Archive for the ‘Politics’ Category

Thomas Frank on the Democrats’ future

September 11, 2017

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

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

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

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

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

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

(more…)

Thomas Frank on Clinton’s attack on Sanders

September 9, 2017

Paul Jay of the Real News Network did a good interview with Thomas Frank, one of my three or four favorite political writers, on why Hillary Clinton is attacking Bernie Sanders at this late date.   The interview starts about five minutes into the video.

Frank says Clinton has no just reason to hate Sanders personally.   He conducted a relatively gentlemanly primary election campaign, and supported her loyally during the general election.   She should be grateful that he decided to run within the Democratic Party in the first place, and not as a third-party candidate, like Ralph Nader in 2000.

But what Sanders represents, which is the pro-labor New Deal tradition of the Democratic Party, is deeply threatening to the power of the corporate wing of the party, which is what Clinton and her husband have represented through their political careers.

I think the reason the Democratic Party has done so little to fight voter disenfranchisement and to register voters is that disenfranchised and unregistered voters are mainly in demographic groups that corporate Democrats don’t care about.

They would rather seek the votes of culturally liberal suburban Republicans, whose votes, as Frank noted in the interview, Clinton actually won in the 2016 election.

The argument of the corporate Democrats is that (1) the Republican leaders are so reactionary and dangerous that nothing else matters except defeating them, (2) this can’t be done without matching the Republicans dollar for dollar and so (3) Democrats can’t afford to advocate policies contrary to the interests of their big-money contributors.

This is why they found that Sanders campaign so threatening, Frank said.   Sanders showed it was possible to conduct a political campaign based on small donations.   As far as that goes, Clinton outspent Trump two to one, and she still lost.

Sanders and Clinton are both getting on in years, and I don’t think either has a future as a national political candidate.  But I think there will be a long struggle between Sanders and Clinton factions under different names.   The struggle will be bitter because the stakes are high—whether the U.S. government will be accountable to the common people or to a corporate and political elite.

(more…)

Trump alienates GOP leaders in Washington

August 14, 2017

A year ago, I wrote that Donald Trump wasn’t intellectually, morally or temperamentally fit to be President.  But I admit I had no idea that he would send his administration into a perpetual state of crisis so soon.

There is growing dissatisfaction with Trump among Republicans in Washington.   But there are enough hard-core Trump supporters in their home districts and states to prevent them from attacking him openly.

LINKS

The Battles Within the White House Are Crazier Than You Think by Doug Muder for The Weekly Sift.

Republican Senate Blocks Recess Appointments for Donald Trump by Charles P. Pierce for Esquire.

The conservatives turning against Donald Trump by David Smith, Lauren Gambino, Ben Jacobs and Sabrina Siddiqui for The Guardian.

In key 2018 battlegrounds, Trump’s support is as high as ever by Jeff Guo for Vox.

The significance of regionalism in U.S. politics

August 4, 2017

Updated 8/5/2017

Click to enlarge

Two things I came to realize from reading Colin Woodard’s American Nations: A History of the Eleven Regional Cultures of North America are how much the various regional cultures have changed over time, but how they still have preserved their separate identities.

One of the most interesting parts of his book is his account of how the various regions were changed by the cultural revolution of the 1960s, but in different ways.

The four Southern regions (Tidewater, Deep South, Greater Appalachia, New France) gave up their resistance to legal equality for African-Americans.  The white political establishment in, for example, North Carolina opposes a reform movement of African-Americans and their white allies, but this is done through normal political maneuvering, not murder and terrorism.   This is a revolutionary change.

Spanish-speaking people in the Southwest (El Norte) and French-speaking people in Quebec (New France) changed from being politically passive and oriented toward tradition to being politically active and oriented toward the future.   I think these changes were set in motion by the new thinking of Pope John XXIII and the Second Vatican Council.

The “youth revolution” in attitudes toward drug use, military service and sexual morality—”acid, amnesty and abortion”—was limited to the Pacific Coast (the Left Coast), the Northeast (Yankeedom and New Netherland), Woodard wrote.

This, too, was a revolutionary change.   A hundred years ago, you could get arrested as a pornographer in Boston for distributing information on birth control.  Now Boston is a stronghold of Planned Parenthood.

