Archive for the ‘Politics’ Category

A Constitutional crisis in the making

September 26, 2020

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Source: Jack Rasmus

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

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

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How real is the danger of a Trump coup?

September 25, 2020

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

LINKS

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

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

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

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

Suppose Trump wins. What then?

September 24, 2020

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Populism is not mob rule

September 22, 2020

Thomas Frank

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

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

Some forgotten history of Midwest radicalism

September 22, 2020

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

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

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

More about Thomas Frank’s new populism book

September 21, 2020

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

 

Trump’s weak record is hurting him

September 15, 2020

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

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

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

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

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

September 8, 2020

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

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

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

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

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

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

Joe Biden and the George Floyd riots

September 1, 2020

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

LINKS

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Obstacles to a new New Deal

August 31, 2020

The USA is heading into an economic crisis with evictions, foreclosures, small-business failures and unemployment rates like those of the onset of the Great Depression of the 1930s, made worse by the pandemic and catastrophic climate change.

But Thomas Ferguson, a political scientist whose specialty is money and politics, said that a second Great Depression will not necessarily result in a second New Deal.

The Great Depression was touched off with a crash in the financial markets.  Banks closed.  Business profits fell.  This weakened both the credibility and political power of big business.

No such situation exists today, Ferguson noted.  The Federal Reserve is propping up the banks and the financial markets.  The super-rich are actually richer and more powerful than ever.

President Roosevelt’s first response to the crisis was the National Recovery Act, a kind of democratic corporate state.  It was only when big business turned against him that the New Deal as we remember it emerged. with Social Security, the Wagner Act and so on.

The impetus for the true New Deal came from the new labor movement organized by John L. Lewis and the CIO.

Conditions today are different. Ferguson said.  Big business is entrenched in both parties and is able to block popular and necessary reforms such as Medicare for all.

There are wildcat strikes and a few militant unions, but nothing as yet like the labor movement of the 1930s.

Ferguson saw some long-range hope in the insurgent movement in the Democratic Party as represented by the Justice Democrats and other factions.  But in the long run, as someone said, we are all dead.  The crisis is not going to put itself on hold until 2022 or 2024.

LINKS

Biden Blurring Almost Everything, an interview of Thomas Ferguson for theAnalysis.com.

Joe Biden’s Platform for 2020: Anti-Populism by Bill Scher for POLITICO.

The Non-Voter by Chris Arnade for American Compass.

What the Republican Party stands for now

August 27, 2020

The Platform the GOP Is Too Scared to Publish by David Frum for The Atlantic.

The Real Republican Platform by Ian Welsh.  Comment on Frum’s article.

The Lost Republicans by Rod Dreher for The American Conservative

The swamp wasn’t drained—-it expanded by Albert Hunt for The Hill.

Are bread riots coming to America? by Ryan Cooper for The Hill.

A constructive future for the GOP

August 26, 2020

When Donald Trump was campaigning in 2016, the most powerful thing he said was, ‘We don’t make things in this country anymore.’

He campaigned in the Rustbelt and promised to rebuild American manufacturing.  He said the leaders of China, Mexico and other countries are laughing at us for allowing our industrial base to decline.

He promised to repeal and reject pro-corporate trade treaties.  He promised to stop illegal immigration.  He promised a trillion-dollar infrastructure program. He promise to ‘drain the swamp’ of special interests.

He promised to repeal and replace Obamacare with something better.  He promised to wind down the forever wars in Afghanistan and the Middle East and improve relations with Russia.

Nobody else was talking about these issues except Bernie Sanders.  Npbody, including Sanders, talked about them in this year’s election campaign.

Trump did do some things to carry out his promises.  He rejected the pro-corporate Trans-Pacific Partnership agreement.  He canceled NAFTA and replaced it with a new agreement that was less bad.

He imposed new tariffs on Chinese imports in a willy-nilly way.  He did not propose a systematic industrial policy to rebuild American industry.

On the other hand, he worsened Obamacare instead of improving it.  He did not end the wars.  His administration stepped up the Cold War with Russia.  He did not clean house of special interests; just the reverse.  But it is not as if his Democratic opposition was proposing something better.

