Saturday, November 12, 2016

The Eerie Similarities Between This Election And A Cold War Covert Operation

Perhaps those of you old enough to experience the Cold War remember this particular story. There was a small Latin American country where a marginally popular technocrat was running for Presidente on a platform that intended to institute some minor reforms that would be provide a greater benefit to all his citizens at a small expense to the ruling elites. There were some in our government who thought this might be some Communist incursion and they decided to do something about it. That meant a classic CIA covert operation.

First, the CIA rounded up a fiery demagogue who could rouse the population into some sort of action and attempt to criminalize the technocrat in order to delegitimize him should he win. Then the CIA colluded with the media that was already in bed with the ruling elites and bought off other media outlets that might support the technocrat. The media gave the demagogue boatloads of free publicity and airtime while attacking his technocratic opponent. Even so, the race was still tight right down to the end until the very last weeks of the campaign when all of a sudden an accusation of corruption came out of the blue against the technocrat. The public prosecutor made some very vague charges that the technocrat had been caught embezzling millions of dollars from the treasury. Since the details of the charges were not presented, it was almost impossible for the technocrat to refute the charges other than to issue a broad denial. And the charges reinforced the demagogue's message that the technocrat was a criminal. Finally, when election day arrives, the technocrat still believes he will win but by some miracle the demagogue gets just the right amount of votes he needs in almost every part of the country in order to squeak out a victory. Of course, the demagogue goes on to become an autocratic, almost fascist, leader but it's still a big win for the CIA.

The contours of this story were pretty much repeated many times over during the Cold War. Of course, there is no country where exactly what I described happened. But every one of the elements of that story did in fact take place at one point or another in some country or another during the Cold War.

Now delete the driving force of the CIA from my account, and you pretty much have the contours of our latest election. I am not saying and I have no proof that there was some mysterious conspiracy that led to Hillary Clinton's defeat. But all the elements in our election are eerily similar to the very events that occurred in so many countries during the Cold War, in addition to the Trump campaign's Russian connections.

In fact, the outlines of this kind of plan could very easily have been presented to Trump for his campaign. He was already a demagogue who had the correct racist and xenophobic message to actually get out the "missing white vote" and who knew how to manipulate the mainstream media from his days in the New York media circus. In the NY tabloid wars, there was no such thing as "bad" press and the more outrageous the better. There would have been no need to buy the media off. And he already had plenty of other alternate media sources to spread the attacks on Clinton without having to sully himself, but just repeating what "some have said". Trump was a real-estate developer in New York City and then moved into the casino business in Atlantic City. You have to be pretty na├»ve to believe that he did not have extensive relations with the Mafia. There is evidence that Trump was able to cover up his mob connections with the help of Rudy Giuliani and the NY FBI office. Without their help, Trump would have never received his casino license. So, it would not be a stretch to have Giuliani and the NY FBI office, with which he has always maintained close contacts, produce the charges that Clinton had no way to refute. That resulted in Comey's letter and other unfounded accusations emanating from the NY FBI. Assuming that there was no way to rig the voting, Trump could rely somewhat on the large voter suppression measures that were certainly in play in North Carolina and Wisconsin.

In conclusion, I in no way want to state that there was a vast conspiracy behind this election. And I do not want to dismiss the lessons that Democrats can and should learn from this election, especially the downward mobility and the plight of the working and lower middle class. But I do want to point out the similarities the events in this election have to so many prior covert operations and that it would not take something like a CIA manipulation to make that happen. All the pieces were pretty much already in place. They just needed to be exploited in order to get the result that was hoped for. And just remember, even if Trump did not win, he just needed to come close enough to ensure that he could claim the election was rigged and make it as hard as possible for Hillary to govern by calling her election illegitimate. In a covert operation like the one just described, a result like that is considered a success.

And The Hatred Spews Forth

It has only just begun. Black students at University of Pennsylvania were added to a an internet group called "Nigger Lynching". It seems virtually every single black freshman/woman was added to the group which is apparently based in Oklahoma. At Wellesley College in Boston, a group, obviously not from the university, drove around campus and harassed black students, spitting and jeering at them and yelling "Trump" and "make America great again". Hispanics and Muslims report being bullied at school. In Utah, a student was told "you wetbacks need to go back to Mexico"; in Minnesota, graffiti saying "fuck niggers" was written on a school door. In North Carolina, a gay couple was left a note on their car stating, "Can't wait until your 'marriage' is overturned by a real president. Gay families = burn in hell. Trump 2016". In Delaware, a group of men pull up to a black woman at a gas station and call her a "nigger", before brandishing a gun and saying, "you're lucky there are witnesses else I'd shoot you right here". The KKK is actively recruiting in Alabama, passing out flyers saying, "Get off the fence, whitey, and join the only group that has ever stood for the white man. Black radicals have reverted back to savages and more Muslims arrive daily." In Tennessee, an Afghan woman who thought she had been friends with a neighbor for 10 years received a message from her "friend" telling her to get out of her country and go back to Afghanistan. And finally, in Wisconsin, a University of Wisconsin-Stout student from Saudi Arabia died from wounds received in an attack by an as-yet unidentified white male.

