Wednesday, May 24, 2017

Slavoj Žižek is weird

I'm just sayin'.

Slavoj Žižek: On Corbyn, the election, Brexit and fake news Channel 4 News 05/16/2017:

The interviewer here jams him on his chronic sensationalism.

His bit on Gandhi is a wacky idea, in which he buries whatever points he has with a dumb Hitler comparison.

There is an important point to be made about systemic violence. But Žižek doesn't get farther than expressing a fuzzy idea.

He's engages in what is essentially a vapid talking point about surpassing the EU by "a new, much more aggressive universalism."

At around 11:00 in the video, he gets around to making a more-or-less coherent point, that the new French President Emmanuel Macron stands for the same kind of neoliberal economic policies that has recently strengthened the radical, anti-EU rightwing in France. And he right about the point, even though he doesn't state it quite that straightforwardly. The YouTube video is dated May 16, and Macron is already illustrating the point:

TINA referring to the end-of-history dogma that There Is No Alternative to such policies. Even though there very clearly are constructive alternatives.

Then he lamely defends his endorsement of Donald Trump in the 2016 US Presidential election. This looked and looks to me an awful lot like someone taking a very conservative position with a thin veneer of a left justification.

He goes on to mealy-mouth about Jeremy Corbyn and the Labour Party in the upcoming British election.

After 41:00: "I want the rightwing chaos so that the new left will save us from it."

He goes on to complain about LGBT advocates and "political correctness." He may not understand LGBT issues very well.

At least he admits that he consciously tries to provoke with some of his formulations.

El retorno de Cristina?

Cristina Fernández, that is, the President of Argentina 2007-2015.

Not that's she really been absent from the political scene since leaving office in 2015. Her successor Maricio Macri campaigned on a moderate program, or at least a moderate-sounding one. Since assuming office in December 2015, he has instead instituted a standard neoliberal/IMF/Washington Consensus economic menu. And the results are what should have been expected: falling real wages, higher unemployment, cutbacks of essential government services, a cave-in to the blackmail from vulture funds that had bought up defaulted Argentine debt, and taking on new debt, some of which reportedly uses Argentine state property as security. Dropping capital controls has contributed to a high inflation rate, even by Argentine standards. (It's not the kind of triple-digit hyperinflation that Argentina experienced in the late 1980s, at least.)

Cristina has been a regular, public critic of Macri's government. And she still has strong support within the Peronist Partido Justicialista (PJ) and the broader electoral coalition of the Frente para la Victoria, (FpV). This photo and slogan has been popping up in hard copies and online.

The slogan says, "The sun of the 25th is appearing." Or, "Sunrise of the 25th is coming" probably works, too. That's a reference to the 25th of May, a national holiday celebrating the official proclamation of a new national government on that date in 1810, displacing the Spanish Viceroy Baltasar Hidalgo de Cisneros (1756–1829). It's known as May Revolution Day, a key event in the establishment of Argentina as an independent nation. Argentine Independence Day is celebrated on July 9, commemorating the formal declaration of independence of 1816.

May 25 took on a particular political and patriotic significance for the kichneristas. Cristina's late husband Néstor Kirchner became President on May 25, 2003, the beginning of a dramatically new reformist direction for Argentina in which neoliberal political prescriptions were largely rejected in favor of a more activist government aggressively promoting Keynesian policies and recovering the language and spirit of left Peronist populism. (Martín Granovsky, “Llegamos sin rencores y con memoria” Página/12 06.05.2003) The 25th of May was treated as a major day of celebration of what they called the "national and popular" tradition of Argentina, i.e., left-nationalist, democratic and militant social-democratic ones.

Cristina took part in a meeting with other political leaders this week working to form an effective political coalition in Buenos Aires Province for the 2017 legislative elections. (Sin definiciones, pero con afiches Página/12 24.05.2017)

Former Finance Minister and current Deputy in the lower House of the Argentine Congress Axel Kiciloff considers Cristina to be the leader of the movement (kircherista/peronista/FpV), 22/05/17 - Kicillof: "Cristina es la jefa del movimiento y yo soy parte de él":

Tuesday, May 23, 2017

Jerry Brown on the Republicans' Herbert Hoover budget proposal

California Gov. Jerry Brown's press release today on the Trump/Republican austerity budget (except for the wealthy and arms manufacturers):

Governor Edmund G. Brown Jr. today issued the following statement on President Donald J. Trump's 2018 Proposed Budget:

"This budget proposal is based on utterly bogus economic assumptions. It gives a massive tax break to the wealthiest, while imposing painful and debilitating burdens on tens of millions of decent and hard-working people. It's unconscionable and un-American." [my emphasis]

Trump vs. Iran in Saudi Arabia

The opening portion on Trump's current international tour show has not been encouraging.

Fred Kaplan writes of the President's speech on Islam while he was in Saudi Arabia (Trump’s Sunni Strategy Slate 05/22/2017):

... read closely, without a grading curve, the speech was by turns shallow, clichéd, and repellent. Even the few times when its authors approached a bold theme, they veered away, lest it soften the visit’s three main missions: to assure the region’s Sunni leaders that they can run their countries and oppress their critics with no finger-wagging from Washington; to wrap up a massive $110 billion sale of American weapons; and to declare war on Iran, or at least unabashed hostility toward its regime.
Haroon Moghul also has some harsh words for it in While Trump Ingratiates Himself With Saudi Extremists, U.S. Muslims Are Abandoned Haaretz 05/21/2017:

Trump praised Saudi Arabia while denouncing Iran, even as millions of Iranians participated in an election which makes that country more democratic, at least, than almost any of the countries that make up the Gulf Cooperation Council. A speech that began ostensibly with a message of peace and love ended by arguing for the isolation and demonization of Iran.
Far from actually fighting terrorism, Trump’s speech promises to make conditions in the Middle East worse for everyone.
Trump professed love, the common roots of the Abrahamic faiths, and called us the children of God. Unless, of course, you’re a refugee, in which case Trump wants to slam the door shut in your face. He made no mention of banning citizens of Muslim-majority nations from traveling to the United States, either.
Terrorism is not a cause of the Middle East’s backwardness. It is a symptom. Terrorism is a non-state response to overly centralized states, which leave no room for political, religious or social diversity.
That Trump’s anti-Muslim rhetoric was not merely campaign bluster is clear in the policies he’s proposed and supported: Islamophobic, homophobic, misogynistic, xenophobic, anti-immigrant and anti-science.
... we are doubling down on an historic American-Saudi partnership that has not only prevented the rise of extremism, but has been unable to prevent the fracture of the Middle East.

This is where somebody says, "Other than that, Mrs. Lincoln, how did you like the play?"

Jaun Cole was also not impressed with the content of Trump's speech (Trump on Islam: Neo-Orientalism and anti-Shi’ism 05/22/2017):

Trump seems to think that pumping $110 bn in new shiny weapons into a volatile Middle East will lead to peace! If there is any sure correlate of war, it is massive purchases by one regional power of new armaments. You have to use them while you have the advantage or your rivals also acquire them.

For Trump to attack Iran, which just had a popular election where the electorate bucked the choice of the Leader, from Saudi Arabia, an absolute monarchy where the populace have no rights, is weird.

The American Right is deeply implicated in radicalizing Muslims. Afghan Islam was radicalized by the Reagan jihad against the Soviet Union. Eisenhower and Reagan both attempted to enlist Saudi Arabia’s Wahhabism against Communism. Most Palestinians were secular or mainstream until the Israelis cultivated Hamas as an alternative to the PLO.

