TBR News July 7, 2018

Jul 07 2018

The voice of him that crieth in the wilderness, Isaiah 40:3-8

Washington, D.C. July 7, 2018: “Here is a provocative email from a reader:

Maribeth Stilley


A new book recently appeared as a Kindle book from Amazon. It is entitled “Christ the Essene” by a Dr. Phillip L. Kushner. My young son, Charles or Chuck, got his hands on this work and, apparently, showed it to a number of his friends. One of the mothers called me, very shocked and angry, and complained about the contents of the book. I made Chuck give me his book and I, and my husband read it through. I am a Christian mother and I want both my children to grow to adulthood with a firm belief in Jesus and his messages but this book is absolutely an awful, sacrilegious scandal.

The author, who is a college professor in Texas, states that Jesus was an Essene and that all Essenes were practicing homosexuals! As if this were not enough, the author talks about a Dead Sea scroll that states Jesus was not born in Bethlehem but Egypt and had two older brothers.

He has translations from this scroll, which was found in 1953, that supports what he said. The author further claims the Gospels were written hundreds of years after Jesus’ life and are full of mistakes and that the Book of Revelations was allegedly written by a man in a Roman lunatic asylum!

In these times of distress and grief, I do not feel that such terrible things ought to be made available for our children, or anyone else for that matter, to read. The author makes many quotes and where I can check them out, they seem to be authentic but I question the use of such destructive material, true or not.

We must have faith that is abiding and sincere and Dr. Kushner should be ashamed of himself. And by reading the Internet, I have discovered that some time ago, he accused the Muslim Prophet Muhammad of being a pedophile!

This man, educated at Stanford or not, has absolutely no business writing or publishing such destructive garbage and this book, and others like it, should be forbidden to be sold!”




The Table of Contents

  • The firings and fury: The biggest Trump resignations and firings so far
  • Scott Pruitt, anti-environment administrator, leaves poisoned legacy
  • No more BMWs or Mercs on Fifth Avenue?
  • Israel is arming neo-Nazis in Ukraine
  • The Trump baby blimp is a perfect riposte to the snowflake right
  • Trump blimp in the United States
  • America Is Not a Democracy

 The firings and fury: The biggest Trump resignations and firings so far 

July 5, 2018

by Sam Morris and Francisco Navas

The Guardian

The Trump presidency will be remembered for many things, but some of those who served it may prove tricky to recall. The former reality TV star has hired and fired staffers faster than he could ever jettison contestants on The Apprentice. High-profile appointees to august posts traditionally filled for years have struggled to stay for more than a couple of months – sometimes even days – before being fired or resigning.

By our count, Trump has overseen 38 high-profile departures in a blizzard of indecision and turmoil that would be hard for even the sharpest White House-watcher to recall. So here’s a living document, designed to help you keep pace.

Scott Pruitt

Resigned on 5 July 2018

503 days in the role

Trump’s 1st head of the Environmental Protection Agency

Rather than spend the EPA’s budget fighting climate change, something he publicly questioned, Scott Pruitt was repeatedly caught spending taxpayer money on a few personal indulgences. Private and first-class flights, a 24/7 security detail and a $43,000 soundproof phone booth are just a few of many questionable purchases. After too many scandals to count, he eventually resigned. Now he can fully dedicate himself to his wife’s Chick-fil-A franchise, an opportunity he brokered through his EPA contacts.

Tom Bossert

Resigned on 10 April 2018

445 249 days in the role

Trump’s 1st homeland security adviser

A veteran of the Bush administration, Bossert’s was the face of the organization in a busy 2017 hurricane season but his most prominent moment under Trump came when he was victim of a prank email by someone claiming to be Jared Kushner. He resigned briefly after John Bolton arrived as Trump’s national security adviser.

Michael Anton

Left on 8 April 2018

249 days in the role

Trump’s 1st spokesman, National Security Council

You may know him as Publius Decius Mus, a pseudonym he used in the Claremont Review when comparing the 2016 election to Flight 93, the plane that crashed in a field in Pennsylvania on 9/11.

David Shulkin

Fired on 28 March 2018

407 days in the role

Trump’s 1st secretary of veterans affairs

Brought to the VA under Barack Obama, Shulkin was the only Trump nominee to be unanimously confirmed. But rumours of a toxic atmosphere within his department started to circulate, policy disagreements with Trump nominees were reported and a taxpayer-funded trip to Europe with his wife caused controversy. Shulkin said he learned he was fired when Trump tweeted the news. The White House – attempting to place a defense official in temporary charge while Trump’s personal physician was confirmed – insisted he had resigned.

HR McMaster

Left on 22 March 2018

395 days in the role

Trump’s 2nd national security adviser

A serving army general, McMaster succeeded Michael Flynn and brought military experience to a key role. But he was never considered an ideological fit for the president, with some advisers repeatedly accusing the general of being hostile to elements of the Trump agenda. Eventually McMaster resigned, to be replaced by the Bush-era hawk John Bolton.

John Dowd

Resigned on 22 March 2018

264 days in the role

Trump’s 1st lead lawyer

Trump’s lead attorney in the Russia investigation resigned, protesting his “love” for the president, days after it was reported that he would be replaced by Joseph DiGenova. In the event, he wasn’t.

Andrew McCabe

Fired on 16 March 2018

420 days in the role

Trump’s 1st deputy director of the FBI

Fired 28 hours before he would have retired with full benefits, making his seemingly the most vindictive of all Trump’s firings. McCabe had already resigned, in January, after repeated public chiding by Trump on Twitter. He has suggested his dismissal was part of an effort to undermine the investigation into Russian interference in the US election.

Rex Tillerson

Fired on 13 March 2018

405 days in the role

Trump’s 1st secretary of state

Tillerson had reportedly been considering resigning since the summer of 2017, only to be talked out of it by the vice-president, Mike Pence. Tensions simmered, though, particularly after it was reported that the secretary of state had called the president a “fucking moron”. Finally, Trump fired him.

Steve Goldstein

Fired on 13 March 2018

99 days in the role

Trump’s 1st under secretary of state for public diplomacy and affairs

After releasing a statement that Rex Tillerson did not know why he was fired and found out via Twitter, Goldstein was fired for contradicting the official account.

John McEntee

Fired on 12 March 2018

416 days in the role

Trump’s 1st personal aide

McEntee got his start on the campaign team, as a trip director. In the White House he was Trump’s personal aide until reports circulated that he was struggling to obtain the necessary security clearances. Abruptly fired and escorted out, he then joined Trump’s 2020 campaign.

Gary Cohn

Resigned on 6 March 2018

410 days in the role

Trump’s 1st director of the National Economic Council

The former Goldman Sachs No 2 was a rare experienced professional in the Trump White House. He was also a Democrat who reportedly called the president “dumb as shit”. Trump’s reaction to the lethal white-supremacist rally in Charlottesville in August wasn’t enough to make him resign. Trump’s plan to levy tariffs on steel and aluminum was. Cohn walked.

Roberta Jacobson

Resigned on 1 March 2018

405 days in the role

Trump’s 1st US ambassador to Mexico

Jacobson, an Obama appointee, had to wait for a drawn-out confirmation process before taking the role in Mexico. By April 2016, when she finally got in, Trump’s wall campaign had gathered momentum, sparking tense relations between Mexico and the US. She lasted a little over a year under Trump before resigning, citing how the relationship between the two countries was “at a crutical moment”.

Hope Hicks

Resigned on 28 February 2018

196 days in the role

Trump’s 4th White House communications director

Despite having zero political experience when she joined the Trump team in 2015, Hicks quickly gained Trump’s trust and rose to become an indispensable aide and, eventually, the president’s fourth White House communications director. Her fall, as sudden as her rise was swift, came one day after she testified before the House intelligence committee and admitted that telling “white lies” was part of her job.

