Monday, 30 January 2017

Why is Theresa May pandering to Trump?


Last week Theresa May delivered a speech to the annual republican retreat in Philadelphia, before flying to Washington to present the orange one with her full support.  Theresa May, becoming the first world leader to meet Trump while grovelling at his feet and begging for a trade deal is an absolute national disgrace for the UK. Not only has Theresa May refused to condemn Trumps extremist rhetoric and executive orders on immigration, climate change and torture but she seems perfectly happy to court the approval of far right fanatics in the process. Of course, it is no surprise that Theresa May is doing this. Her completely pitiful Brexit speech made abundantly clear that she is pinning her hopes on the far right fanatic Donald Trump in order to give us a cushy trade agreement, even though given our weak geopolitical position and Trumps protectionist ‘America First’ rhetoric means that any trade deal will end up greatly taking advantage of us, and will be rigged to benefit American corporations. In spite of this, the right wing press of the UK once again ignored the reality of the situation, instead opting to heap praise on Theresa May for helping to renew our ‘special relationship’.
What I find most ridiculous about this is how, in a week where Mexico had the courage to stand up to Trump over his ridiculous ‘border wall’ plan, Theresa May was in Washington refusing to criticise a hard right dictatorial president. If this is not a clear demonstration of the utterly desperate position we are in I don’t know what is.

This ‘New era of American renewal’

Theresa may, in her speech to the republican retreat in Philadelphia, referred to the current situation in the US as a ‘new era of American renewal’. She also talked of Trumps ‘Great victory’, portraying the man as some sort of god that is going to deliver America from the evils of Obama’s legacy, and usher in a brave new era, however ruthlessly authoritarian it might be.
In his first week as President Trump has signed executive orders to build his US/Mexico border wall and ban immigrants and refugees from seven mainly Muslim majority countries. He has also declared war on mainly democrat voting ‘sanctuary cities’ which he claims are harbouring illegal immigrants, started an unfounded investigation in to widespread voter fraud in the election, made efforts to silence environmental organisations on climate change and made efforts to bring back torture by re opening offshore CIA prisons.
How becoming ‘George bush on steroids’ constitutes a ‘new era of American renewal’ is absolutely unclear. As far as Theresa May is concerned there are two discernible possibilities. 1) Theresa May completely agrees with Trump in everything and sees him as his her partner in enforcing hard right policies, or 2) Theresa May is just your standard conservative who is happy to repudiate Donald Trump in the UK parliament, but only wants to shower him in praise to his face, in order to secure the far right trade agreement she is grovelling for. Either way, such an overt display of admiration towards such an unscrupulous bully, should be a continuous source of shame to any nation that claims to have liberal values.

The US constitution

Theresa May started out her speech to republicans by praising the US constitution, which is ironic because the constitution is the source of American citizen’s rights. Theresa May on the other hand doesn’t seem to give damn about civil rights. She has expressed her desire to abolish the Human rights act, introduced a range of dystopian legislation to rip apart families with immigrant spouses and openly blag about her willingness to incinerate 100,000 innocent civilians in a nuclear attack.
It is also a bit odd because, Donald Trump has shown time and time again that he doesn’t give a damn about the US constitution. He has constantly threatened to shut down the freedom of the press by giving himself the right to sue media outlets for putting out information that he doesn’t like, discriminated in some way against pretty much every underprivileged section of the population you can think of and has already violated the US constitution by refusing to completely give up his business interests. Hell, maybe the British and Americans are not so different after all.

Trumps Isolationism

Knowing that Donald Trump has repeatedly criticised the United Nations and NATO on many occasions, Theresa May tried to appeal to Trumps Isolationist rhetoric by deliberately talking down both, in what was perhaps the most contrived and desperate way possible.
On the United Nations, Theresa May acknowledged that it is in need of reform. But the reform it actually needs is the exact opposite at what she is hinting at. If the UN is ever to work effectively, it needs to prevent the five permanent members of the security council (China, France, Russia, UK, USA) from using their veto powers to serve their own narrow political interests, something that Trump or Theresa May would obviously never actually agree to.
Theresa May also decided to feed into Trumps isolationist rhetoric by talking down NATO. It doesn’t matter whether you see NATO as a good thing or not. What is important is that Theresa May, who until recently would never of dreamed of talking down NATO, is now prepared to bend her message in order to appease the hard right president of the US. May repeatedly talked down the European contribution to NATO as if to lay the propaganda framework for pointing the finger of blame at the Baltic States should Trump decide to unilaterally withdraw the United States from NATO. 

Brexit

Theresa May claimed the vote for Brexit was made in ‘quiet resolve’ rather than in the atmosphere of three utterly toxic campaigns, led by right wing politicians. The abject failure of the remain campaign to criticise the hard right factions leading the other side of the debate, was matched by the outright lies of the official Leave Campaign and the undisguised Xenophobia of the repellent Leave EU mob. The decision to quit the EU was anything but a ‘quiet resolve’, it was the result of an ugly and vicious debate with very few redeeming features, it was preceded by the murder of a serving politician by a Neo–Nazi Britain first supporter, and followed up with a massive increase in violent and abusive attacks on foreigners and ethnic minorities.
Trump has repeatedly expressed his opinion that Brexit is a good thing, perhaps Theresa May thinks that by reinforcing this delusion than she can get Donald Trump to give us some sort of Trade deal. On the other hand It is entirely possible that Theresa May actually believes herself, as it gives the Tory’s the opportunity to turn Britain into the hard right, bargain basement corporate tax haven that they have always desired. With the help of Donald Trump, Theresa May and her pals in government are one step closer to making this a reality.