Woodard overlooked another transformative 1960s movement—the new conservative movement represented by Barry Goldwater and Ronald Reagan.   The Far West was once the scene of violent labor strikes with battles between armed workers and company police.   Now there are confrontations  between armed private militias and the federal government.

(more…)

Is the American South a nation?

August 1, 2017

What is a nation?  In my opinion, a nation is a group of people who wish to live under an independent sovereign government and whose primary loyalty is to each other.

By that definition, are any of the regional cultures in Colin Woodard’s American Nations nations?

Some North American Indian nations fit that definition.   The French-speaking people of Quebec are a nation; they have achieved virtual sovereignty within the Canadian state.   A certain number of African-Americans and of Mexican-Americans think of themselves as a separate nation.

Woodard described early secessionist attempts in the trans-Appalachian West and talk of secession of New England during the War of 1812, but none of them every came to anything.   There is talk today of secession in California, Texas and other states, but also highly unlikely to come to anything.

The only region within the United States that ever made a sustained struggle to be an independent nation is the American South.

Originally the South, according to Woodard, was not one unified region, nor even two (the mountain and lowland South), but three (which he calls Tidewater, the Deep South and Greater Appalachia).

Click to enlarge.

The difference between Tidewater and the Deep South is that the first is that the Chesapeake Bay region was settled by Cavaliers from southern England, who hoped to reproduce British aristocratic rule as it was in the 16th and 17th centuries, and South Carolina was settled by planters from the British colony of Barbados, who intended to establish the slave society of the West Indian sugar islands.

Slavery in the two regions was very different.   The first Africans imported by the Tidewater plantation owners were indentured servants, who had a legal right to freedom after they served their indenture.   Race slavery was introduced only later.

This explains something that puzzled me.   I learned in a biography of Harriet Tubman, who was enslaved in my home state of Maryland, that Maryland in those days had the highest proportion of free black people of any American state.

Click to enlarge.

Later a fellow Marylander, who visited Liberia in his youth as a merchant seaman, said he was astonished at the number of Maryland place names and family names he saw there.

Where did those free Maryland black people come from?

The free black people in Maryland, and the African-American colonists of Virginia, were the descendants of the indentured servants.   Their presence in Maryland and Virginia meant that, even though free black people lacked virtually any legal rights, they still were not quite reduced to the status of livestock.

In contrast, the slave culture of the Spanish, French and British colonies in the West Indies was more like the Soviet Gulag or the Nazi forced labor camps than it was like serfdom in 16th and 17th century Europe.

The West Indian sugar plantations were strictly commercial operations, controlled by a tiny minority of white people, who used terror, torture and the threat of death and mutilation to try to keep slaves under control.   Slaves died at such a rate that the planters needed a continual supply of new slaves to keep operating.

Slavery in South Carolina and the rest of the Deep South was not quite as bad as that, but it was bad enough.   Slaves in Virginia and Kentucky feared being sold down the river to South Carolina and the Gulf states.   But slave owners in the Deep South threatened slaves with being sent to Cuba, which was even worse.

I don’t, of course, intend to justify slavery in any form.  Any time one group of people has absolute power over another, you will reproduce the Stanford prison experiment.

Neither to I intend to imply that Southern white people were all demons or that Northern white people were angels.

Woodard pointed out that there was a time when there were more African slaves in Dutch New Amsterdam than in the region from Maryland to Georgia.   Much of the African slave  trade operated out of Newport, Rhode Island, from which Yankee skippers took trade goods to west Africa, then slaves to the West Indies and then rum back to New England.    The whole newly independent USA  was involved in slavery, not just the South.

(more…)

Is the USA one nation, indivisible?

July 29, 2017

Updated 7/5/2017

Colin Woodard, a journalist and historian, claims that the United States of America is not a unified nation, but an arena of struggle among separate and distinct regional cultures.

For more than 250 years, he wrote, American history has been shaped by the basic conflict between regions he calls Yankeedom and Deep South, and the shifting alliances among the other regions.

