Archive for the ‘Politics’ Category

COVID-19 and the war on populism

September 13, 2021

Hat tip to Bill Harvey.

Thomas Frank had a good interview last week on the Breaking Points TV show.  It’s worth watching.

He talked about how failure to control the spread of the COVID-19 virus, instead of being blamed on the failed health care system, is instead blamed on people who are skeptical of established authority.

The problem is that there are good reasons to be skeptical of authority.  It was Anthony Fauci, who is nowadays considered to the voice of science, who in the early days of the pandemic said that it was not to be taken seriously, it was just like the ‘flu, and that masks were useless.

It was the Centers for DIsease Control that, in the early days, advised the U.S. government not to screen air travelers coming in from China. 

Established authority nowadays tells us that vaccination will prevent the spread of the disease, when, so far as is known, it merely suppresses the symptoms and does little or nothing to stop the spread.

Nobody is being called to account for this.  The bulk of the press, the political establishment and the medical establishment say that everything that has gone wrong, and everything that is predictably going to go wrong, is the fault of right-wingers who refuse to get vaccinated.

There are all kinds of reasons why people don’t get vaccinated.  There are medical reasons.  There are economic reasons.  There are religious reasons.

And of course there are conspiracy theorists who think the pandemic is a Democratic hoax.  I don’t share their views, of course, but conspiracy theories flourish in times like these, when established authority can’t be trusted.

Whatever the reasons people have for not getting vaccinated, ridicule and scapegoating are not good methods for bringing them around.  They are, however, good tactics for diverting blame for failure from the people in charge.

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Deplorables and liberal hate speech

September 4, 2021

When I was a small boy, one of the things my mother forbid me to do was to say I “hated” someone.  I could say I was angry with them or annoyed with them or use some other word, but to hate someone is to wish they were dead, and I certainly didn’t want that, did I?

Nowadays I hear and read complaints from self-described progressives about un-vaccinated people who get COVID, and how wrong it is for these willfully ignorant Trump supporters to be given space in hospitals when decent, rational liberal people need the space.

The idea is that if willfully un-vaccinated people (although presumably not including un-vaccinated African-Americans and Hispanics, I presume) die of COVID, maybe they have it coming, maybe they should be allowed to die, because they had a choice to be vaccinated and didn’t take it.  I’m guessing the people who talk this way don’t literally mean what they say, but still……

On the other hand, I don’t doubt the sincerity of the exterminationist rhetoric of a blogger named Chris Ladd,  who wrote that democracy can only be saved my meeting radical Trump supporters with deadly force.

Ashli Babbit, the traitor shot by police during the attempted coup, deserved what happened to her.  Every other traitor who mounted those steps that day deserved the same end.  The only tragedy in that incident is that she was the only attacker killed.

No, her death wasn’t “unfortunate,” any more than every death of every living thing is unfortunate.  Violence used to protect our most fundamental institutions was necessary, just, and in the service of a brighter future.  Babbit’s death deserves just as much regret or discomfort as the death of one of the 9/11 plotters or some random Nazi.

The loss of any life is regrettable and also often necessary.  If we cannot embrace what happened to Ashli Babbit, and make sure it happens to others like her, we will very soon live in a post-democratic, disintegrating former nation.

He called for the suppression of the Republican Party.

There’s little need to worry about what happens to hardened Trump cultists.  There aren’t as many of them as it seems and they have minimal cultural and financial power.  Faced with a real confrontation, with real material consequences, the number of them who will continue the fight will drop off precipitously, leaving the rest to be easily isolated and neutralized. ……

For now, isolate Republicans from every center of cultural influence by any available means.  Make it expensive and risky for anyone to identify publicly with the GOP.  When Republicans attempt their coup, as they will, make sure they have nothing to support them but their small band of idiot cultists and the financial backing of a handful of millionaire weirdos.

Bring whatever organized violence is necessary to blunt Republican attempts to destroy democracy.  And don’t flinch.  On the backside of that coup, rout them from every remaining position of public trust and jail as many of them as possible.

In a different post, Ladd said the founding myth of the United States is white supremacy.  Americans, he said, defined ourselves as not being the non-white “other.”  We need a new founding myth, he wrote, one in which we demonize the right-wing deplorables.  In other words, we substitute one powerless minority for another as national scapegoats.

Ladd equated Republicans with Trump supporters, white evangelical Christians, white supremacists and terrorists, and people who take ivermectin as a COVID-19 treatment—all, in his view, incapable of rational thinking.

If you created a Venn diagram of all the groups he mentioned, it would be complicated and confusing.  Many Republicans despise Trump.  On the other hand, a small but significant number of former Obama voters voted for Trump in 2016 and 2020.

White evangelical Protestants are not all of one mind and, as a group, they are not racists in any meaningful sense of that word, unless you think that religious and political conservatives are by definition racist.  Actual white supremacists, whose works I read on the Internet, despise the Republican party and feel betrayed by Trump.

Although Donald Trump was anti-lockdown and anti-mask, he advocated vaccination and launched the successful Warp Speech program to develop vaccinations.  While he was in office, many liberals warned against the possibility of vaccines being released before they were ready, then changed their minds right after the 2020 elections.  Republicans are not the only ones who are politicizing medicine.

Certainly the Jan. 6 mob deserve to be punished for their acts of assault, trespass and vandalism.  But most of them sincerely believed they were defending democracy, not attacking it, by protesting election rigging.  There never was a possibility they would threaten the transition of government.  And so on.

On the other hand, if you created a Venn diagram of those who are trying to suppress discussion of ivermectin, and a Venn diagram of those who oppose winding down the forever wars, I think they would pretty much overlap.

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The fall of Andrew Cuomo

August 12, 2021

Gov. Cuomo

As with Donald Trump, Hillary Clinton and many another public figure, the things NY Gov. Andrew Cuomo was most attacked for were not the worst things that he did.

