FOREIGN AID

This article in Foreign Policy is upsetting. Not just from a professional perspective as a USAID contractor, but also as a human person who’s seen the good that USAID does. There are some disturbing contracts out there (funding groups supporting regime change in Syria comes to mind), and you can certainly question the massive waste that accompanies, say, any contract in Afghanistan, but right now I’m working with contracts that are cutting carbon emissions in Indonesia, building environmentally-friendly roads to distressed communities in Nepal, and fighting wildlife trafficking in East Africa. That’s good.

The thing is that the concrete proposals Trump claimed to champion, the ones that would actually help his constituencies. . . those are not going to happen. No self-respecting bought-and-paid-for corporate hack Republican (or Democrat, for that matter) is going to vote for a trillion dollar infrastructure package. They’re not going to support fair trade deals, taking a step back from a world leadership role, or even, in all likelihood, funding a wall-building project. For the record, I don’t believe Trump actually supports any of these things either. But his voters do. And if they can’t get them, there’s still the other, darker half of the Trump campaign. Trump’s implicit promise to his voters was not only that he would champion their interests, but also that he would destroy those of their enemies; that all the elitist pricks who had prospered while wages stagnated and mortality rates rose would finally start to feel a bit of pain. And elitist pricks love USAID.

It’s easier to tear down foreign aid than to build a wall. That’s why I’m scared. And it’s sad that those same Syrian regime change programs and Afghanistan money pit contracts are the only thing keeping Lindsay Graham from destroying USAID.

 

UBER

Uber is beginning self-driving car service to San Francisco today, after introducing it in Pittsburgh in September. Comically evil CEO Travis Kalanick has made no secret of the fact that he plans to phase out human drivers as quickly as possible.

Interestingly, Uber is still teaming up with fellow do-gooders Goldman Sachs to peddle brutally expensive 36-month leases to increasingly desperate drivers, meaning that in all likelihood by the end of their lease cycle contractors will be forced to compete with no-doubt cheaper robotic cars.

It’s fairly clear that Uber is a fraud, using artificially low prices, illegal business practices, and outright harassment to drive competitors out of the market while courting investors for more cash. To me it looks like they’re delaying an IPO until robot cars hit the road and save their bottom line from the burden of paying human beings, at which time their name recognition and ruthlessness will make them a transportation monopoly. Meanwhile, Uber is hard at work making sure regulations won’t be an issue: Kalanick was just named (oh! the irony) to Trump’s panel on job growth, and on the other side of the aisle, Obama’s 2008 campaign manager David Plouffe is a senior advisor.

desolation row

“Desolation Row” is stuck in a loop in my head. If anything describes the atomization and terror of late-empire Trump capitalism…

At midnight all the agents and the superhuman crew
Come out and round up everyone that knows more than they do
Then they bring them to the factory where the heart-attack machine
Is strapped across their shoulders and then the kerosene
Is brought down from the castles by insurance men who go
Check to see that nobody is escaping to Desolation Row

Anyway, I did a little search to see if anybody had written about the song recently, and, by God, I found the worst thing ever written.

INEQUALITY

I didn’t hear the word “inequality” much in the campaign. Certainly not after Bernie Sanders departed. And, sure, Hillary had a policy–god knows she had a policy, complete with the lamest fucking quote imaginable–but liberal commentators would do well to remember that obscure web links don’t have much to do with campaigning and nothing to do with governance. Actually, the last time I remember Hillary Clinton talking about inequality was this incident, which was a cheap shot but just one more goddamn thing.

Anyway, inequality is a fucking nightmare in this country. I don’t think it’s a big stretch to say that “X” trend in that first chart has a lot to do with Donald Trump.

BERNIE

Bernie could have won, and that fact is crucial to understanding how the Democratic Party can move forward from here. It’s not about spite or vengeance. We need candidates like Bernie and Keith Ellison and Elizabeth Warren who are dedicated to fighting for working people in this country, to standing up for minority groups and building a cross-racial coalition of working people. Bernie was far more electable than Hillary. And that’s why it’s important to push back against people who say he couldn’t win.

“But he’s a Jewish socialist,” you say. First of all, gross dude. Second of all, that doesn’t matter. The idea that he couldn’t have won because he’s Jewish is not backed up by data. Gallup polling states that only seven percent of Americans would not vote for a Jewish president, a percentage that has been steadily dropping since they’ve started asking the question. I would also note that an equal percentage of respondents would not vote for a black candidate and eight percent wouldn’t vote for a woman.

Socialist, though. Red-baiting and commie-bashing are old American pasttimes. And, you say, very excited, doesn’t that same Gallup poll also say that only 47% of Americans would vote for a socialist, versus 50% who would not? Indeed it does. However, that percentage is awfully close, it has been dropping, young people support socialism over capitalism by a large majority, and didn’t we just, by quite a large margin, twice elect a president– a black president– that the majority of the country considers a socialist?

