Thursday, February 11, 2016

Dave Neiwert on a new "martyr" for the violent Radical Right

Dave Neiwert writes about how the militia movement crowd are working themselves into a potentially violent froth over The Martrydom of LaVoy Finicum: What the Newest ‘Patriot’ Sainthood Means for the Rest of Us Orcinus 02/11/25016:

It is not only at “Patriot” demonstrations – right-wing websites are similarly running wild with rumors and conspiracy theories. It has become starkly clear: LaVoy Finicum is the latest in a long line of right-wing martyrs.

That outcome, no doubt, was exactly what the FBI was hoping to circumscribe when, two days after the shooting, they released video of the shooting and the circumstances leading up to it, as well as afterward. They knew all too well, of course, that already a panoply of conspiracy theories and wild speculation – all of it pointing the finger at federal authorities as out-of-control bullies – were brewing.

But if they were hoping to nip the speculation in the bud, they should have known better. The “Patriot” movement would never let a good martyr go to waste. And there has seemingly never been a circumstance yet to which they cannot apply some kind of wildly speculative conspiracy theory.
He cites several incidents which the violent right took as martyrdom and warns:

These martyrdoms all had rippling effects, often into each other. Kahl’s death inspired Mathews to engage in his rampage. The Weavers’ tragic fate came about largely because federal authorities were determined to crack down hard on the activities out the Hayden Lake compound of the Aryan Nations in northern Idaho.

And the deaths of Vicki Weaver and the Branch Davidians became a battle cry for “Patriot”/militia movement followers then: “Ruby Ridge and Waco” even today is synonymous with “outrageous overreach by federal law enforcement,” even in the mainstream. So it was not at all a surprise to see it referenced in Oregon by the leader of one of the main regional “Patriot” groups defending the occupiers.

“We’ve got a third one. There was Ruby Ridge and Waco, now there is Burns,” B.J. Soper, leader of the Pacific Patriots Network, told Raw Story.

According to Aho, there is always a price to this martyrdom, as it comes to embody the ritual and “reification” process – that is, the squaring of accounts, the dispensation of justice – in the minds of the True Believers. That amounts to a kind of expiation in the form of retributive violence, the kind that was unleashed on the federal Murrah Building in Oklahoma City on April 19, 1995, by Tim McVeigh and his “Patriot” compadres.

Wednesday, February 10, 2016

Clinton and systemtic corruption in the Citizen's United era

"This ruling strikes at our democracy itself," said President Obama when the Supreme Court handled down its Citizens United decision in 2010, barely into the second year of his Presidency.

"I can’t think of anything more devastating to the public interest," he also said.

Now, over six years after that, we don't hear much from our liberal Republican Democratic President except the occasional rhetorical flourish. Unfortunately, it's classic Obama. It was good to hear the President weighing in on the serious of the problem Citizens United was going to cause. But his actions never matched the grim seriousness of the situation he correctly described six years ago.

Lauren McCauley looks at how Hillary's defense of her speaking fees and the Clinton Foundation's donations give reason to wonder whether she will be any more serious about undoing Citizens United than Obama has been: 'Artful Smear' Attack Backfires as Clinton Accused of Denying Impact of Big Money Common Dreams 02/09/2016. McCauley reports:

Since last week's Democratic debate, Clinton has repeatedly accused rival Sen. Bernie Sanders of attempting to 'smear' her with insinuations that she's been bought through political donations, speaking fees, and other payments.

"What the Sanders campaign is trying to do is link donations to my political campaign or really donations to anyone's political campaign, with undue influence with changing people's views and votes," the former secretary of state told CBS' Face the Nation on Sunday, repeating statements made during Thursday's debate. "I've never ever done that and I really do resent the implication or as I said the other night the insinuation."

Kurt Walters, a campaign manager with the anti-corruption group Rootstrikers, told Huffington Post's Zach Carter that he understands how this "might be an appealing defense," given how this charge has resonated with voters and considering Sanders' recent gains on the frontrunner.

"But just like the Citizens United line of thinking," Walters adds, "it ignores all of the other ways that money influences politics beyond the explicit exchange of cash for a vote."

"Clinton, like our Supreme Court, ignores thousands of years of human experience in how money corrupts politics not just through quid pro quos, but also by shaping attitudes," agreed Pulitzer Prize-winning economics writer David Cay Johnston. [my emphasis]
Here are the things the President had to say about the Citizens United decision at first, Weekly Address: Fighting for the Public Against Special Interests 01/22/2016:

Monday, February 08, 2016

Bernie Sanders and these kids today

A couple of The American Prospect's regulars having been looking at the evident appeal of 74-year-old Bernie Sanders to younger voters: Robert Kuttner, Generation Sanders Huffington Post 02/07/2016 and Harold Meyerson, Bernie and the New Left The American Prospect n/d; accessed 02/08/2016.

There are some obvious economic factors affecting younger voters like heavy student debt and limited job prospects in the aftermath of the 2008 crash that are obvious reasons they would respond to a politician like Bernie who is advocating in an uncompromising language for addressing those issues. Meyerson also sees those and related economic issues as the main explanation for this interesting polling phenomenon:

Finally, the leftward movement of both Democrats and the young, particularly on the central issues of class and power, has been screamingly clear in a succession of polls over the past several years. A Pew Research Center poll in 2011 showed that 49 percent of Americans under 30 had a positive view of socialism—more than how many had a positive view of capitalism. This was at a time when the percentage of young people who could pick Bernie Sanders out of a lineup was surely in the single digits. A New York Times poll last November showed that 56 percent of Democrats held a favorable view of socialism — 69 percent of Sanders’s supporters and 52 percent of Clinton’s. A Des Moines Register poll shortly before the Iowa Caucuses showed that 41 percent of likely caucus-goers actually called themselves socialists.

Such numbers — though they’ve turned up repeatedly — tend to inspire disbelief, or at a minimum, confusion in the pundit class. Most of the normal preconditions for conversions to socialism, or even warming to it, don’t seem to exist in the United States today. There’s certainly no democratic socialist organization out there recruiting large numbers of people. (The Democratic Socialists of America, of which I’m a vice-chair, is a small, barely funded group with minimal presence in most cities, and virtually none outside them.) The labor movement, which is no more (and often less) than tacitly and implicitly socialist, has been shrinking for decades, and has all but vanished from entire regions of the country.
I don't put any great significance on the positive reaction to the word "socialism." As Meyerson notes there, there is no large organization advocating for "socialism" as such in the US.

But the meaning of the term has become fluid. With the demise of the Soviet bloc and the replacement of Communism by Islamic terrorism as the national bogeyman, the word "socialism" has lost much of its ability to serve to inspire fear and contempt.

But it's not that the term has fallen into disuse. Along with various other kinds of accusations, Republican media and politicians have routinely accuse our liberal Republican President Barack Obama of being a socialist since he took office. I think there's a "boy who cried 'wolf'" effect going on here. If Obama and his very puzzling attempts to achieve bipartisan harmony with a intransigent and steadily radicalizing Republican Party is "socialism" - which the Republicans have been saying it is - it makes sense that lots of people may find the general concept less scary. As a political insult word, it's a degraded currency.

Meyerson also writes:

I de-emphasize the ideological differences [between the Clinton and Sanders factions of the Democratic Paraty] largely because for quite some time, the line between liberalism (more specifically, what American liberals would want to create if it were politically possible) and actual existing socialism (more specifically, the social democracies of Western Europe) has been growing steadily fuzzier. Socialism no longer means the nationalization of the means of production. It means a vibrant public sector, supported by high and generally progressive taxes, that exists within a market economy to do what the market doesn’t do very well if it does it at all. That is, educate people; provide for their health care; provide resources to retirees, children, and the unemployed; help the poor. It means ensuring that workers have the power to bargain with and, in some places, help shape the priorities of, their employers. It affirms that citizens have economic as well as political rights. [my emphasis]
I've discussed issues around state-owned companies here before. Here I'll just note that taking state ownership of some businesses like private prisons would be a very, very good idea. Of the many perverse effects of the privatization demands of the dominant neoliberal economic doctrine, private prisons have to rank among the worst of them.

Kuttner also discusses the student debt issue:
This is the first American generation ever to begin economic life deeply in debt. The entire premise that students should borrow large sums to attend college was horrible policy; it was never debated directly. Republicans are more responsible, because their budget cutting at the federal and state level shifted public financing onto tuition and fees. But both parties have colluded in the basic premise that borrowing to pay for college and starting life saddled with debt is an okay idea.

I've been wondering when college students and young adults would finally get into the streets to protest this appalling system. They are at last engaged in protest via the 2016 presidential campaign, and Sanders, who calls for debt-free higher education, is their champion.
It should also be obvious that student loan debt is not only a serious concern for 20-year-old students and 25-year-old graduates. It a big concern of their parents, as well, who also understand what a serious burden it is for their kids and how it inhibits them in their careers and in forming their own families.

