Restructuring retail: Tens of thousands laid off — more to come

The restructuring in retail is different in form from manufacturing but the same in essence, as far as the working class is concerned.

By Fred Goldstein. Posted April 25, 2017.  

As International Workers’ Day — May Day — approaches, a major crisis is underway for retail workers in the U.S. A process of profound restructuring of the retail industry is unfolding. Driven by internet technology and its utilization by Amazon, among others, it has been made possible by the capitalist scientific-technological revolution.

In manufacturing, the struggle by big industry to increase profits drove automation and offshoring. In the retail industry, the giant monopoly Amazon has developed online shopping, which has already wiped out tens of thousands of retail jobs and is threatening hundreds of thousands more.

Online shopping has brought about a transformation in the so-called brick-and-mortar retail industry.

“This transformation is hollowing out suburban shopping malls, bankrupting long-time brands and leading to staggering job losses,” wrote the New York Times on April 15.

“More workers in general merchandise stores have been laid off since October, about 89,000 Americans. That is more than all of the people employed in the United States coal industry, which President Trump championed during the campaign as a prime example of the workers who have been left behind in the economic recovery.

“The job losses in retail could have unexpected social and political consequences, as huge numbers of low-wage retail employees become economically unhinged, just as manufacturing workers did in recent decades. About one out of every 10 Americans works in retail.” That’s around 15 million workers.

Thousands of mall-based stores are shutting down in what’s fast becoming one of the biggest waves of retail closures in decades.

More than 3,500 stores are expected to close in the next couple of months.

Department stores like JCPenney, Macy’s, Sears and Kmart are among the companies shutting down stores, along with middle-of-the-mall chains like Crocs, BCBG, Abercrombie & Fitch and Guess.

As big retailers shut down in malls, there is collateral damage among the workers in small retail stores and fast food places that draw walk-by customers who shop in the big stores. Furthermore, window designers, lighting and maintenance workers, security guards, sanitation workers and many other mall workers are or will be thrown onto the unemployment lines.

From housing bubble to retail bubble

Online shopping is not the only thing responsible for the present crisis. Marxism teaches that in all industries, capitalist competition and the thirst for profit drive the retail and real estate bosses who rent to them to destroy their rivals by capturing market share. The result is capitalist overproduction. (Overproduction does not mean that capitalists produce more than people need, only more than the stores can sell at a profit.)

“The number of malls in the U.S. grew more than twice as fast as the population between 1970 and 2015, according to Cowen Research. By one measure of consumerist plentitude [capitalist overproduction, F.G.] — shopping center “gross leasable area,” the U.S. has 40 percent more shopping space per capita than Canada, five times more than the U.K., and 10 times more than Germany.” (theatlantic.com, April 10)

“The seeds of the industry’s current turmoil date back nearly three decades, when retailers … flush with easy money, rushed to open new stores. The land grab wasn’t unlike the housing boom that was also under way at that time.

“Thousands of new doors opened and rents soared,” Richard Hayne, chief executive of Urban Outfitters Inc., told analysts last month. “This created a bubble, and like housing, that bubble has now burst.” (wsj.com, April 21)

Amazon won’t make up for jobs lost

The standard line of the apologists for capitalist restructuring is that technological advancement creates new and better-paying jobs that will make up for the job losses. This is complete hogwash.

First of all, the workers who lose their jobs are out of a job NOW. They have the skills and training for retail. The capitalist class and the capitalist government do not swoop in to the rescue and give them jobs and training in new occupations they would feel suited for.

But second of all, assuming that the laid-off workers in the thousands could apply for jobs at Amazon or other online retailers, they would be confronted by the highly automated Amazon warehouse system. This system has far fewer jobs to offer than the 90,000 who have already been laid off since last October and the many thousands more who are in danger of losing their jobs.

Amazon’s automation is infamous among the workers as a speed-up device and a job-killer.

“In 2012, Amazon bought the robotics company Kiva Systems for $775 million — and made it so Kiva’s technology could be used only in Amazon warehouses. These Kiva robots autonomously zoom around the warehouse using a series of barcodes on the floor to guide them, picking items and bringing them back to warehouse workers. These robots save these workers from the immense physical toll of walking as many as 20 miles per shift, sometimes in unbearable heat; but this also means that fewer human workers are needed. The jobs that remain will be less labor intensive, and more like those of a robot supervisor. Since Amazon bought Kiva, a host of other companies are trying to develop even more advanced warehouse robots and sell them to Amazon’s competitors.” (prospect.org, Sept. 27, 2016)

It’s not likely that 90,000 robot supervisors will be needed at Amazon!

Capitalist restructuring in another form

Retail workers have already undergone the pressure of the scientific-technological revolution and the intensified exploitation that it brings. Retail salespeople and cashiers have been subjected to time studies and forced to adhere to a time standard for making sales. Cashiers have to ring up customers in a designated time tracked by the electronic cash register. And they have been subjected to many other profit-squeezing methods.

Now thousands of them are being eliminated altogether by internet technology and online sales.

This is comparable to when auto workers’ jobs were destroyed by robotization or steel workers’ jobs were destroyed by mini-mills and electronic mills. And coal miners’ jobs were destroyed by giant mining machines.

The difference is that this automation is being instituted by an external employer, Amazon. The restructuring in retail is different in form from manufacturing but the same in essence, as far as the working class is concerned. Amazon has reduced the necessary labor time involved in the process of commercial retail sales. As such, it can sell at lower prices and increase convenience for the shopper.

While automation reduces the walking time for workers in the warehouse and the burden of shopping for the consumer, the workers who are no longer needed by capital under the profit system suffer. Instead of the internet and robots being used to ease life for the working class, they are only making things more difficult and insecure.

