Archive for September, 2020

A Constitutional crisis in the making

September 26, 2020

I think this prediction by economist Jack Rasmus is all too possible.

CNN poll shows 66% of Trump supporters will vote in person on Nov. 3 but only 22% of Biden supporters vote in person. (53% Biden supports to vote by mail). Trump will appear to win on Nov. 3 based on direct in person voting. He’ll declare victory and then move quickly to have Barr and the Justice Dept. stop the counting of mail in ballots in key swing states.

His lawyers are already fanning out and filing motions for injunctions against mail in voting. They will flood swing-blue states mail in ballot vote counting to delay the counting still further. States where Republican governors (and State secretaries of state who manage those states’ vote counting) will meanwhile throw out millions of mail in ballots based on technicalities like signatures failing to dot i’s or cross t’s to ensure Trump ‘red’ states turn in pro-Trump decisions.

Examples of US post office chaos & claims of lost vote ballots, etc. will be used by Trump lawyers to make legal argument that mail in ballots cannot be used to determine the final vote count. Injunctions will be filed to require states to disregard mail ballots. Further delays in mail in ballot counting will occur.

Disputes and legal action by Dems in response will be quickly sent up by Trump federal district judges (appointed by hundreds under McConnell since 2013) to the Supreme Court, now 6-3 in Trump’s pocket. Trump’s Supreme Court will repeat its Florida 2000 decision stopping the vote count––this time counting original votes not a recount. Only swing and blue states will be targeted, not red states already pro-Trump.

Street protests will erupt after Nov. 3 protesting the legal coup d’etat in progress. Trump has already called protestors “insurrectionists” and identified all protests as ‘antifa’ or ‘communist’. His attorney general, Barr, has also already pre-labeled protestors as “treasonous” and traitors who should be forcibly repressed and jailed

The US executive branch since 2002 now has its own executive police force called the Dept. Homeland Security (DHS), with de facto military swat teams who’ve been doing ‘dry runs’ in Seattle, Chicago, Portland and elsewhere. They will be used to suppress protests, aided by pro-Trump local police departments (e.g. New York City, etc.) and perhaps even welcoming right wing radical supporters as provocateurs to attack protestors and thus allow DHS-Police to declare protests riots and directly quash protests.

Source: Jack Rasmus

When Donald Trump was elected, I scoffed at those who called him a potential dictator.  I thought he was too erratic and ignorant to be a dictator.  I thought his significance was as a kind of proof-of-concept of how someone more intelligent and purposeful might become dictator.  Maybe I underestimated him.

This potential crisis is not Trump’s doing alone.  The Republicans–and it is mainly the Republicans–have been chipping away at the integrity of the voting system for 20 years.  In 2000, the election did not go to George W. Bush merely because the Florida recount was halted.  It was because thousands of black voters were disqualified based on false claims they had been  convicted of felonies in other states.

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How real is the danger of a Trump coup?

September 25, 2020

How real is the danger that Republican state governments could set aside the results of the Presidential vote and simply appoint Trump electors?

The President is chosen by members of the Electoral College, and although the Electors are chosen by the voters in all states, this is not a Constitutional requirement.  The Constitution states  that “each state shall appoint, in such manner as the legislature shall direct, a number of electors, equal to the whole number of senators and representatives to which the state may be entitled in the Congress……”

Theoretically, any state could change its election law between now and Nov. 3 so as to allow the state legislature to name the electors.  Such a law would have to be passed by both houses of a state legislature and signed by the governor.

Of the states in which the outcome is in doubt, Michigan, Minnesota, North Carolina, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin have Democratic governors and Republican legislatures.  The governor would be sure to veto any bill changing the election law.

Arizona, Florida, Georgia, Iowa, New Hampshire, Ohio and Texas have Republican governors and legislatures both.  But how likely is it that the governor and legislators, who all have to stand for re-election, would openly thwart the expressed will of a majority of the voters?

Anything is possible, I guess.  You never know what people are capable of.

But I’d be more worried about the Postal Service not delivering all the mailed ballots on time, a declaration of a winner before all the ballots are counted, throwing ballots out for arbitrary and trivial reasons, etc., than this particular scenario.