Canada, too, is shaped by regional identity.   In fact, neither the United States nor Canada is a unified nation at all, according to Woodard; the real nations of North America are the 11 regional cultures, which are as follows:

  • Yankeedom, heirs of the Puritans of Massachusetts Bay.
  • New Netherland, heirs of the tolerant, commercial Dutch culture of New Amsterdam.
  • Midlands, heirs of the tolerant culture established by Quakers in the Delaware Bay.
  • Tidewater, heirs of the aristocratic culture established by Cavaliers around the Chesapeake Bay.
  • Greater Appalachia, heirs of the original settlers of the Appalachian back country
  • The Deep South, heirs of English West Indian slave owners who settled in South Carolina
  • The Left Coast, heirs of New England Yankees who settled the Pacific Northwest.
  • The Far West, heirs of the varied pioneers who settled this harsh region.
  • El Norte, heirs of the original Spanish settlers of northern Mexico and the American Southwest.
  • New France, heirs of the original French-Canadian settlers and their Cajun cousins.
  • First Nation, heirs of indigenous peoples of the Far North.

I recently finished reading his book, American Nations: the Eleven Rival Regional Cultures of North America (2011), on the recommendation of my friend, Janus Mary Jones.

I think the regional rivalries he described are real.  I learned things I hadn’t known.  But I think he errs in trying to interpret American history exclusively in terms of regional conflict.

(more…)

Regionalism vs. race, gender and class

July 22, 2017

Click to enlarge

My previous five posts are about the origins of American regional cultures and how regional identity affects politics and society.   The maps above are a reality check.

It shows the hypothetical outcome of the 2016 election if only certain groups of people had been allowed to vote.

Regional distributions of Democratic and Republican strength mostly remain the same, but the outcomes are considerably different.

If only people of color voted or only women voted, Democrats would have won in a landslide.   But if only whites voted or only men voted, the landslide would have been Republican.

(more…)

Albion’s seed in Appalachia

July 22, 2017

The hardscrabble people of northern England, the Scottish lowlands and Ulster were cannon fodder for the English-Scottish and English-Irish border wars.

They were uncouth, fierce, stubborn and rebellious, and hard to get along with.

When the border wars ended, they were encouraged to leave for colonial America.  Once here, they were encouraged to leave the coastal settlements for the Appalachian back country.

David Hackett Fischer, in Albion’s Seed, wrote that they were the last of the four great British migrations whose folkways became the basis of American regional cultures.

Fischer stated that each of the folkways had its own concept of freedom.   The Puritans of Massachusetts Bay believed in ordered freedom, the right of communities to live by God’s will and their own laws.  The Cavaliers of tidewater Virginia believed in hegemonic freedom, the power to rule and not be ruled.   The Quakers of the Delaware Bay believed in reciprocal freedom, the duty to allow others all the freedoms you want for yourself.

Click to enlarge

The Appalachian backwoodsmen believed in natural liberty, the right to live as you wish without interference by others.   They found this liberty in America and felt at home here.   They and their descendants, when asked their ancestry, are the most likely to merely answer “American.”

Their desire for natural liberty put them in the forefront of the American westward movement.   Kentucky and Tennessee became states before Ohio and Alabama were barely settled from New England and the deep South.

They provide our image of the pioneer West.   Daniel Boone, Davy Crockett, Sam Houston and Kit Carson were products of the Appalachian culture.

Click to enlarge

Together with the indentured laborers of the Deep South, they also provide our image of poor white people.

And more recently, they provide our image of right-wing, gun-loving, evolution-denying, diversity-hating supporters of Donald Trump.   This latter image, while not completely false, ignores a lot of history

(more…)

Albion’s seed in New England

July 17, 2017

The Puritan colony in Massachusetts Bay was a much more thoroughgoing theocracy than modern-day Iran.

The Puritan leaders not only banned all religious worship except their narrow version of Calvinism.   They screened newcomers for religious orthodoxy.   Sunday religious worship was compulsory.   They might jail or fine you for such offenses as wasting time.

It’s true, as David Hackett Fischer pointed out in Albion’s Seed, that established churches and religious persecution were the norm in 17th century Europe and its colonies.

Virginia and the other southern colonies, like New England, had tax-supported established churches.  The settlers on the Appalachian frontier settlers did not hold with established churches, but they were quick to drive out any clergy whose preaching didn’t meet with their approval.   Only the Quakers of the Delaware Valley embraced the radical idea of tolerating religious teachings they thought to be in error.