Monday, May 22, 2017

Are Trump's troubles the result of a "soft coup"? (2 of 2)

Part 1 of this pair of posts discussed what can be considered a "soft coup." This one is about left and right versions of the idea that Trump is facing one.

From the left, Robert Perry uses the term in The ‘Soft Coup’ of Russia-gate Consortium News 05/13/2017:

Many people who detest Trump view Russia-gate as the most likely path to achieve Trump’s impeachment, so this desirable end justifies whatever means.

Some people have told me that they even believe that it is the responsibility of the major news media, the law enforcement and intelligence communities, and members of Congress to engage in a “soft coup” against Trump – also known as a “constitutional coup” or “deep state coup” – for the “good of the country.”

The argument is that it sometimes falls to these Establishment institutions to “correct” a mistake made by the American voters, in this case, the election of a largely unqualified individual as U.S. president. It is even viewed by some anti-Trump activists as a responsibility of “responsible” journalists, government officials and others to play this “guardian” role, to not simply “resist” Trump but to remove him.
And he makes the argument to consider this a "soft coup" in his own words:

The New York Times and The Washington Post, in particular, have made it clear that they view Trump as a clear and present danger to the American system and thus have cast aside any pretense of neutrality.

The Times justifies its open hostility to the President as part of its duty to protect “the truth”; the Post has adopted a slogan aimed at Trump, “Democracy Dies in Darkness.” In other words, America’s two most influential political newspapers are effectively pushing for a “soft coup” under the guise of defending “democracy” and “truth.”

But the obvious problem with a “soft coup” is that America’s democratic process, as imperfect as it has been and still is, has held this diverse country together since 1788 with the notable exception of the Civil War.

If Americans believe that the Washington elites are removing an elected president – even one as buffoonish as Donald Trump – it could tear apart the fabric of national unity, which is already under extraordinary stress from intense partisanship.

That means that the “soft coup” would have to be carried out under the guise of a serious investigation into something grave enough to justify the President’s removal, a removal that could be accomplished by congressional impeachment, his forced resignation, or the application of Twenty-fifth Amendment, which allows the Vice President and a majority of the Cabinet to judge a President incapable of continuing in office (although that could require two-thirds votes by both houses of Congress if the President fights the maneuver).
Perry is a solid researcher whose reporting has taught him to be highly skeptical of intelligence agency claims and the Establishment and/or Beltway Village consensus on issues. His article does raise some relevant questions about civil liberties concerns and about some of the ways that Trump associates Carter Page and Paul Manafort are being characterized as "pro-Russian."

And he has an entirely legitimate concern about what he describes this way, "the larger political problem confronting the United States is that the neoconservatives and their junior partners, the liberal interventionists, now control nearly all the levers of U.S. foreign policy. That means they can essentially dictate how events around the world will be perceived by most Americans." The uncritical and sometimes careless reporting on Russia-Russia-Russia is obviously of benefit to those who for whatever reason - including serious concerns about how Russian actions may affect US and European security - favor a policy of aggressive confrontation toward Russia.

There's a strange sideline phenomenon going on, an anti-Trump stream of "fake news" that careless liberals sometimes find attractive. The current leading light in this corner of the information ecosystem is Louise Mensch. (Zack Beauchamp, Democrats are falling for fake news about Russia Vox 05/19/2017) Beauchamp describes the perspective involved as "a general sense that Russian influence in the United States is pervasive and undercovered by the mainstream media. Everything that happens in US politics is understood through this lens — especially actions taken by the Trump administration, which is seen as Kremlin-occupied territory." The kind of items Beauchamp discuss are examples of what Perry warns about, deceptive reports aimed to take advantage of an exacerbate anti-Russian fears and hatreds.

Facts do matter.

And there is enough in the public record now to justify serious impeachment proceedings.

Michael Tracey of TYT Politics discusses what might be called a soft version of the "soft coup" narrative with Mollie Hemingway, a senior editor of The Federalist, Media's Trump Obsession: Are They Overreacting? 05/19/2017

Michael mostly lets Mollie keep the conversation at a high level of generalization, though they do discuss some of the specific accusations against Trump that might be involved in impeachment. They discuss it in terms of the Deep State, the various intelligence, military and bureaucratic interests within the executive and the larger military-industrial complex. I've never gotten completely comfortable with the "Deep State" term. Because its usage in practice seems always to be too fuzzy for my taste.

James Downton of The Federalist outlines a conservative version of the "soft coup" theory, although he doesn't use that exact phrase, in We Are Watching A Slow-Motion Coup D’etat 05/19/2017. One of the most popular narratives about President Nixon's resignation under the threat of impeachment among conservatives is that it was a purely partisan-political action, i.e., an illegitimate one. Facilitated by Republicans of the times now regarded by conservative partisans as squishes and phony Republicans. So there is a ready-made conservative template for regarding a removal of Trump from office as an illegitimate partisan event. So it's worth paying at least some attention to this preliminary version tailored to Trump.

Downton also forgoes the Deep State term. But he describes the collective agent of the supposed coup against Trump as "forces within the U.S. government, media, and partisan opposition have aligned to overthrow the Electoral College winner, Donald Trump." He does apply the term recently popularized by Steve Bannon, "the administrative state." But he declines to anoint particular individuals as masterminds of this plan:

Unlike the coup d’etat that sees a military or popular figure lead a minority resistance or majority force into power over the legitimate government, this coup d’etat is leaderless and exposes some of the deepest fissures in our system of government. This coup d’etat represents not the rule of one man or even many, but by the multitude of our elites.
He does show a probably unintentional humorous side when the talks about "the Democratic Party’s scorched-earth campaign against the political nominations of the Trump White House." The Democrats managed to keep that ferocious campaign well concealed from the Democratic base. He argues that "what has been branded as 'The Resistance' ... in actuality is the totalitarian might of the administrative state and their partisan allies." He illustrates that with a quote from the liberal magazine Mother Jones.

Downton tells us that the shadowy instigators of this Administrative State coup attempt see their role this way: "In their minds they are but a guardian of the people, albeit one that must stand up to and ultimately negate the will of that very same people." This is just another dull variation on the unending condemnation of those Mean Librul elitists that supposedly run the world, despite the desperate resistance of the embattled billionaire rugged individualists suffering horribly under the unbearable pain of having to pay taxes to support their country.

The rest of his article is largely made up of various repetitions of the general charge that all known embarrassing reports on the conduct of Trump and his team generated by "collusion between the various elements of the partisan Left, the media, and the administrative state." He doesn't engage seriously with even the best-grounded and disturbing reports, like Michael Flynn acting as an unregistered foreign agent for Turkey and the various clandestine contacts between the Trump campaign and transition teams with Russian officials.

Ironically, the reader learns at the end of the piece, "James Downton is the pen name of a Federalist contributor who is contractually prohibited from writing publicly about politics under his real name."

I'm reluctant to include the move to oust Trump, which the Democrats are pursuing fairly timidly from my point of view, as an instance of a "soft coup." For one thing, quite unlike the cases of Paraguay and Brazil, a removal of Trump from office would not represent a change in the governing party or any major changes in direction of policy. Mike Pence can be assumed to wish to carry forward most of Trump policies, although he could conceivably pursuing a more New Cold War type policy towards Russia than Trump may favor. Pence was elected on the same party ticket and platform as Trump. So even if he were impeached and removed from office for politically or ethically illegitimate reasons, the question would remain whether it could be considered a coup.

