Archive for the ‘Politics’ Category

The big thing that Thomas Frank overlooks

July 31, 2018

Thomas Frank is one of my favorite writers.  I like his books.  I like his magazine articles.  I enjoy watching videos of his speeches and interviews.  But there is one thing he doesn’t quite get.

His basic idea is that the Democratic Party is losing because it has abandoned the American working class and the policies of Franklin D. Roosevelt’s New Deal.   The leaves them vulnerable to the fake populism of Donald Trump and the right wing of the Republican Party.

Democrats rely on African-Americans, Hispanics and educated professionals of all races reacting against President Trump’s appeal to prejudice against African-Americans and immigrants.

That’s not enough, Frank writes.  Democrats need to stand up for working people of all races—provide free college tuition and Medicare for all, enforce the anti-trust laws and renegotiate NAFTA and other pro-corporate trade treaties.

All this is true and important.

Frank’s mistake is to think that the reason top Democrats are pro-corporate is that they fail to understand their situation.

Shortly after the 36th minute in the video above. he says that the reason the Clintons and their allies have abandoned American labor is that the signature achievement of their generation was to their successful revolt against the New Deal, and nobody will disavow their generation’s signature achievement.

If they really don’t understand, it is because, as Upton Sinclair once put it, “it is hard to make a man understand something when his salary depends on his not understanding it.”

The wealth and power of the Clintons, like that of the Obamas, is based on their allegiance to Wall Street and the corporate elite.  If they had advocated breaking up the “too big to fail” banks or prosecuting financial fraud, they wouldn’t get six-figure lecture fees from bankers and hedge fund managers.

On a lower levels of government, there is the revolving door between Congress and regulatory agencies on the one hand and Washington lobbyists, law firms and regulated industries on the others.  Neil Barofsky, whose job was oversight of the TARP bailout program, was warned that if he did his job too zealously, he would lose the chance of a good post-government job.  He’s not the only one.

The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee supports a whole ecology of fund-raisers, pollsters, media specialists and campaign consultants who depend on a system whereby candidates concentrate on raising money and spending it on designated funds.

So it’s not just a matter of waking up to what’s really going on.  It’s a matter of people knowing which side their bread is buttered on.  Or, as the Japanese might say, nobody willingly lets their rice bowl be broken.

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Why Trump may win again

July 3, 2018

I underestimated Donald Trump.  I didn’t think he would be elected.  Although I knew the figures that showed declining support for Democrats, I thought they had enough residual strength to elect a President one last time.

I thought that his election might be a blessing in disguise from the standpoint of progressives.  Trump rather than Hillary Clinton would get the blame for failure to deal with the coming economic crash and ongoing quagmire wars.

I didn’t think that Trump could govern effectively because he was ignorant.  I forget how progressives ridiculed Ronald Reagan and George W. Bush for their supposed ignorance, and yet Reagan and Bush were transformational presidents while Jimmy Carter, Bill Clinton and Barack Obama were not.  Trump is on track to be a transformational president, and not in a good way.

President Trump is transforming the Supreme Court so as to reverse all the pro-labor and pro-civil liberties decisions of the past 40 or 50 years.  The religious right was disappointed that Ronald Reagan and the two George Bushes never advanced their goals.  But I don’t think Trump will have any qualms about giving them what they want.

Trump is crippling the ability of the federal government to perform its lawful duties to regulate and provide public services.  He has raised corruption to a new level, which, strangely, works to his advantage because there is so much of it that I can’t keep track of it.

Nancy Pelosi, Chuck Schumer and other top Democratic leaders are not an effective opposition.  They are too wedded to pleasing their wealthy donors and to a pro-military foreign policy and pro-corporate economic policy.

What I hear from liberal Democrats are (1) a claim that Donald Trump is a puppet of Vladimir Putin and (2) outrage at the latest comment that Trump has made on Twitter.

They let Trump set the agenda.  They have no program of their own.  So even though an overwhelming majority of Americans disapprove of Donald Trump, that will not in itself bring victory.

Increasing numbers of Americans decline to vote in national elections.  They don’t think the leaders of either the Republican or Democratic party represent them.

A certain number vote for Trump not because they expect him to keep his promises, but to “send them a message.”

When Ronald Reagan was elected in 1980, it seemed to me that, since the Republicans had become an ideological party of the right, the Democrats would become an ideological party of the left.  The result, I thought, would be a real political debate based on issues.

This didn’t happen.  Instead the Democratic leaders became more pro-corporate and pro-military.

Now, nearly 40 years later, a true left-wing movement is emerging in America.  Politicians such as Bernie Sanders and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez even call themselves socialists.

I see that emerging movement as Americans’ only hope because the alternatives are the status quo, which does not work for most Americans, and Donald Trump’s blood-and-soil nationalism, which also will not work.

LINKS

Why Trump country is unfazed by the child separation crisis by Matthew Walther for The Week.

This Political Theorist Predicted the Rise of Trumpism | His Name Was Hunter S. Thompson by Susan McWilliams for The Nation.

Thomas Frank on why Trump won

June 27, 2018

Thomas Frank has a new book out, an essay collection called Rendezvous With Oblivion: Reports from a Sinking Society.  The videos above and below consist of interviews he gave about it.  Here’s how he introduced it.

The essays collected here scan over many diverse aspects of American life, but they all aim to tell one essential story: This is what a society looks like when the glue that holds it together starts to dissolve.  This is the way ordinary citizens react when they learn the structure beneath them is crumbling.  This is the thrill that pulses through the veins of the well-to-do when they discover there is no longer any limit on their power to accumulate.