Hillary's pitch to the Democratic base

Charlie Pierce is looking at Hillary Clinton's seeming difficulty in catching fire with Democratic base voters in the primaries (The One Word Hillary Needs to Reckon with Before She Can Be President Esquire Politics Blog 02/07/2016):

There's no question that part of the Sanders campaign's appeal is its ability to engage young people as members of a kind of movement. (This has drawn more than a little condescension from people who really ought to know better.) It's not so much that he's trying to rebuild the Obama coalition as he's trying to recapture its spirit. HRC has struggled mightily, and not altogether unsuccessfully, to do the same thing. An era in which the first woman president followed the first African-American president would be one of the most remarkable periods in American political history — and the most remarkable period in American electoral history — and it would likely keep historians busy for the next couple of centuries.

But her primary strength, that in terms of a CV, she might be the most qualified presidential candidate that we've seen since James Monroe, by a curious kind of reverse English, keeps that enthusiasm spinning just out of her reach. She has been the wife of the governor of Arkansas, a gifted public interest lawyer and a successful corporate counsel, First Lady of the United States, a senator from a huge and important state, the Secretary of State, and now she's running for president, as the odds-on favorite, for the second time. She is unquestionably part of the establishment, but she's also undeniably a trailblazer in terms of women's rights. She's an outsider by birth and an insider by resume. It would take a formidable politician to be able to use both of those qualities to maximum advantage. (If she combined her background with her husband's natural political skillz, we'd likely wake up next November to find her Empress Of The Universe.) And she is not that pol. Not yet, anyway. Maybe tomorrow. Maybe next Tuesday.

It seems to me at this point that Hillary has a mixed message against Sanders in the primaries. On the one hand, she stresses that she's a progressive, and more progressive than Bernie on issues like financial regulation and gun proliferation, and she's got better experience to accomplish things.

On the other hand, her campaign calls Bernie out for being "extreme" and a "socialist," and suggesting by not-very-subtle innuendo that he's a commie.

Those messages contradict each other. If she's not only to the left of Bernie and more likely to get those left ideas enacted, and Bernie's a commie, what does that make Hillary? An anarchist? And the Republicans will make sure she feels the full force of the blowback from that accusation in the general election.

It's a muddled message, in other words.

But I think it also limits her ability to put across the kind of strong message to the Party base that Pierce is suggesting she potentially could.

But what frustrates the Democratic base about Obama and Democrats in Congress is really not so much that the Dems don't propose enough neo-New Deal measures. It more that they seem unwilling to fight for what they do propose. For the issues on which they run.

And it seems to me that Hillary's best asset among the base is that she's a fighter. But instead selling herself as the fighter who has no illusions about how crazy and intransigent today's Republican Party is, she comes off more like she's saying, hey, we we need eight more years of pointless efforts at bipartisanship and pre-compromised proposals that the Congress whittles down from there.

Going back to her appearance on Sunday's Meet the Press (Transcript: Meet the Press - February 7, 2016):


What's the difference between what you said about then Senator Obama and what you're saying about Senator Sanders?


There's a very big difference. In 2008, Senator Obama had really done his homework in the Senate. He'd been there, by that time, a few years. He had developed a network of advisors on national security and foreign policy issues. They were very diligent and focused on making sure he was ready, that he had as broad a set of views as possible.

And they really went toe-to-toe with all the people supporting me. That's not happening in this campaign. There really isn't any kind of foreign policy network that is supporting and advising Senator Sanders. I'll let him speak for himself. I think that what's important is this job requires you to be ready on all aspects of it on the first day. And we know we've got a particularly complex world right now. And the President's not going to have the time.

Maybe previous presidents in past years could have a little more leeway because of the, you know, way the world functioned. But now it's North Korea with its missile tests, it's Russian aggression, it's enforcing the Iran agreement. You have to do it all at once.
Chuck of course prefers to talk about the horserace, and Clinton obliged him there. She emphasized she has a lot of relevant experience, which she certainly does. But there is nothing in that issue that tells Democratic voters and I'll use that experience to accomplish things you want to see done.


Do you think the Iraq vote should still matter to voters?


Look, I think that voters are perfectly free to take into account anything they want to take. But I also hope they'll take the rest of the record. You know, I was involved in the biggest counterterrorism decision in the Obama administration, to determine whether or not to go after bin Laden. I did put the sanctions on Iran to get them to the negotiating table. I think that this is a debate that the voters really have to pay attention to, because it is choosing both a president and a commander-in-chief.
That part was a decent pitch. Although adding some criticism of what a mess Dick Cheney and Shrub Bush made of the Iraq War would have also fitted well here. And she's implicitly ceding that she has no regrets about her vote for the Iraq War. The questioning continued:

I'm curious. Do you believe if it wasn't for the Iraq War, we wouldn't have ISIS today?


Well, I think that's a hard conclusion to draw, because remember, we had Al Qaeda before we had ISIS. Al Qaeda attacked us in New York, Al Qaeda attacked our embassies in Africa.


But the argument is that the instability in Iraq is what has created this. And that if Saddam Hussein were still there, we wouldn't have ISIS.


Well, I think that's a lot of jumps in logic that to me doesn't really add up. The Iraq War, there's no doubt contributed to instability. I'm not going to in any way deny that. But you cannot draw a direct line. What you can do is to say that jihadist terrorism, starting with Al Qaeda, and moving onto its latest incarnations, most particularly ISIS, is in response to a number of forces in factors that are roiling up the Middle East and certainly fighting for what Islam means and how it's going to be presented and what people are going to mean when they talk about it. So yeah, we've got a much bigger set of problems. [my emphasis]
This is an odd answer, which also passes up a chance to blame the Cheney-Bush Administration for the gigantic cock-up the Iraq War became. But by virtually all accounts, the group now known as ISIS/ISIL/Daesh was an outgrowth of the Sunni militias that formed during the civil war after the Shi'a majority in Iraq took power. Yeah, it's a complicated thing. But to Democratic primary voters, it sounds like she's trying to defend the same kind of excessive hawkishness that led her to vote for the Iraq War in 2002.

So, if Clinton is asked about Wall Street, what would an appealing answer for Democratic primary voters be? I would guess it would be something along the lines of the Obama Administration accomplished and lot in bank regulation but there's more we need to do to protect the economy and ordinary depositors and investors. And with my experience I can get those changes enacted.

All right, another thing I wanted to follow up on the debate, Senator Sanders called the entire business model of Wall Street a fraud. We didn't get a chance to ask you to respond directly to that critique. I'd like to ask you to respond to it now.


Well, I think it's the kind of extreme statement that once you really take a hard look at it, it's hard to understand. You know, when you talk about Wall Street, are we talking about every bank or are we talking about a particular part of New York? That's never really clarified. What I believe is that there are good actors and bad actors in every part of our economy.

The job of the president is to weed out and prevent the bad actors from disrupting economic activity from amassing too much power and influence. But we live in a complex, global economy where we've got to have a good banking system that is able to service the American economy. And it needs to be more than just looking at the five banks that are the big banks.

We have to have a much more robust community banking system, regional banking system, other forms of credit access. And that's what I am advocating for. And I still do not understand why I'm having this problem getting Senator Sanders to join me in going after what are the potential problems that are out there, the shadow banking sector, and the investment and hedge fund sector. [my emphasis]
Why not lead with that last part? It fits well with the "I'm more progressive than Bernie" line of attack. But it steps on the "Bernie is an extremist" pitch.

But where in the world does a statement come from like: "You know, when you talk about Wall Street, are we talking about every bank or are we talking about a particular part of New York? That's never really clarified." At least since the days of the Populists in the late 19th century, "Wall Street" has been a staple phrase for those in both parties criticizing the forces of concentrated wealth. What she said there was a silly comment, one that reinforces the idea that she wants to minimize the problems created by "Wall Street."

From the trusty Encyclopædia Britannica's entry on Wall Street:

Even before the American Civil War the street was recognized as the financial capital of the nation. The Wall Street, or financial, district contains the New York Stock Exchange, NYSE Amex Equities, investment banks, government and municipal securities dealers, trust companies, the Federal Reserve Bank, many headquarters of utilities and insurance companies, and the International Cotton, Coffee, Sugar, Cocoa, and Commodity Exchanges. The district is the headquarters of many of the country’s brokerage firms.

Wall Street is a worldwide symbol of high finance and investment and, as such, has entered modern mythology. To 19th-century Populists, Wall Street was a symbol of the rapacious robber barons who exploited farmers and labourers. In prosperous times Wall Street has symbolized the route to quick riches. After the devastating stock market crash of 1929, Wall Street seemed the bastion of financial manipulators able to destabilize national economies. [my emphasis]
But Hillary Clinton is asking us to believe she's confused about whether Bernie Sanders means the physical street when he talks about Wall Street?

This from MTP also reinforces the notion of Clinton as overly friendly to "Wall Street":


Yes, there is, there is.


Six of the last Treasury secretaries either came from Wall Street or went to Wall Street after. I think there certainly right now isn't an appetite for somebody from Wall Street to be the next Treasury secretary. And yet, can you have a Treasury secretary if they don't understand Wall Street?


Well, you have to have a Treasury secretary who understands the economy, the American economy and the global economy. I think there are a lot more places where one can and should look for such a Treasury secretary.


Do you think you can pick one without having them have a Wall Street background?


Well, you know, I want somebody who can make a good commitment to work with me to get the economy moving, to get more good jobs created, to get incomes rising, to look out over the horizon at some of the economic problems that are out there. We've got to figure out what we're going to do with China.

