Tuesday, July 26, 2016

Robert Skidelsky on European refugee crisis

Robert Skidelsky looks at the European immigration crisis in The Failure of Free Migration Project Syndicate 07/18/2016:

In recent years, refugees have mainly been fleeing either persecution or extreme insecurity following state disintegration. We saw this in the Balkans in the 1990s, and in Afghanistan and the Horn of Africa in the 2000s. The five million Syrians now in Turkey, Lebanon, and Jordan are the latest and most dramatic example of this pattern.

For this class of migrant, push factors are by far the most important. But the line between refugees and economic migrants blurs over time. History indicates that most refugees do not return to their country of origin. It takes too long for the feeling of extreme insecurity to subside; and, meanwhile, the lure of a better life takes hold.
He also makes this important observation:

... anti-immigrant sentiment is not based only on prejudice, ignorance, or political opportunism. Anti-immigrant language is not just socially constructed. Words are not mirrors of things “out there,” but they have some relation to such things. You cannot manipulate something unless there is something to manipulate. We have little chance of changing the words unless we alter the realities to which they refer. [my emphasis]

When Democrats sound like Democrats

It's a real treat. Because we don't hear it nearly often enough.

Elizabeth Warren managed, of course, Watch Sen. Elizabeth Warren’s full speech at the 2016 Democratic National Convention PBS Newshour 07/25/2016

And Bernie Sanders, certainly, Watch Sen. Bernie Sanders’ full speech at the 2016 Democratic National Convention PBS Newshour 07/25/2016:

One phrase from Bernie's speech that Clinton should borrow is, "Republican contempt for working families."

Charley Lanyon reports something here that I hadn't heard about before (Today Is a Terrible Day for Debbie Wasserman Schultz, and a Vindicating Day for Sanders Supporters New York 07/25/2016)":

Al Gore has confirmed that he will not be attending the Democratic Convention this week despite having served as the nominee’s husband’s right-hand-man for two terms. Gore has so far refused to endorse Clinton for president, saying that he wants the nominee to make a more impassioned push to make global warming the central issue of their presidency. When asked why he wouldn’t be attending Gore gave one of the slickest burns since that old “I have to wash my hair” line, saying he has “obligations in Tennessee.” [Politico]
The cited Politico story says:

In a 2014 interview with POLITICO Magazine, Gore insisted it was “premature” to back Clinton’s campaign for president while adding on climate change matters, “I don’t have any doubt that her heart is in the right place on the issue and that she would like to be an agent for positive change on the issue.”

Philadelphia will actually mark the second straight Democratic convention that Gore will miss. He wasn’t in Charlotte, North Carolina, in 2012 either when President Barack Obama ran for reelection. Instead, Gore was in New York anchoring coverage of the DNC from Current TV, the liberal television network he later sold to Al Jazeera.

Sunday, July 24, 2016

Cristina Fernández on Argentina and Latin America

TeleSUR has a long interview in Spanish with former Argentine President Cristina Fernández on the situation in Argentina and Latin America, US foreign policy, and terrorism, Entrevista especial a Cristina Fernández, ex presidenta de Argentina 07/23/2016:

In discussing US politics, she praises Franklin Roosevelt for his anti-corporate stances. And she professes to be indifferent to Clinton vs. Trump. Understandable, given the support by the Obama Administration and Hillay Clinton for regime change efforts in Honduras, Paraguay, Venzuela and (presumably) in Brazil.

Hillary and Tim: a "safe" ticket?

Tim Kaine by conventional assumptions is a safe pick for Hillary Clinton's running mate.

Which, as Cenk Uygur of The Young Turks explains, is both the good news and the bad news. He even thinks Tim Kaine is "secretly liberal"!

Tim Kaine is Hillary's VP! Is it the right pick? 07/24/2016:

Ed Kilgore in The Clinton-Kaine Ticket Is Safe and Boring — in a Good Way New York 07/22/2016 looks at Tim Kaine's strengths as a Vice Presidential candidate:

For all the talk of Kaine as a sort of political wallflower, he is actually an estimable man who has won losable campaigns in a state Republicans may need to win this year. He has a reputation as being ethically spotless, which matters a lot this year — any hint of scandal in a running mate could be disastrous for Clinton. As has often been noted, he is fluent in Spanish, which is not only a good weapon in a campaign against Donald “Deport ‘Em All” Trump, but a sop to those who were disappointed that the Veep was not Hispanic.

But he also cautions about the real risks of, well, excessive caution:

Given the Clinton family reputation for taking the Left for granted or even triangulating against it, raising Kaine to the ticket plays some bad old tapes in the minds of many progressives. And it’s not like the Virginian has the sort of inspirational persona that’s going to appeal to the young Sanders voters whose November turnout levels are in doubt. With the Republican nominee posturing as an anti-Wall Street, anti-status quo candidate, there may even be fears that Kaine will expose the ticket to further erosion of white working class support.
Steve M, a hardcore Hillary supporter during the primaries, also expresses concern on the latter score, Kaine is okay, but he won't help Clinton win over white men No More Mister Nice Blog 07/23/2016:

That's not how it works. As the GOP and Fox News have proven, white male heartlanders respond to coastal elites, women, and sometimes non-whites if they say what the white male heartlanders want to hear. New York billionaire Donald Trump is the obvious example, but heartlanders respond well to Fox's East Coast-centric talent pool (Bill O'Reilly, Sean Hannity, Jeanine Pirro). They love Sheriff David Clarke, a black gun nut and Black Lives Matter foe, who spoke at Trump's convention and is a frequent Fox guest. They admire Clarence Thomas and (until recently) Ted Cruz. They love Sarah Palin and Joni Ernst.

And they responded to New York-born, Vermont-based, Jewish agnostic socialist Bernie Sanders this year. That's the problem: Working-class whites are in an anti-elite frame of mind right now, and Clinton just picked someone who's easy to dismiss as a friend of the elites.

