Monday, May 30, 2016

Confidence in Clinton's Competence?

Peter Daou runs the pro-Clinton website Blue Nation Review. In the complicated, make-believe world of campaigns these days, it's not clear if it's officially a Clinton campaign site. But it's a dogmatically Clinton-loyal site. Maybe "de facto Clinton campaign website" would be a better description. And it's often defensive in its positioning. Like Daou's article UNTOLD STORY: How Donald, Bernie and the Hostile Media Miscalculated Hillary’s Greatest Strength 05/29/2016. It addresses the "enthusiasm gap' that is one of the potential risks for the Democrats in the general election against the Republican Stormtrumpers. According to him, enthusiasm is Hillary's greatest asset! And, directing his words against the Main Enemy - Bernie Sanders - he's offended by the suggestion:

The utter and complete dismissal of 13 million Americans [Clinton's voters] is a travesty of historic proportions, but this article is about something different. It’s about how the jaw-droppingly ludicrous and demonstrably false “enthusiasm gap” narrative is a grave error by Hillary’s political and media opponents.

If your operating strategic assumption fails to account for your opponent’s greatest strength, you will most likely lose to them.
This reflexive defensiveness is one of the problems of the Clinton campaign's self-presentation at this point. Bob Kuttner has as a more realistic take on the challenge facing Hillary's campaign at this moment (Can Democrats Avoid the Circular Firing Squad? Huffington Post 05/29/2016):

The challenge is that Sanders has built one of American history’s most potent mass movements for progressive change, reflecting deep frustrations on the part of young and working class people, and they are not about to quietly step aside and let Clinton have the prize. Nor are they in any mood to listen to elders still repenting their youthful votes for Eldridge Cleaver rather than Hubert Humphrey in the fraught 1968 election, opening the way for Richard Nixon. Each generation gets to define its own politics and make its own judgments and mistakes.

If Clinton had some momentum, if she were not the victim of her own missteps, if she had found a plausible voice to puncture Trump’s pretentions [sic], then she would have a much stronger case that Sanders and his people should get on board. But it’s Sanders with the momentum, Clinton who keeps stumbling, and even her own strongest supporters are dismayed that her campaign seems mechanical and joyless. ...

The period between the last primaries and the convention is shaping up as a time of maximum risk for Democrats. Political logic dictates that Democrats should unite behind Clinton because of the greater threat of Trump. But she is such a flawed candidate that political passions in many quarters dictate otherwise.

Sanders evidently believes that not only that he should be the Democrats’ nominee but that if events break right, he still can. Assuming Hillary Clinton is nominated, it will take rare statesmanship and leadership for Sanders to urge his followers to support Clinton while he keeps on building a movement.
Musa Al-Gharbi is too negative on Clinton's prospects in this piece, We may be just this screwed: Donald Trump has an easier path to victory than you think Salon 05/29/2016. But he makes an important point here - although I wouldn't describe Obama's Presidency as "transformational":

Historically speaking, it is rare that a party that completed two terms in the Oval Office manages to win a third. Granted, Obama has been a transformational president, and his popularity remains high. However, the problem facing Hillary is that she’s not only going to be held to account for the failures and shortcomings of the Obama administration, but also of her husband’s tenure in office.

Consider: Despite Hillary Clinton’s unparalleled credentials, her historic potential as the first female POTUS, her early and nearly insurmountable delegate lead, and the near-unanimous and robust support from the Democratic Party establishment throughout—she is having trouble “closing the deal” for the nomination.

This is because, in many ways, the Democratic primary has been a referendum on Bill Clinton’s tenure—and many of his signature achievements, championed by Hillary Clinton at the time, don’t look so great in retrospect. From NAFTA, the repeal of Glass-Steagall, Wall Street deregulation, welfare reform, DOMA (the Defense of Marriage Act), “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell”—and of course, the infamous crime bills—despite Bill Clinton’s success at restoring the Democratic Party to national prominence, primary voters have taken an increasingly critical view of his legacy. This effect will be even more pronounced among Independent and Republican voters.
I'll quote again the New York Times article from this weekend:

William M. Daley, Mr. Obama’s former White House chief of staff, attributed any early shortcomings in taking on Mr. Trump to Mrs. Clinton’s prolonged primary battle against Mr. Sanders. The period between the June 7 contests and the July convention will reshape the race, he said.

To that end, Joel Benenson, Mrs. Clinton’s pollster and chief strategist, pointed out that at this stage in the 2008 primary battle against Mrs. Clinton, Mr. Obama led Senator John McCain by only two percentage points. He went on to defeat Mr. McCain by 7.2 percentage points.
I'm not sure that a slogan along the lines of, "This election is not about ideology, it's about confidence," is quite what the Democrats need:

Title of that video: 1988 DNC: Dukakis pitches 'competence.'

Enduring Cold War in Latin America

“Washington’s Cold War never ended in Latin America, and now they see their opportunity for 'rollback.'” - Mark WEisbrot, The Brazilian Coup and Washington’s “Rollback” in Latin America CEPR 05/26/2016

Weisbrot puts the current regime-change operations supported by the Obama Administration against Brazil (which has at least temporarily succeeded) and Brazil into this larger foreign policy context:

This is the kind of guy that Washington wants, very badly, in charge of Brazil’s foreign policy. Although corporations are obviously a big player in U.S. foreign policy, and they literally do much of the writing of commercial agreements like NAFTA and the TPP, the number one guiding principle in Washington’s foreign policy apparatus is not short-term profit but power. The biggest decision-makers, all the way up to the White House, care first and foremost about getting other countries to line up with U.S. foreign policy. They did not support the consolidation of the Honduran military coup because Honduran President Mel Zelaya raised the minimum wage, but because he headed a vulnerable left government that was part of the same broad alliance that included Brazil under the PT. These governments all supported each other, and they changed the norms of the region so that even non-left governments like Colombia under Juan Manuel Santos mostly went along with the others.

That is what Washington wants to change right now, and there is much excitement in This Town about the prospects for “a new regional order,” which is really the old regional order of the 20th century. It won’t succeed — even by their own measures of success — any more than George W. Bush succeeded in his vision of reshaping the Middle East by invading Iraq. But they could help facilitate a lot of damage trying.

Oil wealth plays a particular role in US policy toward Venezuela. As REuters reported in 2014, "Venezuela is Latin America's biggest exporter of crude oil and has the world's largest petroleum reserves." (Brian Ellsworth and Andrew Cawthorne, Venezuela death toll rises to 13 as protests flare Reuters 02/24/2014).

Weisbrot fleshes out Washington's role in the "soft coup" in Brazil a bit with this:

It is clear that the executive branch of the U.S. government favors the coup underway in Brazil, even though they have been careful to avoid any explicit endorsement of it. Exhibit A was the meeting between Tom Shannon, the 3rd ranking U.S. State Department official and the one who is almost certainly in charge of handling this situation, with Senator Aloysio Nunes, one of the leaders of the impeachment in the Brazilian Senate, on April 20. By holding this meeting just three days after the Brazilian lower house voted to impeach President Dilma Rousseff, Shannon was sending a signal to governments and diplomats throughout the region and the world that Washington is more than ok with the impeachment. Nunes returned the favor this week by leading an effort (he is chair of the Brazilian Senate Foreign Relations Committee) to suspend Venezuela from Mercosur, the South American trade bloc.

Secretario de la OEA Luis Almagro presentará informe sobre Venezuela la próxima semana AFP/Panorama 25.05.2016

R. Lenoir y M. Domínguez, ¿Está pensando la OTAN invadir Venezuela? Diario16 28.05.2016

Con mediación de expresidentes inició exploración para el diálogo desde Dominicana Panorama 28.05.2016

Rubio entregó a Obama nuevos nombres de venezolanos involucrados en corrupción Panorama 28.05.2016

Antonio María Delgado, Rubio entrega nuevos nombres para sanciones de funcionarios chavistas El Nuevo Herald 05/27/2016

Ronal Labrador Gelvis, Maduro: En Madrid se prepara un ambiente de guerra, quieren tomar las riquezas de Venezuela Panorama 27.05.2016

Kerry welcomes bid to spur talks between Venezuela, opposition Reuters 05/27/2016

Venezuela leader says U.S. 'dreams' of dividing loyal military Reuters 05/22/2016

Venezuela president declares emergency, cites U.S., domestic 'threats' Reuters 05/13/2016:

Venezuela's opposition is seeking to recall the unpopular leader, 53, amid a worsening crisis that includes food and medicine shortages, frequent power cuts, sporadic looting and galloping inflation.

But the former union leader and bus driver has vowed to stick out his term, and accuses the United States of fomenting an undercover coup against him. He pointed to this week's impeachment of fellow leftist Dilma Rousseff in Brazil as a sign that he is next.

