Wednesday, August 16, 2017

Lawrence Wilkerson,on the folly of a military intervention in Venezuela

From The Real News, Wilkerson: Trump Has No Business Threatening Venezuela 08/14/2017:

Wilkerson thinks that US policy toward Latin American generally is aimed at reducing US-Latin American relations to relationships between US businesses and Latin American oligarchs.

And oligarch-to-oligarch kind of arrangement, in other words.

"Charlottesville" as a reminder that the left and center-left need to contest historical interpretations

The transcript of Trump's instantly-infamous press conference on Tuesday is available from several sources, including Read the complete transcript of President Trump's remarks at Trump Tower on Charlottesville Los Angeles Times 08/15/2017. The press conference was physically located in Trump Tower in New York City.

But "Charlottesville" is now the name for an event. Like "Jackson State" or "Kent State" became symbols in 1970s as well as physical locations.

I've been trying this year to incorporate "synecdoche" and "metonymy." I think using "Charlottesville" to review to the confluence of events from the torch demonstration Friday night to (at least) Trump's both-sides press conference yesterday counts as a synecdoche, in which one element of something is used to represent the whole. (People more literate in linguistics than I am are welcome to correct me.) I would also say that "Charlottesville" qualifies as a "vacant signifier" in the sense in which Ernesto Laclau uses it in his political theory, a place name in this case, that had no particular national or international political significance has suddenly become a word signifying white supremacist terrorism and the defense of it and of white supremacists, the KKK and Nazis by the President of the United States.

Here is a Wednesday take from the Morning Joe crew, Joe: None Of Us Have Seen Anything Like Yesterday MSNCBC 08/16/2017:

There are a few groaners in that one, such as Jon Meachem wondering in good Pod Pundit fashion how the Republican Party got this way. A few hints Jon: Barry Goldwater, the Southern Strategy, "Build That Wall."

The head of the Our Revolution organization that emerged from Bernie Sanders' campaign discusses "Charlottesville" in this segment, Nina Turner Denounces the Enablers of Nazis The Real News 08/15/2017:

I'll mention a few good takes on the situation prior to Tuesday:

Charlie Pierce calls attention to an important feature of Trump's Tuesday press conference in Maybe Next Time Stick to the Notes Esquire Politics Blog 08/15/2017, focusing on this aspect of Trump's rant, from the LA Times transcript:

Those people -- all of those people -- excuse me. I've condemned neo-Nazis. I've condemned many different groups. But not all of those people were neo-Nazis, believe me. Not all of those people were white supremacists, by any stretch. Those people were also there because they wanted to protest the taking down of a statue, Robert E. Lee. So -- excuse me. And you take a look at some of the groups and you see -- and you'd know it if you were honest reporters, which in many cases you're not, but many of those people were there to protest the taking down of the statue of Robert E. Lee. So this week it's Robert E. Lee. I noticed that Stonewall Jackson's coming down. I wonder, is it George Washington next week? And is it Thomas Jefferson the week after? You know, you all -- you really do have to ask yourself, where does it stop? But they were there to protest -- excuse me. You take a look, the night before, they were there to protest the taking down of the statue of Robert E. Lee. ...

QUESTION: George Washington and Robert E. Lee are not the same (inaudible)…


TRUMP: George Washington was a slave owner. Was George Washington a slave owner? So, will George Washington now lose his status? Are we going to take down -- excuse me -- are we going to take down -- are we going to take down statues to George Washington?


TRUMP: How about Thomas Jefferson? What do you think of Thomas Jefferson? You like him?


TRUMP: OK. Good. Are we going to take down the statue? Because he was a major slave owner. Now, are we going to take down his statue? So you know what? It's fine. You're changing history. You're changing culture. And you had people, and I'm not talking about the neo-Nazis and the white nationalists, because they should be condemned totally. But you had many people in that group other than neo-Nazis and white nationalists. OK? And the press has treated them absolutely unfairly. Now, in the other group also, you had some fine people, but you also had troublemakers and you see them come with the black outfits and with the helmets and with the baseball bats. You've got -- you had a lot of bad -- you had a lot of bad people in the other group. [my emphasis]
Pierce writes:

There's actually an interesting question buried in all that malarkey as to where to place the slaveholding of Washington, Jefferson and many of the rest of the Founders in our historical memory now that we're correcting the memory of the Civil War, monument by monument. (At Montpelier, the home of James Madison, the people in charge have been working hard for several years to honor the stories of the slaves that lived and worked there.) But that's not what the president* was getting at. He was bigot-signaling to his vaunted base that he would have been out there with a tiki torch himself. That's why we got all that talk about the very fine Nazis who were patrolling the park on Saturday night along with the Citronella SS, and who were treated so unfairly by the fake news media when they decided to go for throats.

And that's what takes Tuesday's explosion beyond the realm of simple mockery. There's an audience out there for every lunatic assertion the president* made. We saw it in full flower last Saturday. And he knows it's there, too. He knows that it's the one segment of the American population still guaranteed to give his fragile-if-monumental ego the constant boost that it needs. So he needed to salve all the fee-fees he wounded the other day when somebody dragged him out so he could say right out loud that being a Nazi is a bad thing. This was an angry, heartfelt appeal to his white nationalist base to stick with him, probably because that base is all he has left.
One of my longtime concerns is that the left and center-left do not contest American history thoroughly enough, given the ways in which the rightwingers invoke figures like Washington and Jefferson that have a mythical status for most Americans as Founders and pioneers of democracy.

I've expressed here more than once my frustration at the inability of the left and center-left to contest the democratic and, yes, revolutionary heritage of early and antebellum American history. I hope the left generally gets better at it.

Here is a recent post of mind on the Andrew Jackson part of that heritage, Trump puts Andrew Jackson back in the news 05/03/2017. Jackson, BTW, legitimately counts as a Founder; he fought in the Revolutionary War.

Tuesday, August 15, 2017

Trump defends his alt-right/KKK/Nazi peeps on Tuesday

One of things about the President of the United States is that he is head of state (like kings and queens and the presidents in several countries of Europe) and head of government (like Chancellors and Prime Ministers in Europe).

A head of government and a head of state should be able to straightforwardly condemn a murderous white supremacist terrorist attack without mealy-mouthing about "both sides" being to blame.

Noah Bierman reports on How the current American President handles it in 'Alt-left' charged at 'alt-right,' Trump says, again placing blame for Charlottesville violence 'on both sides' Los Angeles Times 08/15/2017.

Joe Biden, who supports democracy, tweeted this after Saturday's terrorist attack:

No Both Sides Do It on white racist terrorism from Joe Biden.

Sarah Posner also has some thoughts on the alt-right:

Sunday, August 13, 2017

Netroots Nation 2017 and protesting against Charlottesville rightwing terrorism

I'm just winding up an interesting and enjoyable long weekend at the annual Netroots Nation convention in Atlanta. The pressure from the grassroots on the Democratic Party to be more forceful in standing up for its own claimed programs and principles was very evident and encouraging to see and experience. And the murderous white supremacist rally in Charlottesville added a extra sense of immediacy to resisting Trumpism and pressing the Democratic Party to become a more progressive presence in US politics. After Al Gore's closing plenary presentation, organizers had arranged for a march from the downtown conference hotel to the Statehouse in protest of white supremacy and in solidarity with the victims of the rightwing white terrorist attack there.

The local paper, the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, gave particular attention to the ways in which Georgia state politics made its presence felt at the conference in a front-page article today by Greg Bluestein that doesn't seem to be online at this writing, "Liberal activists display divide among Democrats") 08/13/2017) but also highlighted the reform vibe of the event:
The nation's leading liberal activists came to Atlanta for the Netroots Nation conference spoiling to sharpen their fight with President Donald Trump. But they proved just as willing to poke, prod and pummel their fellow Democrats.
He obviously means that mainly metaphorically, though he does mention that "a minor scuffle broke out in the audience" when some attendees were loudly protesting Democratic gubernatorial candidate Stacey Evans. The two main candidates in the Democratic gubernatorial contest are both named Stacey, the other being Stacey Abrams, who spoke at the opening plenary on Thursday. Evans is white, Abrams is black, which is some kind of factor in the contest. But part of the rap on Stacey Evans, in particular, is that she has supported some school privatization efforts.

