Posts Tagged ‘Donald Trump’

What Hillary Clinton actually said

July 26, 2019

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

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

Hillary Clinton

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

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

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

— Hillary Clinton, CBS News[9]

Source: Basket of deplorables – Wikipedia

Was she wrong?

Hat tip to Bill Elwell.

Once again Trump commands the headlines

July 17, 2019

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

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

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

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

AOC and Trump. CNNNews

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Gender, race and the 2016 psychodrama

June 26, 2019

I recently read a collection of essays entitled NASTY WOMEN AND BAD HOMBRES: Gender and Race in the 2016 US Presidential Election edited by Christine A. Kray, Tamar W. Carroll and Hinda Mendell (2018).

The question the book seeks to answer is how such an ignorant and misogynistic man such as Donald Trump could have defeated such an intelligent and well-qualified woman as Hillary Clinton.

The answers are sought in rhetoric, psychology and popular culture, not public policy. Clinton and Trump are treated as symbols, not as individuals with public records.  The election is treated as a psychodrama, not as a struggle for power.

The common theme was the need to overcome prevailing male attitudes toward women (“the patriarchy”) and prevailing white attitudes toward people of color (“white supremacy”).

I have reservations about this approach, which I’ll get to in due course..  But I first want to acknowledge the book’s merits.

One chapter discussed the obscene and vicious abuse directed at Hillary Clinton based on her gender, in the form of postcards, posters and Internet memes.  She was caricatured as a witch, a Medusa, a hag, a lesbian and a transgender man.  Unlike with Trump and Bernie Sanders, her age was held against her; she was depicted as a hag.  No human being should be subjected to this.

This unfortunately is not unusual nowadays for women who successfully compete with men.  They are subject to harassment via the Internet, up to and including threats of rape and death..

Donald Trump got his share of abuse, too—for example the widespread meme, including a video distributed by the New York Times, showing Trump and Vladimir Putin as gay lovers—the unstated assumption being that gays are weak and disgusting.

But I don’t think Trump, Sanders or any other male candidate was subjected to anything comparable to what Clinton had to endure because of her sex, and that Barack Obama had to endure because of his race.

I’d be interested about the experience of conservative woman in politics, such as Sarah Palin and Nikki Haley,  Do they get the same level of vicious and obscene abuse as white women?  My guess is, probably not, but I don’t know.

Another of the essays was about images of the women’s suffrage movement of a century ago.  The suffragists were mocked for presuming to assume male roles.  The mockery was extremely condescending, but it wasn’t threatening or obscene.

Is the viciousness of attacks on women nowadays due to a lowering of standards of public discourse?  Or do anti-feminist men today feel more threatened than than anti-suffragist men did back then?

But then there also are women, quoted in another chapter, who think that Hillary Clinton does not behave as a woman should.  Many of these same women excused Donald Trump’s bad behavior.

Indeed, the 2016 Presidential campaign illustrated the double standard for personal morality for men and women.  It is not just that Hillary Clinton could not have gotten away with trash-talking like Donald Trump.  Neither she or any of the current crop of female Presidential candidates could have been forgiven for infidelity in their marriages, as Bill Clinton and Donald Trump have been.

Various writers highlighted this double standard and speculated as to the cultural and psychological reasons why it exists.  Others dealt with a range of topics, from the myth of immigrant crime to religious freedom for Muslims.

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Donald Trump wins the spotlight

June 4, 2019

Click to enlarge.  Source: Ash Ngu on Twitter.

Why failed Donald Trump may win in 2020

May 30, 2019

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Donald Trump’s threat to sanctuary cities

April 16, 2019

Donald Trump’s threat to send asylum-seeking immigrants to sanctuary cities is wrong on so many levels that it is hard to know where to begin to comment.  This is often the case with him.

It would be an abuse of power.  The duty of a President is to enforce the law impartially, not as a means of harming his enemies.  Trump treats the U.S. government like a company he has acquired in a hostile takeover.

It is vicious. Trump speaks of human beings as if they were a kind of vermin to be loosed on his enemies.  Whatever you may think about immigration policy, this is wrong.

It goes against his professed goals.  If you really think the United States is “full up” and has no room for additional people, it is stupid to direct unauthorized immigrants to places where they will be welcomed and helped.

It may well not amount to anything.  President Trump has a history of stirring up controversies, then walking away and pretending he never said what he said.

It keeps Trump in the spotlight.  Trump’s great talent is for focusing news coverage and political debate on whatever topic he chooses to raise at the moment.

It may be to his political advantage.  The big issues that helped Trump get elected were immigration and foreign trade.  So long as these issues are in the public eye, he benefits—at least so long as the opposition fails to come up with acceptable alternatives.