But the Puritan religion was exceptionally narrow, austere and joyless.   It was about human sinfulness, the threat of hell, policing each others’ behavior and listening to hours-long sermons on hard benches in unheated churches.   The Anglican religion of tidewater Virginia, in contrast, involved a rich liturgy, 20-minute sermons and many feast days.

The flowering of New England culture was the result of a revolt against this Calvinist orthodoxy at the dawn of the 19th century.

Transcendentalists rejected original sin, and taught that we all have a divine spark within us.  In that respect, their theology was more like the Quaker doctrine of the Inner Light than it was like the old-time Calvinism.

Humanitarian reformers sought to bring about the Kingdom of God by championing the cause of the blind, the deaf, the mentally ill, the American Indian and the black slave.   There, too, New England Congregationalists and Unitarians followed in the footsteps of Quakers.

The things the Yankee reformers retained from Puritanism were moral and intellectual seriousness, belief in education and self-government, and commitment to collective action.

One of the first fruits of the flowering of New England was the emergence of the Republican Party, which was formed to oppose the spread of slavery.   Almost all the famous New England writers and reformers were Republicans.

(more…)

The hollowness of the Democratic campaign

July 10, 2017

The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, as part of a fund-raising e-mail, asked donors to vote on which of the following they prefer for the next DCCC bumper sticker.   They illustrate what’s wrong with the Democratic Party.

.

.

.

.

What’s noteworthy about these slogans is that they are almost empty of content.  They only point they make is that Democrats are not Republicans.  This actually is the main Democratic talking point.

The middle two refer to an incident that most voters have probably forgotten or didn’t notice in the first place.   Also, in the context of present-day American politics, Resistance as a political stance is a defense of the status quo.   It doesn’t offer a path to anything better.

To show what I mean, here are meaningful slogans.

END THE WARS! DEMOCRATS 2018

DEFEND THE BILL OF RIGHTS! DEMOCRATS 2018

PUT AMERICANS TO WORK! DEMOCRATS 2018

HEALTH CARE FOR ALL! DEMOCRATS 2018

HANDS OFF SOCIAL SECURITY! DEMOCRATS 2018

I have a much longer list of issues in mind, but you get the idea.

Of course the present leaders of the Democratic Party would never adopt such slogans, and not just because they would open up so many incumbent Democrats to charges of hypocrisy.

(more…)

Tyranny, Trump and Timothy Snyder

June 26, 2017

Timothy Snyder, a historian of the Hitler-Stalin era, has written an eloquent and heartfelt little book—On Tyranny: Twenty Lessons From the Twentieth Centurywarning that democracy could perish in the United States of today just as it did in Europe in the 1930s.

Just as no couple making love for the last time ever realize it is the last time, he wrote, so no person voting in a free election for the last time realizes it is the last time.

On Tyranny contains 20 timeless principles for defenders of democracy.    The principles are illustrated by ominous stories of how the mass of people failed to resist Nazi and Communist tyranny and inspirational stories of how a few did.

Then come claims that Vladimir Putin is like Hitler and Stalin and that Donald Trump is like all three, and a call to be ready to resist.

Snyder has done well to remind Americans of the fundamental principles of democracy and the need to defend them.

But the need for the reminder didn’t originate with Donald Trump’s presidential campaign.  As Glenn Greenwald, Conor Friedersdorf and others have warned, these dangers have existed since enactment of the USA Patriot Act in 2001, and before.

During the Bush and Obama administrations, the government has claimed the power to engage in acts of war, order assassinations, spy on citizens, and bypass due process of law and also to imprison anyone who reveals what is going on.  Until this changes, every President is a potential tyrant, not just Donald Trump.

(more…)

Voter registrations disappear in Georgia

June 19, 2017

Greg Palast

The intrepid Greg Palast, who has been reporting since before 2004 on vote-rigging and voter suppression in the USA, said that 10,000 newly-registered Korean-Americans and 40,000 newly-registered African-Americans have simply vanished from Georgia’s voter registration rolls.

The registrations were the result of drives conducted respectively by Georgia’s Asian-American Legal Advocacy Center and the New Georgia Project.