This hour-long segment from TYT Network features three of the anti-Evans protesters, Jordan [Chariton] From Netroots Nation: Protests vs. Establishment 08/12/2017. I believe at least one of the three people interviewed here and maybe all three also spoke at the mini-rally at the Statehouse on Saturday:

More from Bluestein's print report:

Primary challenger to long-serving Democrats were treated like stars. Panels instructed the 3,000 or so activists how to wrest control of their local parties.

Others encouraged them to challenge establishment Democrats, whether they be on local school boards or in Congress, if they aren't liberal enough.

If anything was clear, the internal Democratic fissures sharpened by Bernie Sanders' presidential campaign have solidified, if not deepened, since Trump's election. In panels and in side conversations, organizers talked about forcing Democrats toward more liberal policies, such as single-payer health care and free college tuition.
I didn't attend the last two years' Netroots Nation conventions. But comparing my impressions this year to those from 2014 and earlier, my impression was similar.

Jordan Chariton in the video above gives a different perspective, arguing that Netroots Nation attendees are a more Establishment group than those at the People's Summit earlier this year. But he also explains that there are plenty of progressive people here, it's just they tend to be part of more organized groups that normally support the Democratic Party. And I think that's a fair assessment. Netroots Nation tends to attract people who are comfortable with working within the Democratic Party. But not the Blue Dog variety. Not a lot of Joe Manchin fans at NN gatherings. Whereas the People's Summit drew more people who were new to politics and/or attracted to left groups who keep their distance from the Democrats, and tended to attract younger participants on the average. (I haven't attended the People's Summit.)

I selected panels to attend that addressed foreign policy issues - there weren't many of those! - and panels that addressed Islamophobia, which is a key ideology for the radical right in the US and in Europe. Just after the news of the car attack in Charlottesville broke, I attended the panel organized by Dave Neiwert, who is himself an authority on the far right in the US, titled "The White Face of Domestic Terrorism: How Islamophobia Distorts the Reality of Terrorist Violence in America." It also featured anti-terrorism expert Daryl Johnson and Rabiah Ahmed of the Muslim Public Affairs Council (MPAC).

That was immediately followed by the closing plenary session, where Al Gore did a presentation in interview format, mostly dealing with the climate crisis. At the end, he addressed the Charlottesville disgrace, repeatedly referring to the white supremacists as alt-right, KKK and Nazis. Political junkies gravitate toward quibbles over labels. But as Dave Neiwert and his panel explained, actual Nazis, i.e., Hitler-worshipers and those who explicitly admire the Third Reich, are a distinctive segment of the far right which form part of the "alt-right" spectrum. But the latter also includes other currents, including the "Men's Rights Movement."

Bluestein also covered Gore's speech (In Atlanta, Gore urges Trump to ‘try again’ with response to Charlottesville attacks AJC Online 08/2/2017):

Trump condemned the protests that resulted in at least three deaths and prompted the governor to declare a state of emergency, but he didn’t criticize the white nationalist rally, which featured anti-Semitic chants and neo-Nazi slogans. Instead, he called for unity among “all races, creeds and colors.”

Gore said Trump should “give more thought to what it means to have a resurgence of the Ku Klux Klan and Nazi movement marching and creating this kind of hatred.”

“The country would be better served if the president would come back before the people,” he said, “and think of a more thoughtful and appropriate statement about how we can understand what’s going on in America – and how we can go forward.”
The quickly-organized march after the plenary session was impressive. Apparently there were about 500 people, pretty much all from the NN conference. Delores Huerta, the famous farmworkers' leader who worked closely with Cesar Chavez who had also spoken at the convention, led the procession to the Statehouse. Whoever the people were directly involved in organizing the march, they did an impressively good job of setting up the march, getting official permissions quickly, and keeping the marchers focused and walking in orderly groups. Huerta also spoke at the small rally at the Capitol. But that part of the event was not so well planned. The organizers never noticed, it seemed, that the loudspeaker connected to her mike wasn't working, so that most people couldn't hear what she said. That was followed by several other speakers, apparently from the same group that had organized the protest against Stacey Evans. There wasn't a clear theme to the presentations.

But that's a quibble. It was an impressive march. They used some chants familiar to me. But there were ones new to me, too, my own favorite being, "No Trump! No KKK! No fascist USA!" In a different context, I might have thought that was too sectarian sounding and maybe obscure for such an event. But unfortunately, on Friday it clearly addressing a white terrorist attack very much in the national news at that very moment.

Wednesday, August 09, 2017

Franklin Foer on why the Democrats need to tweak themselves, but just a little bit (according to him)

"The presidency was everything," is how Franklin Foer describes the practical attitude of the Democratic Party in the years prior to the 2016 election. (What’s Wrong With the Democrats? The Atlantic July/Aug 2017)

I'm cautious about the rest of his argument in that piece. But it that comment does get at the problem of the Democrats having seriously neglected building the state and local parties for years. And he's also right in judging that approach, "Anyone who examined the strategy that the Democratic Party has embraced ever more tightly in recent years could see its essential precariousness." And he also describes the results this way, "On Inauguration Day, the party’s power ebbed to its lowest level since the 1920s."

Foer describes Bernie Sanders with the Yiddish word "luftmensch," which Mirriam-Webster defines as "an impractical contemplative person having no definite business or income."

Foer describes the Bernie-Hillary primary contest in a corporate-Dem-friendly way:

To win the Democratic presidential nomination, it helps to secure the African American vote. But another path to victory involves rallying white voters with a populist bent. This can create an uncomfortable dynamic in presidential primaries, where race vies with class to become the defining concern of the party. Politicians rarely vocalize the tension. But the socialism of Bernie Sanders—which hindered his efforts to explain the centrality of race to American life—made this split less subterranean than usual.

Of course, Hillary Clinton would have preferred to avoid an argument about the primacy of race versus class. But African American voters provided her the surest path to primary victory. They gravitated to her, in no small measure out of loyalty to Obama. Where Clinton posed as the president’s anointed successor, Sanders questioned Obama’s legacy and called for revolutionary change. He never dedicated himself to making meaningful inroads with African American or Latino voters, and so Clinton doubled down. After she lost New Hampshire in February, she began traveling with the grieving mothers of Trayvon Martin, Eric Garner, and other African American casualties of violence. Criminal-justice issues became an elevated feature of her standard pitch.
The corporate Democrats understandably want to frame the New Deal Democrats as more-or-less white racists, who don't prioritize the needs of African-Americans. For those with longer memories and/or history buffs, that general position tries to picture progressives as George Meany laborites. Although we always need to be careful with historical analogies. Although Meany's enthusiastic support of Cold War 1.0 would set well with Democratic advocates for the New Cold War.

Foer also takes the corporate Dem position that Sanders' "campaign did real damage to [Clinton's] chances in November."

And, in a sadly common failing of mainstream reporting and commentary, Foer talks a lot about the "white working class" without any clear definition, much less any explanation about what might be distinct about the white part of the working class. In practice, this usage of "white working class" seems to imply that white workers are the real working class. At best, it's a lazy habit.

In line with this, he speaks admiringly of Obama's Mugwump no-red-America-no-blue-America bipartisanship because in his view it served "to reassure whites, particularly those past middle age and with an acute sense of cultural and economic anomie." It also meant we had a President for eight years who accepted Republican framing of economic issues.

Foer also describes Clinton's support as "a coalition of the cosmopolitan." Here I'll refer to Charlie Pierce's The Historical Significance of 'Cosmopolitan' as an Insult Esquire Politics Blog 08/02/2017.