The masses of workers who lose their jobs will not be able to afford buying anything, either online or in a store. For the working class, the whole capitalist system is a trap the workers must break out of.

Goldstein is the author of Low-Wage Capitalism and Capitalism at a Dead End, which can be obtained from online book sellers.

Trump & the Wall Street-Pentagon Coalition

By Fred Goldstein, posted April 18, 2017.

There has been much buzz in the capitalist media recently about Donald Trump’s “flip-flopping.” He has changed his positions 180 degrees on a whole variety of issues within a few weeks’ time.

Among the issues on which he has switched are:

  • He has bombed Syria after having opposed intervention.
  • He says China is not a currency manipulator after calling China “the world champion” of currency manipulators.
  • He has floated the idea of negotiations with north Korea after saying that he would never negotiate with that government.
  • He says that NATO “was once obsolete; it is no longer obsolete.”
  • He says he likes Janet Yellen, the head of the Federal Reserve Board, and her low interest rates, after claiming she and “other global special interests” had ruined life for middle America.
  • He says it turns out that “lots of small companies are really helped” by the Export-Import Bank, after having opposed it.

These are just a few of his reversals. They have all brought him more in line with the fundamental needs of U.S. imperialism.

Numerous explanations for Trump’s reversals have been put forward by the big-business media. For example, it is said that Trump adopts the position of the last person he has talked to. Or, Trump has no ideology and he can shift positions easily. Or, he listens to his daughter Ivanka Trump and her husband Jared Kushner. And so on.

All of these things may be true. But they mask the deeper reason for the so-called flip-flops.

Trump has been leaned on by the Pentagon and Wall Street to shift from demagogy to policy based on the reality of the core needs of U.S. imperialism.

Trump is surrounded by four generals, three former bankers from Goldman Sachs and other financiers, not to mention Rex Tillerson, former CEO of ExxonMobil, the largest private oil company in the capitalist world. This is a veritable coalition of Wall Street, the Pentagon and big business. And, for the moment, they have reined in Trump and subordinated him to their needs. Whether he will stay in harness remains to be seen.

Trump removed ultra-rightist Steve Bannon from the Principals Committee of the National Security Council, thus bowing to the pressure of the Wall Street-Pentagon coalition, led in this instance by Lt. Gen. H.R. McMaster, his national security adviser. In doing so, he denied that Bannon had been his strategist. “I’m my own strategist,” declared Trump.

The problem with that statement is that Trump does not have a strategic cell in his brain. He can’t think politically beyond what he said yesterday.

Trump’s previous positions have been the result of blustering election demagogy. He has uttered positions that no serious imperialist politician could possibly follow through on. The applause lines that gratified his ego and won over gullible voters during the election campaign have now clashed with the hard realities of the problems of U.S. imperialism at home and abroad. However, Trump is so dense and so vain that he clung to these positions for dear life. Finally, he had to be put straight by the capitalist establishment.

Tweeting baloney

Take Trump’s belligerent, war-like posture toward the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea. Trump tweeted recently about the DPRK and its drive to obtain an intercontinental ballistic missile that can be armed with an atomic warhead.

“That’s not going to happen,” tweeted Trump. In another tweet Trump said the DPRK is “looking for trouble” and he warned that “if China decides to help, that would be great. If not, we will solve the problem without them.” (New York Times, April 17)

These were clear threats to use force against the DPRK. To underscore the threat, the Pentagon sent an aircraft carrier squadron, accompanied by Aegis missile ships, off the coast of the Korean peninsula. Washington made vague but menacing threats to “take action” if the DPRK carried out a nuclear test.

Trump — and Obama before him — has adamantly refused any negotiations with the DPRK unless it shows signs that it will give up its nuclear weapons program.

Brass rethinking negotiations

But listen to National Security Adviser McMaster speaking on a recent Sunday talk show: “It’s really the consensus with the president, our key allies in the regions … that this problem is coming to a head,” said the general. “And so it’s time for us to undertake all actions we can, short of a military option, to try to resolve this peacefully.” (ABC News This Week, April 16)

Take the position put forward by Vice President Mike Pence while visiting the demilitarized zone in south Korea on April 17. According to the New York Times, Pence blustered that north Korea should not test “the strength of the armed forces of the United States in this region.” Yet he also noted that Washington was seeking security “through peaceable means, through negotiations.”

Whether or not the peaceful language of McMaster and Pence was meant as a gesture to China without expressing real White House policy remains to be seen.

But the socialist government of the DPRK did precisely what Pence warned against. The government of Kim Jong Un defied all the blustering war-mongering of the Trump White House and the Pentagon, proudly staging a massive military parade on the 105th birthday of the founder of the DPRK, Kim Il Sung, complete with an array of  intercontinental ballistic missiles.

Pyongyang stands up to Trump and Pentagon

The DPRK stood up to military threats and the presence of a U.S. naval armada in its waters. The leadership has taken into consideration the lessons of Iraq and Libya. The U.S. imperialists used the pretext of looking for weapons of mass destruction in Iraq to plan a massive attack, which ended in the murder of Iraqi President Saddam Hussein. The DPRK is also well aware of the lesson of Libya, whose leader Moammar al-Gadhafi gave up his nuclear program; Libya was later invaded and he was brutally murdered by pro-U.S. forces.

The New York Times noted: “North Korea could hardly drop these [nuclear] programs without understandably fearing an attack. Disarmament, in this view, would invite annihilation.” (New York Times, April 17)

This also speaks to the fraudulent slogan of a “denuclearized Korean peninsula,” which Washington and its allies are always promoting. The only nuclear weapons actually on the Korean peninsula belong to the DPRK. The U.S. does not need nuclear weapons in south Korea. The Pentagon has surrounded the DPRK with a “ring of fire,” including nuclear-armed submarines, nuclear-armed planes on aircraft carriers and nuclear-capable bombers at bases from Japan to Guam to Hawaii, as well as island bases throughout the region. A “denuclearized peninsula” means a disarmed DPRK.