Foreign Policy

The part of Theresa May’s speech to the republican retreat that got the most mainstream attention was the part where she tried to claim that ‘the days of Britain and America intervening in sovereign countries in an attempt to remake the world in our image are over’. This was reported as if it meant that Britain and the US would no longer be toppling the governments of other countries for ideological reasons, but the following sentence made clear that the preceding one was essentially meaningless. When she said ‘but nor can we afford to stand idly by when the threat is real and when it is in our own interests to intervene’. She is essentially saying that if another Iraq happens, Britain will once again jump to the defence of America, but neither country can afford to be caught out lying for their motivations about war again.    
Theresa Mays self-contradictory stance on Iraq looks like it was written an awful long time before Donald Trump’s declaration that the US should just steal Iraq’s oil, and the dismissal of anyone who raises concerns about its legality as ‘fools’. It seems that Donald Trump has no intention of getting caught out fabricating reasons to invade other countries because he’s just going to admit the truth from the beginning ‘We’re invading your country to steal your resources’. How he thinks that kind of attitude will reduce international terrorism is anyone’s guess, but we can be sure that Theresa May will back him up like the disgustingly snide kid who hides behind the school bully and goads him on as he steals dinner money from the weak and the vulnerable.  
Theresa May even had the gall to claim that Britain and the US are leading the fight against ISIS. We all know that in 2013 David Cameron wanted to create a power vacuum in Syria by attacking the Assad regime, thus handing the country to ISIS. We also know that Americans are fully aware of Saudi Arabia’s role in backing ISIS, yet both Britain and the US are selling weapons to the Saudis. If we are such leaders in the fight against ISIS, how come during her speech to the republicans, Theresa May stoked Donald Trump’s hatred of Iran by using a bunch of anti-Iranian rhetoric, instead of committing to taking on the problem of terrorism by confronting the people who actually supply terrorist groups with arms.

Cowardice

 Often, what isn’t said is much more telling than what is said. Theresa May didn’t make one single reference to women’s rights in her speech. She could have mentioned the right not to be molested at work, or the fact that in Britain we respect women’s reproductive rights. She chose not to mention women’s rights for one clear and undeniable reason. She considers begging for a Trump trade deal to be of much more importance than the protection of women’s rights.
Just like women’s rights, Theresa May didn’t bother to mention food standards or universal health care, because she knows that any defence of things like that would be a red rag to a bull, and any admission that she’s willing to offer them up as a ‘trump tribute’ would cause her all kinds of trouble back in the UK, so just like with Brexit, she decided to fill the air with meaningless platitudes and Trump eulogies, rather than state an actual position.

Trade Deal

After drivelling for ages Theresa May finally got to the point, begging Trump for a Trump-Tory trade deal. She is absolutely determined to paint such a trade deal as a great thing for ordinary working people, but its such obvious propaganda bullshit that only the most delusional could ever fall for it.
The American government promised working people that the NAFTA trade deal would be good for jobs but in the end it resulted in the mass destruction of thousands of US jobs. Similarly, in the UK, before the referendum Brexiters were absolutely determined to fearmonger about the TTIP free trade deal between Obamas centre right government and the politically diverse EU. TTIP is dead in the water now, not least because the most vocal TTIP cheerleaders of all (The Tory Party) have ensured Britain’s exit from the EU.  Anyone who imagines that Theresa May won’t end up agreeing a very much more sinister corporate power grab with the Trump administration must be astoundingly naïve.
Theresa May’s pathetic pleading that this new Trump/Tory trade deal should ‘work for both sides and serve our national interests’ contrasts very sharply indeed with Donald Trump’s protectionist ‘America First’ rhetoric, which promises to rig all trade deals in favour of American corporations. Theresa May knows just as well as anyone else that Britain is always Britain was always going to be the junior partner when it came to dealing with the US, but especially now that we have put ourselves in such a position of geopolitical weakness. Trump knows that we need him more than he needs us, so he will use the negotiations to demand tribute. Opening up the UK market to heavily subsidised agricultural produce including GM foods and chlorine washed chicken is almost certain to be one demand. The carving up of the NHS to be picked apart by US health corporations will almost certainly be another.

Thursday, 26 January 2017

Obamas Legacy (Part 3) - Labour and Trade, Criminal Justice, Surveillance and Foreign Policy


In this final blog post on Obama’s legacy I would like to focus on Obamas authoritarianism and his legacy on trade. During his campaign in 2008, Obama campaigned on a platform of rolling back US presence in the Middle East imposed by the Bush regime, and promoting a fairer system of Trade. Surveillance on the government’s part was also supposedly going to be drastically cut, with the safety and privacy and every American guaranteed. While Trump will be a lot more authoritarian than any democrat can imagine and will in no way benefit workers rights, he did not fashion these tools entirely by himself, and there are plenty of criticisms to be offered of the Obama regime.

