Archive for the ‘Political Cretinism’ Category

Trumped

November 29, 2016

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I’ve been trying to find some sort of silver lining in this election, but I can’t. This election has been a disaster on every level. We will be living with the consequences of this election for decades to come.

Last summer I expressed incredulity at the idea that the Clinton campaign would win the election by appealing to “moderate” Republicans – you know, the same moderate Republicans who failed to stop Trump from getting the nomination. Well, it appears that was actually their strategy. Sen. Chuck Schumer explained the idea: “For every blue-collar Democrat we lose in western Pennsylvania, we will pick up two moderate Republicans in the suburbs in Philadelphia, and you can repeat that in Ohio and Illinois and Wisconsin.” Clinton lost Pennsylvania, Ohio, and Wisconsin. What is odd about Schumer’s argument is that he seems to assume that suburban Republicans are socially liberal. That sure as hell wasn’t true of the suburban Republicans that I grew up with. Such people vote Republican precisely because they are not socially liberal. The notion that they would choose Clinton over Trump was simply delusional.

I’m told that during the final weeks of the election, Bill Clinton vainly urged the campaign to reach out to working class voters – you know, the party’s actual voter base.

One can only shake one’s head.

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The Nation Magazine Goes Soft on Trump

May 26, 2016

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The Nation recently published an article titled  When Donald Trump Says His Foreign Policy Is ‘America First’—What Exactly Does He Mean?. The article consists of contributions from four different people: Sherle R. Schwenninger, Heather Hurlburt, Stephen Kinzer and Juan Cole. They take turns imagining what Trump’s foreign policy might be like. This is a tall order, considering that Trump’s statements on foreign policy have been vague and contradictory.

However, there is one point on which Trump has always been clear and consistent: he is going to build a wall along the border with Mexico (which is our ally), and he is going to make Mexico pay for it. Gosh, how do you think he is going to do that? This is an important question, yet none of the four contributors to this article even mentions it. (Although Hurlburt indirectly alludes to it.)

So, what do these people talk about? Sherle R. Schwenninger starts off on an optimistic note, by arguing that Trump can simply reverse long-standing US policies towards Russia and Europe and on foreign trade. It apparently doesn’t occur to her that this would put him in opposition to most of the executive branch and both houses of Congress, as well as much of the military. The idea that the president can simply change pre-existing policies with the flick of a switch is the sort of naivete I might expect to hear from a freshman college student, not someone who is director of the World Economic Roundtable at the New America Foundation (which, I’m told, is a non-partisan thinktank).

It is left to Heather Hurlburt to point out the obvious: “The belief that large swaths of humanity are sub-human would inform Trump’s policy decisions.” She points out that in Trump’s view:

    … large swathes of humanity are essentially sub-human. Trump’s many comments reveal disdain for Muslims, Hispanics, poor and middle-class people, women, and the disabled. These are not merely personal prejudices. They would inform his policy decisions.

Ah, but then Stephen Kinzer takes us down the rabbit-hole. He predicts that Trump will form a grand alliance with Russia, Bashar al-Assad (who is pretty much a one-man band at this point), Hezbollah, Iran, and the Kurds, which will “turn the tide” against ISIS. Most of these forces are already fighting ISIS in already fighting ISIS in one way or another (although Russia seems more interested in bombing hospitals in Aleppo), so I don’t see how this would change much. Where Trump would break new ground, though, would be in his approach to Iran:

    It is not difficult to imagine Trump reopening the US embassy in Tehran.
    Buoyed by turning the tide against ISIS, Trump might then look again at Iran. Throughout this campaign, he has denounced the nuclear deal repeatedly, but he has not denigrated Iran itself. Many Iranians would welcome his victory, since they call Hillary Clinton “sanctions lady” and blame her for making their daily lives worse. Unbound by the anti-Iran fanaticism that reverberates in Washington, Trump could recognize Iran as a potential partner in the Middle East, even beyond the fight with ISIS. It is a young, modern society, fully committed to destroying the Sunni terror embodied in ISIS, Al Qaeda, and the Taliban. Trump would see that Iran shares our Middle East security interests more fully than some of our so-called friends in the region. It is not difficult to imagine him reopening the US embassy in Tehran, and saying, “We should have done this long ago.”

