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Year of Hell

One of the better plotlines on Star Trek: Voyager was the Year of Hell. In that two-part episode, Voyager was battered and her crew decimated over the course of a year of running battles with an implacable enemy. It struck me as a much more likely scenario than the usual melodrama of a lone ship escaping every situation either triumphant or at least mostly intact. The writers made everything revert to normal, of course, but continuing it would have been a learning experience for fans.

So in our real world plotline, we’ve had 100 days of limbo. Most of my friends and most of the media are outraged by President Trump, but a lot of the people I read or follow are equally outraged at the resistance which seems to have been encouraged, propagandized and orchestrated by the Deep State.

Why are progressives suspicious of the resistance? At Truthdig, historian Paul Street explains, The Deep State’s Hatred of Trump Is Not the Same as Yours :

… The issues that concern the swirling, record-setting crowds that have arisen from coast to coast are evident on their homemade signs. They include women’s and civil rights, climate change, social justice, racism, nativism, the police state, mass incarceration, plutocracy, authoritarianism, immigrant rights, low wages, economic inequality …, hyper-militarism and the devaluation of science and education. The marches and protests are about the threats Trump poses to peace, social justice, the rule of law, livable ecology and democracy.

Meanwhile, the national corporate media and the U.S. intelligence community have been attacking Trump for a very different and strange reason. They have claimed, with no serious or credible evidence, that Trump is, for some bizarre reason, a tool of the Russian state. …. Citing vague and unsubstantiated CIA reports, The New York Times, The Washington Post and many other forces in the establishment media want Americans to believe that, in Glenn Greenwald’s properly mocking words, “Donald Trump is some kind of an agent or a spy of Russia, or that he is being blackmailed by Russia and is going to pass secret information to the Kremlin and endanger American agents on purpose.”

Beneath the wild and unsubstantiated charge that Trump is some kind of Moscow-controlled Manchurian president is a determination to cripple and perhaps remove Trump because he wants to normalize U.S. relations with Russia.

In The Deep State vs. President Trump, retired polysci prof Gary Olson hits many of the same notes:

Why does the Deep State fear and despise Trump? First, his chief strategist, Stephen K. Bannon, is a fervent disciple of capitalist economic nationalism. Further, his America is the “shining city on a hill,” but where the dwellers are Christian white people. Deep State types are convinced Trump’s skewed priorities will undermine the dominant role played by the U.S. in the global capitalist system from which they derive their power, wealth, and ultra-lavish lifestyles. We are witnessing a no-holds-barred clash between two warring camps.

Second, both the Pentagon and their arms-dealer friends are salivating over a new Cold War with Russia and will do anything to sabotage enhancing peaceful understanding between Washington and Moscow. This explains their hysterical Kremlin-baiting of Trump. Likewise, Trump sent chills through the Deep State when he voiced doubts about NATO as an archaic relic of the past, expensive and dangerously misused outside of Europe.

Third, Trump’s erratic behavior, penchant for confrontation and unwillingness to be a team player render him an unreliable caretaker of Deep State interests. They much preferred Hillary Clinton or even Jeb Bush. Trump was the “Frankenstein Populist” (Paul Street’s term) who, shockingly, won the election. Now he threatens to unwittingly expose their “marionette theater” of contrived democracy. My sense is that if Trump does not satisfy the Deep State doubts about his trustworthiness, his days in office are numbered.

Perhaps you think you’re being treated unfairly?

Essentially, a lot of people who were doing fine under Reagan, Bush, Clinton, Bush and Obama aren’t ready for that ride to be over. They expect everyone, EVERYONE to forget that life under neoliberals sucked and was getting worse for a lot of people, and to unite to defeat Trump. It’s the same deal they worked hard to arrange in the election, and even though it was a loser, they would rather make it work through insurrection than change one damn thing about the establishment.

We watched the film Elysium last weekend, which like Snowpiercer was a fairly transparent metaphor for our unequal society overlaid with fight scenes that resembled video gaming. As in Snowpiercer, the establishment was overthrown, and society was able to quickly reboot. Is the Trump administration robust enough to survive all his missteps? If not, is the US government robust enough to survive a bitter insider revolution? Are we robust enough to survive a series of authoritarian administrations?