Cuomo probably deserved to be impeached for corruption.  I don’t know whether the sex scandal was grounds for impeachment.  Of course impeachment on charges of corruption might have led to disclosures that would have embarrassed a whole lot of people.

By resigning, he avoids impeachment and preserves the option of a political comeback.

LINKS

The Real Question Is Why Andrew Cuomo Took So Long to Fall by Zephyr Teachout for The Nation.

Andrew Cuomo’s Legacy: Normalizing Corruption and Lawlessness by David Sirota for Jacobin.

New York Governor Andrew Cuomo Resigns in Sex Scandal by David Walsh for the World Socialist Web Site.

Nine other scandals surrounding the New York governor by Robert Gavin for the Albany Times-Union.

How culture wars have replaced class conflict

August 11, 2021

Note: I made several last-minute revisions and additions to this post the evening and following morning after I put it up.

Source: Mother Jones

American politics nowadays is extremely bitter.  Many Democrats and Republicans literally hate the opposing party.  In some circles, there’s talk of a new civil war.

Yet the leaders of the two parties differ but little on fundamental political and economic issues.  None of them questions the goal of global military supremacy.  Neither is facing up to the pandemic or the impending climate-related disasters.  Neither questions the existing structure of wealth and power.

But our politics is not about economic and political change.  It is about cultural change.

One party is pushing the ongoing revolution in how we think about race, religion, the family and sexual morality; the other is resisting it.  These issues are important, but they don’t have political answers.  But here we are.  They are on the political agenda, whether I like it or not.

Some friends of mine pointed me to an important article by David Brooks in The Atlantic about the background to all this.  He said that we are in the unusual position of having an elite of income and wealth who think of themselves as progressive, and push for change they think is progressive, while remaining blind to their own privilege.

The late Saul Alinsky said politics is a conflict between the haves, the have-nots and the have-a-littles.  As Brooks points out, this is not politics in today’s USA.  He describes a blue hierarchy and a red hierarchy, and points out that political antagonism is mostly between groups at the same levels in the opposing hierarchies (Koch brothers vs. Bill Gates, social workers vs. cops).

Brooks’ blue hierarchy consists of:

  • The bohemian bourgeoisie: Technology and media corporate CEOs, university and foundation presidents, high-level bankers, highly-successful physicians and CEOs.  Many are graduates of elite universities.  They think they owe their success to their superior intelligence and understanding.
  • The creative class: Tenured professors, successful journalists, employees of non-profit and cultural institutions.
  • Children of the elite: Younger people with elite educations, but without elite incomes, working in the lower rungs of education, the mass media, technology and the non-profit sector.
  • The caring class: Health care workers, and also restaurant servers, store clerks and hotel employees.  They tend to be racially diverse, and poor.

His red hierarchy consists of:

  • The philistine one-percenters:  Corporate executives, entrepreneurs, top-level professionals.  Few are graduates of top universities.  They think they owe their success to their superior common sense and grit.
  • The regional gentry: Families in small cities and towns who’ve owned businesses and properties for generations, and identify with their communities.
  • The proletarian aristocracy (aka the petit bourgeoisie): Small-business owners, independent craft workers (electricians, plumbers), salaried middle managers.
  • The rural working class.  Wage-earners with highly-supervised jobs in manufacturing, construction and transportation.  They tend to be poor, and racially homogeneous, living among family and friends they’ve known all their lives.

I would mention another key group in the red coalition.

  • The guardian class.  State and local police, private security and the career military.  They are important not only because of their numbers, but because of the respect the enjoy and because of the key role they would play in any breakdown in social order.  Counteracting this is the new wokeness at the top levels of the Pentagon and FBI.

What unites the blue and red hierarchies?  Not material interests.  Values.  What are they fighting over?  Validation of their values.  Validation of their ways of living and ways of thinking, and repudiation of those of their enemies.  Also higher status, but mainly validation.

What Brooks doesn’t get into is the large number of Americans who don’t feel represented by either the blue or the red hierarchy  They either see no material benefit in voting or they reluctantly vote for what they see as a lesser evil.

Not everybody is enlisting to fight in the culture wars.  Some care more secure jobs, or secure retirements, or an end to useless, unwinnable wars, or protection from pandemic disease, or something else that’s tangible and real and not a matter of attitude.

LINKS

How the bohemian bourgeoisie broke America by David Brooks for The Atlantic.  “The creative class was supposed to foster progressive values and economic growth.  Instead we got resentment, alienation and endless political dysfunction.”  Yep!

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Thomas Frank on anti-Trump authoritarians

August 8, 2021

AFP via Getty Images

Thomas Frank, writing in Le Monde diplomatique, points out that the hard core Trump haters are just as authoritarian as President Trump himself.

I remember, back in the 1950s, that the conventional wisdom among college-educated liberals was that if you wanted to fight Communism, you had to understand and address the reasons why poor and down-trodden people saw Communism as an answer.

Those liberals also perceived that threats to liberty could come in many forms: not just fascism, but Communism; not just Communism, but the followers of Joe McCarthy and the Ku Klux Klan.

In the era of Donald Trump, establishment liberals lack this insight.  They do not look at the reasons why ordinary people might turn to someone like Donald Trump, and they fight dissent by trying to silence dissenters.

Here’s how Thomas Frank puts it—

….. Millions of ordinary Americans despise the well educated elite. Why?

Look at the opioid epidemic that raged through middle America in the years before 2016 — a gift of Big Pharma and the medical profession.

Look at the de-industrialization that afflicted the same geographic areas — a product of our brilliant free trade deals.

Look at the global financial crisis and the bailouts — the deeds of America’s greatest math and financial geniuses, who faced almost no consequences for their actions.

Look at the Iraq War — the toast of the foreign policy establishment.

Look at the incredible fact that American life expectancy was actually declining in the years before 2017 rather than increasing.