You know, China is finally having to come to grips with the fact that a lot of its growth may have not been as on a firm foundation as we would hope. So we need people in government who have that kind of commitment and understanding. But we've got to put the needs of the American economy first. And that's going to be my commitment.
Not only does she soft-pedal her just-stated desire to do more on bank regulation than Bernie does. She hems and haws on the need for a Treasury Secretary independent of the financial industry. Even a Republican would be expected to claim with a straight face they wanted a Treasury Secretary who wasn't owned heart and soul by the industry.

And it would have been easy to both praise the accomplishments of the current Democratic Administration on the economy, which talking about the need "to get the economy moving" doesn't exactly do.


Before I let you go, I want to ask you about a comment. Former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright said a comment that I've heard her say before. But it sort of rang differently to a lot of people. She said, "There's a special place in hell for women who don't help women." The implication is that somehow, if you're a Democratic woman and you're not supporting you, what's wrong with you? Do you want the vote to be decided on gender lines?


Oh look, you know, as you remember, Madeleine has been saying this for many, many years.


Right, Starbucks cups I think had it on there. I get that.


She believes it firmly. And in part, because she knows what a struggle it has been. And she understands the struggle is not over. So I don't want people to be offended by what she is expressing as her very--


Do you understand why some might have been offended by it?


Well good grief, we're getting offended by everything these days. Honest to goodness, I mean, people can't say anything without offending somebody. She has a life experience that I respect. I admire her greatly. And I think what she was trying to do, what she's done in every setting I've ever seen her in going back 20 plus years, was to remind young women, particularly, that you know, this struggle, which many of us have been part of, is not over. And don't be in any way lulled by the progress we've made. And I think it was a light-hearted, but very pointed remark, which people can take however they choose. [my emphasis]
Albright's comment sounded like she was saying women should vote for Clinton just because she's a woman. And how hard would it have been to say, well, I might have preferred she phrase that in a somewhat different way but ... and then proceed to give her explanation of how Albright typically expresses her strong support for women's right in those terms.

And what is the comment "Well good grief, we're getting offended by everything these days. Honest to goodness, I mean, people can't say anything without offending somebody" but a half-baked attempt to show she's not bound by "political correctness"? Which sounds like the DLC/"Sister Souljah moment"/triangulation approach that Democratic base voters don't want to hear from their Presidential candidate.

Also, stuff like this from prominent, politically savvy Hillary reporters doesn't help their candidate: Alanna Vagianos, Gloria Steinem Apologizes For Remarks About Young Female Sanders Supporters Huffington Post 02/07/2016.

And if you want to convince Democratic voters you might become the scourge of Wall Street, having your husband make this kind of case on your behalf (Amanda Terkel, Bill Clinton Accuses Bernie Sanders Of Living In A 'Hermetically Sealed Box' Huffington Post 02/07/2016): "'Hillary's opponent has a different view,'" Clinton said, declining to mention Sanders by name. 'It's a hermetically sealed box. It's very effective. The system is rigged against you by the big banks, and both parties are in the thrall of the big banks. Anybody who takes money from Goldman Sachs couldn't possibly be president.'"

And as cautious as one has to be about alleged Clinton scandals, it's entirely legitimate for the Sanders campaign to raise questions about donors' influence on Hillary Clinton. Simon Head looks at those issues in The Clinton System NYR Daily 01/30/2016. And it's not just Goldman Sachs, either. Head writes:

The record of the Clinton System raises deep questions about whether a Hillary Clinton presidency would take on the growing political influence of large corporate interests and Wall Street banks. The next president will need to address critical economic and social issues, including the stagnating incomes of the middle class, the tax loopholes that allow hedge-funders and other members of the super-rich to be taxed at lower rates than many average Americans, and the runaway costs of higher education. Above all is the question of further reform of Wall Street and the banking system to prevent a recurrence of the behavior that brought about the Great Recession of 2007-2008.

So far, Hillary Clinton has refused to commit herself to a reintroduction of the Depression-era Glass-Steagall Act, which Bill Clinton allowed to be repealed in 1999 on the advice of Democrats with close ties to Wall Street, including Robert Rubin and Larry Summers. The reintroduction of Glass-Steagall, favored by Bernie Sanders, would prevent banks from speculating in financial derivatives, a leading cause of the 2007-2008 crash. With leading Wall Street banks so prominent in the Clintons’ fundraising streams, can Hillary Clinton be relied upon to reform the banks beyond the modest achievements of the Dodd-Frank bill of 2010? [my emphasis]
One of sources Head cites is this article from last year on the Clintons' very lucrative corporate speaking business: Andrew Perez, Firms Paid Bill Clinton Millions As They Lobbied Hillary Clinton International Business Times 04/28/15. It's worth stressing that although such fees and the contributions to the Clinton Foundation are legal, they can still have great influence on policy.

But speaking of Goldman Sachs ... (Wall Street Bankster On Bernie Sanders The Young Turks 02/07/2016):

Even though I think every vote for Bernie pushes Clinton in the right direction policy-wise and I'd like to see him be the nominee, I'd also like to see Hillary get into more of a fighting-the-Republicans mood than the kind of Beltway chatter she showed in her MTP appearance.

Sunday, February 07, 2016

The New Hampshire primary and the "Meet the Press" weekly hack-a-thon

I forced myself to watch Meet the Press this morning. (Transcript: Meet the Press - February 7, 2016)

There was plenty of horserace speculation about the New Hampshire primary, of course. Chuck Todd and his panel of pundits which included Chris Matthews, Andrea Mitchell (Mrs. Alan Greenspan), the conservative radio hack Hugh Hewitt, and Hallie Jackson. They were particular excited about the fact that in Saturday night's horror show Republican debate Marco Rubio repeated himself. A politician repeated himself! That's surely never happened before in the history of humanity!!

Marco's warmongering and general rightwing politics didn't occasion much comment. They did play a clip of Jeb! BUSH challenging Trump over an eminent domain case. But the panel focused on the theater criticism, not on anything about the substance of the policy.

But, hey, it's Meet the Press. It's not like anyone would expect what we quaintly call "journalism" from it.

I am a bit disappointed to see Harold Meyerson also focus on the theater criticism in Rubio’s a Robot! And Other Republican Revelations The American Prospect 02/07/20169.

I shouldn't be a purist, though. The "horserace" is important, obviously. The problem is not that journalists talk about it. The problem is they obsess about it to the point where policy gets sometimes excluded, as Todd's panel discussion of the Republican debate on MTP illustrates.

And I certainly wouldn't suggest that Meyerson is anywhere in the same category as professional hacks like Chuck Todd and Hugh Hewitt. He certainly gives a better snapshot of the political lineup than the MTP group did:

With Rubio falling back in the pack and Kasich, Bush, and Christie each having a good evening, it now looks likely that New Hampshire won’t winnow the establishment lane in Tuesday’s election. And the longer that lane goes un-winnowed, the longer Trump—winning 30 or even 25 percent in state after state—can still claim a plurality rather than running a distant second to the establishment’s consensus candidate. The longer it takes for that candidate to emerge—something that won’t happen until three of the four establishment candidates bow out—the closer Trump comes to winning the nomination.

In that sense, it may have been even a better night for Democrats than it was for Trump. Rubio has been the cloud on the Democrats’ horizon, the one candidate conservative enough to win the nomination but just presentable enough, perhaps, to win the general election. The center of the Republican Party has now moved too far right for Bush, Christie, or Kasich to emerge its nominee, though any of them would be stronger, and Kasich probably far stronger, in a matchup against Hillary Clinton or Bernie Sanders. (Kasich is the one candidate who does not seem to loathe people outside the Republican orbit, dooming his chances within the party itself.) If Rubio cannot recover, the likely nominee is either Trump or Cruz, whose prospects, the Democrats rightly believe, are dim.
The MTP crowd then took up the Democratic race between Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders:


I want to start this conversation on a larger topic Chris, that you and I were talking about off camera yesterday.. And what's fascinating about this democratic race it is the first one in my lifetime that's been a race to the left. We haven't seen that in a long time. It used to be democratic presidential primary was about the most electable liberal who could hug the middle. And that's still a campaign [C]linton wanted to run but that's not what she has to now.


And it's very hard for her to fight him because of this elastic use of the term progressive. Progressive covered Teddy Roosevelt a moderate activist republican. It covered in Wisconsin. Then in '48 it carried, it kind of takes a very hard left even pro Soviet Henry Wallace breaking in with Truman on that saying the Cold War was our fault. I don't think he means that, but he can come out and get the furthest left voter, just like Cruz can get the furthest right voter and hug that rail.

Now Hillary will surprise me as to why she wants to go chasing after him. Why doesn't she draw the line, why didn't she do it three months ago. I'm not a socialist, I don't hate socialist [sic] but [I]'m not one. Here's why, fundamentally I do believe in the free market free enterprise. That's how our systems work, that's how we became the greatest country in the world because of that freedom. I don't want want the government to try to run everything. [my emphasis]
That's even-the-liberal Chris Matthews sounding like a cheap Bircher redbaiter.

The obvious reason Clinton has to step carefully and let her campaign's ratf*ckers and willing reporters like Matthews do this kind of dirty work is her ambiguous attack on Sanders: I'm more progressive that he is, but he's a commie. For many Democrat voters, it risks sounds desperate and sleazy. And if she's more progressive than the commie, well, the Republican will make sure she feels the full force of the blowback from that accusation in the general election.