Because even the most legitimate and clearly proven of causes for impeachment and removal would proceed by the same Constitutional procedure. And, with the current office-holders, the party holding the Presidency would not change. The official line of succession to the Presidency has never gone beyond the Vice President in practice. Wikipedia's United States presidential line of succession as of this writing has the following table showing the current line of succession:

Numbers 6, 16 and 17 are Independents, number 6 being Defense Secretary James "Mad Dog" Mattis. The rest are Republicans.

Sunday, May 21, 2017

Are Trump's troubles the result of a "soft coup"? (1 of 2)

I first recall coming across the term "soft coup" (golpe suave or golpe blando) in connection with the impeachment of Paraguay's President Fernando Lugo in 2012. This report from Aljazeera gives an account of the outster of Lugo, Paraguay's Forgotten Coup 12/26/2013. The article is accompanied by this video report, People & Power - Paraguay's Forgotten Coup 12/25/2013:

An earlier report closer to the event from Aljazeera's Inside Story also describes the ouster and whether it should be considered a coup, Paraguay: Impeachment or political coup? 06/25/2016:

El Universal (Ecuador) gives credit to Gene Sharp for coining the "soft coup" term back in 1973. (Un politólogo de EE.UU. planteó el término de ‘golpe de Estado blando’ 12.06.2014)

Sharp is a political scientist whose name is not so well-known in the United States as it seems to be in Latin America, where the left generally regards him as the designer of a regime change strategy commonly used by the United States to undermine governments it considers inconvenient or otherwise undesirable by using means other than overt force. This CNN reports celebrates him, Gene Sharp: A dictator's worst nightmare by By Mairi Mackay 06/25/2012.

I've seen the term "soft coup" also applied to the overthrow of the Honduran government in 2009. But that one also had military involvement: "In 2009, a group of Honduran politicians and military officers staged a coup and removed then-President Manuel Zelaya from office and from the country." (Tracy Wilkinson, A Honduran coup comes full circle Los Angeles Times 04/27/2017)

Not incidentally, the Obama Administration and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton showed clear diplomatic approval of both the Honduran and Paraguayan coups, "soft" or not. The Administration also showed sympathy for the "soft coup" in Brazil in 2016 against President Rousseff. (This Confirms It was a Coup: Brazil Crisis Deepens as Evidence Mounts of Plot to Oust Dilma Rousseff Democracy Now! 05/25/2016; Ben Norton, “Parliamentary coup”: Impeachment of Brazil’s President Rousseff hands power to corrupt, unelected right wing Salon 08/31/2016; Genaro Oliveira, Brazil's 'soft coup' is not the end of a lively democracy New Zealand Herald 09/01/2017)

The circumstances of Rousseff's ouster fully justify Genaro Oliveira's characterization, "From whatever side it's viewed, the impeachment process was never about seeking justice or upholding democracy. It has always been a judicial farce masking a nasty power dispute between elite political factions."

I don't have a problem using the "soft coup" term to describes Lugo's removal from office in Paraguay in 2012 and Rousseff's in Brazil in 2016. Because both were politically and democratically illegitimate actions that nevertheless took place within established legal procedures. The actions resulted in a significant change in the national government leadership and its policies in a way that fairly obviously ran contrary to the democratic decision of free elections.

I have some reservations about how far the usage of the "soft coup" idea can go. On the one hand, it usefully distinguishes between coups accomplished by force and violence and those which achieve an illegitimate change of government without the use or imminent threat of violence. On the other hand, we could have an interesting discussion about the extent to which the implicit or explicit threat of violence is at work even in the case of the "soft coups." And while it's arguably preferable to achieve illegitimate aims through nonviolent means, the consequences of a "soft coup" could be every bit as destructive as a more traditional version in which the military rolls tanks into the street and demands that the legal government resign.

Whether or not we consider Honduras 2009 as "soft" or not, the change of government took place without armed clashes between pro- and anti-government forces. But this description makes it sound a lot like the traditional military coup, "In the first military coup in Central America since the end of the cold war, soldiers stormed the presidential palace in the capital, Tegucigalpa, early in the morning, disarming the presidential guard, waking Mr. Zelaya and putting him on a plane to Costa Rica." (Elisabeth Malkin, Honduran President Is Ousted in Coup New York Times 06/28/2009) But the upshot of the coup in practice has been a vast increase in criminal violence in Honduras, which has increased pressure for Hondurans to flee to Mexico and the United States.

It's also important to remember that military coups typically have major cooperation among civilian politicians and private players. Two examples that come readily to mind are the coup in Chile in 1973 and that in Argentina in 1955.

And a "soft" coup can also have problematic international assistance. (Helene Cooper and Marc Lacey, In a Coup in Honduras, Ghosts of Past U.S. Policies New York Times 06/29/2009)

Now the term "soft coup" is turning up in discussion of President Trump's pretty certainly impeachable offenses. In this MSNBC 11th Hour report, a Wall Street Journal reporter uses the term, Eli Stokols: Donald Trump Is Facing Something Like A Soft Coup D'état 05/19/2017:

Eli Stokols uses the term in a seemingly descriptive way to talk about how Trump critics internal to his Administration as well as the press and external political critics are undermining Trump's Presidency over the Trump-Russia scandal. But "coup" obviously carries an implication of illegitimacy.

Legitimacy is a critical factor here. And by any sensible perspective, there are substantial reasons to believe that there are serious instances of wrongdoing that may well amount to the kind of "high crimes and misdemeanors" that would justify impeach of the President under the Constitution.

The drama (and melodrama) of the Trump-Russia scandal has eclipsed the issue of violating the emoluments clause that was much discussed during the transition. (Mark Joseph Stern, High Crimes and Misdemeanors Slate 01/04/2017) But given how the Trump Family Business Administration approaches the business of the Presidency, that in itself is a substantial problem that should be formally and thoroughly investigated. Just this weekend, we had the odd coincidence of Saudi Arabia committing $100 million to a fund established by First Daughter Ivanka Trump, during the same foreign trip in which Saudi Arabia agreed to a $110 billion arms deal with the US. (Jen Hayden, On same weekend as record-breaking arms deal, Saudis announced $100 million donation to Ivanka fund Daily Kos 05/21/2017) Admittedly, $100 million is less than one percent of the amount of the arms deal. But I'm pretty sure it's big enough to count as an emolument if it otherwise meets the technical requirements of the term. Ivanka's husband also played an important role in arranging the arms deal. (Mark Landler et al, $110 Billion Weapons Sale to Saudis Has Jared Kushner’s Personal Touch New York Times 05/18/2017)

Trump's defenders insist there is no "evidence" of serious misdeeds by Trump. But that begs the questions of whether there are concerns substantial enough for Congressional and criminal investigation of some of these major incidents. While it's true that we don't have the full documentation for the intelligence community's January report on Russian hacking of the Democratic National Committee in the public record, it's hard to see how any government would make every detail of such a finding publicly available. But it's certainly reason for Congress and investigative agencies to understand it thoroughly. And if the four intelligence agencies whose consensus that report represented just concocted the conclusions, that would be something that urgently needs to be uncovered, as well!

And it sounds highly likely from what is in the public record that Trump himself was involved in obstruction of justice in the Trump-Russia investigation, especially with the firing of FBI Director James Comey. And Trump's first National Security Adviser Michael Flynn was working as an unregistered foreign agent for Turkey last year. And given the warnings we know that Trump and his transition team received from senior officials about Michael Flynn before Trump named him as National Security Adviser makes it look reckless at the very best to appoint him to that post with the top-level security clearance that comes with it.

