in severe decay. The system of public transportation in Washington DC made national headlines when it shut down for a single day because of continued accidents, which had resulted in injuries and a single fatality. Throughout 2016, accidents plagued the Amtrak public train system, which like DC transit system, also faces a lack of funding. During the 2016 academic year, millions of children have been left without schools to attend, as their for-profit charter schools, run by corporations, which have replaced public schools in many cities, have closed down mid-semester.
In the states that ultimately secured Trump's victory (Wisconsin, Michigan, Ohio, and Pennsylvania) one can find numerous neighborhoods that were once prosperous, now filled with empty, foreclosed homes. The factories that once employed millions of American industrial workers have closed their doors. The jobs that have replaced them offer much lower pay, to a generation which is unlikely to see the once lauded "American dream" of middle class prosperity.
Suicide rates across the United States are rising, as are cases of mental illness. Polls show that Americans increasingly find a lack of meaning and purpose in their lives, as their TVs and iPhones push them to purchase more and more, and live in pursuit of short-term pleasures. Economic security is also in question, as employment is far more short term for young workers, while the cost of housing and other living expenses are rising.
The changing political stage and rising instability shows a desperation on the part millions who are dissatisfied. The widely acknowledged problems facing the country are simply not being addressed.
As Trump is sworn in at the beginning of 2017, the attempts to resolve the escalating crisis will continue. The search for answers outside of standard political discourse is likely to continue as well.