There is so much confusion and wishful thinking here, it’s hard to know where to start. Kinzer thinks that once in office, Trump, who has displayed nothing but contempt for Muslims, will suddenly decide that the Islamic theocracy in Iran is actually pretty peachy and the Iranian people are just swell and we should be their friends. Yeah, right. I don’t know what Kinzer has been smoking, but I’d like some of it myself, because it seems pretty powerful. I’m told that Kinzer is a senior fellow at the Watson Institute for International and Public Affairs at Brown University.

Juan Cole brings us back to reality, pointing out that most of Trump’s policies would be counter-productive. Yet out of the four people The Nation asked to contribute to this article, two actually take a benign view of Trump. The idea that a racist demagogue would make the world a safer place is so absurd, I don’t see how anyone could take it seriously. The Nation’s readers deserve better than such swill.

The Appeal of Trump

April 22, 2016

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Donald Trump’s recent victory in the New York primary has revitalized his campaign. By all the normal standards, Trump’s campaign should have collapsed a long time ago. His boorish behavior and the violence at his rallies used to be the sort of thing that would kill a politician’s career. Not any more. Trump once boasted, “I could stand in the middle of 5th Avenue and shoot somebody and I wouldn’t lose voters.” When you think about it, this was actually an insulting thing for Trump to say about his supporters, yet his popularity didn’t suffer as a result. It’s as though, at the end of A Face in the Crowd, Andy Griffith calls his supporters idiots, but they continue to support him anyway.

Murray Kempton once observed that Americans tend to think that someone who uses profanity must be telling the truth. I think there is something similar at work with Trump. Because he says hateful things – things that aren’t “politically correct” – some people assume he must be “telling it like it is”. This is flawed logic, of course, but some people do seem to think this way.

There is speculation that once Trump gets the Republican nomination tied up, he will move back to the political center. If this is true, then what Trump has done is amazingly audacious. He threw away the dog whistle and brazenly appealed to the far right, and by doing so he steamrolled the other Republicans candidates. However, he will have to walk back a lot in order to move back to the center, which may lose him some of his original supporters. And polls repeatedly show that most Americans don’t like him.

So I’m guessing that Trump won’t be our next president. Don’t quote me on that, though.

The Hillary Clinton Juggernaut

March 31, 2015

Image: File of U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton delivering remarks at the State Department  in Washington

Recently I’ve noticed a disturbing trend on social media. Whenever somebody makes a legitimate criticism of Hillary Clinton, there is always someone who responds by effectively saying, “So, you want the Republicans to win?” The assumption here seems to either be that Clinton has already won the Democratic nomination or that she is the only Democrat who can beat a Republican. The first is obviously false, the second is probably wrong.

Let’s discuss the first assumption. We’re a year away from the Democratic primaries, and yet many people seem to assume that Clinton has it all wrapped up. Many people made that same assumption back in 2008, when she lost to a brash young upstart named Barack Obama. The election is still a year away. A lot can happen between now and then.

As for Clinton being the only Democrat who can beat a Republican, that’s a weird assumption to make considering how much baggage Clinton is carrying. Has anyone carrying so much baggage ever been elected to the presidency before? Richard Nixon comes to mind, but he had been out of the public spotlight for a few years, so people had begun to forget what a turd the guy was. (He packaged himself as the “New Nixon”.) Clinton has been in the public eye almost continuously since 2008. During that time, she presided over the fiasco of the intervention in Libya. You can be sure the Republicans are going to talk about that.

As for the e-mail controversy, it’s not as trivial as some people claim. Clinton deleted over 30,000 e-mails. She says that they were strictly private in nature. Maybe, but we only have her word for it. Common sense dictates the government business should be conducted through government e-mail accounts. At the very least, Clinton showed poor judgment. And Clinton has a history of showing poor judgment, from Whitewater to the invasion of Iraq.