Trump benefited from the economic recovery that began under the Obama administration.  If not for the COVID-19 pandemic and his failed response, he would have an excellent chance of winning a fair election.

If I were a Republican strategist, I would be content to see the Democrats win the 2020 election, have them take the blame for the impending economic crash and pick up the pieces in 2024.

There is an emerging school of thought in the Republican Party called National Conservatism.  It consists of an industrial policy to rebuild industry and infrastructure, cancellation of free trade agreements, a non-interventionist foreign policy and social conservatism.

With such a policy, and with a candidate who did not make a fool of himself on a daily basis, like Trump., the GOP could win and deserve to win.

I don’t think a hypothetical national conservative administration would do everything I think needful.  I can’t imagine Republicans supporting a Green New Deal or strong labor unions.  But if such an administration was serious about ending the wars and reversing de-industrialization, it would be an improvement over what we’ve got now.

A certain amount of economic nationalism is needed because all international economic institutions are controlled by global corporations and banks.  At this point in history, the nation-state is the highest level subject to democratic control.

I am not predicting the Republicans will actually choose this path.  I am speculating on the best path open to them.

LINKS

The New Populist Right Imagines a Post-Pandemic America on BIG by Matt Stoller [Added 8/28/2020]

National Conservatism Conference Draws Big Names by Emma Green for The Atlantic.

National Conservatism Conference: ‘Intellectual Trumpist’ Movement Takes Shape by Jimmy Quinn for National Review.

Getting Behind Enlightened Nationalism by Patrick J. Buchanan from his new book.

Joe Biden is already planning a failed presidency by Ryan Cooper for The Week.

The political scene: Links & comments 8/20/2020

August 20, 2020

What kind of a President would Joe Biden be?

Andrew Bacevich, a political scientist and retired career Army officer, outlined what Biden could do to turn the country around in a constructive way.  Bacevich’s article would be a good benchmark with which to measure Biden’s actual policies—assuming he is elected, that is, which is far from certain.

Biden Wins, Then What? by Andrew Bacevich for TomDispatch.

It’s not beyond the realm of possibility that Biden would do what Bacevich recommends, or at least some of it, but I would be surprised if he did. Maybe Bacevich would, too.  Unlikely isn’t the same as impossible, but I think the pessimistic view of David Sirota, editor-at-large of Jacobin magazine, is more realistic.

He says the Democrats’ choice of Biden over Bernie Sanders is an explicit endorsement of the pre-Trump status quo over progressive change.  It means that, no matter who wins, we Americans will not have Presidential leadership equal to the coming crisis.

Did Americans Want a Revolution? by David Sirota for Too Much Information.

When Donald Trump ran in 2016, he expressed reservations about the U.S. forever wars, but did not do anything concrete to end them.  Even so, both Hillary Clinton and Joe Biden have attacked him as an appeaser.

The continuing wars at best will spread more pointless death, destruction and misery through the world, and at worst will create military confrontations leading to use of nuclear weapons.  For the next four years, the only hope of winding down the wars is in Congress.

A Bold Foreign Policy Platform for the New Wave of Left Lawmakers by Phyllis Bennis for In These Times.

Thomas Frank’s new book, The People, No, is about the history of populism and the anti-democracy backlash against it. He gave a good interview with Lewis Lapham, in which he discussed some material not in the book.  Matt Taibbi wrote a good review of the book.

The World in Time: Thomas Frank, a broadcast interview for Lapham’s Quarterly.

The People, No, a review on Reporting by Matt Taibbi.

President Kamala Harris?

August 13, 2020

Joe Biden’s political record consists of support for banking and finance and support for the police.  Kamala Harris’s record is the same.  I don’t see any reason to think they would change while in office.

I can’t see any reason for voting for them except the belief that virtually anyone would be better than Donald Trump or Mike Pence.  Or the symbolic value of electing someone who is a woman, a person of color and the descendant of Jamaican and south Asian immigrants.

As for myself, I don’t intend to vote for either a Democratic or Republican presidential candidate unless they give me a positive reason for doing so.

The United States faces multiple crises—a pandemic, catastrophic climate change and an economic crisis comparable to the Great Depression of the 1930s—and it faces with a government that is locked into perpetual war and serving the interests of the financial elite.

