Archive for the ‘Politics’ Category

Going beyond the American political binary

February 15, 2020

The fundamental fallacy … committed by almost everyone is this: “A and B hate each other, therefore one is good and the other is bad.”  [Bertrand Russell]

When people hear a story, they ask: Is it really true?  When people hear two stories, they ask: Which one is true? [Author unknown]

The smart way to keep people obedient and passive is to strictly limit the spectrum of debate, but allow very lively debate within that spectrum.  [Noam Chomsky]

In the USA, political partisanship can be bitter nowadays.  Pew Research reported that nearly one in two Americans have stopped talking politics with someone because of something they said.  Among liberal Democrats, the figure is six in 10.

The most obvious explanation for this is polarization on certain issues—abortion rights, gun control, gay marriage or affirmative action, for example.   The alignment of the two parties is clear, and I don’t talk to many individuals who mix and match issues.

But studies show that many Democrats and Republicans decide on issues based on party, affiliation rather than choosing their party based on issues.  Pollsters find that they get different answers to their questions when they say where Obama or Trump stands on a certain question than when they just state the question.

What all this hides is the fundamental agreement of top Democratic and Republican leaders on fundamental questions of peace and war, and of economic and political power.

Democratic and Republican administrations of the past 20 years have agreed to a state of war waged by invasions, bombings, assassinations and economic blockade with no expectation or even definition of victory.

In the name of war, they have normalized universal warrantless surveillance, detention without trial and torture, and have prosecuted whistleblowers who reveal the government’s crimes.

Democratic and Republican administrations of the past 30 years have given free rein to financial speculators who have crashed the economy and enriched themselves.  Neither party when in power has prosecuted financial fraud.  Neither has enforced the anti-trust laws.  Neither has stood up for the right of workers to organize.

I’m not saying there is absolutely no difference between the two parties’ leaderships.  I’m saying that neither party’s leadership has strayed from what is acceptable to Wall Street, Silicon Valley or the military-industrial complex.

Nor am I criticizing you if you think abortion rights or gun ownership is more important to you than any of the issues I’ve mentioned.  I just say the public deserves a chance to vote for advocates of peace and economic justice

A lot has been written by Jonathan Haidt and others about fundamental value differences between progressives and conservatives.  But what set of progressive or conservative values justifies financial fraud?  Or waging war against countries that do not threaten us?   Or an economic system in which income is continually redistributed upward into the pockets of the superrich?

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Michael Bloomberg as a presidential candidate

February 7, 2020

Michael Bloomberg

Michael Bloomberg’s emergence as a major Democratic presidential candidate reminds me of a saying attributed to Harry Truman.

If you run a Republican against a Republican, the [real] Republican will win every time.

LINKS

Michael Bloomberg Wikipedia page.

A Republican Plutocrat Tries to Buy the Democratic Nomination by Nathan J. Robinson for Current Affairs [Added 2/9/2020]  This says it all.

Michael Bloomberg’s Right-Wing Views on Foreign Policy by Mehdi Hasan for The Intercept.

Mike Bloomberg’s $ymbiotic Relationship With NY’s GOP: ‘We Agreed With Him on So Many Issues’ by Ross Barkan for Gothamist.

Bloomberg Has a History of Donating to Republicans—Including in 2018 by Bobby Cuza for Spectrum News NY1

Iowa caucus mess: maybe it’s more than stupidity

February 6, 2020

The Myth of Incompetence: DNC Scandals Are a Feature, Not a Bug by Caitlin Johnstone.

Are Clinton and Obama to blame for Trump?

February 5, 2020

Secretary of Labor Robert Reich

Robert Reich, who was Secretary of Labor during the Bill Clinton administration, is an honest man whom I respect.

When he left public service, he went back to his old job as a college professor and author.  He didn’t become a millionaire by joining corporate boards of directors or collecting consultants’ fees.

I also respect Reich, who is 4 feet 11 inches tall, for making his way in a world in which most people unconsciously take tall people more seriously than they take short people.  This is a form of prejudice I seldom think about.

He wrote an interesting article in The Guardian about how working people no longer feel represented by either the Democratic or Republican parties.

In 2015, he interviewed working people for a new book he was working on.  He’d talked to many whom he’d met 20 years before when he was in government, and many of their grown children.

Almost all of them were disillusioned with the “rigged system,” which they thought Hillary Clinton and Jeb Bush represented.  The only presidential candidates they were interested in were Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders.  Reich thinks they had a point.

Democrats had occupied the White House for 16 of the 24 years before Trump’s election, and in that time scored some important victories for working families: the Affordable Care Act, an expanded Earned Income Tax Credit and the Family and Medical Leave Act, for example.  I take pride in being part of a Democratic administration during that time.