Friday, July 22, 2016

The Trump Republican Party

One of Trump’s strongest hands is to portray Clinton as an establishment figure, the secretary of the status quo: Washington, Wall Street and the mainstream media. He tries to plant an image in his audience’s mind of Clinton as a puppet on string. The message is that if she offers only more of the same, that is hard for anyone to get excited about. Trump, by contrast, is the change agent who will shake things up; the human Brexit.
-David Smith, Trump's Republican convention speech: what he said and what he meant Guardian 07/22/2016

Digby suggests, perhaps with a heavy dose of hope, that Trump's nomination and campaign represents and kind of historic dead-end for the Republican Party. (The beginning of the end: Trump’s nomination signals the collapse of an ideological movement and a political party Salon 7/22/2016)

For that to happen, of course, the Democrats will have to act to exploit this potential new advantage. Stepping up their get-out-the-vote operations in the non-Presidential election years is a major need. So is the need to contest every Congressional district, even the safely Republican ones.

Andrew O'Hehir warns that Trump potenital has significant appeal beyond habitual Republican voters (His dark materials: After that diabolical, masterful performance, Donald Trump could easily end up president Salon 07/22/2016):
In a few different ways, Trump’s acceptance speech hinted at the traditional pivot toward the center expected of a nominee moving into the fall election. He said the word “wall” just once — it will be a “great wall,” of course — and alluded only indirectly to his infamous proposal to ban Muslims from entering the United States. He made headlines by uttering the appellation LGBTQ twice, very carefully, and then congratulating the crowd for not booing at his assertion that citizens in that category had rights. He said “Latino” twice, instead of the more Republican-friendly English word “Hispanic.”

Trump described himself as a Republican just once, during an acceptance speech at the Republican National Convention. He never used the word “conservative” at all. Go ahead; pull up the transcript, hit control-F and type it in: 0 of 0. Jeb Bush and Mitt Romney would be spinning in their graves, if they were dead, and right now they wish they were.

Trump also signaled clearly that he knows where Hillary Clinton’s vulnerable spots are. He attacked “nation-building” and “regime change,” central elements of bipartisan foreign-policy dogma for the last 20 years that have been variously implemented by Bush-Cheney neoconservatives and Obama-Clinton liberals. He attacked free trade in general and Bill Clinton’s disastrous NAFTA deal in particular. Watching a Republican nominee vow to avoid overseas wars and shut down free-trade treaties is vivid proof that the membrane of history has been punctured and we’ve gone sloshing through it, covered in amniotic fluid, into some “Man in the High Castle” reality. As someone in my Twitter feed observed earlier in the day, we won’t hear those promises next week in Philadelphia.
But the speech was, nevertheless, as O'Hehir says, "a masterful display of demagoguery and manipulation."

How do you know if you're seeing fascism?

I gave up years ago on trying to characterize what counts as a "fascist" movement. Mussolini clearly qualifies because he called his party Fascist and that's pretty much where the label came from. They used From the Roman symbol of authority, the fasces (plural of the Latin fascis) in the picture, as their symbol. The Dollfuss-Schuschnigg "corporate state" regime I count in because it was pretty much modeled on Mussolini's. There's even a serious scholarly debate about whether Hitler's regime should be classified as fascist or whether it was a distinct form of dictatorship. My working definition is like Justice Potter Stewart's famous definition of pornography: I don't know how to define it, but I know when I see it. At least I think I do. Because I'm pretty sure I caught some glimpses of it on TV Thursday evening.

BTW, I've creating my own variant on Godwin's Law: whoever first brings up Peronism in an online discussion of fascism loses. Peronism is complicated. The current Pope back in the 1970s was affiliated with a Peronist group called the Sons of Iron (Hijos de Hierro) that had a paramilitary wing and was considered more-or-less neofascist. Go figure. Although I guess I just violated my own Godwin's Law variant already. Also, Peronism and Martin Heidegger? Don't go there.

Thursday, July 21, 2016

Both Sides Do It! No matter what, apparently

Ron Fournier, who Steve M calls the "king of Both Sides Do It," is already cuing up the BSDI vocabulary for next week's Democratic National Convention in Why the Republican Convention Is So Mean The Atlantic 07/20/2016.

I do think the Democrats need to be careful not to underestimate the appeal of Trump's demagoguery to some swing voters who may be indifferent or only somewhat attracted to his racism and xenophobia, but who may see him as a vehicle for a protest vote or in support of his criticism of trade treaties.

Despite all the hoopla over Trump's obnoxious campaign, and events like Ted Cruz' non-endorsement speech at the convention, the Republican base seems to be united behind Trump's candidacy, though many may prefer to think of it as At Least He's Not Hillary Clinton. But I suspect that's always the case. It's usually a "safe" thing to say something along the lines of "I don't like either one, but ..."

But the heavy tendency among corporate Democrats like Hillary is to "move to the middle," which means saying things intended to please the One Percent and to frame even social issues with wide support for the Democratic position in Republican terms. One good indicator of how much Clinton intends to approach things that way will be how often the phrase "budget deficits" is used from the stage at next week's convention.

But Fournier is not warning about such developments. He's doing a pre-emptive strike at frarming the Democratic convention as being the BSDI equivalent of this week's Republican show. Steve M deconstructs Fournier's approach (Why Ron Fournier wrote this column today and not a week from now 07/20/2016):

In order to make this case in an honest manner, Fournier should have waited till next week. After a couple of days of the Democratic convention, we'd know whether it was as negative as the Republican convention. But Fournier knows it probably won't be, so he's making his Both Sides Do It case now, while it still seems plausible to gullible readers.

No one is going to shout "fascist" from the floor of the Democratic convention, unless the whole convention is time-warped back to 1972. There aren't likely to be "smug dismissals of Trump’s populist approach and policies" (what policies?), though there ought to be speakers who call out Trump as a phony friend of the common man. And I don't know what Fournier means by "black activists whose appearance could be construed as anti-police" -- to the right, anyone who ever acknowledges police misconduct is "construed as anti-police," even if it's done in the mildest and most responsible terms. Trust me, no one at the convention is going to call police "the enemy," a term applied to Black Lives Matter by Milwaukee County sheriff David Clarke, a Republican convention speaker.
Leaving aside whether George McGovern supporters in 1972 were actually calling Humphrey supporters fascists, Steve M is on the mark.

The danger for the Democrats is not so much in displaying a smug attitude toward swing voters, although it's part of stock Republican rhetoric to accuse them of doing so. The danger is that they won't do and say the right things to get Democratic voters out to vote in November. That involves two major elements: the organizational effort to get out the vote like the Obama for America organization did in 2008, and a message that gives Democratic partisans motivation to go vote.