Josh Raffel

Resigned on 27 February 2018

332 days in the role

Trump’s 1st senior communications aid

A Democrat who reportedly donated to Hillary Clinton’s campaign, Raffel was close to Kushner and Ivanka Trump in his communications role and a go-to figure in any PR crisis. He must have been a busy man before he resigned, citing “family reasons”.

Rachel Brand

Resigned on 20 February 2018

274 days in the role

Trump’s 1st associate attorney general

Rachel Brand, a Trump appointee, spent nine months in the Department of Justice as they endured a wave of attacks by Donald Trump and his supporters. She decided enough was enough and took leave to work at Walmart instead – as a head of global governance.

David Sorensen

Resigned on 9 February 2018

385 days in the role

Trump’s 1st White House speechwriter

In the same week as Rob Porter headed for the door, Sorensen left the White House amid domestic abuse allegations which he denied. He “didn’t want the White House to have to deal with this distraction”, he said

Rob Porter

Resigned on 7 February 2018

383 days in the role

Trump’s 1st White House staff secretary

Porter resigned after both his ex-wives went public with allegations of domestic abuse, which he denied. The chief of staff, John Kelly, initially defended Porter but later said: “There is no place for domestic violence in society”.

John Feeley

Resigned on 13 January 2018

358 days in the role

Trump’s 1st US ambassador to Panama

The US ambassador to Panama resigned telling the US state department he no longer felt he was able to serve Trump. In his resignation letter he mentioned that he “signed an oath to serve the president in an apolitical fashion”. He later stated that he “would be honor bound to resign” if he could not.

Omarosa Manigault-Newman

Left on 13 December 2017

327 days in the role

Trump’s 1st director of communications, Office of Public Liaison

The former reality TV star never had a clear role in the administration. Said a White House deputy press secretary, on her exit: “Omarosa was fired three times on The Apprentice and this was the fourth time we let her go.” After her dismissal, she starred in Celebrity Big Brother. Critical of the administration’s direction, she said: “It’s going to not be OK. It’s not. It’s so bad.”

Tom Price

Resigned on 29 September 2017

231 days in the role

Trump’s 1st secretary of health and human services

Trump’s first health secretary chartered private air travel for himself to the tune of more than $1m. He apologized and offered to pay back the money. Trump called Price a “very fine man” – but said he did not like the “optics”. Price resigned.

Keith Schiller

Unknown on 20 September 2017

243 days in the role

Trump’s 1st director of Oval Office operations

Trump’s longtime bodyguard was reportedly unhappy with a nearly halved paycheck. “I hate everyone in the White House! There are a few exceptions, but I hate them!” he was quoted as saying in Vanity Fair. Later, it was revealed that he was advising the RNC on security for their 2020 convention, picking up $15,000 a month.

Sebastian Gorka

Left on 25 August 2017

217 days in the role

Trump’s 1st Deputy assistant to the president

A fringe Anglo-Hungarian rightwing presence with a vaguely defined White House role, the self-professed gun enthusiast notoriously told Recoil magazine he carried two guns and a copy of the US constitution with him every day. The New York Times reported that another staff switch did for Gorka – the president’s then incoming chief of staff, John Kelly, personally forced him out.

Steve Bannon

Left on 18 August 2017

210 days in the role

Trump’s 1st White House chief strategist

The campaign manager-turned-White House strategist returned to Breitbart, saying “I’ve got my hands back on my weapons” and intending to go “to war for Trump”. But then the Guardian obtained a copy of Fire and Fury, Michael Wolff’s tell-all about the first year of the Trump administration, in which Bannon was extensively quoted and called Donald Trump Jr “treasonous”. Bridges burned, Bannon lost his Breitbart role and set himself up as a sort of freelance far-right gadfly.

Anthony Scaramucci

Fired on 31 July 2017

10 days in the role

Trump’s 3rd White House communications director

He came, he mooched, he got fired. The communications director’s all-too-brief tenure – 10 whole days from appetiser to coffee and the door – will forever be remembered for his decision to call a New Yorker writer and unleash a profanity-laden tirade about his White House colleagues. The result? A mainstream media debate about the rights and wrongs of publishing the phrase: “I’m not trying to suck my own cock.”

George Gigicos

Left on 31 July 2017

192 days in the role

Trump’s 1st White House director of scheduling

“Wow, what a crowd” Trump told a rally in Phoenix, “what a crowd.” Days later, dissatisfied with said crowd amid reports the venue had been half-empty, he dispensed with the loyal aide who had run the rally.

Reince Priebus

Resigned on 28 July 2017

189 days in the role

Trump’s 1st chief of staff

The former Republican National Committee chair spent seven months in the White House, at no point free of speculation about the timing of his exit. He was supposed to bring inside-the-beltway savvy to Trump’s team of outsiders. Instead, after a tenure filled with palace intrigue and political blunders. the president tweeted he was “proud of him!” – and showed him the way to the door.

Sean Spicer

Resigned on 21 July 2017

182 days in the role

Trump’s 2nd White House communications director

Spicer spent his first day on the job berating journalists for accurately reporting the size of Trump’s inauguration crowd. Things went downhill from there. Highlights included a snafu over his choice of words when discussing the Holocaust, trying to define the difference between a border wall and a fence and an SNL impersonation by Melissa McCarthy that went viral, Trump was reportedly angered to see a key male aide impersonated by a woman. Spicer resigned after disagreeing with Trump over the hiring of Scaramucci.

Walter Shaub

Resigned on 6 July 2017

167 days in the role

Trump’s 1st director, US Office of Government Ethics

When the top ethics watchdog in the federal government resigns, a president may expect the press to have some questions. When he resigns and takes a parting shot in which he reminds the president that “public service is a public trust”, those questions are bound to be pointed. In the case of Shaub, another Obama holdover, they were.

Mike Dubke

Left on 18 May 2017

73 days in the role

Trump’s 1st White House communications director

Trump’s second White House communications director was a longtime Republican operative brought in to lighten the load on the first, a struggling Sean Spicer. He resigned shortly before the president’s first trip overseas, citing personal reasons. Shortly after, he said he regretted not firing leakers.

KT McFarland

Left on 10 May 2017

110 days in the role

Trump’s 1st deputy national security adviser designate

Hired as a deputy to Flynn, the former Fox News analyst stepped down after McMaster essentially hired her replacement, Dina Powell. Trump then sought to nominate McFarland as US ambassador to Singapore, a notion rejected by a Republican-majority Senate. She withdrew.

James Comey

Fired on 9 May 2017

109 days in the role

Trump’s 1st director of the FBI

Comey and Trump had a love-hate relationship. After the FBI director announced that the investigation into Hillary Clinton’s private email server had reopened, 11 days before polling day in 2016, Trump was full of praise. In May 2017, though, Trump ousted the FBI director, saying: “The way [Comey] handled the conclusion of the email investigation was wrong.” Unofficially, the FBI’s investigation into alledged collusion with Russia might have been a factor. Comey thinks it was – and has said so in a blockbuster book that has set the two men at war.

Angella Reid

Fired on 1 May 2017

101 days in the role

Trump’s 1st chief usher

The White House usher, the second African American and the first woman to hold the job, was appointed by Obama in 2011. She was fired in May, amid reports that she would have been shown the door sooner had first lady Melania Trump moved more quickly to fill key posts.

Vivek Murthy

Fired on 21 April 2017

91 days in the role

Trump’s 1st surgeon general

An Obama appointment who was never going to last long, having incurred the wrath of the National Rifle Association by calling gun control a “healthcare issue”.

