Archive for the ‘Politics’ Category

Donald Trump, Joe Biden and Ukraine corruption

November 15, 2019

Presidents Zelensky and Trump

I think there is a case to be made that President Donald Trump abused the power of his office.

He did threaten to withhold military aid unless the Ukrainian government announced an investigation of the Burisma oil and gas company and Hunter Biden’s involvement in it.

The problem with this is that Joe Biden, when he was vice president, did the exact same thing.

He threatened to withhold aid from Ukraine unless it fired the prosecutor who was investigating Burisma.

Biden’s claim is that the prosecutor was lax in investigating corruption.  But the evidence indicates otherwise, that the prosecutor was closing in on Burisma at the time he was forced out.

Hunter Biden knew nothing of Ukraine or the oil and gas business.  His only value to Burisma is that he was the vice-president’s son and therefore provided Burisma with a certain immunity from prosecution.

It hasn’t been proved that Hunter Biden did anything wrong beyond this, but then his role hasn’t been investigated.

This is not a justification of wrong-doing by President Trump.  Two wrongs don’t make a right.

Ukraine is a vast swamp of corruption, and Hunter Biden is not the only politically-connected American who has sought to make money there.

Donald Trump and Attorney-General William Barr oppose the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act, which make it a crime for an American to bribe a foreign government official.  They want to make bribery once again simply a cost of doing business.

Barr also opposes the False Claims Act, which gives any American standing to sue a person or company that defrauds the U.S. government.  In other words, both Trump and Barr want protect corruption and fraud.

It would be very interesting to know how many Americans are on the boards of Ukrainian companies, or political consultants or public relations consultants to Ukrainian oligarchs or politicians.  I’m sure their numbers would include both Democrats and Republicans.

I think Democrats in the House of Representatives would help themselves politically by investigating corruption and mismanagement in the Trump administration across the board, rather than limiting themselves to this one ambiguous issue.

True, they might uncover things that are embarrassing to their own donors.

I feel sorry for the long-suffering people of Ukraine.  Neither the U.S. government, the European Union, the Russian Federation or their own plutocrats and autocrats care anything for their welfare.

LINKS

Corruption in Ukraine Wikipedia article.

Hunter Biden’s Ukraine gas firm pressed Obama administration to end corruption allegations by John Solomon on his blog.

A Timeline of Joe Biden’s Intervention Against the Prosecutor General of Ukraine by the Moon of Alabama blog.

Is Trump the Most Corrupt President in American History? an interview of Bill Black, an expert on financial fraud, on the Real News Network.  Black’s answer: Yes.

This Is What a Legitimate Anti-Corruption Effort in Ukraine Would Look Like by Samantha Winograd for POLITICO.

Taibbi on how the news divides and misleads us

November 13, 2019

Last week I I read Matt Taibbi’s HATE INC.: Why Today’s Media Makes Us Despise One Another.  Of all the books I’ve read during the past 12 months or expect to read in the near future, this is the one I’d most recommend to anybody who wants to understand what’s going on in the USA..

It is about how and why the business model for the American press changed from the seeking of a broad, noncontroversial consensus to the promotion of conflict.  It also is about why the conflict so seldom involves fundamental issues.

Noam Chomsky famously said that the way to preserve the illusion of freedom of the press is to allow vigorous debate, but only within certain prescribed bounds.

There is extreme polarization for and against Donald Trump.  Some say we’re on the verge of a new civil war.   But the debate remains within limits, and is focused on personalities.

We the public are encouraged to think that there is a deep and permanent conflict of ideas between Democratic liberals such as Rachel Maddow and Republican conservatives such as Sean Hannity, but also that there are no ideas worth considering beyond the limits of what they say.

Neither side questions ever-increasing military budgets, everlasting wars, ever-expanding surveillance, ever-growing bailouts of tax breaks for and and handouts to the most powerful corporations.

The current $716 billion military appropriations bill for the coming fiscal year contained a $165 billion increase—in itself more than the entire military budget of Russia or China, and more than the entire cost of the Iraq war in 2003 or 2004.   Large majorities of both parties in both houses of Congress supported it.

The press coverage of the bill focused not on its contents, but on whether President Trump was disrespectful of Senator John McCain, the sponsor, by not mentioning his name during the signing ceremony.

In the old days, the CBS anchorman Walter Cronkite sought to appeal to a broad, bland consensus.  The feeling he tried to project was reassurance—that all was right with the world.  Other broadcasters were the same way.

They also were limited by the government’s Fairness Doctrine.  If they broadcast anything controversial, they had to provide free air time for the other side.

Newspapers followed a similar path.  Most had local monopolies.  All had secure revenue streams based on classified advertising (job listings, legal notices) and as the main source of information for stock prices and the like.

I got started in journalism at the end of the old era.  The ideal in reporting in that era was objectivity and impersonality.  Reporters strove to write in a way that nobody could guess their personal opinions.  Routine newspaper articles lacked bylines because it shouldn’t matter who wrote them.

Then the Reagan administration repealed the Fairness Doctrine.  Opinion no longer had to be balanced.  CNN introduced the 24-hour news cycle.  The easiest way to fill time was with commentary and opinion.

The Internet, especially Facebook and Twitter, provided a way to segment the readership individually.  No longer did a newspaper or TV broadcast have to appeal to the whole family.  Each person could have their own news, tailored algorithmically to their own desires and viewpoint.

Fox News, and also talk radio hosts such as Rush Limbaugh, took advantage of the new business model.  They realized they didn’t have to have universal appeal to make money.  All they needed to do was to target a segment of the viewers or listeners and tailor things to their interests.

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How progressivism was defeated in its birthplace

November 6, 2019

Wisconsin is arguably the birthplace of progressivism in the United States.  At the dawn of the 20th century, that state enacted the nation’s first workers’ compensation law, its first unemployment insurance program, and the first recognition of collective bargaining rights for public employees.

Under the leadership of the great Robert M. “Fighting Bob” La Follette, the state established direct primary elections, banned corporate contributions to political candidates and regulated railroad rates.