"Washington is activating measures at the request of Venezuela's fascist right, who are emboldened by the coup in Brazil," Maduro said during a Friday night broadcast on state television.

Sunday, May 29, 2016

The goal of the "soft coup" in Brazil

Emir Sader, El asalto al poder en Brasil Pâgina/12 30.05.2016 on the goals of the "soft coup" that just ousted the elected gobernment of Dilma Rousseff of the Workers' Party (PT) in Brazil:
La cuestión de fondo al remover los gobiernos del PT es el restablecimiento del modelo neoliberal en Brasil, como ocurre en Argentina.

[The basic question in removing the governments of the PT is the reestablishment of the neoliberal model in Brazil, as has occurred in Argentina.]
At least in Argentina, this was accomplished through the normal democratic process, not by an illegitimate overturning of election results.

Clinton caution and the Democrats' prospects in November

It's always a challenged to guess what kind of spin(s) may be behind anonymous sources talking about current political campaigns.

With that huge caution in mind, this passage in Amy Chozick et al, Hillary Clinton Struggles to Find Footing in Unusual Race New York Times 05/28/25016 caught my attention:

Ken Salazar, the former Colorado senator who has been mentioned as a possible Clinton running mate, said the campaign should draw a sharp contrast between Mr. Trump’s shortcomings and Mrs. Clinton’s potential to be “the most qualified person to be president in our lifetime.”

“The campaign needs to expose Donald Trump as the opposite — selfish, egomaniac, divisive and unqualified to be president,” Mr. Salazar said in an email.
A Democratic Presidential campaign based on Competence? Well, it worked extremely well for President Michael Dukakis. No, wait ...

Here's another on-the-record comment:

William M. Daley, Mr. Obama’s former White House chief of staff, attributed any early shortcomings in taking on Mr. Trump to Mrs. Clinton’s prolonged primary battle against Mr. Sanders. The period between the June 7 contests and the July convention will reshape the race, he said.

To that end, Joel Benenson, Mrs. Clinton’s pollster and chief strategist, pointed out that at this stage in the 2008 primary battle against Mrs. Clinton, Mr. Obama led Senator John McCain by only two percentage points. He went on to defeat Mr. McCain by 7.2 percentage points.
Two of the Clinton campaigns favorite lines right now: it's all Bernie's fault, and those polls about Clinton's declining competitiveness with Trump don't mean anything.

Of course, it's a conventional pitch to say that your primary competitors are helping the opposition party.

One problem with that argument, especially when it's repeated incessantly, is that it can sound like a peremptory excuse for losing in November. And that's a problem that has plagued the Democratic Party for decades: they've gotten way too used to losing.

It can also complicate any effort to reconcile Sanders' supporters with Clinton's fall candidacy.

And while it's true that polls this far out from the election are good enough to bet a large sum of one personal savings on, it's also true that both Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton are very well known to the voting public. So the poll results on those two individuals would presumably carry more weight than some previous Presidential election polls taken at similar phases of the election process.

Donald Trump is a deeply flawed candidate and by no means a shoo-in for the fall election. But running on competency and downplaying the Democratic brand is also a high-risk strategy for the Clinton campaign in the fall.

And blaming Sanders ahead of time for a fall loss is a cop-out. As Sanders told Chuck Todd on today's Meet the Press (Transcript 05/29/2016):

Well, the responsibility that I accept in a very, very serious way is to do everything that I can to make sure that Donald Trump will not become elected president of the United States. Donald Trump, for a dozen different reasons, would be a disaster as president. I will do everything that I can to make sure that does not happen.

But at the end of the day, whether it's Secretary Clinton of Bernie Sanders or Donald Trump, anybody else, the way you gain support is through the candidate himself or herself. So my job is to make sure that Trump does not become president. And I will do that. But if Secretary Clinton is the nominee, it is her job to reach out to millions of people and make the case as to why she is going to defend working families and the middle, provide healthcare for all people, take on Wall Street, deal aggressively with climate change. That is the candidate's job to do.
He also outlined again some of the major differences on issues between Hillary and him:

I'll tell you, I have a real problem with The New York Times, which from day one, has been trying to be dismissive of our campaign and be very negative about our campaign. You can go out and you can talk to millions of people and you any get response that you want. Our campaign is about defeating Secretary Clinton on the real issues.

I want to break up the Wall Street banks. She doesn't. I want to raise the minimum wage to 15 bucks an hour. She wants $12 an hour. I voted against the War in Iraq. She voted for the War in Iraq. I believe we should ban fracking. She does not. I believe we should have tax on carbon and deal aggressively with climate change. That is not her position. Those are some of the issues that I am campaigning on that The New York Times goes around, when they talk to a handful of people and do a front-page story, that's a problem for The New York Times, not for my campaign. ...

My point was, and let me repeat it, that for Democrats to win, they're going to have to address the needs of working people. They're going to have to address the needs of the middle class.

And that means standing up to Wall Street, standing up to the greed of corporate America. Even now and then, standing up to the media. And that means having a candidate who can excite working families, excite young people, bring them into the political process, create a large voter turnout.

And when we do that, we're going to win the election. So I would hope, if I am not the nominee, that the vice presidential candidate will not be from Wall Street, will be somebody who has a history of standing up and fighting for working families, taking on the drug companies whose greed is doing so much harm, taking on Wall Street, taking on corporate America, and fight for a government that works for all of us, not just the one percent. [my emphasis]

Can we please stop using "working class" as a synonym for "rightwing"?

Whenever I want a bedrock definition for a term or concept, the Encyclopædia Britannica usually comes to mind early. I learned repeatedly in my basic schooling that it's not fair to use an encyclopedia as a source, at least not in school research papers. But Britannica is still an excellent source. It often includes articles by leading authorities. Famous examples include Sigmund Freud's, "Psychoanalysis," Albert Einstein's "Space-time," James Henry Breasted's "Ikhnaton," Glenn Seaborg's "Plutonium," T.E. Lawrence's "Guerilla," Marie Curie and Irène Curie's "Radium," Bertrand Russell's "Relativity, philosophical consequences of," and Orville Wright on his brother Wilbur.

So, wanting to say something about how sloppily the political press uses "working class," I resorted to Britannica's article Social class:

The upper class in modern capitalist societies is often distinguished by the possession of largely inherited wealth. The ownership of large amounts of property and the income derived from it confer many advantages upon the members of the upper class. They are able to develop a distinctive style of life based on extensive cultural pursuits and leisure activities, to exert a considerable influence on economic policy and political decisions, and to procure for their children a superior education and economic opportunities that help to perpetuate family wealth.

Historically, the principal contrast with the upper class in industrial societies was provided by the working class, which traditionally consisted of manual workers in the extractive and manufacturing industries. Given the vast expansion of the service sector in the world’s most advanced economies, it has been necessary to broaden this definition to include in the working class those persons who hold low-paying, low-skilled, nonunionized jobs in such service industries as food service and retail sales. There are considerable differences within the working class, however, and a useful distinction exists between skilled, semiskilled, and unskilled workers that broadly corresponds with differences in income level. What characterizes the working class as a whole is a lack of property and dependence on wages. Associated with this condition are relatively low living standards, restricted access to higher education, and exclusion, to a large extent, from the spheres of important decision making. Aside from the dramatic rise in living standards that occurred in the decades after World War II, the main factor affecting the working class in the second half of the 20th century was a general shift in the economy from manufacturing to service industries, which reduced the number of manual workers. In the United States and Britain, among other countries, the decline in traditional manufacturing industries left a core of chronically unemployed persons isolated from the economic mainstream in decaying urban areas. This new urban substratum of permanently jobless and underemployed workers has been termed the underclass by some sociologists.

The middle class may be said to include the middle and upper levels of clerical workers, those engaged in technical and professional occupations, supervisors and managers, and such self-employed workers as small-scale shopkeepers, businessmen, and farmers. At the top—wealthy professionals or managers in large corporations—the middle class merges into the upper class, while at the bottom—routine and poorly paid jobs in sales, distribution, and transport—it merges into the working class. [my emphasis]
This view broadly agrees with the approach of classical political economy from Adam Smith to Karl Marx. As James Oakes has written, "Marx was after all, the last of the great classical economists, those who concerned themselves with how wealth was produced and therefore, how labor was organized. We do not think that way anymore, especially not after the revival of market ideology in the 1980s," i.e., the rise to dominance of what is now called neoliberalism. ("The Peculiar Fate of the Bourgeois Critique of Slavery" in Oakes, ed, Slavery and the American South (2003).