LINKS

Could Republicans ignore the popular vote and choose their own pro-Trump electors? by Sam Levine for The Guardian.

Sanders issues stark warning on Trump and calls for election commission by David Smith for The Guatdian.

The Election That Could Break America by Jason Kottke for kottke.org. [Added Later]

Poorly Protected Postal Workers Are Catching COVID-19 by the Thousands.  It’s One More Threat to Voting by Mail by Maryam Jameel and Ryan McCarthy for ProPublica. [Added Later]

How Trump could win by cheating

September 24, 2020

A lot is being written about what happens if Trump refuses to concede defeat.  This is a bogus question.  He wins or loses when the Electoral College meets.  Whether or not he admits defeat is neither here nor there.

The big question is what happens between Nov, 3, which is Election Day, and Jan. 6, when the Electoral College announces the results.

My previous post was about what happens if Trump wins fair and square, more or less, and whether Democrats could live with it.. This post is about how Trump could cheat.

I don’t have direct access to The Atlantic, but Eric Lutz of  Vanity Fair summed up the high points:

The Atlantic’s Barton Gellman reports that the Trump campaign has been discussing “contingency plans to bypass the election results and appoint local electors in battleground states where Republicans hold the legislative majority.” Citing the president’s baseless claims of fraud, Team Trump could ask GOP-controlled state governments to choose electors, completely ignoring an unfavorable or uncertain popular vote, state and national Republican sources told Gellman.

“The state legislatures will say, ‘All right, we’ve been given this constitutional power,’” a Trump campaign legal adviser explained to the Atlantic. “‘We don’t think the results of our own state are accurate, so here’s our slate of electors that we think properly reflect the results of our state.’”

Does completely ignoring the will of the voters seem anti-democratic? Unconstitutional? Impossible? One would think. But as Gellman points out, however authoritarian this kind of end-around may seem, the Constitution doesn’t forbid such a move, and it’s something the Trump campaign could pull off. Indeed, state Republican leaders have already casually indicated that they’d be all too happy to enable this kind of power grab.

“I’ve mentioned it to them, and I hope they’re thinking about it too,” Lawrence Tabas, chairman of the Republican Party in Pennsylvania, one of the swing states on which the 2020 race could hinge, told Gellman. “It is one of the available legal options set forth in the constitution.”

Disturbing as the prospect of bypassing the popular vote in GOP-controlled battlegrounds may be, it’s but one of several vulnerabilities in the electoral system Trump and his flunkies are trying to exploit this fall, ranging from complex legal fights to declaring absentee ballots fraudulent before they’ve even been processed to the possibility — likelihood? — that the president will simply pronounce himself the winner before all votes are tallied.

While Joe Biden …… retains a strong lead over his counterpart nationally, polls suggest the two are locked in tight races in several key states like Georgia, Iowa, Florida, and Arizona. The idea that typically deep-red states like Texas and Georgia are in play for Biden would seem to reflect the president’s challenging reelection prospects—but those states all are controlled by Republican-majority legislatures, creating just the opening Trump needs to call the votes bogus and appoint electors that will decide in his favor.

Source: Vanity Fair

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Suppose Trump wins. What then?

September 24, 2020

Biden ahead, but Trump within reach. Source: 270towin.com

A lot is being written about what happens if President Trump loses the election and refuses to concede defeat.  But there is an equal and opposite problem outcome.

What if Trump wins by fair means or foul?  Can the Democrats accept the legitimacy of a second Trump term?

I can’t predict the outcome of the election, but here’s one outcome that’s highly possible.  Joe Biden, like Hillary Clinton, wins the popular vote, but Donald Trump wins the electoral vote, based on narrow margins in key states.

Very likely there will be disputes as to which ballots shall be counted–for example, if large numbers of mail-in ballots arrive after election day or not all the ballots are counted when thr Electoral College meets.