But Democrats did nothing to change the vicious cycle of wealth and power that had rigged the economy for the benefit of those at the top and undermined the working class.

As Democratic pollster Stanley Greenberg concluded after the 2016 election, “Democrats don’t have a ‘white working-class’ problem.  They have a ‘working class problem’ which progressives have been reluctant to address honestly or boldly.  

“The fact is that Democrats have lost support with all working-class voters across the electorate.”

In the first two years of the Bill Clinton and Barack Obama administrations, Democrats controlled both houses of Congress.  Yet both Clinton and Obama advocated free trade agreements without providing millions of blue-collar workers who consequently lost their jobs any means of getting new ones that paid at least as well.  

Clinton pushed for NAFTA and for China joining the World Trade Organization, and Obama sought to restore the “confidence” of Wall Street instead of completely overhauling the banking system.

Both stood by as corporations hammered trade unions, the backbone of the white working class. They failed to reform labor laws to allow workers to form unions with a simple up-or-down majority vote, or even to impose meaningful penalties on companies that violated labor protections.

Clinton deregulated Wall Street before the crash; Obama allowed the Street to water down attempts to re-regulate it after the crash. Obama protected Wall Street from the consequences of its gambling addiction through a giant taxpayer-funded bailout, but allowed millions of underwater homeowners to drown.

Both Clinton and Obama turned their backs on campaign finance reform. In 2008, Obama was the first presidential nominee since Richard Nixon to reject public financing in his primary and general election campaigns, and he never followed up on his re-election promise to pursue a constitutional amendment overturning Citizens United vs FEC, the 2010 supreme court opinion opening wider the floodgates to big money in politics.

Although Clinton and Obama faced increasingly hostile Republican congresses, they could have rallied the working class and built a coalition to grab back power from the emerging oligarchy. Yet they chose not to. Why?

Source: The Guardian

Before I respond to Reich’s question, I want to take him to task for saying unions are the backbone of the “white working class.”  All workers, regardless of race, ethnicity or, for that matter, gender, need the protection of labor unions.

Black and Hispanic Americans are a larger percentage of union members than they are of the U.S. population as a whole.  When you use the expression “white working class,” you ignore the existence of a huge number of American wage-earners.

I don’t think Reich had bad intent, but one of the Democratic Party’s big problems is the successful Republican effort to drive a wedge between native-born white Anglo working people and black, Hispanic and immigrant working people.  It’s a mistake to use language that plays into that.

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The Iowa vote count mess

February 4, 2020

The late Robert A. Heinlein, a great SF writer, once said you should never attribute to malice what can be explained by stupidity.

Iowa, Democrats and Elite Incompetence by Yves Smith for Naked Capitalism.

Iowa Caucuses, the Blob and the Democratic Party Cartel by Matt Stoller.

Of course malice and stupidity are not mutually exclusive.

Should Sanders reject Joe Rogan’s support?

February 2, 2020

Bernie Sanders is running a campaign ad based on a (sort-of) endorsement by Joe Rogan, the popular podcaster.

He’s getting flak from critics who say Rogan has said at lot of racist, sexist, homophobic and transphobic stuff—most recently criticizing a trans-woman who engaged in mixed martial arts fighting with a biological woman—and therefore Sanders should reject his support.

Below is Joe Rogan’s own reaction, from a podcast with stand-up comedian Mark Normand.

I don’t have any problem with Joe Rogan, but here are some links to articles by writers who think differently.

LINKS

Bernie Sanders draws criticism for touting Joe Rogan endorsement by Gregory Krieg for CNN.

Bernie Sanders’ Joe Rogan experience by Zach Beauchamp for Vox.

It’s Good That Joe Rogan Endorsed Bernie by Michael Brooks and Ben Burgis for Jacobin magazine.

Identity, politics by Mandos for Ian Welsh’s blog.

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Why does Clinton hate Sanders so much?

January 24, 2020

Hillary Clinton & Bernie Sanders.  Source: Associated Press

Why is Hillary Clinton still so angry at Bernie Sanders?

I think it is because his criticisms, and his possible victory, call in question the meaning of her career.

She has spent her whole political life ingratiating herself with the rich and powerful.  Her justification is that this is the price of getting into a position in which it is possible to do good—the limited good that is politically possible.

Clinton has a record of supporting regime change wars, pro-corporate trade treaties and bank bailouts, for which she has been richly rewarded in campaign contributions and six-figure speaking fees.

When I bring this up, her supporters say she “had to” do these things.  Otherwise, they say, she would have been shut off from political power, and she would not have been able to be a champion for children and working mothers.

But if Sanders wins, it will show that you don’t “have to” have the patronage of the rich and powerful in order to win.

