5 Sept 2020

The Problem With Politics

I just had to post this tweet storm by Charlotte Alter @CharlotteAlter because it is about the most astute political commentary I've seen lately.

I have spent the last three days speaking to almost every person I've seen on the streets in Kenosha and Racine and folks... I hate to break it to you... but nobody gives a shit about any of the scandals you're tweeting about
It is IMPOSSIBLE for me to describe how much they don't give a shit. It's like they give NEGATIVE shits.

There's this mentality on Twitter that's like "THIS one huge scandal will sink Trump with THIS group of voters" and I can conclusively report that this is bullshit

Here's why:

Many of the people who ~tweet about politics~ assume that voters behave according to a particular logic 

Like: Trump insults women, therefore women will dislike Trump
Trump breaks the law, therefore "law and order" R[epublican]s will break from him

YOU THINK voter logic is like: 
A > B > C >D 

IN ACTUALITY, voter logic is more like:
A > Purple > Banana > 18
(this is true on both sides by the way, not just MAGA folks)

Also: the most pervasive bias in political coverage is not left vs. right it's "follows politics" vs. "doesn't follow politics"

By default, nearly everyone who covers politics falls into the "follows politics" category, which makes it really hard to understand people who don't

Also: the most pervasive bias in political coverage is not left vs. right it's "follows politics" vs. "doesn't follow politics"

By default, nearly everyone who covers politics falls into the "follows politics" category, which makes it really hard to understand people who don't

Or politics people will be like "according to polls and modeling, if X% swing in Y direction then Z will happen" and normal people are like... whut

It's worth noting that man-on-the-street reporting is highly anecdotal! This is by no means a comprehensive analysis because it totally depends on who decides to talk to me.

But taken alongside polls and other data, it can be a helpful way to learn what's landing and what's not

One more point, re: EQ

A side effect of the data-fication of political expertise is that the people who can read polls are perceived to be smarter than the people who can read people.

So you have all these guys crunching numbers who aren't actually LISTENING to normal ppl

LISTENING means hearing what people are not saying as well as what they're saying.

LISTENING also means not ambushing voters like "but aren't you upset about X or Y?" or bullying them

LISTENING means making sure they feel like they're being heard and not judged

just saying there are a lot of politics dudes who love to talk and hate to listen

24 Aug 2020


Stock markets are going up in the UK and US. But we are in a recession. Yanis Varoufakis says that this means that the value of companies is no longer correlated with profits and that this is unprecedented.

The price of shares is now being driven by speculators more than by results. We used to think of stocks as an investment. You put your money into a company to help capitalise it and that company pays you an annual dividend based on profits. This is how capitalism works (in this view labour is simply an overhead and does not have anything to do with making a profit).

Speculators are not investors. They are gamblers. They think in the short term. Aided by computers, the short-term can mean milliseconds as algorithms buy and sell shares 1000 times a second accumulating thousands of tiny short term gains to make huge profits over the long term.

This is not investment because the profit is not in the dividends, it is in the second to second fluctuations in price. Speculators can bet that the price with go up, which is a straight profit, but they can also bet that the price will go down (called "shorting") and still make a profit when the price of shares falls.

This speculation is now the dominant force in our stock markets and most of the money involved is, in fact, not doing any work at all in our economy. Rather it sits outside the economy not contributing anything except when the super-rich buy yachts and such.

And the speculators are mainly banks. Banks using the money that governments have been giving them ostensibly to invest in commerce. Here's how it works:

Every time the Fed or the European Central Bank or the Bank of England pumped more money into the commercial banks, in the hope that these monies would be lent to companies which would in turn create new jobs and product lines, the birth of the strange world we now live in came a little closer. How? As an example, consider the following chain reaction: The European Central Bank extended new liquidity to Deutsche Bank. Deutsche Bank could only profit from it if it found someone to borrow this money. Dedicated to the banker’s mantra “never lend to someone who needs the money”, Deutsche Bank would never lend it to the “little people”, whose circumstances were increasingly diminished (along with their ability to repay any substantial loans), it preferred to lend it to, say, Volkswagen. But, in turn, Volkswagen executives looked at the “little people” out there and thought to themselves: “Their circumstances are diminishing, they won’t be able to afford new, high quality electric cars.” And so Volkswagen postponed crucial investments in new technologies and in new high quality jobs. But, Volkswagen executives would have been remiss not to take the dirt-cheap loans offered by Deutsche Bank. So, they took it. And what did they do with the freshly minted ECB-monies? They used it to buy Volkswagen shares in the stock exchange. The more of those shares they bought the higher Volkswagen’s share value. And since the Volkswagen executives’ salary bonuses were linked to the company’s share value, they profited personally – while, at once, the ECB’s firepower was well and truly wasted from society’s, and indeed from industrial capitalism’s, point of view.