He forged a powerful political coalition of wage-earners, independent farmers and small-business owners, defending their interests against corporate monopoly.  In 1910, running for re-election as senator, he won 78 percent of the vote and carried all but one of Wisconsin’s then 71 counties.  After his death in 1926, his two sons carried on his legacy.  From 1901 until 1946, a La Follette was either senator from Wisconsin or governor of the state.

Wisconsin became known for the quality of its public schools, state university and public services.  Much of what was done there became the model for Franklin D. Roosevelt’s New Deal.  The La Follette legacy was very much a living memory when I attended the University of Wisconsin in Madison in 1952-56.

Later Wisconsin became known as a leader in protection of the environment.  The state was the home of Aldo Leopold, the noted writer and advocate of soil and wildlife conservation, and Gaylord Nelson, the founder of Earth Day, who was both governor and senator.

But in 2010, the voters of Wisconsin elected Scott Walker, an extreme right-winter as governor.  He pretty much wiped La Follette’s legacy off the blackboard.  And then, in 2016, Wisconsin’s choice for President was Donald Trump.

I read THE FALL OF WISCONSIN: The Conservative Conquest of a Progressive Bastion and the Future of American Politics by Dan Kaufman to try to understand what happened.

What I learned from the book is that Wisconsin’s rich and interesting political tradition is irrelevant to what happened.  Scott Walker is not a product of Wisconsin politics.  He was the product of a national right-wing movement that has been building for 40 years.

This movement consists of an interlocking network of corporate donors, tax-exempt foundations and think tanks whose agenda is restore corporate business to a position of dominance.  Their specific goals are tax cuts, budget cuts, reduced pubic services, no public welfare, deregulation of business and regulation of labor unions.  Their claim is that all these things will attract business investment and promote prosperity, but this didn’t happen in Wisconsin or anywhere else it was tried.

The key right-wing institutions mentioned in the book are (1) Americans for Prosperity, the political advocacy arm of the billionaire Koch brothers, which among other things funded the Tea Party movement; (2) the Milwaukee-based Bradley Foundation, whose “weaponized philanthropy” funds conservative think tanks, public interest law firms and opposition research firms; and (3) the American Legislative Exchange Council, which writes model legislation to advance the corporate cause.

For them, winning elections is not a goal, but a means of enacting their agenda.  Leaders such as Newt Gingrich, Karl Rove and Mitch McConnell do not try to appeal to as broad a constituency as possible, because the broader the appeal, the more their program would have to be diluted.

They prefer a narrow majority and an extreme program, which includes measures to lock in their power.  They recognize that, inevitably, the tide will turn against them.  Their calculation is that the tide will never go all the way back to where it was before, and meanwhile they will have left things in place that will help them make a comeback.

The problem is that there is no equivalent force to stand in their way.  There is no La Follette coalition of wage-earners, independent farmers and small-business owners left to defend the La Follette legacy..

All three groups have been losing ground, economically and politically, for decades.  None has a powerful voice in Madison (Wisconsin’s state capital) or Washington.  None of the three groups regards either of the other two as an ally or potential ally.

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The tide is turning in favor of impeachment

October 5, 2019

During the past few months, a plurality of Americans have come to support impeachment of President Donald Trump, according to the latest YouGov poll.

We’re split along party lines.  Eighty-three percent of Democrats support impeachment, 76 percent of Republicans oppose it and independents are more or less evenly divided.

But public sentiment is definitely running against President Trump.

When asked specifically whether President Trump should be impeached if it could be proved that he suspended military aid to Ukraine in order to incentivize the Ukrainian government to investigate Joe Biden and his son, 55 percent said they’d support impeachment and only 26 percent said they’d oppose it.

The latest YouGov poll indicated that if the election were held today, a generic Democrat would get 40 percent of the vote and President Trump 36 percent, with 11 percent undecided.

But here’s something interesting.  Twelve percent said that if they had to choose between Trump and a Democrat, they wouldn’t vote at all.

Maybe impeachment isn’t a mirage, as I thought.  I’d still prefer the 2020 election hinge on health care, the economy, the environment, Social Security, immigration and other issues that affect the well-being of Americans.

Getting rid of Trump will accomplish little without a change in the conditions that produced Trump.

And, of course, while polls are interesting, the one that counts will be the one on Nov. 3, 2020.

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What impeachment would not do

September 30, 2019

Chris Hedges wrote in Truthdig last week about what impeachment would not do.

Chris Hedges

Impeaching Donald Trump would do nothing to halt the deep decay that has beset the American republic.

It would not magically restore democratic institutions.

It would not return us to the rule of law.

It would not curb the predatory appetites of the big banks, the war industry and corporations.

It would not get corporate money out of politics or end our system of legalized bribery.

It would not halt the wholesale surveillance and monitoring of the public by the security services.

It would not end the reigns of terror practiced by paramilitary police in impoverished neighborhoods or the mass incarceration of 2.3 million citizens.

It would not impede ICE from hunting down the undocumented and ripping children from their arms to pen them in cages.

It would not halt the extraction of fossil fuels and the looming ecocide.

It would not give us a press freed from the corporate mandate to turn news into burlesque for profit.

It would not end our endless and futile wars.

It would not ameliorate the hatred between the nation’s warring tribes—indeed would only exacerbate these hatreds.

Impeachment is a way for the Democratic leadership to avoid these issues.

Trump’s rhetoric, as the pressure mounts, will become ever more incendiary. He will, as he has in the past, openly incite violence against the Democratic leadership and a press he brands as “the enemy of the people.”

There is no shortage of working-class Americans who feel, with justification, deeply betrayed and manipulated by ruling elites. Their ability to make a sustainable income has been destroyed. They are trapped in decaying and dead-end communities. They see no future for themselves or their children. They view the ruling elites who sold them out with deep hostility.

Trump, however incompetent, at least expresses this rage. And he does so with a vulgarity that delights his base. I suspect they are not blind to his narcissism or even his corruption and incompetence. But he is the middle finger they flip up at all those oily politicians like the Clintons who lied to them in far more damaging ways than Trump.