Given Trump's flagrant lack of concern about conflicts of interest, it will not surprise me in the least that we'll eventually learn at lot about dubious financial entanglements of the Trump family business with Russian interests.

In Part 2 tomorrow, I'll look at left and right versions of the "soft coup" framing on Trump's Constitutional problems.

Saturday, May 20, 2017

Do Republicans actually care about criminality in the Oval Office?

Paul Krugman is doubtful that they do (What’s the Matter With Republicans? New York Times 05/19/2017):

It has become painfully clear ... that Republicans have no intention of exercising any real oversight over a president who is obviously emotionally unstable, seems to have cognitive issues and is doing a very good imitation of being an agent of a hostile foreign power.

They may make a few gestures toward accountability in the face of bad poll numbers, but there is not a hint that any important figures in the party care enough about the Constitution or the national interest to take a stand.
This is a big reminder that democracy is not just a matter of elections but also of widespread commitment to democratic self-government. And that however useful Montesquieuian separation of power arrangement may be, they can be overwhelmed by political parties and economic elites bent on actually subverting the system.

And, Krugman argues, "nearly all Republicans in today’s Congress are apparatchiks, political creatures with no higher principle beyond party loyalty."

Krugman may be giving them too much credit. He credits them with having at least an adherence to a principle of some kind. For many, any motivation beyond serving their donors is doubtful. Krugman does not that today's Republican Party "lavishly supported by a small number of very, very wealthy families." And that the "rigid ideology" for which they pay so lavishly insists on "tax cuts for the rich above all else."

Krugman oddly echoes the argument of some vocal but not especially influential people on the left who argued that Trump would be good for the left because it would force the center-left to fight against the Republicans instead of defending neoliberal and hawkish policies of a Hillary Clinton Administration:

In a perverse way, we should count ourselves lucky that Trump is as terrible as he is. Think of what it has taken to get us to this point — his Twitter addiction, his bizarre loyalty to Flynn and affection for Putin, the raw exploitation of his office to enrich his family, the business dealings, whatever they were, he’s evidently trying to cover up by refusing to release his taxes.

The point is that given the character of the Republican Party, we’d be well on the way to autocracy if the man in the White House had even slightly more self-control.
As much as Hillary hardliners may be happy to attribute that position to anyone to the left of Hillary Clinton and Cory Booker, any influence on the outcome of the 2016 Presidential election of that argument is vanishingly difficult to detect.

Jimmy Dore of The Young Turks is one person who made that argument explicitly during 2016.

I just read a post from 01/28/2017 by Claire Connor, author of Wrapped in the Flag: A Personal History of America's Radical Right (2013) The Radical Right Runs America, But Democrats Still Don’t Get It Crooks and Liars, in which she warns that the Democrats weren't taking the radicalism of Trump and today's Republican Party seriously enough:

It’s time to stop pretending that Trump’s presidency will crumble and the radical right will be run out of DC. It’s time to stop imagining some moderate Republicans will break with their party. The GOP will bow down before Trump – even while they laugh at him behind closed doors. They will confirm all of his nominees, and pass his agenda for one simple reason. Donald Trump’s agenda is the GOP agenda. He is doing their dirty work for them.

Donald Trump’s power comes from the GOP’s power. They control 35 states, the House, the Senate, the Executive branch. In a few months – unless Democrats fight a pitched battle and win it—they will cement control of the Supreme Court for decades.

If we want to change this situation, we have to push our Democrats in the Senate and the House to say NO to every Trump appointment, every Trump nominee, and every Trump initiative.

Until the Dems discover a backbone, we will continue to bleed support and lose elections. Until the Dems drop courtesy and learn to fight, we will live in the minority for a long time. Until the Dems follow the example of women who marched in Washington last week, America will be Trump’s America. [emphasis in original]
I don't see either of these arguments as an excuse for complacency or defeatism. Rather, they should be a reminder of the public and the Democratic Party about how very serious a situation this is.

Friday, May 19, 2017

Venezuela, the OAS and the current crisis

"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

This is an interesting interview from Aljazeera English with Luis Almagro, head of the Organization of American States, on the situation in Venezuela, Has Venezuela reached a tipping point? -UpFront 05/19/2017:

What I've seen of Aljazeera's coverage of the Venezuelan crisis seems to be very sympathetic to the opponents of the Nicolás Maduro government. But the interviewer highlights here how blatantly the OAS is committed to regime change, not to peaceful reconciliation in the current situation. Almagro in this interview is doing straight-up polemics for the opposition.

The second half of the program includes interviews with Gabriel Hetland and Eva Golinger. More than even other Aljazeera reports I've seen on the Venezuela crisis, this UpFront segment really gives the viewer a more complex and nuanced view of the current situation than we usually get in such a half-hour report, certainly more so than in US corporate media accounts.

This is quote from the accompanying article, Has Venezuela reached a tipping point? 05/19/2017:

"It's important to say Nicolas Maduro was democratically elected," says Gabriel Hetland, a professor at the University of Albany. "But I think actions over the last 16 months have moved Venezuela unfortunately in a more authoritarian direction."

"It is a government under siege," counters Venezuelan-American journalist Eva Golinger, who also served as an adviser to former President Hugo Chavez. "The opposition doesn't play by democratic rules, unfortunately has not, and as of yet we haven't seen any such initiative or indication that they will in the near future."

Thursday, May 18, 2017

More on the Venezuelan crisis

Aljazeera English has a short new report, Growing fears over Venezuela’s deepening crisis 05/18/2017:

Also from Aljazeera English, The Stream - Byline: Venezuela 05/18/2017

Both those Aljazeera reports give a big emphasis to consumer product shortages, which are a real problem there right now. But this kind of report is also a kind to which affluent audiences in the US and Europe can easily relate. And, of course, be shocked by.

There is a text article that accompanies the video, Byline: Venezuela 05/18/2017.

The English-Pakistani author and journalist Tariq Ali gives a report that is sympathetic toward the Maduro government. This is from TeleSUR, a left-leaning channel funded by a consortium of left-leaning South American governments, including Venezuela's. He identifies himself as one of the "friends of the Bolivarian revolution." Global Empire - Crisis in Venezuela 05/17/2017:

Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro says that Russia has agreed to provide 60,000 tons of wheat monthly to ease the shortages of foodstuffs that have been a major element in this crisis. (Maduro: “EE UU se quedó solo tratando de proponer una intervención en el país” AVN/Panorama 18.05.2017)

Maduro claimed that it was a "tremendous" diplomatic victory for Venezuela on Wednesday because the Security Council refused the Trump Administration appeal for UN intervention against the Venezuelan government. (Kambiz Foroohar, Haley Calls on Security Council to Focus on Venezuelan Crisis Bloomberg Politics 05/17/2017)

Wednesday, May 17, 2017

Trump-Russia scandal timelines

Here are a couple of helpful timelines on the Trump-Russia scandal:

Colleen Shalby and Michael Finnegan provide a timeline of the Trump-Russia scandal in Track the twists and turns. Everything we know so far about Trump and the Russia investigation Los Angeles Times 05/17/2017.

Steven Harper is keeping one that is continually updated at Moyers & Company, A Timeline: Russia and President Trump, most recently 05/17/2017.

Venezuelan crisis and the country's petrostate status

"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 Tom Dispatch 05/26/2016

"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's extended political crisis has been in yet another acute phase recently. The US and European mainstream media is generally hostile to the chavista government of Nicolás Maduro and generally uncritically reflect the position of the opposition, some of which is about as rightwing authoritarian as they come.

