Thursday, November 24, 2016

Masha Gessen on Putin and Trump

Masha Gessen is a journalist who has specialized in writing about Russia and Vladimir Putin. She has a very interesting podcast (brought to my attention by S.B), which can be found here:

 This podcast contains this little gem:

"I'm going to borrow a metaphor from Garry Kasparov, the chess champion, who when he first quit chess and went into politics, he was explaining to people that going up against Putin was like playing chess against somebody who keeps knocking the figures off the board. It's like he's not playing chess.
I think that what the papers failed to do was write the big story of the fact that Donald Trump wasn't playing chess. It's like the endless fact checking was a little bit like reporting on a chess match by saying, "Okay, well, she opened E2 to E4 and he knocked all the figures off the chess board. He knocked the bishop off the chess board and he knocked the knight off the chess board." Well, just say it! Just say he was not playing chess!
I think that it would have been a story about how Donald Trump was running for autocrat. I think at that point there should have been a big journalistic break with American exceptionalism and that's where we would have gone to other countries to look at what has happened to other countries when politicians have run in democratic elections for autocrat. It's happened many times and it's succeeded many times."

S.B. also writes: 
"Gessen had an earlier short essay in the NY Review that I also found very powerful:
I think she moved back to the US recently -- before that she was one of those journalists who was surely on Putin's hitlist. Scary stuff."

Charles M. Blow on Trump

NY Times columnist has a withering opinion piece in today's Times, which you can read here.

 It is based on the interview that Trump gave with big-wigs from the NY Times a couple of days ago -- which Blow didn't attend (presumably by choice). I'd have to say that I agree with Blow's sentiments, and yet I think that, for the good of many vulnerable people among us, that anyone who has Trump's ear should try to get him to moderate his positions on important topics, especially how he deals with climate change and deportations.

It is clear that Trump has a massive ego and thin skin. He is very ignorant about most facts of domestic and international life that don't pertain to the real-estate industry. Also, for what it's worth he is now trailing in the popular vote by more than 2 million or around 1½ %. I don't believe that anyone has won the popular vote by so much, either in numerical or percentage terms, and still lost the election. Several presidents have won by a much smaller margin. It is not at this time clear what the long-term response of the Trump opposition (i.e. the majority opposition) should be. Our minds should be where Charles Blow is, but how should we actually deal with Trump, given the Democrats' loss of control of all branches of government?

One thing I am convinced of is that the opposition has to be a continuous and unrelenting presence in the printed and electronic press. Every action that Trump and his lackeys in the Republican Party take must be unmercifully scrutinized. For example,  the Times and other newspapers are telling us today how moderate and inclusive his recent choices of two women (Nikki Haley for U.N. Ambassador and Betsy DeVos for Secretary of Education) are. Really? They don't seem to be members of the "alt" or hard-right, but neither is a choice that the majority of Americans would make for their positions. So how are they particularly "inclusive" choices? They are, in fact, easy choices for the kind of right-wing minority party that the Republicans have become. Without the bias of the electoral college they would be nowhere. They favor corporations over people, private and charter schools and vouchers over locally controlled public education. I could go on.

Look, let's try to get Trump to do the correct thing if we can, but let's have no illusions about whom we're dealing with. Trump and the party that gave birth to him are no friends to the majority of Americans: they will naturally side with the rich and powerful every single time we allow them to do so (and, at this point, unfortunately, most of the time even  when we don't).

Monday, November 14, 2016

Anger at loss of undeserved privilege

Let's not shed too many tears for all of the angry Trump blue collar supporters. Thanks to M. for forwarding  this article from Salon. (Don't you just despise the jerks in the photo?)

Note that I deal with this in the second paragraph of my previous blog.

Saturday, November 12, 2016

Bernie and Beyond

Judging Bernie Sanders' current position as an "agent of change" in the Democratic Party -- or what the Party will become in the months and years to come -- is a complicated task. He burst upon the national scene as a candidate for president by pointing out more clearly and passionately the economic unfairness of American capitalism and its effect on American democracy. There simply was no one else like him. He nearly took the Democratic nomination from Hillary Clinton. We will never know what would have happened had he done so: "counterfactuals" can only be argued statistically, and in this case the statistics on voters in this election still are very murky. Large groups of unlikely voters became voters; Hillary won the popular vote but lost the presidency; and racism, misogeny and class resentments became factors, but we don't have a clear analysis of their relative significance.