No matter which candidate wins, he is likely to be remembered as the Herbert Hoover of the 2020s.  Recall that Hoover’s Vice President Charles Curtis, a hard-line right-wing Republican, was partly of American Indian ancestry and spent part of his childhood on a reservation.  That is an indication of how much and how little a public official’s ancestry matters.

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Populism and the medical profession

August 1, 2020

Thomas Frank

Thomas Frank wrote a good article on universal health care as an example of the battle between populists and professionals.

In both the United States and Canada, the organized medical profession bitterly opposed all attempts by the public to take control of the administration of health care, either through government or voluntary co-operative organization.

But in Canada, the province of Saskatchewan in 1962, led by populist Premier Tommy Douglas, instituted Medicare for all.  The province’s medical profession responded with a general strike, which failed.

In the end, many Canadian physicians admitted they were wrong. Evidently they were motivated by mistaken opinions, not greed.  The system was rolled out nationwide in steps in 1966.  Some polls indicate that Tommy Douglas is the most admired Canadian.

President Truman proposed a universal health care system in 1948, but his plan was defeated.  So was every universal health care proposal since then.  The task force appointed by Joe Biden, this year’s presumed Democratic candidate, rejected Medicare for all.

The American Medical Association no longer wields power.  Control of medical practice has been taken over by bureaucracies, just as physicians feared.  But they are controlled not by patients or the general public, but by health insurance companies and health maintenance organizations, who are the anti-populists of today.

Frank emphasized that the original Populists and their successors in fact valued education and knowledge.  The question was and is who benefits from education and knowledge.

It is interesting that Frank’s writings do not appear on the Op Ed pages of the New York Times or Washington Post, although they deserve to be.   Frank used to be published regularly in The Guardian, but his most recent two articles appeared in the English edition of Le Monde diplomatique.  I’m not sure of the significance of that.

LINK

It’s the health care system, stupid, by Thomas Frank for Le Monde diplomatique.

How Trump could win: (2) by election rigging

July 31, 2020

The stability of a democracy rests on losers of an election accepting the fact that they lost fair and square and that they will have another chance to win next time.  But what if that isn’t true?  What if the system is rigged?

Greg Palast, an outstanding investigative reporter, thinks the system is rigged.  He has been devoting himself exclusively to this topic for years.

He reported his latest findings in his new book, HOW TRUMP STOLE 2020: The Hunt for America’s Vanished Voters by Greg Palast with comics by Ted Rall. The book is highly readable, but if you don’t have time to read the whole book, Ted Rall’s cartoons sum up the story.  If you can’t get the book, check out Palast’s home page.

Palast found that, in the 2016 presidential election, 5.87 million votes were cast and never counted.  These included 3.03 mail-in ballots rejected or lost.  In addition, 1.98 million voters were blocked from casting votes.

This did not happen at random.  The 7.85 million Americans who lost their vote were disproportionately African-American, other people of color and younger citizens—all Democratic constituencies.  This probably gave Donald Trump his margin of victory over Hillary Clinton.

In Michigan, for example, 75,355 votes were not counted because ballot scanners in Detroit broke down, even though they could have been counted by hand.  Trump won Michigan by just 10,700 votes.  There are similar stories in Wisconsin and Pennsylvania.

Since 2016, 16.7 million American voter registrations have been canceled, and they are disproportionately minorities.  The Democratic politicians are not the victims here.  The victims are American citizens who have a right to expect fair elections.

Voter suppression and election rigging at this moment in American history is done mainly by Republicans.  That’s not to say that Democrats are angels.  But, according to Palast, what election rigging they do is mainly in primaries.

In the past, ballot-stuffing by Mayor Richard J. Daley’s political machine in Chicago may have give President John F. Kennedy his margin of victory.  The word “gerrymander” comes from Elbridge Gerry, a 19th century Democratic governor of Massachusetts.

Present-day Democrats are strangely indifferent to this issue, as is much of the press.  One exception is Stacey Abrams, a Georgia state legislator who fought against voter suppression even before she ran for governor in 2018.