LINK

The Problem With Impeachment by Chris Hedges for Truthdig.

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There is a corruption case against Hunter Biden

September 27, 2019

Joe and Hunter Biden

Ukrainian prosecutors have good reason to investigate Joe Biden’s son, Hunter.  And they reportedly have been investigating him since well before President Trump made his controversial telephone call to President Zelensky of Ukraine.

It’s not just that Hunter Biden served on the board of directors of Burisma Holdings, a Ukrainian energy company, even though he has no special knowledge of the Ukraine or the energy industry, at a time when his father was President Obama’s “point man” for Ukraine policy.

Ukrainian prosecutors told journalist John Solomon that Burma Holdings apparently made unexplained transfers of money to a U.S. company partly owned by Hunter Biden, in possible violation of Ukrainian law.

Hunter Biden hasn’t been charged, let alone convicted, of a crime.  But there are objective reasons, not just partisan political reasons, to look further at his record.

Back in January, 2018, Joe Biden boasted to the Council of Foreign Relations about how he pressured Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko to fire Special Prosecutor Viktor Shokin by threatening to withhold $1 billion in needed loan guarantees.

Solomon took the trouble to get Shokin’s side of the story and wrote an article about it for The Hill, an on-line news service.

He was told that Ukrainian prosecutors re-opened the investigation following Biden’s speech.  That’s significant, because he wrote his article in April, and President Trump’s controversial phone call to Ukrainian President Volodymer Zelensky about the case was on July 21.

Solomon reported:

The prosecutor … [Biden] got fired was leading a wide-ranging corruption probe into the natural gas firm Burisma Holdings that employed Biden’s younger son, Hunter, as a board member.

U.S. banking records show Hunter Biden’s American-based firm, Rosemont Seneca Partners LLC, received regular transfers into one of its accounts — usually more than $166,000 a month — from Burisma from spring 2014 through fall 2015, during a period when Vice President Biden was the main U.S. official dealing with Ukraine and its tense relations with Russia.

The general prosecutor’s official file for the Burisma probe — shared with me by senior Ukrainian officials — shows prosecutors identified Hunter Biden, business partner Devon Archer and their firm, Rosemont Seneca, as potential recipients of money.

Shokin told me in written answers to questions that, before he was fired as general prosecutor, he had made “specific plans” for the investigation that “included interrogations and other crime-investigation procedures into all members of the executive board, including Hunter Biden.”

After Shokin was fired, the investigation was wound up without any charges filed against Burisma Holdings or Hunter Biden.

Yury Lutsenko, the current special prosecutor, said that, after Biden’s speech, he re-opened the case.  He told Solomon he found out things he’d be happy to share with Attorney General William Bar.  He didn’t say what these things were.   That, of course is not evidence of anything.  But there is other evidence against Hunter Biden.

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Trump, Biden and Ukraine

September 25, 2019

I wrote a week ago that impeachment of President Donald Trump is a mirage, and now Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi has called for an impeachment investigation of the President.  Such are the perils of commenting on breaking news.

The circumstantial  information already available to the public indicates that President Trump has abused the powers of his office.

President Trump

He acknowledged holding back $250 million in military aid that Congress had appropriated for Ukraine.

He acknowledged talking to President Volodymyr Zelensky of Ukraine about reopening an investigation of Burisma, a Ukrainian energy company that paid Hunter Biden, the son of Joe Biden, $50,000 a month to serve on its board of directors.  The younger Biden resigned from the board earlier this year.

The House Judiciary Committee wants the transcript of Trump’s conversation with Zelensky, but even if nothing was said that connects the aid package to the investigation, the implication is clear.

The House has a duty to investigate.  I don’t think it is a good idea to call it an impeachment investigation just yet because calling it that means the investigation will be considered a failure if it does not result in impeachment recommendations.

Impeachment by the House may or may not be justified.  Conviction by the Senate would be next to impossible because it would require unanimity among the 47 Democratic Senators plus support by at least 20 Republicans.

Joe and Hunter Biden

What Republicans will point out is that Vice President Joe Biden threatened to hold up $1 billion in loan guarantees to Ukraine unless the government fired Viktor Shotkin, the prosecutor that was investigating Burisma.

Biden claims that Shotkin was corrupt, and his threat had nothing to do with his son.

I know of no evidence that either Joe Biden or his ne’er-do-well son, Hunter, broke the law.  But it’s obvious that Hunter would not have gotten his position if his father had not been Vice President.

It was a conflict of interest for Biden to be President Obama’s point man for Ukraine after his son took the job.

Biden may suffer more political damage than Trump.  The Trump Organization’s worldwide operations involve more extensive potential conflicts of interest.  But Biden has a reputation to lose and Trump doesn’t.

The greatest reputational damage of all in the whole affair is to the reputation of the United States of America as a whole.  It shows that American political leaders do not respect the sovereignty of allies.  It shows they use American power to advance their personal family and political interests.

So far as political strategy goes, I think that so long as public attention is focused on personalities, Trump benefits, and that Democrats can win only if they focus on policy and governance.  Trump may win if the 2020 election hinges on impeachment, and impeachment fails.

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Piketty on the merchant right and Brahmin left

September 24, 2019

The French economist Thomas PIketty is famous for his best-selling book, Capital in the 21st Century, which explained why inequality constantly increases.

Thomas Piketty

The explanation is the formula r>g.  It means that the rate of return on assets over time exceeds the rate of economic growth.  That means the wealthy get an ever-larger share of the economic pie until and unless something happens to destroy the value of their assets—war, revolution or a financial crash.

Piketty has just published a sequel, Capital and Ideology. in France.  It will be published in English translation next March.  Reviewers say it takes a more global view than the first book and advances more radical ideas for reducing inequality.

The part that’s getting the most attention is Piketty’s notion that politics in the USA, UK and France are polarized between a “Brahmin left,” representing the highly-educated, and a “merchant right,” representing great wealth—two elites who have more in common with each other than with the majority of working people..