Thus post-capitalism is not a good thing.
"My difference with fellow lefties is that I do not believe there is any guarantee that what follows capitalism – let’s call it, for want of a better term, postcapitalism – will be better. It may well be utterly dystopic, judging by present phenomena." Yanis Varoufakis

3 Aug 2020

Conservatives, Neoliberals, Liberals, and Trump.

This question appeared on Quora
Why don't conservatives do more to reach out and support the cities like zoning reform (housing), transit projects (transportation), economic revitalization (jobs) like urban conservatism? Why serve suburbs and rural areas but leave cities behind?
Here is my response.

It’s not so much to do with conservatism as with liberalism. Liberalism proper is the philosophy of the liberty of the individuals. Liberalism argues that individuals are radically free and thus the circumstances of their lives are the result of their own choices, regardless of the start they got.
We are currently on liberalism 3.0.

Liberalism 1.0 was classical or economic liberalism which emphasised individualism and the private sector. Liberalism 2.0 arose as a response to the failures of 1.0. The distinction is nicely summed up in Isaiah Berlin’s ideas of negative liberty and positive liberty. Liberalism 1.0 emphasised what Berlin called negative liberty, that is the removal of constraints on liberty. In particular the first liberals (an offshoot of Whiggism) argued the government should not interfere in commerce.

This led to poverty, corruption, and instability (aka The Great Depression) so social liberals (2.0) began to argue that positive liberty was also required. They wanted to removed barriers to economic participation such as lack of access to education, health care, or job opportunities. They argued that if the private sector was unable to or unwilling to undertake the kinds of activities you highlight, then government should step in.

Liberalism 3.0 or Neo-liberalism arose as a reaction against Liberalism 2.0. Neoliberalism argues that all commercial activities—such as house building, infrastructure, and investment—must be carried out by the private sector in response to demand. Their ideology is that only the pure logic of supply and demand will ensure a fair distribution of wealth in society.

Unfortunately Liberalism 3.0 still has Liberalism 1.0 as part of it’s kernel and so we are once again seeing poverty, corruption, and economic instability (e.g. the global financial crisis). Worse, Neoliberals openly attack and smear Liberalism 2.0 as the source of all our problems, conflating it with “communism” and extremism. In this view there is no role for positive liberty or for government in society.

The reason we associate these ideas with conservatism is an historical accident. Because these economic ideas are quite unpopular with the majority, the right-wing parties that first adopted them and opted for the more ideologically pure implementation struggled to win power. They were mainly socially conservative but had not connected with other conservative groups. In order to get Reagan elected in the US, Republicans made common cause with the previously politically inactive conservative Christians. They began to emphasise social conservative ideas like “family values” and frame their extreme right-wing economics in terms of “tax relief”.

On the other side Liberalism 2.0 became conflated with socially progressive approaches. Liberalism 1.0 had also been progressive in its time. Then it became mainstream and the norm. Liberalism 2.0 adopted a progressive attitude because their goal of equal economic participation lay in the future. But 2.0 liberals are not left-wing. Especially in the US they are centre-right, i.e. liberals interested in positive liberty.

Weirdly the most extreme right-wing economic policies come from the Republicans nowadays (and their counterparts abroad).

But here’s the thing. Most people vote on social issues rather than economic issues. So they vote conservative even though they don’t like neoliberal economic policies. And neoliberalism, liberalism 3.0, has become entrenched. At the same time a deliberate coup d’etat in universities in the 1970s ensured that only right-wing economics are taught to most students. Left-wing economists were elbowed out and struggled to get published or promoted. So now two generations of economists, think tanks and lobbyists, politicians and journalists have all been indoctrinate with the view that the only valid economics are right-wing. Even Democrat Presidents pursue right-wing economics while trying to implement socially responsible (and extremely popular) policies like universal healthcare.