Disputes would be resolved by a vote in thr House of Representatives, on a one-state, one-vote basis, or by the Supreme Court.  Republicans have a majority in 28 state delegations, versus 22 for Democrats.  Republican appointees also are in a majority on the Supreme Court, and it favored the Republicans in Bush v. Gore.

Many Democrats refused to accept the legitimacy of Trump’s 2016 win.  They influenced electors to violate their pledges and then mounted failed two impeachment campaigns.

If Trump wins again, the opposition will not be limited to political maneuvering.  It will take place in the streets.  And this will be during a time of massive unemployment, bankruptcies  and already-existing civil unrest.

Back in June, a group of former government officials, campaign leaders and other notables conducted a role-playing political war game under different scenarios.

They pointed out that (1) the winner probably won’t be known on Election Night, (2) there will be plenty of opportunities for both sides to dispute the results and (3) the transition process will like be disrupted.

They played out four scenarios–an ambiguous result, a clear Biden victory, a clear Trump win and a narrow Biden win.  The most interesting part to me is the lengths to which these experienced campaigners and officials thought the Democrats would go to prevent Trump from takibg office even if he has a clear win.

In the war game, Team Biden asks for a recount in key states.  By a roll of the dice, this results in Democratic governors in two states certifying a different slate of electors than those certified by the state legislators.

Then we get to the wild stuff.  The governments of California, Oregon and Washington threaten to secede from the Union unless Congress agrees to give statehood to Puerto Rico and Washington, D.C., subdivide California into five states with their own Senators, require Supreme Court justices to retire at age 70 and abolish the Electoral College.  I don’t know whether the game-players were aware that the last two would require Constitutional amendments.

It’s hard to believe such things could actually happen.  But it is striking that so many top-level people entertain these possibilities.

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Populism is not mob rule

September 22, 2020

Thomas Frank

Paul Jay did a good three-part interview on theAnalysis.news with Thomas Frank on The People, No, his new book about populism and anti-populism.

  1. Populism Is Not Mob Rule.
  2. Corporate Democrats Idolize FDR, But Hate His Policies and the Populists That Spported Them.
  3. Liberal Elites Will Create Conditions for Another Trump.

Some forgotten history of Midwest radicalism

September 22, 2020

A review of The People, No! by Jonathan Larson on the Real Economics blog adds historical background to Thomas Frank’s book.

His focus is on Minnesota rather than Kansas, and he provides a lot of interesting information about Scandinavian-American cooperatives,, the thought of Thorstein Veblen and the rise and fall of the Farmer-Labor Party.

This history should not be forgotten.  Click on this to read the review.

More about Thomas Frank’s new populism book

September 21, 2020

Democracy Scares, from the Destruction of Bryan to the Abdication of Bernie: Why America Desperately Needs a Second Populist Movement, But Ain’t Gonna Get One by John Siman for Naked Capitalism.

 

Snapshots of the global pandemic

September 18, 2020

Anders Tagnell

Anders Tagnell and the Swedish Covid experiment by Richard Milne for the Financial Times.

Coronavirus: What explains Pakistan doing so much better than India? by Shoiab Daniele for Scroll.in.

Brazil surpasses 4 million Covid-19 cases amid tentative signs of virus easing by France24.

Europe overtakes U.S. as coronavirus hotspot by Thomas Mulier for Fortune.

Anarchists, protests and revolution

September 17, 2020

Photo via Berkelyside

Those who make peaceful revolution impossible make violent revolution inevitable.  [==John F. Kennedy]

The Black Lives Matter movement wants to de-fund the police.  So do anarchists.  There’s nothing surprising or hard to believe about anarchists involving themselves in the George Floyd protests.

By all accounts, these anarchists are very different from the peaceful, naive, idealistic Occupy Wall Street demonstrators.   They are revolutionaries.

I have a certain amount of sympathy with anarchist ideals, as expressed by the late Murray Bookchin and David Graeber.  Like James C. Scott, I am not sure a society based entirely on voluntary cooperation, mutual aid and self-reliance is feasible, but I think present-day society is more authoritarian than it needs to be.