LINKS

Donald Trump Doubles Down on Plan to Release Migrants to Sanctuary Cities by Fernanda Echavarri for Mother Jones.

Trump Targets Legal, Illegal Immigrants in Latest Push by Jill Cohen and Coleen Long for NBC 5 in Dallas.

The fall and fall of U.S. tariff barriers

March 1, 2019

Click to enlarge. Hat to Barry Ritholtz

The United States, like almost all industrial countries, built up its infant industries behind protective tariff walls that shielded them from more efficient, because longer-established, competitors.

This historical graph shows what has happened since then.  Tariffs against foreign imports are down to a tiny fraction of what they were in the 1930s or 1940s.

President Trump deserves credit for forcing trade policy onto the national agenda.  Unlike his predecessors, he does not argue that more and more globalization is the answer  He is right that it is time for a change.

But trade wars aren’t an answer either

Rather the U.S. should do what successful exporting nations do, which is to build up their industries through a carefully targeted industrial policy.

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President Trump invokes power of a dictator

February 18, 2019

President Donald Trump, having failed to persuade Congress to appropriate a full $5.7 billion for his border wall, has said he’ll declare a national emergency and take the money from Department of Defense funds.

The thing is, he doesn’t even pretend there is any emergency involved.

I could do the wall over a longer period of time.  I didn’t need to do this.  But I’d rather do it much faster.  And I don’t have to do it for the election.  I ’ve already done a lot of wall for the election. 2020.  And the only reason we’re up here talking about this is because of the election—because they want to try to win an election, which it looks like they’re not going to be able to do.

If a President can simply declare a national emergency and override the will of Congress, what power does he lack to make himself a dictator?

President Trump did not give himself these emergency powers, and he is not the first one to use them or abuse them, but none before him have been so blatant about the lack of justification for using these powers.

Our Constitution sets up a form of government with three branches of government with separate powers—the legislative, executive and judiciary—with the idea that each would check and balance the power of the others.

The problem with this is that separation of powers means separation of responsibility.  The path of least resistance for Congress is to abdicate responsibility to the President.

It’s true that Congress is not entirely to blame in this case.  The original law that President Trump invoked allowed Congress to veto an emergency declaration by a majority vote of the Senate and the House of Representations.  The Supreme Court ruled that unconstitutional; it said the two-thirds votes are required not only to overturn vetoes of legislation, but to overturn any Presidential action.

Even so, it is Congress that over the years has given Presidents the powers of dictators, and it is the responsibility of Congress to take these powers back.  No member of Congress who declares themselves a part of the “resistance” to President Trump can be taken seriously if they continue to allow him the powers of a dictator.

LINKS

Republic’s End: Trump’s Border Wall by Ian Welsh.

A Fishy Emergency Threatens the Republic by Doug Muder for The Weekly Sift.

Trump’s dictator move is the real emergency—and we handed him the keys by Will Bunch for the Philadelphia Inquirer.

What Is and Isn’t a Big Deal in Trump’s Executive Actions Related to the Border by Jack Goldsmith for Lawfare.

‘You’re either for us or against us’

January 30, 2019

Every time a U.S. President targets some nation as an enemy, and tries to drag other countries into the conflict, he creates the possibility of a backlash.

“You’re either for us or against us.”  Say that too many times, and the answer is likely to be, “we’re against you.”

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Why the push for ‘regime change’ in Venezuela?

January 29, 2019

National Security Adviser John Bolton explains U.S. Venezuela policy.

I think I’ve seen this script before.  The unpopular ruler of an oil-rich country cracks down on the opposition.  The U.S. government sees an opportunity and tries to bring about a change in regime.

What can go wrong?  In Iraq, this led to an inconclusive quagmire war in which thousands of Americans and hundreds of thousands of Iraqis lost their lives.  In Libya, it led to the collapse of civil order, leaving Libyans worse off than before.  In Syria, it led to another inconclusive war, benefitting no one.   The chief result of these wars was the European refugee crisis.

Now the U.S. seems to be playing out the same script in Venezuela—doing the same as before and expecting a different result.

The Trump administration has recognized Juan Guaido, the leader of the National Assembly, as the legitimate president of Venezuela, and called for the overthrow of President Nicolas Maduro.  Guaido is indeed the leader, but that’s because the leadership is rotated among the parties, and the Trump administration’s decision happened on his watch.

To support Guaido, the administration has blocked Venezuela’s oil company from collecting revenue from its oil exports.  Instead the money goes into a blocked account until Guaido takes power.

And if he doesn’t?  “All options are on the table.”

As far as I’m concerned, this is a pass-fail test of political leadership.  Only those who oppose intervention are lovers of peace.  So far Bernie Sanders passes this test, as do Democratic Reps. Tulsi Gabbard, Ro Khanna, Ilhan Omar and Alexandra Ocasio-Cortez.