While Britannica's definition isn't the be-all and end-all. But it makes the basic distinction that classes are only meaningfully defined in terms of the social and economic system. That's why the popular term "middle class" in the United States, which basically lets 95% of the people plausibly describe themselves as part of the middle class, is so generally useless as a description of any social phenomenon. It shouldn't be too much of an effort to recognize that the the business-owner of a small restaurant chain may actually have a net financial worth less than that of a skilled factory worker who has owned a small house in an major urban area for the last 45 years. But the position of one in the economic order provides a very different viewpoint of the system that that of the other, even if both may agree in favoring some particular set of economic policies. To the restaurant chain owner on the edge of bankruptcy, Donald Trump's idea that American wages are too high may have a more urgent rational appeal than it does to the factory worker with large equity in his house and union-defended pension plan may not see such urgency in adopting such a policy. Which, from the standpoint of the economy as a whole, is deeply irrational, if one believes that the economy should serve the well-being of everyone.

One thing the multiple pathologies of our national press corps are doing is to lazily identify Trump's supporters as the "white working class." Blacks and Latinos are often referred to as ethnic blocs in discussing voting. The fact that a large part of the American working class is black and Latino. The punditocracy thus tends to talk about the white working class as the working class more generally. And they identify this imagined (white) working class as culturally and politically conservative-to-reactionary. Plus, it's a favorite conceit of our Pod Pundits that they speak for this imagined working class. David "Bobo" Brooks periodically indulges this posture. The late Tim Russert made it a part of his thoroughly conventional and Establishment public persona. (See: Michael Carlson, Tim Russert The Guardian 06/15/2008: "Russert, who was born in Buffalo, New York, always defined himself by his working-class Irish roots.")

Molly Ball in The Trumpian Divide The Atlantic Online 05/27/2016 write about a Trump appearance in Anaheim, "the country-club crowd mingled with the Trumpenproletariat."

Even Marcy Wheeler partially falls into this trap in Pat Buchanan, Dick Cheney, and American Exceptionalism Emptywheel 05/29/2016. She's making an important and interesting point about the white supremacist ideology shared by the presumptive Republican Presidential nominee and Spiro Agnew's onetime speechwriters Pat Buchanan: "Buchanan not only talks about declining economic prospects of white working class men, the relatively improved fortunes of people of color, but especially about the plight of white men losing their myths of superiority, losing the myth that white men made this country and led the world without the often-coerced labor and deaths of lots of brown people."

But it's at best an overstatement to assume that the "declining economic prospects of white working class men" is a particularly distinctive feature of Trump's support. The economic prospects of working class men have declined during the long, bipartisan dominance of neoliberal/Herbert Hoover/Angela Merkel economics that began in the US with St. Reagan's Administration. And Trump certainly does attract a significant number of white working class voters.

But like the Tea Party movement, those attracted to Trump are more affluent voters. Nate Silver wrote earlier this month (The Mythology Of Trump’s ‘Working Class’ Support Five Thirty Eight 5/03/2016):

It’s been extremely common for news accounts to portray Donald Trump’s candidacy as a “working-class” rebellion against Republican elites. There are elements of truth in this perspective: Republican voters, especially Trump supporters, are unhappy about the direction of the economy. Trump voters have lower incomes than supporters of John Kasich or Marco Rubio. And things have gone so badly for the Republican “establishment” that the party may be facing an existential crisis.

But the definition of “working class” and similar terms is fuzzy, and narratives like these risk obscuring an important and perhaps counterintuitive fact about Trump’s voters: As compared with most Americans, Trump’s voters are better off. The median household income of a Trump voter so far in the primaries is about $72,000, based on estimates derived from exit polls and Census Bureau data. That’s lower than the $91,000 median for Kasich voters. But it’s well above the national median household income of about $56,000. It’s also higher than the median income for Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders supporters, which is around $61,000 for both.

These figures, as I mentioned, are derived from exit polls, which so far have been conducted in 23 primary states.1 The exit polls have asked voters to describe their 2015 family income by using one of five broad categories, ranging from “under $30,000” to “$200,000 or more.” It’s fairly straightforward to interpolate a median income for voters of each candidate from this data; for instance, we can infer that the median Clinton voter in Wisconsin made about $63,000.
As I indicated earlier, a meaningful structural definition of working class doesn't map simplistically onto income or net worth data. But it's a more useful measure than the customary Pod Pundit definition of working class as people without four-year college degrees.

Silver concludes his column:

This is not to say that Trump voters are happy about the condition of the economy. Substantial majorities of Republicans in every state so far have said they’re “very worried” about the condition of the U.S. economy, according to exit polls, and these voters have been more likely to vote for Trump. But that anxiety doesn’t necessarily reflect their personal economic circumstances, which for many Trump voters, at least in a relative sense, are reasonably good.
And I'll close by suggesting that generalizations about Trump's "working class" support should make a careful distinction between white Southern working-class Trump supporters and those not from formerly Confederate states.

It's important in these things to maintain the ability to walk and talk at the same time. Gender is also fundamental in shaping social consciousness. And "whiteness" is a key part of American political and social consciousness. So both function as distinct influences on political decisions, as Adele Stan reminds us in these two American Prospect articles: Will Trump’s ‘Man Card’ Play to Women? and, White Supremacy and Trump's Battle for the 'Soul of America' 05/06/2016, which also emphasizes the Pat Buchanan tradition.

Saturday, May 28, 2016

Short take on the problem of Hillary Clinton as the Democratic nominee

From Russ Wellen, Hillary Clinton Animated by the Spirit of Scoop Jackson Foreign Policy in Focus 05/20/2016:

Electing Hillary Clinton president gives the Democratic Party license to think it can continue to run a candidate for president that can bring in the money, but whose politics lags behind Democratic voters. Thus condemning the party to unnecessarily close victories or losses. Worse: we will be stuck with a president content to make incremental changes in a time of emergency that calls for sweeping gestures.

Speculating (politically) on the woes of petrostates

Oil economics is tricky. But this article definitely flags some important issues: Petr Aven et al, Twilight of the Petrostate The National Interest 05/17/2016. They write:

Oil-producing countries have been living a dream. In recent decades, most oil-producing countries saw their per-capita GDP not only expand but show a rate of growth above the global average. In other words, they were getting rich faster than the rest of the world. In terms of dollar-denominated GDP per capita, as crude prices peaked in 2011 Russia and Kazakhstan outstripped Malaysia and Turkey; Saudi Arabia and Equatorial Guinea nearly overtook South Korea; Kuwait shot ahead of Great Britain, while Qatar rose to rank as one of the three richest nations. The new generation of the petrostates' political elite has come to look on oil rent as a means to achieve all its goals. And yet, many experts will call the oil windfall a curse, not a blessing. A prosperity that is due to the sheer accident of owning large mineral resources rather than to technological prowess, investment and hard work has its downsides, including the degradation of political systems, the throttling of competition and the proliferation of populist fiscal policies.
They describe in terms of economic rent how the global oil business is changing:

Over the course of human history many rent-generating commodities capable of enriching their owners have turned into ordinary products. Pricing becomes determined by production costs rather than scarcity value. The readiest example is land, which has seen the rent component of its price steadily decline over millennia and has thus gradually ceased to be the main cause of armed conflicts. Other cases include furs, which generated rent for Russia into the eighteenth century, and natural rubber, which fed the Amazon boom in the early 1900s.

Inevitably, technological progress reduced the scarcity value for many commodities. A rent-generating commodity could also suffer a fall in demand when a less expensive substitute of similar quality comes to the market. The story of natural and synthetic rubber is a prime example. ...

Oil is now subject to just such pressures from both demand and supply.
But neoliberal economic thinking is ubiquitous these days. So Aven et al argue that the problems currently facing the poorer petrostates have to been addressed by budget cuts and more budget cuts. The same prescription that neoliberal orthodoxy demands for all economic situations, good, bad and in between. "An oversized, unbalanced budget, especially in a relatively poor country, is a clear sign of irresponsible populism."

"Irresponsible populism," like "corruption," is a favorite epithet to be thrown at governments who don't conform to the neoliberal/Herbert Hoover/Angela Merkel "Washington Consensus."

Then in discussing Russia, the authors do a quick re-fighting of the Cold War, in which the Soviet Union in the mid-1960s had the chance to develop in the virtuously capitalistic direction that China has. "The last hope of change vanished with the Prague Spring of 1968, which taught the Soviet leadership one thing: even a small concession to liberalism could have tremendous, unpredictable consequences."