But I don’t think that destroying the existing corrupt and oppressive economic and political structure will automatically produce a better result/

I take the possibility of revolution seriously.  I think the USA is on the verge of a social breakdown in which violent revolution is a real possibility.

I am sure most people who take part in the Black Lives Matter protests are ordinary people who want to correct an obvious injustice and do not advocate or practice violent aggression.

Photo via CGTN.

My guess is that the “Black Bloc” and “Antifa” are relatively few.  But a small, determined, purposeful minority can have a greater impact than a confused majority.

As has been said, revolution is not a dinner party. Few revolutions turned out the way the original revolutionaries expected.  Even revolutions that historians say were beneficial to humanity were not something I would want to live through.

Voter turnout among the young is small.  But the protests draw lots of younger people.  They have good reason to give up on politics as usual.

I’m not sure what I would say to them.  I could argue that violent protests are playing into the hands of the Trump Republicans.  I could say that they are doing what provocateurs  and infiltrators want them to do.

I could say that if there is a break-down in social order, the radical right is more likely to pick up the pieces than the radical left,  The right has more guns and more sympathizers in the police and military than the left does.

But I could not say with a straight face that the protesters can accomplish necessary change by working through the two-party system.  I don’t honestly see hope in a third-party campaign.  I see bad years ahead.

LINKS

Blocs, Black and Otherwise on Crimethinc.  A manual of tactics for anarchist protesters.  Important.

Inside the Antifa Riots by J.D. for Seemorerocks.  A report on these tactics in action. Also important.

Antifa: What is behind the masks at Berkeley? by Natalie Orenstein for Berkeleyside.

Who are the extremist outsiders appropriating the Black Lives Matter movement? by Wang Yan for CGT

Inside a Cop-Free Zone by Wes Enzinna for Harper’s Magazine.

What Trump’s eviction moratorium really does

September 16, 2020

Trump’s weak record is hurting him

September 15, 2020

‘I Keep My Promises,’ Trump said – Let’s Check by Nicholas Kristof for the New York Times.

Keeping Score – Trump’s Broken Promises by Hedrick Smith for Reclaim the American Dream [Added 9/16/2020]

How Trump Is Losing His Base by Stanley B. Greenberg for The American Prospect.

Majority of voters don’t see either Trump or Biden as mentally fit to be president by Tal Axelrod for The Hill.

Obama’s legacy is normalization of war

September 15, 2020

The Obama foreign policy was a continuation of the Bush foreign policy by other means.  

It is a mistake to think of Obama’s election as a change of direction, as I and others hoped and expected at the time.

Shortly after the 9/11 attacks, ex-General Wesley Clark, former commander of NATO, visited old friends in the Pentagon.  

One of them showed Clark a copy of the long-range strategy.  After a supposidly easy victory in Iraq, U.S. forces would go on to invade Syria, Libya, Somalia and other countries including Iran.

The American public, thinking this had something to do with fighting terrorism, went along with this for a while, but after a while became sick of seeing their sons and brothers coming home in flag-draped coffins for no apparent reason.

Barack Obama, running in 2008, said, “I’m not opposed to wars.  I’m opposed to stupid wars.”  He instead waged “intelligent” wars based on flying killer robots, teams of trained assassins and subsidies to local armed factions who supposedly would serve U.S. purposes.

He did not end the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and instigated new wars in Libya and Syria.  Yes, there were pro-democratic protests in those countries that provided an excuse for intervention, but the purpose of U.S. intervention had nothing to do with those purposes.

The war in Syria would long ago have died down if not for U.S. forces there, U.S. bombing and U.S. and Saudi subsidies to rebels, many of whom are Al Qaeda rebranded.

The U.S. meanwhile has special forces carrying on war in more countries in Africa, Asia and Latin American than any member of the public and probably any member of Congress knows.  

I don’t know to what degree Obama’s policies represented his sincere conviction and how much he simply acquiesced in what he thought he had to do to protect his political career.  I do give him credit for trying to establish normal diplomatic relations with Iran and Cuba.

On the other hand, his administration instigated a new proxy war in Ukraine.  It engineered the overthrow of an unpopular and corrupt but legitimate government before the incumbent could be removed by means of an election.  This set off a conflict that continues to this day.