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Maybe the shutdown is a goal, not a tactic

January 17, 2019

I criticized President Trump in a previous post for being willing to close down the government and possibly declaring a national emergency in order to get his way on building fences along the southern border.

But maybe I’ve got things backwards.  Maybe the goal is not to build more border fence, but to shut down the government and declare a national emergency.  This increases his power and frees him from constitutional checks and balances.

I’m not saying this is his plan.  I’m saying his actions are consistent with him having such a plan.

His administration has ordered tens of thousands of federal employees to work without pay, which from his point of view is an ideal situation.  It shifts the cost of the shutdown onto others and shelters him from the political consequences of his nation.

Right-wing plutocrats don’t care about government employees and they don’t care whether the government is well-administered or not.  They regard government regulations as a nuisance and government services as unnecessary.

If government fails to work under their watch, they can say that this just proves that government is a failure.

This also was the attitude of President George W. Bush to some extent.  One thing you can say for President Obama is that he appointed highly qualified people to top administrative positions, and that he was concerned that the government work.

Civil servants don’t advertise.  We the citizens don’t appreciate or even know all the ways we depend on them quietly doing their jobs.  We scorn public service at our peril.

LINKS

The Government Shutdown Is Bad, But It Could Get Much Worse by Bloomberg News.

A Shutdown for the 99 Percent, Concierge Government for the 1 Percent by Eoin Higgins for The Intercept.

Inside Trump’s Cruel Campaign Against the U.S.D.A.’s Scientists by Michael Lewis for Vanity Fair.

Why the Scariest Nuclear Threat May Be Coming From the White House by Michael Lewis for Vanity Fair.

Donald Trump and the power of sociopathy

January 15, 2019

Donald Trump is what I call a sociopath.

This not a psychiatric diagnosis, but an observation that he cares nothing for moral and ethical rules, for the law, for his pledged word, for objective facts or for the consequences of his actions to other people.

The power of a sociopath is that normal people have norms of behavior—at least to some extent—and don’t know how to deal with people who don’t recognize norms.

President Trump’s signature pledge during the 2016 presidential campaign was that he would solve the problem of unauthorized immigration by building a wall along the southern border, and make Mexico pay for it.

The cost of building a physical barrier along the entire 1,900-mile border with Mexico would be enormous.  The idea that Mexico can be compelled to pay for it is absurd.

Yet he is willing to close down the government and threaten to declare a national emergency in order to build a barrier along a relatively small portion of the border.  It is more important to him to win this symbolic victory than to have a functioning government.   He doesn’t really care whether the United States has a functioning government at all.

But the fact that establishment Washington politicians and journalists put up so little resistance to Trump shows how little these supposed norms have come to mean.

During the Bush and Obama administrations, the “norms” included invasions and proxy wars against countries that did not threaten us Americans, resulting in the deaths of hundreds of thousands of people, maybe a million all told, who never harmed us.  It meant prosecution of whistleblowers for telling the truth about abuse of governmental power.  It meant refusal to prosecute financial fraud and other crimes committed by members of the financial elite.

There is little that the Trump administration is doing, including governmental shutdowns, that does not have some sort of precedent.  What the Trump administration shows us is how acceptable sociopathy has become.

LINKS

What Is a Government Shutdown? by Kimberly Amadeo for The Balance.

Government shutdown: the border wall fight explained by Dara Lind for Vox.

Biggest Effects of the Government Shutdown by Ryan Bort for Rolling Stone.

Here’s What’s Really Happening at the Border by Kevin Drum for Mother Jones.

The Wall May Be a Waste, But It Is not a Crisis by Peter Van Buren for We Meant Well.

Wall B.S. and the Politics of 2020 by Peter Van Buren for We Meant Well.

Why Pelosi and Schumer Should Back Down Now by Joseph Cannon for Cannonfire.

Top Democrats once voted for a border fence

January 14, 2019

This photo, published in 2011, shows a section of the border barrier built under the Secure Fence Act of 2006.

In the debate over a southern border wall, we might remember that 650 miles of “fence” already has been built along the border with Mexico, and many top Democrats voted to authorize it.

The barrier was built under the Secure Fencing Act of 2006, which was proposed by President George W. Bush and supported by a majority of Democrats, including Senators Barack Obama, Hillary Clinton, Chuck Schumer, Joe Biden and Dianne Feinstein, and also by then-Rep. Sherrod Brown.

Admittedly there’s a difference between a wall and a fence—although what President Trump means by a wall isn’t completely clear.

And, to be sure, some Democrats opposed the 2006 law, including Rps. Bernie Sanders and Nancy Pelosi and Senators Ted Kennedy, Harry Reid and John Kerry.