So Trump’s flip-flop on the DPRK, as espoused by McMaster and Pence, is rooted in hard military reality. Trump tweeted that the U.S. would “deal with” the DPRK. But the military explained to him that there is no good option for U.S. imperialism in north Korea so long as Pyongyang remains steadfast in the face of nuclear blackmail.

Trump and China

Trump has publicly declared that the Chinese government is going to “help on north Korea,” so he pulled back from naming China as a currency manipulator. Such a declaration was part of his anti-China campaign. He also promised to slap tariffs on Chinese goods sold in this country. This was when he was preaching to his followers about how China was “stealing jobs” and “cheating on trade.”

The truth is that he has been forced to reject his own and Bannon’s anti-China line by financiers like Gary Cohn, head of Trump’s National Economic Council and president and CEO of Goldman Sachs for 10 years. Cohn and his Goldman Sachs cohorts, Deputy National Security Adviser Dina Powell and Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin, have also explained to him that Janet Yellen, head of the Federal Reserve Board, is a favorite of Wall Street. She has funnelled billions of dollars to the banks, allegedly to “save the economy.”

Said Reuters on April 16: “Apparently paying more heed to Cohn and other moderates on his team, Trump last week said he was open to reappointing Janet Yellen as Federal Reserve chairman when her term is up and he also held back from naming China a currency manipulator.

“Both stances marked a reversal from his campaign when Trump criticized Yellen and vowed to label China a currency manipulator on ‘day one’ of his administration, a move that could lead to punitive duties on Chinese goods.

“Chinese authorities, faced with an insult from a foreign leader as the ruling Communist Party prepares for elections of top positions later this year, eventually would have slapped steep retaliatory tariffs on U.S. exporters that send more than $100 billion a year of goods to the Asian country. U.S. manufacturers’ profits and stock prices would take a big hit.”

The designation of Cohn from Goldman Sachs as a “moderate” paints him with a kindly brush. Finance capital in general, and Goldman Sachs in particular, is just as aggressive and ruthless in pursuit of profit as the Pentagon is in pursuit of conquest. They are two adventurist arms of the same ruling class.

Cohn, meaning Goldman Sachs, told Trump it would not be a good idea to start a trade war or a currency war with the second-largest economy on earth. The Chinese economy is growing at an annual rate of 6.9 percent, while U.S. capitalism can barely eke out 2 percent growth.

China and Korea

As for China helping the U.S. on “taming” the DPRK, it is worthwhile noting that for the Chinese People’s Liberation Army, it is impossible to ignore the contrast between south and north Korea.

The north is not threatening China militarily one bit. But the south Korean puppets of U.S. imperialism are enthusiastically and hastily rushing to deploy the Pentagon’s THAAD anti-missile system. THAAD has powerful radar that can reach into China and spy on Chinese missile installations. The Chinese government has vigorously warned against this deployment and has said it would upset the “strategic balance” in the region. Seoul and Washington have ignored China’s concerns.

In Beijing the military and the political high command must be truly worrying about the possibility of having a pro-imperialist regime on their border. In the long run, China cannot afford to undermine the DPRK. It will be compelled to resist U.S. aggression against the government of Kim Jong Un.

The crisis in Korea, like the economic and geopolitical crises for U.S. imperialism around the globe, cannot be tweeted away nor can they be overcome by military means. U.S. imperialism is a colossus with feet of clay. Trump is finding that out the hard way.

Goldstein is author of Low-Wage Capitalism: Colossus with Feet of Clay and Capitalism at a Dead End, available from all major booksellers.

 

Behind the attack on Syria; Trump and the generals

“You furnish the pictures. I’ll furnish the war.” Publisher William Randolph Hearst in 1898, preparing the groundwork for the U.S. war with Spain and seizure of Cuba.

By Fred Goldstein, posted April 11, 2017.  

The Trump administration’s attack on the Syrian air force was first directed at Russia as well as the government of Bashar al-Assad. China and the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea were secondarily targeted.

The chemical weapons attack in Syria, assuming that it was not totally staged by enemies of the Damascus government, was aimed at forcing President Donald Trump to shift his political orientation away from rapprochement with Russia — and to keep military pressure focused on the long-term goal of overthrowing the Assad government. Washington not only wants to overthrow Assad, but it also aims to place a compliant government in Damascus that will oust the Russians from Syria and the Mediterranean altogether.

The U.S. imperialist military strike came five days after Trump’s U.N. Ambassador Nikki Haley said, “The United States’ diplomatic policy on Syria for now is no longer focused on making the war-torn country’s president, Bashar al-Assad, leave power.”  (Reuters, March 30) The publicity surrounding the alleged chemical weapons attack was designed to reverse this Trump policy.

Charges with no evidence

The accusations against the Assad government have been unanimous and thunderous in the capitalist media, Congress and the military. All this has gone on despite there being not one moment of investigation or one element of cogent proof that Damascus had any role in the alleged attack. The Syrian government has categorically denied the charges, but its denials have received no publicity in the capitalist media.

In all, this one thing is certain: The Syrian government had no reason to carry out such an attack. It has been winning the war without using chemical weapons and has the least motive of all parties involved to carry out such an attack. The attacks hurt the Syrian government and helped the imperialists and their reactionary client groupings inside Syria.