Brian Kemp and Stacey Abrams. Photo: CNN

Her opponent was Brian Kemp, Georgia’s secretary of state, who purged 500,000 voter registrations on the grounds that they supposedly had left the state.  One of them was the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.’s 92-year-old cousin, who was turned away when she tried to vote.

Palast put together a team that checked out every name.  They found that 340,134 of the purged voters had never moved.

Kemp also refused to accept registrations of some 40,000 new minority voters and threatened to arrest Korean-American voter registration volunteers.  His margin of victory over Abrams was just under 55,000 votes.

This is something that has been building up for a long time.

In 2000, George W. Bush’s margin of victory over Al Gore in Florida was 537 votes.  Florida’s vote gave Bush a majority in the Electoral College.

Palast discovered that Florida Secretary of State Katherine Harris canceled 94,000 voter registrations, mostly of black voters, on the grounds that they’d committed felonies in other states.    Palast got the list and found that exactly zero were illegal voters.

This was just the beginning.  Just in the past two years, 16.7 million voters have had their registrations canceled.  Among those who’ve turned up on purge lists are Sequanna Taylor, a Milwaukee County supervisor, who, coincidentally or not, is African-American

Palast said his investigators found that, in certain states, one in seven African-American votes and one in eight Hispanic and Asian-American voters were purged.

I refer you to Greg Palast’s book and web site for details about the Crosscheck system, voter caging, voter ID laws, removal of voting machines from key districts, voting machines with verification and anti-hacking features turned off.

Instead I’ll concentrate on the main threat to the integrity of the 2020 elections, which is problems with mail-in ballots and rejection of mail-in ballots.

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‘Cancel’ culture and American politics

July 29, 2020

The following is the the results of a YouGov poll commissioned by the Cato Institute

The Cato Institute is a strongly libertarian organization, but the poll was conducted by YouGov, which is a reputable organization, so I don’t think these results are biased.

Now the poll did not reveal the specific political views that Americans are afraid to express, but if highly-educated Americans are more fearful of expressing their opinions than the rest of us, I don’t think these fears are restricted to neo-Nazis or Klansmen.

I think a lot of the USA’s problem are due to misgovernment by an entrenched elite, and I hope for the kind populist revival that Thomas Frank describes in his new book.

But the Cato poll indicates just how hard it will be to make that happen.  We are too divided among ourselves.

It used to be that most self-described liberals thought of ourselves as defenders of free speech for all.  No longer, apparently.

Donald Trump and the Republican leaders are not friends of free speech.  But the divisions indicated in these polls work to their advantage.

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How Trump could win: (1) with political strategy

July 27, 2020

The Electoral Map as some pollsters see it. Source: Naked Capitalism

I don’t expect Donald Trump to be re-elected.  I expect him to self-destruct.  But that’s what I expected in 2016.  The election campaign isn’t over until it’s over and, even then, it may not be over.

The thing to remember about Trump’s strategy, and the strategy of Republicans in general, is that it is not to win over voters from the opposing party.  It is to hold onto core supporters and to try to reduce the Democratic vote by fair means and foul.

This is done by two means.  One is by manipulating the election process.  This includes gerrymandering, eliminating likely Democrats from voter registration lists, making voting difficult in predominantly Democratic districts and, possibly, tampering with electronic voting machines.

The great investigative reporter, Greg Palast, has been working on this issue for years, and he summed up his findings in his new book, HOW TRUMP STOLE 2020: The Hunt for America’s Vanished VotersI’ll review his book in a follow-up post.

The other is by persuading core Democratic constituencies that it isn’t worthwhile to vote.  This was the strategy of Brad Parscale, Trump’s 2016 campaign manager.  He used social media to target African-Americans, women and college students and convince them that it wasn’t worthwhile to vote for Hillary Clinton.

In 2016, Trump received a slightly smaller percentage of votes than Mitt Romney in 2012.  What brought him within reach of victory was a long-term decline in the Democratic vote, which began after the 2008 election.  The big question is whether this decline can be reversed.

Harper’s magazine earlier this year sent a reporter to Kenosha, Wisconsin, a formerly prosperous manufacturing town with strong labor unions, that has been emptied of its industry.

