‘Critical support’ of Hillary Clinton?

October 25, 2016

Choosing between Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump is like choosing between Richard Nixon and George Wallace.

One heads a powerful machine dedicated to preserving the status quo.  The other is rebel who appeals to hatred and prejudice.

GettyImages-480679428.0I can understand why someone might support the Nixon-like candidate as a lesser evil.  The expression for this is “critical support”, which is means you may support a candidate, but reserve the right to call the candidate to account.

The problem with this is when the support ceases to be critical, which is what I see happening.   I know a number of liberal Democrats who are so afraid of Donald Trump that they think it out-of-bounds to point out that Clinton is a warmonger and literally a paid servant of Wall Street.

Support for a candidate should never be unconditional.  If you demand nothing in return for your support of a candidate, nothing is what you’ll get.

The leaked Hillary Clinton e-mails, especially the ones with the excerpts from her Goldman Sachs speeches, show that she regards her rich donors as her peer group, but that she finds it necessary to appease her core voters, as with the Dodd-Frank banking reforms.

The fact that Clinton can be pressured is, as I see it, the only argument for anti-war, pro-labor, pro-consumer or environmentalist Democrats to support Clinton.  And they are naive if they give their support without demanding commitments in return.

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Bible Christianity and social justice

October 19, 2016

One of the distinctive things about the Forward Together social justice movement led by the Rev. Dr. William J. Barber II in North Carolina is that it is based on religion.

He believes that politics has to be based on morality and his morality is based on religion—not religion in general, but specifically the Bible-based conservative African-American church tradition.

And even though that tradition puts its stamp on all of Rev. Dr. Barber’s People’s Assemblies and Moral Mondays, he is able to rally people of many different religious traditions and of no specific religion at all.

Now, I don’t think it should be surprising that a progressive political movement should arise from a theologically conservative form of Christianity.

After all, the followers of Jesus and St. Paul were people, most of them poor, living under an oppressive government.  In the Gospels, the presumption is that a rich man or a government official is a sinner unless shown to be otherwise.

St. Paul taught that in Christ, there are no distinctions between rich or poor, free or slave, male or female, Greek or Jew (and presumably white or black).

wbarber-3rdreconstruction978-080708360-4Christianity is rooted in Judaism whose lawgiver, Moses, who forged a nation consisting of fugitive slaves.   Later Hebrew prophets denounced rulers of Israel for oppression of the poor.

Now, although the early Christian communities were models of what a just and compassionate society would look like, neither Jesus nor St. Paul was a revolutionary or a social reformer.  Furthermore Christians developed a priesthood which, like almost all priesthoods in history, allied itself with the rich and powerful.

But the basic Christian teaching of justice and compassion for the poor never died out.   And down through history, there have been Christians who have taken the next step—to attempt to create a just and compassionate society instead of simply waiting for the Last Days.

Rev. Barber grew up in that tradition.   “I cannot remember a time when I did not know God to be both real and to be about bringing justice into the world,” he wrote in The Third Reconstruction.

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Rev. William J. Barber II on peace and justice

October 19, 2016

The Rev. William J. Barber II is pastor of Greenleaf Christian Church in Goldsboro, N.C., president of the North Carolina chapter of the NAACP and leader of a non-violent social justice movement called Historic Thousands on Jones Street.

The video above is his response on July 8 to the killings of black men by police in Baton Rouge and in St. Anthony,, MN, within a 24-hour period, followed by the killings of five police officers in Dallas.   The video below is from his address to the Democratic National Convention on July 28.

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Russia accused of war by using weaponized truth

October 18, 2016


Russian intelligence services are accused of waging cyber-warfare by releasing embarrassing Hillary Clinton e-mails through Wikileaks.

There is no direct evidence of where Wikileaks got the Clinton e-mails, but the Russians have the capability and the motive to hack her system.

Would this be an act of war?  I for one would welcome war by means of weaponized truth.

If revealing accurate information about your geopolitical enemy is a form of warfare, I think escalation of this kind of warfare would be a good thing and not a bad thing.

I think the NSA and the CIA should retaliate by arranging the release of damaging secret information about Vladimir Putin—maybe through Wikileaks as a form of poetic justice.