Labour and Trade

Obama might have done more to bend the tone of Washington than change actual policy, but his tenure is a lesson in what a President should and shouldn’t do for working people.
When he took office at the Zenith of the financial crisis, Obamas initial moves to stop the haemorrhaging of jobs, including the federal stimulus package and the Wall Street bailout, could have been opportunities to reshape the relationship between the public and private sector and tackle income inequality in the long term. However, thanks to bipartisan resistance in congress, this was not achievable. The big banks were never held to account; the stimulus petered out; and no other mass jobs initiatives ever emerged after the ‘recovery’ had sufficiently resurrected the financial system. Aspirations towards a new deal type stimulus faded fast. The occupy wall street’s calls for economic justice  picked up momentum and changed the way people view the social dimensions of inequality and the role of protest in civic life. Congress then proved useless in failing to push through even modest investments in infrastructure or restoring funding. The squelching of the Employee Free choice Act, which would have eased the unionization process, further constrained efforts to build workplace democracy. Obama never lifted a finger for the act in the early days of his presidency, when it was still politically possible.
Two parallel failures of Obamas approach toward globalisation hurt labour materially and politically. First, the collapse of immigration reform efforts, which only further entrenched a permanent underclass of workers. Additionally, the perpetuation of the warped neoliberal trade policy that has devastated working class households. Trade deals like the Trans Pacific Partnership revealed Obamas myopic approach to addressing deep destabilisation across the workforce – the evaporation of core, decent paying industries that had supported communities for generations and the expansion of poverty wage, unstable jobs. The administrations reluctance to confront these issues provoked a massive backlash against ‘free trade’ and globalisation, as traditional democrat voters saw their wages driven down and their rights undermined.
One area where Obama did make changes was the easiest to roll back. Through his executive power he expanded Labour protections including wage hikes, paid sick leave, and fair pair rules. The Labour department also extended minimum wage protections to home care workers. But those might be quickly unravelled by republicans and Trump, both hell-bent on dismantling Obamas regulatory actions. Similarly, the Labour department’s overhaul of the eligibility threshold for low income workers was meant to drive up the wages of millions, yet now faces court battles and risk of being snatched away.   
Many major changes in Labour policy under Obama, like the introduction of sick leave for some workers, happened on a state and local level. Meanwhile Occupy’s legacy continued in the streets with campaigns like ‘Fight for 15’ which bought workers struggle into the national spotlight, and the Chicago teachers union which thwarted the corporate school reform which the democrats championed. None of these achievements can be credited to Obama, but they’re surrounded by the civic momentum generated by his election, and may only outlast his administration through movements that have learned to radically depart from the centrist elite.   

Criminal Justice

Barack Obama was the first president to denounce mass incarceration and the first ever to visit a federal prison while in office. He is the first president to ever truly understand on a policy, intellectual and moral level, what has gone wrong.
Obama has commuted the sentences of more federal prisoners than his eleven predecessors combined and allowed state level experiments in recreational Marijuana legalisation to move forward, even though it has remained illegal under federal law – something his administration said they wanted to fix, but didn’t, by rescheduling the drug.
There have been serious strides towards criminal justice reform under Obama, including at the justice department, which has aggressively moved to curb abusive charging practices in the courts and, through its Civil Rights Division, investigated, taken legal action against, and foisted reforms upon abusive local police departments, courts, prisons, jail officers and guards.
However, the US still locks up its people at a rate far higher than most nations on earth, and mass incarceration remains a humanitarian monstrosity. By that sobering measure Obama has fallen short. Though states, and not federal governments, incarcerate the vast majority of prisoners nationwide, Obama could have done much more to alleviate this problem than he has. In a recent Harvard Law Review article, Obama defended his criminal justice record and noted that on this and other matters ‘better is good’ . That’s true, especially given a republican congress that seems unremittingly hostile to all that is good.
But it also rings hollow: on criminal justice reform, it’s not just about the perfect being made the enemy of the good, but rather that President Obama has refused to embrace transformational change. Instead, Obama has framed his communications as a ‘second chance’ rather than righting a major injustice. As a result, he has so far refused calls to issue more sweeping, across the board changes to the criminal justice system, that would decrease the federal prison population by larger numbers – meaning that Obama, in an area where he has extraordinary authority to act, has addressed what he clearly understands to be a systemic problem, on an individual, case by case basis.
Meanwhile, US attorneys under his watch have continued to preside over a prosecution regime that metes out draconian sentences for mostly nonviolent crimes. That includes a new push to charge drug dealers with crimes that can carry life sentences, and a relentless campaign to charge immigrants with federal crimes merely for having crossed or re-crossed the border. Crackdowns against adult sex workers and their customers, misleadingly lauded as strikes against child sex trafficking continue. Despite encouraging reforms, federal prisoners remain plagued by inhumane conditions, including forms of solitary confinement that amount to torture.
Obamas Criminal Justice record is a mixed bag. Under President Trump and attorney general Jeff Sessions, it will likely be a basket of deplorables. The recent history of tepid liberal reform and right wing reaction however, both exposes the country’s leading political blocs as unwilling and perhaps unable to end mass incarceration. To do that, we need a new movement that can force the transformation of American criminal justice and the brutally unequal socioeconomic system that it protects.    

