Archive for the ‘Politics’ Category

The Collusion Delusion

Whether you are more concerned about the content of the Pentagon Papers or the fact that they were leaked illegally is determined by your stance on the Vietnam War. Likewise with the 2016 leaks of e-mails of the Democratic National Committee. Are you more concerned that the DNC was in the tank for Hillary Clinton and that her populist stances were just cynical hypocrisy, or more concerned that this was leaked illegally? Again, this depends entirely on your politics. Among the e-mails, we found evidence of a close relationship between the DNC and journalists, with the former asking the latter to run favorable stories when needed. We should not be surprised, then, that the media, having its last veneer of impartiality thoroughly shredded, should seek strident retribution against those who committed the leaks, and the Trump campaign which benefited from them. This has elided into a brazen attempt to delegitimize the outcome of the election, and reverse it if possible through impeachment.

This farce began with a joke made in response to another e-mail scandal, that of Hillary Clinton’s private server while she was Secretary of State. In response to a subpoena, she provided the e-mails on this server only after deleting tens of thousands of messages that were supposedly personal and unrelated to work. Candidate Trump called out this blatantly illegal non-compliance, humorously imploring anyone who had the e-mails, even Russia, to release them as a public service. Naturally, the media went ballistic, accusing Trump of encouraging espionage by a foreign power. They evidently could not keep their lies consistent, for there could be no damaging espionage if the e-mails merely pertained to wedding and yoga appointments, as the credulous press would have us believe.

In July 2016, the first set of DNC e-mails was released by Wikileaks. These revealed that DNC chair Debbie Wasserman Schulz was firmly behind the Clinton candidacy, long before the primaries had been decided. This surprised virtually no one, as bias against the Sanders campaign had long been evident, and the clearing of the field by other Democrats for Hillary to run virtually without opposition in her party was transparent to all but the willfully naive. Only specifics, such as the leaking of debate questions to the candidate, and the enlisting of DNC resources and press allies, added information about the depth of the establishment collusion to force Clinton upon the public, as later confirmed by Donna Brazile.

The second set of e-mails was leaked on the same weekend when Trump’s Access Hollywood tape was leaked as an October surprise to derail his candidacy. The press generally ignored the fact that the behind-the-scenes tape, being proprietary and confidential, must certainly have been stolen or leaked illegally at some point, no less than the DNC e-mails. Again, whether you care more about the content or the mode of release depends on your politics.

Democrats naturally railed against the “Russian hackers” committing espionage against our national institutions, ignoring that the DNC is a private, non-state institution, and that the e-mails were obtained by phishing, not hacking. That is, someone was dumb enough to give away their password to an e-mail scam. John Podesta did this twice (having been misled by his IT person who omitted the word “not”), and we were treated to a host of e-mails showing the cynicism of Democratic party strategy and Hillary’s two-facedness regarding Wall Street. This should have surprised absolutely no one, and indeed this second wave of e-mails made no measurable impact on the polls, having been drowned in the Access Hollywood scandal.

All of this would have come to little had not Donald Trump, ever so improbably, won the presidential election. Hillary Clinton soon had the consolation prize of “winning” the popular vote, though in fact she had less than 50%, so she would have lost in a House vote even had there been no electoral college. Ironically, before the election, the electoral college was thought to give Trump an impossibly narrow path to victory, allowing for no mistakes in major battleground states, and on top requiring him to flip some Democratic strongholds. He did precisely that, in part by keeping a grueling travel schedule to the Midwest in the final weeks. Mrs. Clinton, by contrast, feared that Trump would win the popular vote while losing the electoral vote, and devoted resources to padding turnout in non-competitive states such as Illinois. Rather than come to terms with their candidate’s blunders, many Democrats soon took up the “blame Russia” angle.

This, of course, is historical revisionism of the first order. Neither of the Wikileaks releases decided the election in any measurable way. The second batch had no impact on polls, while the first only confirmed an already prevalent sense that the DNC favored Clinton over Sanders. The big needle mover in the final weeks was James Comey re-opening the e-mail server investigation, having found that Anthony Weiner (aka Carlos Danger) had been printing Hillary’s e-mails for her on behalf of his wife Huma Abedin, so his computer might have some of the undisclosed e-mails. This, like Hillary’s e-mail server itself, was simply a workaround for a technologically inept executive. Polls moved appreciably after this re-opening of the investigation, closing the gap between candidates to the margin of error.