In fact, there are those who think they already have done so, through the Panama Papers leak

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An outsider’s view of the U.S. election

October 18, 2016

Hat tip for the video to peteybee.

Tariq Ali is a distinguished British left-wing writer, born in Pakistan, who has lived in London for the past 50 or so years.  In this commentary, he sums up the issues in the U.S. election calmly, objectively and accurately.

He refutes progressives who say that anybody who fails to support Hillary Clinton is objectively a supporter of Donald Trump.

It is as if the two leading candidates were Richard Nixon and George Wallace, and leading liberal politicians and newspapers accused anybody who criticized Nixon of being pro-Wallace.

My great fear is not that Trump will win the current election, but that he and his supporters will become the main alternatives to the status quo.

There is a real possibility Hillary Clinton will blunder into nuclear war with Russia.   Even if that can be avoided, we can expect more military intervention and failure to cope with the next recession.  Her policies will make the Trump movement stronger—unless progressives can offer a better way.

Why white supremacists support Donald Trump

October 18, 2016

A good article in Mother Jones tells how Donald Trump has sought and received the support of avowed white supremacists.

Nowadays the word “racist” is used very loosely, like the word “Communist” during the McCarthy era.   I’ve even been called a “racist” myself in conversation a couple of times.  By “racist”, I mean people who state that members of certain races are genetically inferior and should not have equal rights.   Such racists exist.   And Donald Trump has successfully sought their support.

He has done this by quoting them (without attribution) and by using their talking points.   An example of this was an infographic, taken from a white supremacist Twitter feed, falsely claiming that blacks were responsible for 81 percent of homicides of whites.  The truth is that 82 percent of homicides of whites are the result of white-on-white crime.   But Trump refused to back down or retract in the face of the facts.

That is not to say that the mass of Trump supporters are racists, any more than the mass of Clinton supporters are war hawks and plutocrats.   That’s not the issue.   The issue is whether Trump as President or, more likely, as a permanent opposition voice will promote racism.


How Donald Trump Took Hate Groups Mainstream by Sarah Posner and David Neiwrt for Mother Jones.

The danger of war with Russia is real

October 16, 2016

Russia Is Preparing for War While the American Public Slumbers On by Gilbert Doctorow for Russia Insider.

Where ISIS gets its money

October 16, 2016

We finally know what Hillary Clinton knew all along — US allies Saudi Arabia and Qatar are funding Isis by Patrick Cockburn for The Independent.

Time for another Reconstruction?

October 14, 2016

Black people in the South were liberated during the Reconstruction era following the Civil War.   It was followed by a white backlash and the Jim Crow era, in which most of their newly won rights were taken away.

Then came the civil rights era of the 1960s and 1970s, which the Rev. William J. Barber, leader of the Moral Monday movement in North Carolina, calls a second Reconstruction.  Another white backlash attacked the gains from that era.

wbarber-3rdreconstruction978-080708360-4Rev. Mr. Barber says it is time for a third Reconstruction.   Like the first two, he said, it requires fusion politics—blacks and whites working together for the common good.   The backlash succeeds only when they are divided.

To see what he means, take a look at the Constitution of North Carolina, originally drafted in 1868 and retaining much of its original wording.  It is a very progressive document, even by today’s standards.

It states that not all persons created equal and have the right not only to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness, but to  “the enjoyment of the fruits of their own labor.”

It guarantees free public education as a right.  It states that beneficent provision for the poor, the unfortunate and the orphan is among the first duties of a civilized and a Christian state.   It guarantees all the rights in the U.S. Constitution and eliminates property qualifications for voting.

All these provisions are the result of Reconstruction.  North Carolina’s present Constitution was drafted at a constitutional convention immediately following the Civil War.   The 133 delegates included 15 newly enfranchised African-Americans and 18 Northern white men (so called carpetbaggers).

It was ratified by a popular vote in which 55 percent voted “yes”.   As a result, more African-Americans were elected to public office in North Carolina in the following period than at any time since.

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Fear and loathing of Bernie Sanders

October 14, 2016

Swat Team: The media’s extermination of Bernie Sanders and real reform by Thomas Frank for Harper’s magazine.  What the Washington Post’s coverage of the Sanders candidacy reveals about the liberal establishment mentality and the future of American journalism.