Trump did nothing to solve any of these problems.  But everyone knows they exist.

One side talks, lectures, scolds and instructs, and the other side — silent by definition these days — seethes with resentment.

Everyone knows this awful dynamic had a role in elevating the racist demagogue Trump to the presidency.  Everyone also knows this country is primed to explode.  [snip]

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Corporate dems oppose Medicare for all

July 1, 2021

Nina Turner, who’s running for Congress in the Democratic primary on northeast Ohio, is under attack by the corporate wing of the Democratic Party for supporting Medicare for All.

Pharmaceutical industry lobbyists are backing her main primary opponent, Shontel Brown.  So are Hillary Clinton and House Majority Whip James Clyburn, both big beneficiaries of donations from Big Pharma.

As my friend Bill Harvey says, corporate Democrats are not “moderates” or “centrists.”  Their agenda is to block the opponents of big business.

LINK

Dems Launch Proxy War on Medicare for All by David Sirota and Julia Rock for The Daily Poster.

Why don’t we Americans demand what we want?

June 3, 2021

A short answer is that not enough of us are like Bill Harvey and Dennis Kucinich.

A longer answer is that our political process has induced a state of learned helplessness among American voters.

Our leaders are constantly promising “hope and change,” and then telling us that, regrettably, it wasn’t really possible.

We saw this with the Obama administration. We are seeing the beginnings of this with the Biden administration.

So over time we become conditioned to the idea that universal health care, or a minimum wage that is a living wage, or anything else that would make life better, are impossible dreams.

Why can’t we Americans get what we want?

June 2, 2021

Here are some bits of information I pulled from a post by a blogger named Benjamin David Steele.

###

Columbia law Professor Tim Wu wrote an op-op in the New York Times that included the following list of things he observed the public wants, but is not getting:

About 75 percent of Americans favor higher taxes for the ultrawealthy.

The idea of a federal law that would guarantee paid maternity leave attracts 67 percent support.

Eighty-three percent favor strong net neutrality rules for broadband, and more than 60 percent want stronger privacy laws.

Seventy-one percent think we should be able to buy drugs imported from Canada, and 92 percent want Medicare to negotiate for lower drug prices.

The list goes on.

Michael Moore included a segment in his film “Fahrenheit 11/9” released last fall (pre-election) intended to bring home the realization of how much more to the left the American public is than what the political establishment is providing.

Here are the facts.

The vast majority of Americans are pro-choice. [Slide: 71% pro-choice (NBC News/Wall Street Journal, 2018)]

They want equal pay for women, [Slide: 82% Equal pay for women (YouGov, 2013)]

  • stronger environmental laws, [Slide: 74% stronger environmental laws (Gallup, 2018)]
  • legalized marijuana, [Slide: 61% legalized marijuana (Pew, 2018)]
  • a raise in the minimum wage, [Slide: 61% raise the minimum wage (National Restaurant Association Poll, 2018)]
  • Medicare for all, [Slide: 70% medicare for all (Reuters, 2018)]
  • tuition-free college, [Slide: 60% tuition-free public college (Reuters, 2018)]
  • free child care, [Slide: 59% free child care (Gallup, 2016)]
  • support for labor unions, [Slide: 62% Approve of labor unions (Gallup, 2018)]
  • a cut in the military budget, [Slide: 61% a cut in the military budget (University of Maryland, 2016)]
  • break up the big banks. [Slide: 58% Break up the big banks (Progressive Change Institute, 2015)]

Most Americans don’t even own a gun. [Slide: 78% Don’t own a gun (Harvard University, 2016)]

And 75% believe that immigration is good for the U. S. [Slide: 75% Immigration is good for the U.S. (Gallup, 2018)]

And on and on and on.

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Democrats support their cause more intensely

April 18, 2021

Willingness to donate to a political party is a measure of how strongly you support it. I came across a couple of graphs that show how the depth of support for Democrats (measured in donations) exceeds support for Republicans.

Double click to enlarge.

The top chart shows the number donors to the Trump and Biden campaigns from various occupations; the bottom chart shows the same thing from various institutions.  The size of the circle indicates the number of donors; the intensity of the blue for Biden or red for Trump indicates how much of a majority they had with each group.

Double click to enlarge.

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Biden my time – some links and comments

April 16, 2021

Here are some links to articles that I found of interest. Maybe you will, too.

Canción de Trump by Sam Kriss for Idiot Joy Showland.

Sam Kriss is a British blogger, new to me, who wrote a hilarious but insightful takedown of the Trump administration, with a sideswipe at Joe Biden and the Black Lives Matter protests.

Trench Warfare: notes on the 2020 election by Mike Davis for New Left Review.  (Hat tip to Steve from Texas)

A detailed analysis of the vote shows only a little change from 2016.  The election hinged on a narrow margin of victory in a few key states – less than 1 percent in Pennsylvania, Wisconsin, Georgia and Arizona and only 2.6 percent in Michigan.

Donald Trump, strangely enough, did best where COVID-19 was worst and unemployment was highest.  He probably has a rock solid 40 percent of the electorate behind him, and he is still a kingmaker in the Republican Party.

Barring some unlikely great achievement by President Joe Biden that will make voters’ lives noticeably better, the coming elections are likely to be a continuation of the back and forth struggle of the past 20 or 30 years. 

My Predictions for Biden’s Probably Truncated Presidency by Ted Rall.

Joe Biden faces extraordinary problems, and he is not an extraordinary statesman.  Ted Rall argues that he probably won’t complete his first term, for both health and political reasons.

Contrary to What Biden Said, U.S. Warfare in Afghanistan Is Set to Continue by Norman Solomon for Common Dreams.

The U.S. government announced a withdrawal of troops from Afghanistan, but said assistance to Afghan national defense and security forces will continue.  This likely means continued bombing and missile attacks launched from outside Afghanistan, plus secret Special Operations forces, Pentagon contract forces and CIA operatives.