Chuck interviewed Clinton at the beginning of the show. And she seemed to me to be stepping on her own points.

Mrs. Greenspan sounded pretty flustered:

The party has moved. This reminds me of 1972 actually. She has lost the base. And she's lost the women. And that is what is so stunning here in New Hampshire. And they are really, they can't figure out how to combat that. So to try to attract young women whom she lost by such extraordinary numbers in Iowa and in the polling so far here, she brings in women senators, who by definition are part of the establishment, and there's no female Marco Rubio.
No, it doesn't make jack for sense to me, either.

But it does remind me that in terms of their general outlook, the Republicans are in many ways stuck in 1969, worried that scary black people and drugged-out hippies are going to form rampaging mobs to invade the suburbs and wreck horror on all the nice white people. Many Democrats are still stuck in 1972 when in their minds a dangerous leftwinger, Methodist minister and former World War II bomber pilot George McGovern scared too many nice white folks away from the Party and they can never, never, never repeat that mistake. And in the latter view, nothing has changed: Democrats still have to carry former Confederate states to win a Presidential contest, California is still a Republican state in Presidential elections, the Republican Party still has liberal and moderate factions, and Republicans are running on similar issues as Nixon did in 1972: support of wage-and-price controls, making people with China, making peace and nuclear arms agreements with the Soviet Union, peace in Vietnam. Mrs. Greenspan seems to be operating on those "1972" assumptions, as well.

Poor Hallie doesn't seem to realize her job is to spew conventional wisdom, as this exchange shows:


No and what's interesting to me, though, when you talk about Bernie Sanders that he has among a different kind of electorate. I spoke with a woman yesterday she's been a registered Republican in New Hampshire for 15 years. She is going to primary for Jeb Bush and then switch her registration so she can vote for Bernie Sanders. She is out there working and volunteering and trying to sort of rally people around Sanders because of what he's tapping into that speaks to something a little more broad than just the typical party lines.


But Hugh, both parties are racing to their bases. Nobody's thinking about the general election.


I love what Andrea just said. They're going 1972 I'm all for that from my perspective, way to go.
Hallie suggested that Bernie might have broader appeal than the silly college kids of the conventional wisdom. But Chuck quite snapped the conversation back onto safely hack territory. And Mrs. Greenspan brought up Benghazi! Benghazi!! BENGHAZI!!!

With a national press corps like this, it's amazing that our democracy functions at all.

Bernie at Georgetown

Continuing with the discussion of Bernie Sanders' political philosophy and framing, he gave a Big Think speech at Georgetown University last November.

The whole theme of his "socialism" and talk of "revolution" don't bother me about him, even in terms of "electability" in the general election, for reasons I explained in the previous post. And for Democrats for several decades, claiming you're more "electable" than another Democrat means, "I'm more like the Republicans than my opponent."

This topic matters in the campaign because the herd opinion is that Sanders is running essentially a frivolous campaign. As Ed Kilgore writes, "there's no question elements of the media and political opponents alike would love to depict Bernie as an aging, strident ideologue serving as a pied piper to uninhibited and 'idealistic' youth." (Is Bernie Sanders Vulnerable to the Kind of Media Pile-On That Took Down Howard Dean? New York 02/04/2016)

Bernie's campaign has posted a video of the Georgetown speech on their YouTube account, Democratic Socialism and Foreign Policy 11/19/2015:

A transcript of the speech is available from In These Times, Bernie Sanders: My Vision For Democratic Socialism in America 11/19/2016.

In a basic sense, Sanders is attempting to popularize a long-established political science and economics perspective, in which the "welfare state" is broadly considered social-democraticm in contrast to the state socialism of the Soviet Union and other states at one time or another in the "socialist camp" of nations. And also in contrast to the neoclassical economic fundamentalism broadly known as "neoliberalism," which does not refer to "liberal" in the American political sense but to the type of Herbert Hoover/Heinrich Brüning practiced by Angela Merkel's Grand Coalition goverment in Germany, which has become the dominant EU elite perspective on the world. The US Republican Party also embraces neoliberalism, even though to Republicans the word "liberal" in any form is like holy water to a vampire.

Sanders told the Georgetown audience, speaking of President Franklin Roosevelt:

And he acted. Against the ferocious opposition of the ruling class of his day, people he called economic royalists, Roosevelt implemented a series of programs that put millions of people back to work, took them out of poverty and restored their faith in government. He redefined the relationship of the federal government to the people of our country. He combatted cynicism, fear and despair. He reinvigorated democracy. He transformed the country.

And that is what we have to do today.

And, by the way, almost everything he proposed was called “socialist.” Social Security, which transformed life for the elderly in this country was “socialist.” The concept of the “minimum wage” was seen as a radical intrusion into the marketplace and was described as “socialist.” Unemployment insurance, abolishing child labor, the 40-hour work week, collective bargaining, strong banking regulations, deposit insurance, and job programs that put millions of people to work were all described, in one way or another, as “socialist.” Yet, these programs have become the fabric of our nation and the foundation of the middle class.

Thirty years later, in the 1960s, President Johnson passed Medicare and Medicaid to provide health care to millions of senior citizens and families with children, persons with disabilities and some of the most vulnerable people in this county. Once again these vitally important programs were derided by the right wing as socialist programs that were a threat to our American way of life. [my emphasis]
I would note that Sanders is referring in that passage to FDR's 1937 Inaugural Address, after his resounding re-election in 1936.

But in his immediate action, he decided to embrace balancing the federal budget as a priority, which temporarily short-circuited the long recovery from the Great Depression and pushed the country into a new downturn. Or, at a minimum, acted as a pro-cyclical force when a contra-cyclical one was needed. FDR changed direction when he saw the results. But I hope we don't see a President Sanders in 2017 making balancing the budget his top economic policy priority!

And whether you call it the New Deal, the Great Society, socialism, or just good ideas, he wants to address real problems in an immediately realistic way:

Today, in America, we are the wealthiest nation in the history of the world, but few Americans know that because so much of the new income and wealth goes to the people on top. In fact, over the last 30 years, there has been a massive transfer of wealth—trillions of wealth—going from the middle class to the top one-tenth of 1 percent—a handful of people who have seen a doubling of the percentage of the wealth they own over that period.

Unbelievably, and grotesquely, the top one-tenth of 1 percent owns nearly as much wealth as the bottom 90 percent.

Today, in America, millions of our people are working two or three jobs just to survive. In fact, Americans work longer hours than do the people of any industrialized country. Despite the incredibly hard work and long hours of the American middle class, 58 percent of all new income generated today is going to the top one percent.
This is also an important statement on his policy goals:

Democratic socialism means that we must reform a political system in America today which is not only grossly unfair but, in many respects, corrupt.

It is a system, for example, which during the 1990s allowed Wall Street to spend $5 billion in lobbying and campaign contributions to get deregulated. Then, ten years later, after the greed, recklessness, and illegal behavior of Wall Street led to their collapse, it is a system which provided trillions in government aid to bail them out. Wall Street used their wealth and power to get Congress to do their bidding for deregulation and then, when their greed caused their collapse, they used their wealth and power to get Congress to bail them out. Quite a system!

And, then, to add insult to injury, we were told that not only were the banks too big to fail, the bankers were too big to jail. Kids who get caught possessing marijuana get police records. Wall Street CEOs who help destroy the economy get raises in their salaries. This is what Martin Luther King, Jr. meant by socialism for the rich and rugged individualism for everyone else.

In my view, it’s time we had democratic socialism for working families, not just Wall Street, billionaires and large corporations. It means that we should not be providing welfare for corporations, huge tax breaks for the very rich, or trade policies which boost corporate profits as workers lose their jobs. It means that we create a government that works for works for all of us, not just powerful special interests. It means that economic rights must be an essential part of what America stands for. [my emphasis]
I can't help but recall that Jerry Brown made this sort of political corruption a central issue in his third and last run for the Presidency in 1992. He argued then that the system of campaign finance was legalized bribery. It sounded edgy and "extreme" at the time. Now it's painfully obvious. And about 100 times worse than it was in 1992.

Sanders offers the following in a more defensive but unapologetic mode:

So the next time you hear me attacked as a socialist, remember this:

I don’t believe government should own the means of production, but I do believe that the middle class and the working families who produce the wealth of America deserve a fair deal.

I believe in private companies that thrive and invest and grow in America instead of shipping jobs and profits overseas.

I believe that most Americans can pay lower taxes - if hedge fund managers who make billions manipulating the marketplace finally pay the taxes they should.

I don’t believe in special treatment for the top 1 percent, but I do believe in equal treatment for African-Americans who are right to proclaim the moral principle that Black Lives Matter.

I despise appeals to nativism and prejudice, and I do believe in immigration reform that gives Hispanics and others a pathway to citizenship and a better life.

I don’t believe in some foreign “ism”, but I believe deeply in American idealism.
The Clinton camp has adopted a two-track approach in opposing Sanders which sounds muddled to me. They argue on the one hand that Clinton is more progressive on some issues than he is. On the other, they say his proposals are too unrealistic to ever get enacted and she can deliver more practical results.