Even so, with this history, it’s hard for me to see why the Democratic leadership chose this particular issue to go to the wall over (so to speak).

The bill was part of a package that included a path to citizenship for unauthorized immigrants already in the United States and stricter controls on new unauthorized immigration, including the border fence.

In 2011, President Obama declared the fence had been completed, but his opponents claimed the result wasn’t what Congress intended.

The original bill called for a double row of fencing, but it also gave the Secretary of Homeland Security authority to choose alternatives if deemed more suitable for the location.  Only 36 miles were built as double fencing.  Federal officials said the fence includes 299 miles of vehicle barriers and 350 miles of pedestrian fence.

The U.S.-Mexican border in its entirety is about 1,950 miles long.

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Cutting U.S. losses in the Mideast

December 21, 2018

If President Donald Trump intends to pull back U.S. military intervention in the Middle East, this would be the least bad thing he could do.  The only point of continuing the present policies that I can see is to not be the one that has to admit failure. 

LINK

Establishment Will Never Say No to War by Andrew Sullivan for New York magazine.

Who’s in charge of the U.S. government?

November 23, 2018

Kevin Drum, writing for Mother Jones, defended President Obama against charges of being too supportive of the Saudi Arabian royal family.

Obama, like all US presidents, was heavily constrained by our foreign policy establishment, but in the end he did provide Saudi Arabia with less support than any previous president—and the Saudis made no secret of their intense dislike of Obama over this.  

I think [Glenn] Greenwald underrates just how hard this is in real life, and how much credit Obama deserves for taking even baby steps against the virtually unanimous opposition of the entire US government.

Notice what Drum is saying here.  The elected President of the United States is one thing.  The unelected actual government of the United States is another.  The first can influence, but not control, the second.

I think this is all too true, like Senator Schumer’s warning to Donald Trump to not mess with the intelligence agencies.  What does this say about American democracy?

LINKS

Trump’s Amoral Saudi Statement is a Pure Expression of Decades-Old “U.S. Values” and Foreign Policy Orthodoxies by Glenn Greenwald for The Intercept.

Donald Trump’s Statement on Saudi Arabia is a Lot Worse Than Just Removing a Mask by Kevin Drum for Mother Jones.

How Trump could be defeated in 2020

November 8, 2018

When I was growing up in western Maryland, there was a frequently quoted saying: Never get into a pissing contest with a skunk.

So long as Democrats campaign against President Trump based on his personality and personal behavior, they will lose.  Like it or not, he will win in any clash of accusations and insults.

The Democrats’ new majority in the House of Representatives gives them an opportunity to shift the attention of the press and public away from the President’s Twitter account and toward issues that affect the well-being of the American public.

By holding hearings on issues such as, Medicare for All,  minimum wage, prescription drug prices, student loan debt, gun-related killings, voter suppression and so on, they can set the stage for a 2020 election campaign based on these issues.

If they are smart, they will focus on issues of particular interest to rural voters—water availability*, agri-business monopoly, optoid addiction, nuclear waste disposal*, access to health care in rural areas, transportation infrastructure in rural areas.

If they are foolish, they will focus on trying to impeach Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh and President Trump himself.

I don’t know what the Mueller investigation will eventually reveal, but Democrats would be foolish to count on Russiagate as a winning issue.  It had nil effect on this year’s elections.

The same with investigations into corruption in the Trump administration.  Investigating corruption in the executive branch is an important duty of Congress, but it will have little political benefit unless the corruption can be shown to do material harm to Americans and unless Democrats can tie it to a constructive alternative proposal of their own.

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How Trump could win in 2020

November 8, 2018

Donald Trump

Donald Trump campaigned for President with both negative attacks and positive promises.  If he had done more to keep his positive promises, he might have made the Republican Party a majority party.

It is not too late.  If he proposes a meaningful infrastructure plan or a serious plan to lower the price of prescription drugs, he will put himself on the side of public opinion and force the Democrats into a no-win choice of giving Trump credit or opposing a beneficial proposal.

Trump’s other choice is to continue as he as—by stirring up antagonism to racial minorities, immigrants, feminists, Muslims, the press and “political correctness.”  This also could work, if the Democrats fall into the trap of reacting to Trump rather than setting a popular agenda of their own.

Ross Dothan explained how in a New York Times column written right before the 2018 election.

Imagine that instead of just containing himself and behaving like a generic Republican, Trump had actually followed through on the populism that he promised in 2016, dragging his party toward the economic center and ditching the G.O.P.’s most unpopular ideas.

Imagine that he followed through on Steve Bannon’s boasts about a big infrastructure bill instead of trying for Obamacare repeal.

Imagine that he listened to Marco Rubio and his daughter and tilted his tax cut more toward middle-class families.

Imagine that he spent more time bullying Silicon Valley into in-shoring factory jobs than whining about Fake News.