Surveillance

Obama will go down in history as the President who helped entrench the world’s largest and most powerful surveillance state, providing it with a liberal legitimacy that prevented it from being challenged. As President Trump takes the reigns of the surveillance state in whatever terrifying way he chooses, ewe should remember that it is Obama who paved the way for him.
Obama has often been painted as a disappointing President, one who has reached for the stars but, either due to republican obstructionism or the realities of governing, constantly fell short. In the arena of state surveillance however, Obama didn’t just fall short of progressive hopes – he went in the opposite direction. He built his career opposing the patriot act and Bush era secrecy. He made this opposition the centrepiece of his presidential campaign, promising ‘no more illegal wiretapping of American citizens. No more national security letters to spy on citizens who are not convicted of a crime, no more ignoring the law when it is convenient.’
The first sign of Obamas waning commitment came three months after a glowing Times op-ed declared him the first civil libertarian president, when he broke a campaign promise and voted for a bill expanding government surveillance and granting immunity to telecommunications companies who helped Bush spy on Americans. Upon becoming president, the already vast surveillance powers of the United States expanded. By 2010, the NSA was collecting 1.7 billion emails, phone calls and other types of communications. By 2012, XKeyscore – which sweeps up everything a user typically does on the internet – was storing as much as forty one billion records in thirty days. This gargantuan volume of data has had the ironic effect of making it harder to identify security threats.
The use of secret laws, hidden from public eyes and often related to surveillance activities shot up under Obama. The administration tried (and failed) to force apple to insert security flaws in its phones, to give law enforcement a potential ‘back door’ around encryption. It extended the Patriot Act year after year. Less than a week before Donald Trump, a man Obama called ‘unfit for office’, was set to become President, Obama expanded the NSA’s power to share its data with other agencies. Meanwhile, the FBI is paying Best Buy employees to snoop through your computer.
Where there have been privacy wins by the Obama administration, they have largely been inadvertent. The NSA collects a much smaller proportion of Americas Phone records today than it did Elvan years ago because cell phone use has exploded. Furthermore, the USA Freedom Act passed in 2015, ending bulk collection of US phone records, is something Obama tried to claim as part of his legacy in his farewell speech. But this would not have happened – and the scope of US surveillance would have stayed secret – had it not been for disclosures by Edward Snowden, whom Obama criticised and refused to pardon in the waning days of his administration, even as he claimed to ‘welcome’ a debate on surveillance.
All this happened under a liberal former constitutional law professor. The question must be asked: what will follow under Trump.

Foreign Policy

As the follow up act to George W. Bush, Barack Obama was supposed to restore the US to the fold of respectable nations whose leaders did not devise such foreign policy goals as ‘smokin’ ‘em out’. Particularly given Obamas campaign pledge to engage in traditional American enemies like Iran and Cuba – both included in the Axis of Evil plus three configuration marketed during the Bush era – optimistic sectors of the international community predicted the advent of a humane benevolent superpower.
The naiveté of such thinking was rather evident from the get go: now at the end of Obamas reign it’s glaringly obvious.  Consider the recent calculation by the Council on Foreign Relations that the US ‘dropped 26,172 bombs in seven countries in 2016 alone’ – an estimate the authors acknowledge is undoubtedly low. In February 2015, the Bureau of Investigative Journalism reported that Obamas covert drone strikes on territories where the United States is not officially at war had already ‘killed almost six times more people and twice as many civilians than those ordered in the Bush years’.
Obamas reaproachment with Cuba and his nuclear deal with Iran have been hailed by fans as landmark achievements and alleged evidence of his status as peace monger in chief. Often lost in the celebrations however, is the fact that both countries are still targeted by sanctions that undeniably constitute, ‘war by other means’. In Cuba, Obama might have bolstered his ethnical credentials by fulfilling his promise to close Guantanamo bay, thereby terminating US occupation of Cuban territory and ending a symbol of Americas Global impunity. In the Middle East, efforts to defuse the nuclear issue would have been less blatantly hypocritical if Obama hadn’t also approved a $38 billion  military aid package to Israel, the largest in US history.
This is the same Israel that happens to maintain a nuclear arsenal and grants itself immunity from the nuclear non-proliferation treaty. Beyond some jabs at Benjamin Netanyahu, Obama has not allowed the Israeli military’s recurring slaughter of Palestinian civilians to get in the way of his principled commitment to Israel’s right to ‘self-defence’.
The full extent of the fallout of Obamas rule, of course, remains to be seen. But for one particularly troubling hint as  to his legacy in progress, one need look no further than Medea Benjamin’s recent remarks in the guardian ‘The twisted legal architecture the Obama administration has constructed to justify its interventions, especially extrajudicial drone killings with no geographic restrictions, will now be transferred into the erratic hands of Donald Trump’.

Wednesday, 25 January 2017

Obama's Legacy (Part 2) - Health Care, Housing, Education and the Environment


In additon to looking at Obamas mixed legacy on civil right it is also important to assess his success in guaranteeing peoples basic rights such as healthcare and education. Free and easy access to these rights has long been a central plank of many Democrat campaigns but never a reality. Through his basic reforms Barack Obama gave Americans a hint of what it would be like to live in a country where people’s rights are guaranteed through public funding and not private profit, but not structural changes were made. If we are to stop Trump wreaking havoc on these rights, we need tools much more strong than basic reforms.   

Health Care

Over his two terms, Barack Obama signed a number of major healthcare bills into law, most significantly the Affordable Care act of 2010 (Obamacare), though also most recently the 21st century Cures Act of 2016. Though the GOP’s coming assault on healthcare is likely to be heartless – and though resistance to it must be resolute – we would be better served by a sober assessment of Obamas health care legacy than by triumphalist acclaim of such laws.
Obamacare, passed without any republican votes, has had a significant impact on health care access: Mainly through the expansion of Medicaid together with the subsidization of health insurance, it achieved a partial reduction in the number of the uninsured, from 48.6 million in the 2010 to 28.4 million in early 2016 (still an enormous number!), according to National Health Interview Survey estimates. Other provisions of the law, like those eliminating co-payments for some preventative care or banning pre-existing condition discrimination benefited many more. Yet those who trumpet such gains while scratching their heads at the laws relative unpopularity are missing the crux of the problem: despite Obamas reforms, the health care system continues to fail much of the nation.
To give an example, in Canada and the UK, health care is free at the point of use. In the US, co-payments and deductibles for such care, often rations medical care based on somebody’s economic status. Studies have shown that those with inadequate insurance avoid going to the ER even when they need it, delay care when in the throes of a heart attack, and face financial strain and sometimes Bankruptcy when sickness strikes. Such injustices precede the Affordable Care Act, but because the law failed to fix them it is blamed – fairly or unfairly – for their persistence.
More recently Obama signed the 21st Century Cures Act into law, which among of the things incrementally reduced the rigor of the Food and Drug Administration’s drug approval process. These provisions were tantamount to a generous handout to the pharmaceutical industry, which had lobbied heavily for the bill. Unsurprisingly, it also did precisely nothing about sky high drug costs.
This is a very mixed legacy. The gains of Obamacare are evident. Indeed, for some, it was lifesaving. Its shortcomings however, are equally evident: some twenty eight million uninsured, persistently high cost sharing, inequalities in access, uncontrolled drug prices, and so forth. Of course, republican designs will only make things worse when that happens we should dub the resulting fiasco Trump care and blast it for all its injustices. However, it should also be clear that ‘let’s go back to 2016’ will not be a winning campaign slogan for democrats in coming elections. People want – and deserve – real change. To defeat Trump care, we will need a more powerful tool than Obamacare. For this reason, the time to push for universal healthcare in America is right now.