When the two organizations complained, they were raided by the Georgia Bureau of Investigation.   In the end, no charges were filed, but the raids themselves were disruptive and intimidating.

Voter registration in Georgia is the responsibility of Georgia Secretary of State Karen Handel, a Republican,   She is a candidate for Congress in Georgia’s 6th District, running against Democrat Jon Ossoff.   Voting is tomorrow.

It’s entirely possible that she could win with a margin of victory smaller than the number of purged voters in the district.

LINK

Will new Jim Crow scam tip Georgia’s Ossoff-Handel race? by Greg Palast.

The changing politics of climate change

June 2, 2017

Hat tip to kottke.org.

Thomas Frank on Trump’s nationalist populism

May 24, 2017

Nobody alive has a better grasp of American politics than Thomas Frank.

Above is a video I came across of a talk he gave in April at the Kansas City Public Library.   It’s a bit long, especially to watch on a computer screen, but Frank is an entertaining speaker, as he is a writer, and I recommend listening to him if you have time.  His talk ends a little short of an hour and a question-and-answer period runs for about 30 minutes.

Frank sees Donald Trump as the latest of a line of Republican nationalist populists—his predecessors being Richard Nixon, Ronald Reagan, Newt Gingrich, George W. Bush and the leaders of the Tea Party.

A populist is someone who claims to speak in the name of the people against the elite.   The old Populist Party, which dominated Kansas politics in the 1890s, represented farmers and laborers and fought against bankers and railroad CEOs.

The Democratic Party used to be this kind of populist party, Frank said, but it no longer is.   Instead it represents a professional class defined by educational credentials.

In the days of Franklin Roosevelt and Harry Truman, Democrats spoke in the name of the common people against greedy Wall Street bankers and power-hungry corporate CEOs.   But the present generation of Democratic leaders regards bankers and CEOs as classmates—members of the same college classes and same social class.

This has given an opening to nationalist populists who claim to speak for the common people against meddling bureaucrats, unpatriotic intellectuals and out-of-touch journalists.

The vast majority of Americans are either treading water economically or going under.   They are justifiably angry, and right-wing talk radio tells them a story that explains their plight and channels their anger.

The Republican populists offer no real solution, but Democrats no longer offer an alternative story.  That’s why they’ve been in decline for 50 years.  They will have a hard time coming back, Frank said, even if Donald Trump self-destructs.

I found Frank’s whole talk interesting.  Maybe you will, too.

(more…)

Donald Trump and the trouble with democracy

May 24, 2017

Brooke Gladstone, in her new book, The Trouble With Reality: A Rumination on the Moral Panic of Our Time, claimed that the election of Donald Trump reflects fundamental flaws in human nature and in the very ideas of democracy, free speech and freedom of the press.

Brooke Gladstone

To her credit, she doesn’t take her argument to its logical conclusion, which would be to empower gatekeepers to filter the news and opinions available so the rest of us aren’t exposed to anything the gatekeepers consider fake.

Many others, in fact, do go that far, so I will try to sum up her argument and then engage it.   Here’s her argument:

  • Truth is subjective Everybody lives in their own unique reality.   Since our ability to understand is limited, we make decisions based on stereotypes.   All human beings are emotionally committed to stereotypes and experimental psychology shows that our brains react negatively to whatever challenges our stereotype.
  • Knowledge of facts is not enough Any given set of facts is subject to multiple interpretations.  We the people filter facts according to own various assumptions and biases.
  • Appealing lies beat inconvenient truths John Milton, Thomas Jefferson and John Stuart Mill claimed defended free speech by claiming that truth would defeat falsehood in a free and open encounter.  This is bogus.   We the people don’t have access to full information about important public issues, nor the time or ability to evaluate it if we did.
  • Democracies foster demagoguesSince we the people cannot make rational decisions, we tend to prefer demagogues who offer us appealing fantasies rather than intellectuals who tell us inconvenient truths.

Here’s my answer.

The expression that “truth is subjective” or “we all live in different realities” is highly pernicious.

It’s true that we all have our own unique experience of reality.  As Gladstone notes, humans can’t imagine what it is like to experience the world as a bat or a bloodhound does.  But a human, a bat and a bloodhound all live in the same actual world.  We are all burned by fire and drown in water.   If our perceived reality is wrong, the real reality will sooner or later catch up with us.