Back in 2003, it was clear to me that invading Iraq was a bad idea, but Clinton thought the plan was just swell. I’m supposed to trust the foreign policy judgment of someone like this? You’ve got to be kidding.

The Diminishing of Christopher Hitchens

March 14, 2015

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A foundation has recently announced that it will be handing out an annual journalism award named after Christopher Hitchens. One of the judges for this award will be Christopher “Thanks, Dad!” Buckley, so you know beforehand that this will be yet another meaningless award that we can all safely ignore.

I stopped paying attention to Hitchens back in 2001, when he wrote that the 9/11 attacks gave him a feeling of “exhilaration”. (Katha Pollitt rightly called this “childishness”.) At the time, I made the naive, but nonetheless reasonable, assumption that everyone else had done the same thing. I gradually became aware that I was sadly mistaken about this. (Personal disclosure: I never met Hitchens, but he once spat a cigarette at a friend of mine.) Hitchens became a noisy advocate for the illegal invasion of Iraq. In spite of this, Hitchens is greatly admired today, but he is admired for the wrong reasons.

Hitchens’s most important work is also his least influential: The Trial of Henry Kissinger, in which he convincingly argued that Kissinger is a war criminal and possibly a traitor as well. Today, Kissinger is widely feted, and he even makes appearances on comedy shows. When an anti-war group recently interrupted Kissinger’s testimony before a Senate Committee, Sen. John McCain called them “low-life scum”. McCain apparently doesn’t mind the fact that he spent six years in a North Vietnamese POW camp because Nixon and Kissinger prolonged the Vietnam War. Such forgiveness is truly touching to see. (This same McCain once said that he wouldn’t mind if US troops were in Iraq for the next 100 years. This is masochism as foreign policy.)

According to Vanity Fair: “… the foundation intends both the prize and the award ceremony to celebrate and draw public attention to the values that marked Christopher Hitchens’s life and career…” What it will actually celebrate is the moral bankruptcy of our society.

Against the “Don’t Vote” Argument

November 8, 2014

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Over the past few days, I have read a number of articles that have posited various reasons for why the last election turned out the way it did: low turnout, Republican gerrymandering, the weak economy, the stupidity of the Democrats, etc. I think there is some truth to all of these arguments. What I would like to address here, though, is an argument that some of my leftist friends made, which is that we shouldn’t vote. I can understand why people would feel this way, since our political system is such a scam. Yet I think the argument is seriously lacking in some ways.

In the last election, Oregon, Alaska, and D.C. all voted to legalize marijuana. Massachusetts passed a paid sick days law. Denton, Texas, outlawed fracking. Here in California, voters passed Proposition 47, which reduces many non-violent crimes, including drug possession, from felonies to misdemeanors. This is a major blow against what the late Alexander Cockburn called “the prosecutorial state” – in other words the warehousing of human beings who committed petty crimes. This vote indicates there has been a huge shift in consciousness since the 1990’s, when Californians passed the god-awful “Three Strikes” law, which resulted in people being sentenced for life for such trivial offenses as stealing a slice of pizza. People are beginning to realize that mass incarceration is not only not the solution to our society’s problems, but it actually makes them worse.

Should you vote? I would argue it depends on the circumstances and what’s on the ballot. Yes, we have a terrible political system, but we should take advantage of what little room to maneuver that we have.

Iraq and the Law of Unintended Consequences

August 17, 2014

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Nouri al-Maliki and Barack Obama

The other day I went to my local library to read Hillary Clinton’s memoir, Hard Choices. I found it dull, and it didn’t tell me anything I didn’t already know. I was, however, struck by the following sentence on page 389: “Benghazi is a port city on the Mediterranean Sea with a population of more than 1 million people, mostly Sunni Muslims, and large African and Egyptian minorities.” So, our former Secretary of State doesn’t know that Libyans and Egyptians are Africans. Interesting.