Housing

None of the 2016 presidential candidate focused on housing in their campaigns, either to proclaim a vision or to criticise Obamas record which included privatisation of public housing, underfunding of subsidies, and a series of symbolic rulings with little impact.
Obama took office during the foreclosure crisis, in which some nine million people lost their homes. His response to the crisis characterised his Presidency’s failure to hold corporate interests to account and redistribute wealth. Faced with the opportunity to lead a strong progressive response to the crisis, the Obama administration bailed out the banks and allowed mortgage companies to correct their own failings. Not a single mortgage executive was held accountable. Meanwhile Obama filed to invest sufficiently in mortgage relief and encouraged banks to foreclose on homeowners rather than modifying loans. This wave of foreclosures helped create ‘the renter nation’ in which low income households of colour have not only been denied the opportunity to build wealth through home ownership but have also subjected to the whims of corporate landlords.
While the foreclosure crisis and the accompanying displacement was not caused by Obama, his administration did not take effective action to punish the actors who caused it, provide relief to those affected or address the racial disparities that the crisis enhanced. Millions continue to struggle even as the economy and the housing market slowly begins to ‘recover’.
Obama did invest in homelessness prevention to some positive effect. Shortly after taking office he oversaw the creation of the Rapid Rehousing programme, using $1.5 billion of stimulus money to support programmes that support the chronically homeless and integrate with other support services. While the programme ended in 2012, other homelessness prevention programmes have led to a 31 per cent reduction in the number of homeless individuals nationwide between 2007 and 2016. Obama also invested stimulus money in the national housing trust fund, providing money for construction, acquisition and preservation of affordable housing.
Obamas housing programme did not differ significantly from Bill Clintons. His signature programme, Choice neighbourhoods, maintained the approach of public housing to private ‘mixed income’ housing. Choice neighbourhoods also includes funding for neighbourhood revitalisation, therefore amplifying the threat of gentrification and displacement of low income residents. The Obama administration also expanded this approach to the Rental sector, which incentivises the redevelopment of public housing projects by private interests. Under this programme, housing authorities can mortgage land and buildings to private companies which then subsidise the rent with tax credits. Those housing projects most attractive to investors are most likely to be selected for redevelopment and subjected to the private market, leaving the remaining public housing stock under increasingly underfunded public management.
The Obama administration has passed some important rulings on housing inequality. In 2011, they allowed public housing administrators to allow formerly incarcerated people to re-join their families in publicly subsidised housing upon release. In 2015, it passed the Affirmatively Furthering Fair Housing Rule, requiring housing authorities and planning agencies to examine and address racial bias under threat of withheld funding or legal challenge. And in 2016 they passed a rule making sure that federally funded housing would be available to all ‘regardless of sexual orientation, gender identity or marital statuses’.
Of course, expanding the inclusivity of housing programmes while reducing federal funding available for such programmes bears a bitter irony, even if the funding shortfalls can be partly attributed to an unfriendly republican congress. Housing under Obama was a reflection of his approach to other areas of government; friendly to corporate interests, lacking the necessary conviction to address inequality, with some progressive yet symbolic flourishes.  

Education

In some languages, the words for ‘teach’ and ‘learn’ are the same suggesting a cooperative approach to education, rather than as something that is done to students. Not in English, and certainly not in the US, where for three decades the national conversation about education has been held hostage by neoliberal interests hell-bent on crushing creativity and free thought. Obama did little to resist this state of affairs, carrying out low intensity warfare on teaches unions and perpetuating the harmful myth that the American school system is ‘life saving’ (because we live in a meritocracy) that it is in crisis (because test scores are falling globally) and that it can only be saved by free market fixes (competition) originally advocated by conservative think tanks.
Of all the education initiatives that sound like space ships (America 2000, Goals 2000) or battle cries (No Child left Behind), the Obama administrations signature contribution to the genre may be the most successful yet in the sustained effort to destroy the democratic project of public schooling. In 2009, more than $4 billion of public funds were set aside education, representing a moment of enormous possibility for Obama. The money could have been used to equalise funding among schools (which is exceptionally inequitable) or to incentivise states to make changes that we know improve educational outcomes for poor children and children of colour, like reducing class sizes and promoting racial integration. Instead, the Obama administration chose to use a series of competitive grants to push for the linking of teacher evaluations to student test scores, and the expansion of charter schools. These measures were deemed innovative, even in the face of growing evidence that charter test scores are no better than those of traditional public schools and that charters are more stratified by race, class, special education status and possibly language than public schools.  
Today, nearly half of all the fifty states tie teacher evaluations to test scores. Yet test scores have fallen for the first time, and ‘Race to the top’ has failed to deliver even by its own unimaginative standards. Meanwhile, the real crisis facing children – a disgraceful level of poverty – has gone unnamed by anyone but Bernie Sanders let alone addressed.