In, American Regicide, Akim Reinhardt warns that the institution of the Presidency is increasingly fragile:

After Nixon’s resignation, 5 of the next 7 presidents suffered an impeachment motion in the House, and one of them, Bill Clinton was actually impeached. In fact, every president beginning with Ronald Reagan has seen a member of Congress move to impeach him.

Ronald Reagan faced an impeachment motion over the Iran Contra Scandal.

George Bush the Elder faced an impeachment motion over the first Iraq war.

Prior to actually being impeached over the Monica Lewinski scandal, Bill Clinton faced an impeachment motion for allegedly obstructing an investigation of alleged campaign contributions from foreign sources.

George Bush the Younger faced an impeachment motion over his version of the Iraq (and Afghanistan) war.

Barack Obama faced two impeachment motions: one for administering the drone program in Afghanistan and Iraq, and the other for the odd combination of charges that he failed to do perform his presidential duty while also abusing his presidential powers.

All of this is not a coincidence.

What Reinhardt doesn’t get around to saying is that the roots of government weakness lie in our failure to take part in, or even pay attention to its workings. Many of us work hard, and more of us play hard, but few of us go to the long boring meetings that determine the direction of government. Taking part in marches is a fine thing, but making one’s voice heard at all sorts of town meetings is a better thing. People get the government they deserve, but more to the point, we have also gotten the deep state we deserve, and we may get many years of hell while our government and deep state fight for supremacy.

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Rebuilding the Left

In a piece on 3QuarksDaily, Thomas R. Wells asserts, THERE IS NO SUCH THING AS NEOLIBERALISM AND IT IS DESTROYING THE LEFT:

Wells begins with, “The first problem is that there is no such thing as neoliberalism. It exists entirely as a critique by the left. … Nobody ever describes themselves as “neoliberal”. The phrase is only ever an accusation.”

That’s a relief because no one ever self-identifies as a racist or misogynist, either, so it is good to know that there is no such thing as racism or misogyny.

Going further, Wells claims that the term is a flexible straw man that means whatever the critic wants to attack. The American Heritage definition, though, is fairly concise:

ne·o·lib·er·al·ism (nē′ō-lĭb′ər-ə-lĭz′əm, -lĭb′rə-)
n.
A political theory of the late 1900s holding that personal liberty is maximized by limiting government interference in the operation of free markets.

And Encyclopaedia Brittanica’s description is fairly precise:

By the 1970s, however, economic stagnation and increasing public debt prompted some economists to advocate a return to classical liberalism, which in its revived form came to be known as neoliberalism. The intellectual foundations of that revival were primarily the work of the Austrian-born British economist Friedrich von Hayek, who argued that interventionist measures aimed at the redistribution of wealth lead inevitably to totalitarianism, and of the American economist Milton Friedman, who rejected government fiscal policy as a means of influencing the business cycle (see also monetarism). Their views were enthusiastically embraced by the major conservative political parties in Britain and the United States, which achieved power with the lengthy administrations of British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher (1979–90) and U.S. Pres. Ronald Reagan (1981–89).

Neoliberal ideology and policies became increasingly influential, as illustrated by the British Labour Party’s official abandonment of its commitment to the “common ownership of the means of production” in 1995 and by the cautiously pragmatic policies of the Labour Party and the U.S. Democratic Party from the 1990s. As national economies became more interdependent in the new era of economic globalization, neoliberals also promoted free-trade policies and the free movement of international capital. …

I suspect that what Wells is actually concerned about is the replacement of neoliberal globalism, the status quo, which has benefited his class, with something else. He raises the spectre of Trumpism, but I don’t think left-wing critics are advocating that we succumb to the alt-right, anti-immigrant, anti-global fervor that is sweeping the First World. What critics are pointing out is that neoliberal, free-market policies have been applied to mostly benefit an upper class of what Thomas Frank calls technocrats, and what others call a meritocracy, while the people that do, “most of the working and paying and living and dying,” have been pushed into the arms of the alt-right. The people in the upper class are literally being paid to not believe that anything is wrong with the current incarnation of liberalism.

I don’t agree with pundits that are trying to foment anger against the upper class, but I don’t think the meritocracy is at all sustainable, either. Especially if we engage in denial. But deciding on the way forward will not be easy.

In that vein, I ran across this podcast by Debbie Lusignan, who posts on Youtube and Facebook as The Sane Progressive. She is a social media version of that passionate neighbor that buttonholes you about politics while you are trying to trim your hedges.