Katie Walsh

Left on 30 March 2017

69 days in the role

Trump’s 1st White House deputy chief of staff for implementation

Deputy chief of staff to Priebus, an establishment figure in her own right, Walsh came under pressure from Bannon and Jared Kushner. She resigned and was reassigned to a pro-Trump outside body.

Caroline Wiles

Resigned on 16 February 2017

27 days in the role

Trump’s 1st director of scheduling

Served as Trump’s Florida campaign manager but was deemed unfit to serve as the White House’s director of scheduling after she failed a mandatory background check the same day as five other White House insiders.

Michael Flynn

Resigned on 13 February 2017

24 days in the role

Trump’s 1st national security adviser

Trump’s first national security adviser lasted a mere 23 days after it was revealed that he misled Vice-President Mike Pence about his communications with Russian officials. He later pleaded guilty to lying to the FBI, striking a plea deal including a pledge for “full cooperation” with special counsel Robert Mueller.

Gerrit Lansing

Resigned on 9 February 2017

20 days in the role

Trump’s 1st White House chief digital officer

Gerrit Lansing, previously head of the digital department for the Republican National Committee, was looking to pick up a similar role under the new administration. Just a month in, he failed a mandatory background check due to his personal investments.

Sally Yates

Fired on 30 January 2017

10 days in the role

Trump’s 1st attorney general (acting)

An Obama holdover, Yates served as acting attorney general while Jeff Sessions’s nomination made its way through Congress. Knowing her days were numbered, she refused to enforce Trump’s first travel ban, saying she was not “convinced that the executive order is lawful”. She was fired within hours.


Scott Pruitt, anti-environment administrator, leaves poisoned legacy

The true scandal was not Scott Pruitt’s corrupt behavior in using public resources for personal gain, rather the lasting damage he’s done to public health and a key US environmental institution

July 6, 2018

by Sonya Diehn


The Bible-thumping, climate change denying, public money abusing, fossil fuel zealot Scott Pruitt has resigned as head of the US Environmental Protection Agency.

Good riddance! Never has this key agency been run by someone so hostile to the environment.

Pruitt had set out on a course to roll back environmental regulations, ranging from attempts to undo Obama’s landmark Clean Power Plan and tougher emissions standards for cars, to attacks on the Clean Water Rule.

All this with the blessing of US President Donald Trump.

As Pruitt got busy with his mission, it was uncovered how he time and again blatantly misused government resources for his own personal gain, to the tune of millions of dollars.

Among the more ridiculous incidents, Pruitt used his security detail to shop for a special moisturizer available at Ritz-Carlton hotels.

Throughout this, President Donald Trump continued to support him. Pruitt only resigned once the weight of a laundry list of ethics violations proved too much for even Trump to defend him.

It’s a sign of the administration’s moral bankruptcy. But beyond that, Pruitt’s legacy will reverberate for decades to come.

Disservice to a public agency

A recent analysis based on the EPA’s own data found that changes already made to environmental law under the Trump administration will result in 80,000 additional health-related deaths in the US over the next decade.

Those are consequences that will impact actual people. But I doubt Pruitt was thinking about this when he wrote his resignation letter to Trump: “I believe you are serving as president today because of God’s providence … I pray as I have served you that I have blessed you and enabled you to effectively lead the American people.”

Beyond the hypocrisy of espousing to be a Christian while stealing public money and harming the health of people, Pruitt has left behind another poisoned legacy.

He’s damaged an institution that plays a key role in protecting public health and the environment.

Beginning with an internal witch hunt that included gathering lists of names of environmental sympathizers and silencing EPA scientists, Pruitt has sought to turn the EPA into an anti-science, anti-environment body.

This has driven out hundreds of competent career staffers, gutting the agency.

And don’t think things will get any better under new leadership.

A more cunning fox

Andrew Wheeler, number two under Pruitt, is set, for the time being, to head the agency.

A coal lobbyist, Wheeler joining the leadership of the EPA has been described as putting the fox in charge of the henhouse.

Wheeler is a former senior aide to Republican Senator James Inhofe, one of Washington’s most prominent climate change deniers.

Yet unlike Pruitt, Wheeler is considered to be a clever Washington insider, and the expectation is that he will carry on with Trump’s anti-regulation campaign far more quietly — and competently.

He is yet another corporate lobbyist appointed to a top position by an administration unparalleled in taking such steps.

We need to stay on high alert.


No more BMWs or Mercs on Fifth Avenue?

Donald Trump doesn’t want to see any more BMWs or Mercedes on Fifth Avenue in New York. To that end, he has made different, partly contradictory threats and offers in the trade conflict with the EU. Will it work for him?

July 6, 2018

by Anne Schwedt (bb)


New York City’s Fifth Avenue is known the world over for luxury brands for the rich and the famous, among them the latest high-end vehicles of BMW and Mercedes. But if President Trump has his way, the popular German cars soon won’t be driving down the famous avenue anymore.

It all started during Trump’s election campaign in 2015 and 2016. Back then, he promised to strengthen the domestic economy by creating jobs and boosting local production. Importing foreign goods, particularly German luxury cars, has been a thorn in his side ever since. Seeing those cars drive by Trump Tower, which is located on Fifth Avenue, was apparently the epitome of everything he does not want.

Looking for evidence? In April, Trump reportedly told French President Emmanuel Macron that he will continue the trade war until the day comes when no more Mercedes Benz or BMWs drive by on Fifth Avenue. So how exactly does he intend to achieve his goal?

Scenario 1: a 25 percent tariff on cars from the EU

When EU carmakers suddenly have to pay between 20 and 25 percent on cars they intend to sell in the US, new Mercedes and BMWs would soon vanish from 5th Avenue. That’s what Trump must have had in mind when he threatened to impose those tariffs last month.

At first glance this looks logical, says automobile analyst Efraim Levy. “That would raise prices for consumers, and it also puts jobs at risk as well as the volume,” he told DW. “Because when the price rises for the consumer, they are going to buy fewer vehicles. That will pinch the profit of automakers throughout the world.”

But does that mean BMW and Mercedes owners would switch to US brands? “For 20 years all the time I’ve been using Mercedes Benz,” a Benz-fan in Manhattan said. He’d pay more if push comes to shove. Similarly, a young BMW owner on 5th Avenue said he would remain faithful to his brand. “I wouldn’t consider buying an American car because I don’t really like them,” he said. He’d rather buy a cheaper model of a German car.

In summary, Trump’s threats hitherto haven’t swayed customers. Mercedes and BMW’s stable sales figures in the US confirm this sentiment. “I think a lot of people are just waiting until it actually happens,” analyst Levy said. “If you’ve seen Trump’s negotiation tactics, he threatens big time and then comes way back to the middle or less.” So even if he follows though with his threat, he won’t get rid of all BMW and Mercedes on Fifth Avenue.

Conclusion of scenario 1:

New jobs at US carmakers: few.

Money in state coffers: 25 percent on all imported European cars (roughly $5.2 billion (€4.49 billion) a year)

Mercedes and BMWs on 5th Avenue: presumably just as many, but cheaper models

Scenario 2: no car tariffs between the US and the EU

Richard Grenell, US ambassador to Germany, proposed this zero option to the bosses of German carmakers this week. It sounds like the complete opposite of Trump’s prior threat. Even if this, for one thing, looks like the better option for the EU compared to scenario 1, the US still wins out in this instance.

Thus far, the US has had to pay a 10 percent tariff on car imports from the EU, whereas cars exported from the EU to the US only incur a 2.5 percent import tariff. So what would such a zero customs treaty mean? American cars could become ten percent cheaper in the EU. But does that mean Europeans would buy cars from the US en masse? Probably not. At the same time, the EU can put Mercedes and BMWs on Fifth Avenue for free.