Imagine that he made lower Medicare drug prices a signature issue rather than a last-minute pre-election gambit.

This strategy could have easily cut the knees out from under the Democrats’ strongest appeal, their more middle-class-friendly economic agenda, and highlighted their biggest liability, which is the way the party’s base is pulling liberalism way left of the middle on issues of race and culture and identity.

It would have given Trump a chance to expand his support among minorities while holding working-class whites, and to claim the kind of decisive power that many nationalist leaders around the world enjoy.

It would have threatened liberalism not just with more years out of power, but outright irrelevance under long-term right-of-center rule.

It’s true that President Trump has kept his promise to try to revise unfavorable trade treaties and deal with unauthorized immigration.  I think his approach to trade is clumsy and erratic and his approach to immigration is needlessly cruel, but he has at least forced a national rethinking of these issues.

If he continued to press for restrictions on imports and immigration, if he proposed a serious infrastructure program and prescription drug program, if he managed to refrain from starting any new wars and if the next recession didn’t start until later 2020, he would have an excellent chance of winning.

None of these things are incompatible with the politics of polarization, any more than a Democratic push to strengthen labor unions and raise the minimum wage would be incompatible with being pro-Black Lives Matter, pro-feminist and pro-LGBT.

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Why Pelosi is the big winner in the mid-terms

November 7, 2018

Nancy Pelosi is the big winner in the 2018 election campaign.  Her faction remained in control of the Democratic Party, despite a progressive insurgency, and then went on to win a majority in the House of Representatives.

She’ll become Speaker of the House again, making her the highest-ranking Democratic elected official.  This is a better outcome, from my standpoint, than a Republican victory in the House races would have been, but it means that the House will not become a forum for proposing changes for the better.

Pelosi has said that she will try to restore “pay as you go” budgeting—which means no big infrastructure program and no Medicare for All.

Nancy Pelosi

It opens the door to another “grand compromise” proposal, in which Democrats offer to cut back on Social Security and Medicare for future retirees in return for repeal of recent tax cuts for millionaires and billionaires.

Control of the House gives the Democratic leadership an opportunity to challenge the Pentagon budget and some of the ongoing wars, since all appropriations bills must originate in the House.

There might be some resistance to supporting Saudi Arabia’s war on Yemen, but otherwise I expect Democrats in Congress to keep on voting for whatever military spending Trump asks for.

There is a fundamental structural problem in American politics, which is that there are three main political factions trying to operate through a two-party system.  One is the right wing, represented by Donald Trump and Mitch McConnell.  Another is the center, represented by Nancy Pelosi and Hillary Clinton.  The third is the left, represented by Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren.

The Trump Republicans now dominate their party.  Centrist opponents to Trump have been driven out.  The Pelosi Democrats are still the dominant faction in their party.  The Sanders Democrats have not been crushed and may yet win in the long run.

The problem is, from my standpoint, is that even Bernie Sanders is not a peace candidate.  He is not as bloodthirsty as Hillary Clinton or Donald Trump, but he has never questioned the overall goal of U.S. worldwide military domination or considered how to shift from a war to a peace economy.

So long as the United States is on a permanent war footing, the resources won’t be available to meet the nation’s real needs.

On the whole, the country is somewhat better off—less badly off—than it was before the election.  But Donald Trump still controls 2.5 of the three branches of government, and his opponents need a better vision than putting things back the way they were in 2014.

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2016 and all that

November 3, 2018

Populism is the expression of the righteous anger of the common people against injustice or perceived injustice.

Right-wing populism is the re-direction by the holders of wealth and power away from themselves and toward scapegoats.

The great political scientist Thomas Ferguson and his team of researchers recently published new studies of how right-wing populism operated in the 2016 national elections.

Several studies assert that supporters of Donald Trump are motivated primarily by racial anxiety and not be economic anxiety.  The conclusion they draw is that the Democratic Party does not have to become more populist in order to win elections.

Ferguson’s team says the truth is more complicated.  Racial anxiety and economic anxiety are not all that separate, they wrote.

Donald Trump told his supporters that their economic woes were due to immigration and foreign trade, and promised to fix both.  These are legitimate economic issues.

Many working people feel, for understandable reasons, that competition with foreign workers—both workers in foreign sweatshops and unauthorized immigrants in the USA—is driving down thrown wages.  I have to say that, as President, Trump has tried to keep his promises to try to restrict immigration and imports.  He has acted in a crude and counterproductive way, but he has acted.  These issues can no longer be ignored and will have to be rethought.

That’s not to deny that Trump also has tried to stir up animosity against African-Americans, Mexicans and Muslims.  But he also promised to launch a trillion-dollar infrastructure program, protect Social Security and Medicare and replace Obamacare with something better.