In headline terms, these essays cover the years of the Barack Obama presidency and the populist explosion that marked its end.  It was a time when liberal hopes were sinking and the newly invigorated right was proceeding from triumph to triumph.  When I wrote the earliest installment in the collection, Democrats still technically controlled both houses of Congress in addition to the presidency; when I finished these essays, Donald Trump sat in the Oval Office and Republicans had assumed a position of almost unprecedented power over the nation’s political system.

For a few, these were times of great personal satisfaction.  The effects of what was called the Great Recession were receding, and affluence had returned to smile once again on the tasteful and the fortunate.  The lucky ones resumed their fascinating inquiries into the art of the cocktail and the science of the grandiose suburban home. For them, things transpired reassuringly as before.

But for the many, this was a period when reassurance was in short supply.  Ordinary Americans began to understand that, recovery or not, things would probably never be the same in their town or neighborhood.  For them, this was a time of cascading collapse, with one trusted institution after another visibly deteriorating.

It was a golden age of corruption.  By this I do not mean that our top political leaders were on the take—they weren’t—but rather that America’s guardian class had been subverted or put to sleep.  Human intellect no longer served the interests of the public; it served money—or else it ceased to serve at all.  That was the theme of the era, whether the locale was Washington, D.C., or the college your kids attended, or the city desk of your rapidly shrinking local newspaper.  No one was watching out for the interests of the people, and increasingly the people could see that this was the case.

Source: Thomas Frank | American Empire Project

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Jordan Peterson’s intellectual limitations

June 8, 2018

I enjoyed and admired Jordan Peterson’s 12 Years for Life.  It is good advice, written in high-energy prose, on how to form the habits that enable you to overcome despair and lead a meaningful life.

The fact that it is a best-seller is not only due to the merits of the book, but on the need for such books, especially for aimless young men.

Jordan Peterson

When I reviewed the book, I largely ignored Jordan Peterson’s underlying political views because I didn’t think they were important to the book’s basic message.

But now that Peterson has become a political pundit on TV, I think his political thinking deserves a closer look.

In the videos I’ve watched, Peterson expresses himself forcefully, understandably and without equivocation.  He gets the better of debate opponents and hostile interviewers.   He says hardly anything I outright disagree with, but much that is one-sided and incomplete.

Here’s what I see as Peterson’s intellectual limitations.

Psychology vs the Social Sciences

Peterson has a good understanding of human motivation, based on wide study of psychology in all its aspects and also his practice of clinical psychology.   But human behavior is constrained by political, economic and social structures, which Peterson has not studied well.

For example, he explains economic inequality as a product of hierarchies of competence, the fact that some people are more talented and work harder than other people.

I have no doubt that such hierarchies exist.  But they don’t explain the great increase in wealth of the top 0.1 and 0.01 percent of the population throughout the Western world.  The average CEO’s income was 40 times the wage of the average corporate employee 30 years ago, and it is 400 times as much now.  Are rich people smarter and harder working now than they were 25 years ago?  Or is there some other explanation?

Psychology helps you to understand what is permanent in human nature.  You need the social sciences to understand differences between communities and societies and how they change over time.  I would like to see Peterson engage with a social scientist who knows his stuff, such as the economist Thomas Piketty or the political scientist Thomas Ferguson.

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Individualism vs. Mutual Aid

Jordan Peterson is an unusually self-reliant and individualistic person.  As an anti-Communist, he identifies with individual dissidents such as Alexandr Solzhenitsyn.  But I don’t know of anything he’s written about the Solidarity movement in Poland.  There is only so much you can do by yourself to resist tyranny.  You need solidarity with others.

Similarly, he considers himself a Christian of a sort.  But he never goes to church.  He once said he doesn’t need to participate in a congregation to think about God.

12 Rules for Life is all about taking responsibility for solving your own problems and for society as a whole.  It is sensible, inspiring and a good starting point.  But there is only so much you can do by yourself.  Mutual aid is part of human life.  People need to be able

I admire Peterson’s rugged independence, but most of us human beings aren’t like him.  We need community as well as freedom in order, first, to survive and, second, to get things done.  Peterson is insufficiently aware of this side of life.

Academia vs the Great World

Jordan Peterson became famous not just because of his book, but because of his resistance to mandatory rules about using special pronouns for individuals who didn’t consider themselves men or women.

I think he was right both on academic freedom grounds and on the merits of the issue.  But he writes and speaks as if conflict over political correctness rules were as big an issue in the world as large as they are in academia.

In the world outside the college campus, women are subject to employment discrimination and sexual harassment, black people are subject to employment discrimination and police harassment and unauthorized immigrants to deportation and separation from their families.

These are not micro-grievances, and it is natural and right for people who are picked on because of race, gender, immigration status or other characteristics to band together on the basis of identity to defend themselves.

It is true that this kind of identity politics can devolve into a war of competing micro-nationalisms, without a vision of the common good.  Peterson’s critique of identity politics is all right as far as it goes, but it is not enough.  What’s needed is an idea of the common good.

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The rise of the anti-democratic ‘centrists’

June 6, 2018

In the 1930s and 1940s, the threat to democratic institutions came from fascists and Communists, radical ideological parties of the right and left.