It's essentially a rehash of her framing against Barack Obama in the 2008 primaries. And both were arguably more applicable in 2008 than today. Obama was generally vague about his proposals. He allowed voters to think he was more progressive than Hillary. And it turned out that's what Democratic voters wanted, someone who represented a significant change in both policy and demographics, a change not just from the Cheney-Bush Administration but from the cautious "pro-business" centrism of the first Clinton Administration.

Clinton is still the obvious "horserace" favorite for the nomination. But it seems to me there's definitely a confusing message. Paul Krugman is obviously if unofficially pro-Clinton for the primaries. He is probably more frank than the Clinton campaign would prefer in describing the Clinton/pragmatist position (Half A Loaf, Financial Reform Edition 02/03/2016): "The reality of the Obama era, for progressives, is a series of half loaves. But after all the defeats over the previous 30 years, aren’t those achievements something to celebrate?"

But this is how the Clinton pitch inevitably sounds to the Democratic base: Clinton, for half a loaf! I saw a satire label on Facebook (which unfortunately I can't find again even with Yahoo!) that said something along the lines of "HILLARY CLINTON - Because Real Change Is Just Too Hard."

But one of the most appealing things about Hillary for the Democratic base is that she's a fighter. And after eight years of frustration at Obama's sad pursuit of Bipartisanship as a benefit in itself, it's easy to imagine that she will act from Day 1 as President without any illusions about the nastiness and intransigence of the opposition. But her message in the primaries doesn't capitalize on that. Instead, it's sounds more like a pitch to the Bipartisan chimera that Obama chased for years, producing pre-compromised proposals that the Republicans then attacked as radical threats to freedom.

But who knows? Hillary Clinton could turn out to be a more transformative progressive President than Bernie Sanders would be. But her campaign so far gives us much reason to doubt that.

Saturday, February 06, 2016

Sanders and "socialism"

Dan Roberts and Adam Gabbatt look at the "socialist" label and Bernie Sanders in Is the US ready for a socialist president? Sanders might be about to find out Guardian 02/06/2016.

Having seen the German Social Democratic Party push neoliberal policies for the last decade and a half, and enthusiastically backing Angela Merkel's Herbert Hoover/Heinrich Brüning economic policies, the "socialist" label has become pretty vague in practice. The SPD is one of the Ur-socialist parties, with Karl Marx as one of its co-founders. Although today's SPD prefers to stick with Ferdinand Lasalle as their founder.

Here I'll quote David Conradt's article, Social Democratic Party of Germany (SPD) Encyclopædia Britannica (accessed 02/06/2016). He doesn't talk about Marx' role in the merger of the two predecessor parties but it's a good sketch of classical European socialism of the late 19th century:

The SPD traces its origins to the merger in 1875 of the General German Workers’ Union, led by Ferdinand Lassalle, and the Social Democratic Workers’ Party, headed by August Bebel and Wilhelm Liebknecht. In 1890 it adopted its current name, the Social Democratic Party of Germany. The party’s early history was characterized by frequent and intense internal conflicts between so-called revisionists and orthodox Marxists and by persecution by the German government and its chancellor, Otto von Bismarck. The revisionists, led at various times by Lassalle and Eduard Bernstein, argued that social and economic justice could be achieved for the working class through democratic elections and institutions and without a violent class struggle and revolution. The orthodox Marxists insisted that free elections and civil rights would not create a truly socialist society and that the ruling class would never cede power without a fight. Indeed, German elites of the late 19th century considered the very existence of a socialist party a threat to the security and stability of the newly unified Reich, and from 1878 to 1890 the party was officially outlawed.
Fast-forward to the US and Bernie Sanders, 2016. "Socialism" has been used and misused so much that we have to look at what Sanders himself says about what he means when he uses the word for his own positions. Roberts and Gabbatt give us these glimpses in their not especially sympathetic to Sanders report:

As the only candidate proposing to abolish tuition fees at public universities, Sanders frequently takes on the role of a reverse auctioneer, asking members of the audience at his rallies to shout out how much student debt they have. For a while, the record was $300,000. Then he met a dentist who graduated with loans of $400,000.

But paying for college by taxing Wall Street speculation is not the only policy that has seen the senator from Vermont branded a dangerous extremist – by his own party. Despite the limited health insurance reforms passed by Barack Obama, 29 million Americans remain without any coverage and many more are underinsured to the point where they cannot afford to see a doctor. [my emphasis]
Tuition-free public colleges and "taxing Wall Street speculation." Of course the One Percent is happy to stigmatize such policies, and will do so no matter who advocates them.

But are they really terrifying for working and middle class voters? For some, sure. But if "socialism" for Sanders means better access to college, closing remaining gaps on health insurance while better controlling health care costs, taxing and better regulating giant bank, and reducing the currently extreme power of campaign contributors and corporate lobbyists - those things in themselves are not inherently scary for general election voters who aren't already committed Republican voters.

On the last topic, Roberts and Gabbatt write: "The notion, proposed by Sanders, that a corrupt campaign finance system is the only thing standing between voters and a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to change this might seem simplistic. But it is proving wildly popular."

And they make this important point:

Confusion also stems from the fact that Sanders uses the phrase “democratic socialist” partly to stress his belief that change must come through the ballot box, but also because, in continental Europe at least, he would probably be known as a social democrat, a label that does not easily translate to the US.

A “Democrat” in US parlance is something the independent senator from Vermont only became when he decided to seek the party’s presidential nomination in May. Anyone using the word “social” in American politics might as well go the whole hog and add the “ist” before somewhere else does.
The first President Clinton never advertised himself with the "socialist" label. On the contrary, he emerged on the national stage as an advocate for the neoliberal "DNC" strategy of giving the Democratic Party a distinctly more conservative image. And when he ran for President in 1992, the supposedly moderate incumbent, Old Man Bush, pulled this: Bill Clinton and the KGB by Paul Wieck Christian Science Monitor 10/15/1992. One of the sleaziest pieces of sleazes US political history. But I doubt in the midst of a Presidential campaign, that Bill's wife is much embarrassed by the following, also reported by Dan Roberts: Sanders smeared as communist sympathiser as Clinton allies sling mud Guardian 01/22/2016.

Sanders is also calling for a "political revolution" and doing so without embarrassment. When he says this, he makes clear that what he is talking about is more ordinary people getting involved in politics with the goals of reducing the power of organized money and electing a Congress not dominated by Republicans. I'm sure that sounds pretty scary to a lot of Democratic office-holders. But it sounds like a good idea to me. Whether or not we want to quibble about the political-science definition of "revolution."

But we also need to see this in terms of how the right uses the term these days. Sanders parried a question from Anderson Cooper on the term this week by reminding him of the "Reagan Revolution" and the "Gingrich Revolution," terms that haven't bothering the Grand Old Party much.

Then there are our cornpone Duck Dynasty John Calhouns, like the Bundy boys and their fans. Not only such characters, but the NRA that few Republicans are willing to criticize at all, talk about the need for people to have unlimited access to guns in order to fight "tyranny" if the occasion arises. Now a clever pollster or sociologist could surely document that what most white people have in mind when they talk about "tyranny" in this context actually means "black people."

But we don't need any special studies to know that the Republican Party is perfectly comfortable with the formal justification of the need for unlimited gun proliferation as required to fight "tyranny." What would that mean if it ever got more serious than a bunch of fools seizing a building on a wildlife sanctuary? It would basically be applying the techniques of partisan warfare, aka, "terrorism": sabotaging infrastructure like bridges and power stations, ambushes on police and soldiers, assassination of hostile public officials. Ugly stuff even when employed in the best of causes. And our present-day junior John Calhoun's don't have a good cause.

So if the Republican Party's acceptance and encouragement of this kind of revolutionary and seditious rhetoric has persuaded the public to vote the Republican Party out of existence, Bernie Sanders calling for more citizen involvement to make the political system less corrupt is unlikely to send the voters fleeing in panic to Donald Trump or Ted Cruz or even the fresh-faced warmonger Marco Rubio.

Thursday, February 04, 2016

The most miserable economies in the world?

There never seems to be a shortage of articles trashing left-leaning Latin American governments and praising the dubious practices of rightwing ones.

Venezuela has replaced Cuba as the Latin Bogeyman nation for the American Establishment. Venezuela has enjoyed the benefits of being a petrostate. And now with the worldwide fall in oil prices, they are strongly feeling the downside. Even with high oil prices, being a petrostate has its drawbacks. The oil business draws so many people in the cities, for instance, that despite fertile farmlands, Venezuela has a chronic problem with its agricultural sector.

Gawker has this piece whose title gives a good idea of the amount of analytical care in its few paragraphs, Venezuela Is So Fucked by Hamilton Nolan 02/03/2016.

Bloomberg Business includes Venezuela as one of the featured five countries in These Are the World's Most Miserable Economies by A Catarina Saraiva and Michelle Jamrisko 02/04/2016.

One of the other five countries distinguished in the article is Argentina. One of the world's most miserable economies? That's ridiculous. Although since Mauricio Macri's government took power in December, they've been working hard to take the economy into that direction with stock neoliberal prescriptions.