If, as suspected, this was a hate crime, then the blood of this victim is on the hands of all those Republicans who refused to stand up to the hatred and bigotry Trump spewed throughout the campaign and on the hands of all those who voted for him. That may be harsh, but true. And it will be on the hands of all the rest of us who do not rise up and make clear that this will not stand.

Natural Weekends - Sunsets Continue

Friday, November 11, 2016

The Centrality Of Comey Comes From Both Campaigns

It is now apparent from information coming from both campaigns that the Comey letter was central to the outcome of this election. John Podesta, Hillary's campaign chair, said on a call today that he believed Comey was the "guy who we think may have cost us the election". Another Clinton aide blamed the lower turnout specifically on the Comey letter. It is clear that the effect of the Comey letter also shifted the focus of the Clinton campaign as she was force to move from a positive closing message to one that focused on Trump's shortcomings. As Kevin Drum points out, Nate Silver showed that the Comey letter shaved 2 points off of Clinton's lead. Those two points were surely the difference in the vote. Trump's campaign has also admitted that the large shift in rural voters which may have begun before Comey's letter became a torrent after it and propelled them to victory. In the end, the right wing coup actually succeeded.

Update: From Erik Loomis comes a breakdown of how late deciders voted broken down by state. It only highlights the brutal effect Comey had on the Clinton campaign, especially in the swing states:

NY Times Revives The Myth Of The Principled GOP Deficit Hawk

The New York Times had an article yesterday talking about what might happen under a Trump Presidency and its effect on the US and global economies. The headline is "Trump Rides a Wave of Fury That May Damage Global Prosperity". In the article, the author details the damage that Trump's promises of increased tariffs and other limitations on global trade may hinder the growth of prosperity. As Dean Baker points out, the greatest damage to global prosperity was actually caused by the architects of the global financial meltdown and their inability to deal with the subsequent damage. Globalization and free trade did nothing to protect the workers who were displace by it. Reckless deregulation led the financial system to overleverage and then collapse, taking most of the world's economies with it. And then the drive for austerity kept GDP growth anemic and limited any capacity to repair the damage done to the most vulnerable and the most effected by the crash while allowing the very architects of that crash get back on their feet and thrive again. So it is a little rich for the NY Times to be worried that a populist revolt will hurt global prosperity. For many of the Trump supporters who do not see or feel that prosperity, that damage is a feature not a bug.

A far bigger joke in this article is a two paragraph segment on Trump's ability to work with Congress. I quote, "And any proposals need to navigate the reliably treacherous politics of Washington. The latest piece of Trump real estate, 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, sits just down the street from a Capitol full of people who got themselves elected in part by railing against deficits and promising to cut federal spending. The soon-to-be President Trump has vowed to counteract the problems afflicting workers by unleashing a wave of infrastructure spending that will generate jobs for skilled hands. Perhaps he will have more luck than his predecessor, President Obama, whose own plans for infrastructure spending died time and again at the hands of Republican deficit hawks."

PLEASE! Does anyone seriously believe the Republicans care about the deficit. The infrastructure spending will be replaced by a massive tax cut that will pay for the infrastructure and the tax cut through severe cuts in social spending and entitlements and a process called the magic asterisk. I can almost guarantee that will happen. Republicans only care about the deficit when Democrats are in power. They refuse to fund infrastructure under Obama, but it is the greatest idea in the world when they are in charge. The only difference is that Democrats would have actually paid for that spending. There is a reason that yields have been rising since the election results and that is because everyone knows that the GOP is going to blow a hole in the deficit and the debt.

Take a look a this graph of the deficit from Fred:

From the year of their inauguration until the year of their departure, only two Presidents have put a significant dent in the annual deficit. They are Bill Clinton and Barack Obama.

The only positive news from this GOP infrastructure plan is that it will prove once and for all that the Keynesians were right. Jobs growth and GDP growth will probably increase and that will be good for those that are suffering. And the increased deficit and debt will not slow the economy down one bit. And once again, Democrats will get no credit for the policies they support but are unable to enact over Republican obstruction. So, please, let's put to rest the idea that there are any serious debt-hawks in the GOP. It is simply a position that is a means to an end, that being tax cuts for rich and entitlement cuts for the poor. When will the Times ever learn?

In Defense Of Hillary

It is generally acknowledged that it is incredibly difficult to win a third term after a two-term President. People are just ready for change. And Hillary Clinton could not do it. But we need to remember that she came within a whisker of doing so. The difference between carrying the three states of Michigan, Wisconsin, and Pennsylvania was just over 100,000 votes and those three states would have given her the electoral college victory. That is 100,000 out of over 120 million votes cast. Her current lead in the popular vote is over 400,000 and is expected to increase substantially as mail-in ballots are counted, primarily in the blue states on the West Coast. Some estimates put her as winning the popular vote by over a full percentage point.