Environment

Forecasting Obamas final legacy on climate change in 2010 would have been a bleak exercise. A year prior, UN climate talks in Copenhagen collapsed, thanks in part to the United States and other G20 nations intransigence. The only whisper of an outcome – to by some keep warming below two degrees - was described (accurately) as a ‘death warrant’ for countries in the global south, who, already suffering from rising tides and temperatures, demanded a more ambitious target of 1.5 degrees and binding commitments to get there. They were ignored.   
In the US hopes for climate policy imploded a year later. The Waxman Markey Bill outlined a cap and trade policy to limit emissions in the US, reliant on the creation of a complex and loophole ridden carbon market. Thanks to giveaways to the right, that legislation – drafted almost entirely behind closed doors – prioritised politics over science, limiting the bills potential to actually curb emissions. Still, Big Green groups tried to pass it by any means necessary, forsaking whatever grassroots they had in favour of steely eyed and fruitless, pragmatism.
So why – six years on from two colossal failures – might Obama now be hailed as the president with the strongest record on climate change of anyone yet to hold the issue. The absolutely catastrophic record of Bush and preceding presidents on the issue? The fact that climate change has become a particulary contentious issue in recent years? Instead, the answer has almost nothing to do with the man himself: Devastated, by their bad investments on useless measures, the climate movement started to soul search, looking not so much at new strategies as to struggles ignored by Washington. In taking on the Keystone XL pipeline, ranchers and Indigenous communities led the way for beltway green groups to defeat a carbon bomb, getting thousands arrested in the process.
The fossil fuel divestment money, begun on college campuses, has succeeded in getting $5.2 trillion divested across a range of institutions. Complimented by a range of anti-fossil fuel protests from coast to coast, each drive painted energy executives as 1 percenters at a war with the future of humanity. One result of this newly militant and firmly anti corporate climate movement was a push on Obama to back what would become the trademarks of his climate legacy: the passage of the Paris Climate Agreement, the Clean Power Plan, the temporary halting of the keystone XL pipeline and the bans on oil and gas drilling in the arctic and Atlantic.
Still, Obamas Climate Change legacy remains decidedly mixed. Under his watch, the US export – import bank invested $34 million in dirty energy projects around the world. A lofty 2009 commitment by G20 nations to eliminate fossil fuel subsidies has yet to be realised, with trillions in public funds continuing to line fossil fuels executive’s wallets. And Obama did not fully stop the Dakota Access Pipeline and several other toxic infrastructure projects in their tracks – All, of course, out of step with science which demands that the world’s richest economies radically decarbonise their economies by the mid-century at the very latest. The failures of top down and technocratic Obama era climate policy are the failures of the Third way more broadly, fixated on an appeal to the forces that could lead us to collective ruin. But on climate, Obama did show perhaps some of the best qualities that we can expect from a democratic administration: A willingness to respond to pressure, flawed as that response may be.


Monday, 23 January 2017

Obama's Legacy (Part 1) - Race, Immiagration and LGBT Issues

Eight years ago, Barack Obama walked into the White House, after raising the hopes of a country that had been savaged by the Bush years and the state of American politics more broadly. There was a feeling at the time that a different sort of society was possible, that we were ushering in a new era of hope and change. Those hopes were quickly dashed. From his first day in the White House to his last, this Obama was light years away from the Obama on the campaign trail. This is partly the reality of holding power of course, mixed with the obstructionism he faced from the right and republicans on a range of issues. However, Obamas Presidency will be remembered for the huge opportunities it squandered and the progressive national moods that it was incapable of capitalising on: At the moments when Americans were ready for radical action he settled for moderate, in response to constantly expanding inequality he offered temporary fixes. The progress Obama was able to achieve should not be ignored, but it’s impossible to look at Obamas list of achievements without being struck at the difference between what they are and what they might have been.    

Racial Justice

The most important legacy for Obama, as far as racial Justice is concerned, will likely be his election itself. Though it seems so distant now it is worth remembering the spontaneous celebrations that broke out in neighbourhoods across the country in 2008 when news of Obamas victory was delivered Apart from showing definitively that the Bush years were finally over, Obamas presidency signalled to millions of black Americans that change as surely going to come.   
Coming in to power in 2008, in the middle of a financial crisis, Obama was immediately hit with the question of what to do about the millions of people whose homes were being foreclosed on. The crisis hit black families particularly hard as they entered the crisis with less wealth than white Americans and as a result were specifically targeted by mortgage companies, pushing loans that put borrowers at high risk. As a result, black home ownership rates fell dramatically, and they still haven’t recovered. By 2014, nearly half of all black household wealth had simply disappeared. Despite Obamas campaign to fix this problem by empowering judges to reduce borrowers mortgage debts, In office he declined to pursue any aggressive strategy of relief for borrowers: instead he instituted a programme that allowed mortgage companies themselves to modify their loans, if they so choose. Unsurprisingly, they didn’t choose to do so very often. Even in this situation, when the steps open to Obama could have been taken through executive action alone, he simply refused to stand up to the banks. The result was hundreds of thousands of people losing their homes who didn’t have to, and a historically unprecedented destruction of black wealth.
Even worse, Obama has time and time again embraced insidious victim blaming tropes of American racism, scolding Black families for their supposedly bad cultural practices. This combination of heightened expectations mixed with lack of results is what gave birth to the Black Lives Matter movement. For generations, black politics has been geared towards the strategy of getting Black people in positions of power, on the assumption that more equitable representation would bring more equitable policy. Though the failures of this strategy began to show themselves in the late 1960s, Obamas presidency highlighted its bankruptcy with a force that is extremely hard to ignore. The unending string of Black Americans by police or vigilantes proved the sharpest edge of the continuing reality of Black oppression in America. For black youth across the country it began to seem as if politics as usual was, contrary to Obamas favourite slogan, hopeless.
Of course what will replace the politics of representation, remains utterly obscure. Plenty of Black politics today, even sections of the Black Lives Matter movement, are oriented on maintaining the hegemony of the black professional classes over meaningful political action. Yet Obamas Presidency has made it clear that, if the movement for racial equality is to be advance it must evolve beyond these politics. 