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Is Trump that much worse than his predecessors?

November 2, 2018

My big mistake during the 2016 election campaign was in under-estimating the harm that Donald Trump might do as President.

Donald Trump

I thought that it might do less harm, from the standpoint of progressive reform, for an incompetent authoritarian right-winger such as Trump to take office and take the blame for the coming financial crash, than for a Democrat to take office, fail and open the way for more capable, far-sighted right-wing authoritarian in 2020.

I thought that when my Democratic friends spoke of how Donald Trump was going to destroy American democracy, they failed to recognize how far we had already strayed from democracy.

This “normal” that you speak of: When was that, and where is it to be found?  The Benghazi hearings? The drone war and the secret “kill list” that included American citizens?  The birther controversy and the “death panels”?  Potential vice president Sarah Palin?  The Iraq war and the “unknown unknowns”?  The Lewinsky scandal and the “meaning of is”?

Source: Alternet

In many important bad ways, the Trump is a continuation of the Obama and George W. Bush administrations.  He allows the drift toward military confrontation with Russia.  He continues the failing wars in Afghanistan and the Middle East.  He continues to staff his cabinet and key departments from Wall Street, especially Goldman Sachs.  He has little or nothing to offer working people.

The new bad thing about Trump is his attack on what his former adviser Steve Bannon called the “administrative state.”  It’s true that Ronald Reagan and George W. Bush talked as if government as such was the enemy, and made appointments without concern for their lack of qualification.  But the Trump administration has taken this to a new, much lower level.

Trump appointed former Texas Gov. Rick Perry as Secretary of Energy.  During the 2016 primary campaign, Perry had the DoE in mind as one of three departments he wanted to abolish, but couldn’t remember its name.

The DoE among other things assembles the country’s nuclear weapons, oversees the safety of nuclear plants and nuclear waste dumps and trains foreign countries’ inspectors that verify nuclear disarmament.  The health and safety of Americans depends on the DoE functioning well.

When Trump took office, the DoE arranged a briefing on all its programs, just as it had done for Obama and George W. Bush.  But the Trump representative wanted just one thing—a list of all employees who had attended conferences on climate change (presumably to arrange a purge list).

Other major government departments are the same.  We Americans depend on their ability to function in ways we don’t think about (for example, the Department of Agriculture’s meat inspections) and often don’t even know.

The Trump administration has systematically downgraded the ability of government to function, except for the military and the covert action agencies.  It is also downgrading the government’s scientific and data collection functions, to eliminate sources of objective information that could be used against him.

The resulting failure of government will be used as an argument to abolish key public services or turn them over to profit-seeking businesses.

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Will the Democrats make a difference this time?

October 30, 2018

Donald Trump is a bad presidenteven worse than I expected him to be.  So it will be a good thing if Democrats can gain control of the House of Representatives, leaving Trump and the Republicans in control of only 2.5 of the three branches of government.

The trouble with the Democrats is that they regard Trump’s election in 2016  as a black swan kind of event that nobody could have foreseen and wouldn’t ever happen again. This means that their vision is limited to raging against Trump and not to moving the country forward.

The November-December issue of Mother Jones—a magazine I subscribe to and admire because of its excellent investigative reporting—contains three articles that illustrate the Democratic lack of vision.

The first is an interview with the war hawk Max Boot on why he switched from Republican to Democrat.  I think there is something wrong with the Democratic Party if its leaders feel comfortable with somebody like him.

The second is an article praising the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee for freezing out progressives and recruiting candidates on the basis of their ability to raise money. This is supposedly the way to success—despite continuing Democratic losses since 2008 while following this policy.

The third is an article by Kevin Drum quoting polls that indicate that Trump voters are motivated by racial anxiety, not economic anxiety, but that Trump’s racial views are unpopular with the country at large.  Drum says Democrats should campaign on both economic issues and racial justice issues (which I agree with), but the logic of his argument is that only racial justice issues matter.

What I take away from the three articles is that none of these writers think the Democratic Party needs to change.  All its leaders need to do is to remind people of how bad President Trump is.

House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi says that if the Democrats regain the majority, she’ll push for a “pay as you go” budget.  Under Obama, this kind of talk meant a “grand bargain” in which the Democrats agreed to cutbacks in Society Security and Medicare in return for somewhat higher taxes in the upper income brackets.

Pay-as-you-go is certainly incompatible with a big infrastructure program or Medicare for all, both of which the country needs.

I don’t think the Democrats will get anywhere trying to reverse the results of the 2016 elections.  I don’t think they will get anywhere trying to reverse the Brett Kavanaugh appointment to the Supreme Court.  I don’t know what the Mueller investigation may ultimately turn up, but I don’t think Russiagate is a winning issue for Democrats.