Many political analysts today write as if we’re still living in that kind of era.  But political researcher David Adler finds that, compared to self-described leftists or rightists, self-described centrists are:

  • Less likely to say that democracy is a “very good” form of government.
  • Less likely to say that free and fair elections are an “essential feature of democracy.”
  • More likely (in the USA) to say that a strong leader who doesn’t have to bother with a legislature is “fairly good or very good.”

As I think about this, it makes sense.  If you call yourself a centrist, you mean that you’re reasonably satisfied with the status quo.

And the status quo is a government in which, according to the Princeton Study, legislators respond to the wishes of the economic elite and organized interest groups, but not at all to public opinion.

It is not surprising that so many self-described centrists feel threatened by the rise of populism and want to create gatekeepers to keep the voting public from getting out of hand.

John Burn-Murdoch of Financial Times argued that people with the least education and least interest in politics are most prone to identify as centrists.  Adler says he has allowed for this.

And, anyhow, maybe it says something that people with more education and more interest in politics are more likely to reject the status quo.

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A clash of elites: the 0.1% vs. the 9.9%

May 29, 2018

The United States has two elites—an elite of great wealth, embracing about 0.1 percent of the population, and an elite of educational credentials, based on the next 9.9 percent.

A writer named Matthew Stewart wrote a good article in The Atlantic about the 9.9 percent, of which he considers himself a member.  If you go to an elite school, you’re on track for a job in medicine, law, finance or management consulting.

How you do in those jobs is up to you, but you’ve got a permanent, lifelong advantage over somebody who is a high school graduate or somebody who attended a non-elite school.

We Americans like to talk about how equality of result doesn’t matter, only equality of opportunity matters.  But the whole point of being in a higher social or economic class is to lock in advantages for your children.

Thomas Frank has written about how American politics has been changed by the fact that liberal reformers in the 9.9 percent no longer identify with the 90 percent.  Instead their goal is a multi-racial, gender-neutral aristocracy based (supposedly) on merit.

This has been exploited by Donald Trump, who speaks the language of the populists of old, but represents the interests of the plutocracy.   And the liberal professional class confuses Trump with real populism, and fears the masses more than they do the power elite.

These are sweeping, over-simplified generalizations, but I think they are a broadly accurate picture of what’s going on.

LINKS

The 9.9 Percent Is the New American Aristocracy by Matthew Stewart for The Atlantic.

Forget Trump—populism is the cure, not the disease by Thomas Frank for The Guardian.

Trump’s broken promises to working Americans

May 14, 2018

Donald Trump and supporters. Source: Quartz

When Donald Trump ran for President, it was on an economic populist platform that, in many ways, put him well to the left of Hillary Clinton and of any Republican since Richard Nixon.

Most of what he promised would have been politically popular, economically feasible and beneficial to American working people—although not necessarily politically feasible.  But none of it was done or even seriously attempted.

Jonathan Chait last week wrote about Trump’s broken promises for New York magazine.  Here’s a short list of Trump promises:

  • Create a health insurance program that covers more people than Obamacare.
  • Negotiate lower drug prices through Medicare.
  • Pull out of NAFTA and negotiate a better trade deal.
  • Raise taxes on the rich, including himself.
  • Enact a $1 trillion infrastructure program (later $1.5 trillion).
  • Enact a six-point plan to curb lobbying, including no lobbying by former government officials or members of Congress until five years after leaving office and curbs on foreign companies making campaign contributions.

Trump has done nothing to replace or reform Obamacare, only made minor changes that make it worse.  Nothing was done to lower drug prices.

Simply canceling NAFTA would have been wrong.  Nations, even superpower nations, can’t just break agreements and not suffer consequences.  But there certainly is a need to renegotiate NAFTA and similar agreements.

The infrastructure plan is now $200 million, and even that has been postponed until next year.

As for putting limits on lobbying—that is a joke!

But I suspect that most Americans aren’t aware of this.  Most of the reporting on Trump has to  do with the Russiagate investigation, or Trump’s scandalous personal behavior, or the latest outrageous thing that Trump has said on social media.

These things matter, of course.  But they have nothing to do with public policy.

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2016 and the fight against the money power

May 7, 2018

Political scientist Thomas Ferguson has spent his career tracing the influence of money on U.S. national politics.   In this interview from last week, he said the big story of the 2016 election is that it is politically possible to defeat big money.

Bernie Sanders raised 60 percent of his funds from small donors, who gave $200 each or less, Ferguson said.  This is unprecedented.  He said Sanders could well have won the Democratic nomination and the general election if he had started earlier and done things differently.

But even in defeat, he said, Sanders showed it is possible to fund a national political campaign without going to the wealthy and corporate donors that the leaders of both political parties depend upon.

Ferguson is noted for his “investment theory of political parties”—that wealthy interests invest in political parties and candidates, and that the only political issues that elections decide are issues on which the big donors disagree or that they don’t care about.

He says there are basically two elections.  There is the informal money election, conducted by big donors, which winnows the field   Then there is the actual vote, which chooses among the candidates pre-selected by the money election.

What Sanders—and also Trump, to an extent—showed is that large numbers of small political “investors” can offset the few big donors.   Sanders was the equivalent of an entrepreneur who funded a start-up with a GoFundMe fundraiser.

Trump himself raised 40 percent of his campaign funds from small donors, which is unprecedented for a Republican, Ferguson said.   But most of that was before he won the Republican nomination.