In any criminal investigation the first things to look for are motive, means and opportunity to carry out the crime. The parties with the overriding motives, means and opportunity to do such a thing are the U.S. government and the reactionaries in Syria who are losing the war. Those in the latter group have been unsuccessfully trying to overthrow Assad and seek to draw the U.S. government into the military struggle.

Times neocon propagandists on the Syria case

The New York Times led the charge in instantaneously accusing the Assad government. The Times assigned their two most committed anti-Syrian-government propagandists to cover the story — Michael Gordon and Anne Barnard.

Gordon was co-author with Judith Miller of Times articles promoting the idea that Iraq had weapons of mass destruction in the build-up to the 2003 U.S.-British invasion. Miller eventually lost her job for lying about claims of the existence of these weapons in Iraq. George W. Bush used these claims to bolster the pretext for invasion. Barnard writes like a publicist for the reactionary Syrian groups.

Progressive writer and founder of consortiumnews.com Robert Parry explained on April 5: “Gordon has been at the front lines of the neocon ‘regime change’ strategies for years. He co-authored the Times’ infamous aluminum tube story of Sept. 8, 2002, which relied on U.S. government sources and Iraqi defectors to frighten Americans with images of ‘mushroom clouds’ if they didn’t support President George W. Bush’s upcoming invasion of Iraq.”

It turned out that the aluminum tubes were meant for conventional weapons.

Seymour Hersh, an investigative reporter who exposed the 1968 My Lai massacre in Vietnam, reported in 2015, “In spring 2013 U.S. intelligence learned that the Turkish government, through elements of the MIT, its national intelligence agency, and the Gendarmerie, a militarised law-enforcement organisation, was working directly with al-Nusra and its allies to develop a chemical warfare capability.”

Hersh continued: “Our senior military officers have been told by the DIA [Defense Intelligence Agency] and other intelligence assets that the sarin was supplied through Turkey, that it could only have gotten there with Turkish support. The Turks also provided the training in producing the sarin and handling it.” (reported by Robert Parry, consortiumnews.com, Sept. 16, 2015)

Following the chemical gas attack in 2013, the Times reported that experts followed the path of missiles carrying the gas, and it led back to Damascus. It later turned out that the missiles had a range that could not have carried them from Damascus. The actual range was the distance from rebel-held territory. (consortiumnews.com, Dec. 29, 2013; linked to Times article)

Ruling-class goal: Force Trump to oppose Russia, Assad

Even during the U.S. election campaign and since Trump won, the Pentagon and the ruling class in general have aimed to undermine the Trump administration’s attempt to shift U.S. foreign policy toward more cooperation with Russian President Vladimir Putin. The horrendous pictures of the alleged chemical attack in Syria were calculated to box Trump in and leave him no alternative but to attack the Syrian government.

The drumbeats for attack on Syria came relentlessly from almost all ruling-class quarters — from Democratic Party moderates to Republican reactionaries. Trump, who has been the butt of attacks, ridicule and jokes in the corporate media, was momentarily catapulted from the status of bungling buffoon to the position of decisive leader. This praise, however, is only temporary. The military and its mouthpieces in Congress, such as Senators John McCain and Lindsey Graham, are prodding Trump to go further and explain what’s next.

Militarization of National Security Council

In all the celebration about Trump’s sudden show of leadership, what is being omitted is that he has militarized the government at the top. He received much praise when he pushed Stephen Bannon off the government’s most powerful committee, the Principals Committee of the National Security Council.

Bannon is an ultra-right extremist with an apocalyptic vision of war in Asia and is viciously against Islamic civilization. But the cheers for Bannon’s removal have drowned out any response to the shift in the Principals Committee. Now there are four generals on the council — who are nothing but extremists with weapons.

Under Trump the top foreign policy body of the capitalist government has gone from having the facade of civilian rule to open military control of foreign policy. The attack on Syria must be seen in that light.

Trump’s secretary of defense is James “Mad Dog” Mattis, a former Marine general. Mattis oversaw Middle East operations as chief of Central Command until his retirement in 2013. Mattis’ many colorful quotes include, “Be polite, be professional, but have a plan to kill everyone you meet.”

Mattis opposed President Barack Obama’s Iran deal. He led the attack on Fallujah in 2004, which destroyed this Iraqi city of 300,000 people. The campaign used poisonous and radioactive depleted uranium munitions and caused massive civilian casualties. His troops massacred 24 civilians in Haditha city in 2005. (democracynow.org, Jan. 26, 2012) Mattis refused to apologize. He has been a true military extremist.

The head of the Department of Homeland Security is retired Marine Maj. Gen. John Kelly, a border security hawk who was in charge of Caribbean and South American operations as head of the U.S. Southern Command. He opposed Obama’s plans to close Guantanamo Bay prison and has stoked fears by raising the specter of terrorists entering the country through the U.S.-Mexican border.

Trump’s national security adviser is Army Lt. Gen. H.R. McMaster, who is still on active duty and is a former tank commander in Iraq and Afghanistan. McMaster replaced Marine Gen. Michael Flynn after Flynn was ousted. McMaster played a key role in expelling Bannon from the NSC Principals Committee. The military unseated Bannon, the ultra-right ideologue, to prevent him from interfering with or listening in on their plans.

Also on the committee is Marine Lt. Gen. Joseph Dunford, chair of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. He was a commander during the 2003 invasion of Iraq and a commander of NATO forces in Afghanistan in 2013. He told the Senate Armed Services Committee in 2015 that Russia is the “greatest threat to U.S. interests.” (Washington Post, July 9, 2015)

The U.S. military plans to have a wide focus that includes Russia, China, the DPRK, Syria, Iran, Yemen, Somalia and Libya. They especially strive to maintain hostility to Russia now because Washington covets Ukraine and is outraged that the Russians moved quickly to frustrate a total imperialist takeover of that country. The Pentagon is a firm backer of the fascist regime in Kiev and plans to feed it more powerful weapons. This is all linked to its anti-Russian campaign.