I got so bored, that out of desperation I picked up a copy of Robert Gates’s memoir, Duty. I must say that I found Gates to be a more interesting writer than Clinton, if only because his writing doesn’t sound like sound-bites from a presidential debate. I also learned something from him: Bush had frequent video conferences with Hamid Karzai, the president of Afghanistan, and with Nouri al-Maliki, the prime minister of Iraq. Gates says that Bush acted as a “useful mentor” to these men (page 337). The idea that Bush could serve as a mentor to anyone, let alone the leaders of two nations, is mind-boggling to me. Later, Gates says that Maliki’s party came in second in Iraq’s 2010 (page 472) elections, but Maliki was nonetheless eventually able to resume his position as prime minister. What Maliki apparently learned from Bush was how to take office after losing an election.

Gates shares with us the following heart-warming anecdote:

    … Maliki, frustrated and angered by Iranian-backed Shia extremist actions in Basra, ordered units of the Iraqi army into the city to reestalish control. The U.S. commanders were horrified that Maliki had taken such a risk without proper preparation. They scrambled to provide the logistics, planning, and military advice to support Maliki’s effort; without such help, he almost certainly would have failed. But he didn’t and therefore won significant recognition all across Iraq for acting like a “national” leader by suppressing his Shia brethren. The president told the chiefs, “We ought to say hurray to Maliki for going down to Basra and taking on the extremists.” He charactized is a “milestone event.” “Maliki used to ba a paralyzed neophyte – now he is taking charge.” Bush was right. (Page 233.)

This same “national”, Maliki, is now widely blamed for the disintegration of the Iraqi state; his relentless sectarianism is alleged to a have antagonized the country’s Sunni Muslim minority. At this point, one must question whether Bush and Gates really understood what was going on in Iraq.

Ah, but according to conspiracy theory, leaders always have complete control over what is happening. Consider this article by Mike Whitney, Why Obama Wants Maliki Removed in the most recent isssue of CounterPunch. Whitney writes:

    The Obama administration is pushing for regime change in Iraq on the basis that current prime minister Nouri al Maliki is too sectarian. The fact is, however, that Maliki’s abusive treatment of Sunnis never factored into Washington’s decision to have him removed. Whether he has been “too sectarian” or not is completely irrelevant. The real reason he’s under attack is because he wouldn’t sign the Status of Forces Agreement in 2011. He refused to grant immunity to the tens of thousands of troops the administration wanted to leave in Iraq following the formal withdrawal. That’s what angered Washington. That’s why the administration wants Maliki replaced.

That’s right! Obama was so angry at Maliki, that he waited three years to demand his removal from office.

The life of a conspiracy theorist is difficult and unpleasant. He must be continually searching for whatever paltry (or perhaps non-existent) evidence that may buttress his pre-conceived ideas. He simply cannot concede the possibility that the people in charge may not always understand what exactly is going on.

Chicken Little Comes to CounterPunch

May 15, 2014

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John Pilger

The May 14th edition of CounterPunch has an article by John Pilger with the ominous title of A World War is Beckoning. Pilger begins by asking a couple of rhetorical questions:

    Why do we ­tolerate the threat of ­another world war in our name? Why do we allow lies that justify this risk?

Uh, maybe because there is no threat of another world war in our name? I suspect that isn’t the answer that Pilger wants to hear. Later on, he writes:

    For the first time since the Reagan years, the US is ­threatening to take the world to war. With eastern Europe and the Balkans now military outposts of Nato, the last “buffer state” bordering Russia is being torn apart. We in the west are backing neo-Nazis in a country where Ukrainian Nazis backed Hitler.

Pilger needs to get a grip. Placing mild economic sanctions on Russia is not “threatening to take the world to war”.

    Having masterminded the coup in February against the democratically elected government in Kiev, Washington’s planned seizure of Russia’s ­historic, legitimate warm-water naval base in Crimea failed.

There is evidence that the US has meddled in Ukraine’s internal affairs, but it doesn’t necessarily follow from this that the US “masterminded the coup in February”. And he offers no evidence for his amazing claim that US planned to seize Russia’s naval base in Crimea. This would have been an act of war, not to mention an incredibly stupid thing to do.