It's a good sign that someone is running of conventional wisdom they have no expectation of being challenged by their audience when huge leaps of faith are made without a blink. Russia in 1917 had a small but important industrial base. After the Second World War, it (as the Soviet Union) had become highly industrialized and was a developed country by any imaginable definition. China is still a developing country. And part of the reason for the tendency to slower growth in China is that as a country reaches a more developed state, the possibilities for rapid growth are reduced. Aven et al make it sound like the same phenomenon in the Soviet Union was purely a policy choice by the bad Commies.

A policy choice which they say was due to the Soviets recognizing that "even a small concession to liberalism could have tremendous, unpredictable consequences." Maybe they mean that purely in terms of liberal economic policies. But it's not widely assumed that China has undergone a lot of political liberalization. They are still ruled by a Communist government and continue to practice policies like capital controls that are heresy to the neoliberal consensus.

After all the convolutions of the argument, it's hard to tell how much weight one should put on their argument that dependency on oil revenue didn't cause but did hasten the downfall of the USSR:

To be sure, the Soviet Union's main economic problem was not oil dependence. Oil or no oil, the Soviet planning system was doomed to collapse one day. But it was oil price swings that determined the timing of its demise. Expensive crude stalled economic reform and then a sharp drop in oil prices exacerbated the pain of the country's transition to democracy and a free market. But for this drop, the Soviet Union could have survived for another couple of decades.
By the end, we get what seems suspiciously like a pitch for regime change effort here, there, and most everywhere based on a global opportunity supposedly presented by the current slump in oil prices:

First, the populist regimes in Venezuela, Ecuador and Algeria, which are the most financially vulnerable today, are going to be hit hard. Indeed, Latin America as a whole is certain to veer to the right. The rulers in Ecuador and Venezuela, as well as in Venezuela-sponsored Cuba, have already been scared by the triumph of right-wing forces in Argentina. While liberal reforms will hardly bring about an immediate improvement in people's lives, left-wing populism is certain to start losing its grip on the continent.

Second, the post-Soviet space is in for a major shift in the balance of power. Until now, economic integration within it has been underpinned by Russia's oil and gas revenues, the trade breaks that Russia offered and its vast labor market where millions of Central Asian migrants could earn enough money to support their families back home. This cooperation model is on the way out. A new one must be established if Russia doesn’t want to lose its regional leadership once again. Unless much-needed domestic reform occurs in Russia, Azerbaijan and Kazakhstan (which is the only one of the three to have made half-hearted reform noises), the countries that depend on their own or Russian oil revenues will face social and economic upheaval. The repercussions may transcend borders, as hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of people flee their homes.

Third, the Middle East will see its balance of power recast. Iran, Turkey and Israel are well placed to increase their influence as Saudi Arabia's dominance wanes due to its declining oil wealth. There is a chance of political liberalization in Iran. Falling oil prices may also serve as a trigger for a major redrawing of borders and the emergence of monoethnic or monoreligious states. In this context, a break-up of Syria and Iraq appears probable. Violent conflicts are most likely in the near term, as regional governments seek to divert popular attention from domestic problems and to solve them by getting their hands on their neighbors' resources. It is hardly a coincidence that the last time Iraq's oil revenue shrank the country invaded Kuwait. In the longer term, however, violence will subside if prices stay low. The belligerents will run out of the funds necessary to finance war efforts. [my emphasis]
And there's a standard warning about the bogeyman of isolationism in US foreign policy, which would inevitably, in their view, lead to scary, scary Chinese dominance of the world.

But they see Francis Fukuyama's End of History on the horizon once again: "The full enjoyment of Western comforts and technologies will no longer be compatible with a negation of its values and institutes [sic]."

The lesson they offer for the petrostates targeted for regime change is between the Washington Consensus and the accompanying US dominance, on the one hand, and development of their own countries' eocnomies. Or, in the jargon they use: "Now is the time for petrostates to awaken from their long oil dream and choose between the first and the third worlds."

Thursday, May 26, 2016

Clinton's secret progressivism?

Hillary Clinton has definitely taken numerous progressive positions.

But her messaging has been of a more conservative tone. This is still the best description of her general approach to Bernie Sanders in the primaries:

Eliza Newlin Carney suggests that it would be good strategy for her to emphasize popular progressive positions as the general election approaches in Clinton's Best Defense The American Prospect 05/26/2016:

Another, more successful approach—one that Clinton has largely ignored—would be for her to actually campaign on the political money reform platform that she rolled out in September. Clinton won kudos from watchdogs when she pledged to reverse the Supreme Court’s 2010 Citizens United v. FEC ruling, pull back the curtain on secret money in elections, and match low-dollar campaign contributions with public funds.

Clinton’s reform platform is similar to that of Bernie Sanders, but she’s done little to talk it up. When the campaign reform group Every Voice held focus groups in Cleveland earlier this year, says the group’s president David Donnelly, voters given Clinton’s political money platform without hearing who authored it invariably identified it as a Sanders plan. Moreover, Donnelly notes, once participants learned the plan was Clinton’s, they were more inclined to back her.

“She has a tremendous opportunity to seize this issue and inoculate herself against some of the worst criticisms that have been leveled against her,” says Donnelly. Progressive organizers have set out to convince Clinton to champion campaign reform more aggressively. Trump has handed Clinton an opening, by embracing the GOP donor class on the heels of his boasts that self-funding kept him above the fray. And even Sanders, for all his attacks on Wall Street—and on Clinton, for her financial sector ties — has spent little time on the stump talking about actual campaign-finance solutions. [my emphasis in bold]
It's obviously tempting for anyone to think that having a candidate focus on their one's own favorite positions would also be the most effective for the candidate. So I'll note here that it's always possible that Clinton's internal polls may indicate that in some key swing states like Florida, Ohio and Pennsylvania she would have a better chance against Trump if she emphasizes the wars she wants to start and if she does some sort of (nudge-nudge) indications that she doesn't really like black people all that much (wink-wink). Military belligerency and "Sister Souljah moments," in other words. That doesn't mean it would be right if she approached it that way. But voters are real flesh-and-blood people, not abstract moral constructs.

I seriously doubt that's the case. Democratic turnout will be fundamental. And that argues for emphasizing issues that will energize working-class voters of all races and on issues that mobilize Democratic-leaning organizations like labor unions.

But her current Stronger Together, I-work-across-the-aisle-and-I-really-love-Republicans approach certainly doesn't strike me as the ideal way to implement the latter emphasis.

Dahlia Lithwick has one of the few really reflective pieces I've seen focusing on the Bernie-Hillary context (Fellow Liberals, Let’s Stop Doing These Things Slate 05/26/2016): "When we over-identify with the grievances of our candidates, everything starts to sound like a personal insult."

She closes with this general statement, which conveys the tone of her reflections:

If we are treating our friends and allies like we treat our enemies, we are not really a movement so much as a collective of grievances. This may be a good moment to try to think our way through it — not only to defeat the Lethal Orange Narcissist, but in service of the values this country was founded on: the obligation to listen, the right to disagree, and the ability to move on.

Wednesday, May 25, 2016

Electable Hillary's supporters talk up the idea of changing DNC chairs

Democratic Chair Debbie Wasserman Shultz, BFF of the payday-loan bitness, is taking some heat for her May 17 anathema against Bernie Sanders and all his supporters (Alexander Bolton, Dems discuss dropping Wasserman Schultz The Hill 05/24/2016):

Following the uproar at the Nevada convention earlier this month, some pro-Clinton lawmakers wanted Sanders to call for party unity, but he opted instead to rip the party establishment.

“Unfortunately, the senator’s response was anything but acceptable,” Wasserman Schultz told CNN. “It certainly did not condemn his supporters for acting violently or engaging in intimidation tactics, and instead added more fuel to the fire.”

That response struck many Democrats — Clinton and Sanders supporters alike — as tone-deaf.

“It’s very important for her to adopt a role of pouring oil on troubled waters. She did the opposite last week when she poured gasoline on the events that occurred in Nevada,” said Sen. Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.), the only member of the Senate who has endorsed Sanders.
More on corporate Dem DWS:

Bill Moyers and Michael Winship, Democrats Can’t Unite Unless Wasserman Schultz Goes! Moyers & company 05/20/2016

Amy Sherman, Florida politicians and parties got $2.5 million from payday lenders, group says Miami Herald 05/10/2016

Greg Allen, Bernie Sanders Endorses The Man Trying To Unseat The Democratic Party Chair NPR/KQED 05/07/2016

Don't block limits on payday loans: Editorial Orlando Sentinel 04/26/2016

Bill Moyers and Michael Winship, Time for These Two Democrats to Go Moyers & company 03/22/2016

Bethany McLean (one of the best financial journalists), Payday Lending: Will Anything Better Replace It? The Atlantic May 2016

The 2016 Clinton brand and a third Obama term

I must admit that I'm surprised at the intensity of the division in the Democratic Party over Bernie Sanders and Hillary Clinton.