Washington to Putin: We’re the boss

Last year and at the beginning of this year, a joint Russian, Turkish and Iranian task force discussed political settlement issues for the Syria conflict at talks in Astana, Kazakhstan.  (Reuters, Feb. 16) The U.S. had no part in the talks.

Washington and the U.S. military reject the political involvement of the Russian government in settling the Syrian question. U.S. air strikes on the Syrian airbase were meant to show Putin who is boss in the region.

The same scenario was played out in 2016 when then-Secretary of State John Kerry was engaged with Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov in working on military coordination and peace talks about Syria. After a marathon negotiating session on Sept. 8, Kerry called the deal “a potential turning point” in the conflict, if implemented. (CNBC, Sept. 9, 2016)

However, barely a week after Kerry’s announcement, the New York Times reported on Sept. 17: “The United States acknowledged on Saturday [Sept. 17] that its warplanes had carried out an airstrike in Syria that resulted in the deaths of Syrian government troops. American military officials said the pilots in the attack, in the eastern province of Deir al-Zour, believed they were targeting the Islamic State.”

The article stated, “Russia’s defense ministry said the United States attack had killed 62 Syrian troops, wounded 100 more.” This attack broke up the talks and all possibility of working out a peace plan.

DPRK and China also subject of Syrian strike

The military rushed the U.S. attack on Syria in order to deliver a major diplomatic slap at the People’s Republic of China at the very moment when Chinese President Xi Jinping was meeting with Trump at his Florida White House. Trump did not tell him about the attack until the meeting was over.

The strike was also meant to threaten the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea. To follow up the strike on Syria, the Pentagon is now sending an aircraft carrier strike force toward Korean waters. The carrier Carl Vinson, accompanied by missile ships and frigates, is steaming there from Singapore to arrive in time for the 105th birthday of historic Korean communist leader Kim Il Sung. April 15 is celebrated in the DPRK as “the day of the sun.”

Trump has given the military a long leash. He is fostering their revenge plans against the DPRK, which defeated the U.S. invasionary force in the Korean War. The U.S. military has never gotten over it.

Trump has let the Pentagon send more troops to Syria, bomb large numbers of civilians in Mosul and increase drone strikes in Yemen and Somalia — all without the White House signing off on these operations. There has been a major escalation of U.S. military killing of civilians under these new rules.

By militarizing the government, Trump has given more priority to the Pentagon and U.S. imperialism’s losing battle to overcome Washington’s diminished position in the world. Trump’s foreign policy slogan is really: “Make the U.S. military empire great again.” But this authoritarian, racist, misogynist, bigoted buffoon has no other talent than to bluster about giving orders. He cannot see that this dangerous course can only end in disaster for U.S. imperialism.

Goldstein is the author of Low-Wage Capitalism and Capitalism at a Dead End. Books can be purchased at several websites.

Diversions about Russia, lies about Korea

By Fred Goldstein posted on March 22, 2017.

March 20 — Two issues today have been brought to the forefront by the capitalist establishment. Each one aims to push the people in the U.S. along dangerous political paths.

The first is whether the Trump campaign colluded with Russia during the U.S. election.

The second is the big lie that the U.S. is under threat from north Korea.

Anti-government demonstration in Seoul.

As this is being written, all eyes of the big business media are focused on congressional testimony by the heads of the two top spy agencies, FBI Director James Comey and Director of National Intelligence Mike Rogers. The two have now testified that Trump lied about being wiretapped by Obama and also affirmed that there is an ongoing investigation into whether there were connections between the Trump campaign and Russian interference in the U.S. presidential election. They are looking to see if criminal charges are warranted.

The common line of the Democratic Party leadership and much of the capitalist establishment is that the Russian government interfered with “our democracy” by influencing the election in favor of Trump. The united front between the FBI and the DNI during the congressional hearing might very well be the beginning of an attempt to severely undermine Trump. This would sharply accelerate the political crisis in U.S. capitalist society. Only time will tell.

‘Russian interference’ a diversion

Despite the unfolding gravity of the struggle against Trump within the ruling class, the basis for the workers and oppressed to oppose Trump should not rest on connections with Russia. That is a problem for the ruling class and its foreign policy.

The problem for the working class is that he is promoting Islamophobia as well as racism against Mexicans and immigrants, while fostering police terror, sexism, anti-Semitism and a belligerent and militaristic foreign policy, especially in the Middle East and Asia.

The campaign to prove that Russia interfered in the election, despite its potential major political consequences, is both a diversion and a political trap. Focusing on Russia takes attention away from the issues vital to the workers and the ­oppressed.

Phony promises of jobs and health care

For months and months Trump spouted bombastic demagogy aimed at getting the working-class and small-business vote. He declared he was going to bring back jobs, preserve Medicaid, Medicare and Social Security, and guarantee “great health care,” among other promises.

On the jobs question, he has got his friends in big business — such as General Motors, General Electric, Ford and Intel, among others — to talk about investment plans, which had been long in the making, as if they were part of Trump’s “bring back jobs” campaign. But everyone should know that no corporation decides to make a billion-dollar investment after one meeting with Trump. Such investments are planned months and years ahead of time and are strictly based on profit projections.

The bosses are stroking him because he has promised them tax cuts and deregulation. But when they get back to the boardroom and meet with their investment bankers, their decisions will depend on cold calculation of the bottom line, Trump notwithstanding.