Although Obama had known for over a year about the phishing of the DNC, he maintained public silence about possible Russian government involvement, to avoid appearing unduly partisan during the election. It was only after the election that he decided it was significant enough to disclose publicly. While disclosing only weak, equivocal evidence of Russian government involvement, he acted as if the fact were certain, and tried to make this opinion a reality by imposing punitive sanctions against Russian diplomats.

The Americans are shocked – shocked! – that a government should interfere in the political process of another country. Yes, this is the same U.S.A. that regularly bombs countries, foments coups, plots assassinations, and even bribes legislatures to change political outcomes. The U.S. is by far the biggest political meddler in the world, and the biggest practitioner of global espionage, even on allies and the UN. Most notably, it interfered in elections in Ukraine, favoring an anti-Russian party. As always, the U.S., without irony, fails to recognize blowback of its own imperialist actions.

Whether feigning outrage or genuinely shameless, Obama imposed sanctions as a lame duck president trying to force a major foreign policy stance on his successor. The center-left imperialist media did not remark on the inappropriateness of such action, but on the contrary acted as though the president-elect had no right to let other nations know what his intended policy toward them would be. If Trump failed to be duly hostile toward Russia, or even hinted that he intended to reverse Obama’s petty vindictiveness, he would be not so subtly accused of treason. This is an ironic charge from a gang of globalists who have consistently sold out their working class countrymen.

At any rate, the evidence of Russian conspiracy is astonishingly weak in proportion to the political mileage that’s been extracted from it. As Jeffrey Carr points out, it’s doubtful if the “hackers” even spoke Russian. Yes, the hackers were likely based in Russian time zones, but the vast majority of illegal Internet activity comes from Russia, as anyone who runs a website knows. This is hardly proof of Russian government involvement. More significantly, the data extraction tool is one used by a former group believed to have been with the Russian government, but this identifcation is not definitive. Even if the tool were a Russian government creation, that is not proof of involvement, since government hacking tools do get leaked. Such was the case with this year’s Wannacry ransomware attack, which used a leaked NSA exploit. There is nothing technologically sophisticated enough in the DNC spearphishing that could not be done by any reasonably computer savvy individual. Even a leaked NSA document acknowledged there was no direct evidence of Russian government connection, but this was only an inference made by analysts.

Once the “Russian hacking” is made a fact by Obama’s lame duck meddling, the accusation of collusion between the Trump administration and Russia can be made self-fulfilling. Any post-election attempts at detente are portrayed as evidence of such collusion. Most accusations are made only by innuendo. Ironically, Trump’s greatest error, from an optics standpoint, was his firing of James Comey, the same man who did more than any hacker, Russian or otherwise, to cost Hillary the election. We should not expect logical consistency, of course, in politically motivated accusations. Though their errors are comical, the leftist elites are not to be smiled at. They are making unfounded accusations for criminal offenses that can put people in prison. They have no compunction about ruining people’s lives, even non-politicians like the president’s son, in order to score points for the next election. This is, after all, an elite that can kill ten thousand Libyans for a marginal political advantage.

Brexit and Trump: Backlash against Globalism

In 2016, the twin shocks of the Brexit referendum and the U.S. presidential election lay open the fissure between the neoliberal elites and the despised working class they pretend to represent. The center-left British and American media have tried to attribute this phenomenon to mindless xenophobia, in their usual patronizing manner. In doing so, they betray the democratic principle that the people are the best judges of their own interests. The alternative would be to recognize the failures of neoliberal government.

In both cases, we see an overreaching of economic neoliberalism, which began as a series of multilateral trade agreements allowing free transfer of commodities and capital. Extending this further to the free movement of workers across national borders, without a concurrent improvement in labor rights, makes the race to the bottom for cheap labor even easier.

In the 1970s there was a similar increase in immigration, but there was no public backlash since the labor market could accommodate this. After decades of racing to the bottom, pursuing cheaper labor in the Third World, the neoliberals perform the final insult of allowing the cheap labor to migrate to the First World. It does not require any racial animus toward immigrants to see this. It is absurd to pretend that people are more racist now than 40 years ago. The difference is that there is no longer a strong labor market from the workers’ perspective. Even the more educated find they must compete with students and graduates from around the globe who come to Western universities.

From management’s perspective, the labor market is great: an oversupply of qualified candidates willing to work for relatively lower salaries (in uninflated terms). It is obvious that the cheerleading political and cultural elites generally take the side of management on this issue, all their socialist platitudes notwithstanding. This is why it was utterly shocking and irrational to them why the masses would vote for change when everything was going so well.