Initially, left-wing parties represented poorly educated wage-earners, while right parties represented owners of capital and the professional classes.  Over time, left-wing parties helped children of wage-earners advance into the educated middle class, and their children supposedly became the liberal elites, whom Piketty calls the “Brahmin left.”

The Brahmin left occupy high positions in organizations—government, corporate, educational, “non-profit”— based on their educational credentials.  Their counterparts, the merchant right, have power based on their ownership of businesses and financial assets.

Both believe their power and position is based on merit.  Both embrace global competitiveness, immigration and dismantling of trade protections and the social safety net, which leave working people with lower wages and greater insecurity..

This has produced a nationalist backlash.  Americans elected Donald Trump as President, the British voted to exit the European Common Market and Marine le Pen’s National Rally has a substantial following among French voters.  What they have in common is opposition to globalization and immigration.

The nationalist backlash is not yet a serious threat to the financial elite.  But it has driven immigrants and racial minorities into the left-wing parties in all three countries.  By championing minority rights, the Brahmin left can convince themselves they are still on the side of the underdog.

Piketty thinks the “Brahmin left” and “merchant right” may merge, and true workers’ parties may emerge in opposition to them, as the original British Labor Party emerged in opposition to the Conservative and Liberal parties in the early 1900s.

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More about the Brahmin left and merchant right

September 24, 2019

Democrats in the U.S., the Labor Party in Britain and left-wing parties in France no longer primarily represent the interests of wage earners, according to Thomas Piketty, the famous French economist.

Instead they represent an educated elite, which he calls the Brahmin left, while the conservative parties represent a financial elite, which he calls the merchant right.

The educated elite are not an intellectual elite.  Having advanced college degrees don’t make you an intellectual any more than owning stocks and bonds makes you an entrepreneur.

I agree that there is less conflict of interest between the educated elite and the financial elite than there is between the two elites and the majority of wage-earners.

In a typical Fortune 500 corporation, the CEO, the board of directors and the institutional stockholders would be the merchant right.

Salaried middle management, the highly-paid consultants and most especially the human resources department would be the Brahmin left.  Their income would not come from financial assets, but from their rank in an organization, for which they would qualify by means of educational credentials.

The human resources department of an organization usually determines the organizational culture.  Typically HR people are big on diversity training and being LGBTQ allies because these things do not affect the wealth of stockholders or the power of top management.

American non-profit organizations such as universities and hospitals and also government agencies are adopting a  corporate model.

This means a well-paid top-heavy administrative overhead along with lower pay, higher demands and less security for those who do actual work.   Adjunct teachers, hospital nurses and letter carriers are treated just the same as factory workers.

Just to be clear, I’m in favor of sticking up for the rights of minorities, women and other groups that are targets of prejudice.  What’s wrong is using this as cover for lower wages, longer hours, expansion of contingent work and a fight against labor unions.

Such are my observations about American institutional life.  I don’t know how true these observations are true of institutions in Britain and France, or whether they are true at all, but I wouldn’t be surprised if they were.

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The mirage of Trump impeachment

September 18, 2019

For the good of the country, the leaders of the Democratic Party should forget about trying to reverse the outcome of the 2016 election and think about how they can win the 2020 election.

Jerrold Nadler, chair of the House Judiciary Committee, said last week the committee will begin an inquiry or investigation into whether there is just cause to impeach President Donald Trump without specifying just what the impeachable offense is.

Impeachment is a serious matter and rare, as it should be.  The tried and true method of removing an unsatisfactory President is to not re-elect him.  Overturning the results of an election should only be done for a compelling and obvious reason.

If you claim an action by President Trump is impeachable, the first question to ask yourself is whether it would be impeachable if Barack Obama or Hillary Clinton had done it.

Of the previous 44 Presidents, only two—Andrew Johnson and Bill Clinton—were ever impeached, and neither one was convicted.  A third, Richard Nixon, resigned under threat of impeachment, and it is highly likely he would have been convicted.  Unlike with President Nixon and the Watergate investigation, there is no underlying, undeniable crime to investigate.

Originally, the idea was to determine whether Trump had tried to obstruct Robert Mueller’s investigation of alleged Russian interference in the 2016 election.  But if that doesn’t pan out, the committee will consider whether there are other grounds for impeachment.

An open-ended investigation of an individual for the purpose of finding a reason to accuse him of a crime is not impartial justice under law.  It is like the Whitewater investigation of President Bill Clinton.  The purpose was to work toward a result—impeachment—no matter what the basis was.

An impeachment is like an indictment.  The House of Representatives, acting like a petit jury, can impeach a President or other federal official, including judges, senators and congressional representatives, by simple majority vote.

The case then goes to the Senate which, acting like a petit jury, can convict, but only by a two thirds vote of those present.  If convicted of the charges, the President is removed from office, and then can be tried in the courts for any crimes he may have committed.

Grounds for impeachment, as set forth in the Constitution, are “treason, bribery or other high crimes and misdemeanors.”

Being a bad President is not grounds for impeachment.  The Constitutional convention considered “maladministration” as grounds for impeachment, and rejected it in favor of “high crimes.”

What is a “high crime?”  Constitutional lawyers interpret this to mean abuse of the powers of one’s office, including ways that are technically legal.  For example, if an Attorney-General used his or her discretion to only prosecute members of the opposing political party and never to prosecute members of his or her own party, that might be grounds for impeachment.

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Poll shows Trump gain among minority voters (!!)

September 18, 2019

This is just one poll, but its results are startling to me.  It indicates that President Trump actually is improving his standing among black and Hispanic voters, but not among white voters—although he clearly is still the choice of a majority of white voters.

The SurveyUSA poll is based on comparing Romney/Obama exit polls, Trump/Clinton exit polls and a hypothetical Donald Trump/Elizabeth Warren election if it were held today.  It only includes votes for the two candidates; third-party votes are ignored.

It also indicates that either Bernie Sanders or Joe Biden could easily defeat Trump, but that the race would be close if Elizabeth Warren, Kamala Harris or Pete Buttigieg were the Democratic candidate..