On the question of “great health care,” Trump has already exposed himself by getting behind a health care bill that is basically a transfer of wealth from the workers and the poor to the ultra-rich. The bill would give them tax cuts of $600 billion. At the same time it would cut $880 billion from Medicaid. It would leave at least 24 million people without health insurance by 2026 and raise insurance premiums for millions, especially for the elderly. (Congressional Budget Office report, March 13)

As for the broad masses, Trump’s budget says it all. He will hand over an additional $54 billion to the Pentagon and the military-industrial complex. At the same time, the budget will cut social services, environmental protection, science and art across the board.

Community programs such as aid to coal miners in Appalachia, community development programs in cities and towns across the country, help for the hungry such as Meals on Wheels, funds for opioid clinics, early education and child care, and a myriad of other projects will be either eliminated or cut to the bone. While many of Trump’s supporters are rich or well-off, there are poorer ones who believe his demagogy. Now they will be hurt badly by these cuts.

Democratic Party trap

Liberals and the Democratic Party leadership, who are tied hand and foot to big capital, are hoping to bring down Trump and at the same time push people into the Democratic Party camp, even those who were opposed to Clinton. Russia is an easy target. The last thing these politicians want is a genuine mass struggle of resistance against Trump.

The anti-Russia howl from all quarters of the ruling class and the political establishment has to do with blocking any attempt by Trump and his ultra-rightist adviser Steve Bannon to shift foreign policy away from emphasizing conflict with Russia and direct it toward conflict in Asia and a “civilizational” conflict with Islam. This is the prevailing ideology in the clique around Trump.

The bourgeoisie may strongly suspect, and with much justification, that Trump could be hanging on to Russia out of business considerations. Even if Trump’s motives are based purely on greed, they dovetail with Bannon’s ideology.

In any event, the movement must not get swept into the trap of trying to oust Trump on an anti-Russia wave. The way to fight Trump is not to take sides with the Democratic Party’s top leadership, who for years have promoted war and neoliberalism.

Nor should anyone fall for the “interference in our democracy” argument. This is a democracy of the capitalist class, of the rich. When they talk about “our democracy,” they mean the “democratic right” of the various factions in the capitalist class to push the masses into electing one or another political grouping that will help the bosses exploit and plunder the workers and the oppressed, at home and abroad.

To avoid that trap, the workers have to have their own independent party that speaks in the name of all the oppressed and exploited and has a program of struggle to advance their class interests.

U.S. threat to north Korea

The other issue that the bosses are focusing on is the alleged threat to the U.S. from the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea.

Within days of his confirmation, U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson threatened the DPRK by announcing in Seoul that “the era of strategic patience is over.” Tillerson said, “Nothing is off the table.” This was widely interpreted by the capitalist media to mean threatening military action.

Tillerson’s remarks, in conjunction with the Pentagon launching massive military maneuvers in Korea, amount to a dangerous threat by Washington against the DPRK.

Operation Foal Eagle

Right now the Pentagon has embarked on two months of massive military maneuvers involving both the U.S. and the Seoul regime on land, in the sky and in the waters off the Korean peninsula.

Operation Foal Eagle involves 7,500 U.S. troops and 300,000 south Korean puppet troops in a simulated invasion of the DPRK. The central organizing force is the aircraft carrier USS Carl Vinson, decked with F-15 and F-16 fighter bombers. F-22s have also been flown into U.S. bases in south Korea. The Carl Vinson is accompanied by the guided-missile destroyer USS Wayne E. Meyer, among other warships. Armed drones have also been dispatched to the area by the Pentagon.

A London newspaper reported that the Navy SEAL unit which assassinated Osama bin Laden is participating in the massive U.S.-south Korean war maneuvers for the first time. It added that “Along with other elite U.S. units including the Army Rangers, Delta Force and the Green Berets, SEAL Team Six will take part in annual training exercises alongside south Korean forces, according to Yonhap News.

“‘A bigger number of and more diverse U.S. special operation forces will take part in this year’s Foal Eagle and Key Resolve exercises to practise missions to infiltrate into the North, remove the North’s war command and demolition of its key military facilities,’ a South Korean official told the news agency.

“‘SEAL Team Six would practice removing Kim Jong-un and destroying North Korea’s weapons of mass destruction, South Korea’s Defence Ministry told the Joong Ang Daily newspaper.’” (The Independent, March 15)

The message of regime change is loud and clear

To add to the U.S. imperialist threat, the Pentagon has begun deployment of the Terminal High Altitude Area Defense anti-missile system to south Korea. THAAD is aimed not only at the DPRK but also at the People’s Republic of China. Despite its name, it is a highly aggressive system aimed at blocking retaliation after the power that has it launches an attack. The goal of THAAD is to give the U.S.-south Korean forces first strike capability.

The Pentagon rushed to get THAAD deployed because south Korea’s former president, Park Geun-hye, has been ousted for corruption and political reaction after a year of mass demonstrations. It was urgent to Washington that THAAD be installed before new elections, as Moon Jae-in, a liberal who favors reestablishing relations with the north, is expected to be elected the next president.

To listen to Washington, you would think that the DPRK had stationed soldiers and nuclear missiles pointing at the U.S. in bases in Mexico, Puerto Rico, Colombia, across Canada and on submarines in the waters off the Atlantic and Pacific.

But the opposite is true. The DPRK is a small socialist country of 25 million people. It is surrounded by the most powerful military forces on earth. The Pentagon has tens of thousands of troops, ships and planes surrounding the DPRK. There is a ring of U.S. bases strung from south Korea to Japan, Hawaii, Guam, the Mariana Islands and elsewhere.