Maybe it's because of my own recollection of the 2008 Presidential race, in which I preferred Obama to Clinton but was never an adoring fan. The single biggest reason I preferred Obama to Clinton was that he had publicly opposed the invasion of Iraq while Clinton had voted in favor of it in the Senate. On what turned out to be Obama's signature domestic achievement as President, heath insurance reform, Clinton's proposal included mandatory participation and Obama's did not. That made it look more "left" to me if only because the mandatory participation was essential to making any such program practical. And, in fact, Obama included that feature in what became the ACA/Obamacare.

I also was dubious about Obama's no-red-America-no-blue-America "postpartisan" talk. With very good reason, as it turned out. (See: "Grand Bargain") My thought was that despite her inclination to "triangulation" to appeal to conservatives, she would surely not be under any illusions about the Republicans wanting to make nice with her. Nor would she be overly optimistic about the treatment she would receive from the mainstream press.

Also, George Bush was still President. After the theft of the Florida vote via the Supreme Court in 2000 and the success of the Cheney-Bush Administration in creating a new kind of nationalistic, warmongering consensus after the 9/11 attacks, Democratic partisans and activists were especially eager for Democrats to show some fight. And I applied Lincoln's description of Gen. Grant to Hillary: she fights.

We have a different political scene today. We've had a Democratic President for eight years. Obama is popular. But the Republicans have effectively blocked him from enacting any major new programs and have even blocked a lot of regular governmental business from getting done. Obama has also spent eight years trying to blur rather than distinguish the Democratic "brand" by framing issues in Republican terms. And, in the case of his repeated efforts for a Grand Bargain to cut benefits on Social Security and Medicare, he actually proposed reactionary measures that the Republicans could hang around the necks of the Democrats even while wanting to go further in that direction themselves. And the Republicans made good use of the Social Security issue against the Democrats. Proposing cuts in Social Security and Medicare benefits was one of the greatest gifts that Obama could have given to the Republican Party.

Hillary Clinton is still a "fighting Dem." But in 2016, she looks much more comfortable fighting the progressive Democrats than she is in fighting Republicans. She'll fight Trump, of course. But her latest branding of "Stronger Together" so far involves talk like "work across the aisle" and "budget deficit." After eight years of Obama de-branding the Democratic Party, this kind of talk is potentially far more damaging to Democratic chances in 2016 than it was in 2008.

Put another way, Clinton's current strategy looks like it was focus narrowly on the binary choice between her and Donald Trump for President. But not on building a mandate for distinct Democratic policies and programs. Or even a Democratic framing of the issues!

Jim Naureckas takes a jaundiced look at the idea of Bill Clinton's Administration as some kind of Democratic mini-Golden Age in Bill Clinton Brought Democrats Back to Life: A Zombie Idea That Won’t Die FAIR 05/23/2016:

Bill Clinton came into office with 258 Democratic House members, which was at the time a fairly typical number. The Democrats had controlled the House every Congress but two since 1931; even when the Republican presidential candidate won in landslides in 1972 and 1984, the GOP didn’t manage to win more than 192 House seats.

Then came Clinton’s triangulation, which, as Shribman writes, allowed Clinton to pass “major parts of his agenda, from a trade deal with Mexico and Canada to welfare reform to a crime bill.” The NAFTA trade pact in particular alienated a key part of the Democratic coalition–the labor unions. This led directly to the 1994 midterm massacre, in which the Democrats lost 52 seats and control of the House; since then, the Democrats have only controlled the House twice.

Likewise, Clinton came in with 57 Democratic senators, and lost nine of those seats in the 1994 midterms. Since then, the Senate has mostly been Republican-controlled; it wasn’t until 2009 that there were more than 50 Democrats in the Senate.

The Democrats had big losses on the state level under Clinton as well. From the late 1950s onward, Democrats had a big advantage in state houses that continued almost unbroken through the Nixon and Reagan eras. That ended in 1994; since then, party control of state legislatures has on balance favored Republicans.
That means, for instance, that a Democratic candidate in 1992 concentrating on the binary Presidential choice - actually Ross Perot was a significant third-party candidate that year - was acting in a significantly stronger position for the Democratic Party as a whole than what we have in 2016.

Even if Obama hadn't worked so hard to blur the Democratic Party brand, we've had a Democratic President for eight years. Historical pattern isn't destiny. But 1932-1953 was the last time the Democrats held the Presidency for more than two consecutive terms, under Franklin Roosevelt and Harry Truman. Here is the partisan White House record since then:

1953-1961: Republican
1961-1969: Democratic
1969-1977: Republican
1977-1981: Democratic
1981-1993: Republican (though Al Gore actually won the 2000 election)
1993-2001: Democratic
2001-2009: Republican
2009-2017: Democratic

During that time, segregation put up a ferocious fight to survive, suffered major defeats and went into eclipse, migrated from the Democratic to the Republican Party in the South, and is now once again ascendant with the Republican Party nationally committed to it.

But for all the shifts, there is still something to the idea that a non-trivial people have a tendency to go tired of the same party in office. And with the Presidency the biggest of all political prizes, the voters are offered intense pitches invited them to "throw the bums out," as the old saying goes.

I've heard Jerry Brown tell a version of the story from Plutarch of the ancient Athenian politician, Aristides (530 BCE–468 BCE). The current Wikipedia entry for Aristides tells it this way:

The conflict between [Aristides and Themistocles] ended in the ostracism [exile from Athens] of Aristides at a date variously given between 485 and 482. It is said that, on this occasion, an illiterate voter who did not recognise Aristides approached the statesman and requested that he write the name of Aristides on his voting shard to ostracize him. The latter asked if Aristides had wronged him. "No," was the reply, "and I do not even know him, but it irritates me to hear him everywhere called 'the Just'." Aristides then wrote his own name on the ballot.
Here's the version of Jerry's quote from Jerry Brown votes, talks Greek history [Updated] Los Angeles Times 11/02/2010:

"My father used to tell me about Aristides the Just, the Athenian politician that was exiled because they got tired of hearing 'Aristides the Just,' " Brown told reporters after casting his ballot. "You gotta remember name recognition is good, but name repetition and the repetition of ads can be very debilitating, and I think that’s a lesson I learned a long time ago."
My point on the 2016 election is that it's important for a party seeking a third White House term to offer something more interesting and exciting than just normalcy and continuity. If the pitch comes off as presenting the current situation as the best of all possible worlds, as Clinton's does at times, that's even worse.

So analyses like this strike me as risky overconfidence: Ed Kilgore, How Running for ‘Obama’s 3rd Term’ Became a Political Asset for Hillary Clinton New York 05/25/2016.

I see that Thomas Edsall is offering us his own typically tortured version of conventional wisdom in How Do You Solve a Problem Like Trump? New York Times 05/25/2016. Edsall seems perennially eager to believe that defending racial and gender equality is a bad, bad thing for the Democrats. I'm tempted - but only barely - to want to say he actually has a useful point buried in here. But I don't actually see it.

I do think Clinton's campaign likes a defining theme. Trump's de facto theme of Make American White Again is a despicable message. But it is a rallying point for the Stormtrumper Republicans.

However, that is not the point Edsall is making:

In theory, Donald Trump is eminently beatable. His negative ratings are stratospheric. He is reckless, ignorant of rudimentary policy matters and all too ready to speak without forethought or deliberation.

Still, as we near the close of the primary season, Hillary Clinton has somehow succeeded in turning the election into a close contest that she could conceivably lose. She retains key advantages in areas where Trump is vulnerable, but she has also ceded ground to him on the visceral terrain of nativism and anti-immigrant fervor, of a yearning for a return to the days of America’s unquestioned global pre-eminence.
In other words, he is saying Hillary is just not appealing enough to xenophobia and white racism. Yuck! That's Tom Edsall. He's been singing that same song for over two decades. It's just he varies the verses every now and then.

Monday, May 23, 2016

Reading the messy tea leaves of politics and history

Michael Lind has done some good work over on analyzing the far right in US politics. His book Made in Texas : George W. Bush and the Southern takeover of American politics (2003) is very helpful in understanding not only the Shrub Bush Administration but also the evolution of Republican ideology and, in particular, why so many crackpot ideas are churned out by the Texas Republicans. His Rev. Robertson’s Grand International Conspiracy Theory from the 02/02/1995 issue of the New York Review of Books is a classic.