This is an example of the Chicken Little argument that has become popular among the Left in recent years. For the past three years some on the Left have been screaming that Obama wants to go to war with Syria, yet said war has failed to materialize. We need to try to understand what the people in power are actually trying to do, rather than just assume that they have the most evil intentions imaginable.

There is a good deal that the Obama administration can be criticized for in this situation. And too many people in the media have given Obama a pass on this. (Even worse, some of them have urged the president to “get tough” with Putin.) There needs to be a congressional investigation of the role that the State Department and the CIA have played in the recent events in Ukraine. I’m afraid, however, that this will probably never happen. (Because, you know, Benghazi is far more important.)

Gilad Atzmon and Veterans Today Declare War on the Weimar Republic

April 5, 2014

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I was looking at CounterPunch the other day, and I noticed an article by Eugene Schulman entitled “What Heidegger Hysteria Tells Us About the Press”. This piqued my curiosity, so I read it. The article turned out to be only tangentially about Heidegger. It’s main argument is that the New York Times is pro-Israel. (The late Alexander Cockburn made this point about ten million times. I guess Schulman must be new to CounterPunch.) I did find one passage interesting:

    In a recent article published at the Veterans Today website controversial author of “The Wandering Who?”, Gilad Atzmon, takes to task The Guardian newspaper for an article criticizing the publication of Martin Heidegger’s ‘black notebooks’. Heidegger was one of the 20th Century’s most famous philosophers, almost best known for having joined the Nazi party during the war years [Heidegger joined the Nazi Party in 1933] and, thus, gaining the reputation for being anti-Semitic.

I guess that’s what happens when you join the Nazi Party. Anyway, the article provides a link to Veterans Today (which I had never heard of before). I must guiltily confess that I gave in to my morbid sense of curiosity and clicked on it. VT calls itself a “Military & Foreign Affairs Journal”, and it tells us that it has been serving “Military & Veterans for 40+ Years”. Among other things, it provides job listings for veterans and information for how veterans can get loans. Atzmon’s article is titled “The Banality Of The Guardian Of Judea”. In it, he defends Heidegger from the accusation of anti-Semitism. I found this passage particularly interesting:

    Heidegger was a German patriot. As such he knew very well that it was Zionist leadership and German Jewish bankers in America that facilitated the entry of the USA into the first world war (in return in part for the 1917’s Belfour Declaration that promised a national home for Jews in Palestine). In that regard, Heidegger, like his contemporaries, had good reason to believe that Germany was betrayed by its Jewish elite.

There you have it: the “stabbed in the back” lie, dusted off and presented to American military veterans.

My morbid sense of curiosity was now in overdrive. I searched around the VT website. I found out that VT is big on 9/11 conspiracy theories. (One recent article is titled “Malaysian plane disappearance linked to 9/11”). They like Vladimir Putin a lot. I also found an article by someone named Jonas E. Alexis titled “Hitler and Germany’s Sexual Question (Part II)”. It’s a rambling, somewhat confusing article, but it makes clear that Alexis doesn’t care much for Weimar Germany:

    Theater in Germany began to produce films such as The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari (1920), directed and written by Jewish producers Robert Wiene and Hans Janowitz. This particular film was teleological in nature: it was supposed to hypnotize audiences in an expressionist and psychoanalytic form.

    Other films of the same genre included Carl Mayer’s The Last Laugh (1924), Fritz Lang’s Metropolis (1927), Madchen in Uniform (1931), and Kuhle Wampe (1932).[14] Madchen in Uniform was an explicitly pro-lesbian film, something that was completely contrary to the Prussian education system at the time, and many of the cast in the movie were Jewish.

Yes, we’ve got to point out those Jews, don’t we? Alexis adds:

    Madchen in Uniform became a symbol for feminist movements in the 1970s, one of the weapons used against the existing culture. Moreover, Jewish film directors and producers, like many current Jewish directors in Hollywood (Eli Roth and David Cronenberg come to mind), knew that they were indirectly changing the social and cultural mode of Germany.