But exactly how big of an incentive is the deal for the EU? One thing Trump shouldn’t forget in his deliberations is that the majority of German cars designated for the US market are made in the US already. Therefore, they do exactly what Trump actually wants: create jobs. BMW’s largest factory is located in South Carolina; Mercedes employs 24,000 people directly and a further 150,000 indirectly through its supply chain.

Moreover, many German cars made in the US don’t even stay there. BMW, for instance, exports more than 70 percent of its annual US output to other countries. One of the biggest buyers is — surprise, surprise — China, the country with which Trump has escalted trade tensions to the brink of a ‘trade war.’Counter tariffs from China thus also affect European carmakers, despite the absence of a trade conflict between the EU and China.

German carmakers in the US could draw two conclusions out of this situation. For one, they leave cars produced in the US on-site. That would mean more BMWs and Mercedes on 5th Avenue. Alternatively, they could manufacture for the Chinese market directly in China, a move that would kill thousands of US jobs.

Conclusion of scenario 2:

Thousands of jobs in jeopardy

Money in state coffers: savings of 10 percent from car import tariffs from the EU (roughly $5.7 billion (€4.9 billion) a year)

Mercedes and BMW on 5th Avenue: more than before.

So, no matter what Trump does, he won’t get rid of BMWs and Mercedes from Fifth Avenue. After all, they’re just as big a part of the famous street as Trump Tower.


Israel is arming neo-Nazis in Ukraine

July 4, 2018

by Asa Winstanley

The Electronic Intifada

Israeli arms are being sent to a heavily armed neo-Nazi militia in Ukraine, The Electronic Intifada has learned.

Azov Battalion online propaganda shows Israeli-licensed Tavor rifles in the fascist group’s hands, while Israeli human rights activists have protested arms sales to Ukraine on the basis that weapons might end up with anti-Semitic militias.

In a letter “about licenses for Ukraine” obtained by The Electronic Intifada, the Israeli defense ministry’s arms export agency says they are “careful to grant licenses” to arms exporters “in full coordination with the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and other government entities.”

The 26 June letter was sent in reply to Israeli lawyer Eitay Mack who had written a detailed request demanding Israel end all military aid to the country.

Azov’s official status in the Ukrainian armed forces means it cannot be verified that “Israeli weapons and training” are not being used “by anti-Semitic or neo-Nazi soldiers,” Mack and 35 other human rights activists wrote.

They had written that Ukrainian armed forces use rifles made in Israel “and are trained by Israelis,” according to reports in the country.

The head of the Israeli arms export agency declined to deny the reports, or to even discuss cancellation of the weapons licenses, citing “security” concerns.

But Racheli Chen, the head of the agency, confirmed to Mack she had “carefully read your letter,” which detailed the fascist nature of Azov and the reports of Israeli arms and training.

Israeli rifles in Ukraine

The fact that Israeli arms are going to Ukrainian neo-Nazis is supported by Azov’s own online propaganda.

On its YouTube channel, Azov posted a video “review” of locally produced copies of two Israeli Tavor rifles

The rifles are produced under licence from Israel Weapon Industries, and as such would have been authorized by the Israeli government.

IWI markets the Tavor as the “primary weapon” of the Israeli special forces.

It has been used in recent massacres of unarmed Palestinians taking part in Great March of Return protests in Gaza.

Fort, the Ukrainian state-owned arms company that produces the rifles under license, has a page about the Tavor on its website.

The Israel Weapon Industries logo also appears on its website, including on the “Our Partners” page.

Starting as a gang of fascist street thugs, the Azov Battalion is one of several far-right militias that have now been integrated as units of Ukraine’s National Guard.

Staunchly anti-Russian, Azov fought riot police during the 2013 US and EU-supported “Euromaidan” protests in the capital Kiev.

The protests and riots laid the ground for the 2014 coup which removed the pro-Russian president Viktor Yanukovych

When the civil war began in eastern Ukraine against Russian-backed separatists, the new western-backed government began to arm Azov. The militia soon fell under the jurisdiction of the Ukrainian interior ministry, and saw some of the most intense frontline combat against the separatists.

The group stands accused in United Nations and Human Rights Watch reports of committing war crimes against pro-Russian separatists during the ongoing civil war in the eastern Donbass region, including torture, sexual violence and targeting of civilian homes.

Today, Azov is run by Arsen Avakov, Ukraine’s interior minister. According to the BBC, he pays its fighters, and has appointed one of its military commanders, Vadym Troyan, as his deputy – with control over the police.

Avakov last year met with the Israeli interior minister Aryeh Deri to discuss “fruitful cooperation.”

Azov’s young founder and first military commander Andriy Biletsky is today a lawmaker in the Ukrainian parliament.

As journalist Max Blumenthal explained on The Real News in February, Biletsky has “pledged to restore the honor of the white race” and has advanced laws forbidding “race mixing.”

According to The Telegraph, Biletsky in 2014 wrote that “the historic mission of our nation in this critical moment is to lead the white races of the world in a final crusade for their survival. A crusade against the Semite-led untermenschen.”

At a military training camp for children last year, The Guardian noticed that several Azov instructors had Nazi and other racist tattoos, including a swastika, the SS skull symbol and one that read “White Pride.”

One Azov soldier explained to The Guardian that he fights Russia because “Putin’s a Jew.”

Speaking to The Telegraph, another praised Adolf Hitler, said homosexuality is a “mental illness” and that the scale of the Holocaust “is a big question.”

An Azov drill sergeant once told USA Today “with a laugh” that “no more than half his comrades are fellow Nazis.”

An Azov spokesperson played that down, claiming that “only 10-20 percent” of the group’s members were Nazis.

Nonetheless, the sergeant “vowed that when the war ends, his comrades will march on the capital, Kiev, to oust a government they consider corrupt.”

After Azov’s founder Andriy Biletsky entered parliament, he threatened to dissolve it. “Take my word for it,” he said, “we have gathered here to begin the fight for power.”

Those promises were made in 2014, but there are early signs of them being fulfilled today.

This year the battalion has founded a new “National Militia” to bring the war home.

This well-organized gang is at the forefront of a growing wave of racist and anti-Semitic violence in Ukraine.

Led by its military veterans, it specializes in pogroms and thuggish enforcement of its political agenda.

Earlier this month, clad in balaclavas and wielding axes and baseball bats, members of the group destroyed a Romany camp in Kiev. In a YouTube video, apparently shot by the Azov thugs themselves, police turn up towards the end of the camp’s destruction.

They look on doing nothing, while the thugs cry, “Glory to the nation! Death to enemies!”

Israel’s military aid to Ukraine and its neo-Nazis emulates similar programs by the United States and other NATO countries including the UK and Canada.

So obsessed are they with defeating a perceived threat from Russia that they seem happy to aid even openly Nazi militias – as long as they fight on their side.

This is also a throwback to the early Cold War, when the CIA supported fascists and Hitlerites to infiltrate from Austria into Hungary in 1956, where they began slaughtering Hungarian communist Jews and Hungarian Jews as “communists.”

Recent postings on Azov websites document a June meeting with the Canadian military attaché, Colonel Brian Irwin.

According to Azov, the Canadians concluded the briefing by expressing “their hopes for further fruitful cooperation.”

Irwin acknowledged receipt of an email from The Electronic Intifada, but did not answer questions about his meeting with the fascist militia.

A spokesperson for the Canadian defense department later sent a statement claiming that their “training of Ukrainian Armed Forces through Operation Unifier incorporates strong human rights elements.”