But the whole complex of issues around multiculturalism seems to have always bugged him. And it can lead him astray, which I would argue is what happens in This Is What the Future of American Politics Looks Like Politico 05/22/2016. His analysis of the current consituencies of the two major US parties is both too neat and not specific enough: "Today’s Republican Party is predominantly a Midwestern, white, working-class party with its geographic epicenter in the South and interior West. Today’s Democratic Party is a coalition of relatively upscale whites with racial and ethnic minorities, concentrated in an archipelago of densely populated blue cities." And it leads him to constructions like this:

The rise of populist nationalism on the right is paralleled by the rise of multicultural globalism on the center-left.

For multicultural globalists, national boundaries are increasingly obsolete and perhaps even immoral. According to the emerging progressive orthodoxy, the identities that count are subnational (race, gender, orientation) and supranational (citizenship of the world). While not necessarily representative of Democratic voters, progressive pundits and journalists increasingly speak a dialect of ethical cosmopolitanism or globalism — the idea that it is unjust to discriminate in favor of one’s fellow nationals against citizens of foreign countries.
I have a big problem with the corporate-deregulation treaties like TTIP and TPP that are passed off as "trade" treaties. They have become a major tool in forcing neoliberal economic policies on countries who badly need something else.

Tunisia's situation doesn't have to do specifically with corporate-deregulation trade treaties. But it is yet another addition to the already long list of neoliberal failure stories: Clara Capelli, Tunisia in Turmoil: When Supply-Side Orthodoxy Meets an Angry Citizenry Institute for New Economic Thinking 05/23/2016.

But Lind's framing of the partisan realignment in his article appears to be heavily influenced by the notion that emphasis on multicultural tolerance is in practice hostile to progressive, Keynesian economic policies. At best, that's way too simple an assumption to describe what's happening in US politics.

Another recent article expresses a sentiment with which I sympathize gets lost between considering "America" as an ideal and the real existing United States of America, The right wing hates America: The loudest flag-waving patriots are always the dangerous hypocrites

In their opposition to immigration, mockery of diversity and advocacy of theocracy, the right wing demonstrates that it not only hates what America has become, but has no understanding or appreciation for what America has always been.

What has always made America great is its promise of freedom expansion and enlargement, its integration of various people with different beliefs and behaviors into a shared community, and its foundation as a secular republic with the ability to adapt to new information and make ethical improvements.

The philosophy of the American Revolution was beautiful, but the brutality and hypocrisy of its implementation made the words of the Constitution seem like a cruel joke to those who could not vote, could not live in safety and freedom, and who could not even find a government willing to recognize their humanity. Martin Luther King saw those words not as cynical, but as a “promissory note,” and he, more than most, gave legitimacy and credibility to the American experiment in self-governance.

America triumphs whenever it succeeds in extending freedom and opening opportunity. While still far from perfect, it has made magnificent progress in the expansion of freedom for women, blacks, Hispanics, gays and a variety of other people once locked in the basement of American institutions and culture. It is this exact measure of progress – the fulfillment of the American promise – that frightens and angers much of the right wing constituency. Consistently derisive toward women, supportive of voter suppression and indignant over the protection of rights for gay and transgendered Americans, the right wing illustrates nostalgia for an America that was still in the process of evolving into America. [my emphasis]
Those first two paragraphs just quoted express the contradiction, which I would argue is a contradiction in real history and society, not just a logical/ethical contradiction.

This: "In their opposition to immigration, mockery of diversity and advocacy of theocracy, the right wing demonstrates that it not only hates what America has become, but has no understanding or appreciation for what America has always been" doesn't really fit well with this: "What has always made America great is its promise of freedom expansion and enlargement, its integration of various people with different beliefs and behaviors into a shared community, and its foundation as a secular republic with the ability to adapt to new information and make ethical improvements."

The United States went from being a newly-independent former colony after the Revolutionary War of 1776-1783 to being a major world power by the end of the First World War. And did it while practicing slavery, Indian wars, segregation, and xenophobia. Women's right to vote wasn't even part of the national Constitution until the 19th Amendment was ratified in 1920. It correct that extending freedom is as American as apple pie. So is white racism. Recognizing that doesn't validate the latter. It's just recognizing what happened in US history and continues to happen in the present.

I've had occasion to complain recently about what seems to be the dominant approach of both the left and the center-left to see earlier American history, especially pre-Civil War history, as a chain of immoral horrors broken only by the occasional voice of dissent against slavery. The idea that some part of that history developed in the direction of what we think of today as progress (or improvement or advancement) in democracy and freedom gets lost in such a one-dimensional view of history. Whether or not it's packaged with a heavy dose of moral outrage.

Hegel no doubt had some backward and reprehensible ideas. But the American left and center-left could gain some important insight from that tainted and imperfect vessel. For instance: "World history is not the ground of happiness. The periods of happiness are blank pages in it ..." - Hegel, Philosophy of History (German original: "Die Weltgeschichte ist nicht der Boden des Glücks. Die Perioden des Glücks sind leere Blätter in ihr ...") But he also realized that development and progress happened anyway. Without that, we're not left with much more than cynicism or nihilism in how we look at the real history of real countries and peoples.

And, not incidentally, we allow the right and the far right to hijack even the most progressive, democratic, revolutionary thought of real American history. In a review of Conor Cruise O'Brien's The Long Affair: Thomas Jefferson and the French Revolution, 1785-1800 (1996), Gordon Wood writes (Liberty’s Wild Man
New York Review of Books 02/20/1997 issue):

Because Jefferson the prophet has become so important to America’s civil religion, traditional historians, O’Brien says, have sought to make a sacred icon of the man and have blurred and distorted the real, historical Jefferson. Not only was Jefferson a slaveholding racist who wished to send all blacks out of the country, but he was an extreme fanatic who believed that any number of people could be killed for the sake of a cause. Although O’Brien admits that Jefferson didn’t often say fanatical things, he said enough to be a prophet. Besides, “the fact that the prophet is mostly silent does not mean that he is not always there. He is a brooding presence, possessor of the standard of Liberty, by which all things are to be measured. And the prophet in Jefferson, as in so many others of his kind, is a ruthless prophet.”

Jefferson, it turns out [O'Brien's telling], is responsible for most of what O’Brien dislikes about modern America. Its racism, of course, but more than that. Jefferson is ideologically responsible for the Ku Klux Klan and for lynching and maybe even for the South African doctrine of apartheid. “Someone,” O’Brien suggests, “should write a thesis on ‘The Influence of Thomas Jefferson on Hendrik Verwoerd.”‘

But this is not the worst of Jefferson’s influence. All those militia rebels in “the wilder parts of the American Middle West and Northwest”—those “tens of thousands of Americans ready to fight the Federal Government in the cause of liberty”—are the modern heirs of Jeffersonian ideals. After all, didn’t Jefferson say that “the tree of liberty must be refreshed from time to time with the blood of patriots and tyrants,” thus setting forth “something very like a Jeffersonian charter for the most militant section of the modern American militias”? Since Jefferson set no limits to “the holy cause of freedom”—“neither geographical boundaries, nor limits assigned by conventional ideas of morality and compassion”—apparently anything goes if it is done in the name of liberty. If Jefferson had accepted that the 1995 bombing of the federal building in Oklahoma City was “perpetrated in the cause of liberty—as its perpetrators and their admirers appear sincerely to believe that it was — then he would have condoned that act.”
Wood does not approve of this approach:

One would like to believe that much of this book is written tongue in cheek, with some sense of irony and compassion for a country that has as its principal spokesman for its beliefs in democracy and equality a slaveholding racist aristocrat. But no: O’Brien is too enraged and engaged for any humor or ironic lightness of touch. Because he takes ideas seriously and considers them the equivalent of action, he puts more emphasis on what Jefferson said than on what he actually did. And he pays no attention whatever to James Madison’s warning of allowing “for a habit in Mr. Jefferson as in others of great genius of expressing in strong and round terms, impressions of the moment.”
Wood concludes that, in important senses, O'Brien didn't know what he was talking about. At least not well enough:

O’Brien does not seem to possess what should be the basic instinct of a historian—the realization that the past is fundamentally different from the present, with different assumptions, different expectations, different feelings. O’Brien does not seem able to accept the fact that the people of the past did not know what the future was going to be like. Because he also believes that “rational people are generally assumed to intend the consequences of their acts,” he has difficulty in accepting that many of Jefferson’s actions had unanticipated consequences. Finally, he does not know enough about America in the late eighteenth century to develop a full context for understanding Jefferson’s beliefs and actions.
And he notes the perhaps modest but real advantage that careful empirical history can provide in terms of theoretical perspective:

Pathetic as it may seem to present-minded people, he must suggest that Jefferson was a man of the eighteenth century and not our age, that he was not the best of his time perhaps but he was better than most, that on most matters he did not and could not share our ideas, that in fact he could not even imagine our world at all. Jefferson belongs in the eighteenth century [well, 19th century too; Jefferson died on July 4, 1826 after having served as President for the first eight years of that century], but he did make many ringing statements in celebration of liberty and equality that have resounded throughout our culture, indeed the world’s culture, for the past two hundred years.