The danger of smugness on the Democratic side is smugness in their own chances and underrating the potential appeal of Trump to swing voters.

Nate Silver issues a caution about the whole idea of "bumps" in the polls from national conventions, Donald Trump’s Convention Is Flirting With Disaster FivethirtyEight 07/21/2016:

We don’t have all that much data on what makes for successful conventions and what doesn’t, and convention bounces aren’t always that predictable. Some conventions that are remembered as disasters, such as the 1972 Democratic convention, did produce minimal or even negative bounces for their parties. But Jimmy Carter got a fairly large bounce out of the 1980 convention, even though Ted Kennedy was defiant toward him, one of the better precedents for what happened on Wednesday.

Conventions 201 might also encourage you to think carefully about distinguishing correlation from causation. Is it the conventions themselves that matter, or that they provide a leading indicator about how the rest of the campaign might go? Barack Obama didn’t get much of a bounce after his 2008 convention, which was well-staged but felt like an anticlimax after his dramatic victory in the Democratic primaries — whereas John McCain and Sarah Palin made a big splash. But Palin soon turned from a positive into a negative influence for the GOP ticket, and Obama’s campaign performed very well down the stretch run. From that standpoint, this year’s RNC has been problematic not only because Trump is squandering an opportunity to put on his best face for the voters, but also because he’s made a lot of unforced errors, suggesting that his campaign might struggle in all sorts of ways from now through November.

Again, none of this is necessarily all that predictable. For all we know, Trump will deliver the speech of a lifetime on Thursday night and be up 7 percentage points on Clinton by the weekend. Our strong preference is to take a wait-and-see approach, and it will be a few more days before we can comfortably measure the magnitude of Trump’s bounce.

Tuesday, July 19, 2016

Elizabeth Warren on Trump and Nixon

Elizabeth Warren wrote on her Facebook page today:

Donald Trump praised Saddam Hussein for his ability to kill his enemies. He complimented Kim Jong Un, saying “you gotta give him credit.” He said that Bashar al-Assad is “getting an A” for leadership.

But now we know who Trump is really modeling himself after: Richard Nixon. A conniving man who exploited people’s fears and divided our country for his own political gain. A dangerous and insecure narcissist whose lies and schemes were an embarrassment to his political party and to our country. A man whose actions threatened the foundations of our democracy.

Here's the thing, though. I can’t believe I’m saying this — but Donald Trump modeling himself on Richard Nixon isn’t fair to Richard Nixon. For all his many faults, Nixon at least understood the gravity of controlling our country’s nuclear codes. And despite Nixon’s very deep flaws, at least he had served his nation in World War II, in Congress, the Senate, and as Vice President. Donald Trump has never served anyone but himself.
Of course, the downside of that comparison is the Nixon was elected President. Twice.

And one of Trump's direct political mentors was the mob lawyer Roy Cohn. See:

Sunday, July 17, 2016

Obama legacy: Cenk Uygur says Obama "never wanted to fight" on progressive programs

Cenk Uygur hs a good analysis of President Obama's consistent failure to frame major issues in progressive Democratic terms, Does Obama Really Care About A Public Option? 07/16/2016:

Obama's Democratic apologists have tended to mock the notion of the "bully pulpit." But the point Cenk makes here is similar to the point that George Lakoff has been making for years about the importance of framing issues in Democratic terms. A chronic problem for the Democrats has been that for decades they have accepted Republican framing of issues. Cenk explains well how that works with this example.

Saudi Arabia and 9/11: the "28 Pages"

The "28 pages" on Saudi Arabia from the 9/11 Commission report just released on Friday make interesting reading!

Although the released document that can be found here actually constitutes 29 pages plus a cover page, with the transmittal letter for this release included.

A character named Osarna Bassnan was a Saudi national who had worked for the Saudi Arabian Education Ministry and an "FBI asset" reported that Bassnan told him he had aided the 9/11 hijackers. The fact that Bassnan, uh, lived across the street in San Diego from two of the hijackers (Nawaf al-Hazmi and Khalid al-Mihdhar) could have it convenient to do.

The twenty-nine "28 pages" also say, that Bassnan and his wife "have received financial support from the Saudi Ambassador to thye United States and his wife." That Ambassador was Bandar bin Sultan, who was so close to the Bush family they nicknamed him "Bandar Bush." Bandar Bush is now head of Saudi intelligence.

Charlie Pierce comments in What We Know from the 28 Pages Esquire Politics Blog 07/15/2016.

Murtaza Hussain comments on them in Saudi Ties to 9/11 Detailed in Documents Suppressed Since 2002 The Intercept 07/15/2016:

One of the most notable figures mentioned is Omar al-Bayoumi, alleged by the report to have likely been a Saudi intelligence agent. Al-Bayoumi was in close contact with hijackers Nawaf al-Hazmi and Khalid al-Midhar, providing them financial assistance during their time in the United States and even helping them find an apartment. Bayoumi in turn is believed to have been on the payroll of the Saudi Ministry of Defense and was regularly in receipt of large lump sums of money from the Saudi Ministry of Finance and other undisclosed arms of the government.

Another figure highlighted in the documents is Osama Bassnan, a Saudi citizen who was an associate of al-Bayoumi and lived in an apartment nearby al-Hazmi and al-Midhar. According to the report, Bassnan “made a comment to an FBI source after the attacks suggesting that he did more for the hijackers than al-Bayoumi did.” Bassnan and his wife received regular payments from the wife of Bandar bin Sultan. On one occasion, Bassnan is said to have received a check directly from Bandar’s account.

Fahd al-Thumairy, a former Saudi consular officer in the United States who served as an imam at a mosque attended by al-Hazmi and al-Midhar, is also mentioned briefly, as is Saleh al-Hussayen, who is described in the report as a “Saudi Interior Ministry employee/official.” Al-Hussayen stayed at the same hotel as one of the hijackers in the days before the attack. While being interviewed by FBI agents after the attacks, al-Hussayen “either passed out or feigned a seizure,” causing the interview to be terminated. He later managed to successfully flee the country.
Marcy Wheeler blogs on it in FBI Established Saudi Task Force Just before Joint Inquiry Release Emptywheel 07/15/2016: "The pages are actually more damning than I expected. It lays out many damning details we already knew of: including that Bandar bin Sultan’s wife was providing money to one of the suspect Saudi intelligence people, several Saudi apparent agents provided support for the hijackers, and an apparent dry run for the attack was conducted by someone paid by the Saudis."