I love the following part. Cristina Fernández' government was criticized by the conventional wisdom for supposedly deliberately understating inflation. The Finance Ministry under Axel Kiciloff rejected this criticism and defended the estimate.

Once Macri took office, he immediately sharply devaluated the Argentine peso against the dollar, producing something like a 30% inflation shock. This immediately slams the purchasing power of the workers and the middle class. And his government is resisting corresponding increases in wages and salaries, including notable repressive measures against some labor demonstrations.

This is all part of the standard neoliberal approach in the developing countries. And to muddy the impact of the devaluation, his government stopped publishing inflation figures altogether.

Which makes the quote in Bloomberg Business just awesome: "In Argentina, authorities are in the midst of overhauling the national statistics agency and have stopped reporting some economic indicators until that's done, after being accused for years of releasing dodgy data."

The other three countries listed as part of the top five most miserable economies in this most dubious article are Greece, South Africa and Ukraine. I would note that Greece and Ukraine are also notable examples of the results of the kind of neoliberal dogma currently being applied by the Macri government in Argentina.

Italy and the euro crisis

Wolfgang Münchau writes about his expectation for the future of the European Union in Athens and Rome expose Europe’s greatest faultlines Financial Times 01/31/2016:

Greece may be the starkest example, but it is not the only country facing overlapping crises. It is not even the most important one facing this dilemma. That would be Italy. While Rome’s problems are different from those of Greece, the country’s long-term sustainability in the eurozone is just as uncertain, unless you believe that its economic performance will miraculously improve when there is no reason why it should.

Italy was overwhelmed by the increase of refugees from north Africa last year. On top of that it faces unresolved economic problems — no productivity growth for 15 years; a large stock of public sector debt that leaves the government with virtually no fiscal room for manoeuvre; and a banking system with €200bn in non-performing loans, plus another €150bn of debt classified as troubled. Then consider that its three main opposition parties have, at one time or another, all questioned the country’s membership of the eurozone. Even if none of them look like coming to power in the near future, it is clear that Italy only has a limited amount of time to fix its multiple problems.
Münchau notes that Italy's leadership is being open in its criticism of the EU under Angela Merkel's rule: "There are signs that Italy’s patience with the EU and Germany, in particular, is wearing thin . Matteo Renzi, prime minister, has been openly attacking the policies of the EU on energy, on Russia, on the fiscal deficits, as well as German dominance of the entire apparatus."

But I have to admit I'm puzzled by his concluding paragraph: "There is an element of bad luck in this. Europe’s policy of muddling through, of doing the minimum required, and hoping to mop up the rubble later, might even have worked if the refugees had stayed at home. The EU’s mistake was not to have chosen a path that would lead to invariable ruin, but to render itself defenceless against the next unforeseen shock."

I can't even figure out what he's trying to say with the last sentence. Does he mean it would have been okay "to have chosen a path that would lead to invariable ruin" if they had just left themselves a bit more flexibility for the next bump in the road that would require more muddling through? That "invariable ruin" wouldn't be quite so bad if it were delayed a bit?

The increasing pressure of the refugee problem no doubt made the EU's situation more complicated in 2015. But that acute phase was also a result of previous muddling through on the refugee crisis which had actually been going on for years. It's not unusual for politicians to overblow real crises or gin up phony ones for other purposes. But the refugee problem has been a visible crisis for years, while Merkel and the rest of the EU just didn't come up with good solutions. And still haven't.

I'm sorry to see that Münchau will no longer be providing a weekly column for Spiegel Online, as he notes in his final installment, Langsames Dahinsiechen 29.01.2016.

There he explains that he expects the EU will not collapse in a rapid and dramatic fashion. But rather that it will decay away, with "periphery" countries dropping off and a core of the wealthiest countries remaining:

Selbst beim besten Willen wäre eine Lösung unserer permanenten Krise schwierig, denn sie zu koordinieren, setzt eine Gemeinsamkeit von Interessen voraus. Wahrscheinlicher ist, dass die verschiedenen Krisen ihren Lauf nehmen und dass wir ihre negativen sozialen und wirtschaftlichen Konsequenzen mit dem Wischmop wirtschaftspolitischer Notmaßnahmen aufsaugen.

Im Verlauf dieser Entwicklungen drohen neben dem Ende von Schengen und der Verkleinerung des Euroraums ebenfalls eine Spreizung der Einkommen, eine Verarmung der Mittelklasse und eine damit einhergehende politische Radikalisierung. Damit ist nicht unbedingt die Demokratie an sich gefährdet, aber sicherlich die über die nationalen Grenzen hinausgehenden Vereinbarungen und Institutionen. Es ist kein gutes Umfeld für europäische Integration und die internationale Kooperation und Koordination. Die EU wird dabei nicht spektakulär zusammenbrechen, sondern an ihren Rändern zerfleddern und im Inneren.

[Even with the best will, a solution to our permanent crises would be difficult, because to coordinate them assumes a commonality of interests. It's more likely that the various crises will run their course and that we will absorb their negative social and economic consequences with the Whisk broom of political-economic emergency measures.

In the course of these developments, along with the end of Schengen and the shrinking of the euro area, {we are} threatened as well with a collapse of income, an impoverishment of the middle class and with a consequent political radicalization. That doesn't unquestionably threaten democracy as such, but it certainly does the agreements and institutions that cross national borders. It is not a good environment for European integration and international cooperation and coordination. The EU will thereby not collapse spectacularly, but rather tatter along the edges and hollow out in the center.]
I'm not at all confident that a crackup of the eurozone will be so minimally dramatic. But we will probably soon see.

Sunday, January 31, 2016

Autoritarian edges in Macri's government in Argentina

TeleSUR has an update on the repressive measures that Maruicio Macri's government in Argentina is taking against some popular leaders: Son of Argentine Indigenous Leader Charged for 'Threats' 01/31/2016.

The indigenous leader mentioned is Milagro Sala, and her son is Sergio Chorolque. This looks pretty hinky to me:

Chorolque's mother Milagro Sala has already been described by some human rights activists as the first political prisoner of the new government of President Mauricio Macri.

The well-known indigenous leader, founder of the 70,000 member Tupac Amaru organization, was arrested on January 16 in the Jujuy on charges of inciting violence after protesting in a month-long sit in against Governor Gerardo Morales, who ordered her arrest.

A judge cleared Sala of those charges on Friday, but before she walked out of jail she was handed down a new set of accusations and ordered to stay behind bars while investigations into charges of “illicit association, fraud, and extortion” are launched at the request of the Jujuy government, local media reported. [my emphasis]
The Buenos Aires Herald reports on Chorloque's arrest in Prosecutor now accuses Milagro Sala’s son of threats 01/31/2016:
The Jujuy judiciary keeps Milagro Sala’s inner circle under the magnifying glass. Her son was accused of threatening social leader Carlos “Perro” Santillán in Jujuy province.

The charges were pressed by prosecutor Aldo Lozano mere hours after Judge Gastón Mercau said that his mother should remain at the Alto Comedero penitentiary facing charges of conspiracy and alleged fraud in a housing programme.

Lozano decided to open an investigation against Sergio Chorolque Sala after Santillán reported that he threatened him when they met on the street days ago.

However, Santillán — the leader of the municipal workers in Jujuy province — has also been under scrutiny after the Socialist Workers’ Party (PTS) reported that he threatened union leader Alejandro Vilca in Alto Comedero last year.

If Milagro Sala’s son were found guilty of threatening Santillán — an iconic social leader in the 1990s who later became an opponent to Kirchnerism, the young man could be given a two-year sentence, which will not place him behind bars.
Ezequiel Adamovsky wrote earlier in January, "The extent to which Argentina’s government has fallen into illegality has surprised both Macri’s allies and opponents." (Mauricio Macri: A Rather Authoritarian Beginning TeleSUR 01/02/2016)

Panama Truth Commission on the 1989 US invasion under Old Man Bush's Presidency

TeleSUR reports that Panama is setting up a Truth Commission to investigate and document the facts and consequences of the 1989 US invasion under Old Man Bush's direction, nominally based on the need to secure access to the Panama Canal as it was formally returned to Panama's control (Truth Report Investigating 1989 US Invasion of Panama Warms Up 01/26/2016):

The brutal military operation resulted in at least 3,000 civilian and military victims. Many of the bodies remained unidentified after being burnt and piled up in the streets.

The U.S. has never compensated the survivors impacted in the invasion or the families of the victims.

Panama had a separate truth commission that investigated abuses committed under the military dictatorships of Generals Omar Torrijos and Manuel Noriega between 1968 and 1989, which found that the regimes were guilty of torture and “cruel, inhuman, and degrading treatment” of victims.

The commission will produce Panama’s first “truth report” specifically focused on the 1989 invasion.
This is an invasion scarcely remembered by Americans. But Latin Americans have concrete interests in remembering it as one of a series of now centuries-long US interventions in their region of the world.

Jacobin's Belen Fernandez writes about this development in The truth behind US' Operation Just Cause in Panama Aljazeera English 01/31/2016:

In typical fashion, the gringos managed to kill a whole lot of birds with the Just Cause stone. In addition to capturing Noriega - who was driven out of his refuge at the Vatican embassy in Panama by US troops blasting rock music in the direction of the compound - the US also reasserted its power in the area and conducted a trial run of military equipment for upcoming action in the Middle East.