The American people want medical care that doesn’t put them at risk of bankruptcy.  They want access to higher education that doesn’t put them at risk of lifetime debt.  They want a trade policy that benefits American workers.  They don’t want unending war.  They don’t want a tiny wealthy elite capturing an ever-greater share of U.S. income.

Donald Trump, Mike Pence, Mitch McConnell and Paul Ryan don’t offer them any kind of realistic hope.  But what do the Democrats offer?

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What’s really wrong with Trump’s administration

September 13, 2018

Most of the coverage of President Donald Trump is based on his constant stream of tweets and social media comments, which enables him to dominate the news.

Most of the rest is based in developments of the Mueller Russiagate investigation, which may or may not turn out to be what it’s cracked up to be.

What’s out of the spotlight is reporting about the Trump administration’s actual deeds and policies.

Trump has continued American policy of attempting to dominate the world through military threats and economic sanctions, despite their evident failure.   During the 2016 campaign, I saw some possibility that he, unlike Hillary Clinton, would try to wind down American military interventions.  He was either lying or, what I think is more likely, unable to control the national security establishment—what some of us call the “deep state.”

Trump has continued American policy to risk nuclear confrontation with Russia and North Korea, which puts the whole world in danger.  The national security establishment has undermined his feeble and inept attempts to make peace.  But evidently he has frightened the North and South Korean governments into trying to make peace among themselves, which is a good thing.

Trump does not even pay lip service to trying to avert catastrophic global warming.  Instead his policy is to promote fossil fuels over renewable energy, which will speed up climate change.

Nuclear war and global warming are the main existential threats to the nation and the world.  Trump has failed to address the first and is actively preventing action against the second.

Trump during the campaign promised to do something about the offshoring of American jobs, which is a real problem that the other candidates ignored.  But his threats and tariffs will not help because U.S. industry has become too entangled in international supply chains to free itself overnight.   What’s needed is a long-range industrial policy that will rebuild American industry, which neither party has so far attempted.

Trump during the campaign promised to reform immigration, which is another real issue other candidates ignored.  The cruel treatment of asylum seekers and long-time foreign residents is shameful and does not change the overall situation.  I think there is something to be said for a merit-based immigration system, but I admit I don’t have a complete answer to the immigration question.  But neither does Trump.

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The deep state strikes back

September 12, 2018

Image via PJ Media

An anonymous writer wrote an article for the New York Times claiming to be working within the Trump administration to save the American people from the President’s worst excesses.

But those excesses do not include the destruction of protections of health and the environment, tax laws that redistribute income upward or expansion of the already-bloated military budget.

No, the writer regards “effective deregulation, historic tax reform and a more robust military” as “bright spots”.

The threat he and his friends are saving us from is the possibility of peace negotiations with Russia and North Korea.   The national security team supposedly knows better than the elected President.

In public and in private, President Trump shows a preference for autocrats and dictators, such as President Vladimir Putin of Russia and North Korea’s leader, Kim Jong-un, and displays little genuine appreciation for the ties that bind us to allied, like-minded nations.

Astute observers have noted, though, that the rest of the administration is operating on another track, one where countries like Russia are called out for meddling and punished accordingly, and where allies around the world are engaged as peers rather than ridiculed as rivals.

On Russia, for instance, the president was reluctant to expel so many of Mr. Putin’s spies as punishment for the poisoning of a former Russian spy in Britain.  He complained for weeks about senior staff members letting him get boxed into further confrontation with Russia, and he expressed frustration that the United States continued to impose sanctions on the country for its malign behavior.  But his national security team knew better — such actions had to be taken, to hold Moscow accountable.

This isn’t the work of the so-called deep state. It’s the work of the steady state.

President Trump reportedly is enraged at the letter writer’s disloyalty in going public with his letter.  What he should be enraged at is the mutiny within his administration that this letter apparently reveals.

There are two issues here.  One is the merit of Trump’s admittedly clumsy and poorly thought out attempts to reduce the threat of nuclear war with Russia and North Korea.  I happen to think this is a step in the right direction, but you may disagree.

The other is the Constitutional question of the authority of the President to determine American foreign policy, subject to the advice and consent of the Senate.

Lawyers say that hard cases make bad law.  I personally think Donald Trump is intellectually, temperamentally and morally unfit to be President, so it is tempting to side with anybody who thwarts his will.

But what’s happening now is a precedent for future administrations.  Allow the national security establishment to set itself up as an un-elected fourth branch of government now, and that’s how it will be from now on, no matter who is in office.

LINKS

I Am Part of the Resistance Inside the Trump Administration by Anonymous for The New York Times.

We’re Watching an Anti-Democratic Coup Unfold by David A. Graham for The Atlantic.