The political and economic crisis is real. And while Latin America is largely regarded by the foreign policy establishment as a boring backwater, the US is meddling in troubled waters, and troubling them even more. Oscar Laborde, an Argentine Peronist member of the Mercosur parliament Parlasur, reports on the situation in Venezuela en su laberinto Página/12 15.05.2017:

Luego de ganar las elecciones y gobernar por 4 años y medio el gobierno tiene que afrontar el problema, nunca resuelto, de no haber superado la dependencia de la renta petrolera, casi como única fuente de recursos, y generar una nueva matriz, donde se complementara esa renta con el desarrollo productivo, tanto en lo agropecuario, como en lo industrial. Es difícil de entender, por ejemplo, cómo un país fértil como Venezuela importa gran parte de sus alimentos, situación agravada con la caída estrepitosa del precio del petróleo.

[After winning the elections and governing for four-and-a-half years, {he} had to confront the problem, which had never been resolved, of not having overcome dependence on the oil rent as almost the only source of income and develop a new matrix in which this income is complemented with productive development, in agriculture as much as in industry. It is difficult to understand, for instance, how a country as fertile as Venezuela imports a large part of its foodstuffs, a situation aggravated by the resounding drop in oil prices.]
He describes the opposition plan, in which the US is at least partly cooperating, as employing three basic approaches: "Guerra económica, incitación a la violencia extrema y aislamiento internacional para el gobierno." ("Economic war, initiating extreme violence and international isolation for the government.")

He also mentions attacks on Venezuelan embassies abroad, including in Madrid. (Embajador Isea pide evitar traslado de violencia de Venezuela a España EFE/El Universal 17.05.2017) That would surely be an interesting thread for the press to tug on, if they were so inclined.

Laborde writes that the economic conditions were "stabilizing and beginning to improve," the opposition escalated their campaign against the regime. They had previously demanded a Constituent Assembly to write a new Constitution, a demand to which Maduro has now acceded. But the opposition now rejects it. Instead, they demand advancing the Presidential election now schedule for 2018.

The opposition clearly seems to believe that they are close to succeeding and can soon force Maduro's government out. Or, alternatively, they see their opportunity for an immediate takeover starting to slip away and want to take advantage of the current chance.

Here is a report of 05/13/2017 from Aljazeera focusing on Venezuelan media coverage of the crisis, Venezuela: Protests, propaganda and self-censorship - The Listening Post 05/13/2017 (the first 11 minutes are devoted to the Venezuelan story):

Saturday, May 13, 2017

Democrats coasting to 2018 victory, or just coasting?

We're now more than six months out from the Presidential election. Donald Trump is turning out to fulfill the worst expectations of him. Popular activism is surging. Even the controversial Affordable Care Act (Obamacare) has now come into focus for many people who supported its major provisions but had a bad vibe about "Obamacare," now that the Republicans are making a serious effort to block millions of people from getting health insurance.

But the establishment Democrats have managed to hold on to control of the Democratic National Committee. And those same corporate Dems seem to think they can safely coast to a political resurgence in 2018 by repeating the the same general approach that over the last eight years has brought the party to an historic low point nationally.

Nina Turner, a well-known activist and former Ohio state senator who has an upcoming regular program on The Real News, talks to her new media organization on the topic Can Dems Learn From Their 2016 Mistakes If They Do Not Acknowledge Them? 05/13/2017:

Friday, May 12, 2017

Eurovision 2017: Kasia Moś

The finals of the 2017 Eurovision contest take place tomorrow, May 13.

It struck me watching this video from the Polish finalist ... (Kasia Moś - Flashlight (Official Video ) EUROVISION POLAND 2017 02/12/2017)

.. that there's a certain resemblance to Lara Parker, Angelique of the original Dark Shadows series:

Thursday, May 11, 2017

Republicans backing Trump

"Ultimately, we’re looking at Nixon 2.0, with significantly more power to potentially overcome whatever investigatory hurdles appear in his path. " - Bob Cesca (Nixon didn’t have Twitter: The parallels are clear, but Trump might be more dangerous Salon 05/141/2017)

He's talking about Donald Trump, of course.

The firing of James Comey has understandably brought flashbacks to Nixon, Watergate and the Saturday Night Massacre.

Cesca raises a question about this difference between our current moment and the reaction to the Saturday Night Massacre:

Nixon also didn’t enjoy the unwavering support of the GOP Congress. It’s unclear why exactly the Republican caucus is so completely motivated to flack for Trump, but that loyalty comes despite the fact that the president is utterly toxic, and has been since day one. GOP lawmakers largely don’t seem to care. Early Wednesday, for example, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell didn’t hesitate before he declared that there would be no more Russia investigations, including special hearings to probe the firing of Comey. Few if any Republicans will dare to criticize the president’s actions on anything, much less his sloppy treatment of the Russia story.

Along those lines, imagine if the Russia attack had come in the form of a nuclear device that was detonated in a major U.S. city — a more destructive attack than a cyber-attack, sure, but still a direct assault on American sovereignty, our people and our democracy. Now imagine the president calling that attack a hoax, while the Republican Congress silently shrugged its shoulders. We’d have no choice but to wonder: What’s in it for Congress? Analogies aside, why the lack of outrage over a foreign attack on our political institutions? Why such loyalty to a chief executive whose approval numbers had dropped to 36 percent even before the Comey news? At what point does having Trump’s jagged autograph on their legislation fail to make up for the myriad political liabilities commensurate with being linked to such a loser?
A couple of reasons strike me. One is that conservatives have coalesced decades ago around the idea that the Watergate scandal and Nixon's 1974 resignation were basically completely "political," as in a partisan Democratic Party dirty deed. And that Nixon could have survived an impeachment by the House and a trial in the Senate. And this position regards Republicans like Howard Baker and that notorious liberal squish Barry Goldwater as RINOs (Republicans In Name Only) who stabbed Dear Leader Tricky Dicky in the back.

And it tells us something important about the American hard right that they have been willing to bestow such a retrospective martyrdom to Richard Nixon. Because the kind of conservatives that have effectively controlled the Republican Party since 1980 were deeply suspicious of Nixon as of 1972-3, even though of course they preferred him to Democrat George McGovern in 1972. Nixon had started a reconciliation with China, which acknowledge that Taiwan was part of China. (That was the long-standing arrangement that Trump blundered into disturbing during his transition period; see Charlie Campbell, Donald Trump Angers China With Historic Phone Call to Taiwan's President Time 12/05/2016) He had negotiated the SALT nuclear arms control treaty with the Soviet Union, the most important nuclear arms treaty until that time, which pleased most Democrats but upset the more conservative Republicans. He had instituted affirmative action as the lead federal approach to ending illegal racial discrimination. He set up the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). He declared himself a Keynesian and imposed wage-and-price controls on the economy.

But once they could see him as a martyr to the Mean Libruls, he looked more heroic to hardline conservatives.

And second factor is that Watergate and Nixon's resignation badly shook the Washington Beltway Village media crowd. Despite the iconic status of Watergate as one of the finest hours of the free press, the corporate press was reluctant to have another one. This is a major reason that the media was willing to basically give St. Reagan a pass on the Iran-Contra scandal.

And this in the context of a Republican Party that has been radicalizing itself more and more intensely over the last several decades.

Listening closely to James Clapper on the "17 intelligence agencies"

In the boring paying-attention-to-facts mode, a few passages from the James Clapper's testimony before the Senate Judiciary Committee last week along with Sally Yates stick out for me. Full transcript: Sally Yates and James Clapper testify on Russian election interference Washington Post 05/08/2017. Clapper is the former Director of National Intelligence (DNI).