Immigration

Obama’s 2014 use of executive power to grant relief from deportation, work Permits, and the ability to travel for young immigrants in the United States was characteristic of much of his presidency: He protected and lifted up some immigrants while criminalising and dismissing others.
He granted relief through immigrant children through deferred action for Childhood arrivals (DACA), one of the most significant actions for immigrant communities in many years. That same day, however, he also announced that the secure communities programme was to be replaced with the Priority Enforcement Programme (PEP), and that the priorities for deportation were shifting, making people who arrived or were ordered deported after January 2014 priorities for deportation.  
Obamas ending of Secure Communities was an acknowledgement that there were significant questions about due process in the programme. However, PEP has led to continued collusion between local police and immigration enforcement, continued use of immigration detention orders by local police after arresting immigrants for minor crimes, and more pressure from the administration for localities refusing to participate. Similarly, although the shift in priorities meant that those who arrived to the country before 2014 were not a priority for deportation, that shift also led to immigration raids of women and children at the start of 2016.
Obama’s emphasis on the concept of developing ‘felons not families’ has led to the criminalising and deportation of immigrants at the highest rate in US history, without protections or oversight for violations of policy or peoples civil rights. Immigration enforcement agencies have been allowed to act as rogue agencies, while the department of homeland securities civil rights and civil liberties office has no teeth, leading to violations of immigrant’s due process and civil rights that rarely result in more than internal investigations.
Even under the reforms in the department of justice, immigrants have been sold short. One moment when this contradiction was highlighted was in October 2015, when the president announced the release of six thousand federal prisoners in an effort to reduce prison overcrowding and provide federal relief to nonviolent drug offenders, and two thousand of those people were deported instead of being reunited with their communities. This is at the same time that the Department of Justice is the agency that prosecutes most latinxs, incarcerating them with charges of illegal entry, which literally means crossing the border after being deported.
This is far from an exhaustive list of Obamas policies that have negatively impacted immigrant communities. There are many immigrants who are thankful for the opportunities he has created. But on immigration Obama will be remembered as deporter in chief. Now, he hands over a massive, brutal deportation machine to a man who promises to challenge Obama for this title.

LGBT Rights

Obama was remarkably successful in implementing his LGBT agenda. Some of cornerstone achievements reflect a liberal multicultural agenda, emphasising queer and Tran’s inclusion in institutions which may not be the best vehicle for liberation. 
During his first two years in office. The President Supported and signed the Matthew Shepard and James Byrd Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention act and replaced Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell. The former added sexual orientation and gender identity to existing hate crime law, imposing additional criminal penalties in crimes motivated by anti LGBT animus; the latter allowed gays and lesbians to serve in the military. While many LGBT advocates welcomed these developments for allowing some LGBT protections in federal law, critics scolded the administration for promoting LGBT inclusion without accounting for the effects that longer prison sentences and easier militarisation would have on other marginalised communities.
During his tenure, President Obama also famously ‘evolved’ on the question of gay marriage, as did his secretary of state Hillary Clinton. Having stated their opposition to the issue during their 2008 campaigns. In 2012, with the help of his vice president Joe Biden, Obama started creeping toward overt support for marriage equality. He directed the Department of Justice to stop defending the defence of marriage act in 2011, finally leading to the decision to legalise gay marriage across America by the Supreme Court in 2015. While this deserves to be treated as one victory in a long list of victories to come, especially the legalised ending of discrimination against LGBT individuals by private companies, it is a victory nevertheless.
Behind the scenes, President Obama directed the vast armature of the administrative state to support LGBT inclusion in unprecedented ways, including a major action to provide legal protections for transgender Americans at work and in schools. Through executive orders and administrative guidance, President Obama expanded the definition of sex based discrimination to include sexual orientation and gender identity at the department of justice, department of education, department of labour, housing and urban development and US occupational Health Services. This type of regulation made it easier for transgender people to vindicate their rights, including Tran’s students seeking access to gender appropriate facilities and seeking insurance coverage for gender affirming care. The Equal Employment Opportunity commission was particularly aggressive in support of LGBT rights, making it a stated priority its 2013-16 Strategic enforcement plan, and issuing landmark decisions for queer and Tran’s protections in the workplace.
However, because these policies were conducted through executive action, this legislation will be particularly vulnerable under Trump. Of course, legal protections for LGBT people should be pursued in any way possible, but president Obama did not fight hard enough to enshrine them in federal statutes. For example, the Employment non-discrimination act (ENDA) which would protect LGBT workers from employment discrimination, has languished for twenty three years. Despite this failing there was a bright spot in the closing days of the Obama administration. Last week, President Obama commuted the sentence of Chelsea Manning, enabling her to walk out of prison in May 2017, thus cementing his LGBT legacy.   