Foer sets up a framework in which he calls the corporate Dems the "cultural left" and the progressives as the "economic left." At least he doesn't used the term "Cultural Marxism," which has its own obnoxious status as a concept on the right. (See my post "Cultural Marxism": a far-right conspiracy theory involving the Frankfurt School 07/30/2011)

Foer also provides a reminder that Hillary's 2016 primary strategy against Bernie "was an inversion of the 2008 primary campaign. Desperately attempting to forestall Barack Obama by collecting wins in Appalachia, Clinton posed then as the tribune of 'hardworking Americans, white Americans.'” That phrase was one of her bloopers in 2008. Or deliberate dogwhistle, depending on your perspective.

Foer's description of the "economic left" sounds like damning with faint praise: "While the cultural left champions a coalition of the ascendant, the economic left imagines a coalition of the despondent. It seeks to roll back the dominance of finance, to bust monopolies, to curb the predations of the market. It wants to ply back the white working-class voters—clustered in the upper Midwest ..." A coalition of the despondent?

And he presents Cory Booker as a exemplar of the establishment Dems ("cultural left") and Elizabeth Warren as that of the New Deal wing ("economic left"). Foer's admiring treatment of Booker gives a hint of Foer's own preferences, if any more were needed at that point in the article. Even his favorable commentary on Warren seems calculated as much to raise questions about her left credentials and emphasizing her supposed differences with Sanders than at arguing for the value of her economic positions.

The following sounds like a sneer of the "even-the-liberal" type:

A turn toward populism will never be enough to win back a state like West Virginia, which is now deep-red. And there are legitimate questions about whether a strident former Harvard professor, no matter her Oklahoma roots, can effectively purvey that message to a sufficiently broad audience. But Warren’s brand of populism could help cool white-working-class hostility toward the Democrats ... Empathy with economic disappointment, and even anger over the status quo, might reduce the sense that Democrats are perpetrators of the status quo. And liberal populism would take the party beyond ineffectual arguments about Trump’s temperament. A populist critique of Trump would point to his fraudulence as an enemy of the system, a fraudulence that perfectly illustrates everything wrong with plutocracy.
And the article gives a strong hint of trying to define a "liberal populism" that could be serviceable as a corporate Democratic marketing position that need not disturb Wall Street. His example of this kind of approach? Chuck Schumer, Mr. "Bettter Deal," a slogan that makes "Stronger Together" sound edgy.

Foer obviously thinks that the Democratic Party's real problem is that they need to tinker with the advertising a bit: "The makings of a Democratic majority are real. Demographic advantages will continue to accrue to the left. The party needs only to add to its coalition on the margins and in the right patches on the map." And he observes hopefully, "does not require the abandonment of any moral principles," i.e., does not require much discomforting the most comfortable. One could be forgiven for failing to see how that's any different than the standard corporate Democratic approach.

Thursday, August 03, 2017

Discussion of Sunday's Venezuelan election

This report from The Real News discusses this past Sunday's Venezuelan Constituent Assembly election, Controversy Over Venezuelan Vote Count 08/02/2017:

The information on Venezuela's voting procedures and audit procedures is important.

Wednesday, August 02, 2017

Another superficial take on the "white working class" Republican voters

Joan Williams of Hastings Law School last November made an entry into the currently fashionable anthropological speculations about the mysterious white working class. Which she gives the abbreviation WWC. It's What So Many People Don’t Get About the U.S. Working Class Harvard Business Review 11/10/2016.

Her effort has the same basic problem so much of this type of analysis share, a vague definition of what the working class is:

The terminology here can be confusing. When progressives talk about the working class, typically they mean the poor. But the poor, in the bottom 30% of American families, are very different from Americans who are literally in the middle: the middle 50% of families whose median income was $64,000 in 2008. That is the true “middle class,” and they call themselves either “middle class” or “working class.”

“The thing that really gets me is that Democrats try to offer policies (paid sick leave! minimum wage!) that would help the working class,” a friend just wrote me. A few days’ paid leave ain’t gonna support a family. Neither is minimum wage. WWC men aren’t interested in working at McDonald’s for $15 per hour instead of $9.50. What they want is what my father-in-law had: steady, stable, full-time jobs that deliver a solid middle-class life to the 75% of Americans who don’t have a college degree. Trump promises that. I doubt he’ll deliver, but at least he understands what they need.
The favorite journalistic definition of working class is "people without a four-year college education."

A more meaningful sociological definition would start with something like "people eligible to join a union" and define it more closely from there. That would locate the definition as dealing with people's process in the production process, and not by income level or educational attainment. I would think the big difficulty in establishing such a definition would be on issues like how to treat "indepedent contractors," some of which would count as entrepreneurs or small business people, others as working class.

Williams' approach seems to be more impressionistic. And, by intention or not, her version isn't a lot different than the lazy establishment pundit version, which in turn is largely that preferred by Republicans. I'll skip over her repetition of the usual about Mean Libruls being elitist, etc. This observation is worth a bit more attention:

One little-known element of that ["class culture"] gap is that the white working class (WWC) resents professionals but admires the rich. Class migrants (white-collar professionals born to blue-collar families) report that “professional people were generally suspect” and that managers are college kids “who don’t know shit about how to do anything but are full of ideas about how I have to do my job,” said Alfred Lubrano in Limbo. Barbara Ehrenreich recalled in 1990 that her blue-collar dad “could not say the word doctor without the virtual prefix quack. Lawyers were shysters ... and professors were without exception phonies.” Annette Lareau found tremendous resentment against teachers, who were perceived as condescending and unhelpful.

Michèle Lamont, in The Dignity of Working Men, also found resentment of professionals — but not of the rich. “[I] can’t knock anyone for succeeding,” a laborer told her. “There’s a lot of people out there who are wealthy and I’m sure they worked darned hard for every cent they have,” chimed in a receiving clerk. Why the difference? For one thing, most blue-collar workers have little direct contact with the rich outside of Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous. But professionals order them around every day. The dream is not to become upper-middle-class, with its different food, family, and friendship patterns; the dream is to live in your own class milieu, where you feel comfortable — just with more money. “The main thing is to be independent and give your own orders and not have to take them from anybody else,” a machine operator told Lamont. Owning one’s own business — that’s the goal. That’s another part of Trump’s appeal.
This is part of the problem with using a hazy definition of working class. Most kindergarten, elementary and secondary teachers are working class by almost any reasonable definition. And maybe not doctors but a large number of healthcare providers, notably nurses, also are in that position.

There are some big assumptions being made there, and I'm not sure how much polling or sociological data backing them. I don't recall seeing any political polling looking at voting patterns correlating with the particular attitude Williams describes here. The claim, "the dream is to live in your own class milieu, where you feel comfortable — just with more money," strikes me a broad, dubious generalization.

I'm also not so sure about the idea that working class people (at least if the term is reasonably defined) have very little contact with the wealthiest people but more with professionals. It has been a long-standing assumption, which I believe are based on studies over a long period of time, showing that in the case of "keeping up with the Joneses" competitiveness, people tend to compare themselves more with people in similar situations than with people in drastically different income levels. But that is a different thing that what Williams is arguing. Normally people looking to increase their income are obviously likely to look for the next steps on that goal. So a 25-year-old technician at a large corporation may have no aspiration to replace the CEO next year. But that person is likely to be keenly aware of whether they will get an open senior technician position or whether it goes to one of their current technician colleagues.

But that doesn't mean that the technicians are indifferent to what the CEO does or that they are unaware of the disproportionate power and wealth held by CEO's compared to most everyone else. The comment of the "laborer" she quotes saying, "[I] can’t knock anyone for succeeding" and clerk who "chimed in" with, "There’s a lot of people out there who are wealthy and I’m sure they worked darned hard for every cent they have,” should be seen in that light. Those are the kind of anecdotal comment we often see columnists or commentators using to illustrate a point in a relative small space or a brief period on television. But they don't mean much outside of context. Those two comments are both pretty mundane. And therefore "safe." They are things that you might hear from a free-market libertarian, a flaming socialist and various people in between on the political spectrum.