And here’s the other weird thing. The neoliberals have developed an economic narrative that has social overtones, which is that the 2.0 Liberals cannot be trusted with the nations finances; they don’t understand economic realities (that is to say the ideology of neoliberalism); and any deviation from neoliberal orthodoxy is communism (re-activating the long held fear of the left). This makes economics a social issue.

And so even though neoliberalism the world over is bad for workers, bad for all but the growing number of billionaires, people keep voting for conservatives with a neoliberal agenda that they disagree with.

And the fact that a progressive black man got elected was too much for conservatives and neoliberals. Their fears all seemed to come true at once and created the backlash that Trump rode to power. The Trump-led republican party has zero interest in public works. And we see this in their response to the coronavirus. Govt’s role in their view is to facilitate businessmen making money. Mitch McConnell has become a multimillion since entering the Senate. Trump sees the Presidency as a personal business opportunity and is too busy trying to enrich himself to do anything for Americans. And the extreme conservatives and the extreme neoliberals are only too happy to go along with Trump.

17 Jul 2020

Why Do a Left Leaning Populace Vote Right?

My original title for this was Why Americans Don't Understand Politics. It covers both areas and I wanted to include some ideas about UK. I will be using the Political Compass two-dimensional analysis in this post: economic left = socialism and economic right = liberalism. This is contrasted with authoritarian (maximal) governance and libertarian (minimal) governance. But I will add to this a third dimension of social conservatism and social progressivism. Hence we have three pairs of terms representing extremes of a spectrum.

left ↔ right
authoritarian ↔ libertarian      
conservative ↔ progressive    

In my view it is possible to select a position on the spectrum independently from economic, governance, and social attitudes. And it is a mistake to conflate terms such as left and progressive. Or right and authoritarian. Fascists have little in common with laissez faire libertarians but both are referred to "right wing". If we could sought out these distinctions we might have a more intelligent political discourse. Most importantly the philosophy of liberalism was coincident with the formation of right wing economic policies. The socially progressive New Liberals grew out of the devastation— inequality, corruption, and instability—that classical liberal caused. So we now often take "liberal" to mean left wing because socially progressive right wing people have a social conscience that is mistaken for socialism.

I suspect that the confusion is deliberate and aimed that making public discourse on politics ineffective, but I don't want to give in to conspiracy theories. 

That America politics are almost entirely fought on the right of centre is amply depicted by the Political Compass analysis of the candidates in the US 2020 election.

Note that Biden is well over the centre lined of the right side. 

That something entirely different is going on in the UK is reflected in this graph from Flip Chart Fairy Tales. Though note here that this graph mistakes authoritarian and liberal as social values. Authoritarian is paired with libertarianism (or anarchism) as a mode of governance. They are trying to conflate conservatives and authoritarians, and  progressives and libertarians. Thus the confusion of terminology is perpetuated. In any case we can get some kind of insight from this. In fact this next graph exists at right angles to the Political Compass models.

In Britain, and I think in American too, the voters are in favour of more left wing economic policies, though by "left wing" in America they really mean centrist. Liberals are concerned with helping people to help themselves and thus welfare in a liberal regime like the US is aimed at helping each individual to be an economically productive member of society. These days this primarily means being a consumer rather than a worker. In fact the laissez faire economics of Neoconservative and Neoliberal elected officials are unpopular amongst voters even those who vote for the Tories and the Republicans.

And in Britain and America voters are in favour of conservative social values. And in this case the attitudes are reversed. Voters are far more conservative than politicians of either the left or the right.

 One of the reasons we're seeing a culture war at the moment is because those on the right (Republicans and Tories) know that their economic policies are relatively unpopular with voters compared with the opposition (Democrats and Labour). But their social policies are more popular. Hence by using the culture war to draw attention to social policies they win votes. Of course the right also keep up a barrage of lies about the catastrophic impact of left policies in order to try to capitalise.

So the success of the culture war strategy combined with the economic propaganda sees voters leaning right.

At the moment many young Americans seem to believe that there is an imminent communist revolution in the USA. They believe the media, the multi-billion dollar enterprise run by only about six companies—including Rupert Murdoch's 21st Century Fox (previously News Corp)—has been taken over by "the Left". They believe that Black Lives Matters was organised by Marxists. They believe that Academic is overrun with Marxists. Resentment against so-called "liberals" (i.e. people who are socially progressive is at an all time high.