Yes, Clinton was perhaps not the most charismatic candidate and carried a certain amount of baggage. But most of that baggage was pure fiction. She has been one of the most thoroughly investigated people on the entire planet and all anyone has ever been able to come up with is a series of faux scandals where no wrongdoing has ever been found. Like all politicians, she prevaricates, hedges the truth, and is not as forthcoming as some would hope. She has been continually treated to a double standard that no other politician has ever had to endure, even Obama. Yes, in hindsight, we can all point to the fact that she didn't visit Wisconsin, but you have to imagine the polling data showed that she didn't need to. Yes, you can say she should have been out there laying the groundwork for her campaign after leaving the Obama administration rather than doing speaking engagements on Wall Street. Yes, you can say that perhaps the Clinton Foundation should have focused at least some of its energies on doing more good here at home. Those are all valid criticisms but they only look good in hindsight.

In fact, the truth is that Hillary ran a pretty flawless campaign. Can you name one single misstep or faux-pas that the campaign made. Her biggest liability may have actually been, again, not her but her husband who made that ill-advised visit to the Attorney General and then helped promote the narrative that Obamacare was a disaster. You may not agree with her strategy or tactics, that she needed a more progressive message. But she adopted many of Sanders' positions and actually ran on them. She was far better in all three debates than anyone could have expected or imagined.

Hillary faced great headwinds besides just trying to extend a Democratic third term. Every financial collapse like the one we had under George W. Bush has resulted in the rise of xenophobia and racism. Unfortunately, Hillary happened to run against a candidate who was willing to actually go there and, in doing so, he uncovered the "missing white voter" that many believed to be mythical and that neither John McCain or Mitt Romney could find. I have written that the GOP base has said that their last three candidates, which includes G.W. Bush, were not true conservatives. It is now clear that the base meant white nationalism when they spoke about true conservatism.

In addition, Hillary faced a mainstream press that was only to happy to apply a presidential standard to her while milking Trump to simply get eyeballs on their product and line their own pockets. One of the reasons there is so much uncertainty over what Trump will do as President is that he was hardly vetted at all by the press. Trump grew up in the New York media circus of the 1980s and 1990s, where celebrities nearly made a sport at getting their name into the paper. He learned that often there is no such thing as "bad" press. He knows how to play the media like fools. He was given billions of dollars in free air time. His positions changed hourly. The wall became a virtual wall and then a real one again. The ban against Muslims would happen, then it would just be increased vetting, and then the ban was on again. The same goes for the deportation force. He paid no price not only for the outrageousness of these positions but for the clear waffling on those very positions. Can you honestly say Hillary would have been given that kind of leeway by the media. He paid no price for breaking another norm of governance by not releasing his tax returns. The media constantly played the game of false equivalence between the mountains of illegal and unethical Trump behavior and the "scandals" surrounding Hillary's email and the Clinton Foundation. The media barely reported on the two legal documents that showed clear sexual assaults by Trump and essentially allowed Trump to deny the fallout from the Access Hollywood tape with virtually no pushback. There was never any push on Trump's Russian connections and the fact that he lied continually and provably throughout the campaign. The double standard in attitude that the press took to her and Trump was a huge hurdle to overcome.

Clinton was trying to replace the first black President and become the first woman to lead our country. No one should underestimate how difficult that task was. If racism and xenophobia were the center of this campaign, sexism and misogyny were not far behind. The evangelical community exposed themselves in this election for what they truly are. The cloak of "Christian" principles until now has allowed them to hide their true hatred and bigotry. Remember, that in the evangelical view, the woman clearly has a place and that is not a place of leadership. Patriarchy is the hallmark of virtually all the evangelicals and no one can deny the rampant sexism in the secular community as well.

In retrospect, President Obama also made things more difficult for Hillary in that he clearly needed to pound away at adding more stimulus to our economy. He was constantly rebuffed on infrastructure investment by Republicans who have now miraculously come around to that way of thinking. And he needed to actually take some the head honchos on Wall Street and march them into court. Even if the DOJ lost those cases, it would have been a statement to the country that there was at least an attempt to make Wall Street pay for destroying our economy.

Finally, Clinton faced a right-wing coup from within our own government. Late-deciding voters clearly broke heavily for Trump and the Comey letter gave cover for many traditional Republicans who were less than enthused about Trump to still pull the lever from him. Politics is a fringe activity for many people. We are all too busy trying to make ends meet and take care of our families and many of us only focus on the election until it is upon us. Hillary Clinton ran under an undeserved cloud of suspicion for the entire last week of this campaign. Suspicion that was shown to be totally undeserved. Comey's letter violated DOJ policies and procedures and opened the floodgates of other false leaks from the cabal within the FBI out to destroy Hillary. The fact that Comey was able to finish his investigation within a week shows just how incredibly unnecessary his original letter really was. There is no doubt that Comey's letter entirely changed the dynamic of the campaign and with the margin between victory and defeat at only 100,000 votes, it is quite clear that Comey and the FBI helped elect Donald Trump.