The other problem with claiming that a generic Jewish socialist couldn’t have beaten Trump is that a real Jewish socialist, Bernie Sanders, is a very popular man. As a matter of fact, with a 59% approval rating, he’s the most popular politician in the country. But he’s not well known! Yes he is. Only 8.5% of voters say they don’t know who he is. And in a series of election matchups against Trump dating back to last August, he won by an average of eleven points. And where is he strongest? The rust belt, where he beat Hillary Clinton in the primaries and where Clinton lost the election to Trump. Not only is Bernie popular, but unlike other politicians, say, Hillary Clinton, the more people learn about him the more they like him. Just look at those trend lines.

But wait! you say. The man is untested. Hillary didn’t launch any really juicy attacks. Didn’t come close. A real oppo file could have ripped him to shreds. Well, fortunately for us, crack journalist Kurt Eichenwald got a chance to sink his teeth into the file (“almost 2-feet thick”!) the Republicans had built on Sanders. It’s worth quoting Eichenwald in full here:

Here are a few tastes of what was in store for Sanders, straight out of the Republican playbook: He thinks rape is A-OK. In 1972, when he was 31, Sanders wrote a fictitious essay in which he described a woman enjoying being raped by three men. Yes, there is an explanation for it—a long, complicated one, just like the one that would make clear why the Clinton emails story was nonsense. And we all know how well that worked out.

Then there’s the fact that Sanders was on unemployment until his mid-30s, and that he stole electricity from a neighbor after failing to pay his bills, and that he co-sponsored a bill to ship Vermont’s nuclear waste to a poor Hispanic community in Texas, where it could be dumped. You can just see the words “environmental racist” on Republican billboards. And if you can’t, I already did. They were in the Republican opposition research book as a proposal on how to frame the nuclear waste issue.

Also on the list: Sanders violated campaign finance laws, criticized Clinton for supporting the 1994 crime bill that he voted for, and he voted against the Amber Alert system. His pitch for universal health care would have been used against him too, since it was tried in his home state of Vermont and collapsed due to excessive costs. Worst of all, the Republicans also had video of Sanders at a 1985 rally thrown by the leftist Sandinista government in Nicaragua where half a million people chanted, “Here, there, everywhere/the Yankee will die,’’ while President Daniel Ortega condemned “state terrorism” by America. Sanders said, on camera, supporting the Sandinistas was “patriotic.”

First of all, these aren’t secrets. Every one of those lines of attack was put forward by the Clinton campaign. Second of all, none of it is close to what Trump had on Clinton. Sanders stole utilities? Was unemployed? Supports universal health care? Anyone who thinks those things would hurt a candidate should probably leave Washington for a while. And third, there were many lessons in the 2016 campaign, but one big one has got to be the limitations of attack ads. Haven’t we spent the past year drowning in an avalanche of attacks on Donald Trump? Every one of those attacks, each worse than anything on the Sanders list, from Trump University to pussy-grabbing, was deemed the final nail in the Trump coffin. But he won. Because voter preconceptions are tough to change. And voters trust Bernie Sanders, and they like his policies.

The corporatist wing of the Democratic Party has failed. So next time, let’s find someone like Bernie Sanders, who people trust, who fights for working people. Hell, it just might work.

ELECTION RANT

The fact is that Trump won because Republicans showed up and voted for him, and Democrats did not show up and vote for Hillary Clinton. In the lowest-turnout election since the last time the Clintons ran, Trump got something like a million fewer votes, (~60 million total) than Mitt Romney. Clinton got six million fewer than Obama. This is the most important fact of the election, and it provokes the question: why couldn’t Clinton hold the Obama coalition together?

Last weekend the Clinton campaign released an internal memo. “We believe that we lost this election in the last week,” the second paragraph begins. Yup, Clinton and her wing of the party is blaming her loss to a hate-spewing proto-fascist on Jim Comey’s series of email investigation announcements. That this is dumb is obvious at first glance; in retrospect, it seems clear that a harried and spineless Comey, pressured internally by the psychotic gang of anthropomorphic Aviators that calls itself FBI senior management, had little choice but to make the announcement, the alternative being that one of these buzzcutted wingnuts took enough time away from pleasuring himself to “24” DVD commentaries to leak details of the investigation to the press, thus empowering Trump to take a stand against Hillary and her Powerful Friends and What About That Loretta Lynch Plane Meeting? (Incidentally, the liberal outrage at the FBI is kind of remarkable. “What a disgrace! FBI has always been composed of morally upright crusaders for justice! With the possible exception of that time they sent an anonymous note to Martin Luther King to get him to kill himself!”)

Not to mention that there’s no polling that shows their assertion is true. In fact, polling done after the first Comey letter shows no change in the race. It’s certainly possible that the second letter increased Trump turnout, as the autopsy email claims. But that doesn’t have much to do with Democratic turnout numbers.