Part of the problem is that America had a progressive black president for eight years at the same time as a Republican Senate that could block almost all of his initiatives. Obama achieved a fraction of what he might have. But in a nation mainly white, mainly socially conservative people this was too much to bear. And a campaign began that did not end with the election of Trump though it seems to have peaked for now. Key republicans who were vehemently against Trump have now switched their allegiance. There is an ongoing a wave of grievance and resentment amongst socially conservative people.

Fortunately the staggering incompetence of Trump in dealing with Covid19 will probably be the end of him. But expect him to stoke up the culture war, stoke up fear and hatred of people of colour, of experts and scientists, and of progressives. And expect this strategy to be ongoing amongst Republicans because it works. The next republican president will have even more extreme views than Trump, but he'll probably be competent.

Fortunately for America Biden is a right wing, conservative, authoritarian - a good choice for republicans who want to flip. We had the opposite here with Johnson vs Corbyn. No one who thought about flipping from Tory to Labour was ever going to vote for Corbyn, the relentless campaign of lies and slurs notwithstanding. I suspect many Labour voters voted against Corbyn.

Unfortunately for the world, the case for tackling the environment is being made as a socially progressive message, not an economic message, so most people are opposed to the scale of change required. To many even something like the Green New Deal looks too authoritarian, it hands governments sweeping powers to change course in pursuit of a progressive and even radical social agenda.

23 Jan 2020

The Problem with the Right-Wing

If you want to identify some classic right-wing policies, then look no further than the EU's triad of the free movement of capital, goods, and people. Removing barriers to economic activity was the fundamental idea behind Adam Smith's economic philosophy and is the one idea that drives many right-wing politicians. This is liberalism applied to economics - one should be free to pursue business opportunities with minimal interference from government. Let markets set prices and act like karma in linking consequences to actions.

Of the three, the free movement of capital has been the most damaging - causing a number of continent spanning economic crises in Africa, South America, South East Asia, and lastly a global crisis in 2008. It's why billionaires pay no tax and why young people cannot afford to buy houses any more.

Economic liberalism is a disaster because markets never operate in the abstract/free way that karma is supposed to. People and governments always interfere. Always. The wealthy always tip the scales in their favour, it's how they get and sustain wealth.

Removing barriers to monopoly power has led to a sharp uptick in wealth inequality. Someone once asked me what I thought a socialist version of the board game Monopoly would would like. I said, "Dude, Monopoly is essentially a socialist game." It is set up to mimic the unlimited power that accrues to the wealthy under classical liberalism. At the end of the game one player owns all the property and has all the wealth and the other players have nothing. That is precisely the socialist view of what unfettered capitalism does to a society.

And notably this is the situation we increasingly see in the world. A few billionaires who own everything and the rest of us who have next to nothing. Bernie Sanders make this point repeatedly.

Ironically, Adam Smith's argument against protectionism and nationalism was that it turned trade into a zero sum game. In the early modern world, the era of massive European Empires spanning the globe, commerce was carried out on a winner take all basis. Colonised countries were mercilessly asset stripped. Piracy was not only rife, but state sanctioned. Smith argued that by dropping barriers to trade, commerce would become a win-win situation - the exchange of goods and services between countries benefits both sides. And to some extent he was right. Trade does tend to raise the standard of living for everyone.

People often cite Singapore as a shining example of unfettered capitalism. But 85% of housing is owned by the government - which is the only reason most Singaporeans are not all homeless right now. Also 22% of GDP comes from state-owned enterprises. Yes, Singapore dropped most barriers to commerce, but they did not throw the baby out with the bath water the way many Western countries did. They carried out the principle role of government in liberal political theory and protected their people from exploitation - ensuring that the cost of housing remains in a sane relation to wages.

Government's role, in liberal political philosophy is to protect citizens from exploitation. This does mean fewer millionaires and no billionaires in order to both ensure competition and to ensure that wealth is distributed fairly amongst citizens. And it does involve some government interventions. Providing free education is universally acknowledged as a public good although this does not stop governments skimping on it and exacerbating inequality. Healthcare is widely acknowledged to be a societal benefit as well (except in the USA).