I think one purpose of the Russiagate investigations, now largely discredited, was to cancel the possibility that Donald Trump might make peace with Russia.

Donald Trump from time to time talks about winding down wars, but then backs down.  He has stepped up drone warfare and war by economic sanctions, and increased the danger of nuclear war with Russia by canceling important arms control treaties. 

There is no reason to think Joe Biden will be any better.  Normalization of the forever wars is the continuing Obama legacy.

LINKS

Let’s Be Real: President Biden Would Probably Be More Hawkish Than Trump by Caitlin Johnstone.

On Foreign Policy, Biden Is Worse Than Trump by Ted Rall.

Expect More ‘Liberal Interventionism’ Under a Joe Biden Presidency by Derek Davidson and Alex Thurston for Jacobin.

The end of war as we know it

September 12, 2020

The U.S. never recovered from the 2008 crash

September 11, 2020

LINK

America’s Current Jobs ‘Great Depression’ by Jack Rasmus.  Important.  Another Great Depression is not only possible, but may already be upon us.

The pre-pandemic Trump economy in charts

September 11, 2020

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For good and ill, the Trump economy was a continuation of the Obama administration.  The only thing Donald Trump did, pre-pandemic, that had an immediate effect on the economy was to push legislation to cut upper-bracket taxes.

I thought there would be a recession, not specifically because of any specific thing President Trump would do, but because I thought that all the conditions that brought about the 2008 recession still existed, and that Trump would not try to change them.

I was surprised that the boom continued as long as it did.  I did not and could not have predicted the pandemic, which changed everything.  I don’t think Trump has handled the pandemic crisis well, but it would  have been an economic catastrophe regardless of who was in the White House.

None of this is an excuse for Trump’s failures.  Presidents are not graded on the curve; they are graded on a pass/fail system.

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The passing scene: Links and charts 8/9/2020

September 9, 2020

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Some graphs and comments by Tony Wikrent on Ian Welsh’s blog.

UNITED STATES OF INEQUALITY: 2020 and the Great Divide on Capital and Main (Hat tip to Bill Harvey)

The passing scene: Links & chart 9/8/2020

September 8, 2020

The Left Secretly Preps for MAGA Violence After Election Day by Sam Stein for The Daily Beast.

Matt Taibbi on the origins of the Russiagate hoax, an interview for Antiwar.com.

America and Russia in the 1990s: This is what real meddling looks like by Yasha Levine for Immigrants as a Weapon.

Academics Are Really, Really Worried About Cancel Culture by John McWhorter for The Atlantic.

The Trouble With Disparity by Adolph Reed Jr. and Walter Benn Michaels for nonsite.org.

Disdain for the Less Educated Is the Last Acceptable Prejudice by Michael J. Sandel for the New York Times.

Book note: My Travels With a Dead Man

September 7, 2020

My friend Steve Searls has written an intriguing and highly original novel entitled MY TRAVELS WITH A DEAD MAN. 

It reminds me of the SF novels of Philip K. Dick in the way it shows the ambiguous nature of perception and identity.

The protagonist is a half-Japanese young America woman named Jane Takako Wolfsheim, who encounters a mysterious stranger who calls himself Jorge Luis Borges.

They become lovers and go on a strange journey.  As things develop, she sees him variously as a benefactor, a mentor, a protector. a manipulator, a deceiver, a moral monster and a lethal threat. She learns that her Borges is the son of the deceased famous Argentine writer of that name and a time-traveling Viking princess who is very much alive.

She experiences hallucinations, amnesia, false memories and an alternate life in an alternate world.  Along the way she receives oracular advice from the ghost of Basho, a 17th century Japanese poet.

As the novel begins, Jane is weak, passive and naive.  As it progresses, she learns to be assertive, courageous and skeptical, and the ending finds her the mistress of her fate.

I found the novel engrossing.  I kept turning the pages to find out what happened nest and what happened next was usually something i would not have predicted.

Steve has a web site where you can read some of his short fiction, essays and poetry.