This statement by Clapper provides a fact-check on a claim that Hillary Clinton and the Democratic establishment made a stock claim during the 2016 campaign, that "17 intelligence agencies" had confirmed that the Wikileaks dump of Clinton campaign emails had come from the Russians:

Last year, the intelligence community conducted an exhaustive review of Russian interference into our presidential election process resulting in a special intelligence community assessment or ICA as we call it. I'm here today to provide whatever information I can now as a private citizen on how the intelligence community conducted its analysis, came up with its findings, and communicated them to the Obama administration, to the Trump transition team, to the Congress and in unclassified form to the American public.

Additionally, I'll briefly address four related topics that have emerged since the ICA was produced. Because of both classification and some executive privilege strictures (ph) requested by the White House, there are limits to what I can discuss. And of course my direct official knowledge of any of this stopped on 20 January when my term of office was happily over.

As you know, the I.C. was a coordinated product from three agencies; CIA, NSA, and the FBI not all 17 components of the intelligence community. Those three under the aegis of my former office. Following an extensive intelligence reporting about many Russian efforts to collect on and influence the outcome of the presidential election, President Obama asked us to do this in early December and have it completed before the end of his term.

The two dozen or so analysts for this task were hand-picked, seasoned experts from each of the contributing agencies. They were given complete, unfettered mutual access to all sensitive raw intelligence data, and importantly, complete independence to reach their findings. They found that the Russian government pursued a multifaceted influence campaign in the run-up to the election, including aggressive use of cyber capabilities.

The Russians used cyber operations against both political parties, including hacking into servers used by the Democratic National Committee and releasing stolen data to WikiLeaks and other media outlets. Russia also collected on certain Republican Party-affiliated targets, but did not release any Republican-related data. The Intelligence Community Assessment concluded first that President Putin directed and influenced campaign to erode the faith and confidence of the American people in our presidential election process. Second, that he did so to demean Secretary Clinton, and third, that he sought to advantage Mr. Trump. These conclusions were reached based on the richness of the information gathered and analyzed and were thoroughly vetted and then approved by the directors of the three agencies and me.

These Russian activities and the result and (ph) assessment were briefed first to President Obama on the 5th of January, then to President-elect Trump at Trump Tower on the 6th and to the Congress via a series of five briefings from the 6th through the 13th of January. The classified version was profusely annotated, with footnotes drawn from thousands of pages of supporting material. The key judgments in the unclassified version published on the 6th of January were identical to the classified version.

While it's been over four months since the issuance of this assessment, as Directors Comey and Rodgers testified before the House Intelligence Committee on the 20th of March, the conclusions and confidence levels reached at the time still stand. I think that's a statement to the quality and professional of the — of the intelligence community people who produced such a compelling intelligence report during a tumultuous, controversial time, under intense scrutiny and with a very tight deadline. [my emphasis]
In the nature of the beast, the IC (intelligence community) can't release full, detailed information publicly on how they came to those conclusions. Based on the careful review of the January 6 report done by Marcy Wheeler and others in the light of information that is in the public record, there seems to be strong evidence for Russian hacking efforts, not quite so clear that Wikileaks got the material from Russian sources, though the latter is clearly possible.

Later on, Sen. Al Franken used the 17-agencies phrase in a question:

FRANKEN: Thank you, Mr. Chairman.

I want to thank both you and the ranking member for -- for this hearing and these hearings.

And I want to thank General Clapper and -- and Attorney General Yates for -- for appearing today. We have -- the intelligence communities have concluded all 17 of them that Russia interfered with this election. And we all know how that's right.

CLAPPER: Senator, as I pointed out in my statement Senator Franken, it was there were only three agencies that directly involved in this assessment plus my office...

FRANKEN: But all 17 signed on to that?

CLAPPER: Well, we didn't go through that -- that process, this was a special situation because of the time limits and my -- what I knew to be to who could really contribute to this and the sensitivity of the situation, we decided it was a constant judgment (ph) to restrict it to those three. I'm not aware of anyone who dissented or -- or disagreed when it came out.

FRANKEN: OK. And I think anyone whose looked at even the unclassified border's pretty convinced that this is what happened. [my emphasis]
In other words, the claim that Clinton made in her last campaign debate with Trump about the 17 agencies struck me the first time I heard it as something that might not be quite right (Aaron Blake, The final Trump-Clinton debate transcript, annotated Washington Post 10/19/2017):

CLINTON: ... that the Russians have engaged in cyberattacks against the United States of America, that you encouraged espionage against our people, that you are willing to spout the Putin line, sign up for his wish list, break up NATO, do whatever he wants to do, and that you continue to get help from him, because he has a very clear favorite in this race.

So I think that this is such an unprecedented situation. We've never had a foreign government trying to interfere in our election. We have 17 -- 17 intelligence agencies, civilian and military, who have all concluded that these espionage attacks, these cyberattacks, come from the highest levels of the Kremlin and they are designed to influence our election. I find that deeply disturbing.

WALLACE: Secretary Clinton...

CLINTON: And I think it's time you take a stand...

TRUMP: She has no idea whether it's Russia, China, or anybody else.

CLINTON: I am not quoting myself.

TRUMP: She has no idea.

CLINTON: I am quoting 17...

TRUMP: Hillary, you have no idea.

CLINTON: ... 17 intelligence -- do you doubt 17 military and civilian...

TRUMP: And our country has no idea.

CLINTON: ... agencies.

TRUMP: Yeah, I doubt it. I doubt it.

CLINTON: Well, he'd rather believe Vladimir Putin than the military and civilian intelligence professionals who are sworn to protect us. I find that just absolutely...
When you're going to effectively accuse your opponent of treason to their face, sticking to the facts is helpful. And Clapper last week confirmed specifically that it was not "17 intelligence agencies, civilian and military, who have all concluded that these espionage attacks, these cyberattacks, come from the highest levels of the Kremlin and they are designed to influence our election." But the "17 intelligence agencies" phrase became so embedded in the Democratic establishment vocabulary that Al Franken was still citing it last week in his question to Clapper.

I was also struck by this comment of Clinton's, "We've never had a foreign government trying to interfere in our election." No foreign government - not Russia, not China, not Britain, not Israel, not Saudi Arabia - has ever tried "to interfere in our election"? I would have to say that it seems to be a dubious claim.

Making these observations is not letting Trump and his team off the hook for dubious or more-than-dubious interactions and business deals with Russian entities.

Here is Donna Brazile using the "victim of a cybercrime" by Russia to duck responding directly to what was probably the most significant of the generally not-a-big-deal nature of the emails published by Wikileaks, the revelation that Brazile when she was a CNN contributor had leaked upcoming debate questions to Hillary's campaign, Jordan's NOT HAVING Donna Brazile's Russia Dodge! TYT Politics 10/19/2016:

In fact, Brazile was soon required to resign from CNN over that revelation on which Jordan Chariton was questioning her in the video.

Also, we know that the US government does a lot of propaganda that affects perceptions of the US public, not just of foreign targets. This comment of Clapper's is worth bookmarking for future reference:

KLOBUCHAR: Very good. Do you think we're doing a good enough job now, back to the propaganda issue, in educating our citizens about this?

CLAPPER: No, we're not. And the other thing we don't do well enough is the counter messaging.

KLOBUCHAR: And how would you suggest we could improve that?