The depth of ignorance revealed by the email is perhaps most evident when it, amazingly, tries to blame the loss on Jill Stein. This is a fun old Democratic party trick: we lost because those Green Party voters who hate us didn’t vote blue! This leads to silly arguments like blaming 90,000 Florida Ralph Nader voters for Bush’s win when 300,000 registered Gator Democrats voted red and also obscures the fact that, like many US elections, that one was rigged. It makes even less sense in 2016 because if every Stein voter had voted for Hillary she still would have lost, which the campaign email boldly mentions right after bringing it up. You have to also factor in the Gary Johnson voters here, who would have largely voted Republican without a libertarian option.

So why didn’t people turn out? And who didn’t turn out? Pretty much the entire working-class vote, black, white, and Latino, the bedrock of the Democratic coalition, had very little interest in voting for Hillary Clinton. She is despised across the country and has been for 30 years. Because she is a woman? Absolutely yes. But also the Iraq war; and the constant scandals; and the venality she and Bill barely deign to conceal; the dissembling, the inability to give a clean answer or take a firm position; the ruthless Third Way politics, the insistence on bargaining for $12 before even going to the Republicans for $15; and above all the arrogance, the wealth, the lifestyle of the globe-trotting professional elite, earned not from Business, but from Government, from the people. They are perceived as blood-suckers, liars, people only in it for themselves and their group of wealthy arrogant friends. People don’t understand the Clintons’ wealth, focused as it is on liberal paternalism and opaque power networks and closed-door fundraisers. What the hell are they doing? What do they want? Trump is a rich asshole, but he’s the kind of rich asshole people can understand: he’s got gold toilets and TV shows and buildings and an endless procession of attractive wives. Hillary was a bad nominee, no doubt. Our mistake was thinking she was only the second-worst nominee in modern history.

To their credit, Clinton knew that most of the country hated her. She knew she had real problems with working-class support: that internal email emphasizes the racial coalition and an uptick in college-educated voters as keys to her strategy. (i.e., these people) Chuck Schumer, our new Senate Minority Leader, famously stated that “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.” We know how that turned out.

I think the main reason Clinton lost is because she was a historically bad candidate. The most important part of that is that the Democrats and Clinton especially failed (and have failed) to focus, both rhetorically and prescriptively, on the working class. There are real problems in this country: stagnant incomes, skyrocketing healthcare costs (not helped by Obamacare: anyone who thinks this didn’t matter, a week before the election, aren’t paying attention), disaster capitalism-created financial crises, rising mortality rates, a collapsing middle class, untreated drug addiction, a massive incarceration state, and many, many more. Many of these problems have been exacerbated by Democrats. And that needs to change. Right now, the Democrats are two parties: a centrist, classical liberal, paternalistic, finance- and tech-focused meritocracy mill, a party by and for the professional class, which people generally despise; and a true working-class party, which has been dying for years and is now being revived by Bernie Sanders, Keith Ellison, and Tim Ryan. In the face of unprecedented local, state, and national electoral failure, this working class party needs to take control. Because if the Democrats can’t appeal to working-class people with a real populist message, there is an alternative.

The existence of the Republican Party is essentially proof that the United States is not a true democracy. Try to find another political party in the developed world that denies climate change. At its core, the only things the Republican Party cares about are lower taxes on the rich and eliminating regulations on big business. The industrialists, financiers, and oil magnates who own the party do not care about anything else. As John Kenneth Galbraith once wrote,”The modern conservative is engaged in one of man’s oldest exercises in moral philosophy; that is, the search for a superior moral justification for selfishness.” This is of course wildly unpopular, so over the decades, they’ve tried, with varying degrees of success, to graft on a coalition of racists, religious conservatives, foreign-policy isolationists, foreign-policy neoconservatives, anti-Communists, hippie-punchers, libertarians, gun owners, and small-business owners, to whom they’re willing to make minor policy concessions in return for agreement that the Laffer Curve is real and unfettered capitalism is good. The Party is evidence that Capital is corrosive to a republic, that the one percent will fight for its interests, and that truth can be made relative. The Republican Party, in other words, is evil, and we need better champions to fight it than Hillary Clinton.

BUNDY STANDOFF

There’s a fascinating (although poorly written) article out about the Oregon standoff trial. Apparently during the siege there were 15 FBI informants feeding information to the feds, nine of whom spent significant time at the shooting range that served as HQ. One of them, a Swiss national posing as a French/South African weapons expert, alias “John Killman,” [Note: Nice.] ran firearms and hand-to-hand combat trainings and even supervised the range for several days.

27 men were ultimately arrested, meaning, incredibly, that between a third and half of the men involved in the incident were FBI informants. Shades of G.K. Chesterton. This is such a weird story.