Starting in August, big money started to roll in—especially from Rustbelt manufacturing interests, who liked Trump’s promise to raise tariffs against foreign imports, and also from such far-right figures as Sheldon Adelson, Peter Thiel and Robert and Rebekah Mercer.

Hillary Clinton received most of the donations that came from Wall Street and the defense and aerospace industries.

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What matters more than Stormy Daniels

May 4, 2018

Jack Perry wrote in the Ghion Journal about why he doesn’t care about the Mueller investigation in general or the Stormy Daniels affair in particular.

This Mueller shindig is not going to do any of the following:

  1. Reverse the executive order from Trump taking food stamps away from the poor and disabled who can’t find a job.
  2. Remove the ability to use military force from Trump before it’s too late.
  3. Reverse the Trump tax cuts that have just forced the U.S. government to take out a massive loan to pay for them.

The Democrats have beaten this “It’s Mueller Time!” meme into the mud and, excuse me, but Mueller and the FBI do not run the United States. 

Where is this much-vaunted rule of law?!  The FBI is not one of the three branches of government!  No, they’re not the judicial branch, people!  That’s what the Supreme Court is!

And the chuckle merchants in the Congress have abdicated their own Congressional responsibility to stop this man and handed it over to the police!

Source: Ghion Journal.

Nobody could have beaten Trump (or Clinton)

April 30, 2018

Double click to enlarge.

Source: United States of Apathy by Philip Kearny Cartography.

Hat tip to Lambert Strether on naked capitalism.

Hillary Clinton received 28.4 percent of the votes of eligible voters, Donald Trump received 27.2 percent and 44.4 voted for nobody.   I wouldn’t assume that the 44.4 percent were apathetic.   I’m sure many of them (some of whom had voted in 2008 and 2012) had their reasons for rejecting both candidates.

Nobody got a majority of votes cast.  Hillary Clinton won 48 percent, Donald Trump 45.9 percent and the rest went to small-party candidates.

Dems sue Russia, Wikileaks, Trump campaign

April 21, 2018

The Democratic National Committee is suing Wikileaks, along with the government of Russia, the Trump campaign and various Russians and Trump supporters, over the leaks of DNC e-mails during the 2016 election campaign.

They charge that, among other things, the leaks of the DNC e-mails violate laws protecting copyright and trade secrets.  If this was upheld, it would basically make a great deal of investigative reporting illegal—including much of the reporting on the Russiagate investigations.

The real crime of Wikileaks, now as in the past, has been to reveal inconvenient truths.

The Democratic party suing WikiLeaks for costing them the election is like an armed robbery convict suing a security camera company for getting him arrested.  The emails it published are 100 percent authentic and entirely undisputed, and they consist of nothing other than Democratic party big wigs talking to one another.

The documents published by WikiLeaks in 2016 showed an unquestionable violation of the DNC’s Impartiality Clause in the “us vs them” tone of the conversations in the more egregious DNC leaks, the Podesta emails showing that the DNC and the Clinton camp were colluding as early as 2014 to schedule debates and primaries in a way that favored her, and then-DNC Vice Chairwoman Donna Brazile acting as a mole against the Sanders campaign and passing Clinton questions in advance to prep her for debates with Sanders.

It also revealed more broadly incriminating facts about the Democratic party in general, including the Clintons taking bribes from Qatar and Morocco and knowingly accepting funds from political bodies that arm ISIS, an email showing how a CitiGroup executive was responsible for selecting Obama’s acceptable cabinet picks, and Clinton’s infamous “public position and a private position” statement.

Source: Caitlin Johnstone

Trying to reverse the outcome of the 2016 election is futile.  Democratic leaders would do better to concentrate on winning this year’s state and congressional elections, while meanwhile trying to curb President Trump’s unconstitutional use of executive power.

LINKS

Democratic Party sues Russia, WikiLeaks and Trump over election disruption by Sabrina Siddiqui for The Guardian.

Dems Sue WikiLeaks for Telling the Truth by Caitlin Johnstone.

The DNC’s Lawsuit Against Wikileaks Poses a Serious Threat to Press Freedom by Glenn Greenwald and Trevor Timm for The Intercept.  [Added Later]

Democratic National Committee’s Lawsuit Against Russia, WikiLeaks and Various Trump Associates Full of Legally Nutty Arguments by Mike Masnick for Techdirt.

Cure Worse Than Disease: Bill to Restrict Trump’s War Powers Actually “Endorse a Worldwide War on Terror” by Jon Schwarz for The Intercept.  [Added Later]

Senators Offer Up Unprecedented War Powers to President by Kelley Beaucar Vlahos for The American Conservative.

Four More Years: the Trump reelection nightmare and how we can stop it by Thomas Frank for Harper’s Magazine.

Did leaked Facebook data swing the 2016 vote?

March 18, 2018

[Last updated 3/22/2018]

Video added 3/19/2018

The Guardian published an article about how a company called Cambridge Analytica used unauthorized data obtained from Facebook to help swing the 2016 election to Donald Trump.

The Facebook “likes” and other data were used to draw psychological profiles of individual voters, who were then targeted with messages based on those profiles.

A year or so ago, I made a post, based on an earlier article in The Guardian and an expose by the Real News Network, about how Steve Bannon and the Trump campaign used Cambridge Analytica to identify idealistic liberals, young women and African-Americans in key states, and feed them information to discourage them from voting for Hillary Clinton.

Many people question whether such manipulation was possible on a significant scale.  I am not qualified to say.