Saturday, July 16, 2016

US rolling disasters in the Middle East

"The United States needs to get into the habit of developing and implementing war termination strategies."

So says Chas Freeman as he takes a look at what Andrew Bacevich calls America's War for the Greater Middle East in his most recent book of that title: What America Keeps Getting Wrong in the Middle East The National Interest 06/13/2016. That comment was in particular reference to the inconclusive results of the Gulf War of 1991. Bacevich's chapter on that war is called "No Clean Ending." Bacevich concludes:

Viewed in the context of America' s expanding military involvement in the Greater Middle East ... Operation Desert Storm accomplished next to nothing. The Bush administration's declaration of victory in 1991 did, in fact, turn out to be premature. That results fell short of expectations stemmed less from flawed generalship, however, than from a fundamental misreading of the overall situation.

Although during the coming decade Washington developed an Ahablike mania regarding Saddam, the Iraqi dictator was merely a symptom of what the United States was contending with. The real problem had a multitude of aspects: the vacuum left by the eclipse of British imperial power; intractable economic backwardness and political illegitimacy; divisions within Islam compounded by the rise of Arab nationalism; the founding of Israel; and the advent of the Iranian Revolution.

It's hard to imagine how any victory over Iraq, no matter how complete, could have remedied this menu of challenges. After another decade of trying, the United States gave up the attempt. After 9/11, rather than vainly trying to prop up the Greater Middle East, Washington set out to transform it. A fundamental misreading of Desert Storm helped make that attempt appear plausible. The result was a disaster. [my emphasis]
Jeffrey Record wrote on the Gulf War in Dark Victory: America's Second War Against Iraq (2004):

Certainly in retrospect, the peace imposed on Iraq in 1991 was unsatisfactory. lt failed to unseat Saddam Hussein or thwart his continued attempts to acquire nuclear weapons, although international sanctions and inspections may have placed such weapons beyond reach. It left the Iraqi people impoverished by economic sanctions and imprisoned inside an exceptionally vicious police state. And because the coalition of 1991, with the exception of the United States and Great Britain, subsequently disintegrated over the issue of postwar policy toward Iraq, the peace ultimately proved unenforceable.
The Afghanistan War provides another example. Freeman writes, "The objectives of the NATO campaign have never been clear but appear to center on guaranteeing that there will no Islamist government in Kabul." He observes that this cold have been avoided by accepting the results of the first two months of the intervention:

The objectives of what was initially conceived as a punitive raid into Afghanistan in October 2001 were (1) to dismantle Al Qaeda and (2) to punish its Taliban hosts to ensure that “terrorists with global reach” would be denied a continuing safe haven in Afghanistan. The United States pursued these objectives by supporting mostly non-Pashtun enemies of the mostly Pashtun Taliban who had proven politico-military capabilities and staying power. A limited American and British investment of intelligence capabilities, special forces, air combat controllers and air strikes tilted the battlefield in favor of the Northern Alliance and against the Taliban. Within a little more than two months, the Taliban had been forced out of Kabul and the last remnants of Al Qaeda had been killed or driven from Afghanistan. We had achieved our objectives.

But instead of declaring victory and dancing off the field, we moved the goalposts. The United States launched an open-ended campaign and enlisted NATO in efforts to install a government in Kabul while building a state for it to govern, promoting feminism and protecting poppy growers. The poppies still flourish. All else looks to be ephemeral. [my emphasis]
Freeman criticizes the Clinton Administration's dual containment policy against Iraq and Iran, arguing that it was "plausible as a defense of Israel against its two most potent regional adversaries, Iran and Iraq. But it made no sense at all in terms of stabilizing the Gulf." One of the most predictable and obvious results of the invasion of Iraq in 2003 was strengthening Iran's position in the region: "The U.S. occupation culminated in a 'surge' of forces that entrenched a pro-Iranian regime in Baghdad and that only its authors consider a victory."

He also sees the ill-conceived drone wars as bringing blowback against American policies in the Middle East, writing, "The terrorist movements U.S. interventions have spawned now have safe havens not just in Afghanistan, but in the now failed states of Iraq and Syria, as well as Chad, Lebanon, Libya, Mali, Niger, Nigeria, Pakistan, the Sinai, Somalia and Yemen."

And Freeman warns against the illusions of Islamphobia:

In the end, the attribution of Muslim resentment of the West to Islam is just a version of the facile thesis that “they hate us because of who we are.” This is the opiate of the ignorant. It is self-expiating denial that past and present behavior by Western powers, including the United States, might have created grievances severe enough to motivate others to seek revenge for the indignities they have experienced. It is an excuse to ignore and do nothing about the ultimate sources of Muslim rage because they are too discomfiting to bear discussion. ...

For our part, Americans must be led to correct our counterproductive misunderstanding of Islam. Islamophobia has become as American as gun massacres. The presumptive candidate of one of our two major parties has suggested banning Muslims from entry into the United States. This is reflective of national attitudes that are incompatible with the cooperation we need with Muslim partners to fight terrorist extremism. If we do not correct these attitudes, we will continue to pay not just in treasure but in blood. Lots of it.[My emphasis]
Freeman makes this important observation about the current position of the US in the Greater Middle East, "The world’s reliance on energy from the Gulf has not diminished. But ours has. That gives us some freedom of maneuver. We should use it."

Netroots Nation 2016 and the Sanders movement

David Dayen reports from the Netroots Nation convention concluding in St. Louis today (Black Lives Matter Has Come a Long Way Since Heckling Bernie Sanders New Republic 07/15/2016).

Noting that attendance is lower than most years, which he attributes to the upcoming Democratic Convention, he notes:

The candidates who did make it to St. Louis are positioning themselves as part of Sanders’s army, trying to draft off that movement energy. Many that I spoke to were excited that Sanders brought new voices into the political conversation, and are eager to join him in organizing in the years to come. Sanders announced the formation of three new organizations this week to engage in that work, training and funding hundreds of candidates and fighting for progressive issues. “We want to be a willing partner,” said Jim Dean of Democracy for America.