I know I will get pushback from readers that I am just making excuses and I am unwilling to learn the lesson from this devastating loss. And I agree that there are lessons to be learned. There was a need to understand that, even though employment was rising, people were experiencing dramatic downward mobility. In reality, Democrats had policies that would have helped address that issue - more stimulus, raising taxes on the rich and cutting them for the middle class, free college education, and investments in our communities. But the reality is that all those plans were continually blocked by the Republicans. The real lesson is that we did not do a good enough job communicating what was actually happening. Republicans held over 50 votes on repealing Obamacare. Somehow, we needed to make the Republicans have 50 votes on greater stimulus. So, yes, perhaps Hillary was not the perfect messenger and we needed a more progressive message, but she was our nominee. And we should not ignore the obstacles in front of her and how difficult the challenge was. And the reality that she came so close to winning. Of course, none of that will matter in the darkness of the next few years. But at least we should recognize it.

Schumer, Hoyer Are Not The Leaders Democrats Need

With Harry Reid retiring and Nancy Pelosi supposedly stepping down, it is expected that the two Democratic leaders to replace them in the House and the Senate are Steny Hoyer and Chuck Schumer, respectively. But, based on what happened last Tuesday, Democrats should think long and hard if these are the two faces we want to put forward to represent our party. Hoyer, although not directly related to the DLC, is the same kind of "third way" Democrat. He initially opposed critical aspects of Obamacare and criticized the way it was passed. He opposed extending the middle class tax cuts claiming it would be "too expensive" and he has caved to the telecom industry over privacy. Schumer is so closely tied to Wall Street that he is almost the worst spokesman for the party. He has consistently been against closing the carried interest loophole, favored reduced taxes and regulation on Wall Street, and opposed raising taxes on those making over $250,000, favoring a $1 million level, "because there are a lot of people making over $250,000 who aren't rich." His commitment to an open internet is also in question.

Keith Ellison has lined up endorsements from Warren, Sanders, and even Schumer to run the DNC. That is certainly a step in the right direction. But Democrats also need new leadership to represent them in Congress. I'd much rather see Ellison as our new leader in the House and someone like Warren or Merkly in the Senate. Other people may have even better suggestions. But I do know that having two white men who have been around forever and have been leaders of the centrist wing of the Democratic party and whose policies have clearly been way too timid for the times we live in should not be the party's leading representatives to the people going forward.

When The Political Becomes Personal

One of the most troubling and disturbing things about this election, and there are so many, is the apparent ease and, yes, even joy that so many had in voting for a candidate and a party that is determined to stop certain people from voting and ensure that certain people do not get access to quality health care. In the wake of such a great financial crisis, it is not so surprising to see a message of outright racism and xenophobia be successful. We have all known those strains have run through American politics seemingly forever. And I guess we shouldn't be surprised at the suppression of voting rights. After all, it was not until 1970 that a ban on literacy tests became the law of the land. But it is surprising to see how many college educated voters apparently believe that it is OK to deny certain citizens the right to vote. It truly shows a profound misunderstanding of what our democracy stands for. The denial of access to affordable health care, on the other hand, shows a remarkable indifference for the "Christian" ethic that so many of those voters publicly embrace. It shows an incredible indifference and even a willingness to inflict pain on our fellow citizens. It all makes you question the nature of  the country we live in.

For most of us, politics usually exists at the margins of our life. There are very few policies that ever get enacted that dramatically and directly change how we might live, except for some in the military and the poorest among us. But for the rest of us, the changes occur slowly and at the fringes of our life. Fortunately, I live in a relatively safe blue state so a vote for Trump here really had no impact. But I have a number of acquaintances and even friends who voted for Trump, one of whom specifically mentioned the fact that Obamacare was a disaster and needed to be repealed. This is coming from someone has been on an employee-sponsored health plan for decades and has had no direct experience of living without health insurance. In what way has Obamacare been a disaster? More people are enrolled than was anticipated; rates are increasing but are still below the level predicted when the plan went into effect; the minor problems the program is encountering are easily fixed.

I am of an age where my career, such as it was, has basically ended and I have moved into that world of consulting where you are to old to be hired as an employee but not yet reached Medicare eligibility. And I am one of the fortunate ones. I rely on Obamacare for the security that a major health problem will not bankrupt me and my wife and for a basic level of health protection. Before Obamacare, a private plan would have cost me almost twice as much as I pay now. Luckily, I could probably manage that but it would stretch us to the limit and the temptation to just roll the dice without health insurance will be strong. For others, that will be the only choice. Thankfully, my wife is on Medicare but even that is currently under threat as Paul Ryan has just announced his intention to privatize that program, meaning higher costs for reduced services. Now I happen to think that, for a variety of reasons, rolling back Obamacare and privatizing Medicare will be a little more difficult than currently anticipated. But it could very well happen.