Taiwan—the Thucydides Trapper Who Cried Woof by ‘Gary Brecher’ for Radio War Nerd.

Threatening war with China over Taiwan is a bad idea.

Ukraine Redux—War, Russophobia and Pipelineistan by Pepe Escobar for Asia Times.

Threatening war with Russia over Ukraine is a bad idea.

Big Corporations Now Deploying Woke Ideology the Way the Intelligence Agencies Do: As a Disguise by Glenn Greenwald.

Talk of social justice, feminism and racial diversity gives secret intelligence agencies and big corporations cover for a multitude of sins.

1619 Project lead writer Nikole Hannah-Jones paid $25,000 for virtual lecture by Trévon Austin for the World Socialist Web Site. 

Patrisse Khan-Cullors, co-founder of the Black Lives Matter Global Network Foundation, also has done very well for herself.

How the GOP could become a workers’ party

February 26, 2021

A Modest Proposal for Republicans: Use the Word “Class” by Scott A. Siskind for Astral Codex Ten. “Pivot from mindless populist rage to a thoughtful campaign to fight classism.”

There are some interesting ideas here that are consistent with what Republican leaders say they stand for.  I’m not sure I agree with Siskind about prediction markets being better than credentialed experts, though.

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US political polarization, past and present

February 23, 2021

Thomas Nast cartoons from the 1870s

Polarization in American public life is based on identity politics. That is, we Americans are more divided over who we think we are than over what we think needs to be done.

This isn’t anything new. We’ve always been more divided over race, religion, ethnic culture and region than over econom.

Or rather, clashes over economic interests have taken the form of clashes over race, religion and regionalism.  For example, the antagonism between native-born Yankee Protestants and immigrant Irish Catholics was not over questions of theology.

During the Gilded Age period lasting from the end of Reconstruction to the beginning of the New Deal, the Democratic Party got the votes of Southern white people, Catholics and Jews, and the Republican Party the votes of Northern white Protestants, plus African-Americans in the parts of the country where they were allowed to vote.

Even when I was growing up in the 1940s, Jews and Catholics were barred from many elite clubs and college fraternities.  Most universities had quotas on the number of Jewish students that could be admitted.

It was taken for granted that no Catholic, no Jew and no white Southerner could be elected President, let alone a woman, an African American or an atheist.

During the Gilded Age, leaders of both political parties were committed to support of corporate business and suppression of organized labor. 

Bribery and corruption were common and out in the open.  So was election fraud.

Class warfare during that era was actual warfare.  The most extreme example was the Battle of Blair Mountain in West Virginia in 1921, where coal company supporters bombed militant coal miners from the air.

But none of this produced a realignment between Democrats and Republicans.  Opposition to corporate domination, such as it was, took place within the two political parties or, more rarely, through short-lived independent parties.

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Identity politics is what polarizes America

February 12, 2021

The great mystery of American politics is why American voters are so polarized when there is so little difference in the policies of the two major political parties?

Democrats and Republicans, when in power, both support the unending U.S. foreign wars.  In economic crises, they both prioritize bailing out Wall Street financiers over helping ordinary Americans.  They both balk at universal health care or free higher education.

As President Barack Obama once said, U.S. political conflicts take place “within the 40-yard line.”

So why is it that so many Democrats and Republicans hate, fear and despise each so intensely that there is serious talk of a possible civil war?

The answer is identity politics. I found a good explanation of how this works in a post by Scott Siskind about a new book by Ezra Klein.

Klein’s idea is that Republicans define themselves as the party of “modal Americans.”  There are more whites than non-whites, more Christians than non-Christians, more native-born than immigrants and more heterosexuals (so we think) than LGBTQ people.  So Republicans are the party of straight native-born Christian white people.

I would add that there are more voters without college degrees than with college degrees, and Republicans are also the party of the high school graduate.

Democrats define themselves as the party of everybody else—the African Americans, the Hispanics, the Muslims, the Jews, the atheists, the immigrants and the sexual minorities, but also the highly educated.

Unlike Republicans, they are diverse. “Modal” Americans have many values in common, but all that the Democratic groups have in common is not being Republicans. 

The basis of Democratic unity as a political coalition is to define “modal Americans” as the enemy.  This is what unites the Ivy League intellectual with the African-American school drop-out.  They both see the Republican coalition as a mob that’s out to get them. 

Many Democrats genuinely fear the a MAGA Republican mob will take away all their hard-won rights.  Many MAGA Republicans honestly fear that a Woke Democratic elite will force their “politically correct” values on them and their children.

Democrats say Republicans promote fear of minority groups—not just blacks, but minorities of all kinds—in order keep their straight white native-born Christian high school graduate coalition together.

Republicans say Democrats make false or exaggerated accusations of prejudice in order to hold their diverse coalition together.  There doesn’t seem to be any obvious end to this process.

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Trump really did try to instigate an insurrection

February 11, 2021

The video above, introduced as part of the prosecution’s impeachment case against Donald Trump, underlines that the violence in the storming of the Capitol on Jan. 6 was more than just a riot.

I had some doubts before as to how big a threat it was.  I don’t have such doubts any more.

The insurrection was intended to intimidate the Senate, and in particular Vice President Mike Pence, into refusing to certify the vote of the Electoral College.  It failed.  Vice President Pence and a majority of the Senate did their constitutional duty.

I don’t think that there ever was any serious possibility that the election results would be overturned.  Pence’s refusal to certify would not have changed anything in the end.

The harm that was done was to convince tens of millions of Americans that they are living under a government to which they owe no allegiance, any more than Americans of 1776 owned allegiance to King George III.

What bothers me is the thought of now things might have played out if the White House had been occupied by an authoritarian leader a little bit more self-disciplined and a little bit more astute than Donald Trump.