The reporter expected to find people full of despair and anger.  Instead he found that most had come to accept industrial decline as a fact of life, and were trying to make the best of things as they were.

Some were indignant about workers in local Amazon workhouses being put at risk of coronavirus infection.  Nobody outside knew what the health risks were because Amazon simply refused to allow the county government to make inspections.

Most of them took it for granted that both political parties and the national government were under control of elites who cared nothing for people like them.  The administrations of Bill Clinton, Barack Obama and Donald Trump himself had killed any audacity of hope.

Joe Biden is not someone to reawaken hope.  The two main themes of his political history are support for the financial industry and support for the police.  He told his big-money financial backers that nothing is going to change and he’s not going to propose any legislation that will harm their interests.

He supported NAFTA and other pro-corporate trade treaties.  He is even more of a war hawk than Donald Trump; he has accused Trump of appeasing China.

All these things are politically significant because they dampen enthusiasm for Biden, and as possible points for targeted social media by the Trump campaign, the same as in 2016.

But Biden has one big advantage.  He is not Donald Trump.  In 2020, this is no small thing.

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Populists, plutocrats and the democracy scare

July 21, 2020

Populism: a political approach that strives to appeal to ordinary people who feel that their concerns are disregarded by established elite groups.  [Google Dictionary]

A good bit is being written nowadays about the alleged threat of populism.  The word is usually taken to mean an uprising of ignorant and intolerant masses against knowledgeable and responsible powers that be.  Donald Trump is called a populist, but so is Bernie Sanders.

Frank set the record straight in his new book, THE PEOPLE, NO: A Brief History of Anti-Populism, which is just out.  He begins with the original Populists, members of a radical farmer-labor party in the 1890s that briefly threatened the rule of bankers, railroad barons and grain and cotton merchants..

Naturally the plutocrats feared and hated the Populists, Frank wrote.  They said Populism was mob rule, the second coming of the French Revolution.  They said Populism was hatred by the failures and losers of the successful and capable, who deserved to be on top.  In the end, through the power of money, they won.

The core of the opposition to populism was opposition to democracy itself—what Frank called the “democracy scare.”  In The People, No, he traced the history of this opposition.

Frank wrote an excellent book.  It is short, it is easy to read and it covers a lot of ground.  What he wrote is true, important and largely ignored.  He also had a few blind spots and omissions, which I’ll get to.

Right now the USA is on the brink of an economic crisis as great as the ones in the 1890s and 1930s, and today’s economic, political and intellectual elites are failing just as badly as their predecessors did.

There is just as great a need now as there was then for a movement of the common people to take back control of the political and economic system, and just as much of fear of democracy.

The world “populist” is Latin for “of the people.”  The Constitution, the USA’s founding document, begins with the words “We, the people…”   President Abraham Lincoln said the USA stood for “government of the people, for the people and by the people.”  So why does the word “populism” have such a bad name?

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The arts of argument and persuasion

July 6, 2020

This episode of William F. Buckley Jr.’s The Firing Line was broadcast on Sept. 10, 1981

In American political speech nowadays, we need more argument and persuasion and less denunciation.  I am reminded of William F. Buckley Jr., who was a master of both.

I considered Buckley’s political views were not only wrong, but reprehensible.  Yet I was a regular viewer of his PBS program, “The Firing Line.”

Buckley took the trouble to understand his opponents’ arguments.  He read their books.  When he invited them onto his program, although he was not above taking cheap shots, he tried to refute what they actually said.

He played fair.  He gave his opponent a chance to give their views.  That is why he probably changed more minds than Rush Limbaugh or Sean Hannity ever did.  I think there is much to be learned from his methods, whatever you think of his views.

I remember a program in which his guest was Ralph Schoenman, appearing on the show as the representative of the International War Crimes Tribunal, also known as the Russell Tribunal, and the issue was American atrocities in Vietnam.  Buckley’s claim was that Bertrand Russell, John-Paul Sartre and the other tribunal members were Communist sympathizers and should not be believed.

Schoenman expressed himself in a robotic, staccato manner that fit the stereotype of the dogmatic Communist.  Buckley, aware of this, let him go on at length, knowing his audience would be influenced more by his manner than by his actual argument.