DPRK deserves solidarity

The DPRK began its nuclear weapons program in earnest after President George W. Bush, in his January 2002 State of the Union address, designated Iran, Iraq and the Democratic Peoples Republic of Korea as the “Axis of Evil.” Shortly thereafter the Pentagon invaded Iraq with “shock and awe” and captured and killed President Saddam Hussein.

In 2003, Libyan leader Muammar Qaddafi surrendered his nuclear program for fear of a similar U.S. invasion. But in 2011 Washington, the French and the British invaded Libya and Qaddafi was captured and killed, just like Saddam Hussein.

The DPRK drew the only conclusion it could: the need for a deterrent that would stay the hand of imperialism.

In fact, the DPRK, contrary to Pentagon propaganda, is not trying to develop its missile system and its nuclear weapons in order to attack the U.S. It is trying to develop a credible deterrent to a U.S. or south Korean invasion.

Washington has threatened the DPRK with nuclear attack or attack on its nuclear installations numerous times. The DPRK agreed to suspend its nuclear program several times, during the Agreed Upon Framework in 1994 and during the six-party talks, which began in 1998. Both times the U.S. walked away from its commitments under the talks and instead imposed sanctions on the DPRK.

The bottom line is that the Pentagon had suffered its first military defeat during the Korean War of 1950-53, when it invaded the north twice and was driven back twice. The U.S. military wants to reverse that defeat and has been trying to do so for nearly 65 years.

Right now the DPRK is immersed in a valiant and desperate struggle to survive against overwhelming odds. It deserves the support of all progressive humanity and especially of the movement here, in the belly of the beast.

From health care to war in Asia / Trump attacks at home and abroad

By Fred Goldstein

The authoritarian Trump clique in the White House — Steve Bannon, Jared Kushner, Steven Miller and Donald Trump himself — are making an end run around traditional capitalist government institutions. They are trying to shape policy and push it far to the right on all fronts without the input of the traditional capitalist establishment.

Trump and Bannon are floating the conspiracy theory that the “deep state,” meaning everything from the regulatory agencies, the mainstream media, district attorneys, courts, the spy agencies, etc., are saboteurs plotting to undermine the White House. This is to clear the way for their attacks on immigrants, on medical care for the masses and on the environment, as well as their shameless giveaways to the banks, the corporations and the 1%.

The Trump administration and the Republican congressional caucus are planning to hand over hundreds of billions of dollars in tax cuts to the wealthy as they craft the overturn of the Affordable Care Act passed under Obama. At the same time, Washington is playing with fire in Asia, with dangerous war maneuvers and with the installation of a destabilizing and aggressive anti-missile system in south Korea.

Under the guise of repealing and replacing the ACA, the Trump administration is backing a congressional Republican plan to cut $300 billion to $600 billion in taxes for the rich, under the deliberately misnamed American Health Care Act. These hundreds of billions of dollars given the rich will be paid for by cuts in medical coverage for the poor, the elderly and women in general, including those with mental illness and addictions. Estimates of the number of people slated to lose their coverage range from 5 million to 15 million.

The Republicans have rushed their plan through before the Congressional Budget Office can give its assessment of the impact. House Speaker Paul Ryan and Trump fear a negative assessment and therefore have already tried to discredit the CBO in advance, denouncing it for “inaccuracies” and “exaggerations.”

While millions lose health care under Republican plan …

The Brookings Institute, a mainstream capitalist think tank, has tried to warn the public in advance. It issued a report estimating that 15 million people or more will lose their health care over the next 10 years. Brookings used previous CBO methods and estimates for its analysis.

In total, the CBO estimated that individual market premiums would rise by 20 percent and that 6 million people would lose individual market coverage by 2026. On top of that, repealing the individual mandate would reduce the number of people with employer coverage by 2 million and reduce Medicaid coverage by 7 million, bringing the total coverage loss to an astonishing 15 million.

… rich get hundreds of billions in tax breaks

According to the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities: “House Republicans’ bill to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act (ACA) would eliminate ACA taxes on wealthy individuals and insurance and drug companies and greatly expand tax-sheltering opportunities for high-income people through health savings accounts (HSAs). These changes (plus several smaller provisions of the plan) would cost $594 billion over 2017 to 2026, the Joint Committee on Taxation (JCT) estimates. At the same time, the plan would seek to offset the cost of these windfall tax breaks by ending the ACA’s Medicaid expansion, radically restructuring the entire Medicaid program by converting it to a per capita cap, and dramatically scaling back the subsidies that low- and moderate-income families use to purchase affordable health care, as well as other coverage changes that would undermine the health and financial security of millions of households.”

In addition the CBPP states the 400 highest-income taxpayers would get tax cuts averaging $7 million each, adding up to $7.8 billion a year. Millionaires would get tax cuts of more than $50,000 on average by 2025.

Women’s health care on chopping block

Health care for women, especially the poor, is endangered by the provisions to defund Planned Parenthood. One in 5 U.S. women have visited a Planned Parenthood clinic for services like birth control, cancer screenings, tests and treatment for sexually transmitted diseases or pregnancy termination. And 78 percent of them have incomes under 150 percent of the poverty level.

Vox reported, “The more than $500 million Planned Parenthood receives annually from the federal government — the funding that Republicans in Congress now want to take away — pays for specific health services, like birth control or cervical cancer screening, for people who couldn’t afford them otherwise.

“Most of the funds (75 percent) are actually reimbursements from Medicaid, the U.S.’s public health insurance program for the poor.