As for the human beings killed by the same stone, Panama is now launching a truth commission to determine just what happened 26 years ago. ...

The uniqueness of the Panamanian case ... is that [Operation] Just Cause was not a proxy war or an example of behind-the-scenes manoeuvres by the US. Instead, it was a straightforward assault, evidence of the US being "mesmerised with firepower", as one of the US commanders of the operation later put it: "We have all these new gadgets, laser-guided missiles and stealth fighters, and we are just dying to use that stuff."
Hernandez links to a FAIR article from 1990, reporting how the "quality" press was generally all too happy to echo the Pentagon's spin on the invasion; our old friend Dark Lord Dick Cheney was Secretary of Defense at the time:

A “public opinion poll” in a country under martial law, conducted by an agency obviously sanctioned by the invading forces, can be expected to come up with such results. Most reporters, traveling as they did with the U.S. military, found little to contradict this picture. Less than 40 hours after the invasion began, Sam Donaldson and Judd Rose transported us to Panama via ABC‘s Prime Time Live (12/21/90). “There were people who applauded us as we went by in a military convoy,” said Rose. “The military have been very good to us [in escorting reporters beyond the Canal Zone],” added Donaldson.

While this kind of “Canal Zone journalism” dominated television, a few independent print journalists struck out on their own. Peter Eisner of Newsday’s Latin America bureau, for example, reported (12/28/89) that Panamanians were cursing U.S. soldiers under their breath as troops searched the home of a neighbor–a civilian–for weapons. One Panamanian pointed out a man speaking to U.S. soldiers as a “sapo” (a toad–slang for “dirty informer”) and suggested that denouncing people to the U.S. forces was a way of settling old scores. A doctor living on the street said that “liberals will be laying low for a while, and they’re probably justified” because of what would happen to those who speak out. All of Eisner’s sources feared having their names printed.

The same day’s Miami Herald ran articles about Panamanian citizen reactions, including concern over the hundreds of dead civilians: “Neighbors saw six U.S. truck loads bringing dozens of bodies” to a mass grave. As a mother watched the body of her soldier son lowered into a grave, her “voice rose over the crowd’s silence: ‘Damn the Americans.'”
This is one way that the Internet, good online journalism, blogs, Twitter and other social media have made a significant difference. In 1989, it could take days or weeks for reports like those just cited from Newsday and the Miami Herald that would disrupt the official narrative to circulate, now the netroots spread that information far more quickly and in ways that can significantly affect the real-time public perception of a military operation like that.

Sources for Hitler's racial theories in Mein Kampf

A new critical edition of Hitler's Mein Kampf has been published this month in Germany. It's the first edition allowed to be published legally there after the expiration of the postwar ban on its publication. (Alison Smale, Scholars Unveil New Edition of Hitler’s ‘Mein Kampf’ New York Times 12/01/2015; "Mein Kampf". Hitlers Buch wird neu aufgelegt Focus Online 04.01.2016)

This has occasioned new research into the book and its significance. One example is Roman Töppel's
"„Volk und Rasse“. Hitlers Quellen auf der Spur" Vierteljahrshefte für Zeitgeschichte 64:1 (2016). Töppel investigates the likely sources of the racial ideas elaborated in the "Volk und Rasse" chapter of Mein Kampf. And he gives every evidence of having approached the task with stereotypical German thoroughness.

In the process, he finds that the following are the most likely influences on the racial ideas in the "Volk und Rasse" chapter.
  • Paul Bang (1879–1945), author of Judas Schuldbuch. Eine deutsche Abrechnung (1919)
  • Erwin Baur (1875–1933)
  • Houston Stewart Chamberlain (1855–1927), one of the better-known anti-Semitic racial ideologues, author of The Foundations of the Nineteenth Century (1911)
  • Heinrich Claß (1868–1953), author of Wenn ich der Kaiser wär(1912)
  • Dietrich Eckart (1868–1923), who was an ideological mentor for Hitler in Munich, an early editor of the Völkischen Beobachter and author of Der Bolschewismus von Moses bis Lenin (published 1927)
  • Hans F. K. Günther (1891–1968), author of Ritter, Tod und Teufel (1920)
  • Eugen Fischer (1874–1967)
  • Theodor Fritsch (1852-1933), author of Handbuch der Judenfrage (1907)
  • Otto Hauser (1876–1944), author of Geschichte des Judentums (1921)
  • Julius Langbehn (1851–1907), author of Rembrandt als Erzieher (1906)
  • Fritz Lenz (1887–1976)
  • Alfred Rosenberg (1893-1946), longtime editor of the Nazi Party newspaper Völkischer Beobachter
  • Richard Wagner (1813-1833), the brilliant but notoriously anti-Semitic composer, author of "Das Judenthum in der Musik“ ("Judaism in Music") (1850)
Yes, it's a real rogues' gallery.

Baur, Fischer and Lenz were all three geneticists, who published a 1923 study called, "Grundriß der menschlichen Erblichkeitslehre und Rassenhygiene“ ("Outline of human hereditary tenets and racial hygiene"). They promoted such ideas as the notion that the less valuable races breed more prolifically than the more valuable ones, a notion that White Power politicians like Pat Buchanan still promote. They also advocated the idea that "true genius" was inherited and never the result of upbringing and education. That concept will be all too familiar to anyone who has listened to the tedious "heredity vs. upbringing" assertions typically of white racists in America. I learned long ago that when someone poses the rhetorical question "What's more important, inheritance or upbringing?" that you're about two sentences away from a lesson on how "us white folks sure are smarter than them blacks."

Dietrick Eckart (1868-1923), one of the nasty characters who influenced Hitler's racial propaganda in Mein Kampf

That's part of the reason I have to admire someone who can wade through this gutter literature and then write about it coherently and professionally. Because that's mostly what Hitler scooped up into his writing and speeches. There's no doubt that Hitler was shrewd and extremely talented as a politician. But his literary talents were not marked by brilliance. What he provided in Mein Kampf was a propagandist recycling of the anti-Semitic and radical right nationalist idea that he absorbed particularly in prewar Vienna and postwar Munich.

And as Töppel emphasizes repeatedly, it's not easy to track exactly which influences were most important for Hitler at the time he wrote Mein Kampf. Hitler's own claims are unreliable. He claimed, for instance, that all during his service in the German Army during the First World War, he carried around the five volume of Arthur Schopenhauer's The World as Will and Idea in his backpack. But Töppel explains that there is little evidence that Hitler had much if any direct acquaintance with the 19th-century philosopher's work. And that he probably learned much of what he did know of him before writing Mein Kampf was through Dietrich Eckart.

Töppel argues that the scholarship on Hitler's racial ideology has tended to overestimate the influence of several mostly unsavory characters: "geopolitical" theorist Karl Haushofer (1869-1946),; the American segregationist Madison Grant (1865-1937), at least not for the "Volk und Rasse" chapter; French anthropologist Georges Vacher de Lapouge (1854–1936); Joseph Adolf Lanz, aka, Jörg Lanz von Liebenfels (1874-1954), leader of a small Austrian esoteric racist religious sect he called the New Templar Order; and, Viennese occultist Guido von List (1848-1919). The groups of Lanz von Lebenfels and of List used the swastika as a favorite symbol; the swastika was adopted more widely by German-nationalist groups in Austria in the years before the First World War. As Brigitte Hamann notes in Hitlers Wien. Lehrjahre eines Ditators (1996), there is some evidence that Hitler may have been particularly impressed by List's valuation of the swastika as a Germanic symbol.

Töppel also rejects the idea that the novelist Karl May, who wrote cowboy-and-Indian stories set in the American Old West, was any significant influence on Hitler's racial ideology. Hitler's own claim to have read many Karl May novels as a child is totally credible. Because Karl May was incredibly popular among young German and Austria readers. To this day, any German or Austrian under 50 or so probably grew up reading Karl May stories. And those younger are familiar with him through the TV and movies based on his tales, like those of his American Indian character Winnetou.

Töppel stresses that Hitler was highly selective in the ideas he drew from his sources. He took the ones that fit the framework of his notion of the superior "Aryan" race whose most important enemy was the Jewish race. Töppel cites several instances in which sources important for him on some points explicitly rejected other ideas on which Hitler's racial narrative depended. And Hitler didn't care whether there was any actual scientific basis for the ideas on which he relied. He was doing hate propaganda, not scholarly work.

Töppel also notes, "„Mein Kampf“ enthält im Vergleich zu Hitlers Reden und zu völkischen Schriften des späten 19. und frühen 20. Jahrhunderts weder überraschend Neues noch viel Originäres." ("In comparison to Hitler's speeches and to völkish writings of the late 19th and early 20th centuries, Mein Kampf contains neither anything surprisingly new nor much original.")