A member of the audience argued that what mattered was the quality of the Tribunal’s evidence, not the views of its members.  Buckley listened respectfully, restated the argument and then asked what the questioner would think of anti-corruption investigators who were all Republicans and whose investigations were all of Democrats.  A bogus argument, but convincing.

I think it is possible to persuade people who strongly disagree with you politically.  Sometimes not, but people can be more open-minded than you might think.

It is important to distinguish winning an argument from successful persuasion.  I have lost many arguments, but I don’t recall ever changing my mind as a result.  My losing an argument only makes me rack my brains for what I should have said, but failed to think of on the spot.

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More of Adolph Reed Jr.’s greatest hits

July 2, 2020

Adolph Reed, Jr. in the classroom [Credit: Publicbooks.org]

Adolph Reed Jr. is a political scientist who, as much as or more than anybody I know of, cuts through BS and tells things as they are.  I put up some links to his writings and interviews in the previous post.  Here are some more.

I recommend bookmarking both pages and reading his writings whenever you have the time and interest.  I won’t say I completely agree with everything he says even now, but he saw through a number of things that I was fooled by at the time—starting with Barack Obama.

Here’s what he wrote in the Village Voice in 1996, when Obama was just getting started in politics.  I wasn’t able to find a link to the full article.

In Chicago, for instance, we’ve gotten a foretaste of the new breed of foundation-hatched black communitarian voices; one of them, a smooth Harvard lawyer with impeccable do-good credentials and vacuous-to-repressive neoliberal politics, has won a state senate seat on a base mainly in the liberal foundation and development worlds. 

His fundamentally bootstrap line was softened by a patina of the rhetoric of authentic community, talk about meeting in kitchens, small-scale solutions to social problems, and the predictable elevation of process over program — the point where identity politics converges with old-fashioned middle-class reform in favoring form over substance.

I suspect that his ilk is the wave of the future in U.S. black politics, as in Haiti and wherever else the International Monetary Fund has sway.  So far the black activist response hasn’t been up to the challenge. We have to do better.

Source: Wikipedia

I think Reed’s analysis is correct.  The thing he does not explain is why his ideas have gotten so little traction.  Reed didn’t think Obama would be elected.  He didn’t foresee that Black Lives Matter activism would sweep the nation (nor did I).

If he is right, then a broad-based coalition, such as the one led by the Rev. Dr. William J. Barber II. would be the key to constructive social change.  Maybe it will.  But, at least for now, it is the race-specific Black Lives Matter than has captured the public’s imagination.

LINKS

Liberals, I Do Despise by Adolph Reed Jr. in The Village Voice (1996)

The Case Against Reparations by Adolph Reed Jr. for The Progressive (2000).

Undone by Neoliberalism, by Adolph Reed Jr. for The Nation (2006)  About New Orleans and Hurricane Katrina.

Obama, No by Adolph Reed Jr. for The Progressive (2008)

Race and the New Deal Coalition by Adolph Reed Jr. for The Nation (2009)

Adolph Reed Jr. on Sanders, Coates and Reparations, an interview segment from Doug Henwood’s Behind the News (2016)

How Racial Disparity Does Not Help Make Sense of Patterns of Police Violence by Adolph Reed Jr. for nonsite.org. (2016)

Splendors and Miseries of the Antiracist “Left” by Adolph Reed Jr. for nonsite.org. (2016)

Black Politics After 2016 by Adolph Reed Jr. for nonsite.org (2018)

The Myth of Class Reductionism by Adolph Reed Jr. for The New Republic (2019)

Adolph Reed Jr. on identity politics

July 1, 2020

This Bill Moyers interview with Adolph Reed Jr. was aired in 2014.

Adolph Reed Jr. is a retired professor of political science and a Marxist.  He thinks that what is called identity politics is a way of maintaining structure of inequality.  The purpose of this post is to call attention to his critique of identity politics and provide links to some of this work.