The thing is, targeted messages don’t have to work every time, or even most of the time—just enough times to tip the balance.   And the technology is being constantly improved, so even if they didn’t make a difference in 2016, they may affect the next election and the one after that.

I don’t have good ideas as to what to do about this.   It is not unethical to send accurate information to someone you think will respond to it.  Does it become unethical when the information and its target are chosen by an artificial intelligence program?  At the very least, we the people ought to be able to know where the messages come from.

Afterthought [3/20/2018]

After thinking this over for a couple of days,  I’m of two minds about Cambridge Analytica and similar companies.

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Russiagate, Hillary Clinton and the Democrats

March 14, 2018

Russia Collusion: Hillary Clinton, DNC & FBI are the real stars by Michael Doran for National Review.  [Added 3/15/2018]  A plausible account of how Christopher Steele and Fusion GPS’s Glenn Simpson created and sold the Russiagate story.  Long but interesting.

Christopher Steele as Seen by the New Yorker by Philip Giraldi for The Unz Review.  [Added 3/15/2018]

Russia Didn’t Abuse Facebook—It Used It Exactly As Intended by Joshua Geltzer for Wired.  [Added 3/15/2018]

Is Trump the New Clinton? by Musha al-Gharbi for The Baffler.  [Added 3/15/2018]

Democrats allow Trump a dictator’s power

March 6, 2018

Lee Camp, writing for Truthdig, pointed out that Democrats in Congress have no qualms about giving President Donald Trump the powers of a dictator.  Instead of standing up for the American people, he said, corporate-owned Democrats have strengthened the president.

The Democrats have helped, voted for, and often argued in favor of all of the following:

  1. Giving Trump unlimited war powers.
  2. Giving Trump unlimited trade negotiation powers.
  3. Giving Trump unlimited surveillance powers.
  4. Giving Trump the power to lock someone up indefinitely without a trial or charges under the National Defense Authorization Act.
  5. Giving Trump the power to assassinate American citizens without a trial or charges.
  6. Giving Trump’s administration full control of our election system infrastructure.

If this is considered “resistance,” then I don’t want to be a part of it. I’d rather spend my time resisting the “Resistance” and thereby taking this dictator’s toolkit away from Donald Trump.

Source: Truthdig

Most of my Democratic friends are obsessed with Trump.  Every discussion of politics veers to the most recent foolish thing Trump has said or done.

They hope and expect that Special Prosecutor Robert Mueller will prove that Trump is in league with the Russian government and provide grounds for impeachment.

Even if that works out, which I doubt, they’re then faced with President Mike Pence, who from a liberal Democratic standpoint is just as bad as Trump on matters of policy, but more effective.

On matters of policy, there’s little difference between Trump and the dominant faction in the Republican Party.

On fundamental questions of war and peace, Constitutional rights and economic policy, there is no fundamental difference between Republican and Democratic leaders in Congress.

That’s why some Democrats in Congress would rather allow Trump the powers of a dictator than to set limits on the power of a future Democratic President.

It’s true that, out of the six items, only the war powers and the surveillance powers were voted on during the Trump administration.

That doesn’t matter.  When you vote to remove restraints on Presidential power, you have empowered all Presidents, present and future—not just to the one you happen to like.

LINKS

Six Ways the ‘Resistance’ Gave Trump a Dictator’s Toolkit by Lee Camp for TruthDig.

Russiagate, Trump, Putin, Mueller and Targeting Dissent by Matt Taibbi for Rolling Stone.

The revolt of the ‘places that don’t matter’

February 21, 2018

The basic political split, not just in the USA but across the Western world, is between the regions that are thriving under globalization and those that aren’t, according to a new a study.

The thriving areas embrace what I call neoliberalism.  The left-behind areas embrace what Andrés Rodríguez-Pose, the author of the study, calls populism.

In his view, the split between rich regions and poor regions is more politically significant that the differences between rich and poor individuals within these regions.

The split is cultural as well as economic.  The rich regions reflect the culture of what Chris Arnade calls “the front-row kids,” who value education, cosmopolitanism and upward mobility, and the “back-row kids,” who put greater value on family, religion and community.

Rodríguez-Pose uses the word populism to mean any kind of revolt against the economic and political elite, whether in the form of right-wing nationalism or left-wing radicalism.   From his standpoint, they’re both bad.   His solution is wiser economic policies by the political and economic elite.

A populist is one who is on the side of the people against the elite, or claims to be.  The all-important question is how you define “the people”.   Right-wing populists define “the people” in terms of race, ethnicity and heritage.  Left-wing populists define “the people” as the working people.   I think that, in the long run, the only alternative to right-wing populism will be left-wing populism.

LINKS

How the ‘Places That Don’t Matter’ Fueled Populism by Leonid Bershidsky for Bloomberg.

The revenge of the places that don’t matter, but Andrés Rodríguez-Pose for VoxEU, the policy portal of the Centre for Economic Policy Research.

Suicide Rate Highest in Decades, but Highest in Rural America by Mark Maciag for Governing.

Chris Arnade on how the other half lives

January 13, 2018

This includes two updates

Half the world doesn’t know how the other half lives.   (old saying)

Chris Arnade spent 20 years as a Wall Street investment banker, then quit in 2011 to start a new career as a photojournalist, first interviewing and photographing drug addicts and prostitutes in the Bronx, then traveling across the country to talk to working people and poor people who’ve been left behind in the new economy.

Arnade said that what he concluded was that addiction is the result of isolation, isolation is the result of rejection and the chief source of rejection is the U.S. educational system.

