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Candidly Speaking

by Berry Friesen (March 14, 2017)

Jonathan Sacks, the British rabbi I quoted in a previous post, says that a “politics of hope” begins “with a candid acknowledgement on all sides how bad things actually are.”

In that spirit, here are five developments that caught my eye.

1. Congressional Republicans—with the support of President Trump—are getting ready to pass their “fix” of the Affordable Care Act (ACA).  According to the Congressional Budget Office, it will cut by 14 million the number of people with health insurance coverage in 2018 (24 million by 2026), especially low-and-middle income people in their 50s and early 60s who can’t afford to pay the high premiums charged people in that age range.

It also will deliver a big tax break to the wealthiest Americans.  Two Medicare taxes that helped finance the ACA will be eliminated:  the 3.8 percent tax on capital gains exceeding $200,000 a year ($250,000 for couples) and the 0.9 percent tax on earned income exceeding $200,000 a year ($250,000 for couples).  In 2015, around 4 million Americans paid these taxes, contributing $27 billion to help fund the ACA.

As a result of these tax cuts, the richest 0.1 percent will pay on average $195,000 less in federal income taxes per person.  Is this the kind of change Trump voters expected from the new administration?

2. Remember the decision of United Technologies back in November to keep 800 jobs at its Carrier furnace manufacturing plant in Indiana instead of moving them to Mexico? Soon after, it announced it would invest $16 million to automate the Indiana factory, replacing many of those jobs with robots.

CNN reports a study by McKinsey & Co. that found “45 percent of the tasks that U.S. workers are currently paid to perform can be automated by existing technology. That represents about $2 trillion in annual wages.”

How exactly would such a prospect serve the people of America?  Tragically, this question no longer factors into economic decisions. Instead, what Chris Hedges calls “the poisonous engine of corporate capitalism” focuses on profits and market share. Writes Hedges:

“The ruling corporate elites no longer seek to build. They seek to destroy. They are agents of death. They crave the unimpeded power to cannibalize the country and pollute and degrade the ecosystem to feed an insatiable lust for wealth, power and hedonism.”

3.  According to an April, 2016 study by the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute, the three nations spending the most on their militaries in 2015 were the United States ($596 billion), China ($215 billion) and Saudi Arabia ($84 billion).  Russia at fourth spent $66 billion in 2015. Two other members of the US-led empire (the United Kingdom and France) are close behind Russia at $55 billion and $50 billion.

President Trump intends to increase military spending by $54 billion in the coming fiscal year, a jump equal to 80 percent of the entire Russian military budget.  Yet our media pretend Russia is a threat to the US.

4.  President Trump has ordered an additional 400 US troops to Syria, joining the 500 already sent there by President Obama.  In response, Syrian President Assad said what should be patently obvious: “Any foreign troops coming to Syria without our invitation . . . are invaders."

The 900 US troops currently in Syria are assisting a 10,000 member Kurdish force operating in the northeast part of Syria.  Allegedly, these US troops are in Syria for the purpose of fighting Da'esh (the Islamic State).  Much speculation focuses on what will happen after Da’esh is rooted out of its Syrian capital, al-Raqqa; whoever controls that city will control eastern Syria.  The US-led empire covets control of that area to serve as a barrier between Syria and its Shia-led neighbors (Iraq and Iran) and a pipeline corridor from Qatar to Turkey.

On March 10, Trump also ordered 2,500 additional ground combat troops to a staging base in Kuwait from which they can quickly join the fights in Iraq and Syria.

5.  Perhaps the most destructive deception of the Bush-Obama years is the so-called war on terror.  In fact, the US-led empire has supported Islamic terrorism, especially through funding and coordination by Saudi Arabia (see sources cited here), and has pursued imperial purposes by deploying Salafist forces (al-Qaeda, Da’esh, the Muslim Brotherhood) against secular states that oppose the empire (Iraq, Libya, Syria).  This aggression has always been covert, coordinated under the cover of secrecy by the CIA.

As a presidential candidate, Donald Trump stoked popular anger over the Bush-Obama deception, the loss of American life it entailed, and the $6 trillion wasted in related wars. By promising to get serious about Islamic terrorism and destroying ISIS, Trump as a campaigner implied he would stop the practice of supporting and deploying Salafist terrorists as proxies. And by his November 21st meeting with Congresswomen Tulsi Gabbard—a courageous critic of US support for terrorism—Trump signaled uncommon courage to consider a change in approach.

Trump’s policy is this regard is likely to remain secret; all we can do is evaluate the results of his actions and for that we need more time.  But early indications are not promising.  Here is an excerpt from his January 21 remarks while visiting the CIA headquarters in Virginia.

“Nobody feels stronger about the CIA and the intelligence community than Donald Trump. Nobody. I am so behind you. You’re going to get so much backing, you’re going to ask ‘Please Mr. President, don’t give us so much backing’. We’re going to do great things. We have not used the real abilities we have, we’ve been restrained. We have to get rid of ISIS. Radical Islamic terrorism has to be eradicated off the face of the earth. It is evil. This is a level of evil that we haven’t seen. You’re going to do a phenomenal job, but you’re going to end it. This is going to be one of the most important groups towards making us safe, toward making us winners again, toward ending all of the problems, the havoc and fear that this sick group of people has caused. I am with you a thousand percent! I love you, I respect you, and you will be leading the charge.”

Russia and China fear destabilization by Salafist fighters operating within Russia (Chechnya province) and China (Xinjiang province).  What Trump does with regard to terrorism will be an important factor in these diplomatic relationships.