Jamie Galbraith in Inequality and Instability (2012) has an analysis that is based on real in-depth studies that adds a geographical dimension to this issue of how closely the non-rich observe the rich in the United States. He finds that the increase in national inequality in recent decades has been remarkably geographically concentrated, with a very large part of it identifying with five counties: Santa Clara, San Francisco and San Mateo in California; New York; and King in Washington. All of which benefitted greatly from the technology and financial industries. He writes:

lt is well known that technology firms are not distributed uniformly; they are concentrated in centers such as San Francisco and SanJose, Seattle, Raleigh-Durham, Austin, and Boston. Th.eir :financiers are concentrated in New York County, New York-otherwise known as Manhattan. Income growth in the counties surrounding these areas accounted for the bulk of the inequality increase in the late i990s, and when the information technology bubble burst in 2000, falling relative incomes in these same areas reduced aggregate between-county inequality. In particular, the same four counties that contributed most to the increase in between-county income inequality from 1994 to 2000 contributed most to the inequality decline from 2000 to 2003: New York, Santa Clara, San Mateo, and San Francisco.
California, New York and Washington are all known as liberal states.

Galbraith devotes a separate chapter to the effects of inequality on voting in the US. His concluding summary:

Our analysis suggests that high inequality levels are weakly associated with a larger Democratic vote and also with diminished turnout. These results are strengthened when fixed effects are introduced; rising inequality correlates to deepening Democratic preference and reduced turnout. When the spatial location of voting groups is considered, our results suggest that it is not so much the raw inequality of incomes that is decisive, but the existence of inequalities across populations that do not confront each other aggressively in daily and political life. [my emphasis]
In other words, Galbraith's in-depth analysis shows that a situation where the wealthiest people and the rest "do not confront each other aggressively in daily and political life" has exactly the opposite effect suggested by Williams.

Tuesday, August 01, 2017

Venezuela and the US after Sunday

"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

"Venezuela claims the world’s largest proven reserves of petroleum, an estimated 298 billion barrels of oil." - Michael Klare, The Desperate Plight of Petro-States TomDispatch 05/26/2016

The Trump Family Business Administration is now calling the Venezuelan government a dictatorship and elected President Nicolás Maduro a dictator. And his CIA is all but explicitly declaring that they are actively supporting a regime change effort there. A State Department spokesperson today called the election for a Constituent Assembly in Venezuela on Sunday was "illegitimate." (State Department news briefing PBS Newshour 08/01/2017)

She mentioned that Vice President Pence has spoken directly to one of the main opposition leaders in Venezuela, Leopoldo López, and communicated to him that the US is concerned about what she called "grave human rights" abuses. She quoted Pence as saying, "The United States stands with the Venezuelan people and we call for the full and unconditional release of all political prisoners in Venezuela, free and fair elections, restoration of the National Assembly, and respect for human rights in Venezuela." She says "the United States urges the re-establishment of democracy in Venezuela."

At the same press conference, ExxonMobil Secretary of State Rex Tillerson addressed Venezuela starting at 35:00, saying that US policy is to work with like-minded governments in the Organization of American States (OAS) "as well as others who share our view of Venezuela's future." He articulated the current official US position representing Sunday's vote as abolishing democracy in Venezuela. Whether Secretary ExxonMobil cares about human rights and democracy in Venezuela or is thinking mainly of the oil, you can make your own guess. López and another major opposition leader who had been under house arrest were returned to prison after Sunday's election, charged with violating the terms of their house arrest. Tillerson presented that as a "re-arrest." And in what could easily been heard as a threat - to me it obviously is a threat - he said that "this could lead to an outbreak of further violence in the country." He followed it up by saying, "We are evaluating all of our policy options as to what can we do to create a change of conditions where either Maduro decides he doesn't have a future and wants to leave of his own accord, or we can return the government processes back to their constitution."

The US at this point isn't even calling for Bashar al-Assad's removal of head of government in Syria. We Americans are shocked, shocked that Russia would try to fiddle around in our elections last year. But Latin America, we can openly declare we're ousting an elected President there and it's just routine business, because we're Exceptional. None of this looks good to me. I wish I could expect to hear an outcry in Congress over something like this. But I'm not holding my breath.

Without belaboring it, I'll point out here that the current Venezuelan government, both President and National Assembly (Congress), were elected in competitive elections. A Constituent Assembly to write a new Constitution was not so long ago a demand of the anti-Maduro opposition. But the opposition boycotted Sunday's election. It's clear that there have been police and military abuses in Venezuela, which the anti-Maduro opposition has made sure are are presented to the American public via an all-too-uncritical media. The organized and spontaneous violent actions by the opposition have not received similar publicity in the US.

I'm not going to recount the past 18 years of Venezuelan politics in every post on Venezuela. And I'm not going to repeat every time I quote or share something from TeleSUR that it is primarily funded by Venezuela with contributions from several other South American countries and takes a sympathetic position toward the current Venezuelan government of Nicolás Maduro. I assume that readers can apply reasonably critical thinking to what they read and hear. Not everyone does, I know. But that's the operative assumption at this blog.

I also try to avoid facile comparisons between how the US approaches foreign affairs and how we object to similar practices on the part of other countries. That's partly because hypocrisy of that sort is part of the common currency of diplomacy. But the fact that the US feels so little embarrassment about regime change operations is one reason that we can't reasonably expect Latin Americans to be shocked, shocked by the accusations the US intelligence agencies and the media have been making about Russian interference in the 2016 American elections. And do you remember the last time we let somebody out of prison because a hostile foreign government demanded it? Me neither. But we're American and we're Exceptional.

Also, it's a useful exercise to imagine that the Russian Foreign Minister just gave a press conference declaring, "We are evaluating all of our policy options as to what can we do to create a change of conditions where either Trump decides he doesn't have a future and wants to leave of his own accord, or we can return the government processes back to their constitution."

TeleSUR carried this clip of Maduro responding to the escalation of the rhetoric from the US government against Venezuela

Abby Martin in this edition of her Empire Files program on TeleSUR interviews the head of the Venezuelan National Guard. And she elecits his responses to some of the serious accusations being made against him. Head of Venezuela National Guard on Insurgency & US Threats 07/31/2017:

The rhetorical - and almost certainly not only rhetorical - escalation that Venezuela now faces from the US certainly give Maduro the ability to frame the internal political struggle in Venezuela as an anti-imperialist stand for democracy and against US imperialism. In this clip (Maduro: Trump arremete contra el pueblo de México y nadie alza la voz TeleSUR 07/31/2017), he asks at the start (in Spanish), "Are you with Trump or are you with Venezuela? Are you with Trump or are you with democracy? Are you with Trump or are you with the destiny of the free peoples of the world? ... Are you with Trump or are you with the Free World?"

Rumors, lies and hate-mongering

"Ausländer, Sex, Gewalt - das ist ein toxischer Mix, der den Leuten den Verstand benebelt. Wen kümmert da noch, was Wahrheit ist, was Lüge?" (Foreigners, sex, violence - that is a toxic mix that fogs people's understand. Then who worries bothers about what is true and what is a lie?") - Jakob Augstein, Die Schaumschlägerei von Schorndorf Spiegel Online 24.07.2017

"The intent of the tale that Trump told his rabid fans in Ohio was simple: foment hatred for immigrants." - Rex Huppke, Donald Trump's behavior is abnormal Chicago Tribune 07/26/2017

Augstein was referring to an incident in Germany during a Volksfest in a southern German town. The Volkfests are basically roudy outdoor beer parties that particular attract teenagers and young adults. Reported violence there picked up on an ambiguous local police report that could be read as a thousand people having rioted. Actually, it was pretty clear in the police report that they meant there were 1000 people in attendance and there were some violent incidents, which apparently happen at this event every year. But the rumor mill online and elsewhere took it as a thousand people rioting and treated it up into a model sinister case of criminal foreigners attacking good innocent Germans. The buzzwords became things like "sex crimes," "Migrant" and "attack on police." (Alexander Schulz, Chronik einer Eskalation Spiegel Online 20.07.2017)

Although it's worth noting that erroneous version was first promoted not by skinheads or Russian bots, but by the respectable DPA news agency.