Huh? Do Roth and Cronenberg have a time machine? Later on, Alexis writes:

    This anger [Hitler’s] began to escalate after World War I when he [Hitler] saw what was happening in the press and theatre in Germany, when art in general was being used to denigrate the German culture.

    What perhaps moved Hitler’s anger to a new height was that the Jews were less than three percent of the population, yet they largely controlled the theatre and were promoting what he would call “filth” and “pornography.”

    For Hitler, these acts “must have been definitely intentional.” Moreover, he got first-hand knowledge after World War I that pornography was almost exclusively a Jewish phenomenon.

It’s interesting to note that Alexis is black. I wonder if Alexis has ever done any research on Hitler’s views on blacks. (Another black contributor to VT is H. K. Edgerton. VT tells us that he does “Confederate street preaching for the South”.)

I looked at the page listing the editorial board for VT. They list as a board member, Lt. General Hamid Gul, who, they claim, is “Director General ISI (Former Chief of Intelligence Services, Pakistan)”. About another board member, we are told:

    Gordon Duff is an accredited diplomat and is generally accepted as one of the top global intelligence specialists. He manages the world’s largest private intelligence organization and regularly consults with governments challenged by security issues.

I bet. I noticed that one of VT’s Iran bureau chiefs just happens to be none other than our old friend, Ismail Salami. (Small world, isn’t it?) One frequent contributor to VT is Franklin Lamb, who is also a frequent contributor to CounterPunch.

According to Quantcast.com, Veterans Today receives a little more than 377,000 views a month in the U.S. That is close to the number of views that CounterPunch receives each month (386,400). It is substantially more than the number of views that Dissident Voice, which also posts articles by Atzmon and Salami, receives (35,600).

I’m not sure what exactly to make of these numbers, but one thing clear to me is that Gilad Atzmon has found a warm, welcoming, safe space.

The Democratic Party and the U.S. Left

September 9, 2013

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Salon has an interesting article by David Sirota about the current state of the anti-war movement in the U.S. In it, he writes:

    So what happened to that movement? The shorter answer is: It was a victim of partisanship.

    That’s the conclusion that emerges from a recent study by professors at the University of Michigan and Indiana University. Evaluating surveys of more than 5,300 anti-war protestors from 2007 to 2009, the researchers discovered that the many protestors who self-identified as Democrats “withdrew from anti-war protests when the Democratic Party achieved electoral success” in the 2008 presidential election.

This confirms something I have long suspected. I remember talking to people at anti-war demonstrations during the 2000’s. Many of them seemed to me to be motivated by a visceral hatred for Bush and Cheney rather than by an actual opposition to war and imperialism. During the run-up to the 2004 election, they would tell of their intention to vote for one of the two anti-war Democrats, Howard Dean and Dennis Kucinich. When Dean and Kucinich lost in the primaries, these people simply transferred their allegiance to John Kerry, a staunch supporter of the war. It was no surprise to me, then, that these people dropped out of the movement when a Democrat was finally elected to the White House.

Many Americans seem to have an emotional commitment to the two-party system that defies logic and common sense. For them, being a Republican or a Democrat is more than merely a matter of which party one votes for, it is an existential question, something that determines their very sense of identity.

I was at the Oregon Country Fair a couple of years ago, and I saw a man wearing a t-shirt that had pictures of George W. Bush and Hitler on it. It said: DIFFERENT NAMES, SAME SHIT. I was tempted to say to him, “Since Obama has continued many of Bush’s policies, does that mean he is also just like Hitler?” I didn’t ask this, but I suspect that if I had, the question would have made no sense to him. For a certain type of person, the mere fact that Obama is a Democrat means that he cannot be anything at all like Bush.

Our two main political parties originated in the nineteenth century, and both have radically evolved away from their original platforms. Many people simply can’t conceive of a world without them. Karl Marx once said, “The dead weight of the past weighs like a nightmare upon the brains of the living.” The older I get, the more convinced I become of the profound truth of that observation.