CLAPPER: I would be for -- I have been an advocate for a USIA (ph) [US Information Agency] on steroids. I felt that way in terms of countering the message from ISIS, who is very sophisticated at conveying messages and proselytizing and recruiting people. Our efforts to counter message are too fragmented in my -- in my own opinion. That's all I'm saying here. I -- I would seriously consider the notion of a, as I say, a USIA (ph) on steroids not only for the...

KLOBUCHAR: What would that mean exactly?

CLAPPER: I'm sorry?

KLOBUCHAR: Well, someone that we could -- we could message or counter message, and our efforts to counter violent extremist ideology, particularly that from ISIS, who are very skilled at this and we -- I don't think we do, as a nation, we do a good enough job. I think counter messaging the Russians, giving them some of their own medicine much more aggressively than we've done now. And I would hasten to add that is -- should not be tagged onto the intelligence community. It needs to be a separate entity from the intelligence community, something the I.C. would support, but should be separate from that. [my emphasis]

Wednesday, May 10, 2017

CFK (Cristina Fernández de Kirchner) and human rights

Former Argentine President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner (CFK in shorthand) hardly took a breath between leaving office and actively leading the opposition campaign against the conservative/oligarchic government of Mauricio Macri, who took office in December 2015. She has been in Europea speaking out on various issues. Speaking to the left parliamentary group of the European Parliament, she discussed current human rights issues in Argentina and criticized Macri for not keeping his campaign commitment to maintain human rights policies, especially against criminals who were part of the dictatorship of 1976-83, Cristina Kirchner con eurodiputados del Bloque GUE/NGL en el Parlamento Europeo (Spanish) 10.05.2017:

She and the Peronist opposition she leads are protesting and seeking to rectify a recent decision by the Argentine Supreme Court that could give convicted criminal from the dictatorship early release from prison. 2x1: Activists outraged by Supreme Court ruling Buenos Aires Herald 05/05/2017 explains:

Human rights activists expressed their outrage and shock yesterday, 24 hours after the Supreme Court controversially ruled over the so-called “2x1” law, setting a precedent that paves the way for the reduction of prison sentences and the early release of repressors convicted of crimes against humanity during Argentina’s last military dictatorship (1976-1983).

The justices’ majority ruling, by three of the court’s five members to two, reduces the sentence of 61-year-old Luis Muiña — who was handed a 13-year prison for kidnapping and torture — and creates a precedent that others convicted of crimes against humanity will seek to take advantage of. The court found that Muiña’s time served in prison before his conviction should count double.
As Cristina explained in her European Parliament appearances, two of the three justices voting for the early release were Macri appointees.

She also addressed the issue in other appearances on her trip. CFK con C5N en Bruselas: Preocupación por los retrocesos en Derechos Humanos 10.05.2017:

Conferencia de Cristina Kirchner en el Parlamento Europeo #cfkenbruselas 10.05.2107

Tuesday, May 09, 2017

Venezuelan crisis

"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 Tom Dispatch 05/26/2016

"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

This is a basic fact that should be kept front and center when considering political developments in Venezuela, good or bad. Venezuela is a petrostate and so far has not been able to diversify its economy nearly enough to make it far less vulnerable to swings in the world price of oil.

But what has been making headlines in the US and Europe is the political turmoil, typically described in set-piece terms that became the standard during the coverage of the Arab Spring and especially the "color revolutions" in eastern Europe, in which I would include the Ukrainian crisis of 2014. The favorite photo for this kind of coverage is something along the line of a guy standing in front of a burning car holding a Kalashnikov rifle. And let's not forget the toppled statues! (Hugo Chávez statue torn down as death toll rises in Venezuela protests Reuters/Guardian 05/05/2017) It was a pretty small statue, but enough for headline.

The rightwing opposition has been putting major pressure on Venezuela's government since 2014, as well. Despite the image of Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro as a smarmy dictator, he won a competitive election by a narrow margin against opposition leader Henrique Capriles, an election which was apparently was a fair one. And there is obviously a very active and visible opposition and critical press coverage in Venezuela. The opposition won a majority of seats in the National Assembly in the elections of December 2015. (Venezuela election: Maduro's Socialists trounced BBC News 12/07/2015)

It's possible for a country to have functioning elections and a lot of dissent but still be subject to authoritarian measures by the government, even a duly-elected one. Something we in the United States have had special cause to remember recently.

Harsh criticism of the policies of Maduro's government's economic policies and political practices are not hard to find. Maduro's party, advocated and practiced a socialist program considerably more egalitarian than the programs of most social-democratic parties these days, especially those in Europe. As one example, this post scolds Maduro for policies like capital controls and price controls, both heresy against the neoliberal Washington Consensus: How Chávez and Maduro have impoverished Venezuela The Economist Free Exchange Blog 04/06/2017.

Eric Farnsworth, a vice president of the Council of the Americas, a business-backed group dedicated to neoliberal economics and the profits of American corporations, makes a case against Venezuela's government, Eric Farnsworth, Venezuela’s Downward Spiral 04/28/2017. The Obama Administration imposed sanctions on the Venezuelan government and practically though not explicitly, the US is committed to regime change there. Because our regime change operations always work so well. (Yes, that's meant to be sarcastic.)

Farnsworth writes:

In Washington, the OAS Secretary General, Luis Almagro, has publicly laid out a devastating written critique of the anti-democratic practices of the Venezuelan government. The bottom line demand of the Almagro effort, in addition to calling for numerous other actions, is that Venezuela must hold early elections to restore democratic practice or face suspension from the hemispheric body. Fourteen of the hemisphere’s heavyweight countries have already gone on record in support. Some 22 former regional presidents have called on the OAS to the Inter-American Democratic Charter, to which Venezuela has subscribed and of which Caracas is clearly in violation. But the government is not budging—it is hunkering down—while the international community has so far proven unwilling to force the issue outside the OAS context and use of that organization’s limited diplomatic tools. Venezuela has now declared its intention to leave the OAS.

The United States has taken some limited steps to identify and sanction individuals for alleged drug trafficking and human rights abuses, and is presumably working quietly with other governments worldwide, including Europe and China, to deny Venezuela’s leadership the use of global financial conduits to hide billions of dollars in ill-gotten gains while working to identify and potentially seize such assets where possible. More such actions are overdue and may be forthcoming, given heightened bi-partisan Congressional desire to apply all leverage points.
On the other hand, the Trump Administration's criticism of Maduro's government seems to be fairly muted, so far. Citgo, the American subsidiary of the state-owned Venezuelan oil company PdVSA, contributed a few books to President Trump's Inaguration. (Julian Borger, Socialist Venezuela chipped in $500,000 to Trump's inauguration Guardian 04/19/2017)

But the current National Security Adviser H.R. McMaster, currently a darling of cable news in the US, issued an ominous statement this past weekend "after McMaster met with Venezuelan opposition leader and current National Assembly President Julio Borges at the White House." (Rachael Boothroyd-Rojas, US National Security Advisor: Quick, Peaceful Solution Needed in Venezuela Venezuela Analysis 05/08/2017). Yet another reminder that when THEY do it, the Russians for example, it's an occasion for Americans to rend our clothes in shock, but when WE do it, we're just exercising our rightful aspiration to call the shots everywhere in the world. Boothroyd-Rojas continues:

[The press release] reads: “They [Borges and McMaster] discussed the ongoing crisis in Venezuela and the need for the government to adhere to the Venezuelan Constitution, release political prisoners, respect the National Assembly, and hold free and democratic elections."

The statement has sparked alarm in Venezuela and amongst international movements in solidarity with the Bolivarian Revolution. They have likened Saturday’s meeting to a series of similar encounters that took place between US officials and opposition figures just before a short-lived coup against former President Hugo Chavez Frias in 2002.