Saturday, 21 January 2017

Why the Idea of a beneficial Trump Trade Deal for Britain is a Fantasy


Last week, ex Justice Secretary, Brexit campaigner and failed Tory leadership contender, Michael Gove, interviewed recently inaugurated President of the US Donald Trump, in Trump tower. The interview, which you can read in the Tory propaganda rag the Times, consisted of Trump smooth talking Gove by telling him that he thought that Britain were doing a great job with Brexit (Tory’s haven’t come up with a real plan for Brexit) and that he thinks Britain has been forced to take in too many refugees (Britain has only committed to taking 20,000 refugees by 2020). In response, Gove basked in the orange glow of the Donald, showing not a shred of journalistic integrity or willingness to challenge authority in the process, even failing to explain to Trump, the difference between EU freedom of movement regulation and the refugee crisis. The part of the interview that seems to have got the most praise from both the UK government and the mainstream press however seems to be the part where Trump claimed he would move ‘very quickly’ to secure a trade deal with the UK after Brexit.   
This was a point quickly picked up upon by Theresa May in her Brexit speech. Apart from confirming that her long awaited Brexit negotiating strategy includes threatening to turn the UK into a hard right corporate tax haven if the EU don’t give in to our absurd demands to ‘have our cake and eat it’, another notable feature of the speech included a bit where she pinned her hopes on Donald Trump to give the UK a free trade deal, saying that ‘President Elect Trump has said Britain is not at the back of the queue’ for a trade deal with the United States, the world’s biggest economy, but  front of the line’. However diplomatic this sounds, this is really nothing more than unbridled optimism for a number of reasons.

TTIP and Trump

One of the main arguments coming from some Brexiters during the referendum debate was that we should leave the EU so we don’t have to sign the TTIP corporate power grab. If signed, TTIP would have essentially allowed privately owned corporations to sue governments in secret courts, for introducing legislation that they don’t like. Despite the numerous objections that TTIP was dead in the water before we even voted to leave the EU, because the governments of Greece, Portugal and France would never vote to ratify it, opportunistic Brexiters still used fear of this corporate power grab in order to coerce people into voting to quit the EU.
Now, suddenly Brexiters are celebrating the idea of TTIP 2.0, but not based on an agreement between Barack Obamas centre right government and the diverse political structure of the EU, but between President Trump’s far right billionaire cabinet and Theresa May’s hard right Tory government! People who read by blog posts at the time will know that I always strongly opposed TTIP, as it would have destroyed the NHS and forced governments to repeal any environmental or corporate regulation legislation put forward by any of the decent MP’s in the UK parliament. Furthermore, I think it is a very good thing for the remaining 27 EU nations that this toxic corporate power grab is dead in the water. However, as I said all along, Britain quitting the EU would likely mean the development of an even more ferociously right wing corporate power grabs, and Theresa May’s speech, inspired by Trumps interview with Michael Gove, has made it absolutely clear that a corporate takeover deal between the UK and US is one of her big priorities for post Brexit Britain.

Trumps Protectionism

Just a few days after Theresa May’s pitiful Brexit speech, Donald Trump made his inaugural speech as President of the United States. Here are a few extracts:
‘From this day forward, it’s going to be only America First, America First. Every decision on trade, on taxes, on immigration, on foreign will be made to benefit American workers and American families'

‘Protection will lead to great prosperity and strength’

‘We will follow two simple rules: Buy American and Hire American’
It is important to consider here how Theresa Mays threat to turn Britain into the world’s biggest corporate tax haven is compatible with Donald Trumps ‘America First’ rhetoric. Is Donald Trump going to sit idly by while Britain lowers its corporation tax to near zero in an attempt to get major multinational firms to get major multinational firms to abandon Europe and the US to relocate in Britain? If Trump sees tax haven Britain as a threat to his ‘America First’ ideology, how is this going to influence his decision making? Would he introduce protectionist measures in order to counter the threat of Tax haven Britain, or would he join us in a ‘race to the bottom’ drive to eliminate taxes on corporations and the super-rich, creating an Anglo American corporate dystopia? Whatever Trumps reaction to tax haven Britain, it’s hardly likely to be good for ordinary British people.
Theresa May is pinning her hopes on a free trade agreement with the US, but the new President is talking boldly about protectionism, putting America first, rigging trade agreements to benefit America and refusing to buy or hire British products. Donald Trump’s bold protectionist rhetoric makes Theresa May’s free trade fantasies look blindly and pathetically optimistic if she thinks she is going to get a trade deal with Trumps America that will benefit anyone but American companies.

A Position of Weakness

By resorting to childish insults before negotiations have even begun, Theresa May has put the UK in a position of political weakness. If the EU do as expected and rebuff the Tory efforts to cherry pick access to the single market for favoured sections of the economy like the financial sector and the car industry, then she will be left to decide whether to follow through on her threat to turn the UK into a giant corporate tax haven in retaliation.
If Theresa May gets ‘no deal’ from the EU, then the UK will clearly be in a position of extreme geopolitical weakness, and the countries lining up to form trade deals with us will factor that into their negotiations. They will be in the position to say ‘you need us more than we need you, so what are you going to give us?’. The idea that Donald Trump wouldn’t use Britain’s geopolitical weakness as a huge advantage in the UK-US trade negotiations is absolute fantasy. He’s not going to give the UK a cushy deal just because he’s got Scottish ancestry, or because he’d like to grab Theresa may by the pussy, he’s going to use Britain’s weakness and isolation like a diplomatic half nelson to extract the best deal possible for American corporations.   

Conclusion

The idea that a rushed Trade agreement between the Tory’s and Donald Trump administration is going to be some sort of saving grace for Britain is frankly delusional. Even at the best of times such a hastily cobbled together deal between two hard right governments would hardly be beneficial for ordinary people, but with Britain going into any negotiations in a position of extreme geopolitical weakness, its likely to end up being a very one sided deal with very more many benefits for American corporations than benefits for Britain.