Sanders' basic analysis of economics and politics is almost certainly correct. American capitalism since the few decades after WWII has failed to produce a shared prosperity. Corporations, largely through their mouthpiece the Republican party, and largely through red-baiting, contributed to "breaking" industrial unions. (Though, to be fair, worker apathy and the advent of hi-tech workers with no history of unionization played roles as well.) These unions were the only means by which industrial workers could keep their jobs intact and their wages rising with the cost of living. At the same time, the jobs that these workers had were not always meted out fairly. Jim Crow in both the North and South was a potent force in the postwar years, favoring white workers over non-whites; sexism also forced women out of jobs after their employment in the war effort, and kept their wages down. ("Rosie the Riveter" became Harriet the Homemaker.) White male workers who had high-paying, family-supporting jobs in factories and in the public sphere, were definitely beneficiaries of this unfairness during the postwar boom decades (at least through the '60s say). When jobs started to get scarcer -- due to automation, outsourcing overseas, and contraction of manufacturing -- they were the last to be laid off. Then, as policies of fairness were enacted in various civil-rights laws, they were not always the first to be hired back, and had to compete on a more level playing field with non-whites, females, and immigrants. These white working-class people and their families are now the disgruntled class that Donald Trump has so successfully mobilized (and will soon exploit in turn).

Thus, the policies of the New Deal helped capitalism rebound during and after the Great Depression. The jump-started economy boomed for 20-30 years, but then stagnated. Even then there could have been enough jobs and prosperity for all had war, military bloat, and transfer of wealth to the already-wealthy not constricted the will and cash to create them in the late '60s and beyond. The current decay of our infrastructure -- highways, bridges, buildings and parks -- could have provided employment for millions of skilled and semi-skilled people who were willing to work hard for decent wages. But it never happened: American capitalism and the efforts to protect it and its markets diverted the money to military adventures, profiteering, and the amassing of huge corporate and private fortunes. Do we even know how much, say, General-Dynamics and Boeing, Halliburton and Blackwater, made from the disastrous invasions of Viet Nam and Iraq? Certainly enough to employ massive numbers of the idle and under-employed.

Bernie was right about all this, and for a long time he was the lone voice calling out in the Washington wilderness. His courage and integrity were undeniable, and they made him a phenomenon for the year or so preceding the 2016 election. Unfortunately, his criticisms required winning an election to have any hopes of having a constructive effect. He built an enthusiastic movement, but a relatively small one. And time was short, with the Democratic establishment's anointed candidate Hillary Clinton already the presumed nominee -- presumed by the DNC and its chair Wasserman-Schultz, as well as by the press and the Republican Party (they had been demonizing Clinton for decades). Also, Bernie has some weaknesses as a speaker and politician. Although it's a good one, he gives the same speech over and over, and it's impersonal and not particularly appealing to many sections of the electorate -- especially "racial and linguistic" minorities. For most of the time before seeking the nomination, he was not even a Democrat, and had done little for other Democrats whose help he would need. He was probably the most "trusted" of the 2016 candidates, but he could not get nominated and it's unclear that he could have survived the Trump and Republican smears had he been nominated.

Looking forward now at the grim choices facing progressives, we might ask: What can be done? It is too early to think about the next Democratic presidential candidate, and those who are talking about Sanders and Elizabeth Warren should not fall into the same error as those who were saying that the election just passed was "Clinton's turn." It's nobody's "turn" except the turn of the Democrats to gear up for some actual winning for a change. This means contesting every office from dog-catcher on up. This means creating a Democratic "farm system" of young, smart and talented men and women who can appeal to all segments of a very divided and pretty angry electorate. The Democrats especially need an "information machine" which can get the facts out to the press, the networks and cable TV, the Internet, and the talk shows. It must produce an understandable Democratic version of events and Republican misdeeds every week, say, and this report must be skillfully packaged and disseminated (see below). We can't wait until the next election is upon us. Those who are first with the facts will have a chance to define the issues. The Republicans did this very successfully in the recent election, and Trump was a master at communicating his point of view and his prejudices.

What makes the Democrats' job so much more difficult is that they are the party of basic decency. Though they have made many mistakes of philosophical and strategic natures, they also have not resorted to overt racism and sexism, and outright lies. If these things are now essential to win elections, then we are doomed; but, I don't think we need to use them. The Democrats need some really smart people to design their campaigns -- not poll-watchers or repeaters of time-worn liberal talking points but people who really understand the actual demographics of the electorate. They need creative ad agencies with writers who are sympathetic to the various segments of the electorate, and they need to take advantage of the fact that many if not most of the individuals who head up or work for the national media -- major networks (except Fox, of course), newspapers and news magazines, the "e-Press" etc -- are quite fearful of Trump and Trumpism, and would help get the Democrats' message out. Now is the time to start on this monumental but critical task. It will not be for the faint of heart.