Such a leader would not have waited until after the votes were counted to question the voting system.  He and his followers would have sought court injunctions a year ago to block the changes they’re objecting to now.

When the game is over, it’s too late to question the rule book, because there’s no way to know how the game would have come out under different rules.

Such a leader would have a way to convince the FBI, the Pentagon, the CIA and the rest of the Homeland Security complex that he was on their side.  Experience in other countries shows that the police, the military and the intelligence agencies get along perfectly well with authoritarian rulers.

Such a leader would have had a real para-military force at his disposal—something comparable to Mussolini’s Blackshirts or Hitler’s Brownshirts (SA).

Trump gave winks and nods to encourage the Proud Boys and other authoritarian right-wing groups to think he was on their side, but he never (thank goodness) gave them effective leadership.  He never arranged for his supporters to secretly give them funds for recruitment and military training.

What happened on Jan. 6 could be a dress rehearsal for a right-wing coup to come.  A more astute authoritarian right-wing leader might well see all the possibilities that Trump’s attempt revealed and not make the mistakes that Trump made.

LINKS

Emotive video dominates day one of Trump impeachment trial by Niall Stanage for The Hill.

Insurrection TImeline: First the Coup and Then the Coverup by Steven Harper for Moyers on Democracy.  A more detailed timeline.

The martyrdom of Mike Pence by Sidney Blumenthal for The Guardian.  [Hat tip to Steve from Texas]  In the end, Pence did his duty.

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‘Going easy on these people will not work’

February 4, 2021

Mike Lofgren, an anti-Trump former Republican insider, said in an interview for Salon that pro-Trump zealots need to be crushed, banished and ostracized.

It is necessary to see the historical analogies that tell us what works and what doesn’t work.  The thing that pops into everyone’s mind is the Civil War.

People tend to get all misty-eyed about Lincoln’s statement, “With malice toward none, and charity for all.”   That was his second inaugural address in March of 1865.

What were the results?  A couple of weeks later, what he got out of it was a bullet in the head.  What Blacks got out of it was Jim Crow.  What Confederates got was pardons, amnesties, dropped charges and the ability to rewrite history.

The rest of us were saddled with them, and now we have a large portion of the country — a single region that is basically a Third World state.

Source: Mike Lofgren | Salon.com

Okay, let’s look at historical analogies.  Abraham Lincoln bore no animosity toward the white people of the South.  But he was willing to wage a war that resulted in the greatest killing of white people of any war of the 19th century.  More Americans died in our Civil War than in all the wars of the 20th century.

General William Tecumseh Sherman in his march through Georgia burned crops, slaughtered livestock and destroyed farmhouses and workshops.   General Phil Sheridan did the same in the Shenandoah Valley.

Not only the Confederates, but much of the world at large regarded them as moral monsters.  All this was done with Lincoln’s approval, but not out of malice.

In his speeches, Lincoln never said anything to inflame hatred.  But this did not make him weak.  It did not stop him from doing what he thought had to be done.

The Union government for a decade made a good-faith effort to guarantee equal rights to the slaves, with some success.

This came to an end in 1876 not through an excess of Christian charity and forgiveness, but through a corrupt bargain of the leaders of the Democratic and Republican parties.

In that year, the results of the Presidential election were disputed.  Republicans agreed to allow the Democrats, then the party of white supremacy, to control the South in return for allowing the Republican candidate to occupy the White House.

Even though the two parties worked together at the top level, leaders both kept the memories and hatreds of the Civil War alive.  This diverted attention from their underlying agreement to support corporate monopoly and oppose labor rights.

Today, so-called “red America” and “blue America” are so polarized that there is talk of a new Civil War.  Top-level leaders of both parties keep these antagonisms alive.

This diverts attention from their underlying agreement to support unending war and corporate monopoly and oppose labor rights.

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The Biden governing coalition emerges

January 23, 2021

The Joe Biden administration represents a coming together of most of the power centers in American society.

Biden and the Democratic National Committee have the support of Wall Street, Silicon Valley, the national press, the intelligence agencies, the Black Lives Matter movement, the liberal churches, academia and most self-described liberals and progressives.

[Added 1/24/2021]  I forget to mention key elements of the governing coalition—Hollywood and the entertainment industry, and Facebook, Google and Amazon.]

[Update 1/25/2021]  President Biden is really down on Mark Zuckerberg.  Maybe Facebook isn’t part of the governing coalition after all.

This is the culmination of what neoliberal Democrats such as Bill Clinton sought for decades, the displacement of the Repubican Party by the Democratic Party as the party of the establishment and the monied elite.

Last night I watched a good discussion of this by Thomas Frank with Matt Taibbi and Katie Halper on the Useful Idiots program.  It’s well worth watching.

If the Biden administration can actually bring the coronavirus pandemic under control, and if it can bring the economic crisis under control, Biden could become the most beloved American leader since Eisenhower and the Democrats would make themselves a majority party for a long time to come.

In principle, there’s nothing in the nature of the Biden governing coalition to prevent this.  It is not to the interest of owners and managers of large corporations to see large numbers of their customers broke or dying.

But I don’t see any signs this will actually happen. We’ll see. 

I do see signs that the new governing coalition intends to crack down on dissent, both right-wing and left-wing.  To me, this is more alarming than the threat of any fanatic mass movement from below.

Where does this leave the Republicans? Their only choice is to combine opposition to what’s called political correctness and Woke-ness with a populist appeal to working people.

I think the populism of Republicans such as Senator Josh Hawley or Fox news commentator Tucker Carlson is mostly fake, like Donald Trump’s.

A political movement combining cultural conservatism with genuine populism would be powerful, but I don’t think it is likely. Again, we’ll see.

LINKS

Can President Joe Biden mend a torn America? by Thomas Frank for Le Monde diplomatique.  [Added 1/28/2021]  He says what I said, but much more eloquently and to the point.