A tribute to David Graeber

September 5, 2020

David Graeber, author of Debt: the First 5,000 Years and Bullshit Jobs: a Theory, died Wednesday.

His writings made me take anarchism seriously as a possible alternative to monopoly capitalism and state socialism

Click on the link below to read one of his best essays.

The Shock of Victory: An Essay by David Greaber–And a Short Eulogy for Him.

Julian Assange is fighting for us all

September 3, 2020

Julian Assange is being abused and prosecuted and prosecuted for the crime of making the U.S. government’s crimes known.

If a government can commit crimes in secret and imprison or execute those who reveal its crimes, there is no limit to tyranny.

People like Assange stand between the public and absolute power.  That is why they are considered so dangerous.

LINKS

For Years, Journalists cheered Assange’s abuse | Now They’ve Paved His Way to a US Gulag by Jonathan Cook.  An important article.

The War on Journalism: The Case of Julian Assange.  An important video.

The virus and the world food supply chain

September 2, 2020

The fight against the coronavirus has resulted in collateral damage to world food supplies.  Or rather it has revealed underlying weaknesses in the world economic system.

The world produces enough food that no-one need go hungry.  An expert quoted by National Public Radio said average world food prices are lower than they were a century ago, despite the huge increase in world population.

The question is how to get the food to those who need it and who pays for it.  There is nothing in the nature of things that makes this impossible, but only the structure of the world economy.

LINKS

‘Instead of Coronoavirus, the Hunger Will Kill Us’; A Global Food Crisis Looms by Abdi Latif Dahir for the New York Times.

COVID-19 pandemic leads to huge spike in world hunger by Kevin Martinez for thr World Socialist Web Site.

COVID-19 risks to global food security by David Laborde, Will Martin, Johan Swinnen and Rob Vos for Science magazine.

Joe Biden and the George Floyd riots

September 1, 2020

Strong and wrong beats weak and right.  [Attributed to Bill Clinton]

A month or two ago, I thought that the Presidential election would be a referendum on President Trump’s handling of the coronavirus pandemic and that Trump would probably lose.

Now it is shaping up as a referendum on the George Floyd protests, which will work against the Democrats.

The American public may support peaceful protests for just causes.  Looting and revolutionary violence are a different matter.

Reports of major violence are in cities with Democratic mayors and states with Democratic governors—Washington, D.C.; New York City; Chicago; Kenosha, Wisconsin; Minneapolis; Seattle; and Portland, Oregon.

Correct me if I’m wrong, but I know of no breakdown in civil order in cities with Republican mayors in states with Republican governors.  And I don’t think this is because white people are more racist in states like Minnesota than we are in states like Texas.

It is ironic and unfair that Joe Biden should get the blame for this.  He has been pro-police and in favor of harsh penalties for crime throughout his political career, as has Kamala Harris.

On the other hand, the Trump administration and right-wing street fighters, some working with the official police, have been adding fuel to the fire.

Some news accounts tell of police attacking peaceful protesters, which I am sure happens.  Other news accounts tell of vandals and looters destroying small businesses, which I am sure also happens.

There is almost no overlap between the two types of reports.  I don’t know what weight to give to each.

Joe Biden upholds the right to peacefully protest, while condemning vandalism, looting and mob violence.

I completely agree with him on that.  But I don’t think either side will accept an even-handed approach that equates themselves with the opposition.  Unfortunately.

LINKS

The Trap the Democrats Walked Right Into by Andrew Sullivan for The Weekly Dish.

One Author’s Argument ‘In Defense of Looting’, an interview of Vicky Osterweil for National Public Radio.

When Violence Is Justified to Defend Civil Society by Tony Woodlief for The American Conservative.

You Know In Your Heart the Day of Real Resistance Is Coming by Yves Smith for Naked Capitalism.

How White Radicals Hijacked Portland’s Protests by Michael Tracey for Unherd.

White Vigilantes Have Always Had a Friend in Police by Christopher Matthias for HuffPost.

Joe Biden Whispers the Riot Act, Sort Of by Rod Dreher for The American Conservative.