They said Canada is “strongly opposed to the glorification of Nazism and all forms of racism” but that “every country must come to grips with difficult periods in its past.”

The spokesperson, who did not provide a name, wrote that Canadian training “includes ongoing dialogue on the development of a diverse, and inclusive Ukraine.”

The statement said nothing about how alleged Canadian diversity training goes down with the Azov Battalion.

Also part of Colonel Irwin’s meeting was the head of Azov’s officer training academy, an institution named after right-wing Ukrainian nationalist Yevhen Konovalets.

Konovalets is one of the group’s idols, whose portrait frequently adorns its military iconography.

Konovalets was the founder of the Organization of Ukrainian Nationalists (OUN), which later allied itself to Nazi Germany during its invasion of the Soviet Union.

The OUN took part in the notorious 1941 Lviv massacre, when the Nazis invaded Soviet territory.

During the pogrom, thousands of Jews were massacred in the now-Ukrainian city.

US aid to Nazis

Canada is of course not the only NATO “ally” to be sending arms to Ukraine.

As Max Blumenthal has extensively reported, US weapons, including rocket-propelled grenades, and training have been provided to Azov.

Under pressure from the Pentagon, a clause in the annually renewed defense bill banning US aid to Ukraine from going to the Azov Battalion was repeatedly stripped out.

This went on for three straight years before Democratic lawmaker Ro Khanna and others pushed it through earlier this year.

For his trouble Khanna was smeared in Washington as a “K Street sellout” who was “holding Putin’s dirty laundry.”

Despite the ban finally passing, Azov’s status as an official unit of the Ukrainian armed forces leaves it unclear how US aid can be separated out.

In 2014, the Israel lobby groups ADL and the Simon Wiesenthal Center refused to help a previous attempt to bar US aid to neo-Nazi groups in Ukraine.

Attempts by some in Congress to bar US military aid to Nazis in Ukraine may explain military aid from Israel.

Israel’s “deepening military-technical cooperation” with Ukraine and its fascist militias is likely a way to help its partner in the White House, and is another facet of the growing Zionist-White Supremacist alliance.

Israel has historically acted as a useful route through which US presidents and the CIA can circumvent congressional restrictions on aid to various unsavory groups and governments around the world.

In 1980s Latin America, these included the Contras, who were fighting a war against the left-wing revolutionary government of Nicaragua, as well as a host of other Latin American fascist death squads and military dictatorships.

It also included the South African apartheid regime, which Israeli governments of both the “Zionist left” and Likudnik right armed for decades.

As quoted in Andrew and Leslie Cockburn’s book Dangerous Liaison, one former member of the Israeli parliament, General Mattityahu Peled, put it succinctly: “In Central America, Israel is the ‘dirty work’ contractor for the US administration. Israel is acting as an accomplice and an arm of the United States.”

Amid an alarming rise in anti-Semitism and neo-Nazism, Israel now appears to be reprising this role in eastern Europe.


The Trump baby blimp is a perfect riposte to the snowflake right

Next week’s protests in London against the US president will get under his skin. I’m glad

July 6, 2018

by Owen Jones

The Guardian

Allowing a crying Trump baby blimp to fly in the sky is, according to Nigel Farage, “the biggest insult to a sitting US president ever”. Now, sidestepping whether JFK being shot in the head with an infantry rifle qualifies as insulting, this is the guy who once described Barack Obama as a “loathsome creature”, which wasn’t exactly a polite hello, was it?

Part of the shtick of the ascendant hard right is to portray the left as humourless, easily triggered snowflakes who hate freedom of expression. And yet when activists crowdsource £17,300 to purchase a blimp of an orange-faced Trump with tiny hands, the right are reduced to embarrassing public temper tantrums. Indeed, one Conservative MEP has even proposed scrapping the post of London mayor in response.

Basically, Farage wants London’s authorities to intervene to ban an anti-establishment protest, which tells you all you need to know about the right’s protestations that they’re sticking it to the man against an authoritarian nanny state. Their pretences were always ludicrous: these are the outriders of an egomaniac plutocrat who slashes taxes on corporate and rich America while dragging screaming children from their parents and locking them up in cages.

That blimp will be the perfect mascot for the mass demonstrations that will form Donald Trump’s welcoming party next week. Trump is hoping to use Britain as a perverse PR exercise, to show that he has indeed made America “great again”, that the country is now respected. Instead images will be broadcast across the globe of thousands of the citizens of America’s closest ally ridiculing the most powerful man on Earth, accompanied by a giant balloon of the president in a nappy.

Next Friday’s “Together Against Trump” protests will have a profoundly serious message, of course. Trump, Farage, Marine Le Pen, the Austrian far-right, the Hungarian regime – it’s been one big carnival for rightwing extremists these past few years. The protests next week will be a statement of intent: that attempts by elite politicians to scapegoat refugees, immigrants and Muslims for the injustices caused by the powerful will be resisted. That the aspirations of the enfeebled coalition of chaos that governs the country to subordinate Britain to the United States will be fought, particularly if there is any attempt to join another calamitous military intervention like Iraq.

There is this idea floated that Trump will relish the attention, baby blimp and all; that ignoring him altogether would be the best response. This would not only be interpreted as complicity, as a silent endorsement of the president, but doesn’t explain why a man not renowned for the thickness of his skin has repeatedly postponed his visit because of his fear of protests. A historic day beckons, one that will get under the skin of not just Trump, but the entire bigoted movement he represents, and which will help galvanise the fightback against it. And as a bonus, as Trump – a man who ridicules and demonises anyone who dares to challenge him – is feted by the British establishment, he will know that somewhere up above him, in the sky, is a giant blimp of the president as a howling baby.


Trump blimp in the United States

July 7, 2018

by Jon Halliday

fnp news

One of many anti-Trump groups now gaining strength in the United States, the ‘Dump Trump’ association, has contracted for fifteen copies of the British Trump baby blimp to be used at Trump appearances.

A firm in California now has these satirical items under construction according to Leslie Morton, a spokesperson for ‘Dump Trump’

“The best way to expose and neutralize people like Trump is to ridicule them.”

President Trump apparently plans to keep as far away from the British blimp as he can but with a number coming to his own country, his notoriously short temper will predictably erupt at even the thought of one floating mockingly in the air above him.


America Is Not a Democracy

How the United States lost the faith of its citizens—and what it can do to win them back

March 2018 Issue

by Yascha Mounk

The Atlantic

For years, the residents of Oxford, Massachusetts, seethed with anger at the company that controlled the local water supply. The company, locals complained, charged inflated prices and provided terrible service. But unless the town’s residents wanted to get by without running water, they had to pay up, again and again.

The people of Oxford resolved to buy the company out. At a town meeting in the local high-school auditorium, an overwhelming majority of residents voted to raise the millions of dollars that would be required for the purchase. It took years, but in May 2014, the deal was nearly done: One last vote stood between the small town and its long-awaited goal.

The company, however, was not going down without a fight. It mounted a campaign against the buyout. On the day of the crucial vote, the high-school auditorium swelled to capacity. Locals who had toiled on the issue for years noticed many newcomers—residents who hadn’t showed up to previous town meetings about the buyout. When the vote was called, the measure failed—the company, called Aquarion, would remain the town’s water supplier. Supporters of the buyout mounted a last-ditch effort to take a second vote, but before it could be organized, a lobbyist for Aquarion pulled a fire alarm. The building had to be evacuated, and the meeting adjourned. Aquarion retains control of Oxford’s water system to this day.

The company denied that the lobbyist was acting on its behalf when he pulled the alarm; it also denies that its rates were abnormally high or that it provides poor service. Some Oxford residents supported Aquarion, and others opposed the buyout because they feared the cost and complication of the town running its own water company. But many residents, liberal and conservative, were frustrated by the process. The vote, they felt, hadn’t taken place on a level playing field.