Anonymous Op-Ed From Trump’s White House Shows Danger of Imperial Presidency by Jon Schwartz for The Intercept.

The Anonymous New York Times Op-Ed and the Trumpian Corruption of Language and the Media by Masha Gessen for The New Yorker.

What we know about Trump’s ties to Russia

September 8, 2018

Here’s what is known so far about Donald Trump and his relationship to Russia.

He has had extensive business dealings with rich Russians, including organized crime figures.  He son spoke of how the Trump Organization benefited from Russian money.

President Trump

Like many right-wing Republicans, he admired Vladimir Putin as a decisive, authoritarian leader.

During the 2016 Presidential campaign, Trump expressed a desire to improve relations with Russia.  I personally think that was a good thing, not a bad thing.  There is no conflict of interest between the USA and Russia that justifies risk of nuclear war.

President Putin, in response to questions, publicly said in 2015 and 2016 that he would welcome Trump’s election because he wanted better relations with the United States.

Various Russian agencies tried to aid Trump’s campaign, almost certainly by using social media to campaign and probably by leaking embarrassing e-mails from Hillary Clinton’s campaign.  I’m not sure how significant this was.  It may have been more significant than I thought.

President Trump has weakened the Western alliance against Putin and Russia, not by making concessions to Russia but by breaking up the unity of the alliance.  Trump’s trade war threatens the economic interests of allies.  So does his demand that they participate in sanctions against Iran and other countries.   His insults and threats are damaging in themselves.

What I see no evidence of is the claim that Donald Trump and Vladimir Putin made an explicit deal that Trump would ease up on economic warfare against Russia in return to Putin’s help in the election campaign.

I think Putin would have been a fool to make such an explicit deal, especially with someone as erratic and lacking in self-discipline as Trump.  A deal also would be unnecessary.  All that is necessary for him to advance his goals is for Trump to be Trump.

I also think that the various meetings and attempted meetings between Trump’s supporters and Russians in 2016 are an indication that no deal had been made.  If there had been a deal, what need for further meetings?  Trump and Putin would have made sure to keep their supporters apart.

The solution to U.S. problems regarding Russia are in the United States, not in Russia.  Congress should curb presidential power to change tariffs at will and to commit acts of war.  It should reconsider economic sanctions against Iran and other countries that do not threaten us.

Voting systems should be secured against electronic hacking by means of publicly counted paper ballots.  Social media should be protected against robo-memes.  Confidential computer files should be made secure even if it means making FBI and NSA surveillance more difficult.

Unfortunately there is no way to curb Trump’s erratic personal behavior between now and the 2020 election.

LINKS

Interview of Glenn Greenwald for the Huffington Post.  Russiagate skeptic’s new view of what’s proven and not proven at this point.

Manafort, Cohen and why Republicans won’t turn on Trump by Emily Stewart for Vox.

Trump’s business ties with Russian oligarchs

August 14, 2018

I probably should refrain from posting anything more about Donald Trump and the Mueller investigations until Special Prosecutor Robert Mueller issues his final report.  But having already posted on this topic, I find it hard to stop.  I continually feel the need to make new posts to clarify or explain or update my previous posts.

My present opinion is that if the Mueller investigation finds anything that Donald Trump or his inner circle have done that is worthy of indictment or impeachment, it is much more likely to be in their relationships with Russian oligarchs and mobsters than with Vladimir Putin or (knowingly) with the Russian FSB.

Trump’s whole business career was based on his relationships with corrupt American officials and organized crime figures.   The revival of his real state empire after the collapse of his casino gambling business was largely due to infusions of Russian money, as Donald Trump Jr. boasted in 2008.

Nobody that I know of has proved that Trump knowingly helped Russians launder money they got from crime or corruption, but the question is not only what he knew for a fact, but what he probably guessed and was expected to know, but made sure not to know.

If he or his family have done anything blackmail-able, my guess is that it has to do with business dealings with individual Russians.

[Added 8/16/2018]  One interesting thing about the reports (linked below) on Trump’s business connections with Russian gangsters is that they began in the mid-1980s.  It indicates that the Russian so-called mafia was already a powerful force with ties to Trump even before the fall of Communism.

LINKS

If Trump is Laundering Russian Money, Here’s How It Works by Garrett M. Graff for Wired.

Buyers with ties to Russia, former Soviet republics, paid $109 million cash for Trump properties by Anita Kumar for McClatchy newspapers.  In case you didn’t know, multi-million dollar real estate deals paid in cash are highly suspicious.

Secret Money: How Trump Made Millions Selling Condos to Unknown Buyers by Thomas Frank for BuzzFeed.  The author is a different Thomas Frank from the one who wrote Listen, Liberal! or What’s the Matter With Kansas?

Trump’s Russian Laundromat by Craig Unger for The New Republic.