The meeting comes as Washington hardens its stance vis-a-vis the Maduro government. Last week, a bipartisan group of US senators presented a bill to Congress asking for sanctions on more Venezuelan officials in a bid to further isolate Caracas in the region.

Violent protests have rocked the South American country since the beginning of April when a stand-off between the leftist national government and the opposition-controlled National Assembly came to a head. So far, 42 people have lost their lives in the unrest, which has seen armed opposition protesters block roads, gun down government supporters, set fire to public institutions, and clash with security forces. At least 15 people have been killed by protesters, while a further five have died at the hands of authorities. [my emphasis; internal links omitted]
For a very favorable portrait of Maduro, affectionate even, see Maduro - Indestructible Loyalty 05/04/2017 (English). Trigger warning! TeleSUR is a left-leaning news organization funded by a consortium of governments. If you think watching this might pollute your mind, or turn you into a Russian hacker or something, I recommended that you don't watch it.

Three columnists in Encrucijada venezolana Página/12 08.05.2017 make a more critical evaluation of the situation.

In his section called "La prueba histórica de Maduro," Modesto Emilio Guerrero reminds us that the current outbreak of violent anti-government protest is the third one during Maduro's elected Presidential term. He says, "It is neither a coup or a civil war, only because [the opposition] doesn't have a military capacity; otherwise, Venezuela would be Syria, without a doubt." (all translations mine) He notes the irony that in 2013, the opposition had called for a Constituent Assembly to write a new national Constitution. Maduro has now recently proposed just that - and the opposition rejects it.

Maristella Svampa y Roberto Gargarella ("El desafío de la izquierda, no callar") identify three key problems that Maduro currently faces: a Presidential system in which the majority seem to have lost confidence in the President; Maduro's disdain for the legislative power, including what they call an autogolpe del ejecutivo (an Executive coup) against the National Assembly; and, the current economic crisis with serious shortages of basic goods. They call Maduro's government "an increasingly delegitimized and authoritarian regime."

Atilio Boron ("Cerca del desenlace de la crisis") emphasis the international interest in Venezuela's oil, i.e., America's aspiration to control it. He warns that what Venezuela now faces from the opposition "counterevoluion" is what he calls a Libyan situation: "promotion chaos, the land devastated, external invasion disguised as 'humanitarian assistance,' the fall of the government, the lynching of Maduro and the Chavista leadership at the hands of a mob organized by the CIA (just like what happened with Gadaffi)."

I don't know that the CIA specifically organized the mob that murdered Muammar Gaddafi. But it's certainly belilevable that Boron's worst-case scenario is a live possibility.

Monday, May 08, 2017

Russian Revolution anniversary

This year marks the 100th anniversary of the Russian Revolution, aka, the Bolshevik Revolution.

This clip from the movie Reds (1981) seems appropriate here, Reds Internationale:

(Note for American readers: Prior to the 2000 Presidential election, "reds" in the American political vocabulary meant Communists, not Republicans.)

The journalistic reflections and puff pieces on it seem to be trickling out at a slower pace than I expected. Which is just as well, I suppose, because a large portion of them will be superficial or more misleading than helpful in understanding real history.

China Miéville in Why does the Russian revolution matter? Guardian 05/06/2017 emphasizes the nature of the Russian Revolution as a break in the established assumptions of of the time:

We may know in our marrow that it matters, but it feels defensive, sententious, dogmatic to glibly “explain” the revolution’s “relevance”: a too-quick-off-the-mark propensity to “explain” everything is not a problem of the left alone, but it’s particularly galling when coming from radicals committed, at least in principle, to rubbing history against the grain, counter-narratives, the questioning of received opinions, including their own. (One salutary impact of recent extraordinary political upsets – Corbyn, Sanders, Trump, the French presidential election, with more to come – has been the carnage of political givens, the humbling of the know-it-all.)

In Russia, Putin’s state knows that the revolution matters, which puts it in an odd position. Committed to capitalism (gangster capitalism is still capitalism), it can hardly pitch itself as an inheritor of an uprising against that system: at the same time, official and semi-official nostalgia for the symbolic bric-a-brac of Great Russia, including that of Stalinist vintage, precludes banishing the memory. It risks being, as historian Boris Kolonitsky has put it, “a very unpredictable past”.

On a recent trip to St Petersburg, I asked Russian friends how the government would negotiate that, if it had to. Would it remember the centenary with celebration or anathema? “They will say there was a struggle,” I was told, “and that eventually, Russia won.”
In the current climate of opinion in the United States, just the fact that he admits to having Russian friends and talking to them would mark him as a suspicious person in the eyes of corporate Democrats! Except (maybe) for those also doing business in Russia.

He deals with the issue of "Stalinism," which for most people in the West seems to be simply a curse word used to condemn Russia and Russians generally while asserting the superiority of the West over the barbarians.

It's a fascinating subject with no small amounts of horror involved.

I tend to tiptoe around it because of its complexity, which contrasts to its use as a simple conjuring word, and because there are endless potential ideological, political and moral pitfalls in anything someone says about it.

But Miéville is right in observing that the process of how the Soviet Union developed cannot be reduced to a condemnation of the party purges or the level of state terror that developed in the 1930s. In the case of polemics over the Bolshevik Revolution, Miéville does a remarkably good job of summarizing them in three paragraphs:

What is shared by most of those who are opposed to anything but regret for 1917 is the conviction that the later excrescence of Stalinism was the inevitable outcome of the revolution. [I.e., those who want to condemn the October Revolution as some variation of Evil Incarnate.] Certainly this can be argued: for the most part, however, it is taken as more or less self-evident. Not that there’s anything approaching one monolithic anti- or pro-revolutionary perspective, which encompasses socialists of various stamps, liberals, conservatives, fascists and others.

Some may even consider the Bolsheviks misguided and tragic, though wicked and power hungry is more common. There is a pull towards a crude morality tale. One can disagree with, say, historian Orlando Figes’s conclusions without querying the seriousness of his research, but his assertion in A People’s Tragedy that “hatred and indifference to human suffering were to varying degrees ingrained in the minds of all the Bolshevik leaders” is simply absurd (and his disapproving fascination with their leather jackets curious).

On the other side, there are some true believers such as the minute and grotesque Stalin Society. For the most part, however, the question for those who find cause for celebration in the revolution is, from what date do we start mourning? If an emancipatory tradition was broken, when was the break? 1921? 1924? 1928? 1930? What combination of factors lies behind the degeneration? The carnage of the civil war? Allied interventions, including, enthusiastically, on the side of the antisemitic pogromists? The failure of revolutions in Europe?
The number of variations on those themes is about as numerous as the millions of people who have engaged with them at some level over the last century.

One aspect of the period of Stalinism was the alliance of the Soviet Union with the United States and Britain in the war against Hitler Germany. This wartime propaganda film by Frank Capra was widely viewed in the US during the war, Why We Fight: The Battle of Russia (1943) US National Archives :

Miéville offers this following helpful perspective, as well:

The revolution also matters because it was ... millennial. Its opponents regularly charge socialism with being a religion. The claim, of course, is hypocritical: anti-communism is just as often infused with the cultish fervour of the exorcist. And more importantly, it’s no weakness that alongside and informing their analysis, the partisans of 1917 were driven by a utopian urge, the hunger for a new and better world, to become people capable of inhabiting it.
The only thing I'll add here is that I view it as essential to understand the Russian Revolution in the context of the First World War.