Identity politics is based on an analysis of how dominant groups oppress marginal groups.  Some examples:

  • Whites > Blacks  [racism]
  • Men > Women  [male chauvinism, mysogyny]
  • Native-Born > Immigrants [xenophobia]
  • Anglos > Hispanics [xenophobia]
  • Straights > Gays [homophobia]
  • Cisgendered > Transgendered [transphobia]

These are not made-up problems.  It is a fact that white job applicants or loan applicants get preference over equally-qualified or better-qualified black applicants.  It is a fact that shocking numbers of women are sexually harassed on the job.  No-one should be denied basic rights by reason of race, gender, national origin or LGBTQ identity.

The problem is when disparities between groups are used to distract from the structure of wealth and power in society as a whole.  According to economist Gabriel Zucman, one percent of Americans own 40 percent of the nation’s wealth, up from 28 percent in the 1990s.

Reed says that, within the multicultural framework, this would be okay if the upper one percent were 50 percent women, 15 percent black and the appropriate percentages Hispanic, GLBTQ and so on.

Ideas of equity can be used to promote inequality.  Ideas about oppression of minorities can be used to divert attention from exploitation of the majority by the minority.  The ideology of multiculturalism can be used as a technique to divide and rule.

Honoring diversity doesn’t bring about full employment, living wages, debt relief or an end to America’s forever wars

Honoring multiculturalism can leave members of all the different groups divided among themselves and equally exploited, along with straight white cisgender males, by employers, bankers, landlords and corrupt politicians..

LINKS

Public Thinker: Adolph Reed Jr. on Organizing, Race and Bernie Sanders, an interview for Public Books.

An interview with political scientist Adolph Reed Jr. on the New York Times’ 1619 Project on the World Socialist Web Site.

Nothing Left: the long, slow surrender of American liberals by Adolph Reed Jr. for Harper’s Magazine (2014)

Adolph Reed: Identity Politics Exposing Class Division in Democrats, from an interview on the Benjamin Dixon Show (2016)

The Trouble With Uplift by Adolph Reed Jr. for The Baffler (2018)

What Materialist Black Political History Actually Looks Like by Adolph Reed Jr. for nonsite.org.

The old radicalism and the cultural revolution

June 24, 2020

The old-time left-wing radicalism, which sought economic change, is being replaced by a new radicalism, which seeks cultural change.

The old radicals thought the basic problem is that a tiny elite monopolizes wealth and power.  The new radicals think the basic problem is that dominant groups, such as whites and males, oppress marginalized groups, such as blacks and women.

The George Floyd protests show how the new radicalism has taken hold.  They are bigger and involve more people than anything in my adult lifetime, including the late 1960s and early 1970s.

A real and great evil, the abuse of black people by police, is opposed not only by black people, but by middle-class white people and, nominally at least, by corporate America as well.

Ross Douthat wrote a great column in the New York Times about Bernie Sanders as the last representative of the old-time radicalism and his eclipse by the new radicalism.

Here are some highlights:

[It was argued that a] left that recovered the language of class struggle, that disentangled liberal politics from faculty-lounge elitism and neoliberal economics, could rally a silent majority against plutocracy and win.  The 2016 Sanders primary campaign, which won white, working-class voters who had been drifting from the Democrats, seemed to vindicate this argument.

The 2020 Sanders campaign, however, made it look more dubious, by illustrating the core challenge facing a socialist revolution: Its most passionate supporters — highly educated, economically disappointed urbanites — aren’t natural coalition partners for a Rust Belt populism, and the more they tugged Sanders toward the cultural left, the easier it was for Joe Biden to win blue-collar votes, leaving Sanders leading an ideological faction rather than a broader working-class insurgency.

Now, under these strange coronavirus conditions, we’re watching a different sort of insurgency challenge or change liberalism, one founded on an intersectional vision of left-wing politics that never came naturally to Sanders.  Rather than Medicare for All and taxing plutocrats, the rallying cry is racial justice and defunding the police.  Instead of finding its nemeses in corporate suites, the intersectional revolution finds them on antique pedestals and atop the cultural establishment.

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Piketty’s stats and the problem with class conflict

May 28, 2020

The late Saul Alinsky used to say that politics is a struggle among the haves, the have-nots and the have-a-littles.  He said the outcome usually depends on which side the have-a-littles choose.