The Next Neoliberal President by Thomas Neuberger for Down With Tyranny!

As Death Toll Tops 410,000, Biden Pursues “Wartime Effort” to Fight COVID, But Could More Be Done? an interview of Dr. Ashish Jha, dean of the Brown University School of Public Health, on Democracy Now!  (Hat tip to Bill Harvey)

JP Morgan boss Jamie Dimon is paid $31.5 million after decrying income inequality by Dominic Rushe for The Guardian.  (Hat tip to O).

US Companies Cut Off Donations to Republicans Who Rejected Biden Certification by Gregory Korte and Bill Allison for BLoomberg News.

We Need to Stabilize’: BIg Business Breaks With Republicans by David Gelles for The New York Times [Added 1/25/2021]

Zuckerberg’s Biden Problem by James Clayton for BBC News.  Maybe not a member of the governing coalition after all.  [Added 1/25/2021]

The Class Composition of the Capitol Rioters (First Cut) by Lambert Strether for Naked Capitalism.

The Organizational Capacity and Behavioral Characteristics of the Capitol Rioters (First Cut) by Lambert Strether for Naked Capitalism.  This article and the preceding one are the most objective reports I’ve seen so far about who the Capitol rioters where and what they were up to.  Conclusion: They were paper tigers.

The Echo Chamber Era by Matt Taibbi for TK News.

The Moronic Firing of Will Wilkerson Illustrates Why Fear and Bad Faith Mob Demands Reign Supreme by Glenn Greenwald.

True believers in the USA of 2021

January 22, 2021

I recently finished Eric Hoffer’s THE TRUE BELIEVER, a 1951 book about fanatical mass movements.  I think most Americans see that the USA of 2021 is ripe for such movements.

Fanatics invaded municipal buildings and burned police stations in some U.S. cities during the Black Lives Matter protests last summer.  Fanatics invaded the Capitol a couple of weeks ago.

Some self-described conservatives see Donald Trump as a messianic figure sent by guide.  Some self-described progressives embrace an “anti-racism” ideology that considers “all lives matter” a racist statement.  People can become pariahs or lose their for a thoughtless comment on social media.

If you are an American, you probably think some of the things I mentioned are serious problems while others are blown out of proportion.  Whatever the case, something is going on.  What is it?

Eric Hoffer said fanatical mass movements arise when there are large numbers of people who are frustrated and lonely.

People don’t become fanatics when they are embedded in family, community and religion that give them security and meaning.  Neither do they become fanatics when they enjoy the satisfactions of creativity and achievement.

But in times when fewer and fewer are able to enjoy the security of a stable family, community and religious life, while the opportunities for individual achievement and self-determination narrow—that’s when you have to watch out.

That’s how things are in the USA today.  We live in a very unforgiving society, compared to the one I grew up in.

Economic inequality is increasing, but I think that what really worries people is the growth of economic insecurity. 

More and more workers are being pushed out of full-time work and into the gig economy, where they don’t know from week-to-week how many hours they’ll work or what they’ll earn.  Millions lack the resources to meet even a small emergency.

All this is in the name of a philosophy I and others call neoliberalism, which exalts economic efficiency above all else.  Neoliberals run the economy without any slack in the system, with all the risk off-loaded onto wage-earners, sub-contractors and the public. 

It’s not just wage workers who suffer.  Small-business owners with six-figure incomes worry about being able to compete with giant mega-corporation.  A number of billionaires are planning ahead for economic collapse, so they can retreat to secret strongholds in New Zealand or other remote place.

Unfortunately the USA is exporting instability through its economic and war policies, and through its cultural influence as well.

President Donald Trump made things worse.  He had a genius for keeping affairs in a constant state of turmoil.  Just having Trump in the news day after day was a strain.  I think some people voted for Joe Biden just because they were sick of seeing Trump on TV.

The partisan news companies keep Americans on edge.  Fox News was a pioneer in making money out of peddling fear to elderly white people.  Now, as Matt Taibbi has shown, the self-described progressives have adopted the same model.

Then there are Facebook and the other social media companies.  They have algorithms designed to feed people links to material designed to hold attention by appealing to fear and indignation. 

COVID-related lockdowns have destabilized society.  It is not just the economic impact on workers’ wages and small-business profits.  It is that people have been cut off from religious services and family gatherings, two of the main sources of consolation in times of uncertainty.

The SARS-CoV-2 virus is real and deadly, and doesn’t care about anybody’s spiritual or psychological needs.  I’m an introvert who lives alone, and can afford to have groceries delivered, so I can tolerate the lockdowns better than most. 

But I can see how someone might be devastated by separation from loved ones and normal life and be willing to risk their lives rather than endure the separation.  A good many of the protests, including the invasion of the Michigan state capitol, were in opposition to the lockdown.

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Recalling Eric Hoffer’s The True Believer

January 21, 2021

I first read Eric Hoffer’s THE TRUE BELIEVER: Thoughts on the Nature of Mass Movements shortly after it was published in 1951.

It was a big influence on me as a teenager.  Later on I thought it explained a lot about the 9/11 attacks.  I think it is very relevant today.

A number of writers in the early Cold War era tried to understand the psychology of totalitarianism—what it was that made Nazis and Communists willing to commit mass slaughter and also sacrifice their own lives.

Eric Hoffer went further than most.  He described the similarities not only between fanatic Bolshevism and fascism, but also fanatic Catholicism, Protestantism, Islam, Jacobinism and nationalisms of all kinds, including Zionism.

His book is highly readable, full of quotable aphorisms.  A lot of his statements are overly sweeping and forceful, but he said his intention was to provide food for thought, not to be the last word on anything.

Eric Hoffer

Hoffer himself was an interesting character.  The son of Alsatian immigrants to the United States, he was born in New York City in 1902.  Orphaned at the age of five, he went blind at seven.  Mysteriously, his sight was restored at the age of 15, and he became a lifelong voracious reader.