“It was a violation of the sanctity of our local government by big money,” Jen Caissie, a former chairman of the board of selectmen in Oxford, told me. “Their messiah is their bottom line, not the health of the local community. And I say that as a Republican, someone who is in favor of local business.”

A New England town meeting would seem to be one of the oldest and purest expressions of the American style of government. Yet even in this bastion of deliberation and direct democracy, a nasty suspicion had taken hold: that the levers of power are not controlled by the people.

It’s a suspicion stoked by the fact that, across a range of issues, public policy does not reflect the preferences of the majority of Americans. If it did, the country would look radically different: Marijuana would be legal and campaign contributions more tightly regulated; paid parental leave would be the law of the land and public colleges free; the minimum wage would be higher and gun control much stricter; abortions would be more accessible in the early stages of pregnancy and illegal in the third trimester.

The subversion of the people’s preferences in our supposedly democratic system was explored in a 2014 study by the political scientists Martin Gilens of Princeton and Benjamin I. Page of Northwestern. Four broad theories have long sought to answer a fundamental question about our government: Who rules? One theory, the one we teach our children in civics classes, holds that the views of average people are decisive. Another theory suggests that mass-based interest groups such as the AARP have the power. A third theory predicts that business groups such as the Independent Insurance Agents and Brokers of America and the National Beer Wholesalers Association carry the day. A fourth theory holds that policy reflects the views of the economic elite.

Gilens and Page tested those theories by tracking how well the preferences of various groups predicted the way that Congress and the executive branch would act on 1,779 policy issues over a span of two decades. The results were shocking. Economic elites and narrow interest groups were very influential: They succeeded in getting their favored policies adopted about half of the time, and in stopping legislation to which they were opposed nearly all of the time. Mass-based interest groups, meanwhile, had little effect on public policy. As for the views of ordinary citizens, they had virtually no independent effect at all. “When the preferences of economic elites and the stands of organized interest groups are controlled for, the preferences of the average American appear to have only a minuscule, near-zero, statistically non-significant impact upon public policy,” Gilens and Page wrote.

Outlets from The Washington Post to Breitbart News cited this explosive finding as evidence of what overeager headline writers called American oligarchy. Subsequent studies critiqued some of the authors’ assumptions and questioned whether the political system is quite as insulated from the views of ordinary people as Gilens and Page found. The most breathless claims made on the basis of their study were clearly exaggerations. Yet their work is another serious indication of a creeping democratic deficit in the land of liberty.

To some degree, of course, the unresponsiveness of America’s political system is by design. The United States was founded as a republic, not a democracy. As Alexander Hamilton and James Madison made clear in the Federalist Papers, the essence of this republic would consist—their emphasis—“IN THE TOTAL EXCLUSION OF THE PEOPLE, IN THEIR COLLECTIVE CAPACITY, from any share” in the government. Instead, popular views would be translated into public policy through the election of representatives “whose wisdom may,” in Madison’s words, “best discern the true interest of their country.” That this radically curtailed the degree to which the people could directly influence the government was no accident.

Only over the course of the 19th century did a set of entrepreneurial thinkers begin to dress an ideologically self-conscious republic up in the unaccustomed robes of a democracy. Throughout America, the old social hierarchies were being upended by rapid industrialization, mass immigration, westward expansion, and civil war. Egalitarian sentiment was rising. The idea that the people should rule came to seem appealing and even natural. The same institutions that had once been designed to exclude the people from government were now commended for facilitating government “of the people, by the people, for the people.”

The shifting justification for our political system inspired important reforms. In 1913, the Seventeenth Amendment stipulated that senators had to be elected directly by the people, not by state legislatures. In 1920, the Nineteenth Amendment gave women the vote. In 1965, the Voting Rights Act, drawing on the Fifteenth Amendment, set out to protect the vote of black Americans. The once-peculiar claim that the United States was a democracy slowly came to have some basis in reality.

That basis is now crumbling, and the people have taken notice. In no small part that’s because the long era during which average Americans grew more wealthy has come to a sputtering stop. People who are asked how well they are doing economically frequently compare their own standard of living with that of their parents. Until recently, this comparison was heartening. At the age of 30, more than nine in 10 Americans born in 1940 were earning more than their parents had at the same stage of their lives. But according to eye-popping research led by the economist Raj Chetty and his co-authors, many Millennials do not share in this age-old American experience of improving fortunes. Among those Americans born in the early 1980s, only half earn more than their parents did at a similar age.

Americans have never loved their politicians or thought of Washington as a repository of moral virtue. But so long as the system worked for them—so long as they were wealthier than their parents had been and could expect that their kids would be better off than them—people trusted that politicians were ultimately on their side. Not anymore.

The rise of digital media, meanwhile, has given ordinary Americans, especially younger ones, an instinctive feel for direct democracy. Whether they’re stuffing the electronic ballot boxes of The Voice and Dancing With the Stars, liking a post on Facebook, or up-voting a comment on Reddit, they are seeing what it looks like when their vote makes an immediate difference. Compared with these digital plebiscites, the work of the United States government seems sluggish, outmoded, and shockingly unresponsive.

As a result, average voters feel more alienated from traditional political institutions than perhaps ever before. When they look at decisions made by politicians, they don’t see their preferences reflected in them. For good reason, they are growing as disenchanted with democracy as the people of Oxford, Massachusetts, did.

The politician who best intuited this discontent—and most loudly promised to remedy it—is Donald Trump. The claim that he would channel the voice of the people to combat a corrupt and unresponsive elite was at the very core of his candidacy. “I am your voice,” Trump promised as he accepted his party’s nomination at the Republican National Convention. “Today, we are not merely transferring power from one administration to another or from one party to another,” he proclaimed in his inaugural address, “but we are transferring power from Washington, D.C., and giving it back to you, the people.”

At the height of the Mexican–American War, Nicholas Trist traveled to Mexico and negotiated the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo, which ended the hostilities between the two nations and helped delineate America’s southern border. Two decades later, the U.S. government still hadn’t paid him for his services. Too old and weak to travel to Washington to collect the money himself, Trist hired a prominent lawyer by the name of Linus Child to act on his behalf, promising him 25 percent of his recovered earnings.

Congress finally appropriated the money to settle its debt. But now it was Trist who refused to pay up, even after his lawyer sued for his share. Though the contract between Trist and Child hardly seems untoward by today’s standards, the Supreme Court refused to uphold it out of fear that it might provide a legal basis for the activities of lobbyists:

Donald Trump won the presidency for many reasons, including racial animus, concerns over immigration, and a widening divide between urban and rural areas. But public-opinion data suggest that a deep feeling of powerlessness among voters was also important. I analyzed 2016 data from the American National Election Studies. Those who voted for Trump in the Republican primaries, more than those who supported his competition, said that they “don’t have any say about what the government does,” that “public officials don’t care much what people like me think,” and that “most politicians care only about the interests of the rich and powerful.”

Trump has no real intention of devolving power back to the people. He’s filled his administration with members of the same elite he disparaged on the campaign trail. His biggest legislative success, the tax bill, has handed gifts to corporations and the donor class. A little more than a year after America rebelled against political elites by electing a self-proclaimed champion of the people, its government is more deeply in the pockets of lobbyists and billionaires than ever before.

It would be easy to draw the wrong lesson from this: If the American electorate can be duped by a figure like Trump, it can’t be trusted with whatever power it does retain. To avoid further damage to the rule of law and the rights of the most-vulnerable Americans, traditional elites should appropriate even more power for themselves. But that response plays into the populist narrative: The political class dislikes Trump because he threatens to take its power away. It also refuses to recognize that the people have a point.