Lusignan cited Lee Camp’s interview of Nick Brana on RT’s Redacted Tonight. Brana served as national political outreach coordinator for the Bernie Sanders campaign, and was a founding member of Our Revolution  – very much an offshoot of that campaign. Brana and seven others left Our Revolution after the election of Jeff Weaver as its President. Brana was hoping to draft Bernie Sanders to lead his new People’s Party, which would be independent of, and a replacement for, the Democratic Party. Citing a Gallup poll, he claims that over 14 million people have left the Democratic Party to become Independents. Looking at that poll historically, however, it seems that the percentages of identification with Republicans, Independents or Democrats have fluctuated up and down for years without any significant trend. At the moment, Democrats are one percentage point lower than they had been going back to 2004, but in the leaning chart, they are behind only 44 % to 43 %.

Lusignan noted that Sanders had already refused to lead the Green Party, and predicted that he would also refuse this offer, which he did the next day. She also felt that Sanders is being used as a sort of post-election sheepdog – outreach manager – to attract young voters back to the Democratic fold. He wasn’t given any real power or positions in the party – those went to Chuck Schumer, Nancy Pelosi and Donna Brazile – but they have him out there making speeches, debating with Cruz over the ACA, and endorsing establishment Dems like Schumer.

There will be a lot of this Judean People’s Front sort of thing going on in the liberal/progressive wing, and eventually one movement will shake itself out. The more we participate, the more likely that we will see the type of movement we want.

Torpedoing Trump

My news-watching habits have changed a lot during this election cycle. I’ve dropped my NY Times subscription, and I’ve stopped paying much attention to evening news, Meet the Press, Face the Nation or This Week. I’ve been watching Democracy Now! for almost fifteen years, but now DN and The Young Turks have become my primary sources, along with progressive sites like Truthdig, Common Dreams and Counterpunch.

I’ve been criticizing Clinton and the mainstream press so much that a lot of my Facebook friends probably think I’m pulling for Trump. Actually I’m appalled that the establishment media is so openly in the bag for the establishment candidate. It was fairly clear that most of the media, including so-called new media, sandbagged Bernie Sanders, declaring the race over long before it was over; now, there is no doubt that they are doing their best to torpedo Donald Trump. He certainly deserves scrutiny, but all pretense of objectivity has vanished and the election coverage has become strictly a matter of competing identity politics.

Richard King discusses some of the reasons in a persuasive article, MEDIA CULPA: JOURNALISTS TAKE RESPONSIBILITY FOR TRUMP, MANAGE TO MISS THE POINT which he has posted to 3 Quarks Daily:

To observe the rather pompous way that certain newspapers and magazines have broken with their traditional “neutrality” by endorsing Clinton or disendorsing Trump is to see this ideology in action. The implication is that a careful poise of detached objectivity has been momentarily abandoned in order to meet a political crisis the like of which the US has never seen. But there is a difference between “objectivity” and merely acting as the referee between two kinds of conservatism: the Democratic kind and the Republican kind.

King pokes fun at media “self-aggrandizement” but skips over the point that establishment media is going to bat for the establishment candidate. And like the mainstream media, King dismisses Trump’s politics as, “protectionist, parochial, paranoid.” Yes, many of his supporters are protectionist, and yes, they are parochial, but as the joke goes, they aren’t paranoid if someone really is out to get them. America’s hinterland economies have been sold out by the oligarchy in a way that the coastal and urban elites have (so far) avoided. Whether you like them or not, America’s white middle class electorate is actually staring into deep decline, and no longer expect any help from establishment government.

You don’t have to be a Trump supporter to wonder who will get sold out next.

Update: Alternet warns, We Are Ignoring the Worst Dangers of Trumpism at Our Own Peril

History shows that the support base for right-wing extremist movements tends to be primarily the petty bourgeoisie—small businesspeople, professionals at the lower levels—but populism never gets far without the support of large numbers of the permanently unemployed. The official economic statistics would have us believe—and Trump vigorously contests this—that we are at or near full employment. In fact, this is a gross deception, because there are tens of millions of Americans who have given up looking for employment, who for various reasons are not employable in any meaningful sense of the word. Trump claims it is 30 percent of the population, but whatever number it really is, experience shows that it is pervasive, outside a few humming urban centers that give the illusion of high employment. As a matter of policy, the U.S. has not been committed to full employment since the 1970s, as part of the anti-inflationary monetary policy inaugurated by Paul Volcker and carried on by other committed neoliberals.