The fact of the matter is a vote for Trump was a vote to deny health care for myself and my family and many others. It was a vote to increase the denial of basic voting rights to my fellow citizens. It was an appeal to racism and xenophobia that has already resulted in an outbreak of racially motivated attacks across the country. How can I face those friends and acquaintances who voted for Trump and not have my views of those people colored by the vote they cast. A vote that is a direct attack upon myself and my family and many others. And the truth is, I can't. And that is how the fabric of our country has been destroyed in this election.

Thursday, November 10, 2016

Storm Clouds

Trump's Election And The Fed

Once again, it looks like events may have waylaid the best laid plans at the Fed. The expectation is that the Fed is poised to raise rates in December but you really have to wonder if they will pull the trigger now that Donald Trump has been elected. Trump is so thoroughly unvetted that no one really has any clear idea of the details of the policies he is likely to pursue, only the broad outlines and even those are subject to change. Does the Fed really want to risk raising rates and put the recovery at risk when Trump could sink the economy a few months later? It will be interesting to hear what the governors have to say between now and the December meeting. And their is plenty of data to be absorbed before then as well.

In addition, the Fed's own independence will now be under attack from Republicans. I'm sure we will start hearing about "auditing the Fed" again in the new year. Just to be clear, auditing the Fed does NOT mean a conventional audit. It does mean that Congress can get access to the Fed's deliberations about specific actions and, armed with that information, exert even more pressure on the agency to bend to their will. It is essentially about restricting some of the Fed's independence. And it is just another example of the Republican party's attack on the norms of governance.

The Sum Of All Fears

I guess I should state once and for all what an unmitigated disaster the last few weeks have been which culminated in the calamity of Tuesday night. I fear for our democracy when I hear chants of "lock her up" even after the election is over. I fear for our rights when the FBI, the most powerful investigative body in the country, has become a clearly political organization and the Supreme Court rules in favor of suppressing specific kinds of voters. I fear for our Muslims, LBGTQ community, and all immigrants, legal and illegal, for they will be even more of a target for hatred. I fear for all the women who will lose access to abortion when Roe v. Wade is overturned. I fear for all those, like myself, who may lose access to health insurance. I fear for those people around the world that we will abandon as we retreat from our alliances while having an unstable narcissist with his finger on the nuclear button and exporting those weapons to other countries. I fear for all the creatures on this planet as we allow global warming to remain unchecked. And I despair in the knowledge that there is very little I can do to prevent any of my fears from being realized.

The only hope for the vision of America that I now have is that the policies of Trump and the Republicans will be so disastrous that the people who believed they were making America great again will realize the foolishness of their choice. That the millions who will lose their health insurance will have a change of heart. That those who finally realize the jobs they once had are never coming back and that new jobs will require a real investment will change their mind. When they realize the tax breaks are all once again going to the rich, they will see they've been had. More likely, they will just double down again. But all that is hardly worth wishing for as the collateral damage for them and the rest of us will be enormous.

Wednesday, November 9, 2016

Clinton, Democrats Got Nadered Again

Just like in 2000, it looks like third party candidates have once again managed to throw the election to the Republicans. And, just like in 2000, the Democrat will have won the popular vote and still lost the election. Michigan and Wisconsin would have been won by Clinton if she had captured the Jill Stein vote. And Clinton would have just needed another 20,000 of Gary Johnson's over 140,000 votes to win Pennsylvania if she had captured Stein's vote there. Those 46 electoral votes would have allowed her to become President. This does not detract from the fact that Democrats should have won all three of these states even without the influence of Stein and Johnson and they didn't. It does not detract from the fact that Democrats are going to have to find a way to reach rural voters in order to create a lasting mandate. But, just like in 2000, in this election those votes cast as in protest or in idealism will have devastating consequences not only for our country but perhaps for the entire world. The current pinned tweet from the Green Party right now says, "ElectionDay is almost over but the Political Revolution will continue. Together, we can create a GreenFuture!" That green future just got far more distant because we will have four years of Donald Trump and continued climate change denial. Again, this election result is a failure of the Democratic party and the collapse of the center of the Republican Party. But elections have consequences and, like most things in life, it is usually a choice of the lesser of two evils, not a choice between better and best. Under Trump, the Paris Climate Agreement is probably dead. And I sincerely believe if Jill Stein had run on the platform of killing that agreement, virtually every voter who cast their ballot for her yesterday would not have done so. But that is the effective result of their vote.

The Morning After

It may look the same, but it's not.

The Death Of Neoliberalism And Capitalism As We Know It

Beyond my initial reactions of shock, sadness, and horror at the results of last night's elections, I thought back to a now-prescient post I put up last May where I talked about these waves of massive unrest and change that have swept across the globe at certain times. In that post, I was reminded of 1968 and Mark Kurlansky's book that detailed the dramatic calls for change that knew no borders in that turbulent year. It is clear that we are witnessing another one of those waves once again, except this time it is clearly a reactionary one. We see it in the rise of the far right in Europe, Brexit, the election of Dutarte in the Philippines, the possible end of any hope for democracy in Hong Kong, and now the election of Donald Trump. Next year, both France and Germany will also have national elections and, at this point, you can almost be sure that the ruling order will be swept away by right-wing reactionary forces.