Again, this is just one poll among many.  I don’t take it as proof of anything, just an interesting data point.  But it wouldn’t surprise me if increasing numbers of African-Americans and Hispanics favored a candidate who stood for economic nationalism and cultural conservatism.

LINK

Survey USA Election Poll #24854.

Lessons from Hitler’s rise to power

August 6, 2019

Benjamin Carter Hett’s THE DEATH OF DEMOCRACY: Hitler’s Rise to Power and the Downfall of the Weimar Republic is a month-by-month account of the politics of the years leading up to the Nazi conquest of power in Germany.

Hett described how Hitler went from 2.8 percent of the popular vote in the 1928 elections to 37.6 percent in 1932,  how he leveraged Nazi voting strength to make himself chancellor by legal means in 1933 and how all pretense of legality ended in the “night of the long knives” in 1934.

That was when Hitler destroyed all remnants of legality by simply ordering the execution-style murder of his opponents, including dissidents in the Nazi party.

Adolph Reed Jr. said in an Interview that Hett’s book is not only good in itself, but it throws light on contemporary U.S. politics.  In fact it does have lessons for the present-day United States, although not in a straightforward or obvious way.

A number of European countries, following defeat in World War One and with middle classes threatened by powerful Communist movements, became right-wing dictatorships.  Fascist Italy led the way.

Germany followed a different path.  A Communist revolution was crushed by a government supported by Social Democrats.   Socialists then joined forces with the Catholic Center Party and moderate conservative parties to form a democratic government.

The democratic coalition worked for a number of years.  The economy recovered.  Inflation was curbed.

Germany became a model for democratic socialism.  Labor unions were powerful.  The government provided compulsory wage arbitration and a strong social safety net.  Homosexuality and abortion were legal.

But, like today’s USA, Weimar Germany struggled with the issue of globalization vs. economic nationalism.

One big issue Weimar Germany had in common with the present-day USA was the question of globalization vs. economic nationalism.

The governing coalition accepted the need to pay reparations for Germany’s supposed guilt for starting World War One and to back their currency with gold.  Both were seen as the price of participating in the world economy.

The right-wing nationalists, including the Nazis, objected to these policies because they denied Germany the means to pay for rearmament and a large army.  They also objected to globalization on principle.  The Nazis wanted to end reparations, abrogate international trade treaties, limit foreign trade and make Germany as self-sufficient as possible.

The refugee crisis was another big issue.  An estimated 1.5 million refugees entered Germany between 1918 and 1922.  Most of them were Germans from former German territory in France and Poland, and many were refugees from Bolshevik Russia, but a lot of them were Jews.

Many Germans worried about their country’s inability to secure its borders. The Nazi position was to expel all refugees and also all Jews, refugees or not.

Weimar Germany had its own version of identity politics, which however was based on social class and religion rather than race, ethnicity, gender or sexual orientation.  By identity politics, I mean politics based on an affirmation that your own group is good and other groups are bad, rather than politics based on getting what you and your group want.

The identity group to which the Nazis and other right-wing nationalists appealed were the rural and middle-class German Protestants.  The American and British image of Weimar Germany is based on Berlin, but more than a third of Germans lived in villages of fewer than 2,000 people.  Rural Protestants tended to be highly religious, respectful of authority and nostalgic for the Germany of Kaiser Wilhelm.

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A fresh look at the ‘alternative right’

July 29, 2019

Matthew N. Lyons is author of INSURGENT SUPREMACISTS: The U.S. Far Right’s Challenge to State and Empire and principal author of CRTL-ALT-DELETE: An Antifascist Report on the Alternative Right.

His two books give me a framework for understanding the “alternative right” movement.  What makes the movement “alternative”, according to Lyons, is that, unlike right-wing movements of the past, its leaders are revolutionaries.

The right-wing extremists of the past, such as the Klan, used extreme and sometimes violent movements to suppress threats to the status quo, such as labor unions or black people who wanted voting rights.  The alternative right is not a defender of the existing system.  They want to repeal and replace it.

While they are small in numbers, the nomination and election of Donald Trump is an indication that many people are fed up with the existing governmental and corporate system, including the leadership of both political parties.

The “alternative right” movement is diverse.  It is not led by any particular individual or organization, and there are exceptions to almost any general statement one could make about it.  Lyons sees three main strains:

  • White nationalists.   Nowadays they tend more to white separatism than to old-time white supremacy.  They are anti-semitic, anti-immigrant and anti-Muslim as well as anti-black.  They include long-time racist organizations such as the Klan, neo-Nazis and Aryan Nations, but the highest-profile leader is Richard Spencer, founder of the National Policy Institute.
  • Theocrats.  Their aim is to enact their idea of Christian doctrine and morality into law.  They oppose feminism, abortion, gay rights and separation of religion and government.  One of the driving forces is the Christian Reconstructionist movement, which advocates a theocracy based on Old Testament law in order to hasten the Second Coming of Christ.
  • The ‘Patriot’ movement.  Their aim is to arm themselves to prepare for a breakdown in social  order or a totalitarian government takeover.  They believe they have a right to resist illegitimate federal authority with armed force, but also to enforce order when the authorities fail to do so.  Examples are the Posse Comitatus and Oath Keepers movements.

One common theme uniting all the groups is an ideal of masculinity and warrior brotherhood.  Woman are honored mainly for their role as wives and mothers, although women do exercise leadership roles in some alt-right organizations.

White people and Christians are declining as a percentage of the population, so white nationalists and Christian theocrats think it’s important for whites and Christians to reproduce.

Lyons thinks the alt-right, the radical left and the corporate and governmental elite are engaged in a three-way fight that only one of them can win.

There is overlap between the alt-right and the radical left.  Both oppose globalization, both regard the corporate elite as enemies and both think the Republican and Democratic parties are corrupt, all of which I agree with.

The alt-right, like the radical left, is anti-imperialist.  Alt-rightists oppose military intervention in foreign wars, and want to wind down the existing wars, as do I.  Many admire Vladimir Putin and other authoritarian foreign leaders as examples of masculine strength and conservative nationalist values.