He traveled across the country working at odd jobs, and spent 25 years as a longshoreman on the San Francisco waterfront, retiring at age 65.  He was completely self-taught.  He died in 1983.

He did not regard mass movements as necessarily bad.  Sometimes, he thought, they were the only means of bringing about necessary change.

Nor did he think that religious believers, patriots and political activists are necessarily fanatics.  But he did think a fanatic minority is a more powerful driving force than a reasonable, moderate majority.

The fanatic John Brown did more to end U.S. slavery than all the moderates who drew up reasonable plans for compensated gradual emancipation.

People do not join mass movements because they are poor and oppressed, but because they are frustrated, Hoffer wrote.  Joining a movement satisfies what Abraham Maslow was to call higher-level needs—the need for self-esteem, the need for inclusion, the need for hope and the need for meaning.

If you have no pride in yourself, you can take pride being part of a holy cause.  If you are lonely, you can lose your sense of separateness by uniting with others in a mass movement.

If your future seems hopeless, you can accept the promise of a golden future, either in this lie or the next.  If your life seems boring and meaningless, you can become part of a dramatic struggle for righteousness.

One category of people who never become fanatics are those who are completely embodied in a traditional way of life, Hoffer wrote.  Thinking of themselves are part of family, a community and an unquestioned way of life, they see no need for change. 

Fanatic religious zealots either want something they don’t have, or want to regain something they think they have lost.

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Why flawed election results should be accepted

January 12, 2021
Click to enlarge.

A new poll shows that a majority of American voters believe that fraud determined the outcome of the 2020 Presidential election. This is astonishing.

For this to have happened, there had to have been a vast conspiracy, implicating, at a minimum, election officials in half a dozen states, state and local legislatures and governments, judges up to the Supreme Court, and the national press, news networks and social media.

They would all have to be complicit in stealing the presidential election while nonetheless allowing the Republican Party to gain House seats and state legislatures. The entire apparatus of the American government would be implicated in such a belief.

As improbable as all these seems, millions of hard-core Trump supporters believe it.

Of course it’s not as if Democrats would have accepted the results if Donald Trump had been re-elected.  After the 2016 election, some Hillary Clinton supporters tried to influence Electors pledged to Trump to vote for Clinton

I think that there are some voting irregularities in almost every election, and also some attempts by foreigners to influence the outcome of the election.  But the time to deal with these issues is before the election is held. 

Once votes are cast, it is too late because there is no way to know how the outcome would have been if the irregularities hadn’t taken place.  It is like asking the results of the baseball World Series be changed on the grounds that an umpire made bad calls.

The time to deal with voter suppression, voting fraud or election fraud is before the election.  The time to start fixing the system is the day after the previous election.

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How to fix the Electoral College

January 11, 2021

One of the most undemocratic features of the U.S. presidential elections is the Electoral College.

Americans vote not for candidates, but for electors.  The split in the electoral vote is often very different from the popular vote.  In 2000 and 2016, the winner of the popular vote lost in the Electoral College.

Each state chooses a number of electors equal to the number of its senators and representatives.  Representatives are apportioned according to population, but each state gets two senators.  A lot of small states with only one representative still have two senators, which means small states are over-represented.

A Constitutional amendment to fix the Electoral College is unlikely because it would require the votes of small states that benefit from the present setup.  So is a proposed interstate compact, in which states agree to cast their electoral votes for whoever won the popular vote.

But there is an alternate plan that would go a long way toward fixing the disparities in the electoral vote.

We can repeal the Permanent Apportionment Act of 1929, which fixed the number of Representatives at 435, and then institute the Wyoming Rule (the smallest state population – Wyoming – gets one representative and all other states get a number of representatives equal to the number of “Wyomings” that their population contains).

The total number of reps in the US House increases from 435 to 573, which also affects the Electoral College. Wyoming still stays at one rep while the California delegation increase from 53 to 68. Blue states in general do much better.

By matching the number of reps to actual population a lot of the unfairness of the Electoral College is mitigated. The number of EC votes needed to win the White House increases from 270 to 339 and the new EC votes are mostly in Blue States.

An analysis of the Wyoming Rule on Wikipedia indicates that, if the Wyoming Rule had been in effect in 2000 and 2016, the outcome might have been the same.  It wouldn’t fix everything, but it would be a big improvement.

It also would make it easier for the Democrats to control the House of Representatives.  The one-state, one-representative rule, combined with a cap on total representatives, does create disparities in the number of people in each congressional district.

The new Congress could also grant statehood to Puerto Rico and the District of Columbia.

And it could tie all federal aid to states to an elimination of gerrymandering practices.  It could require congressional and statehouse districts to be apportioned by bi-partisan commissions.  The courts might overrule this one, but it’s worth a try.

LINKS

The Wyoming Rule on Wikipedia.

The Reapportionment Act of 1929 Explained on Everything Explained.

Fix the Electoral College by Increasing the House of Representatives by Kevin Baker for The Street.

What Happens Now? by Charles Stross on Charlie’s Diary.

Religion and the U.S. political divide

December 23, 2020

It’s striking how religious divisions in the United State coincide with political divisions. It’s also striking how little the religious divisions have to do with theological beliefs.

Roughly 80 percent of white American evangelical Protestants vote Republican. Roughly 80 percent of Americans with no particular religion vote Democratic.

But this is not based on theological beliefs. Black American evangelical Protestants have the same theological beliefs as white evangelicals.

They believe in being born again and accepting Jesus Christ as Lord and Saviour. But black evangelicals are as reliably Democratic and white evangelicals are Republican.

I can remember the 1950s, when theological beliefs were important. Evangelical Protestants thought Mormons were a “cult.”

Prior to the Second Vatican Council, many Unitarians and Universalists thought that Roman Catholics, not evangelical Protestants, were the people you had to watch out for, precisely because of their theology.