On the other hand, the scramble for the Sanders vote does elide the fact that Clinton won the primary. You can see in these pronouncements a kernel of denial. After all, come January, progressives likely will remain outside the gates of power. Some at the conference are working to change that, by trying to figure out how to influence the Clinton campaign and make sure the executive branch is stocked with allies instead of adversaries. That requires making amends after a divisive primary. “The progressive movement is healing, and healing hurts,” said Nahal, a first-time conference-goer. “You don’t want that alcohol on your wound.”

But the ultimate unifying force looms in the general election. The threat of a Donald Trump presidency has muted much of the anger, and focused attention on core issues and challenges rather than personality conflicts. “It’s important that we look beyond November,” said Gregory Cendana of the Asian Pacific American Labor Alliance. “No matter who is elected, we have work to do.”

David Neiwert on Trump populism

Dave Neiwert has a new article out on the Trump brand of populism and today's Republican Party, Trump and Right-Wing Populism: A Long Time Coming Political Research Associates Spring 2016 (accessed 07/15/2016).

However much he may appeal to some white working-class voters, Trump is no champion of the common man (much less women!),
"Although he presents himself as a truth-talking business conservative — having emerged largely from these ranks — Trump has transformed himself into a creature of the populist Hard Right, the movement to which he owes his electoral success."

Dave recounts the recent history of the on-going radicalization of the Republican Party. And he warns that it could continue even if Trump loses the election:

Even if Trump were to fade away after 2016 — something that is becoming an ever more unlikely event — those who support him will not, nor will their alternative universe shatter and fall. What they will become after the election will depend on how radicalized they are becoming during the election process, and on how the rest of society responds to the violence that emanates from their ranks. It will be a serious and significant challenge.

After all, the reality is that they have been around for a very long time — buried deep in the American psyche — and are now springing forth with renewed vigor, thanks to the encouragement that Trump is giving them.

Friday, July 15, 2016

Military budget tricks

Benjamin Friedman of the libertarian Cato Institute writes about the deceptive budgeting Congress uses for Pentagon funding (How Congress Abuses the Budget to Fund U.S. Wars The National Interest 07/15/2016):

Congress’s shenanigans on the 2017 defense budget show why we should stop paying for wars with a special emergency fund—the Overseas Contingency Operations. OCO has become a font of bad policy: an escape hatch from fiscal discipline and Pentagon prioritization, a shield that prevents the public from appreciating military costs and a facilitator of war made by executive fiat. If the US continues to fight in Syria, Iraq, Afghanistan and beyond, Congress should pay for it through the regular, or base, defense budget. Under current law, that means taxes or offsetting cuts, rather than debt, would cover war costs.

... Analysts call OCO a “slush fund” because it lets Congress fund the Pentagon’s regular budget while pretending to pay for wars. As discussed in a recent Stimson Center report, nearly half of funds in the White House’s 2017 OCO request for the Pentagon belong in the base, in that they do not directly go to the war efforts.
Congress really needs to provide far more scrutiny on Pentagon spending. But it will take a much stronger peace movement to force that to happen.

Thursday, July 14, 2016

NATO's Warsaw summit

Unlimited private money in politics is a definite threat to democracy. So are war and militarism. And it's a shame that the ongoing assumptions of American foreign policy aren't more of a normal focus in our politics these days.

Patrick Lawrence writes about the posture that NATO leaders struck in their recent meeting in Warsaw, Poland: The West escalates with Russia: Make no mistake, a second Cold War is now official NATO policy Salon 07/12/2016:

One, the U.S., Britain, Germany and Canada will each station a rotating battalion in a front-line state. These are respectively Poland, Estonia, Lithuania and Latvia. Two, after many years of heated debate, nuclear weapons are to remain part of the NATO arsenal in Europe. Three, the alliance officially assumed command of an anti-missile defense system that, as of now, has components in Spain, Turkey and Romania.

There is no mistaking the magnitude of these decisions when taken together. I liken Warsaw last week to Washington in the spring of 1947, when Truman’s advisers and Senate allies determined it was time to sell the public a permanent wartime economy and a national security state. What followed was his “scare hell out of the American people” speech, so named by Arthur Vandenberg, a Republican senator from Michigan and one of Truman’s intimates. What followed that was $400 million in aid to the fascist Greek monarchy, and what followed that was the first Cold War.

Reality No. 1: The West is now to have troops closer to Russia than ever before in history. Reality No. 2: Russia has signaled no intention whatsoever of doing anything more than defending its borders, rock-candy mountains of unsupported nonsense in the press notwithstanding. Reality No. 3: The only reason these soldiers will rotate is because NATO agreed with Russia in 1997 not to station troops permanently east of Germany. These deployments are a disgraceful fiddle, thus. Reality No. 4: NATO officers continue to insist that missile defenses are intended to counter Iranian missiles. It now takes very big brass to trot this one out: Given last year’s nuclear accord, the standing explanation no longer passes even as a fig leaf.
A White House Fact Sheet of July 8 reported what the summit would do:

Specifically, allied leaders will take decisions to enhance collective defense by enhancing NATO’s forward presence on the eastern flank through the deployment of one rotational battalion each in Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, and Poland, as well as developing a tailored forward presence in Romania and Bulgaria. In addition, NATO will further develop the Alliance’s ballistic missile defense capabilities, and ensure its nuclear deterrent remains credible, safe, secure, and effective. Allies will also take steps to build resilience against non-traditional challenges such as hybrid tactics, cyber vulnerabilities, and terrorist threats as essential components of credible deterrence and defense. Each of these efforts supports the explicit commitments allies have to one another in Articles 3 and 5 of the Washington Treaty regarding our individual and collective capacity to resist armed attack, the indivisibility of our security, and our mutual responsibility to contribute to collective defense.

Together, these measures represent the largest reinforcement of NATO’s collective defence and deterrence since the end of the Cold War. NATO does not seek confrontation, but will defend all allies against any threat. Everything NATO does is defensive, proportionate, and in line with each ally’s international commitments. Our deterrence and defense aims not to provoke a conflict, but to prevent one.