The U.S. educational system, he said, teaches that the way to achieve success is to go to a good college, leave home and devote yourself to achievement in your professional life.

Those who do this successfully are the elite in American life.   The problem is that not everybody is able to succeed this way, and not everybody wants to do this.

Some people put family, community and religion first.  In this respect, he said, there is little difference between black people and white people, or between Anglos and Hispanics.

Arnade calls the first group the Front Row and the second group the Back Row. The Back Row are not only disrespected, Arnade said.  The economic system is rigged against them.

Every important decision on national policy, since at least the North American Free Trade Agreement  (NAFTA) in 1994, has put the interests of the Front Row ahead of the Back Row.

The one institution in society that welcomes the back row is the churches, he wrote.  He himself is an atheist, but he said that churches welcome you, no matter what your credentials or lack of them.  I’m not sure that is true of all churches, but his point is correct.

Another place the Back Row is welcome, he said, is McDonald’s restaurants.  McDonald’s original business model was a place where you can get in and get out quickly, but McDonald’s and other fast-food restaurants have become places where you can get a nourishing meal at a low price, charge your cell phone and hang out with friends.  Most of them have an old man’s table that retirees have staked out for their own.

If you’re a Front Row person and want to break out of your bubble, stop having coffee at Starbuck’s (or the equivalent) and stop start spending time in McDonald’s (or the equivalent), Arnade advised,

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Trump didn’t plan on being elected President

January 5, 2018

Neither Donald Trump nor his key supporters expected him to be elected President, according to Michael Wolff, author of a new book about the Trump administration.   They expected to lose and were unprepared to actually govern.  This would explain a lot.

Wolff was granted free access to the Trump White House—a fact that in itself shows the administration was in disarray—and has published a book, Fire and Fury: Inside Trump’s White House, which came out today.  The following is from an excerpt published in the current issue of New York magazine—

The candidate and his top lieutenants believed they could get all the benefits of almost becoming president without having to change their behavior or their worldview one whit.  Almost everybody on the Trump team, in fact, came with the kind of messy conflicts bound to bite a president once he was in office.  Michael Flynn, the retired general who served as Trump’s opening act at campaign rallies, had been told by his friends that it had not been a good idea to take $45,000 from the Russians for a speech.  “Well, it would only be a problem if we won,” ­Flynn assured them.

Not only did Trump disregard the potential conflicts of his own business deals and real-estate holdings, he audaciously refused to release his tax returns.  Why should he?  Once he lost, Trump would be both insanely famous and a martyr to Crooked Hillary.  His daughter Ivanka and son-in-law Jared would be international celebrities.  Steve Bannon would become the de facto head of the tea-party movement.  Kellyanne Conway would be a cable-news star.  Melania Trump, who had been assured by her husband that he wouldn’t become president, could return to inconspicuously lunching.  Losing would work out for everybody.  Losing was winning.

I suspected something like that myself.  It explained Trump’s reluctance to spend his own money on his campaign.  It explained why Trump was willing to say whatever crossed his mind, regardless of the repercussions—which was part of his appeal.

Trump’s facial expression during the Inauguration was stormy and angry.  His face was not the face of someone enjoying a triumph.  But, according to Wolff, all this quickly changed.  Trump now is fully confident of his ability to be an effective President.

Another striking thing about Wolff’s account is that none of the top people in the Trump administration, except for his sons, daughter and son-in-law, manifest any personal loyalty to Trump himself.  This does not bode well for Trump in dealing with the Mueller investigation.

Wolff’s report should be read with skepticism.  His article is full of direct quotations of conversations he was not in a position to hear.  It is a mixture of first-hand, second-hand and possibly third- and fourth-hand information.

The reader must judge how much is known fact and how much is gossip.  For me, Wolff’s account is plausible and, as I said, it would explain a lot.

LINKS

Trump Didn’t Want to Be President by Michael Wolff for New York magazine.

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Clinton, Obama and the party of Wall Street

January 2, 2018

Even outspoken progressive Democrats such as Bernie Sanders, Elizabeth Warren and the authors of Daring Democracy hold back from doing two things.

They don’t talk about the U.S. state of permanent war, and they don’t criticize the record of Barack Obama.

Thomas Frank, who recently did three more interviews for the Real News Network, doesn’t talk about war and peace either, but he is at least willing to take an honest look at the Obama record and the record of Bill Clinton before him.

I have the three interviews on YouTube, with links that should take you to transcripts.

Presidents Clinton and Obama Helped Make the Democrats a Wall Street Party

The Democratic Party historically was opposed to big banks, going back to Franklin Roosevelt, William Jennings Bryan and Andrew Jackson.   That was almost a defining characteristic.

It was golden-tongued Bill Clinton who made the Democrats a second party of Wall Street, and persuaded the Democratic rank and file to accept it.   His argument was that Democrats couldn’t win unless they matched Republicans dollar-for-dollar in campaign spending, which they could not do if they were anti-Wall Street.

I voted for Clinton reluctantly.   In those days I thought that Democrats, however flawed, were better for working people than Republicans.

I disliked Clinton, not because of the sex scandals or his policies, but because of his treatment of employees of the White House travel office, which arranged accommodations for White House staff and the White House press corps accompanying the President on his travels.   He and Hillary Clinton wanted to close the travel office and turn its functions over to cronies of theirs, which they had a legal right to do.