Clinton has been the subject of scurrilous and false attacks all her political life—mostly depicting her as some sort of dangerous or extreme radical, which is the opposite of the truth.  But Sanders’ criticisms are the ones that sting, because they are based on fact.

A Sanders victory would not break Clinton’s rice bowl.  She will continue to be a rich celebrity until her dying day.  All it would do is show that she was on the wrong side of history.

LINKS

Hillary Clinton in Full: A Fiery New Documentary, Trump Regrets and Harsh Words for Bernie by Lacey Rose for Hollywood Reporter.

We Regret to Inform You That Hillary Clinton Is at It Again by Luke Savage for Jacobin magazine.

Why They Hate Bernie’s Supporters by Carl Bejier [Added 1/25/2020]

The corruption case against Joe Biden

January 22, 2020

Zephyr Teachout, a supporter of Bernie Sanders, wrote an article accusing Joe Biden of corruption.  Sanders disavowed it and apologized. Biden accepted Sanders’ apology.

But I think Teachout was right. She pointed to three things—

Joe Biden

First, Biden’s support for finance over working-class Americans.  His career was bankrolled by the credit card industry. He delivered for it by spearheading a bankruptcy bill that made it harder for Americans to reduce their debts and helped cause the financial crisis.  He not only authored and voted for that bill, he split with Barack Obama and led the battle to vote down Democratic amendments.

His explanations for carrying water for the credit card industry have changed over time.  They have never rung true.

The simplest explanation is the most likely: he did it for his donors.  At a fundraiser last year, Biden promised his Wall Street donors that “nothing would fundamentally change” for them if he became president.  Now the financial world is raising huge money for his campaign.  It clearly thinks he’s going to be its friend if elected.  Most Americans, who get ripped off by the financial sector on a daily basis, aren’t looking for a candidate who has made their life harder.

Second, healthcare. On 25 April, the day he announced his campaign, Biden went straight to a fundraiser co-hosted by the chief executive of a major health insurance corporation.  He refuses to sign a pledge to reject money from insurance and pharma execs and continues to raise money from healthcare industry donors.  His campaign is being bankrolled by a super PAC run by healthcare lobbyists.

What did all these donors get?  A healthcare proposal that preserves the power of the insurance industry and leaves 10 million Americans uninsured.

Third, climate change. Biden signed a pledge not to take money from the fossil fuel industry, then broke his promise. Right after a CNN town hall on climate change, he held a fundraiser hosted by the founder of a fossil fuel conglomerate. He is pushing climate policy that has gotten dismal reviews from several leading environmental groups.

There are plenty of other examples that raise questions, like housing and social security. Big real estate moguls are playing a major role in Biden’s campaign. Unlike his rivals, he has no comprehensive housing plan. When he pushed for cuts to Social Security, was he serving donors or his constituents?

But then President Donald Trump is 100 times worse.  Trump’s whole administration is one giant conflict of interest.  Call this the “lesser evil” defense.

A Biden defender could point out that there’s no reason to think that Biden has broken any laws. And a defender could argue that there’s also no reason to think Biden is any more dependent on corporate interests than the average Senator.  Call this the “average evil” defense.

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The search for a national conservatism

January 20, 2020

I’ve long said that the Republican Party rests on three pillars—the neocons, who believe there is a military solution to every problem; the theo-cons, who believe there is a Biblical solution to every problem; and the libertarians, who believe there is a free-market solution to every problem.

This is an exaggeration, but an exaggeration of reality that’s only a little bit unfair. Many conservatives recognize their problem, and that was the theme of the National Conservatism Conference in Washington, D.C., last July.

A German journalist named Thomas Meaney, reported on the conference for Harper’s magazine.  He said His report shows the unifying theme of the new conservatism is patriotism and national unity.  Instead of globalization, the new conservatives want an industrial policy to rebuild American manufacturing strength.

Meaney was moved to ask—

What if Trump had dialed down the white nationalism after taking the White House and, instead of betraying nearly every word of his campaign rhetoric of economic populism, had ruthlessly enacted populist policies, passing gargantuan infrastructure bills, shredding NAFTA instead of remodeling it, giving a tax cut to the lower middle class instead of the rich, and conspiring to raise the wages of American workers?

It doesn’t take much to imagine how that would play against a Democratic challenger with McKinsey or Harvard Law School imprinted on his or her forehead.

There seemed to be two futures for Trumpism as a distinctive strain of populism: one in which the last reserves of white identity politics were mined until the cave collapsed and one in which the coalition was expanded to include working Americans, enlisting blacks and Hispanics and Asians in the cause of conquering the condescending citadels of Wokistan.

Was it predestined that Trump would choose the former?