Allies will also decide at the summit to expand the Alliance’s efforts to project stability beyond NATO’s borders. All NATO allies are members of the U.S.-led Global Coalition to Counter ISIL (C-ISIL), and the Alliance will take additional steps at the summit to bolster C-ISIL efforts, including through direct NATO support to the C-ISIL coalition as well as through enhanced training of the Iraqi Security Forces. In the Aegean Sea, NATO is already providing capabilities to support EU and national efforts to address the refugee and migrant crisis in Europe, and will seek to decide to further enhance our maritime security cooperation with the European Union to help address the security challenges in the Central Mediterranean Sea. NATO is also focusing and intensifying its defense capacity building and other areas of security cooperation with regional partners, such as Iraq, Jordan, Tunisia, Morocco, and Mauritania to address the root causes of instability. [my emphasis]
That's quite a euphemism; Instead of projeting force, NATO will "project stability."

Albrecht Müller offers his own antiwar perspective in Ein Rückblick auf die perfekte Propaganda im Umfeld des NATO-Gipfels. Daran kann man die Methoden der Manipulation bestens studieren. Nachdenkseiten 12.07.2016.

Paul Jay of The Real News has an interview here with leftist Russian professor Alexandr Buzgalin on relations between Russia and the West, Why is the Capitalist West Fighting with Capitalist Russia? 07/13/2016:

Robert Parry's Consortiumm News has also been raising concerns about NATO current posture, such as:

Steering Group of Veteran Intelligence Professionals for Sanity, Merkel Urged to Temper NATO’s Belligerence 07/06/2016

John Walsh, NATO Marches Toward Destruction 07/08/2016

Medea Benjamin and Alice Slater, Challenging the New Cold War 07/09/2016

Natylie Baldwin, Russia Pushes Back on NATO Expansion 07/09/2016

Graham Fuller, Europe’s NATO Ambivalence 07/10/2016

Ivan Eland, NATO as an ‘Entangling Alliance’ 07/11/2016

Rick Sterling, Western Propaganda for a New Cold War 07/14/2016

Graham Fuller makes a key point:

The peaceful collapse of the Soviet Bloc in 1991 also posed a difficult question: what would be the rationale for NATO’s continued existence? All organizations seek to perpetuate their own existence and NATO became almost desperate for a new mission — a new enemy. Washington was loath to yield up its key instrument of control in European politics.

But how much do European geopolitical goals mesh with American ones? This too depends on one’s geopolitical vision of the world. For Europe, war among its members is virtually unthinkable. But Washington and NATO have a vested interest in maintaining a Russian threat as the centerpiece of E.U. geopolitics.

Today the U.S., including virtually all of its mainstream media, adopt reflexive anti-Russian positions. In U.S.-sponsored parlance, Russian President Vladimir Putin now represents a “resurgent threat.” Indeed, the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs incredibly informs Congress that Russia represents America’s number one existential threat. Aggressive NATO maneuvers at the very doorstep of Russia help make this a self-fulfilling prophesy.
The political trend that self-identifies as "paleo-conservative" is also critical of NATO policy. Their criticism comes from an isolationist/nationalist viewpoint, although they can make some valid points on occasion. As Rick Perry said in his most memorable pronouncement, even a stopped clock is right once a day.

The American Conservative is generally in the paleo-conservative category, but not all their contributors are. Andrew Bacevich sometimes appears there, for instance. Philip Giraldi of the Veteran Intelligence Professionals for Sanity (and a signer of the article from them cited above) writes on the Russia issue in Russian Harassment and Other Fables The American Conservative 07/13/2016. And he makes this sensible observation:

One thinks of Russia less frequently when U.S. policy failures are examined. In 1991, Russia was a superpower. Today it is a convenience, a straw man fortuitously produced whenever someone in power wants to justify weapons expenditures or the initiation of new military interventions in faraway places. Much of the negative interaction between Washington and Moscow is driven by the consensus among policymakers, the Western media, and the inside-the-beltway crowd that Russia is again—or perhaps is still and always will be—the enemy du jour. But frequently forgotten or ignored is the fact that Moscow, even in its much-reduced state, continues to control the only military resource on the planet that can destroy the United States, suggesting caution should be in order when one goes about goading the bear.
Bonnie Kristian, who identifies as a libertarian, also writes for that same publication, Is the Pentagon Hyping the Russia Threat? 06/20/2016. She picks up on this earlier article by Mark Perry, which focuses on inter-service rivalry in the military as an important factor in how the supposed Russian threat is perceived: The U.S. Army’s War Over Russia Politico 05/12/2016.

Wednesday, July 13, 2016

Buenos Aires provincial police chief accused of narco-trafficking

Felipe Solá, former Governor of Buenos Aires province 2002-2007 and currently a Congressional Deputy for the conservative-Peronist Frente Renovador, is claiming that Pablo Bressi was named as the current police chief of the province at the request of the US Embassy and the DEA.

Bressi was appointed last year by María Eugenia Vidal after she was elected Governor of Buenos Aires. She is part of Argentine President Mauricio Macri's electoral coalition Cambiemos. Elisa "Lilita" Carrió, head of the Foreign Relations Committee of the Chamber of Deputies, has accused Bressi of being involved in drug-trafficking. Carrió is part of Cambiemos, as well, and Solá's Frente Renovador supported Macri in last year's Presidential election. So it's not a purely opposition partisan play, whatever else is involved.

The Buenos Aires Herald reports (Pressure mounts on BA province’s police chief 07/13/2016):

Solá’s claim reflected the deepening political crisis in the BA province administration surrounding Bressi, further exacerbated when [left Peronist] Victory Front (FpV) provincial lawmaker Rodolfo Iriart claimed yesterday that Vidal’s Security Minister Cristian Ritondo was likely to investigate the accusations.

“I warned them about Bressi but I was told he had been asked for personally by the Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA),” Solá told Radio Del Plata.

He added that ahead of Bressi’s appointment to Vidal’s provincial administration he had been asked of his opinion of the policeman’s record and stated that there were serious concerns about his background.

“Last November, Cristian Ritondo asked my opinion about the time I spent with Bressi and I told him that I remembered ... we had a great deal of suspicions of his involvement in a bribery issue,” he said.