When this became an issue in Congress, Clinton ordered a FBI investigation of the travel office employees to see if any of them were guilty of criminal wrongdoing.   He was willing to destroy the careers and ruin the lives of people who did not intend him any harm, but were merely in the way of something he wanted to do.

I did not fully realize until later the harm that Clinton’s signature policies did—the North Atlantic Free Trade Agreement, the end of welfare for mothers with dependent children, the crime bill leading to mass incarceration and the deregulation of the banking industry.   As Thomas Frank noted in the video, all four of these things were long-time Republican goals.

Clinton even toyed with a bipartisan agreement with Newt Gingrich to cut Social Security.

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A working man runs without big money backers

November 27, 2017

Randy Bryce, an iron worker who has never held public office except in his union, is running for Congress against Speaker of the House Paul Ryan in 2018.

The odds are against him.  Ryan beat his Democratic opponent by 35 percentage points in 2016.

But Bryce has raised more money – $1.74 million – than any other Democratic congressional candidate at this point, and it’s all or mostly in donations of $22 or less.

Times are changing.   Nowadays you can run for office and have a chance to win, without being a rich person and without being beholden to rich people.

LINKS

When a Political Endorsement Actually Means Something – Bernie Sanders and Randy Bryce on Down With Tyranny!

Can “the Iron Stache” really take down Paul Ryan? by Tim Murphy for Mother Jones.

George McGovern and the path not taken

November 14, 2017

George McGovern in 1972 tried to unite the old New Deal liberalism and the New Left radicalism.

He courted African-Americans, feminists, college students, gays and lesbians, environmentalists and peace advocates, while at the same time promising to close tax loopholes for the rich and using the money to grant property tax relief for middle class Americans.

George McGovern in 1972

All the issues he campaigned on—especially economic inequality—have become every more relevant today.

Yet he went down to defeat, and all the Democratic candidates from then did their best to distance themselves from McGovernism.   He was supposedly the Democratic counterpart to Barry Goldwater.

But while Goldwater’s followers reacted to their defeat by doubling down on their beliefs and going on to elect Ronald Reagan in 1980, the Democratic leaders—Jimmy Carter, Bill and Hillary Clinton, Barack Obama—have run away from the supposed taint of McGovernism.

I think the difference between the legacy of Goldwater and the legacy of McGovern is that Goldwater’s movement had the support of wealthy individuals and corporations, and McGovern’s didn’t.

McGovern at the start of 1972 was as little known as Bernie Sanders at the start of 2016.   Odds-makers gave him a 200 in 1 chance of winning the Democratic nomination.   When he did win, the Democratic Party as an institution did not support him.   President Nixon meanwhile stole the Democrats’ thunder, by creating the Environmental Protection Agency, calling for a guaranteed annual income and announcing that peace was at hand in Vietnam.

President Nixon discredited himself in the Watergate affair, and Democrats rebounded.   But the Democrats did not offer a credible alternative to Republican policies, and could not hold on to power.  Thus began a political cycle that continued ever since, of voters swinging back and forth between Republican and Democratic presidential candidates while the condition of the country grows worse.

The national figure today who comes closest to resembling George McGovern is Bernie Sanders—a Senator from a small state who seemingly came out of nowhere to lead a movement.

The top leaders of the Democratic Party are as hostile to Sanders’ followers as they were to McGovern’s 45 years ago, but the Sanders followers seem to have more staying power than their predecessors.

Even Bernie Sanders is not really a peace candidate, as George McGovern was.   That is the forgotten part of McGovern’s legacy that we need the most.

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Clinton was cheated in 2016, but not by Russians

November 3, 2017

Hillary Clinton was cheated out of her victory in 2016—not by Russians, but by Republicans.

Republican state governments changed the rules to make voting more difficult for categories of people likely to vote Democratic, and they purged thousands of legally-registered voters, mostly Democrats, from the voter registration rolls.

President Barack Obama and Attorney-Generals Eric Holder and Loretta Lynch had eight years to do something about this.

Yet they did little of nothing—that is, nothing that I know of, but I want to hedge the possibility that there was some minor effort I didn’t notice.

The Democratic Party had eight years to push back against this.  The Democrats could have started a grass-roots effort to get Democrats registered despite all barriers, and to reinstate voters who were illegally purged.  Yet they did little or nothing.

None of this is an excuse for what the Republicans did, of course, but the Republican motivation is clear.  Why weren’t Democratic leaders motivated to fight back?

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Tulsi Gabbard gets what’s wrong with U.S. wars

November 2, 2017

Tulsi Gabbard, congresswoman from Hawaii, is a dedicated surfer and accomplished athlete, a Hindu and vegetarian and a member of the National Guard who volunteered for service in Iraq.

Not a typical background for an American politician!  But in my opinion, she represents the future of the Democratic Party—if it has one.

She understands something that most Democrats still do not, which is the futility of the 15-year U.S. policy of worldwide military intervention.  She understands that the first step in fighting radical Islamic terrorism is to stop subsidizing terrorists.   She acts on that understanding even though it is unpopular.

I read a good article about Gabbard in The New Yorker online this morning.   The things that the writer finds questionable about Gabbard’s record make her respect her even more.

Right after the election, she met with President-elect Donald Trump to discuss foreign policy, and came away hopeful that he might adopt a less interventionist foreign policy.   “Less hopeful now,” she is quoted as saying.

She traveled to Syria in January to talk to President Bashir al-Assad about the possibility of ending the Syrian civil war.