In the American case, it was the President himself promoting the foreigner-sex-violence hate slogans in front of a crowd of New York police, some of whom were applauding his nastiest and most violence-encouraging comments. Huppke's take on it was to focus on the demagoguery of Trump's torture porn:

That's a story the president of the United States told at a rally in Ohio on Tuesday night. It's a creepy story, one that mixes unnecessarily detailed savagery with the image of "a young, beautiful girl."

There's no mention of the anecdote's origin, no specifics on when or where a "beautiful, beautiful, innocent" young person was sliced and diced and put through "excruciating pain." There is just the violent imagery, and the repeated reference to "animals."

That's weird. It's intentionally dehumanizing an entire group of people, which I'll get to in a moment, but it's also just weird. Weird in a way that if someone at a bar told you that story you'd excuse yourself and walk away as quickly as possible.

It's sadistic.
And Huppke actually fact-checked a bit:

Did his story of slicing and dicing stem from an actual event? I don't know.

The closest story I could find was the murder of two teen girls on Long Island last year. They were attacked by members of the brutal MS-13 street gang and beaten to death with bats and a machete. Several of the gang members arrested were in the country illegally.

Without question, there are crimes committed by people who are here illegally. But as a group, immigrants — both documented and undocumented — commit fewer crimes than native-born Americans.
Fact-checking and explaining reality will normally not directly counteract the effect of such hate-mongering on those who want to hear it.

But fact matter, too.

Monday, July 31, 2017

Kamala Harris and internal Democratic Party politics

A Facebook friend called my attention to this article from last April on California Sen. Kamala Harris: Evan Halper, Sen. Kamala Harris sees a path out of the wilderness for Democrats — but can she sell it to them? Los Angeles Times 04/06/2017.

Harris is currently a new hope for corporate Democrats. Although it's not really clear at this point that she's going in that direction. Halper's article gives some indication of that. But mostly it's confusing.

“We can’t afford to be purists,” Harris said. “You have to ask that question of yourself: Are we going to be purists to this resistance to the point that you let these guys go? Or can you understand that you may not agree with 50% of their policy positions, but I can guarantee you will disagree with 100% of their replacements’ policy positions. So that is part of the question. What do we have to do in this movement to be pragmatic?”
This sounds like a corporate Dem lecturing New Deal Dems about why we should all cheer for conservative Dems who vote for the Republicans. But the main current version of the corporate Dem position, as illustrated by Hillary Clinton, is to emphasize a libertarian position on equal rights for women, blacks, Latinos, immigrants and the LGBTQ community, while sticking to neoliberal economic positions with an emphasis on the desires of the finance sector and pursuing a more-or-less hawkish position on foreign policy that continue the Cold War triumphalism shared by Presidential Administration since Bill Clinton's and Old Man Bush's.

But Halper says of Kamala Harris, "California’s freshman senator, a civil rights crusader whose India-born mother and Jamaica-raised father met during political protests in the Bay Area, is so associated with the identity politics of the left that her Twitter feed was a punchline in a recent “Saturday Night Live” skit. But as she finds her way in Washington, Harris is embracing an approach somewhat at odds with that image."

And in the interview, she positions herself this way:

“There is this conversation that we’ve got to go back and get him,” she said, referring to the prototypical white, male Trump voter. “The inference there is that to do that we need to walk away from that Latina or black mom. That is a mistake.”

But she suggested the party has too often seized on wedge, identity politics issues that divide voters. “What I do know about those two ladies and that guy is when we wake up at 3 in the morning or something is troubling us, it is never through the lens of, ‘am I Democrat or Republican,’ or on our identity based on what other people have decided is our identity.”

Instead, she said, it is economic issues that weigh on people: their bills, their job troubles, their difficulty getting health insurance.
This sounds like a mishmash of the Clinton approach (emphasis on "identity" politics, corporate-friendly economics), the New Deal Dem stance (an aggressive approach to civil rights with distinctly prolabor economics) and the old DLC stance (try to sound more conservative across the board).

I was struck by her abstract example, "Or can you understand that you may not agree with 50% of their policy positions, but I can guarantee you will disagree with 100% of their replacements’ policy positions." So does this mean that Democrats should be satisfied with candidates who are only half-Democrats? That would be the literal meaning of the statement.

But beyond that, where does that percentage become too small a fraction of a Democrat for Harris not to support them? And for members of Congress and state legislators, the voting percentage is less important than what the Democratic position they vote for and when. It's typical for legislators on both sides to vote with the other party on some issue in which the other side's position is more favored or more vocally favored in their district. But on big votes - a major health care plan, a Supreme Court Justice, a major infrastruture program, public financing for political campaigns - if Democrats are casting deciding votes on those issues against the Democratic position, then those Dems are probably not Democratic enough, regardless of the percentage of overall votes they cast with their own party.

There's also a big difference between party primaries and general elections. No incumbent really wants to have a party challenger. (Or one from the other party, for that matter!) But if the Democratic left wants to move the party in a more progressive direction, they have to give attention to party primaries. And win a lot of them. Because even if there is a Democratic majority in both Houses of Congress, if only half the Democrats vote for Democratic positions ... The math on that is brutal.

Another head-scratcher in the Harris interview is this:

She pointed to the incident at a bar outside of Kansas City, Kan., in February in which an attacker shot and killed an Indian immigrant he mistakenly believed to be a Muslim. Patrons in the bar risked their lives trying to protect the victim, she said.

“I bet you that patrons in that bar voted for Trump,” Harris said. “But when presented with that situation, at that moment, without reflection, they did the right thing…. We can’t afford to put people in boxes.”
This would be more meaningful if she could say, for instance, that the Kansas Republican Party took the opportunity to start a publicity campaign against racial violence. Or, for instance, used it to talk up the need for better gun control. Ha! As if!

But what is her point there? That some Republicans would be willing to come to the assistance of someone who had just been gunned down? And she had to speculate to make that point in this particular case she brought up.

And it's a misleading example anyway. An election is a collective political event, not an individual moment of someone being in danger of their life. Maybe Harris knows of some poll that surveyed the partisan inclinations of people who spontaneously came to the aid of shooting victims. But that didn't make it into the interview.

Halper also seems to read a lot into the following, which sounds like boilerplate to me. Even Bernie Sanders says in general that he would support a real infrastructure program if Trump proposed it. Which he won't.

But despite pressure from activists on the left, Harris refuses to rule out working with the White House.

“Political capital is something that does not gain interest,” she said, when asked how she thought Democrats should respond if the White House offers to collaborate on joint priorities, such as federal money to rebuild outdated roads, bridges and airports. “When you’ve got it, you’ve got to spend it.... If the Trump administration puts in place a real, significant and genuine plan for infrastructure, I'll be down with it.” [my emphasis]
That ain't gonna happen.

For some less ambiguous takes on Democratic patisanship and winning elections, here is Michael Moore, Democrats Aren't Running The Right People 07/31/2017:

Also: Dean Baker, A Better Deal Than What? Truthout 07/31/2017.

Sunday, July 30, 2017

Competence and confusion in US foreign policy

Danielle Ryan has a sensible take on Bundespräsident Von Trump's approach to foreign policy to date, Trump’s foreign policy: Bizarre and inconsistent, or more strategic than we think? Salon 07/30/2017: "Maybe the haphazardness and mixed messages that characterize Trumpian foreign policy are part of a grander strategy we cannot yet perceive — or maybe they are indicative of an administration that can’t even manage itself, never mind complex international conflicts."

She observes that such inconsistency isn't entirely surprising, "He has been on both sides of most issues at one point or another."