Moral Mondays and the new fusion politics

October 13, 2016

A Bible-believing black minister in North Carolina is the leader of a new movement called that has brought tens of thousands of people of different races, creeds and backgrounds into the streets in support of social justice.

He is the Rev. Dr. William J. Barber II, the pastor of Greenleaf Christian Church in Goldsboro, N.C.  Firmly rooted in the African-American church tradition, he brings together people of all races and many creeds.

wbarber-3rdreconstruction978-080708360-4I read about his work in his new book, THE THIRD RECONSTRUCTION: Moral Mondays, Fusion Politics and the Rise of a New Social Justice Movement.

He wrote that the histories of Reconstruction following the Civil War and the civil rights movement of the 1960s, which he calls the Second Reconstruction, show that black people achieve their goals only through “fusion politics”—white and black people working together for their mutual benefit.

In 2005, soon after being elected president of the North Carolina chapter of the NAACP, he joined with Al McSurely, an experienced white civil rights activist, to organize a meeting of a broad cross-section of reformers in the state—advocates of education funding, living wage, health care, affordable housing, environmental justice, immigrant justice, criminal justice reform and many others.

He had each group draw up its goals on a big sheet of butcher paper and then, on another sheet, list the obstacles to achieving those goals.

The goals were diverse, but the obstacles were the same—North Carolina’s state government and the corporate interests that controlled it.

This was the birth of a new movement called HKonJ, which stands for Historic Thousands on Jones Street, the location of the state legislature in Raleigh.  Each year they bring together a People’s Assembly, which hears testimony of victims of injustice and speakers about how injustice can be remedied, and then closes with a sermon and prayer.

Then they march on the legislature to make their voices heard.  Because they represent such a large cross-section of North Carolinians, it is hard to dismiss what they say out of prejudice against a particular group.

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Why Trump supporters aren’t going to go away

October 12, 2016

Six reasons for Trump’s rise that no-one talks about by David Wong for Cracked.com.

How the GOP locked in control of Congress

October 12, 2016

Democrats stand an excellent chance of keeping control of the White House and a reasonable chance of regaining a majority in the Senate, but it’s a foregone conclusion that Republicans will retain control of the House of Representatives not only for the next two years, but for the next 10 years or more..

That’s because of a successful plan, code-named REDSTATE, that Republican operatives implemented starting in 2010.  By targeting money at key state legislative races, they ensured Republican control of state legislatures in Pennsylvania, Michigan, Texas, North Carolina, Wisconsin, Ohio and Florida.

rat666c-838x621Then they used Big Data to draw legislative and congressional districts in such a way as to guarantee Republican majorities, even when Democrats won a majority of the state’s popular votes.

David Daley described this in his book, Rat-F**ked: How the Democrats Won the Presidency But Lost America.   I haven’t read the book, but I’ve read an excerpt and interviews, to which I link below.

Gerrymandering goes back to the early days of the Republic, and has been used by Democrats and Republicans.  What’s new about REDSTATE is the use of Big Date—detailed demographic information and computer analysis—to make gerrymandering more precise and impregnable than ever was possible before.

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Black voters matter

October 11, 2016


Fatal police shootings of black people are fewer in states where black voter registration is higher.

Statistically, the higher the percentage of an eligible black voters are actually registered to vote in any state, the less likely it is that a black person in that state will be shot and killed by police.


An Intriguing Link Between Police Shootings and Black Voter Registration by Maimuna Majumder for Wired.

All we talk about is Trump! Trump! Trump!

October 10, 2016

A great many important issues face us Americans as a new Presidential term begins—nuclear weapons, trade agreements, fracking, climate change, economic stagnation, the likelihood of financial crash.

Presidential Candidate Donald Trump Campaign Rally in Vandalia, OhioBut among my circle of acquaintances, hardly anybody wants to talk about these things.  All anybody wants to talk about is Donald Trump, and the outrageous things he says.   It can be highly enjoyable to have such an obvious target.

I think that it is an objective fact that Trump is temperamentally, intellectually and morally unfit to be President of the United States.   I think this is becoming more manifest as the campaign goes on.  I base this more on his record as a business owner and public figure than what he says on a day-to-day basis, but what his statements show a lack of knowledge and a lack of discipline.

