Archive | June 2016

Strongman, Weakman

McClatchy asks, Is Donald Trump just another Latin American strongman?

The politics of real estate mogul Trump may be the polar opposite of Chávez’s socialism, but experts say he uses the same tools to charm the public that Chávez and other charismatic strongmen have. Political correctness is thrown out and replaced with brash talk. They paint themselves as the only leaders capable of returning their countries to former glory.

Francisco Mora, the U.S. deputy assistant secretary of defense for the Western Hemisphere from 2009 to 2013, calls Trump the “North American version” of the caudillo.

The specifics may be different, Mora said, but the general outline is the same: the charisma, the polarizing personality, the stoking of fear and the anti-establishment message.

“Trump is clearly in the camp of a populist demagogue; that is to say he makes all kinds of outlandish promises.” said Mora, who is the the director of the Latin American and Caribbean Center at Florida International University. “Like caudillos of Latin America, he’s extremely divisive. The opposition is not the opposition, it’s the enemy. It’s the demonization of the other.”

The best politicians have the ability to energize large groups of people. But Mora said Trump and caudillos connected on a deeper level. They can mesmerize an audience. They develop an almost messiah-like quality, transcending the institutions they charge are corrupt.

I called Trump a Strongman back in September 2015 , and I still suspect the reason he is connecting has to do with supporters who want an alternative or at least to make a protest vote. A lot of comfortable establishment intellectuals have dismissed Trump supporters (and Brexit supporters) as nativists and racists, but there is no doubt that the current governing paradigm is to make empty promises to a lot of the people that used to make a decent living working with their hands.

I also noted that Trump needed backing in the oligarchy, but some of them have come out and said that they could work equally well with Trump or Hillary Clinton, which means that nothing substantive would be likely to change for the people that need it.

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Just For Laughs

One of my relatives was complaining on Facebook about laugh tracks on sitcoms, and I suggested we need laugh tracks for the presidential election. Then I saw that 3QuarksDaily, which is looking for donations, had posted an article comparing our political theatre to the new comedy film, Central Intelligence, with Dwayne Johnson and Kevin Hart. In 3Quark’s estimation, the violent Calvin (Johnson) stands in for the Republicans while fraidy-cat Bob (Hart) represents the Democrats.

Strained Analogies Between Recently Released Films and Current Events: Central Intelligence and Why Gun Laws Don’t Change 

If the differences between Calvin and Bob are played for laughs in Central Intelligence, the corresponding differences between Democrats and Republicans in reality are similarly played for entertainment value. For example, Americans are wildly entertained by Democrats and Republicans arguing about gun control as if the two parties have meaningfully different principles. However, while Americans soak in vitriolic arguments via cable news and social media, the two parties have surreptitiously achieved their actual combined goal: to do nothing. After all, why would Democrats pursue legislation like an ill defined “assault weapons ban” that not only will never get through Congress, but even if it did, it wouldn’t make a dent in gun-related homicides? And why would Republicans, those freedom-loving patriots, push back on restricting gun sales to people on the terrorist watch list? If it doesn’t make sense it’s because, like Central Intelligence, it wasn’t designed to make sense–it was designed to entertain.

In fact, while Facebook homies post any number of articles about impending legal action over voter suppression, primary vote fraud, and the email server scandal – none of those garner any mention on mainstream media. Instead they take down Trump, or Bernie Bros, or Brexit.

In TomDispatch, John Feffer looks beyond the entertainment and offers an explanation of why Donald Trump seems like the way out for American people that still work with their hands, and get no consideration from either party:

Tomgram: John Feffer, Donald Trump and America B

Falling behind economically and feeling betrayed by politicians on both sides of the aisle, America B might have moved to the left if the United States had a strong socialist tradition. In the 2016 primary campaign, many of the economically anxious did, in fact, support Bernie Sanders, particularly the younger offspring of America A fearful of being deported to America B. Unlike Europe B, however, America B has always been more about rugged individualism than class solidarity. Its denizens would rather buy a lottery ticket and pray for a big payout than rely on a handout from Washington (Medicare and Social Security aside). Donald Trump, politically speaking, is their Powerball ticket.