Ryan uses the example of Trump bombing Syria and then later ending support to the fabled Syrian Moderates, seemingly conflicting positions. She also notes that despite his apparent desire to improve relations with Russia, Trump's administration also announced what could be a significant anti-Russian escalation with Ukraine:

Why then, just a week later, did the new U.S. special envoy on Ukraine, Kurt Volker, announce during an interview in Paris that the U.S. was now considering sending weapons to the Kiev government, which could be used against pro-Russian rebels in the breakaway eastern regions of the country — a move that would undoubtedly undo any Moscow goodwill resulting from the decision to stop arming rebels in Syria?
And she describes:

... a creeping advance on the town of [Russian separatist area] Avdiivka by Kiev’s forces — and a subsequent effort to lay the blame solely on the separatists, while maintaining the government’s innocence.

Ukraine’s deputy defense minister blew the lid off that narrative when he told Ukrainian media: “As of today, despite everything, meter by meter, step by step, whenever possible, our boys have been advancing.”

It is unrealistic to think that support and weapons from the Trump administration would not increase tensions in Ukraine and irritate an already complicated situation. Throwing new weapons at the problem is no solution.
It would be a mistake to discount the role of plain incompetence in the Trump Family Business Administration's policies, foreign and otherwise.

Some progressives have expressed the hope that Trump is rejecting the "War Party" in favor of a less interventionist foreign policy. The problem is that Old Right isolationist views can sound superficially like pacifist ones. But that outlook, which seems to be Trump's basic reference point in foreign policy, is actually highly nationalistic and leans toward unilateral military solutions. This administration's dramatic de-emphasis on even basic staffing for the State Department and US embassies abroad is consistent with the rightwing isolationist approach.

Ryan opens the piece describing how cutting off the aid to the legendary Syrian Moderates can be taken as a pro-Russian policy, an anti-interventionist policy and/or a realistic, pragmatic move:

When Trump administration officials announced an end to the covert CIA program to arm and train Syrian rebels in their fight against Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, many framed it as a win for Russia — and while it was indeed something Russia had been seeking for years, it also, more importantly, made sense.

For years, this “secret” effort to aid rebels against Assad had been openly reported. The program enjoyed a budget of up to $1 billion per year — yet it had achieved absolutely nothing. It only helped prolong the war and actually aided groups like al-Nusra (al-Qaida’s Syrian affiliate) and ISIS by allowing arms meant for “moderate” groups to enter into their hands instead.

Despite the effort ending in abject failure, much of the media reporting painted the decision to end this scheme as a catastrophe — simply because it also happened to benefit Russia (which supports Assad against the rebel forces). [my emphasis]
But even a strongly antiwar foreign policy would require competent diplomacy. And so far, that doesn't seem to be a prominent characteristic of this administration.

Saturday, July 29, 2017

Realtiy-based references on MS-13

Hearing about reality won't in itself convince anyone who has a favorite hatred, against black or Jews or Latinos or whoever.

But reality matters. "Sharia" is a slogan for Islamophobes (or Muslim-haters, if you prefer). But Sharia law is a real thing, whose reality has little resemblance to the fear fantasies about it in the US and Western Europe. (See my Varieties of Islāmic law post of 08/24/2010.) I would like to see a TV moderator ask someone ranting about Sharia if they are referring to the Maliki, Hanafi, Shafii, Hanbalite, Twelver Shi'a or Ibādite variety.

Trump's white supremacist hate slogan against Latinos, "MS-13" is a similar story. The gutter white right adopted it as a fear-and-hate word. There is a reality behind it, one that has nothing to do with most Latinos, immigrants to the US or otherwise.

The US Army's Military Review journal carried an analysis in 2006 (Steven C. Boraz and Thomas C. Bruneau, Are the Maras Overwhelming Governments in Central America? Nov-Dec 2006) about Central American gangs (maras Nov-Dec 2006). Boraz and Bruneau give this historical overview:

The maras emerged from conflicts in El Salvador, Guatemala, and Nicaragua during the 1980s. Thousands of people fled north, including a large number of young men who had fought on the governments’ side or with the insurgents. Many of these young men went to Los Angeles, but because they were poorly educated, few were able to find work. In a city already structured in terms of gangs, their familiarity with guns and armed combat was their one advantage. Some were incorporated into such neighborhood gangs as the African–American Crips and Bloods; the Mexican-American, illegal-immigrant gang EME; and the Mexican Mafia. Some of the men, especially those from El Salvador, joined the multi-ethnic 18th Street Gang. Other Salvadorans founded the Mara Salvatrucha (Group of Smart, or savvy, Salvadorans) 13, or MS-13, to compete with the 18th Street Gang because they believed the Salvadorans in that gang were traitors. (The new gang gave itself the number 13, as in 13th Street, where many Salvadorans had settled.) As most of what the maras were (and are) involved in was criminal activity, they were arrested and put into prison, where they further defined their gang identities and honed their criminal skills. [my emphasis in bold]
This is another example of a familiar cycle of violence. Civil wars in Central American countries, actively encouraged and armed by the Reagan Administration. Reagan turned over Central American policy to neocons, who made the area their violent playground. Refugees came to the US, where for some of them it was difficult for them to integrate into society via legal channels. Some of them later return home to Central America and exacerbate criminal violence there.

Weston Phippin also describes that cycle in What Trump Doesn't Understand About MS-13 The Atlantic 06/26/2017.

Boraz and Bruneau describe MS-13 initiation rituals that were picked up in the plot of the Telemundo novela Bajo el mismo cielo (2015-6).

They describe the maras generally (not MS-13 alone) as a significant security problem in El Salvador, Guatemala and Nicaragua. Not that they refrain from some hair-raising descriptions: "Whole sections of cities, such as Guatemala City and Tegucigalpa, are under the control of maras, which, of course, fight each other for control of turf. When international organized crime employs maras, entire sections of countries, such as the Peten in Guatemala, slip from the state’s sovereign control."

But they distinguish those described threat level from the situation of Central American gangs in the US, speaking not just of MS-13:

To our knowledge, there is no credible evidence linking the maras to terrorism. This is clearly good news for the United States considering the ease with which gang members cross the borders into this country. Further, while the maras are a crime problem in cities across the United States, the situation in most of Central America is much more serious because of a lower level of economic development and the fragility of the new democracies and their institutions.
The following year, Military Review carried another article on the maras, this one by Federico Brevé, who served as the Honduran Minister of Defense 2002 to 2006, The Maras - A Menace to the Americas (July-Aug 2007). It mentions MS-13, as well, but its subject is the larger gang environment, and focuses on Central American issues.

This is a one-minute clip on MS-13 from CNN, MS-13: America's most dangerous street gang? 03/02/2017:

Here are some other news and commentary pieces on the real existing MS-13:

Friday, July 28, 2017

Trump makes "MS-13" a slogan of fear and hatred against Latinos and immigrants

Bundespräsident Von Trump spoke before a crowd of uniformed police in New York today, smearing Latinos as sadistic criminals and encouraging brutality and criminal behavior by the police. He used the longtime nativist bogeyman of MS-13 as his excuse. Trump discusses immigration and crime in New York PBS Newshour 07/28/2017:

His speech was basically white supremacist torture porn.

Hearing Trump as President in full Duterte mode today made me feel ill. Part of why his white supremacist fans love him is that he says things that upset Mean Libruls. And I assume that a majority of his white voters approve of seeing nonviolent immigrants brutalized and terrorized by ICE agents.

And why police sworn to uphold the law were applauding this is another reminder of how badly corrupted and lawless too many of our police forces have become.

The use of MS-13 at a symbol of and incitement to fear and hatred against Latinos was a popular theme among white supremacists since at least the early 2000s. Like various other themes, this one migrated from the white supremacist gutter to the position of the Republicans President.

MS-13 is a real gang, or a "brand" of gangs. But I won't stop to cite any reality-based sources here. In this speech, Trump uses "MS-13" as a ritual buzzword. I've focused lately on Islamophia in Austria. And one thing I took fromr a couple of extended TV panels featuring Muslim-hating participants was the way they made a point of tossing in a set of buzzwords: "jihad," "headscarves," "sharia," "salafi," "Saudi Arabia," "political Islam."