With this surge of reactionary forces, we are liable to see a rollback of most of the progressive gains of the last few decades. In the US, that will mean the repeal of Obamacare, the criminalization of abortion, and a crackdown on immigration and immigrants. At present, it is an open question whether other democratic rights, such as voting rights, and the rule of law will further erode. After the elections in Germany and France, the Euro and the Euro project is quite possibly headed for dissolution, throwing that continent into chaos and perhaps ending the concept of Western democracy as we know it.

Perhaps the greatest driver of this reactionary surge is the success and subsequent failure of neoliberalism over the last few decades. By neoliberalism, I mean the belief in free market economics accompanied by deregulation, the reduction or elimination of taxes or tariffs, and the privatization of what were once public functions. This neoliberal philosophy gave us trickle down economics and the push for "free trade" in the mistaken belief that it would raise the standard of living for all involved. And, on the whole, that may have, in fact, been true. This was its success. But the neoliberal philosophy never came to grips with the fact that, within individual countries, there would be clear winners and losers and it had nothing to offer to help ameliorate those differences. That was its fatal failure. In fact, in its aversion to government, it actively prevented any steps to resolve that problem. And it now appears that the neoliberal project will end because of its inability to deal with that fallout.

As the neoliberal era ends, the reactionary forces are offering increased tariffs and reduced global trade and immigration as a solution. But those policies will not bring back the jobs that have been lost and, in fact, as in the Great Depression, may actually exacerbate the problem they are trying to solve. Certainly, here in the US, the plan for the Trump government seems to be a continuation of the failed neoliberal policies but with an exclusion for trade and immigration. It is hard to see how that will satisfy the reactionary forces that have been let loose. On the other hand, progressive policies that might actually address the underlying problem have been firmly rejected precisely because they required government intervention.

With no other viable economic philosophy out there, the end of neoliberalism could very well mean the end of "capitalism" as we know it. Increasingly, the world has become and will continue to be dominated by a handful of oligarchies, supported by authoritarian governments, in various countries and sectors of global industry. Competition will decrease as these oligarchies collude with each other to extract the most from their rent-seeking. The functions of government will continue to shrink and the rage among the hordes of disgruntled and displaced workers will continue to build as no solution to their plight appears. Where it will end up is anyone's guess. Perhaps that rage will strike out against the new order that is sweeping the globe, perhaps it will turn inward or outward or transform into submission. But it truly signifies a very dark and dangerous time ahead in the coming years.

Tuesday, November 8, 2016

Winning The Popular Vote And Losing Again

For the second time in less than two decades, it looks like Democrats will once again trounce Republicans in the popular vote and still narrowly lose the Presidential election because of a few tens of thousands of votes across a handful of states. In other words, Democrats have won the popular vote in 4 of the last 5 elections but have managed to only produce two presidential terms. Of course, the party knows that, by the rules of the game, the election is decided in the Electoral College and we must be able to win that way. But to continue to win the popular vote and still lose the election just seems patently unfair and ultimately undemocratic. I'm not sure what the answer is. But as the country clearly divides between urban, suburban, and rural voters this outcome is going to become increasingly likely. It is the system we live in but it is certainly not healthy for our democracy that the overwhelming will of the majority of people in this country will once again be denied.

Update: As of right now, Clinton is ahead in the popular vote but the totals, while significant, may not actually be a "trouncing" as described above.

Update II: Josh Marshall believes that additional West Coast votes may push Hillary to a 1%-2% popular vote victory which would be 2 to 3 times greater than Gore's popular vote win in 2000. Marshall notes that Gore lost the electoral college by a mere 5 votes but Hillary looks to lose it by 74 votes. There is something seriously wrong with a system where you can win nearly 2% more votes than your opponent and still get walloped in the Electoral College. And that is not healthy for a functioning democracy.

Dow Futures Down 500 Points As Trump Presidency Looks Possible

Dow Futures have fallen over 500 points and certain currency markets, such as Mexico, are in turmoil as a Trump Presidency looks like a possibility in this tight election night.

Impact Of Comey And FBI Becomes Larger Question In This Tight Election

It's hard not to see all these states being too close to call and begin to wonder how much the cabal in the FBI and James Comey has potentially thrown the election to a racist, xenophobic demagogue.

Trump Suit On Improper Early Voting In Nevada Gets Tossed

The Trump campaign filed suit in Nevada claiming that people who had not been in line when the polls closed for early voting at that supermarket in a largely Hispanic are in Clark County were actually able to vote. Is this the beginning of the “grievance” phase of the Trump campaign?