(more…)

Donald Trump and the trouble with reality

May 23, 2017

Brooke Gladstone, a broadcaster and media critic, has written a provocative 87-page book about Donald Trump and his challenge to the concept of objective truth.

Trump has given us a constant stream of assertions—Obama was born in Kenya, Muslims in New Jersey celebrated 9/11, millions voted illegally in the 2016 elections–without facts to back them up.

That is, as she wrote, a challenge to the basis premise of democracy, which is that we the people have the ability to make good choices as to who will represent us.

But what if we don’t have a good basis for making a choice?  What if the very possibility of making a rational fact-based choice is called in question?

We normally assume that both sides have some basis for what they say and that our job is to choose the one who makes the best case.   But Donald Trump just says things without bothering to make an argument?

How can the casual newspaper reader, TV watcher and social media user evaluate this?

∞∞∞

The philosopher Harry Frankfurt made a distinction between liars (people who knowingly make false statements for a reason) and bullshitters (people who don’t know or care whether what they say is true or not).

It’s not just Trump.   The whole flood of charges regarding Trump and Russia seems very—for want of a better word—Trumpian.  Every day there’s something new and nothing is ever proved.

The distinction between lies and bullshit applies here.  I don’t think anybody is knowingly making false statements about Trump and friends.  I think many of them just don’t care one way or the other.

On the other hand, the consequences for revealing unwelcome truths can be severe—Chelsea Manning seven years in prison, Edward Snowden a fugitive from U.S. law, Julian Assange confined to the Ecuadorian embassy in London.

I’ve had people tell me that Assange should not have published information unfavorable to Hillary Clinton unless he had information equally unfavorable Donald Trump to publish.

(more…)

A hypothetical question

May 11, 2017

Suppose Hillary Clinton had won the 2016 election.   Do you think James Comey would have kept his job as director of the FBI?

An interview with Noam Chomsky

April 11, 2017

I missed this interview with Noam Chomsky when it was broadcast a week ago, but he has good insight into U.S. and world politics.   I respect him for his breadth of knowledge and independence of mind.  The broadcast is a little over an hour, which is a long time to watch something on a computer screen, but you don’t have to watch it all at once.

It took me many decades to appreciate Chomsky.  During the Cold War, I thought he was insufficiently aware of the evil and threat of the Soviet Union and of Communism generally, and overly quick to condemn the United States because our faults were aberrations whereas theirs were systemic.

I started to change my way of thinking in the 1990s when the Soviet threat ended, but the United States did not return to what I thought was normal.   I was shocked at how easily the Bush administration was able to wipe the Bill of Rights off the blackboard and commit the country to perpetual war.

But my real disillusionment was when the Obama administration, instead of offering hope and implementing change, simply filed some of the rough edges off the Bush policies to make them more acceptable.

Now comes Donald Trump who is, as Chomsky said, a kind of parody and exaggeration of what has gone before.

I can appreciate Chomsky, now that I have freed myself of the mental limitation of refusing to consider anything outside the range of the opinions expressed by Democrats and Republicans.   As Chomsky noted in the interview, what we should worry about are the policies on which self-described conservatives and self-described liberals agree.

FBI’s James Comey caught in the middle

March 21, 2017

FBI director James Comey

During the 2016 election campaign, Bill Clinton had a long conversation with FBI director James Comey’s boss, Attorney General Loretta Lynch.   Later Hillary Clinton said that, if elected, she would re-appoint Lynch.

All this immediately cast suspicion on the FBI’s investigation of Hillary Clinton’s handling of classified e-mails.    Usually, when the FBI is conducting an investigation, its spokesmen say nothing until the investigation is completed, and charges are filed, or not filed.

Comey’s comments about Clinton when the FBI decided not to file charges, and his further comments, may have been an attempt to show he wasn’t a tool of Lynch or the Clintons.  His motives are unknowable, of course, but that is my guess.

It didn’t work.  Clinton supporters were engaged by his comments, but Trump supporters also were enraged because he didn’t charge Clinton with anything.

His disclosure that the FBI is investigating possible ties between the Trump campaign and Russian intelligence may mean as little as his disclosure of the investigation of Clinton’s e-mails.    The mere fact of an investigation proves nothing.   There’s no way to know until the investigation is over.