Hitler's racial propaganda was particularly focused on making "the Jews" the scapegoat for all resentments:

So entwickelten sich „Jude“ und „jüdisch“ letztendlich zu Chiffren für alles, was die Nationalsozialisten bekämpften. Laut einer Aufzeichnung des Unternehmers Eduard August Scharrer (1880–1932) sagte Hitler bereits im Dezember 1922: „Kampf gegen das Judentum ist eines der Hauptmomente in der Orientierung der Massen der nationalsozialistischen Partei. Dieses Schlagwort kann nicht aufgegeben werden, denn dadurch wird erreicht, daß die Massen in jedem Gegner, der aufgezeigt wird, ihren Todfeind sehen und sich danach einstellen.“

[So "Jew" and "Jewish" developed in the end to code words for everything that the National Socialists were fighting against. According to a record of the businessman Eduard August Scharrer (1880–1932) said that Hitler as early as December 1922 said: "Fighting against Judaism is one of the chief moments in the orientation of the masses of the National Socialist Party. This slogan cannot be given up, because through it will be achieved that the masses will see their mortal enemy {the Jews} in every opponent that is designated {for them} and then direct their fire at them.]

Saturday, January 30, 2016

Another Clinton pseudoscandal

There's yet another round in the Hillary Clinton e-mail pseudoscandal, itself an outgrowth of the Hillary Benghazi!Benghazi!!Benghazi!!! pseudoscandal.

Christina Beck reports the latest round in Hillary Clinton's 22 'top secret' e-mails: A scandal revived? Christian Science Monitor 01/30/2016

Digby Parton takes on this latest flap (Top Secret political doubletalk Hullabaloo 01/30/2016). And I hope she's right in saying, "Anyway, from what I can gather Democrats and independents have finally figured out that the Republicans have been crying wolf with this stuff for decades so the only people who get excited about it anymore are the GOP and the media, the latter of which have been their usual irresponsible selves."

Digby relies on Max Fisher's article, The Hillary Clinton top-secret email controversy explained Vox 01/29/2016, which deals with the very key issue that it is not against the law or a violation of government rules to have received an e-mail that contains information that is later classified:

The reason this matters is that if they were immediately classified top secret, then that is a good sign that they contained information that is known as "born classified" — that it was information in itself obtained by classified channels or because it was generated internally by classified means. For example, if Clinton were emailing the secret US bombing plans for Libya, or sharing something that the French ambassador told her in confidence, that would be "born classified."

But if the information were classified only later, then that would indicate it was more banal, or that it was not classified for any reasons particular to the emails themselves. Again, see below on how a boring email could become marked as top secret.

According to a statement by the State Department, "These documents were not marked classified at the time they were sent."

In other words, they do not contain information that was "born classified," but rather fall into the vast gray area of things that do not seem obviously secret at the time but are later deemed that way — not always for good reason.
[my emphasis]
In other words, this latest Clinton pseudoscandal is yet another nothingburger.

Marcy Wheeler has been closely following various intelligence issues closely since Valerie Plame's exposure, The Leak Hypocrisy of the Hillary Shadow Cabinet Emptywheel 01/30/2016. She's also dismissive of the latest e-mail flap, saying, "I am sympathetic, in principle, to Hillary’s campaign claims that this is much ado about nothing."

But she goes on to note that Hillary's own position on classification and whistleblower issues has not been entirely consistent with her campaign's attitude on the e-mails.

That's a legitimate policy criticism and a very important issue. Overclassification is a serious issue that allows manipulations of the kind the Cheney-Bush Administration made in the lead-up to the Iraq War. And allows officials to cover up incompetence, deception and crime.

But there's no reason to think the latest claims against Clinton fall into those categories.

Wednesday, January 27, 2016

The Janus face of foreign policy "realism"

I read two posts today that together display the strengths and drawbacks of the "realist" theory of foreign policy thought.

Stephen Walt, my favorite advocate of the realist viewpoint, explains it briefly in What Would a Realist World Have Looked Like? Foreign Policy 01/08/2016:

Realism sees power as the centerpiece of political life and sees states as primarily concerned with ensuring their own security in a world where there’s no world government to protect them from others. Realists believe military power is essential to preserving a state’s independence and autonomy, but they recognize it is a crude instrument that often produces unintended consequences. Realists believe nationalism and other local identities are powerful and enduring; states are mostly selfish; altruism is rare; trust is hard to come by; and norms and institutions have a limited impact on what powerful states do. In short, realists have a generally pessimistic view of international affairs and are wary of efforts to remake the world according to some ideological blueprint, no matter how appealing it might be in the abstract.
He gives several examples of how a failure of realistic thinking has led to bad foreign policy decisions for the US.

Paul Pillar is also someone I often quote here. And his analyses are impressive. He identifies with the "realist" approach. But the examples he gives in The Forgotten Benefits of Offshore Balancing National Interest 01/27/2016 are a reminder of the grim side of foreign-policy "realism":

During the Iran-Iraq War of the 1980s, for example, the United States was officially neutral. When it appeared that Iraq would have difficulty keeping up the fight, the Reagan administration tilted toward Baghdad—a tilt that, in light of history that would unfold two decades later, made for strange bedfellows. Saddam Hussein's role as the original aggressor, his use of chemical weapons, and humanitarian considerations involving the enormous costs of the war to both sides took a back seat to the idea that the United States would not benefit from either side being a clear winner. It would be better from the standpoint of U.S. interests and the prevention of anyone gaining regional hegemony to have both sides suffer from an exhausting stalemate. The idea was valid, although the same U.S. policymakers later mishandled policy toward the war with what became the Iran-Contra scandal. [my emphasis]
James Carden also discusses the extent to which the "realist" perspective has been sidelined in practice in official circles in How Neocons Banished Realism Consortium News 01/16/2016.

He notes, as Walt also indicates, that the "liberal interventionists" have become largely indistinguishable from the neocons in practice.

Political pragmatism comes in various flavors

David Dayen has a good piece on Bernie Sanders' very pragmatic and effective role in enacting the ACA/Obamacare law: Sanders, Clinton, and the Big Lie of the “Possible” New Republic 01/26/2016.

And he reminds us of the kind of Democratic pragmatism that the Clinton camp is invoking against Sanders. As I'm writing this, I've just been watching reports on Univision about Obama's latest round of heartless deportations of Latinos. It's producing scenes like the one reported here: Exclusivo: Video muestra el arresto de una indocumentada frente a sus hijos Univision 01/27/2016.

This round is the result of yet another of President Obama's "bipartisan" gestures toward the Republicans. It's in brutal contrast to his nice rhetoric against the Republicans' xenophobic demagoguery.

I'm sick of this kind of "pragmatism."

David makes a straightforward point against the pragmatism argument that the Clinton camp is using against Sanders:

When you saw off every policy to what falls into the immediate range of possibility at the present moment, you give supporters little reason to organize behind your ideas. More important, you neglect the creative ways in which those seemingly unrealizable goals can be realized, no matter the situation in Congress.
He concludes with this expansion of his point:

The key to making progress in a polarized era comes with having more ideas available on the shelf when opportunities arise. It’s how an outrageous handout to big banks that lasted for over a hundred years suddenly got cut, with Mitch McConnell stealing the idea from the Progressive Caucus budget. It’s how the entire student loan system was overhauled as an add-on to the ACA, largely because of outside pressure and one senator taking a stand (in that case, Tom Harkin).

There’s a point at which you can manage the base into oblivion, and jump from dismissing Bernie Sanders to dismissing the largest wing of the Democratic Party. What’s more, telling a new crop of progressive legislators, from Zephyr Teachout to Elizabeth Warren, that they must content themselves with the art of the possible, and back off big ideas, is not only bad politics. It’s bad policy.
Paul Krugman continues to snipe at Bernie's health care plan. But in Potemkin Ideologies 01/26/2016 at his New York Times blog, he emphasizes the asymmetry of the debates in the Democratic and Republican primaries:
On the Democratic side, the argument is about a theory of change: voters really do care about progressive priorities, and are torn between two candidates who broadly have similar ideologies but have different visions of the politically possible.

What we’re seeing on the Republican side, by contrast, is that almost nobody except a handful of pundits and think-tank hired guns cares at all about the official party ideology. ...

What used to happen was that the conservative movement could basically serve the plutocracy, while mobilizing voters with racial/gender anxiety, all the while maintaining a facade of serious-minded libertarian philosophy. But now it’s broken down, and the real motives are out in the open.
He's being a bit generous to the Clinton camp there, though. Dan Roberts reports on what looks like old-fashioned redbaiting, in the days when "red" meant Communist instead of Republican (Sanders smeared as communist sympathiser as Clinton allies sling mud Guardian 01/22/2016):

... the attacks are likely to intensify nonetheless in the days leading up to the Iowa caucus according to a new document that delves into affiliations and statements made by the senator dating back decades.

The dossier, prepared by opponents of Sanders and passed on to the Guardian by a source who would only agree to be identified as “a Democrat”, alleges that Sanders “sympathized with the USSR during the Cold War” because he went on a trip there to visit a twinned city while he was mayor of Burlington.

Similar “associations with communism” in Cuba are catalogued alongside a list of quotes about countries ranging from China to Nicaragua in a way that supporters regard as bordering on the McCarthyite rather than fairly reflecting his views.

Sanders has insisted on many occasions this year that his own philosophy of democratic socialism is very different from that of authoritarian regimes, and much more in keeping with the tradition of American reformers such as Franklin D Roosevelt.
Politics is politics, as Joe Stalin said in a speech just after the Munich Agreement, a few months before signing the German-Soviet Nonaggression Pact. ("Politics is politics, as the old, case-hardened bourgeois diplomats say." Report 03/10/1939)