Of course, this kind of issue would never arise if we had a sane system of voting in this country and you didn’t have to wait in line for hours to cast your ballot.

Here is a link to a story describing the suit​.

Update: As expected, a judge tossed the suit​, noting, among other items, that the campaign had not exhausted its administrative remedies by going to the Secretary of State first. The frivolous nature of this suit, the fact that the campaign had not notified the Secretary of State of these potential violations, and the eagerness of the campaign to file the suit sure makes it look like Trump is determined to continue with the “rigged election” theme.

The Trumps Voting Tells You All You Need To Know

Take a look at these two photos posted by Martin Longman of the Trumps voting. Both Donald and Eric are apparently sneaking a peak to see how their wives are voting. Pretty much tells you the state of both relationships and Longman's comment is priceless.

New Wells Fargo Ad Is A Typical Wall Street Apology

I see Wells Fargo is out with a new TV ad in attempt to control the damage from the massive fraud that the company perpetrated for nearly a decade. I started seeing it quite a lot over the weekend and it will be interesting to see how long it runs. You can see the ad here but the text of the ad is quite simple and brief:

Wells Fargo is making changes to make things right.
1. Fully refunding those impacted
2. Proactive new account confirmations
3. Eliminated product sales goals
We're renewing our commitment to you.

Maybe because my outrage over this scandal is still so enormous, but I find this ad totally insulting. It is hard to believe they are fully refunding those who have been scammed because many customers probably did not even realize that they were being defrauded and probably still don't. And a class action settlement may not full cover what account holders lost. In addition, the bank is doing nothing for the honest salespeople who refused to engage in the fraud and were fired because of it. Second, the idea that proactive new account confirmations is something special they are doing for their customers is ridiculous. It is virtually standard procedure everywhere else and the fact that the bank was not doing it before just shows how bank policies abetted the fraud. Third, I don't really believe they've eliminated product sales goals. They are just using another metric that accomplishes virtually the same thing. That is the only way they can evaluate their salespeople. Finally, saying they are renewing their commitment to their customers is kind of like someone who has been cheating on their spouse for nearly a decade promising to renew their commitment only when they get caught. It just doesn't work that way. How gullible does Wells Fargo think their customers are? For years, the company ignored employees who brought the fraud to the attention of management at all levels. Then the CEO tried to blame the fraud on its low-level employees. There was no attempt by management to shoulder any of the blame. This is a typical Wall Street apology - there is no real admission of guilt and no one takes responsibility for the crime but they promise they've made changes and all will be good from now on. Don't believe it.

Time To Vote

Well, I've done my bit to save our republic, so make sure you all do yours and get out and vote! This is the first vote at my present location in a presidential election and I was surprised by the high turnout. It was a much bigger crowd than the 2014 elections and other local primaries that I have participated in here, but that is not surprising. There's nothing more to do now other than to encourage and help others to vote and wait for the results to come in tonight.

Monday, November 7, 2016

Did Debate Commission Effect The Questions Asked

One of the biggest outrages in this election, and there have been so many, is the fact that not one question in all the four Presidential and Vice Presidential debates concerned climate change, clearly one of the most important problems facing not just our country but the entire planet. On the other hand, the Huffington Post reports that a full four questions focused on the national debt and the solvency of Social Security and Medicaid and all four questions cited the Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget (CRFB), the Pete Peterson funded deficit obsessed organization. Much ink has been spilt by many economists and even lowly bloggers like myself that attempts to expose the fallacies behind a lot of what the CRFB declares. Yet they still get cited continually even by the moderators of the presidential debates. Well the Huffington Post notes that there may be a very good reason for that. Five members of the sixteen member Board of Directors of the Commission on Presidential Debates are connected to the CRFB or similar Peterson-created entities. Four of these members have senior leadership positions in those Peterson entities. Now the debate moderators supposedly have total discretion over the questions they ask. But considering the results where there were no questions about climate change and four questions related to the national debt and Social Security, you have to wonder whether the moderators were either chosen by the Commission because it was known that they would be likely to ask these questions or whether the moderators felt a pressure to please their masters in order to be invited back to moderate again. Either way, it resulted in a travesty for the country and the planet.

Senate GOP Obstruction Effects Lower Courts As Well As SCOTUS

We all know how important it is for Democrats to win the Senate in order to end the current dysfunction concerning the Supreme Court and usher in a new era of a liberal court for the first time in half a century. But Daily Kos has a nice series on how Republican obstruction has created massive dysfunction in the lower courts as well. Because of their obstruction, there are now many jurisdictions where, because of the lack of diversity on the court, you can almost guarantee what ruling will be given. This has resulted in "jurisdiction shopping" where GOP Attorneys General can choose which court they will go to with whatever case they have. Of course, one of the greatest abusers of this system is the state of Texas. Attorney General Ken Paxton went all the way from the capital of Austin to Wichita Falls in order to file a challenge to the Obama administration's recommendations on transgender bathroom use. The district court there has all of one judge, a George W. Bush appointee, who had already had a history of ruling against same-sex couples. Similarly, in 2014, Attorney General Greg Abbott went down to Brownsville to file his objection to Obama's immigration executive orders. Again, there was only one judge in rotation in that court and he had a track record of anti-immigrant rulings. And, as we saw with that very case, the Supreme Court split 4-4 and a lower court ruling that stayed those orders stood. In effect, the GOP Senate has refused to fill so many vacancies that it is possible to almost predict exactly how a court will rule in any individual case. And, since many of these remaining justices are Republican appointees, these rulings have a clear conservative bent. So, yes, the Supreme Court is critical, but the lower courts are important as well. And the dysfunction in these courts will only end when the Democrats take control of the Senate.