The problem is that the real problems of the country go unaddressed, and the most that can be hoped for in this election is a preservation of a bad status quo.

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The money vote

October 10, 2016

In the 2010 federal elections, a quarter of all campaign donations came from the top 1% of the top 1% of Americans, by wealth; who gave $10,000 or more.   The differences are much more extreme now.

Source: Government for the Super Rich | Visual.ly

How the power of money was unleashed

October 8, 2016


In a way, the enormous amounts of money that are spent in U.S. elections reflects the democratic nature of American institutions.

If the political process were controlled by a few party leaders, as during the Gilded Age of the late 19th century and other times in the past, it wouldn’t cost so much to control the process.

Many reforms were enacted in the 20th century to limit corporate power and make the government more democratic.  The Tillman Act of 1907 forbid corporations to contribute to political candidates or elections.  The Constitution was amended in 1913 so that Senators would be elected by the public instead of chosen by state legislators.

Over time limits were placed on campaign spending, and the Democratic and Republican parties began to nominate their candidates through primary elections rather than party conventions.

These reforms made possible the legislation of the Progressive era and the New Deal, which subjected corporations to unprecedentedly strict regulation and rich people to taxation at top rates reaching 90 percent, while providing Social Security, unemployment insurance and extensive public works.

Business leaders made a concerted and successful effort to turn things around.  They altered the climate of opinion, both among educated people and the public.   They supported candidates committed not only to the interests of particular businesses, but support of unrestricted capitalism in general.

And they worked through the courts, just as liberals had, to change the limits of what was legally permissible.

What follows is a (very incomplete) list of milestones in their progress, with an emphasis on the legal milestones.

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Money and oligarchy in U.S. elections

October 7, 2016

We Americans take it for granted that we are a democracy.  Some of us think we have a right and responsibility to spread out democracy to other countries.

Yet a couple of social scientists have determined that the United States is governed as if it were an oligarchy.

reinsdemocracyMartin Gilens of Princeton and Benjamin Page of Northwestern looked at 1,779 issues on which Americans were polled from 1981 through 2002, and then how Congress acted on these issues.

They found that Congress followed the wishes of the top 10 percent of income earners most of the time, and the bottom 90 percent hardly ever.

That is the classic profile of government by oligarchy—government by  a small group, usually of rich people.

The survey found that Americans who band together in interest groups, such as the American Association of Retired People or National Rifle Association, have more influence than numerous, but separate, individuals, but business groups have more influence than other groups.

How can this be?  A rich person’s vote does not count any more than anybody else’s vote.

But rich people, especially corporate executives, have means of influencing policy that the rest of us lack.  They are:
▪    Campaign contributions to influence elections.
▪    Second-career jobs for politicians and government employees
▪    Propaganda to influence opinion, both among the public and the elite.

In this post, I’ll deal with the first.

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Oligarchy and the revolving door

October 7, 2016

There are two kinds of revolving doors between business and government.   The first is when people come from the world of business, usually temporarily, to make policy in government.

I don’t think this is necessarily wrong.  If you are making policy on a complicated field, such as finance, you want people who know something about the subject, and often as not that will that will be people who earn a living in that field.

Joseph P. Kennedy Sr. was a stock market speculator in the 1920s, trading on inside information and manipulating the market.   But when he became the first chairman of the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission (1932-1935), he outlawed this practices.   His experience made him a better regulator.

The second is when government regulators and policy-makers plan to move on to jobs in the industries they regulate and make policy for.

Neil Barofsky, who was special inspector general in charge of the oversight of the Troubled Asset Relief Program (TARP) from 2008 through 2011, wrote about how he was warned that he would make himself unemployable by being too zealous about doing his job, but that he might have a good post-government career if he toned town his reports.

He said he always realizing that doing his job was incompatible with a future job in finance or a higher federal appointment.  He is now a law school professor.  He is an exception.

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The march of globalization

October 7, 2016


This chart, produced by Goldman Sachs and reproduced by FT Alphaville and Barry Ritholtz, shows how world trade has grown in the past half-century.

In 1960, a quarter of world output was for export.  Now it is well over half.

There is a benefit in being able to buy things that are produced in distant lands.  There also is a risk in depending on long and vulnerable supply chains for what you need.  We the people and our governments need to think about what balance to strike.