Above all, the inhabitants of America B are angry. They’re disgusted with politics as usual in Washington and the hypocritical, sanctimonious political elite that goes with it. They’re incensed by how the wealthy have effectively seceded from American society with their gated estates and offshore accounts. And they’ve focused their resentment on those they see as having taken their jobs: immigrants, people of color, women. They’re so desperate for someone who “tells it like it is” that they’ll look the other way when it comes to Donald Trump’s inextricable links to the very elite who did so much to widen the gap between the two Americas in the first place.

Progressives vs Liberals

Not surprisingly, we are seeing a schism in the left. The primary challenge of Bernie Sanders vs Hillary Clinton was the most obvious symptom, but it goes deeper. I have recently heard Sanders supporters like Cenk Uygur, Shaun White and others talk or write about progressives and liberals as if they were two completely different groups – with the progressives following Sanders, Occupy and political revolution, and the liberals following Clinton, the DNC and incrementalism.

Words eventually tend to mean what we want them to mean, but I suspect that most people use progressive and liberal almost interchangeably. Looking at various dictionaries, a strict definition of progressive usually includes believing in progress, change, improvement, or reform, in political matters. A strict definition of liberal usually includes believing that individual freedoms and civil liberties should be guaranteed by law and enforced by government. But many alternate definitions of one word include the other.

Part of the reason for the schism is that so many liberals, whether they know it or not, are giving liberalism a bad name by supporting neoliberalism.

According to Merriam Webster, a neoliberal is “a liberal who de-emphasizes traditional liberal doctrines in order to seek progress by more pragmatic methods.” Pragmatism, or incrementalism, is attractive when one is already comfortable, but many in the lower middle and working class feel that they will never see the benefits promised by establishment Democrats or Republicans. Young voters in particular have little belief in the establishment.

CNN Money recently posted an article, America’s upper middle class is thriving:

The middle class may be feeling squeezed, but the upper middle class is enjoying good times.

The upper middle class grew to 29.4% of the population in 2014, up from 12.9% in 1979, according to a new Urban Institute report. It defines this group as having household income of between $100,000 and $350,000 for a three-person family.

The rich also expanded their ranks, to 1.8%, up from 0.1%.

The middle class, meanwhile, shrunk — to 32%, from 38.8%. And the share of lower middle class and poor Americans also declined.

When you are thriving, it is difficult to feel the need for radical change. The working class are in roughly the position of all those dogs and cats on the ASPCA videos. The comfortable classes cringe when they have to look at them, but manage to change the channel or hit the mute button.

What Now?

After feeling the Bern over the last year, we are flummoxed by the poor candidates selected by the two major parties. My wife refuses to vote for Hillary. I feel more strongly about not voting for Trump, but I can’t fault her for not trusting Clinton. What are we supposed to do?

In, Con vs. Con, Chris Hedges bemoans our pitiful, awful choice:

The rise of a demagogue like Donald Trump is a direct result of the Democratic Party’s decision to embrace neoliberalism, become a handmaiden of American imperialism and sell us out for corporate money. There would be no Trump if Bill Clinton and the Democratic Party had not betrayed working men and women with the North American Free Trade Agreement, destroyed the welfare system, nearly doubled the prison population, slashed social service programs, turned the airwaves over to a handful of corporations by deregulating the Federal Communications Commission, ripped down the firewalls between commercial and investment banks that led to a global financial crash and prolonged recession, and begun a war on our civil liberties that has left us the most monitored, eavesdropped, photographed and profiled population in human history. There would be no Trump if the Clintons and the Democratic Party, including Barack Obama, had not decided to prostitute themselves for corporate pimps.