Christie Doubles Down On His Lies About Bridgegate

Chris Christie has doubled down on his evident lie that he knew nothing about the Bridgegate scandal. In an interview on CBS Good Morning America, Christie said, "In the whole trial no one, not even Bridget Kelly, Bill Baroni or David Wildstein, ever testified that anyone ever said to me that this was an act of political retribution." That statement is patently false. Wildstein testified that Christie was told about the lane closures at the September 11 memorial event and Christie responded sarcastically that Wildstein "would never be involved in anything political."  In addition, Christie has always maintained he knew nothing about the lane closures until well after they occurred but testimony from multiple witnesses at the trial confirmed that he was certainly informed of the closures as they were going on at that September event and other witnesses said he was informed of the lane closures before they occurred. Remarkably, Christie seems to have no recollection of any of the conversations these witnesses testified to. It is incredible that not only does Christie totally mischaracterize the evidence produced at the Bridgegate trial but also continues his fiction of ignorance in the face of overwhelming evidence to the contrary. It seems he is almost daring prosecutors to charge him. For the sake of the truth, let's hope they take the Governor up on that challenge.

Sunday, November 6, 2016

What Is Ryan's Motivation In Kissing Up To Trump In This Last Week

I don't believe that it is possible that the Democrats will win the House in this election cycle. But I do find it interesting that Paul Ryan is embracing Donald Trump much more openly than he has in months in the last few days of this election. Ryan was scheduled to actually physically appear with Trump in person on Saturday but the Trump campaign ended up canceling that event. Last week Ryan admitted voting for the GOP nominee, although he could not bring himself to actually mention Trump's name. Today, after the release of James Comey's latest ill-advised letter saying there was nothing new in the Abedin emails, Ryan came out and gave a full-throated endorsement to Trump, saying, "The American people have the opportunity to ensure Secretary Clinton never gets her hands on classified information again. Let's bring the Clinton era to an end by voting for Donald Trump on Tuesday."

The question is what is Ryan's motivation for kissing up to Trump at this point. Even if he believes Trump could win the election (which I doubt), he must know that Trump and Bannon despise him and are determined to destroy him. So that's not it. Perhaps he really is worried about the GOP losing control of the House and feels he needs the Trump voters to come out for the down-ballot races. But none of the polls indicate that the Democrats really have a shot to win the House. So that's not it. More likely, Ryan is making a last-ditch effort to appeal to the members of the Freedom Caucus in the hopes that he can garner enough support from them to maintain his position as Speaker. But the effort is so weak and transparent that it may turn out to infuriate those members more than sway them.

Thanks For Nothing, James Comey

So James Comey just gave Donald Trump a game-changing talking point for the last nine days and it all turns out to be absolutely, positively nothing. Comey sent yet another letter to Congress this afternoon and reported that the FBI's examination of the Abedin emails gave them no reason to change the original assessment of Clinton's actions that was made in July. A senior law enforcement official has apparently reported that the vast majority of the new emails were, in fact, duplicates of emails that had already been examined.

Comey's reckless actions in clear violation of Department of Justice policy changed the course of this campaign and may very well have cost the Democrats control of the Senate. People can say that Trump was closing in the polls even before the original Comey letter but the fact of the matter is Clinton had all the momentum and a chance for significant coattails to carry some Democrats in tight Senate races over the top. Comey destroyed that momentum and changed the course of the last nine days of this campaign. Those nine days were when a significant amount of early voting was occurring. And for those nine days Hillary Clinton was living under a cloud of suspicion that has turned out to be totally unjustified.

Once Comey had breached policy with his original letter, that just opened the door for a cabal within the FBI that seems determined to destroy the Clinton candidacy to release even more damaging and unsubstantiated leaks. This cabal was coordinating its actions with the Trump campaign in what was essentially a bloodless coup attempt to throw the election to Donald Trump.

Comey's own actions and the fact that he has clearly lost control of the Bureau should lead to his resignation. Part of the reason for Comey's breach of protocol was due to his own inflated sense of personal integrity. And if he truly has any integrity, he should resign immediately after this election, despite the fact that it will create a confirmation nightmare for any replacement Obama or Clinton should name.

So, thanks for nothing, James Comey. Thanks for nothing.

Natural Weekends - Sunset