Nowadays sectarian religious beliefs are less important. The division is between those who cling to traditional religion, of whatever kind, and those who embrace modern and secular ways of thinking.

Conservative Protestants, Catholics and Jews are on one side and liberal Protestants, Catholics and Jews are on the other.  People who used to think each other were bound for Hell are now political allies.

The argument is not over specific religious doctrines, but over whether and how much to accept what’s called modernity, including, in recent years, the sexual revolution.

My hope used to be that the old-time live-and-let-live liberalism offered a way for people of differing opinions to live together, but this does not seem to be on offer.

LINKS

Secular ‘values voters’ are becoming an electoral force in the US – just look closely at 2020’s results by Phil Zuckerman, professor of sociology and secular studies at Pitzer College.

What the election tells us about religion in America by Jennifer Rubin for The Washington Post.

In U.S., Decline of Christianity Continues at Rapid Pace by the Pew Research Center.

Meet the new boss, same as the old boss

December 14, 2020

A writer named Edward Curtin had a good article in OffGuardian about the basic similarity of the Democratic and Republican parties.

Both are willing to bail out monopoly businesses. Both are unwilling to do anything meaningful to help the poor, working people or the middle class.

Both are committed to perpetual war. Leaders of neither party are willing to pardon Julian Assange, Chelsea Manning or Edward Snowden for the crime of pointing out how Americans have been deceived by their government.

The truth is that both the Trump voters and the Biden voters have been taken for a ride.  It is a game, a show, a movie, a spectacle.  It hasn’t changed much since 1969; the rich have gotten richer and the poor, working, and middle classes have gotten poorer and more desperate.  Those who have profited have embraced the fraud.

The Institute for Policy Studies has just released a new analysis showing that since the start of the Covid-19 “pandemic” in mid-March and the subsequent transfer upwards of $5 trillion to the wealthy and largest corporations through the Cares Act, approved 96-0 in the US Senate, 650 US billionaires have gained over a trillion dollars in eight months as the American people have suffered an economic catastrophe.

This shift upward of massive wealth under Trump is similar to Obama’s massive 2009 bailout of the banks on the backs of American workers.  Both were justified through feats of legerdemain by both political parties, accomplices in the fleecing of regular people, many of whom continue to support the politicians that screw them while telling them they care.

If the Democrats and the Republicans are at war as is often claimed, it is only over who gets the larger part of the spoils.  [snip]

I am well aware that most people disagree with my analysis. It does seem as if I am wrong and that because the Democrats and their accomplices have spent years attempting to oust Trump through Russia-gate, impeachment, etc. that what seems true is true and Trump is simply a crazy aberration who somehow slipped through the net of establishment control to rule for four years.

To those 146+ million people who voted for Biden and Trump this seems self-evident. But if that is so, why, despite their superficial differences – and Obama’s, Hillary Clinton’s and George W. Bush’s for that matter – have the super-rich gotten richer and richer over the decades and the war on terror continued as the military budget has increased each year and the armament industries and the Wall Street crooks continued to rake in the money at the expense of everyone else?

Source: OffGuardian

It’s a good article, well worth reading in full.  As Curtin points out, the same thing is going on in Britain.  My only quarrel with him is his focus on the “white working class.”  The American wage-earning class is multi-racial, and with a higher percentage of African-Americans, Hispanics, immigrants and women than the general population.

This is important to point out, because so many self-described liberals ignore this reality and set up a false opposition between racial justice and economic justice.

It is not as if black wage-earners are forging ahead and white wage-earners are the only ones falling behind.  Neither Barack Obama nor Bill Clinton did anything special to raise up black working people, either as a special group or part of the overall body politick.  Neither did Donald Trump nor George W. Bush did anything meaningful for working people—white, black or otherwise.

LINK

The Past Lives On: The Elite Strategy to Divide and Conquer by Edward Curtin for OffGuardian.  (Hat tip to Steve from Texas)

The legacy of Trump

December 13, 2020

What I Saw at the Jericho March by Rod Dreher for The American Conservative.  Very revealing.  This craziness isn’t going to go away anytime soon.

It’s No Longer Enough to be Merely Anti-Trump by Kevin Drum for Mother Jones.

COVID deaths highest in U.S in rural Republican-leaning Kansas county by Trevor Hughes for USA Today.

Speculation swirls over Ivanka Trump’s potential run for US Senate in Florida in The Guardian.  [Added 12/14/2020] (Hat tip to Steve from Texas).

Waiting for Biden

December 11, 2020

Trump’s Gone, So What’s Next for the Democrats? by Matt Taibbi for Rolling Stone.  “The party needs to find another message besides ‘We are not Trump.’ “

The Biden Presidency: a New Beginning or a Fragile Interregnum? by Walden Bello for Foreign Policy in Focus.  (Hat tip to Steve from Texas)  “Hewing to its centrist instincts will be a disaster for the Biden administration.  The left must seize the initiative.”

The YouTube Ban Is Un-American, Wrong and Will Backfire by Matt Taibbi for TK News. “Silicon Valley couldn’t have designed a better way to further radicalize Trump voters.”

With News of Hunter Biden’s Criminal Probe, Recall the Media Outlets That Peddled the “Russian Disinformation” Lie by Glenn Greenwald.

Who the #Resistance Was Actually #Resisting These Past Four Years by Caitlin Johnstone.

Hope Lives: My Journey from Obama Loyalist to Advocating for Inclusive Justice by Teodose FIkremariam for Ghion Journal.

The passing scene: Links 12/6/2020

December 6, 2020

Make them cry: Tear-gasms now a matter for American boasting by Thomas Frank for Le Monde diplomatique.

After the Deep State Sabotaged His Presidential Bid, Bernie Sanders Mocks Those Who Believe It Exists by Glenn Greenwald on Substack.