The media are so invested in the status quo, that they lost sight that there was ever a productive economy before neoliberalism. Various pundits proclaimed that the U.K. economy would collapse outside the European Union, which has only existed in its present form since 1992. Not only do much smaller economies than the U.K. manage to thrive outside such a union, but a free trade compact does not necessarily have to involve free immigration.

At any rate, the predictions were false, and all interpretations of facts have shown elitist confirmation bias. First, it was suggested that instances of Googling “what is the EU” proved that people voted out of ignorance, as if children don’t use the Internet. Second, they thought to confirm their own wisdom when the pound went down, though currency markets are a poor measure of economic strength. Currency trading is completely unregulated speculation based on purely subjective assessment of value. Here the market simply reflected the panicked atmosphere, and even that only briefly, since the Euro, lest it be forgotten, has not done much better. A year later, the U.K. economy has not collapsed or even done especially poorly, but this failed prediction has been ignored.

The failings of the European Union are already well documented. In brief, the Union over-expanded to countries that could not be reasonably held to the same rigid monetary policy. Further, it was over-ambitious in extending the nature of the Union from a common market to a politically sovereign institution. This ignored substantial differences of national interest and culture among Europeans. The free migration of peoples, innocuous when it was limited to the affluent European nations, proved disastrous in terms of economics and security when it was extended to Eastern Europe. Now all of Europe was at the mercy of the countries with the most lax immigration policies.

Anyone who raised these concerns was dismissed as an isolationist or a xenophobe. People were forced to pretend, absurdly, that Muslims have no greater propensity to terrorism than other groups, or to ignore that too rapid admittance of immigrants hampers cultural assimilation. Economic concerns were dismissed by pointing at overall economic indicators, promoting the “rising tide lifts all boats” myth usually confined to conservatives. While claiming to deplore inequality, neoliberals actively promoted the relative pauperization of their countrymen, forcing them to join the Third World race to the bottom.

In the United States, the non-ideological nature of this discontent was made clear by the spread of support to the self-described socialist Bernie Sanders and the inscrutably non-ideological Donald Trump. The first was thwarted in part by the bias of the Democratic Party, which had decided from the outset to anoint Hillary Clinton. She would have run virtually unopposed had not the independent Sanders decided to run as a Democrat. Even then, the Democratic National Committee favored Clinton with its human resources, its media influence, and its disciplinary authority, as proved by leaked DNC emails.  We should not be surprised that the media considers the leak of the e-mails to be a greater affront to democracy than their content.

Trump was successful not only because of his ability and energy as a campaigner (shown by his brutal travel schedule), but because the Republican primary was much more open and divided. This was perceived early, but attempts by some of the mainstream candidates to combine their constituencies proved of no avail. In fact, the more clear it became that the Trump candidacy was opposed by the party, the greater his appeal became. Here at last was someone who might refuse to take his cues from the globalist free trade crowd.

More so than Sanders, Trump appealed to nationalist sentiment, which was hardly unique, but he did so in a way that refused to apologize for preferring one’s countrymen over all others. This was timely considering the sense of disenfranchisement that prevailed. On specifics, he seemed to be out of sync with reality, repeating canards he had used for decades. His complaints about illegal Mexican immigration ignored the fact that net migration from Mexico is now negative; most of the “damage” has already been done. Concerns about foreign-born terrorists were more appropriate for Europe than the U.S. Although his specific facts were often wrong, he played the right theme. Anyone who knew anything about business understood the cost of globalization and which people were hurt most by it, “rising tide” or not. The difference is that this businessman actually seemed to care about this predicament, and would listen to those who had stories that didn’t comport with neoliberal theory.

On foreign policy, the enigmatic Trump at first seemed to be an anti-interventionist, with his criticisms of the debacles in Iraq, Syria, and Libya, and of the needless provocations of Russia. Perhaps we might have the first non-imperialist president since Hoover. It would be a mistake, however, to look for a coherent foreign policy from Trump, who is guided more by instinct than ideology. Consistent with his aggressive style, he soon turned toward calls for “carpet bombing,” fell in line with Zionism, and promised absurd increases in military spending. This militarist trajectory would continue into his early presidency.