Reading Thomas Piketty’s big new book, Capital and Ideology,  reminded me I’d forgotten this important truth.

The USA and much of the rest of the world is governed in the interests of a political and economic elite and not a majority of the public.  I want a politics that represents the interests of the majority of the population.

But there are objective reasons why this is harder than it seems.  If you look at economic class in terms of a top 10 percent in income or wealth, a middle 40 percent and a bottom 50 percent, you see that there is a difference between the middle class (the have-a-littles) and the lower class (the have-nots)

I had come to think that the big problem of American politics is that so much of it is a conflict of the top 0.1 percent of income earners with the next 9.9 percent, leaving the rest of us behind.

The top 0.1 percent, in this interpretation, are the millionaires and billionaires that Bernie Sanders denounces.  The next 9.9 percent, very roughly speaking, are highly paid professionals, the “professional managerial class,” who tend to be more socially liberal, but whose economic interests are different from the majority.

Matthew Stewart wrote a good article about this in The Atlantic a couple of years ago.  The conclusion is that we the American majority have to stop thinking we have to choose between the plutocrats and the PMC and unite in our own interests.

That would make sense if economic inequality were the same as it was in Britain, France or Sweden around the turn of the previous century, as reflected in the chart above (taken from Piketty’s book)

But it’s not.  There is now a big middle class, in between the top 10 percent and the bottom 50 percent, as shown in the chart below (taken from an article co-authored by Piketty).

Click to enlarge.

In western Europe and the USA, the middle 40 percent aren’t doing too badly.  They’re open to the politics of a Margaret Thatcher or a Ronald Reagan.

Instead of claiming a larger share from the haves, they’re told they need to worry about the claims of the have-nots.  Even in parts of the world where economic inequality is greater than in Europe or the USA, there is a middle class with something to lose.

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Thomas Piketty and the politics of inequality

May 27, 2020

Reasonable people differ on the amount of economic inequality that is tolerable.  But I think almost anyone would set some upper limit.

In today’s USA, a single individual, Bill Gates, is wealthy enough to buy the city of Boston for the assessed value of its property.  The size of Jeff Bezos’ wealth is almost unimaginable.

Meanwhile four in 10 Americans lack enough cash on hand to meet an unexpected $400 expense without going into debt.

Why is this acceptable?  I’ll describe the ideas of the great French economist Thomas Piketty in his new book, Capital and Ideology.  Then I’ll discuss some of the things Piketty left out.

Piketty said the fall of Communism in the Soviet bloc and China discredited egalitarianism and validated the market economy.  Leaders of Western capitalist countries felt they were in a position to tell the working class that there is no alternative.

Even before that, the economic stagnation of the late 1970s discredited the welfare state.  The USA had both high unemployment and high inflation, which was considered theoretically impossible.  One diagnosis was that the welfare state had reached its limit, that it was in a state of deadlock because of the inability to satisfy all claimants.  This had been predicted by Friedrich Hayek in The Road to Serfdom.  He said that only a fascist dictator would be able to break the deadlock.

Click to enlarge

Ronald Reagan and Margaret Thatcher presented a different answer.  Dial back to welfare state, cut upper-bracket tax rates and allow rich people and corporations to accumulate wealth.  They will invest that wealth and the workings of the free market will assure that this works for the benefit of all.

As Piketty pointed out, none of this worked out as promised.  Cuts in marginal tax rates did not result in job creation, economic growth or anything else that was promised.

So why do Reaganism and Thatcherism still prevail?

One reason is that the historic left-wing parties abandoned the working class.  The Democrats in the USA, the Labour Party in Britain and the French socialists came to represent an educated elite rather than laborers and wage-earners.

Politics in these countries has come to be a conflict of elites, between what Piketty called the Merchant Right and the Brahmin Left.  It is like the conflict between the nobility and the clergy in the European Middle Ages and the conflict between landowners and business owners in 19th century Britain.

In the USA, many progressives see today’s politics as a conflict between the plutocracy, whose power is based on wealth, and the professional-managerial class, whose power is based on their academic credentials and their positions in organizations.  Wage-earners are not represented.  Piketty showed that the same conflict exists in other countries.

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