Last week, Carrió sent an open letter to Vidal saying Bressi had demonstrable links to organized drug-trafficking — a key priority of Vidal’s government — and vowing to support her claims with “evidence.”
It's Sola's request that the United States pressed for Pablo Bressi's appointment. If only because it sounds like a typical twist in a narco-novela. It also makes you wonder just what kind of official friends the US government seeks out in Argentina!

Solá claims that he heard the claim that the US wanted Bressi in that position from the above-mentioned Cristian Ritondo. (“Lo pidieron la embajada y la DEA” Página/12 13.07.2016)

“Me asustó mucho cuando me contestó que lo pide la Embajada, la DEA”, reveló Solá sobre la conversación con Ritondo, a quien se encargó de desacreditar en combo con Vidal. “Si vos querés combatir el narcotráfico en los barrios del Gran Buenos Aires y pensás que los objetivos de un gobernador de Buenos Aires son los mismos que los de la DEA, o no entendiste nunca nada o sos un zonzo, elegí”, disparó.

“A la DEA no le importa el paco en los barrios”, siguió, porque “está enfocada en otras cosas más grandes”. Solá explicó que la DEA “se vale de infiltrarse” entre los jefes narcos, entre quienes recluta “buchones” que luego gozan de impunidad. Bressi, que se desempeñó como Superintendente de Investigaciones sobre el Tráfico de Drogas Ilícitas durante la gobernación de Daniel Scioli, siguió un curso de negociador en toma de rehenes con el Departamento de Estado.

["It bothered me a lot when he responded that the Embassy, the DEA, had requested him," he Solá revealed about the conversation with Ritondo, who he took it upon himself to discredit along with Vidal. "I you want to combat narco-trafficking in the barrios of Greater Buenos Aires and think that the objectives of a Governor of Buenos Aires are the same as those of the DEA, either you don't understand anything, or you're an idiot, you choose," he declared.

The DEA doesn't care about the pacas in the barrios," he continued, because "it's focused on other, much grander things." Solá explained that the DEA "considers it important to infiltrate themselves" among the narco bosses, among whom they recruit "stool pigeons" who later enjoy immunity. Bressi, who functcioned as Superintendent of Investigations for the Traffic in Illegal Drugs during the governorship of Daniel Scioli [Peronist Governor of Buenos Aires province 2007-2015], took a course for negotiating in {cases of} the taking of hostages with the State Department.]
No major international intrigue in evidence in this one so far. But an intriguing story nevertheless.

The end of Bernie's Presidential campaign

This segment from The Real News assesses the transition of Bernie Sanders from Presidential candidate to Hillary Clinton backer, How Will Sanders's Endorsement Affect the Policy Fight at the Convention? 07/13/2016:

Sunday, July 10, 2016

Bad pennies coming back - Argentine pseudoscandal version

Carlos Camacho revives an old chestnut of an aging pseudoscandal against former Argentine President Cristina Fernández in Venezuela Opposition Sets Sights on Stolen $400 Billion Buenos Aires Herald 07/10/2016.

I wrote about this last year when Cristina was still President, A new - and more than dubious - charge against Argentina over Venezuela and Iran 03/15/2016:

This is a reminder that incidents like this, once they get incorporated into a propaganda narrative against an "unusual and extraordinary threat to the national security and foreign policy of the United States" can keep popping up for years, even decades, as an ostensible reason for taking controversial actions. In this instance, there is a possibly-true but unproven claim about a 1994 terrorist attack (AMIA) in Argentina newly married to a nearly eight-year-old chestnut about Venezuelan meddling in Argentine politics used as a propaganda club against Argentina's current President.

Fundamentalist pseudohistory and "religious freedom"

Eric Metaxas has been one of the Christian Right's "It" Boys since he got cheeky with Obama at a White House Prayer Breakfast event. An event, BTW, that deserves to go to the trash bin of history along with the White House Correspondents' Dinner.

Metaxas' has a new book about the Founders' belief in "religious freedom." Which in the Christianists' view of the world, means the right of fundamentalist Protestants to impose their views on everyone else via the government. There are a few evangelical Christian historians who do real history who take the time to refute some of the nonsense from people like Metaxas. Because they are somehow affiliated with non-fundamentalist conservative Protestantism, they can at least be heard by some of the fundis.

Warren Throckmorton is one of those and here's his take on Metaxas' latest pseudohistory text: Eric Metaxas’ If You Can Keep It: A Critical Review 07/07/2016. Throckmorton's article appears at the rightwing Daily Caller website, so some fundis may encounter it there.

At the end, he links to three other "evangelical history professors" debunking Metaxas:

John Fea, Review of Eric Metaxas, “If You Can Keep It” Way of Improvement: Part 1 07/05/2016; Part 2 07/07/2016; Part 3 07/07/2016; Part 4 07/09/2016.

In Part 4, Fea himself cites a common but dubious assumption that "nearly one-third of British-American colonies ... did not support the American Revolution." The support for Britain was probably much less than that.

Tracy McKenzie at Faith and American History: Eric Metaxas on Christianity and the Constitution 07/07/2016; Faith and American History 07/07/2016; The Good, the Bad and the Awful: Eric Metaxas' New Book "If You Can Keep It" 06/30/2016; Metaxcas on America as a "City on a Hill" 07/04/2016.

Gregg Frazer, A Republic If You Can Keep It The Gospel Coaliton 06/04/2016:

One of the more egregious historical errors is the claim that the “very first settlers on American shores” came “precisely” to gain religious freedom, along with the equally false claim that “in America the idea of religious freedom was paramount,” and that there was “a complete tolerance of all denominations and religions” from the beginning (34–35).

The first settlers to the American shores (that would become the United States) settled at Jamestown in 1607 and came seeking profits, not prophets. Like many on the Christian Right, Metaxas skips Jamestown altogether. He says: “Since the Pilgrims came to our shores in 1620, religious freedom and religious tolerance have been the single most important principle of American life” (70). The Pilgrims and Puritans did come seeking religious freedom, but only for themselves. They didn’t value or allow religious freedom for others.