Sunday, May 22, 2016

Will Hillary's campaign try to conciliate Sanders and his supporters?

Hillary Clinton seemed to be trying to strike a more conciliatory stance towards Bernie Sanders and his supporters on Meet the Press this weekend than what we heard last week as she and her campaign and Vice President Joe Biden and the head of the Democratic National Committee were issuing anathemas against Sanders and his voters (Transcript May 22, 2016):


Is Bernie Sanders now helping Donald Trump?


Oh, I don't think so. I think that Senator Sanders has every right to finish off his campaign however he chooses. I do think there will then be the obvious need for us to unify the party. I faced the same challenge in 2008. I will certainly do my part, reaching out to Senator Sanders, reaching out to his supporters. And I expect him to do his. And he said about a week ago, he was going to spend seven days a week trying to defeat Donald Trump. And I believe that's the case.
Of course, this could be part of a good-cop/bad-cop routine. But the anathema approach really doesn't look promising if she's serious about engaging Sanders voters actively and tapping into his appeal among actual independents.

And I'm still very dubious whether she intends to do that. Partly because of some of the earlier quotes from her that Todd played before the airing of the interview.

And even more so because of what she says in the weekend interview, which Todd says was taped the day before. She does go on to make her standard pitch about how far she is ahead, and how she and Obama were much closer in 2008 than she and Sanders now. But this comes off as disingenuous on her part:


You don't think Bernie Sanders' been vetted? You don't think this one long year of campaign, your campaign against him, has vetted him?


Let me say that I don't think he's had a single negative ad ever run against him. And that's fine. But we know what we're going into, and we understand what it's going to take to win in the fall. And finally, I would say that, you know, polls this far out mean nothing. They certainly mean nothing to me. And I think if people go back and look, they really mean nothing in terms of analyzing what's going to happen in the fall.
This she says in the same week that she and various Democratic heavyweights put the full-court press on Sanders to drop out of the race immediately, even painting him as responsible for alleged fistfights and chair-throwing at the Nevada convention teh previous weekend - which apparently didn't happen at all - and for death threats the Nevada party chair reported she received, none of which has been identified with any individual, so far as I've heard, much less to the Sanders campaign.

Even more concerning, though, is the segment of the interview in which she floats a slogan for the general election campaign, "Stronger Together," or "We Are Stronger Together." Which I'm sure was extensively market-tested. But this is how she explains the content:


Bernie Sanders has been talking about a political revolution. A future you can believe in. Obviously, Donald Trump with the Make America Great again, is one of these slogans that has taken off, for better or for worse. If you could sum up, what is the big idea of your candidacy?


Look, we are stronger together. We are stronger together, in facing our internal challenges and our external ones. We are stronger together if we work to improve the economy. And that's going to mean trying to get the Republicans to do what will actually help produce more jobs, like we saw in the 1990s. We are stronger together when we have a bipartisan, even nonpartisan foreign policy that protects our country. And that provides a kind of steady, strong, smart leadership that the rest of the world expects from us.

And I know that, you know, slogans come and go, and all the rest of it. But when I look at where we are in our country together, we need to unify the country. We are stronger together, when we act on a set of plans and priorities that will redound to the benefit of the American people.


How do you do it? You're a polarizing figure right now, in American politics. You have an unfavorable rating that is almost as high as Donald Trump's. How do you do it?


Well, it's not as high. And I--


No, it's not. But it's pretty high--


Well, look, if you got-- but he's done-- he's gotten--


You're pretty polarizing. He's polarizing.




How do you do it, if you're elected president? This is a polarized country.


Just the way-- just the way I did it when I was first lady, senator, and secretary of state. When I have these jobs, Chuck, I actually get things done. And I work with people across the aisle. Honestly, I worked with Republicans in the '90s to create the Children's Health Insurance Program. And I worked with Tom DeLay, the Hammer in the House, to reform adoption and foster care. I worked with practically every Republican.

And I worked as secretary of state to get things done. To reduce nuclear weapons, for example, between Russia and myself. So I have a track record. And I'm going to remind people of that. Because it's not just rhetoric, for me. When I was secretary of state, I had a very high approval rating, as you can go back and check. Because I was doing a job that people could see. When I get into the arena, and all of the negativity that's been thrown at me for 25 years is recycled and put out there, I know I've got work to do. But I'm very confident that it's going to be successful.


I know we're over, but I got a couple more questions. Number one, you said Bill Clinton, you were going to basically put him in charge of getting this economy going again. What does that mean?


Well, what I said--


What did you mean?


--well, what I said in Kentucky and West Virginia is that there are parts of our country that have been left out and left behind for too long. And I am going to ask my husband, who has a great track record in creating jobs, putting people to work, revitalizing communities, to be in an advisory role working with me, working with our cabinet, to try to figure out what we can do. You know, every first lady has taken on special projects. And I think my husband's understanding of how to get this economy moving in places that have been left behind will be incredibly valuable.


Both Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders have been running against some of the economic policies of the '90s. Trade, Wall Street deregulation, things like that. Does that concern you?


Well, they're not running against 23 million new jobs. They're not running against incomes going up for every American, not just those at the top. They're not running against median family income going up 17 percent, and for African-Americans 33 percent, and living [lifting?] more people out of poverty. And ending up with a balanced budget and a surplus.

Now, I have said I want to renegotiate NAFTA. I voted against the only multinational trade deal that came before me when I was in the Senate. I have stated my opposition to the Trans-Pacific Partnership, based on what it was negotiated to include.

So I'm more than happy to take on that argument. But I ask people, when you criticize the '90s, what do they criticize? The peace, or the prosperity? Because I think a lot of Americans, as I travel around the country, think of that as being a time when they thought they were getting ahead. Then we ran smack dab into the failed Republican economic policy. [my emphasis]
My own optimism for the Democrats winning in November, even for the Presidency, sinks every time I hear some form of, "I work with people across the aisle" coming from Hillary. It also sinks every time a Democrat utters the words, "balanced budget."

The line, "But I ask people, when you criticize the '90s, what do they criticize? The peace, or the prosperity?" is a catchy one. And of course Clinton needs to defend the positive parts of the record of Clinton's and Obama's Administrations. But surely she hasn't forgotten those helpful Republicans in those glory days of bipartisan harmony impeached Bill Clinton in an attempt to remove him from office.

Still, the emphasis comes off as one of complacency, of comforting the comfortable. It doesn't convey a sense of focus on problems or on why only the Democrats can solve them. On the contrary, she's saying that working "across the aisle" is needed to solve those problems. There's a conservative tone to it, in other words, and maybe that will be enough against Trump. And it continues the very damaging habit we've seen during eight years of the Obama Administration to frame issues in the Republicans' preferred terms rather than building a distinct Democratic brand. Facing what looks more every day like it will be a Republican Party united behind Trump, a message of comforting the comfortable and At Least She's Not A Republican But She Works Across The Aisle With Them doesn't sound like an exciting approach to me.

It also sounds like the kind of strategy that puts a low priority on conciliation Sanders and his supporters, or on making particular appeals to them, or on getting out the younger Sanders voters in November. And that's not a good sign.

But Bill Moyers and Michael Winship have a good idea for a conciliatory move: Democrats Can’t Unite Unless Wasserman Schultz Goes! Moyers & company 05/20/2016. Even if Debbie Wasserman Shultz hadn't used her position as party chair to crassly favor Hillary's primary campaign and issued her ridiculous May 17 anathema against Bernie and his supporters, she's been a lousy party chair. The best friend of the payday-loan business, she hasn't made anything like a serious enough effort to put up Democratic challengers in the states, not even in Congressional districts where Democrats have a reasonable shot to unseating Republicans during this Trump year. (See David Dayen, Is Retaking the House a Democratic Pipe Dream? New Republic 03/23/2016: "To take advantage of the Republicans’ terrible choice at the top of the ticket, Democrats would have to actually run candidates for the House who can win.") And, in fact, if you're looking to help the exploitative payday-loan borderline loan shark business rip off even more people, you probably prefer to have a Republican-dominated Congress. Because "working across the aisle" is a trademark for ConservaDems like Wasserman Shultz.