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Orwell, Trump and the definition of fascism

October 17, 2017

Back in 1944, George Orwell, my literary hero, worried about the misuse of language, including misuse of the word “fascism”.

As used, the word ‘Fascism’ is almost entirely meaningless.  In conversation, of course, it is used even more wildly than in print.  I have heard it applied to farmers, shopkeepers, Social Credit, corporal punishment, fox-hunting, bull-fighting, the 1922 Committee, the 1941 Committee, Kipling, Gandhi, Chiang Kai-Shek, homosexuality, Priestley’s broadcasts, Youth Hostels, astrology, women, dogs and I do not know what else.

George Orwell

Yet underneath all this mess there does lie a kind of buried meaning.  To begin with, it is clear that there are very great differences, some of them easy to point out and not easy to explain away, between the régimes called Fascist and those called democratic.

Secondly, if ‘Fascist’ means ‘in sympathy with Hitler’, some of the accusations I have listed above are obviously very much more justified than others.

Thirdly, even the people who recklessly fling the word ‘Fascist’ in every direction attach at any rate an emotional significance to it.  By ‘Fascism’ they mean, roughly speaking, something cruel, unscrupulous, arrogant, obscurantist, anti-liberal and anti-working-class.

Except for the relatively small number of Fascist sympathizers, almost any English person would accept ‘bully’ as a synonym for ‘Fascist’.  That is about as near to a definition as this much-abused word has come.

Source: George Orwell: What is Fascism? (1944)

I worry about the misuse of language, too.  During the 2016 election campaign, I fretted about calling Donald Trump a fascist.

This was because Trump’s movement lacked key elements of Mussolini’s fascism—a totalitarian ideology, a private militia, a parallel governing structure outside the official governmental chain of command.

My fear was that a real fascist movement will come along, perhaps something like the old Ku Klux Klan, and the word “fascist” will have lost its sting.

On the other hand, Donald Trump is certainly cruel, unscrupulous, arrogant, obscurantist, anti-liberal and anti-working class, as well as being a bully, and these things shouldn’t be accepted as normal.

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The anti-democracy movement in America

October 16, 2017

Democracy means rule of the people. But the Gilens-Page study of 1779 legislative initiatives in 1981-2002 showed that chances of success were strongly correlated with the desires of the affluent, but not at all with average citizens.

For example, polls show a majority of Americans want Wall Street banks to be brought under control, according to Martin Gilens, a co-author of the study.  They want a higher minimum wage, better unemployment benefits and more spending on education.  On the other hand, they are less supportive of abortion rights and gay marriage than the economic elite.   But the political system follows the economic elite, not them.

In other words, the United States is a democracy in that we have freedom of speech and contested elections, but in terms of outcomes, we are an oligarchy, ruled by the rich.

This is not an accident, a matter of how things happen to play out. It is the result of a deliberate campaign that has been going on for decades.   It is not something that began with Donald Trump and it will not end when he is out of office.

The anti-democratic movement has three elements:
• Use the power of money to dominate political discourse.
• Use the power of money to dominate politics and government
• Restrict the right to vote and other democratic rights..

I recently read a good book, DARING DEMOCRACY by Frances Moore Lappé, author of Diet for a Small Planet, and a young friend, Adam Eichen, that ties all this together.

I do have a few reservations about it, particularly the fact that they let Democrats off too nightly, which I’ll get to at the end.  But I’ll first summarize their main contentions.

∞∞∞

The famous Powell Memo—written in1971 by future Supreme Court Justice Lewis Powell to the U.S. Chamber of Commerce—called on U.S. business to mobilize to counteract anti-business sentiment in the news media and the educational system.

Right-wing billionaires responded by funding the Heritage Foundation and other right-wing think tanks.

They of course have a perfect right to present their point of view.  The problem was that these organizations are dedicated to political warfare, and get to be treated as equivalent to groups who, whatever their unconscious biases, are serious scholars and researchers..

When I was a newspaper reporter, and had to write about something I didn’t know much about, the first thing I’d do was phone experts on various sides of the issue.

When I phoned the Brookings Institution, the person I’d reach would give me a carefully worded opinion, quoting sources and taking into account arguments on both sides.

When I phoned the Heritage Foundation, I’d talk to some young guy who had talking points down pat, but couldn’t back them up. Yet by the rules of my game, I had to treat them as equal authorities.

The Cato Institute, funded by the Koch brothers, consisted of sincere libertarians, who sometimes came down on the side of peace and civil liberties. But when their views closed with corporate interests, the Koch brothers purged the staff.

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Thomas Frank on the Democrats’ future

September 11, 2017

Scroll down for links to six recent Thomas Frank interviews on the Real News Network

Thomas Frank, who understands American politics as well or better than anyone else I know of, is giving a series of interviews on the state of the Democratic Party to the Real News Network.   I link to them below.

Most of my friends are liberal Democrats, like me, and they can’t understand why a working person would go against their own interests by supporting Donald Trump.  But then they themselves go against their own interests by supporting Hillary Clinton.

The problem is not Clinton as an individual.   As an individual, she is much more qualified to hold public office than Trump.

The problem is that the Democratic Party has come to depend on wealthy donors to finance its campaigns and it looks to well-to-do salaried professionals as its core voters.   Working people are coming to realize that the Democratic Party does not represent them.

It is not that large numbers working people are turning to Donald Trump.   The GOP is even worse than the Democrats.  It is that increasing numbers of working people—black, white and brown—see no point in voting for either party.

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