America does have a democracy problem. If we want to address the root causes of populism, we need to start by taking an honest accounting of the ways in which power has slipped out of the people’s hands, and think more honestly about the ways in which we can—and cannot—put the people back in control.

If any of the great corporations of the country were to hire adventurers who make market of themselves in this way, to procure the passage of a general law with a view to the promotion of their private interests, the moral sense of every right-minded man would instinctively denounce the employer and employed as steeped in corruption.

Extreme as this case may appear, it was far from idiosyncratic. In her book Corruption in America, the legal scholar Zephyr Teachout notes that the institutions of the United States were explicitly designed to counter the myriad ways in which people might seek to sway political decisions for their own personal gain. Many forms of lobbying were banned throughout the 19th century. In Georgia, the state constitution at one time read that “lobbying is declared to be a crime.” In California, it was a felony.

Over the course of the 20th century, lobbying gradually lost the stench of the illicit. But even once the activity became normalized, businesses remained reluctant to exert their influence. As late as the 1960s, major corporations did not lobby directly on their own behalf. Instead, they relied on collectives such as the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, which had a weaker voice in Washington than labor unions or public-interest groups. “As every business executive knows,” the future Supreme Court Justice Lewis F. Powell Jr. complained in 1971, “few elements of American society today have as little influence in government as the American businessman.”

All of this began to change in the early 1970s. Determined to fight rising wages and stricter labor and environmental standards, which would bring higher costs, CEOs of companies like General Electric and General Motors banded together to expand their power on Capitol Hill. At first, their activities were mostly defensive: The goal was to stop legislation that might harm their interests. But as the political influence of big corporations grew, and their profits soared, a new class of professional lobbyists managed to convince the nation’s CEOs that, in the words of Lee Drutman, the author of the 2015 book The Business of America Is Lobbying, their activity “was not just about keeping the government far away—it could also be about drawing government close.”

Today, corporations wield immense power in Washington: “For every dollar spent on lobbying by labor unions and public-interest groups,” Drutman shows, “large corporations and their associations now spend $34. Of the 100 organizations that spend the most on lobbying, 95 consistently represent business.”

The work of K Street lobbyists, and the violation of our government by big money, has fundamentally transformed the work—and the lives—of the people’s supposed representatives. Steve Israel, a Democratic congressman from Long Island, was a consummate moneyman. Over the course of his 16 years on Capitol Hill, he arranged 1,600 fund-raisers for himself, averaging one every four days. Israel cited fund-raising as one of the main reasons he decided to retire from Congress, in 2016: “I don’t think I can spend another day in another call room making another call begging for money,” he told The New York Times. “I always knew the system was dysfunctional. Now it is beyond broken.”

A model schedule for freshman members of Congress prepared a few years ago by the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee instructs them to spend about four hours every day cold-calling donors for cash. The party encourages so many phone calls because the phone calls work. Total spending on American elections has grown to unprecedented levels. From 2000 to 2012, reported federal campaign spending doubled. It’s no surprise, then, that a majority of Americans now believe Congress to be corrupt, according to a 2015 Gallup poll. As Israel memorably put it to HBO’s John Oliver, the hours he had spent raising money had been “a form of torture—and the real victims of this torture have become the American people, because they believe that they don’t have a voice in this system.”

Big donors and large corporations use their largesse to sway political decisions. But their influence goes far beyond those instances in which legislators knowingly sacrifice their constituents’ interests to stay on the right side of their financial backers. The people we spend time with day in and day out shape our tastes, our assumptions, and our values. The imperative to raise so much money means that members of Congress log more time with donors and lobbyists and less time with their constituents. Often, when faced with a vote on a bill of concern to their well-heeled backers, legislators don’t have to compromise their ideals—because they spend so much of their lives around donors and lobbyists, they have long ago come to share their views.

The problem goes even deeper than that. In America’s imagined past, members of Congress had a strong sense of place. Democrats might have risen through the ranks of local trade unions or schoolhouses. Republicans might have been local business or community leaders. Members of both parties lived lives intertwined with those of their constituents. But spend some time reading the biographies of your representatives in Congress, and you’ll notice, as I did, that by the time they reach office, many politicians have already been socialized into a cultural, educational, and financial elite that sets them apart from average Americans. While some representatives do have strong roots in their district, for many others the connection is tenuous at best. Even for those members who were born and raised in the part of the country they represent, that place is for many of them not their true home. Educated at expensive colleges, likely on the coasts, they spend their 20s and 30s in the nation’s great metropolitan centers. After stints in law, business, or finance, or on Capitol Hill, they move to the hinterlands out of political ambition. Once they retire from Congress, even if they retain some kind of home in their district, few make it the center of their lives: They seem much more likely than their predecessors to pursue lucrative opportunities in cities such as New York, San Francisco, and, of course, Washington. By just about every metric—from life experience to education to net worth—these politicians are thoroughly disconnected from the rest of the population.

the massive influence that money yields in Washington is hardly a secret. But another, equally important development has largely gone ignored: More and more issues have simply been taken out of democratic contestation.

In many policy areas, the job of legislating has been supplanted by so-called independent agencies such as the Federal Communications Commission, the Securities and Exchange Commission, the Environmental Protection Agency, and the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. Once they are founded by Congress, these organizations can formulate policy on their own. In fact, they are free from legislative oversight to a remarkable degree, even though they are often charged with settling issues that are not just technically complicated but politically controversial.

The range of crucial issues that these agencies have taken on testifies to their importance. From banning the use of the insecticide DDT to ensuring the quality of drinking water, for example, the EPA has been a key player in fights about environmental policy for almost 50 years; more recently, it has also made itself central to the American response to climate change, regulating pollutants and proposing limits on carbon-dioxide emissions from new power plants.

While independent agencies occasionally generate big headlines, they often wield their real power in more obscure policy areas. They are now responsible for the vast majority of new federal regulations. A 2008 article in the California Law Review noted that, during the previous year, Congress had enacted 138 public laws. In the same year, federal agencies had finalized 2,926 rules. Such rules run the gamut from technical stipulations that affect only a few specialized businesses to substantial reforms that have a direct impact on the lives of millions. In October 2017, for example, the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau passed a rule that would require providers of payday loans to determine whether customers would actually be able to pay them back—potentially saving millions of people from exploitative fees, but also making it more difficult for them to access cash in an emergency.

The rise of independent agencies such as the EPA is only a small piece of a larger trend in which government has grown less accountable to the people. In the latter half of the 20th century, the Federal Reserve won much greater independence from elected politicians and began to deploy far more powerful monetary tools. Trade treaties, from nafta to more-recent agreements with countries such as Australia, Morocco, and South Korea, have restricted Congress’s ability to set tariffs, subsidize domestic industries, and halt the inflow of certain categories of migrant workers. At one point I planned to count the number of treaties to which the United States is subject; I gave up when I realized that the State Department’s “List of Treaties and Other International Agreements of the United States” runs to 551 pages.

Most of these treaties and agreements offer real benefits or help us confront urgent challenges. Whatever your view of their merit, however, there is no denying that they curtail the power of Congress in ways that also disempower American voters. Trade treaties, for example, can include obscure provisions about “investor–state dispute settlements,” which give international arbitration courts the right to award huge sums of money to corporations if they are harmed by labor or environmental standards—potentially making it riskier for Congress to pass such measures.

This same tension between popular sovereignty and good governance is also evident in the debates over the power of the nine unelected justices of the Supreme Court. Since the early 1950s, the Supreme Court has ended legal segregation in schools and universities. It has ended and then reintroduced the death penalty. It has legalized abortion. It has limited censorship on television and the radio. It has decriminalized homosexuality and allowed same-sex marriage. It has struck down campaign-finance regulations and gun-control measures. It has determined whether millions of people get health insurance and whether millions of undocumented immigrants need to live in fear of being deported.