It is interesting to read bemused articles by correspondents at elite magazines like the Atlantic and the New Yorker, wondering who the Trump supporters really are (as they do after every populist upsurge), acting as though they were writing about aliens from another planet (which they are in a sense, since the elite commentators cannot understand why the Trumpists take such a dire view of the economy, since everything, from their point of view, seems pretty decent, with a 5% unemployment rate, the stock market doing well, and the evidence of their own booming urban areas).

Update: Robert Scheer and Thomas Frank on Democrats’ Shift Away From Addressing Inequality (Audio)

In their conversation, [Thomas] Frank tells [Robert] Scheer how the [Democratic] party has become class-based, now representing primarily the “professional” or upper socioeconomic class. Frank also talks about the Clintons’ role in this shift and why he believes people who might have earlier voted for Democrats are now flocking to Donald Trump.

When Scheer suggests that Bill and Hillary Clinton may not represent a lesser evil—when compared to Republicans—but merely a “different kind of evil,” Frank responds: “You could make the argument that Bill Clinton did things in the 1990s that no Republican would have been capable of doing. … Reagan couldn’t push bank deregulation as far as Clinton did. Clinton did things that Reagan would never have dared to do: welfare reform … [and] NAFTA. George Bush couldn’t get NAFTA passed. … So you start to think that the game that the Clintons play with us, where we vote for them because we have nowhere else to go. … There’s a sort of political economics of how we the voters are manipulated in this situation, and they’re very, very good at playing that game. And so people like you and me who are on the left are captured, basically. We don’t have anywhere else to go. And they play us in a certain way.”

He continues: “I have a lot of friends who say you can’t criticize the Democrats because you’ll just weaken them and then the Republicans will get in. But I say that we can’t give up our critical faculties just because of the ugly historical situation that we’re in.”

Frank also adds that while he is no fan of Donald Trump, the Republican front-runner for the presidency leaves “no uncertainty in the minds of his listeners, after they’ve sat through one of his speeches, that he is a guy that is gonna get tough with American companies that want to move their factories to Mexico or China or anywhere like that. Left parties the world over were founded in order to give voice to and to help and to serve working people. That’s what they exist for. And those people are now flocking to Donald Trump, who is railing against things like NAFTA. We’re in this situation now where thanks to the Clintons and thanks to Obama, the social dynamics of the two-party system have been … mostly turned on their head.”

Akim’s Nightmare, Hillary’s Bad Day

At 3 Quarks Daily, Akim Reinhardt takes on the system that gave us two evils.

The Two Party System is Officially a Nightmare

Much has been made of the fact that Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton are the two most loathed presidential candidates since the birth of polling. Each of them has managed to alienate roughly half the country. About a quarter of Americans despise both of them. They make Barry Goldwater, Michael Dukakis, and Mitt Romney look beloved.

There has been a lot of focus on why these two candidates are so widely reviled. Simple partisanship doesn’t seem to adequately explain it; fewer than a third of American view either of them favorably.

Like every website, 3 Quarks Daily is asking for money. Unlike most, they seem to be worth it.

The Atlantic covers the no-good, very-bad start to the Democratic convention that Hillary and Debbie envisioned as a victory lap:

All Hell Breaks Loose at the Democratic Convention

A 30-step review of the mayhem in Philadelphia, and what Clinton’s convention says about the future of the American political system.

1. Hillary Clinton, her advisers, and their allies at the Democratic National Committee watched Donald Trump’s nominating convention in Cleveland with smug satisfaction.
2. Team Trump had insulted Ohio’s governor, approved a Melania Trump speech that plagiarized Michelle Obama, lied about the plagiarism, and allowed Ted Cruz to expose party divisions in a prime-time speech.
3. “Hey @Reince,” Democratic National Committee chairwoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz tweeted GOP chairman Reince Priebus. “I’m in Cleveland if you need another chair to keep your convention in order.”
4. Schultz reflected the Democratic establishment’s false sense of security. Headed to their convention in Philadelphia, Democrats felt more united than Republicans, better organized, and less vulnerable to the long-term disruption of a populist insurgency.
5. All hell broke loose.

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.