(more…)

Democrats easing off on Russia hacking charge

March 19, 2017

Democratic war hawks are backing off their charges that Donald Trump’s victory was due to Vladimir Putin’s manipulations.

For war hawks, these charges may have served their purpose in making Trump back off from plans to make peace with Russia, and in casting suspicion on anybody who advocates peace with Russia.

For Democrats, the Russia conspiracy theory provided a basis for attacking Trump personally without having to propose constructive alternatives to his policies.   But if investigations produce no evidence of any Trump-Putin collusion, these attacks will backfire.

Update 3/21/2017:  Evidently I spoke too soon.   Trump opponents seem determined to keep the investigation of Trump-Russia contacts going as long as possible, even though every article I’ve read contains a paragraph somewhere that says there is no evidence of collusion between Trump campaign officials and Russian intelligence.

I suppose Democrats, war hawks and especially Democratic war hawks think they have nothing to lose by keeping the pressure on, even if nothing significant is uncovered in the end.

FBI director James Comey reported that the FBI has been investigating possible Trump-Russia connections since last July.   It will be interesting to know what, if anything, the investigation discovers.  The mere fact that an investigation is going on has no more significance that the fact of that Hillary Clinton’s handling of her e-mails was being investigated.

LINKS

Key Democratic Officials Now Warning Not to Expect Evidence of Trump / Russia Connection by Glenn Greenwald for The Intercept.

The Democrats’ Anti-Russia Campaign Falls Apart by Moon of Alabama.

The Missing Logic of Russia-gate by Robert Parry for Consortium News [Added 3/21/2017]

The GOP is going to try to rush the Russian investigation | Democrats shouldn’t let them by Alex Shephard for The New Republic.  The politics of the investigation.  [Added 3/21/2017]

Recommended Reading: Giant Russia Theory Edition by Nina Illingworth for Nina Illingworth Dot Com.   [Added 3/31/2017]  A definitive collection of links on reasons to be skeptical of claims that Russia “hacked” the 2016 election.

A propaganda war is not really a war

March 1, 2017

newyorker-1488286188

The New Yorker ran a long article about Russian propaganda and how the Russian government sees propaganda as a weapon of war.

The article, though one-sided, contains interesting information.  My problem with it is that the writers treat propaganda—including truthful propaganda—as the equivalent of war.

The U.S. government during the past 15 years has waged war by means of aerial bombardment, targeted assassinations, economic sanctions, arming terrorists and warlords and actual invasions of  foreign countries that do not threaten us.  Russia has done some of the same things, although on a smaller scale.

There is a strong possibility of a military confrontation between Russia and the United States that could risk a nuclear war.

Russian attempts to influence American and European public opinion seem fairly benign in contrast.

(more…)

How artificial intelligence elected Trump

February 28, 2017

thedges0112mercer

Hedge fund billionaire Robert Mercer bailed out the Trump campaign last summer when it hit its low point, but that was not the most important thing he did.

The most important thing was to teach Steve Bannon, Jared Kushner and Jason Miller how to use computer algorithms, artificial intelligence and cyber-bots to target individual voters and shape public opinion.

The Guardian reported that Mercer’s company, Cambridge Analytica, claims to have psychological profiles on 220 million American voters based on 5,000 separate pieces of data.  [Correction: The actual claim was 220 million Americans, not American voters.]

Michal Kosinski, lead scientist for Cambridge University’s Psychometric Centre in England, said that knowing 150 Facebook likes, he can know a person’s personality better than their spouse; with 300 likes, better than the person knows themselves.

Advertisers have long used information from social media to target individuals with messages that push their psychological buttons.

I suppose I shouldn’t be shocked or surprised that political campaigners are doing the same thing.

Bloomberg reported how the Trump campaign targeted idealistic liberals, young women and African-Americans in key states, identified through social media, and fed them negative information about Hillary Clinton in order to persuade them to stay home.

This probably was what gave Trump his narrow margin of victory in Wisconsin, Michigan and Pennsylvania.

The other way artificial intelligence was used to elect Trump was the creation of robotic Twitter accounts that automatically linked to Breitbart News and other right-wing news sites.