Lyons argued that the alt-right is not fascist.  Rather than trying to set up a totalitarian police state modeled in Nazi Germany or Fascist Italy, they seek to decentralize power.

In the United States, right-wing whites and Christians have never needed a central authority to enforce racial or religious domination.  In fact, the federal government has sometimes been a liberator, as during the Civil War and the civil rights era.

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What Hillary Clinton actually said

July 26, 2019

These are remarks that Hillary Clinton made at an LGBT fund-raising event in New York City on Sept. 9, 2016

You know, to just be grossly generalistic, you could put half of Trump’s supporters into what I call the basket of deplorables. (Laughter/applause) Right?  (Laughter/applause) They’re racist, sexist, homophobic, xenophobic – Islamophobic – you name it.

Hillary Clinton

And unfortunately, there are people like that. And he has lifted them up.  He has given voice to their websites that used to only have 11,000 people – now have 11 million.  He tweets and retweets their offensive hateful mean-spirited rhetoric.  Now, some of those folks – they are irredeemable, but thankfully, they are not America.

But the “other” basket – the other basket – and I know because I look at this crowd I see friends from all over America here: I see friends from Florida and Georgia and South Carolina and Texas and — as well as, you know, New York and California — but that “other” basket of people are people who feel the government has let them down, the economy has let them down, nobody cares about them, nobody worries about what happens to their lives and their futures; and they’re just desperate for change.  It doesn’t really even matter where it comes from.

They don’t buy everything he says, but — he seems to hold out some hope that their lives will be different. They won’t wake up and see their jobs disappear, lose a kid to heroin, feel like they’re in a dead-end.  Those are people we have to understand and empathize with as well.

— Hillary Clinton, CBS News[9]

Source: Basket of deplorables – Wikipedia

Was she wrong?

Hat tip to Bill Elwell.

Sanders victory would spark a political crisis

July 25, 2019

Bernie Sanders

If Bernie Sanders actually were elected President in 2020, it would ignite a major and continuing political crisis.

Neither the Wall Street financial establishment nor the pro-war intelligence establishment (aka the “deep state”) would accept his victory as legitimate.

The Washington press corps would be against him.  Nor could he count on the support of leaders of his own party.  He threatens their sources of wealth and power by showing it is possible to be elected without big donations from rich and powerful interests.

We saw a taste of what could happen with the election of Donald Trump in 2016.  Democrats and liberals refused to accept his victory as legitimate.  A few of them proposed a silly plan to have the Electoral College disregard the instructions of voters.  I think we could expect a revival of this idea, this time on a bipartisan basis.

Then Democratic leaders and their sympathizers in the CIA put forth the idea that Trump’s victory was due to Russian agents hacking the Democratic National Committee and manipulating the voters via the Internet—the so-called Russiagate conspiracy.  Democrats still haven’t given up on using this to drive Trump from office.

(I think Donald Trump is a bad president, but I think he should be attacked for the things he actually did and I don’t think it is possible to undo the 2016 election.)

Some Russiagaters said the Russians also backed Bernie Sanders.  We’ll hear a lot more of this if Sanders ia nominated, and we’d probably get a new Russiagate investigation if he ia elected.

The Wall Street banking establishment has their own method of dealing with populist presidents.  It is to “lose confidence” in the administration, which pushes up bond interest rates, which in turn pushes the federal government budget out of balance.

Bill Clinton complained about being subject to the will of bond traders.  His friend and adviser, James Carville, said that if he died, he would like to be reincarnated as the bond market, because he would be all powerful.

Going further back in American history, Nicholas Biddle, president of the then Bank of the United States, deliberately induced a financial crisis by tightening credit in order to discredit his enemy, President Andrew Jackson.

Barack Obama was thwarted in enacting his very moderate political program by the intransigent opposition of Republicans in Congress.  In a Sanders presidency, we could expect the same thing not only from Republicans, but also from pro-corporate Democrats.

Maybe you think I’m alarmist.  I hope I am.  But I’m not predicting anything that hasn’t happened before.

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Bernie Sanders or Elizabeth Warren?

July 22, 2019

I respect both Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren.  They are the only two current Presidential candidates, except maybe Tulsi Gabbard, that I’d vote for.  Unfortunately I can’t vote for both.

Warren has a better and deeper understanding of policy.  Sanders’ ideas (for example, the Walmart tax) are sometimes half-baked.

Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren. Via Vox

But Sanders has a better and deeper understanding of public opinion and political power.  When he started campaigning for a $15 an hour minimum wage and Medicare for all, these ideas were regarded as crackpot.  He understands that public opinion is not a given.  It can be changed.

He also understands that it is not enough to have correct ideas or even to have popular ideas.  You have to have a political force behind you that is powerful enough to push these ideas through.

That is why he gives so much support to striking workers and protest demonstrations.  They represent a potential counterforce to the power of big money.

He regards billionaires and CEOs of big corporations as his enemies, and his aim is a political revolution that takes away their power.

Warren’s aim, on the other hand, is to make the system work the way it should.  That’s why Wall Street regards her as the lesser evil.

So even though many of her specific proposals are similar to Sanders’ proposals, the two represent different philosophies.

Warren wants to win an argument.  Sanders wants to win a battle.

My main reservation about the two is that neither Warren nor Sanders are full-fledged peace candidates—although Sanders is closer to being one than Warren is

If both are on the ballot in next year’s New York Democratic primary, I would vote for Sanders.

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Wanted: an immigration policy

July 18, 2019

Donald Trump’s immigration policy is to discourage crossings of the southern border by means of deliberate cruelty.

But it is not enough for liberals and progressives to protest President Trump.  They need to come up with a policy of their own.  This they have not done.  Until they do, the present situation will continue, which will be to Trump’s political advantage.

The policy of cruelty did not originate with Trump.  Under the Clinton administration, the U.S. government built walls at key border crossings, so that unauthorized immigrants would be forced into the desert and risk death by thirst.  Under the Obama administration, conditions were terrible in detention centers.