Source: Harper’s Magazine

My answer is, yes, it was predestined that Trump make the choices he did.  Character is destiny, and Trump has the character of a showman and confidence man.  His business record shows this.

He is smart enough to give the common people the appearance of respect, while serving the interests of Wall Street and the military-industrial complex.

There is nothing in his record to indicate that he has either the interest or sense of purpose to do anything more than that.

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The Sanders-Warren woman electability flap

January 16, 2020

It’s not believable that Bernie Sanders ever said that a woman couldn’t be elected President.  The only explanations for Elizabeth Warren saying otherwise are (1) she misunderstood what he said, (2) she misremembered what he said or (3) she is lying.

LINKS

The Credibility Gap: It’s difficult to believe Elizabeth Warren’s claim that Bernie Sanders thinks a woman can’t win by Nathan J. Robinson.

CNN Debate Performance Was Villainous and Shameful by Matt Taibbi for Rolling Stone.

Thoughts on Warren, Sanders and the Convention by Thomas Neuberger for Down With Tyranny! [Added 1/21/2020]

The whole GRU phishing story seems fishy

January 16, 2020

Area 1 Security, a California-based cybersecurity firm, claimed that Russian military intelligence successfully hacked Burisma Holdings for dirt on Joe Biden’s son.

The GRU allegedly used what’s known as phishing—tricking people into revealing passwords and other information needed to penetrate a secure computer system.

Area 1 Security claims to have the capability of a little junior National Security Agency.  Here’s what the New York Times reported.

“The attacks were successful,” said Oren Falkowitz, a co-founder of Area 1, who previously served at the National Security Agency.  Mr. Falkowitz’s firm maintains a network of sensors on web servers around the globe — many known to be used by state-sponsored hackers — which gives the firm a front-row seat to phishing attacks, and allows them to block attacks on their customers.

Source: The New York Times.

But the company’s services are limited to giving really, really good protection against phishing attacks.  I would not think a company with such superpowers would limit itself like this.

Interestingly, in the original announcement and press release, Area 1 did not claim to know that Burisma Holdings security had been breached—only that the GRU was attempting to penetrate its security through phishing.

That is probably true.  The GRU is no doubt trying to penetrate all the major corporations and government agencies in Ukraine.  But why wouldn’t Area 1 put the stronger claim in its press release?  It makes the claim that the GRU was successful seem like an afterthought..

I think the purpose of the announcement is to make Burisma Holdings, the corrupt former employer of Joe Biden’s son Hunter, off limits for discussion in the coming election campaign.  Anybody who raises this issue will be called a Russian asset.

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How educated liberals alienate working people

December 31, 2019

Here’s a little thought experiment: What would happen if, by a snap of the fingers, white racism in America were to disappear?

It might be that the black and Latino working class would be voting for Trump, too. Then we Democrats would have no chance in 2020.

We often tell ourselves: “Oh, we lost the white working class because of race.”  But maybe the truth is something closer to this: “It’s only because of race that we have any part of the working class turning out for us at all.”

This is the beginning of an article by Chicago labor lawyer Thomas Geoghegan in The New Republic. His point is that that leaders of the Democratic Party and also the Washington press corps are college graduates who have little or nothing to do with mere high school graduates, even though they are the majority of Americans.

The liberal solution to economic inequality in the USA is college education for everybody.  In other words, the message of the liberal elite is: Imitate us.

This is insulting and is felt as an insult, Geoghegan said.  It also tells the majority of Americans over 30 that they are doomed.

And even if college education were universal, it wouldn’t end poverty, raise wages or cure economic inequality.  It would simply be a higher bar you have to reach in order to have any kind of economic future at all.

Geoghegan said that’s why the most astute thing that Donald Trump ever said was, “I love the uneducated.”

It wasn’t always this way.  I am old enough to remember a time when a majority of Senators and Congresspeople, not to mention President Harry Truman, had no education beyond high school.

 I was one of only two college graduates employed by the first newspaper I worked for, in 1959.  The other was the city editor, who had a degree in chemistry.

That era was certainly no utopia, but politicians lived in the same neighborhoods as their constituents and journalists lived in the same neighborhoods as their readers.

Not that education, or liberal education, is useless.  It is just that it is not a solution to problems caused by concentration and abuse of economic and political power.

By the way, exit polls showed that Donald Trump got 8 percent of the African-American vote and 29 percent of the Hispanic vote in 2016.

LINK

Educated Fools: Why Democrats still misunderstand the politics of social class by Thomas Geoghegan for The New Republic.

The Ukrainegate situation summarized

November 28, 2019

We now have, in essence, the two sides investigating each other for the crime of having investigated each other

Source: Pete’s Politics and Variety

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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