Tossing out "MS-13" along with torture-porn accessories functions in the same way: to promote fear and hatred rather than thought or understanding. And Trump is using it in this speech as a symbol against Latinos and immigrants.

Charlie Pierce tweeted a series of comments on Trump's speech:

Wednesday, July 26, 2017

Democrats and the imagined Maverick McCain

Chauncey DeVega makes a valuable point about how we need to understand the celebration of John McCain of a Bold Maverick by the Democratic Party, as well as the media. In John McCain is no maverick: The man who inflicted Sarah Palin on us kowtows to Trump Salon 07/26/2017, he reminds us that McCain is the single person most responsible for making Sarah Palin a national political figure. And that McCain has been fine with the transformation of his party into an authoritarian, Christianist entity willing to be led by a malicious Orange Clown: "McCain’s policies are mostly the party’s; the Republican Party’s policies are largely his."

And this is a critical point:

The Democratic Party’s failures are also exemplified by its relationship with John McCain.

Democrats and the so-called liberal media lionize and respect him, fawning over his superior character and declaring him a “maverick.” But on Tuesday, as many times in the past, McCain sided with his fellow Republicans and against the American people. Even as Democrats cheered McCain’s return to the Senate, it should be clear that he is no friend of theirs.

Unfortunately, the Democratic Party continues to treat its enemies on the other side of the political aisle with respect and to hold out a pathetic expectation that bipartisan compromise and negotiation are possible. For years, the Democratic Party has been in a fight to the death with the Republican Party. Yet the Democrats keep bringing hugs and handshakes while the Republicans show up with knives and guns. Who will win in the end? The answer is obvious. The question is really just a formality.

The Revered Statesman McCain's Senate speech Tuesday

I guess I'll join the commentary on the speech of the Bold Maverick and Revered Statesman John McCain. Here was his speech (John McCain addresses the Senate after returning from cancer diagnosis PBS Newshour 07/25/2017):

My take is that this is typical McCain, who has one of the most consistent conservative and Republican Party-line voting records in the Senate, gave us another example of his long performance as the Serious Conservative who expresses deeply concerned about the sad lack of bipartisan accord and then votes the hardline Republican position.

It also has a stock appeal to bipartisan cooperation, meaning the Democrats should agree to what the Republicans want. But the Maverick's many doting admirers in the press corps happily processes this as high-minded statesmanship.

The Young Turks shared their early reactions on Tuesday, John McCain Makes Epic "No" Trumpcare Speech, Votes Yes 07/25/2017:

Charlie Pierce weighs in (The Price of John McCain's Republican Loyalty Esquire Politics Blog 07/25/2017):

It was an ugly day in the United States Senate on Tuesday, as ugly a day as has been seen in that chamber since the death of Strom Thurmond, who used to make a day ugly simply by showing up. The Senate took up the Motion To Proceed on whatever the hell hash Mitch McConnell wants to make out of the American healthcare system. (The decision now seems to be between whether we kick 30 million, 22 million, or 18 million of our fellow citizens to the curb.) ...

But the ugliest thing to witness on a very ugly day in the United States Senate was what John McCain did to what was left of his legacy as a national figure. He flew all the way across the country, leaving his high-end government healthcare behind in Arizona, in order to cast the deciding vote to allow debate on whatever ghastly critter emerges from what has been an utterly undemocratic process. He flew all the way across the country in order to facilitate the process of denying to millions of Americans the kind of medical treatment that is keeping him alive, and to do so at the behest of a president* who mocked McCain's undeniable military heroism.

... the Straight Talk Express is in the ditch. The Affordable Care Act was the product of endless hearings and at least 100 amendments proposed by Republicans. It was scored by the CBO. The Senate debated it for almost a month, and the senators knew what was in it. Right now, the bill that John McCain facilitated likely will be one that isn't scored by the CBO, and the Freedom Caucus crackpots in the House are trying to defund the CBO and hand the job of scoring legislation to the Heritage Foundation. I would bet a substantial number of buffalo nickels that John McCain votes for whatever bill finally comes before him, no matter how many people's lives that bill makes miserable.

Tuesday, July 25, 2017

Peter Beinart on walking and talking at the same time in the Trump-Russia scandal

I was prepared to dislike this piece by Peter Beinart, especially given its title, Donald Trump's Defenders on the Left The Atlantic 07/23/2017. And there are echoes of his old even-the-liberal-New-Republic persona. He even puts the term "neoconservatives" in quotes at one point (see below), supposedly suggesting its not really a valid term, though it was the self-designation of the hawkish foreign policy advocates who developed it.

But mostly he makes a good analysis of left critics of the New Cold War rhetoric that many Democrats are using in connection with the Trump-Russia scandal. He focuses in particular on Max Blumenthal, who doesn't pull any punches in his criticisms of professional warmongers.

Beinart's point is that the intelligence agencies' reports on Russian meddling in the 2016 election have to be taken very seriously. And he addresses the difference between the current set of claims and the highly dubious - and false - claims of the Cheney-Bush Administration about "weapons of mass destruction" in Iraq.

And he acknowledges what many Democrats and the mainstream press are reluctant to do, that the 2016 cyber-meddling takes place in a larger, dynamic political and military environment that the US government under Obama and Trump have incentive to be less than transparent about. "[I]n recent years the United States has waged proxy battles against Russia in places like Ukraine, Syria, and Afghanistan," he writes. And he sensibly observes that people who recognize the seriousness of the election meddling "need not respond to Russia’s meddling by supporting NATO expansion or greater military intervention in Syria."

And while acknowledging the legitimacy of the concerns of left critics like Max Blumenthal and Glenn Greenwald about the misuse of the election meddling for illegitimate or ill-advised, Beinart argues, "But last year, Russia unexpectedly attacked the United States itself in ways that genuinely harmed ordinary Americans. Trying to prevent Russia from doing so again doesn’t make you an imperialist or a hawk. No matter how anti-interventionist you are, you need to protect your own country."

I try to be cautious about using words like "attack," to describe what we know about Russia election meddling. Particularly since the Pentagon and the Obama Administration were publicly saying years ago that a cyber attack could be considered an "act of war." (Reuven Cohen, The White House and Pentagon Deem Cyber-Attacks "An Act of War" Forbes 06/05/2012) Are we going to declare war on nuclear-armed Russia over some propaganda bots?

[Max Blumenthal argues] that the anti-Moscow line Democrats are now pushing will come back to haunt them. It “will be repurposed by the political establishment” so that “anyone on the left … who steps out of line on the issues of permanent war or of corporate free trade will be painted as Russia puppets.” [Glenn] Greenwald has made a similar argument. On Monday he savaged a new foreign policy group, the Alliance for Securing Democracy, which brings Clinton campaign veterans together with “neoconservatives” like Bill Kristol. “The song Democrats are now singing about Russia and Putin,” wrote Greenwald, “is one the neocons wrote many years ago, and all of the accompanying rhetorical tactics—accusing those who seek better relations with Moscow of being Putin’s stooges, unpatriotic, of suspect loyalties, etc.—are the ones that have defined the neocons smear campaigns for decades.”

There’s a basis to this fear. Democrats have unleashed dangerous forces by getting to the GOP’s right on foreign policy before. In 1992, for instance, Bill Clinton criticized George H.W. Bush for not deposing Saddam Hussein. In so doing, he helped lay the foundation for the push for regime change that culminated a decade later in the Iraq War. (A war I mistakenly supported.)

But the problem with downplaying Russian election meddling because you’re afraid it will fuel militarism is that it evades the central question: How worrisome is the meddling itself? [my emphasis]

During Obama's last month in office, his administration decline to call the election hacking an act of war. (John Bennett, White House Won’t Call Russia Hacking an Act of War Roll Call 01/05/2017) The Revered Statesman and Maverick John McCain, however, had something to say about it: "'When you attack a country, it’s an act of war,' the Arizona Republican said recently on Ukrainian television. 'And so we have to make sure that there is a price to pay so that we can perhaps persuade Russians to stop this kind of attacks on our very fundamentals of democracy.'"