The Trump administration doubled down on all these policies.  And a cynic could make the argument (although I don’t) that control by cruelty is working.  It probably has a deterrent effect, while sufficient unauthorized immigrants make their way into the U.S. to supply employers’ need for low-paid labor.

But what is the alternative?  Is it open borders—no controls on immigration at all?  I know of nobody who has made that argument.  I know of no government that has such a policy.

Julian Castro, Elizabeth Warren and others have proposed repealing a 1929 law that makes it a crime to cross into the United States without authorization.  That wouldn’t be the same as open borders.  Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents could still turn you back.

Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Ilhan Omar and others propose abolishing the Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency, which is responsible for enforcing immigration laws in the interior of the United States.

This would not necessarily affect the sister Customs and Border Protection agency, which is responsible for controlling entry into the United States.  But AOC and Omar also oppose any additional funding for detention centers or deportations.  Some immigrant rights groups oppose all funding for detention centers or deportations.

In practice, all this means no limit on immigration at all—open borders in all but same.  The alternative to control by cruelty is no control at all.

AOC, Omar and others also call for a “Marshall Plan” to promote economic development in Honduras, Guatemala and El Salvador, the three main countries that asylum-seekers are fleeing.  But the original Marshall Plan was to rebuild democratic nations of western Europe after World War Two, not dictatorship like these three countries.

There is no point in aiding oppressive governments that are creating the problem in the first place.  Far better to aid the democratic governments of Costa Rica, Belize and Panama and the semi-democratic government of Nicaragua, and cut off support for the dictatorships.

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Why ‘the squad’ are under attack

July 17, 2019

Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Ilhan Omar, Rashida Tlaib and Aylessa Presley are not under attack because they are women of color.

Although they have been attacked on the basis of their ethnicity, that is not the reason why they were attacked.

Reps. Rashida Tlaib, Ilhan Omar, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Ayanna Pressley (AP)

They are under attack because they threaten the system by which corporate and wealthy donors dominate the legislative process.

Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez proposed a Green New Deal.  Ilhan Omar questioned the power of the Israel lobby.  All four traveled to the border and exposed the cruelty of Immigration and Customs Enforcement to asylum seekers.

If they’d just kept quiet, nobody would care that Ilhan Omar is an immigrant from Somalia, that Rashida Tlaib is the daughter of Palestinian Arab immigrants, that Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez is of Puerto Rican heritage or that Ayanna Pressley is African-American.

Pelosi and Majority Leader Steny Hoyer are fond of pointing out that there are only four of them.  But if they are so few and unimportant, why the fuss?

Some time ago Ocasio-Cortez said that the reason she as a freshman representative has been able to make an impact is that she has time to do her job.

And the reason she has time to do her job is that she does not follow the guideline of spending three hours a day on the phone to raise money.

That was a powerful statement.  It was threatening to Speaker Nancy Pelosi and other top Democrats and Republicans.  Their power depends on fund-raising from powerful interests.

If a congresswoman or a Bernie Sanders shows you can win power in defiance of those interests, this threatens the careers and even the livelihoods of those who depend on the donor class.

It is to Donald Trump’s interest to highlight this division within the Democratic Party, although he and the Republicans, if anything, are worse in this respect.

Top leaders of both political parties must be hoping for Ocasio-Cortez’s defeat.  The same is true of the other three.  I hope they all provide good constituent service.

LINKS

Nancy Pelosi Has Lost Control by Zach Carter for Huffington Post.

Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez on the 2020 Presidential Race and Trump’s Crisis at the Border, an interview for the New Yorker magazine

Rashida Tlaib Wants to Tax the Rich, Save Detroit and Free Palestine, an interview for Jacobin magazine..

Once again Trump commands the headlines

July 17, 2019

Donald Trump has a superpower—the ability to keep the attention of the public and the press on himself and his tweets rather than on issues he doesn’t want discussed.

He manifested this superpower in his tweet about whether certain Democratic congresswomen shouldn’t just “go back and fix the crime infested places from which they came.”

Last week Reps. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Ilhan Omar, Rashida Tlaib and Ayanna Presley traveled to the southern border and exposed the terrible conditions under which asylum seekers were forced to live—children forced to sleep on concrete floors under bright lights, ICE staff joking about women having to drink out of toilets.

Press coverage was about these bad conditions, and whether they should be called “concentration camps” or not.

AOC and Trump. CNNNews

All this was wiped off the blackboard.  Now press coverage is once again focused on President Trump’s tweets and whether they are acceptable or not.

Trump wins again, despite the House of Representatives vote condemning him.  He has kept the focus on himself and diverted attention from what is going on in the world.

The kryptonite for Trump’s superpower is for the press and the opposition to not take it more seriously than it deserves.  Respond to tweets with other tweets – not with press conferences and congressional resolutions.

Ocasio-Cortez  and her three friends are not under attack because they are women of color.  This is a red herring.

They are under attack because they threaten the system by which corporate and wealthy donors dominate the legislative process.

Some time ago Ocasio-Cortez said that the reason she as a freshman representative has been able to make an impact is that she has time to do her job because she does not follow the guideline of spending three hours a day on the phone to raise money.

That was a powerful statement.  It was threatening to Speaker Nancy Pelosi and other top Democrats and Republicans.  Their power depends on fund-raising from powerful interests.

If an Ocasio-Cortez or a Bernie Sanders shows you can win power in defiance of those interests, this threatens the careers and even the livelihoods of those who depend on the donor class.

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How to undo legislative gerrymandering?

July 9, 2019

Click to enlarge.

It’s not an accident that Democrats won a majority of votes for state assemblies in Michigan, North Carolina and Wisconsin, but Republicans won a majority of the legislative seats.

It’s because legislative districts were intentionally drawn by Republican state legislatures to give Republicans an advantage.  You can comply with the Supreme Court’s “one man, one vote” ruling and create legislative districts with equal population, and still draw the lines so as to give one party an advantage.