I did not expect Trump to win the election, agreeing with most pundits that the electoral math made this exceedingly unlikely. Basically, he would have to sweep the key battleground states and steal some traditionally Democratic states. Faltering in even one of these states would assure a Clinton victory. Instead, he made a clean sweep of the key battlegrounds, and stunningly picked up historically Democratic Michigan and Wisconsin, completing a sweep of the Rust Belt with Indiana, Ohio and Pennsylvania. These are areas that Hillary Clinton infamously took for granted and under-campaigned. Yet mere canvassing would be ineffective unless accompanied by a substantive agenda addressing the devastation these areas have experienced due to neoliberal globalization of trade and immigration. Anyone who has visited coal country, as I have recently, finding Confederate flags (in the North) and Trump banners in dilapidated, semi-deserted towns, making “white privilege” an absurdly ignorant epithet, should not wonder why they voted for Trump. Instead, we should be amazed that they have not stormed the cities in armed revolt against those who have sold out their country.

Obama: More of the Same

When Barack Obama campaigned for president in 2008, he postured as an outsider who would bring real change to Washington. Those of us who paid more attention to his policy prescriptions than his racial background noticed that in fact he was just another fiscal moderate / social liberal in the mold of John Kerry. His one distinguishing trait from Hillary Clinton was his apparently non-imperialist foreign policy, exemplified by his outspoken opposition to the war in Iraq. Between the election and his inauguration, he debunked his own mythology by finalizing Bush’s bank bailout and nominating Hillary Clinton as Secretary of State, thereby defeating the purpose of choosing him over her. Once again, the imperial establishment won.

The center-left news media, being a propaganda organ of the neoliberal elites, who gleefully dole out freedoms in sexuality and narcotics in place of any real political or economic power, continued to burnish the Obama mythos, despite all evidence against it. He was praised as an agent of peace and a man of the people even as he continued the American imperial project and defended the financiers who ruined the economy. He was actually praised while doing the exact same things for which Bush had been vilified. Here are some of the more pertinent similarities to his predecessor.

Both Bush and Obama lowered corporate taxes and increased U.S. energy production. In the 2012 campaign, Obama boasted of having eliminated 77 government programs and having cut $1T in discretionary spending. “More importantly,” he said, “cuts will help us grow,” accepting GDP growth as a categorical imperative. He cut $716 billion from Medicare, ostensibly from overpaying insurers and providers.

In his second debate with Romney, Obama postured as being pro-oil and gas production, and did not challenge the dogma that the economy trumps other social criteria. He claimed that Romney’s “social extremism” (i.e., the values that were the norm of Western civilization until yesterday) was “bad for the economy.” At the same time, he bragged about small businesses and tax cuts for the middle class, while claiming that Romney’s cuts “won’t help us grow.”

In counter-terrorism, he evinced the same vengeful attitude that was deplored in his predecessor, saying, “When you mess with Americans, we hunt you down.” He liked to boast that national security is not political, only confirming that U.S. foreign policy is dominated by a power elite straddling both parties.

For all his supposed sophistication, he shared with Romney the simplistic mercantile canard that a country needs to have a “favorable” balance of trade by increasing exports.

In foreign policy, the similarities are most striking. Obama kept military spending high, in fact above the Bush-era peak. He openly claimed the right to depose heads of state at will, even when they posed no immediate threat to the U.S. He remained pro-Zionist, while engaging in anti-Iranian rhetoric, using the deceitful claim that Iran wants to “wipe Israel off the map” as though they had genocidal intentions. His pledge to stand by Israel if attacked binds the U.S. to whatever aggressive policy Israel exercises toward her neighbors.

He boasted about his war of choice against Gaddafi, and claimed there was no “mission creep.” He bragged about killing Bin Laden without obtaining permission to enter Pakistani airspace. In a word, he showed the same contempt for the sovereignty of other nations’ as his imperialist predecessors.

In 2012, Obama recast his opposition to the Iraq war in imperialist terms, claiming that the fault was not the lack of just cause to invade a sovereign nation (he could claim no such high ground after Libya), but because, absurdly, this supposedly “took our eye off the ball” in Afghanistan, as if the U.S. military couldn’t do two things at once. He claimed he could focus on Afghanistan after the war in Iraq ended. The withdrawal actually was completed on Bush’s schedule, despite Obama’s attempt to get the Iraqis to allow U.S. troops to stay longer. He actually increased the use of drone strikes compared with Bush.

Like other American imperialists, Obama proclaimed the objective of promoting the free market system everywhere. He also espoused “nationalism in trade,” which means protectionism if it means anything, and making sure that everyone else plays by the rules. In other words, when it was time for re-election, he played to the same economic populism and nationalism for which he later disparaged his successor.

In view of these broad outlines, my readers may perhaps be less than surprised when I fail to get caught up in U.S. partisan politics. They are both halves of the same imperialist whole, or at least that has been the case until the unthinkable happened in 2016. More on that to come.

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