This gave them a high-ranking on Google and created the illusion—or maybe self-fulfilling prophecy—that they represent a consensus.

(more…)

Donald Trump is out of step with public opinion

February 22, 2017

03-amvalues_infographic-obamacare-1-146c41f7-a678-46d8-8f60-614ffd23bb10

05-amvalues_infographic-immigration-1-4b9e36d7-48db-47a3-9ce4-7cdf44841e38tva_info-climate_rev-1495520e-ba37-4a58-8340-dc19eca96758

Rolling Stone had a good article on how Donald Trump’s policies are go against not only the wishes of a majority of the American public, but also many (not all) of the wishes of a majority of Republican voters.

I think this is interesting, but the fact is that leaders of both political parties have gone against the wishes of the American public for a long time without suffering fatal consequences.

The American public didn’t want the government to bail out Wall Street, but it happened just the same.

Many Americans are so disillusioned with American politics that they no longer are indignant about politicians who break their promises.   In the 2016 election, more voters stayed home than voted either Democratic or Republican.

(more…)

Why I’m not sorry I voted for Jill Stein

February 8, 2017

table-one

table-two

Hillary Clinton was not defeated by a white working class uprising in favor of Donald Trump.

And she was not defeated by the defection of liberals and progressives to Jill Stein.

She was defeated by her personal failure, and the failure of the Democratic Party overall, to hold the votes of its core supporters—black and white, male and female.

It is important to remember this because merely attacking President Trump (as justified as these attacks may be) will not, in and of itself, bring back the Democratic vote.

You can’t beat something with nothing.   Unless Democrats offer a path to prosperity and peace, they will very likely lose and, even if they win, their victories won’t matter.

(more…)

Why GOP administrations are transformative

February 7, 2017

I have to give Donald Trump and Steve Bannon credit.  Their administration is unpopular, most of the leaders of their own party distrust them, yet they are moving forward as if they had won a landslide victory.

I have to go back to Lyndon Johnson before I can find any Democratic President who has acted so decisively on taking office.

This is part of a pattern.  Richard Nixon, Ronald Reagan and even George W. Bush were transformative Presidents.  Jimmy Carter, Bill Clinton and Barack Obama were not.   What Clinton and Obama basically did was to normalize the changes that Reagan and G.W. Bush brought about.

Michael Kinnucan, writing in Current Affairs magazine, said the difference between the two parties is that the Democratic leaders always try to position themselves in the moderate center, while the Republican leaders continually redefine where the center is—

Ending Medicaid isn’t an obvious or an easy fight—it’s a very efficient program that’s been part of the American social fabric for 50 years, a program with 70 million beneficiary-constituents, one vital to the survival (economic and otherwise) of some of the most photogenically unfortunate people in America (families raising kids with major disabilities, for chrissake!) and a major source of business for the gigantic and very widely geographically distributed healthcare-provision industry.  It’s also very popular; only 13% of Americans support slashing Medicaid. And no wonder: 63% of Americans say that either they or a close friend or family member has been covered by Medicaid at some point. It’s not even arguably in any kind of crisis; there’s no obvious reason to touch it.

So for Republicans, going after Medicaid is picking a big fight, one they could easily dodge.  But that won’t stop them.  They know that destroying this kind of program is key to their vision for America, both ideologically and in terms of budget math.  They’ve known it for years, and they’ve been releasing plans and focus-grouping and developing consensus for years in the wilderness, and now they’re tanned, rested and ready.

And for 95% of their congressfolks it’s not even a question—they’ll vote yes.  They’ll do it in the smartest possible way, too: they’ll say there’s a fiscal crisis and it’s necessary, they’ll say it’s not a cut it’s just market efficiency, they’ll use block-granting to disown the cuts that happen and lay them on the states, and then wait till the cuts reduce the program’s popularity to mop up what’s left.  Most Americans won’t really believe anyone would do what the GOP is about to do until it’s too late.

And hey, maybe they’ll even lose a couple of Congressional races over it, but the Dems won’t be in a strong enough position to reverse the cuts for years and years, and starting a program like this is much harder than ending it.  Once it’s gone, it’s gone.

Source: Current Affairs | Culture & Politics

(more…)