Whether you see judicial review as interpreting the law or usurping the people’s power probably depends on your view of the outcome. The American right has long railed against “activist judges” while the American left, which enjoyed a majority on the Court for a long stretch during the postwar era, has claimed that justices were merely doing their job. Now that the Court has started to lean further right, these views are rapidly reversing. But regardless of your politics, there’s no question that the justices frequently play an outsize role in settling major political conflicts—and that many of their decisions serve to amplify undemocratic elements of the system.

Take Citizens United. By overturning legislation that restricted campaign spending by corporations and other private groups, the Supreme Court issued a decision that was unpopular at the time and has remained unpopular since. (In a 2015 poll by Bloomberg, 78 percent of respondents disapproved of the ruling.) It also massively amplified the voice of moneyed interest groups, making it easier for the economic elite to override the preferences of the population for years to come.

Donald Trump is the first president in the history of the United States to have served in no public capacity before entering to the White House. He belittles experts, seems to lack the most basic grasp of public policy, and loves to indulge the worst whims of his supporters. In all things, personal and political, Plato’s disdainful description of the “democratic man” fits the 45th president like a glove: Given to “false and braggart words and opinions,” he considers “insolence ‘good breeding,’ license ‘liberty,’ prodigality ‘magnificence,’ and shamelessness ‘manly spirit.’ ”

It is little wonder, then, that Plato’s haughty complaint about democracy—its primary ill, he claimed, consists in “assigning a kind of equality indiscriminately to equals and unequals alike”—has made a remarkable comeback. As early as 2003, the journalist Fareed Zakaria argued, “There can be such a thing as too much democracy.” In the years since, many scholars have built this case: The political scientist Larry Bartels painstakingly demonstrated just how irrational ordinary voters are; the political philosopher Jason Brennan turned the premise that irrational or partisan voters are terrible decision makers into a book titled Against Democracy; and Parag Khanna, an inveterate defender of globalization, argued for a technocracy in which many decisions are made by “committees of accountable experts.” Writing near the end of the 2016 primary season, when Trump’s ascent to the Republican nomination already looked unstoppable, Andrew Sullivan offered the most forceful distillation of this line of antidemocratic laments: “Democracies end when they are too democratic,” the headline of his essay announced. “And right now, America is a breeding ground for tyranny.”

The antidemocratic view gets at something real. What makes our political system uniquely legitimate, at least when it functions well, is that it manages to deliver on two key values at once: liberalism (the rule of law) and democracy (the rule of the people). With liberalism now under concerted attack from the Trump administration, which has declared war on independent institutions such as the FBI and has used the president’s pulpit to bully ethnic and religious minorities, it’s perhaps understandable that many thinkers are willing to give up a modicum of democracy to protect the rule of law and the country’s most vulnerable groups.

If only it were that easy. As we saw in 2016, the feeling that power is slipping out of their hands makes citizens more, not less, likely to entrust their fate to a strongman leader who promises to smash the system. And as the examples of Egypt, Thailand, and other countries have demonstrated again and again, a political elite with less and less backing from the people ultimately has to resort to more and more repressive steps to hold on to its power; in the end, any serious attempt to sacrifice democracy in order to safeguard liberty is likely to culminate in an end to the rule of law as well as the rule of the people.

The easy alternative is to lean in the other direction, to call for as much direct democracy as possible. The origins of the people’s displacement, the thinking goes, lie in a cynical power grab by financial and political elites. Large corporations and the superrich advocated independent central banks and business-friendly trade treaties to score big windfalls. Politicians, academics, and journalists favor a technocratic mode of governance because they think they know what’s best and don’t want the people to meddle. All of this selfishness is effectively cloaked in a pro-market ideology propagated by think tanks and research outfits that are funded by rich donors. Since the roots of the current situation are straightforwardly sinister, the solutions to it are equally simple: The people need to reclaim their power—and abolish technocratic institutions.

This antitechnocratic view has currency on both ends of the political spectrum. On the far left, the late political scientist Peter Mair, writing about Europe, lamented the decline in “popular” democracy, which he contrasted with a more top-down “constitutional” democracy. The English sociologist Colin Crouch has argued that even anarchy and violence can serve a useful purpose if they seek to vanquish what he calls “post-democracy.”

The far right puts more emphasis on nationalism, but otherwise agrees with this basic analysis. In the inaugural issue of the journal American Affairs, the self-styled intellectual home of the Trump movement, its founder Julius Krein decried “the existence of a transpartisan elite,” which sustains a pernicious “managerial consensus.” Steve Bannon, the former White House chief strategist, said his chief political objective was to return power to the people and advocated for the “deconstruction of the administrative state.”

Mair and Crouch, Krein and Bannon are right to recognize that the people have less and less hold over the political system, an insight that can point the way to genuine reforms that would make our political system both more democratic and better functioning. One of the reasons well-intentioned politicians are so easily swayed by lobbyists, for example, is that their staffs lack the skills and experience to draft legislation or to understand highly complex policy issues. This could be addressed by boosting the woefully inadequate funding of Congress: If representatives and senators were able to attract—and retain—more knowledgeable and experienced staffers, they might be less tempted to let K Street lobbyists write their bills for them.

Similarly, the rules that currently govern conflicts of interest are far too weak. There is no reason members of Congress should be allowed to lobby for the companies they were supposed to regulate so soon after they step down from office. It is time to jam the revolving door between politics and industry.

Real change will also require an ambitious reform of campaign finance. Because of Citizens United, this is going to be extremely difficult. But the Supreme Court has had a change of heart in the past. As evidence that the current system threatens American democracy keeps piling up, the Court might finally recognize that stricter limits on campaign spending are desperately needed.

For all that the enemies of technocracy get right, though, their view is ultimately as simplistic as the antidemocratic one. The world we now inhabit is extremely complex. We need to monitor hurricanes and inspect power plants, reduce global carbon emissions and contain the spread of nuclear weapons, regulate banks and enforce consumer-safety standards. All of these tasks require a tremendous amount of expertise and a great degree of coordination. It’s unrealistic to think that ordinary voters or even their representatives in Congress might become experts in what makes for a safe power plant, or that the  world could find an effective response to climate change without entering cumbersome international agreements. If we simply abolish technocratic institutions, the future for most Americans will look more rather than less dangerous, and less rather than more affluent.

It is true that to recover its citizens’ loyalty, our democracy needs to curb the power of unelected elites who seek only to pad their influence and line their pockets. But it is also true that to protect its citizens’ lives and promote their prosperity, our democracy needs institutions that are, by their nature, deeply elitist. This, to my mind, is the great dilemma that the United States—and other democracies around the world—will have to resolve if they wish to survive in the coming decades.

We don’t need to abolish all technocratic institutions or merely save the ones that exist. We need to build a new set of political institutions that are both more responsive to the views and interests of ordinary people, and better able to solve the immense problems that our society will face in the decades to come.

Writing about the dawn of democracy in his native Italy, the great novelist Giuseppe Tomasi di Lampedusa has Tancredi, a young aristocrat, recognize that he will have to let go of some of his most cherished habits to rescue what is most valuable in the old order: “If everything is to stay the same,” Tancredi says, “everything has to change.” The United States is now at an inflection point of its own. If we rigidly hold on to the status quo, we will lose what is most valuable in the world we know, and find ourselves cast as bit players in the fading age of liberal democracy. Only by embarking on bold and imaginative reform can we recover a democracy worthy of the name.



























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