Wednesday, November 9, 2016

The day after the night before...

What a terrible night -- yet, not a great surprise to me, though a great disappointment. Here are a few thoughts.

1. Trump still has to govern -- has to do something. He has made a lot of promises to his "base": blue collar people -- promises I don't think he can keep, at least not under the terms of his campaign rhetoric. He will clearly make life miserable for lots of people on both practical, personal and ideological grounds. But, what can he do about healthcare that will make his base happy? Simply ending ObamaCare will just make things worse. Nothing except single-payer will actually make health care affordable: everything else will make the lot of his base much worse, especially going  back to a "free-market" system. His tax plan simply will not work, and will certainly make things much worse for his base and everyone else except the very wealthy (and maybe even them). I'm sure you can add many other examples. He will really need to come up with something outside the box of his campaign slogans in order to keep his followers who are misguided but justifiably angry.

(BTW: Wall Street has been split on Trump, and the Dow Jones doesn't look nice. Yet the greedy folk on The Street have always been susceptible to money being thrown at them, which maybe Trump is willing to do. Of course this will not help him with the disaffected people who put him in office. There is still the possibility that Trump will make Wall Street a scapegoat victim of his "populism" -- he clearly doesn't need them the way the Dems seem to.

2. There's been a lot of talk recently about how Trump has split the Republican Party, which, say the talking heads, "will never be the same." I'd ask: What about the Democrats? I don't know if Bernie (whom I supported) would have done better as a candidate (I doubt it, given his ethnicity and "socialist" associations). But what's left? Will the Dems come up with someone who will really create an economic democracy in this country? Someone who won't have a Timothy Geitner as financial advisor? Someone who will not secretly chat up the elite from Goldman-Sachs? Someone who will blame the Republicans publicly for lack of economic progress? Although I generally like Obama, he refused during at least all of his first term to attack Republicans, by name, for obstructionism.) The Dems seriously need someone who is seriously on the side of working people. Is there such a person around (beside Bernie)? Send me your suggestions. 

Are the Democrats even a viable opposition party?

3. More generally, I think it is impossible to have a "liberal democracy" when we don't have an economic democracy. American-style capitalism leads to extreme inequality which leads to a lot of disgruntled people, which leads to Trump. (It's not just America -- the same kind of economic inequality in England led to Brexit. The party of Reagan here is the same as the party of Thatcher there. What is it about English-speaking people?) I'm afraid that the only way out of this is a major recession (hopefully not a depression), and a leader of the stature of a Roosevelt (not the stature of a Clinton).

Finally, no one really knows what Trump is going to do. I think that for most of his adult life he was a Democrat. He's is a pretty self-centered person, but, as I said above, he has to govern, and he really doesn't owe anyone anything. So far, he has surrounded himself with very unsavory characters (e.g. Giuliani, Christy etc.), so the signs are not very auspicious; nevertheless, we don't yet know who the real president Trump will be (or if there is, in fact, any real Trump).

Anyway, that's my current thoughts on this debacle. We have to live through this and live through another major economic debacle and hope that a new Democratic Party -- or a third party -- will provide a really good alternative to Trumpism and Clintonism and our grotesque economic inequality.  What else can we do?
Please send me your comments. More on this later.

Tuesday, November 1, 2016


At this point it is not unreasonable to ask how any Clinton e-mails got on Anthony Weiner's computer. Given the unstable behavior of the former congressman, it seems highly unlikely that his wife Huma Abedin would have chosen to put these files on his "sexting" machine.

So how did they get there? And why did they get there?

The people with obvious access are Abedin herself (I believe she denies even knowing about their existence), Weiner (who certainly can't be trusted about anything), hackers -- possibly of the Russian persuasion -- and...the F.B.I.

The F.B.I., of course, has had a very sorry history of being used by its directors for political (and worse) purposes. J. Edgar Hoover's use of the Bureau as an "agent" for his own personal power and to support his racist and right-wing agenda has been well-documented. It's current director, James Comey, is a Republican. The Bureau is supposedly investigating some of the activities of the Trump group -- but is keeping this investigation secret. (So as not to influence the election...).

At the risk of sounding overly paranoid, I think we should seriously consider not just the outrageous Comey "leak" to Congress, but the very real possibility that whatever documents that are purported to be Clinton "e-mails" that are on Weiner's computer -- if there actually are any -- are plants, put there by political operatives of some unknown allegiance.

Who could possibly believe that Huma Abedin would back up any of her communication with Hillary Clinton on her lunatic husband's computer?