“[The bill] threatens to dismantle the entire private insurance market for abortion coverage, not just public funding for abortion providers: If a woman wants a health insurance plan that will cover abortion, she (and possibly her employer) won’t be able to use tax credits to buy it under this bill.” (March 7)

ThinkProgress noted that 60 percent of Planned Parenthood’s  funding comes from Medicaid and Title IX funding for preventative and primary care. “Almost 400,000 women would lose access to preventative care and up to 650,000 would have reduced preventative care within a year” without PP services, estimates the Government Accountability Office. “Research has shown that when low-income women have access to free contraception, there are significantly lower rates of unintended teen pregnancy and abortion.” (March 7)

Pentagon playing with fire in Asia

At the same time that Trump is trying to destroy health care, Washington is playing with fire on the Korean peninsula by holding two months of military maneuvers aimed at the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea and the People’s Republic of China.

The largest ever “war games” involve 17,000 U.S. troops and 300,000 south Korean troops, as well as advanced U.S. war-fighting equipment. Washington has said the exercises are strictly defensive. But the plans are clearly aimed at “practicing regime change.”

“U.S.-ROK [south Korean] forces will also for the first time carry the OPLAN 5015, a classified war plan signed last year that includes surgical strikes against North Korea’s nuclear, missile and command and control facilities. It also specifically calls for ‘decapitation’ raids by Special Forces to neutralize North Korea’s senior leadership, according to press reports.” (The Diplomat, March 8) “Neutralize” means kill.

Washington and the Pentagon justify their war games by citing the DPRK’s launch of missiles into the sea off Japan. But the missiles were launched as a response to the annual war games.The DPRK is surrounded by hostile states, including imperialist Japan, U.S. puppet south Korea, and the U.S. military itself, which has 28,000 troops in south Korea and 54,000 troops in Japan, 12 U.S. bases in Hawaii, and 5,000 troops and numerous aircraft on Guam, among other places in the region.

Anti-missile system aimed at DPRK …

To add to the provocations as the U.S.-south Korea war maneuvers were getting under way, Washington announced it had begun deployment of the Terminal High Altitude Area Defense system (THAAD) at Osari air base in south Korea.

THAAD is a relatively new addition to the U.S. military’s missile defense arsenal. Produced by Lockheed Martin (and priced at more than $1 billion per system), THAAD consists of a battery of truck-launched interceptor missiles and powerful X-band radar that can detect, track and target inbound missile threats.

The decision to deploy this anti-missile system was made in 2013 and agreed to by south Korea in July 2016, but it was rushed into place for political purposes. In the meantime, there is a huge political crisis in south Korea. Months of mass demonstrations have forced the impeachment and ouster of Park Geun-hye, the reactionary president convicted on corruption charges

The masses of south Korean people are clearly opposed to the deployment of THAAD. This opposition includes Park’s likely replacement, the popular centrist-liberal Moon Jae-in. Moon favors resumption of talks with the DPRK and a return to the “sunshine policy” that aims toward reunification. So the Pentagon seized this window of time before new elections to install THAAD.

… and at China

THAAD’s powerful radar is also a threat to China because when it is pointed at the DPRK it does not stop there. It can see deep into China. The PRC government has said that whether the U.S. deployed THAAD would be a litmus test about relations.

Now that it has been deployed, Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi has denounced it as a provocation that will upset the “strategic equilibrium” in the region. Wang, while expressing concern over the nuclear tests by the DPRK, gave the U.S. imperialists a clear message that the PRC will stand by the DPRK in any conflict [by] “insisting China and North Korea remained as close as ‘lips and teeth’ — an expression famously used by Mao Zedong.” (Guardian, March 6)

This phrase was used by Mao during the Korean War, when 3 million Chinese volunteers helped to repel the U.S. imperialist invaders. So the message is unambiguous.

Expanding role of generals, decline of State Department

The sudden deployment of the THAAD missile system in the midst of a militarily charged situation near China and the DPRK must be seen together with other less dramatic but significant developments.

There was the quiet deployment of 400-plus Marines to Syria to strengthen forces trying to capture the Islamic State group’s capital, Raqqa. These conventional forces are added to the hundreds of Special Forces already there. The Marines are equipped with Apache helicopters and M777 howitzers capable of firing 155mm shells, among other weapons. Their deployment represents a clear escalation of the U.S. war in Syria.

The Pentagon has escalated the war in Yemen as well. Previously the war was carried out by Saudi Arabia, with logistical and material support from the Pentagon. Recently U.S. commanders in the field have been granted new authority to conduct raids on villages and drone strikes, without prior approval from the White House.

The U.S. commander in Afghanistan, Gen. John W. Nicholson Jr., recently testified to Congress that he could use “a few thousand more troops” to break the “stalemate” in the country. (New York Times, Feb. 9)

These developments represent a major step forward in the political authority of the military high command under the Trump administration.

By contrast, Rex Tillerson, the head of the Department of State, has been kept out of meetings with heads of state by Trump, Bannon and Kushner (Trump’s son-in-law). Tillerson has had no joint appearances with Trump. His requests for assistants have been turned down. No press will be allowed on his plane on an upcoming trip to Japan, south Korea and China. And the State Department budget is to be cut by 37 percent, while the Pentagon is to get a $54 billion increase.

Just days ago Mexico’s Foreign Minister Luis Videgaray was in Washington. “The Los Angeles Times’s Tracy Wilkinson asked State spokesperson Mark Toner what the plans were for his visit. Toner, a highly regarded career foreign service officer, apparently had no idea that a key foreign dignitary was even in the city.” (Vox, March 10) The foreign minister met with Kushner.

To be sure, while the State Department wields the so-called “soft power” of U.S. imperialism, it is a vicious enemy of the world’s people. It engineers regime change, engages in every manner of subversion against progressive governments, and uses nongovernmental organizations to promote “color revolutions.”

Nevertheless, the shift toward open military power in government under Trump is a menacing move that will expand imperialist war and intervention.