In fact, the Rhode Island colony was founded by dissidents forced out of Massachusetts Bay because of religious nonconformity. Far from guaranteeing “complete tolerance,” all the way through the Founding era non-Christian religious groups and some Christian denominations were discriminated against in most of the colonies/states, and even persecuted in some. That persecution was, for example, what motivated James Madison and Thomas Jefferson to push for religious tolerance legislation.

Saturday, July 09, 2016

Spanish politics and the EU

Yanis Varoufakis evaluates Spain's recent, rather inconclusive national election in Only Europe's Radicals Can Save the EU Newsweek 07/08/2016. Varoufakis thinks that it could turn out to be "a pyrrhic victory for Spain’s establishment":

British Tories, like Michael Gove and Boris Johnson, knew they could draw mass support from a slogan like “We want our country back!” The Spanish establishment cannot do this. And they cannot do it because, over the last four decades, they managed to retain control by offering voters an unlikely deal: “You keep us in government and we shall do what is necessary to rid you of us, by transferring power to Brussels and to Frankfurt.” Calling for a restoration of sovereignty now would strike Spanish voters as backtracking on the promise to rid them of their local rulers. But, then again, this promise is under increasing strain at a time when the process of Europeanization is in serious trouble.

Spain’s establishment is in a bind. To stay in power it must continue with the narrative of Europeanization and of continual transfers of authority away from itself toward the EU’s technocracy. At the same time, however, it is clear to a majority of the Spanish citizenry that the EU’s technocracy has lost the plot, has inflicted upon the European periphery unnecessary recession, has lost the support of a large majority of Europeans, and is now losing control of important EU realms, like the U.K.
The surprising underperformance of the left party Unidos Podemos, Varoufakis explains this way: "The reason why Brexit helped PSOE pip Podemos at the post was very, very simple: the theme of Europe’s disintegration entered the election campaign with a bang, with three days to go until Spain voted."

Unidos Podemos (Ana Pardo de Vera, Iglesias pide a Podemos mirar al "futuro" y construir un "bloque histórico con movimientos populares" Público 09.07.2016). Negotiations are still under way to form a new government.

Friday, July 08, 2016

Populist politics

Margaret Canovan provides a useful overview of how populism manifests itself as a form of politics ("Trust the People! Populism and the Two Faces of Democracy" Political Studies XLVII 1999):

Populism in modern democratic societies is best seen as an appeal to 'the people' against both the established structure of power and the dominant ideas and values of the society. This structural feature in turn dictates populism's characteristic legitimating framework, political style and mood. ...

Populism is not just a reaction against power structures but an appeal to a recognized authority. Populists claim legitimacy on the grounds that they speak for the people: that is to say, they claim to represent the democratic sovereign, not a sectional interest such as an economic class.
For politics in Europe and America right now, some understanding of populism as a distinct form of making politics is important. Canovan argues that populism is a particular product of the continual tension in democracy between the "redemptive" style and the "pragmatic" one. Or she calls it, between those two faces of democracy.

The Chilcot report on Britain's involvement in the Iraq War

An official British inquiry into the Iraq War has made its report. Thirteen years after the invasion.

By Steven Erlanger and David Sanger report on it in Chilcot Report on Iraq War Offers Devastating Critique of Tony Blair New York Times 07/06/2016:

The report’s 2.6 million words describe a prime minister who wanted stronger evidence of the need for military action and a more solid plan for occupying Iraq and reconstituting a government there. Beyond its pledge of fealty to Mr. Bush, the July 28, 2002, note warned broadly of the risks of “unintended consequences’’ from an invasion and presciently forecast that other European nations would be reluctant to back the war.

Continue reading the main story
But by the time the invasion was launched, most of Mr. Blair’s warnings and conditions had been swept aside, the report concluded. The chairman of the committee, John Chilcot, said on Wednesday morning that Mr. Blair had been advised by his diplomats and ministers of “the inadequacy of U.S. plans” and their concern “about the inability to exert significant influence on U.S. planning.”

Mr. Blair chose to override their objections.
BBC News provides a bullelt-point summary here, Chilcot report: Findings at-a-glance 07/06/2016.

Paul Pillar contrasts the Chilcot report to the The Iraq War and the American and British Ways of Retrospection The National Interest 07/08/2016:

The release of the Chilcot report ought to be the occasion for Americans to reflect on another asymmetry between the United States and Britain regarding the Iraq War: that it was the U.S. administration, not any British government, that initiated this whole horrible idea. The United Kingdom got involved because Blair was Bush's poodle, who was so concerned about keeping U.S.-U.K. relations harmonious that he wrote to George W. Bush, “I will be with you, whatever.” Americans ought to think about the responsibilities of global leadership, and about how easy it is to abuse a position of power in which even a significant and proud country like the United Kingdom will fall in line that way. Dragging Britain into the Iraq mess was such an abuse of power. It was a betrayal of one of America's most important and staunchest allies. It gives many, including not just in Britain but elsewhere, reason to be less inclined to follow the U.S. lead in the future. [my emphasis]
This is something the Obama Administration could and should have done.

The full report is available online.

Dallas 2016

I wish I had something original or insightful to say about the sniper attack on police in Dallas.

But until we get some more complete reporting on who was involved, I can't think of much to say.

Claire Cardona reports on the incident in 11 officers shot, 4 dead, 1 person in custody after shots fired during downtown Dallas rally 07/08/2016. The mayor of Dallas showed that he considers not only that police lives matter but that slain or even wounded policemen should be treated with reverence approaching that a devout Catholic would express toward a saint:

"It's a heartbreaking moment for the city of Dallas," Dallas Mayor Mike Rawlings said.

"I ask everybody focus on one thing right now and that is Dallas police officers, their families, those that are deceased, those that are in the hospital fighting for their lives," Rawlings said. "Lets all come together and support. ... I've never been as proud."
I know a lot of people will be quick to treat anything other than worshipful adoration for the police who were victims is "giving the terrorists what they want," or whatever.

And I have no problem with what Mayor Rawlings said in that statement. I have no reason to think it was anything other than heartfelt. And it was certainly appropriate to the situation.

Still, it's a fact of our national life that we are unlikely any time soon to hear a mayor of a major city deliver a public pronouncement like that the day after an unarmed black person is shot to death by police under even the most dubious circumstances.

For many white people in America in 2016, some lives do matter more than others. And black lives are usually those on the bottom of the list.