Left, right and economic progress in Argentina

Mark Weisbrot summarizes the lazy conventional wisdom about the conservative trend in Latin American politics (Has the Left Run Its Course in Latin America? The Nation 05/10/2016):

There is a popular narrative here in Washington and media circles that Latin America’s left-populist turn has finally run its course. It goes something like this: A commodities boom, led by demand from China for Latin American raw materials exports, fueled regional economic growth in the 2000s. This happened to coincide with the election of left governments that were reelected after spending lavishly on handouts to the poor. They alienated foreign investors and their economic policies were unsustainable. Now Chinese growth has slowed, commodity prices have gone south, and with them the fortunes of Latin America’s nationalist, populist left. November’s election of right-wing challenger Mauricio Macri as president of Argentina, the Venezuelan opposition’s landslide congressional win in December, and economic and political crisis in Brazil — including the current effort to remove President Dilma Rousseff—herald the beginning of the end of an era. In this view, the region will continue to elect more right-wing—or, in business-press parlance, “moderate” (and pro-US)—governments that will return to some of the more sensible economic policies of their predecessors.
Horacio Verbitsky (El tercer semestre Página/12 22.05.2016) writes about Federico Sturzenegger, the current head of the Banco Central de la República Argentina, appointed by current President Mauricio Macri, a devotee of neoliberal economic dogma. Sturzenegger is part of Macri's PRO party and was elected as a deputy (legislator) in the Autonomous City of Buenos Aires in 2013. Verbitsky describes the communication strategy on which Sturzenegger was coached along with other PRO candidates on how to defend their policies in public. As Verbitsky recounts it, this was part of the instructions:

No explicar nada. Si se explica qué es la inflación, habría que decir que la emisión monetaria genera inflación, que entonces debería reducirse la emisión, y que si se reduce la inflación habría que hacer un ajuste fiscal y que si se hace un ajuste fiscal la gente va a perder su trabajo. Eso es lo que no hay que decir. Desde el gobierno se puede hacer lo que se considera necesario, pero no hay que decirlo en medio de un debate. Mejor decir que están mintiendo con los números de la inflación o decir cualquier cosa; hablar de los hijos de uno. No importa.

[Don't explain anything. If you explain what inflation is, you will have to say that the issuance of money generates inflation, that therefore the money supply will have to be reduced, and that if inflation is reduced there would have to be fiscal austerity, and that if fiscal austerity is implemented people will lose their jobs. That's what you don't need to say. The government can do what it considers necessary, but doesn't have to say it in the middle of a debate. Better to say that they {Cristina Fernández' government} are lying with the inflation numbers or say whatever; talk about your kids. It doesn't matter.]
When you have a standard economic prescription that will damage large numbers of ordinary people in order to enrich the wealthiest even more, you have to dress it up some other way. Or, as Sturzenegger's coach recommended, avoid talking about them as much as you can.

Cristina's last Finance Minister Axel Kiciloff in his book Diálogos sin corbata. Para pensar la economía, la política (y algunas cosas más) en el siglo XXI (2015) discusses the dominance of liberal/neoliberal (free market/Herbert Hoover/Angela Merkel) type economic policies, associated especially with the military dictatorship of 1976-83 and the government of right-Peronist President Carlos Menem (1989-99).

Durante el liberalismo esto resultó tarea sencilla porque traían de afuera el recetario económico. Más allá de que tuvieras o no ideas propias, te decían lo que, había que hacer en el Ministerio de Economía, y eran políticas que todos conocen: ajuste fiscal; ajuste financiero, que significa bajar la liquidez, bajar el credito, la politica monetaria contractiva; apertura de la economía, es decir, ningún tipo de resguardo o administración del comercio exterior, dejar que todo venga de afuera ...

[During liberalism, this {finding an economic theory} turned out to be easy work because they brought a recipe book from abroad. Aside from whether they had their own ideas or not, I'll explain what they had to do in the Ministry of Economics, and those were policies everybody knows: fiscal tightening; financial tightening, which meant reducing liquidity, reducing credit, the contractionary monetary policy; opening the economy, that is to say, no type of protection or administration of external commerce, let everything go abroad ...
That latter reference is to the Hail Grail of the corporate-deregulation "trade" treaties like TTIP and PPT, the unrestricted flow of capital, both into and out of a country. This makes a developing country not only vulnerable to financial speculation that can create a run on its currency and and cause a financial panic. It also means that the country's development can be dominated by external political and market forces. The governments of Néstor Kirchner and Cristina Fernández de Kirchner pursued a policy of capital controls that had as its goal promoting domestic industry for the balanced development of the Argentine economy and reduce its vulnerability to economic attacks from other countries.

Kiciloff also gives this brief summary of the standard neoliberal prescription, "Ese plan de cuatro puntos - ajuste fiscal, ajuste monetario, apertura de la economía y endeudamiento - es el plan permanente del liberalismo y de la ortodoxia." ("This four-point plan - fiscal contraction, monetary contraction, opening of the economy and indebtedness - is the permanent plan of liberalism and orthodoxy.")

That prescription is also known as the Washington Consensus because the United States has promoted it assiduously through the IMF and the World Bank and the corporate-deregulation "trade" treaties. That four-point plan is a good summary of what the Macri government has been implementing at a rapid pace since it took office this past December.

Verbitsky's article includes the following table projecting a probable scenario for the growth of public and private debt in Argentina:

The orange bar shows the projected public debt plus the private debt denominated in foreign currency as a percentage of GDP (PIB). The immediate concern about the growing debt is not the percentage of GDP as such. It's that most of the current new debt is going not to long-term investments in Argentina but to paying what is essentially ransom to vulture funds that bought up already-defaulted debt. And the private debt denominated in foreign currency becomes bigger as a percentage of GDP the lower the Argentine peso falls in relation to the foreign currency.

And this is part of the standard neoliberal recipe that Macri's government is applying to the Argentine economy. They justify it by claiming that the economy was previously in bad shape. Verbitsky writes, "Macrì no para de repetir que desde hace cinco años la economía no crece ni crea empleo privado, lo cual es lisa y llanamente falso." ("Macri never stops repeating that the economy hasn't grown for five years nor has employment increased, which is plainly and simply false.")

He cites El Revelador, which provides this table and the text explanation shown below:

Durante la campaña electoral de 2015, la oposición al gobierno de Cristina Fernández de Kirchner, repetía (y lo sigue haciendo) que hacía 4 años que la Argentina no crecía. Y lo decían en términos porcentuales del PBI. Cierto es que dejó de crecer al ritmo en el que lo hizo en los años previos. Pero contextualicemos observando lo que ocurrió en el mismo período sumado (2011-2014) en los siguientes países:

Mientras que en 2014 nos cansamos de escuchar que Argentina hacía 4 años que no crecía, en ese período, su PBI creció porcentualmente más que el de Alemania, España, Estados Unidos, Francia e Italia todos sumados.
[During the 2015 election campaign, the opposition to the government of Cristina Fernández de Kirchner repeated (and are still repeating) that since four years Argentina did not grow. And they say it in terms of percentage of GDP. Certainly it stopped growing at the rhythm that it did in the previous years. But let's put it in context of what happened in the same period in total (2011-2014) in the following countries:

While we kept hearing in 2014 that Argentina hadn't grown in four years, in this period it GDP grew percentage wise more than that of Germany, Spain, the United States, France and Italy all together.]
So when Mark Weisbrot talks about what US elites and mass media talk about "more sensible economic policies," it the neoliberal prescription that they are praising as "sensible."

Weisbrot's point is that economic policies that work well for the majority of people are a strong attraction. And it's left governments, the so-called "Pink Tide," that have been delivering that. As he writes of the Argentine case:

Changes in economic policy were also key to Argentina’s success after its default and devaluation at the end of 2001. The remarkable economic growth and poverty reduction that followed over the ensuing decade — real GDP increased by about 78 percent, and poverty was reduced by more than 70 percent (these numbers are based on independent estimates, as the government’s estimates of inflation are disputed; see—had relatively little to do with commodities. It was not even export-led growth.

One necessary condition for Argentina’s robust recovery (real GDP grew by more than 60 percent from 2002 to 2008) was the government’s default on the foreign debt and its taking a hard line in the renegotiation. Right away, this achieved a sustainable debt burden—rather than getting Argentina stuck in a series of recurring crises due to too much debt, as with Greece, for example. And again in contrast to Greece, Argentina freed itself from the demands of its creditors for continuing austerity. The government was also able to tax exporters to capture the windfall from the devaluation, use the central bank to manage the exchange rate, implement a financial-transactions tax, and pursue other policies that enabled the country to emerge from depression. [my emphasis]
In fact, Weisbrot is downright optimistic about the prospects for the democratic left in Latin America:

The Latin American left has led the region’s “second independence” in the 21st century, altering hemispheric economic and political relations, and—even including the economic losses of the recent downturn—presiding over historic economic and social changes that benefited hundreds of millions, especially the poor. Despite the electoral setback in Argentina and the current threat to democracy in Brazil, they are likely to remain the dominant force in the region for a long time to come.