I'm going to make a wild guess that Bundespräsident Von Trump will also decline to call it an act of war.

Gleen Greenwald's caution about the Alliance for Securing Democracy is well-founded (With New D.C. Policy Group, Dems Continue to Rehabilitate and Unify With Bush-Era Neocons The Intercept 07/17/2017):

Democrats often justify this union [with Republican neocoonns]as a mere marriage of convenience: a pragmatic, temporary alliance necessitated by the narrow goal of stopping Trump. But for many reasons, that is an obvious pretext, unpersuasive in the extreme. This Democrat/neocon reunion had been developing long before anyone believed Donald Trump could ascend to power, and this alliance extends to common perspectives, goals, and policies that have little to do with the current president.

It is true that neocons were among the earliest and most vocal GOP opponents of Trump. That was because they viewed him as an ideological threat to their orthodoxies (such as when he advocated for U.S. “neutrality” on the Israel/Palestine conflict and railed against the wisdom of the wars in Iraq and Libya), but they were also worried that his uncouth, offensive personality would embarrass the U.S. and thus weaken the “soft power” needed for imperial hegemony. Even if Trump could be brought into line on neocon orthodoxy — as has largely happened — his ineptitude and instability posed a threat to their agenda.

But Democrats and neocons share far more than revulsion toward Trump; particularly once Hillary Clinton became the party’s standard-bearer, they share the same fundamental beliefs about the U.S. role in the world and how to assert U.S. power. In other words, this alliance is explained by far more than antipathy to Trump.

Indeed, the likelihood of a neocon/Democrat reunion long predates Trump. Back in the summer of 2014 — almost a year before Trump announced his intent to run for president — longtime neocon-watcher Jacob Heilbrunn, writing in the New York Times, predicted that “the neocons may be preparing a more brazen feat: aligning themselves with Hillary Rodham Clinton and her nascent presidential campaign, in a bid to return to the driver’s seat of American foreign policy.” [my emphasis]
And it's worth noting here that a more pro-Russian turn in foreign policy by the Trump Family Business Administration will not necessarily result in a more peaceful state of affairs. Managing a shift from antagonism and toward co-existence and partnership between the US and Russia is a complicated diplomatic and political task. The current Administration has so far not shown the aptitude for anything more complicated than haranguing the Boy Scouts with partisan rhetoric.

Monday, July 24, 2017

Rollout of the Democrats' "Better Deal"

Sen. Chuck Schumer after his pre-rollout rollout on Sunday, presents the Democrats' A Better Deal for American Workers New York Times 07/24/2017.

The column version doesn't give me more encouragement than yesterday's version he delivered on This Week. This one continues with the litany Democrats have been maintaining for so many years now of apologizing for being Democrats:

In the last two elections, Democrats, including in the Senate, failed to articulate a strong, bold economic program for the middle class and those working hard to get there. We also failed to communicate our values to show that we were on the side of working people, not the special interests. We will not repeat the same mistake. This is the start of a new vision for the party, one strongly supported by House and Senate Democrats.

Our better deal is not about expanding the government, or moving our party in one direction or another along the political spectrum. Nor is it about tearing down government agencies that work, that effectively protect consumers and promote the health and well-being of the country. It’s about reorienting government to work on behalf of people and families. [my emphasis]
A few decades back, it became a joke to say, "What we have here is a problem of communication." The joke was that this is a nicey-nice way of papering over disagreements that are over substantive questions, not just word choices. The Republicans have communicated very well that they want massive tax cuts for the very wealthiest. I understand what they're doing, it's not that they've failed to communicate that. It's that I think it's a bad idea.

So Schumer saying the Democrats are not communicating well enough is something similar, an excuse for not being able to get voters to identify the Democratic Party as anything much more clearly than being a party of urban elites. In the first paragraph just quoted, he tries to say two different things at once. One is the party now has a new vision. But they are adopting this new vision not because anything was wrong with their previous approach, only that they've had a failure to communicate effectively.

This is not very convincing as a re-positioning statement.

And he continues with the Democrats' chronic habit of framing issues in Republican terms. The Democrats are the party that has at least some visible remnants of the New Deal idea of positive govenrment, of government as an activist democratic entity that can and should work for the general good and particularly for the well-being of working people, poor and otherwise. The Republicans have long since successfully positioned themselves as the anti-government party. As in St. Reagan's famous campaign line, "Government is not the solution to our problem, government is the problem." (Although he often pronounced it, "gubment.")

When Schumer writes, "Our better deal is not about expanding the government ...", he's repeating what long since has become a me-too refrain of Democrats saying, we're against the gubment, too!

Schumer talks up antitrust enforcement. But he's hardly sending a clear message. An obvious antitrust message might be, "Break Up ExxonMobil!" Or, "Split Up the Too-Big-to-Fail Banks!"

Here's Schumer's version:

Right now our antitrust laws are designed to allow huge corporations to merge, padding the pockets of investors but sending costs skyrocketing for everything from cable bills and airline tickets to food and health care. We are going to fight to allow regulators to break up big companies if they’re hurting consumers and to make it harder for companies to merge if it reduces competition. [my emphasis]
There's a big difference in saying, we want to break up this monopoly that is acting in destructive ways, and saying, "we'll allow some regulators to consider breaking up some monopoly or other if they decide it's bad." One sounds like tackling an identifiable problem, maybe even like the classic populist stance of standing up for the People against the Elite. Schumer's version sounds like the Democrats making a half-hearted gesture at being Democrats, apologizing for it as he does it.

And this is another case of the Democrats rolling out lists. He has a list of three themes, then a hodgepodge of proposals. Which adds up to a muddled message.

And the message he does deliver is full of telltale signs of the Democrats' adherence to neoliberal economics. American voters may not use the term "neoliberal" very much. But they do recognize some of these arguments and don't put much faith in them.

The neoliberal Gospel holds that it's wrong for the gubment to directly create jobs. Doing so for the explicit purpose of creating jobs is derided as creating "make-work jobs." But creating jobs is, you know, making work. So accepting that framing, as the Democrats have for decades now, is already buying into the notion that there's something wrong with jobs directly created by the government. Because, of course, gubment is not the solution to our problem, gubment is the problem," amirite?

The neoliberal buzzwords for sounding like you maybe possibly want to do something to increase jobs without doing so directly include: "infrastructure"; "training"; and, "education." Obviously, infrastructure, training and education are good and necessary things. But "infrastructure" is easy to say, while committing public funds to specific projects to accomplish specific goals with an explicit purpose of stimulating the economy and creating jobs where people will get not only trained but paid is much more specific. But "infrastructure" in the abstract sounds great. And a package of tax breaks for hedge funds combined a privatization program (everyone loves toll roads, right?) can also be packaged as "infrastructure." Which is what Trump's plan is about, to the extent it's a real plan at all.

Of course, corporate-deregulation treaties packaged as trade agreements like TTIP and TPP are a major part of the neoliberal scheme. Democrats and Republicans have justified those in the United States since the debate of NAFTA ratification by saying, we know they will costs some jobs, but there will be more jobs to replace them, and we will have retraining programs to take care of the displaced workers. Jobs went away, the new jobs weren't in the same areas the jobs were lost, and the retraining did little to ameliorate the situation, when it happened at all. At this point, "training" in this context is like a ritual incantation with little credibility.

Chuck's substitution for a program to create jobs or actual training programs is, yes, you guessed it, tax cuts for business! (Remind me again how the Dems are different than the Republicans; sometimes it's hard to keep up.)

A federal jobs program can be complex. But it doesn't require a new Manhattan Project effort to discover how to do it. They can be a combination of directly creating positions and actual job-training relevant to available local jobs. It requires good administration to be done in an optimal way. But it's not a mystery. And much more straightforward to explain than some trickle-down hocus pocus with tax cuts for business.

This Better Deal effort so far looks like the Democrats think they can coast to electoral victory in 2018. I would rather see some urgency about getting the base voters out next. And "gosh, we apologize for being Democrats but we're really not so bad" is just not the best way to achieve that.