A nation of volunteers

October 6, 2016


When the Frenchman Alexis de Tocqueville visited the United States in the 1830s, he was impressed by how much of the work of society was carried on by voluntary organizations.

Americans of that day did not wait for government to authorize them to carry out necessary civic tasks.  They (or at least a critical mass of them) did not hold back because others weren’t pulling their weight.  If they saw something that needed to be done, they went ahead and did it.

What’s interesting to me about this Pew religious survey is not so much that highly religious people do more volunteer work than the non-religious as the fact that the volunteer spirit is still very much alive in the USA.

If you factor out church work, then roughly one-fourth of Americans across the spectrum of religious belief voluntarily do work for the benefit of society.

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Average Americans are getting nowhere fast

October 5, 2016


Harvard historian Niall Ferguson uses this chart to explain why Americans are unhappy with their nation’s economy.

Last week Clinton’s supporters seized on new economic data showing that median household income rose by more than 5 percent in real terms last year.  Poverty is down.  So is the number of Americans without health insurance.  So is unemployment.  Yes, Hillary Clinton has had a few bad weeks. But don’t worry. 

All this seems like grist to the mill of a campaign that essentially promises continuity. Yet there is a problem. Take another look at those figures for inflation-adjusted median household income.  Yes, it was $56,500 last year, up from $53,700 the year before. But back in 1999 it was $57,909.  In other words, it’s been a round trip — and a very bumpy one indeed — since Clinton’s husband was in the White House.

Telling Americans that they are nearly back to where they were 17 years ago and then expecting them to be grateful looks like a losing strategy.  When two thirds of Americans — and even higher percentage of older white voters — say the country is on the wrong track, they are not (as Democrats claim) in denial about the Obama administration’s achievements.

They are saying that the country is on a circular track, and has been since this century began.

Source: Niall Ferguson | The Boston Globe

Hat tip to occasional links & commentary.

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Health care costs ate your pay raises

October 4, 2016


Hourly compensation for American workers has increased 60 percent since 1970.  Hourly take-home pay has barely increased at all.

What’s the difference?  Financial analyst Barry Ritholtz said it is the rising cost of health insurance.

Most American workers are probably better off taking their employer-based health insurance than they are taking their entire compensation in cash and trying to buy insurance on the open market.

Either way, we’re paying more for medical care, and getting less for our money, than citizens of other industrial countries.


Why Better Wages Are Tied to Healthcare Costs by Barry Ritholtz for The Big Picture.

How Clinton’s benefactor cashed in on the crash

October 3, 2016

Back in 2006, Donald Trump said he was sort of looking forward to the coming housing crash, because he could cash in—presumably by buying up distressed properties.

However, Trump didn’t do anything to cause the housing crash.   In contrast, Hillary Clinton’s benefactor and social friend, Lloyd Blankfein of Goldman Sachs, not only benefited from it, but helped to bring it about.

His firm bought up subprime mortgages.   That meant lenders could make “liar’s loans” they knew would never be paid back, and eliminate their risk by selling them to Goldman Sachs.

Goldman Sachs converted the mortgages into securities, like stocks or bonds, and sold them on the open market.   They got rating agencies to label the securities as high quality investments, even though Goldman Sachs management knew they weren’t.

They made other investments based on the assumption that the market would crash and the securities would become worthless.

Other Wall Street companies did similar things, but Goldman Sachs was a leader.  All this seems like financial fraud to any normal person, but the Obama administration decided not to prosecute.

All this happened when Lloyd Blankfein was CEO of Goldman Sachs.  He became CEO in 2006 and before that was chief operating officer.

Goldman Sachs has given Hillary Clinton $675,000 for making three speeches, and husband Bill Clinton $1.55 million in speech fees.

The firm’s employees as a group are among the top five contributors to Hillary Clinton’s campaigns.

Goldman Sachs also hosted the Clinton Global Initiative; the video above shows a picture of Hillary Clinton and Lloyd Blankfein at a CGI meeting.

How likely is it that a Clinton administration would prosecute Goldman Sachs officials for financial fraud?  How likely is it that a Clinton administration would bring financial malpractice under control?  The likelihood is next to zero, in my opinion.

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The trouble with corporate personhood

October 3, 2016

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