As reported by the Intercept, corporate interests don’t much care whether we vote one way, the other, or not at all. They’ve got it covered. Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton Would Be Equally Good for Finance Industry, Says Top Executive

THE HEAD OF the largest derivatives marketplace in the world, CME Group, told an audience at a financial industry conference that it doesn’t matter if Hillary Clinton or Donald Trump becomes president because both understand the industry and are only criticizing it during the campaign for political reasons.

“I don’t care if it’s Donald Trump or Hillary Clinton,” CME Group Executive Chairman Terry Duffy said on June 9 in response to a question from an analyst about how the election will impact the industry. “I care who’s around Donald Trump or Hillary Clinton, who’s in the administration, who is helping them make the tough decisions to keep America on top, that’s to me what’s critically important.”

Face the Music

No event has caused me to lose faith in the mainstream and new internet media as has their reaction to the revelations of Edward Snowden. Former Attorney General Eric Holder made news last week when he admitted that Snowden had done a great service to the citizens of America by revealing the extent to which we were being monitored by our government. But Holder, President Obama, candidate Clinton, and many others also assert that Snowden should have followed normal whistleblower channels, and now should return to face the sealed charges against him.

Last week on Democracy Now!, Amy Goodman interviewed Mark Hertsgaard, author of a new book about the experiences of two NSA whistleblowers before Snowden, and one of his subjects, John Crane, whose career was ended when he revealed NSA wrongdoing:

Pentagon Whistleblower’s Disclosures Put a Lie to Obama, Clinton Claims About Snowden

MARK HERTSGAARD: … everybody knows what Snowden did at this point, but to really understand it, what Snowden did and why he did it the way he did it—he did it, you need to know the stories of … Thomas Drake [and] John Crane. … when you see everything that John Crane tells us about how the whistleblower protection system inside the Pentagon is broken, only results in a whistleblower having his life ruined, as we saw with Tom Drake, you see that really Edward Snowden had no other choice but to go public. …

And so I think that’s what’s important about John Crane’s story, is it puts the lie to what Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton are saying and have been saying about Edward Snowden from the beginning. “He broke the law, bring him home. He should face the music,” is what Hillary Clinton said. “Face the music. He could have been a whistleblower,” Hillary Clinton added, “and he would have gotten a very good reception, I think.” Well, I would just like to invite Secretary Clinton, tell that to Thomas Drake, tell that to John Crane, that you would have gotten a good reception by following the whistleblower law inside of the Pentagon.

And today, Juan Cole has addressed Holder directly, Dear Mr. Holder: Why Ed Snowden can’t get a Fair Trial in your National Security State:

… nobody in the Obama administration still in office ever said that Snowden did a public service. He certainly did, since the NSA and other intelligence organizations had gone rogue. In essence, they unilaterally abrogated the Fourth Amendment of the US Constitution. PBS Frontline alleged that the NSA did not even read Obama into their warrantless surveillance of millions of Americans until 2010! In a system like that, the president isn’t really the president– the Deep State does as it pleases.

It is also clear that the NSA has been sharing metadata with local law enforcement, which has been using it to build cases against people without ever seeking a warrant, and then lying to judges about how they knew someone was, e.g., in touch with a drug dealer by phone. In other words, NSA surveillance has corrupted the entire justice system of the United States and made the Fourth Amendment a dead letter.

Such sharing of illicitly-gathered private information among US government agencies is becoming routine. (These cases have nothing to do with terrorism.)

My favorite moments in CBS’ The Good Wife, which recently ended, was their matter of fact portrayal of just how routine it was that Alicia Florrick, her governor husband and all their associates were being electronically-monitored on the basis of a tenuous connection with a former client. That the agents were a bunch of geeky millenials in a cubicled space out of Dilbert, who fit their surveillance between teasing each other with the latest memes, added to the absurdity, but might have led people to think the writers were joking.

They weren’t.

And we’re the ones who will face the music.