Click to enlarge

Both parties have done this through American history.  The word “gerrymander” comes from Governor Elbridge Gerry of Massachusetts, whose party, the Democratic-Republicans (forerunner of today’s Democrats), drew up a strangely-shaped state senate district in 1812 to dilute the voters of the rival Federalists.

But Republicans during the last round of redistricting after the 2010 census used big data and computer analysis to lock in their control of legislatures in key states.  Democrats would have to do much more than win a majority of the votes to take back control.

They complained to the Supreme Court, but the Supreme Court turned them down, in a 5-4 decision.  Chief Justice John Roberts said the court can’t take up the burden of drawing legislative district boundaries for the states.

But Justice Elena Kagan pointed out that there is an accepted procedure for doing just this.  It consists of having a computer process draw up many different maps of legislative districts of equal population that are geographically compact and respectful of existing boundaries, and then allowing the state legislature to choose one of them.

If the state and federal courts do not do something about gerrymandering, who will?  State legislatures elected in gerrymandered district are unlikely to change the system that put them in power.  Congress? State legislatures draw congressional district boundaries, too.

But the fact is that the Supreme Court is not going to change its decision until and unless a new justice is appointed and maybe not even then.

What remains for Democrats is to try to get a large enough vote to offset a rigged system.  Or propose amendments to state constitutions to set up a fair process for drawing legislative districts.

LINK

Chief Justice Roberts OKs Minority Rule by Doug Muder for The Weekly Sift.  Hat tip to him for the chart.

Why failed Donald Trump may win in 2020

May 30, 2019

Donald Trump has a good chance of being re-elected despite his poor record as President.

If Joe Biden is nominated, Trump will be able to attack him from the left as a defender of the status quo, just as he did Jeb Bush and Hillary Clinton.

If Bernie Sanders is nominated, the Democratic establishment will turn on him, as their predecessors did McGovern.  The Washington press corps already is against him.

There’s a possibility that, because of the large number of Democratic candidates, no candidate will go into the Democratic convention with a majority, in which case the super-delegates will decide.  Their most likely choice would be Biden or, if his candidacy fades, the most conservative Democrat still in the running.

I don’t think impeachment or doubling down on Russiagate will help the Democrats, but they’ll also pay a price by giving up and tacitly admitting they’re wrong.  They lose either way.

Donald Trump has failed to deliver on any of his promises.  He’s started a trade war with China, but this hasn’t helped unemployed factory workers.  He’s done a lot of unnecessarily cruel things to unauthorized immigrants, but he hasn’t addressed the immigration issue.  He hasn’t “cleaned the swamp.” He doesn’t have a plan for replacing Obamacare with something better.  He doesn’t have an infrastructure plan.

All these failures create an opening for Democrats.  But do they have something better to offer?

Bernie Sanders is the only one who can bring about needed social change because he is the only one who has created a campaign organization and source of funds that is independent of big donors and the Democratic Party machinery.  If elected, he would have a power base independent of the big donors and a means of putting pressure on Congress to enact his program.

That’s precisely why the Democratic Party establishment would be against him.  Re-electing Trump would only keep them out of office.  Electing Sanders would threaten their careers and their sources of power.

Joe Biden is their preferred candidate.  Biden is an unapologetic supporter of the financial elite and the warfare state. He takes up for rich people and has “no empathy” for struggling Millennials.  I’ll give him credit for honesty.  He doesn’t pretend to be progressive.

Elizabeth Warren and Tulsi Gabbard have good ideas, but they would have less power to bring about change than Sanders would.  Neither one is the head of a mass movement as Sanders is.  The Justice Democrats and Our Revolution support Sanders, but their aim is to change American politics as a whole and not just elect one candidate.

I’ve not researched all the other candidates, but at this point, I think of them as like bottles of soda pop in a vending machine.  They’re different flavors, but they’re basically all the same sugar water.

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Two wolves and a sheep vote on dinner

May 16, 2019

There’s an old saying that democracy is two wolves and a sheep voting on what to have for dinner.  For some amusing ideas of what that may mean in practice click on Two Wolves and a Sheep on Scott Alexander’s Slate Star Codex blog.

Why the Democrats shouldn’t nominate Joe Biden

April 26, 2019

Joe Biden Is a Disaster Waiting to Happen by Branko Marcetic for Jacobin.

Joe Biden Is Hillary Clinton 2.0 – Democrats Would Be Mad to Nominate Him by Medhi Hasan for The Intercept.

Joe Biden Is a Fraud, Pure and Simple by Norman Solomon for truthdig.

Three Democrats who shouldn’t be President

April 10, 2019

Joe Biden.

Pete Buttigieg.

Kamala Harris.

Click on the links for reasons why.

Is there a real peace candidate in the race?

April 8, 2019

The Black Agenda Report carried a good article evaluating the political records of all the announced Democratic candidates on issues of war and peace.

Peace activists Medea Benjamin and Nicholas J.S. Davies wrote that Senator Bernie Sanders’ record is by far the best.  He voted against military spending bills 16 out of 19 times since 2013.

He opposes a U.S. military presence in Afghanistan and Syria and opposes military intervention in Venezuela.  He’s a leader is trying to get Congress to invoke the War Powers Act to stop U.S. support for the Saudi Arabian war against Yemen.

The biggest blot on his record is his support for the expensive and useless F-35 fighter project, in order to create jobs in Vermont.

Rep. Tulsi Gabbard, a National Guard officer who served in Iraq, is an outspoken opponent of regime change wars and one of the few to oppose the new arms race with Russia.  But she voted in favor of military spending bills 19 out of 29 times, and has been a consistent supporter of expensive weapons systems.

Senators Elizabeth Warren and Kirsten Gillibrand deserve consideration.  Warren sponsored a resolution to renounce U.S. use of nuclear weapons except as retaliation for a nuclear attack.  Gillibrand has the second-best record of opposing proposed military budgets.

The spiritual writer Marianne Williamson is the only declared candidate who wants to dismantle the military-industrial complex and transition to a peace economy.  Politically, that is a fringe position.  It is realistic only in terms of what is actually needed.

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