Capitalism is really the only viable way to run a national economy. But laissez faire capitalism doesn't create a fair or equitable division of wealth. It concentrates wealth, it transfers wealth to the wealthy. It creates a torrent of wealth upwards, not a trickle down effect. Govt has to prevent monopolies. And having just four companies dominating the globe in any given sector is effectively a monopoly. Allowing the largest companies to merge and swallow up competitors reduces competition and removes the incentives that make capitalism work.

The trillion dollar companies used their monopoly positions to squash competitors and prevent new players from entering the market. Having companies like Apple, Google, and Facebook dominate the world is killing innovation and siphoning wealth out of the real economy.

I don't see any future for communism or socialism as systems. However, more worker ownership of businesses would be a good thing. And some state-owned enterprises clearly provide benefits: housing, healthcare, infrastructure such as roads, bridges.

The other clear role for government is in dealing with systemic problems. Acute problems like the coronavirus outbreak in China can only be dealt with by national and international agencies with real power to enforce measures. And chronic problems like climate change require governments to nudge and shove business to change their behaviour. Government is the only check on industries that appear to behave as a psychotic person with no concern for consequences, no empathy for victims, and a single-minded exploitation and manipulation of everyone and everything for their own benefit.

I think the anti-capitalist movement is silly. And I've had to cut my ties with organisations like Extinction Rebellion because it is largely populated with people who have utopian ideas replacing capitalism. I agree that we have to pressure governments to address climate change, but government led capitalism is the only chance we have of bringing about the necessary change at the necessary speed. Socialist utopias are a fantasy and we need to abandon the fantasy that humanity is all going to get along and have their needs provided for free.

26 Nov 2019

The KGB Model of State Subversion

Someone tweeted this part of an interview with an ex-KGB agent, Yuri Bezmenov, from 1984. Bezmenov defected to Canada in 1970.

Back then the Soviet Union was committed to spreading the ideology of Marxism-Leninism throughout the world using these techniques called Ideological Subversion or Active MeasuresPsychological Warfare has four stages. Espionage forms only a minor part of this process.
The goal is to "change the perception of reality to such an extent that despite the abundance of information, no one is able to come to sensible conclusions [in their own interests]".

This occurs in four stages.

  1. Demoralization. 15-20 years. A propaganda and disinformation campaign aimed at students that contravenes the values of the country. The result is that "exposure to true information does not matter anymore. A person who is demoralised is unable to assess true information." Even if the demoralised person is presented with clear documentary evidence that their view is wrong, they will not refuse to believe. 
  2. Destabilization. 2-5 years. The focus shifts from individuals to subverting state essentials: economy, foreign relations, defence. Politicians make extravagant promises.  
  3. Crisis. 6 weeks. A violent change of structure. 
  4. Normalization. Indefinite. The new "Big Brother" regime exerts itself, crushing the demoralised citizens. 

Note that Bezmenov says that the demoralisation phase of the KGB program in the USA is already complete. "Most of it is done by Americans to Americans, thanks to lack of moral standards."

Bezmenov suggests that aim of Soviet operations was to destabilise the free enterprise system. But we need to look at the history of the collapse of economic liberalism the first time around. Economic liberalism is inherently unstable because it creates a super-rich class who misuse the excessive wealth and power they have to subvert democracy. The Soviets cannot take responsibility for the 1929 stock market crash or the Great Depression.

Bezmenov implicates socially liberal educators. Educated people score higher on the openness trait of the Big Five psychometric test and all people who have high scores on this trait tend to be more socially liberal. Bezmenov also implicates civil rights defenders in destabilisation.

One needs to emphasise in response to Bezmenov that the Marxism-Leninism take over of the USA never happened. Indeed, by the time he was giving this interview, in 1984, the USA was moving decisively to the right economically and it continued to do so until Trump. Bezmenov is in fact quite off-beam in his assessment of US politics and social attitudes.

The methodology he describes however is interesting because what we see in 2019 is Americans refusing to believe authentic, documentary evidence of Trump's misuse of power and his subversion of the economy, foreign relations, and defence for his own ends - sometimes in ways that seem consistent with him furthering his own interests and sometimes seemingly at random (though in ways that play to his base).

Last week it emerged that the combined intelligence community is unanimous about the fact that Russia interfered in the 2016 election to help Trump. And that they have presented a classified briefing to the Senate, including authentic documentary evidence, that this was so and that the Ukraine meddling story was a Russian disinformation campaign being promoted by the Russia intelligence community.

Despite the unanimous voice of the FBI, CIA, NSA, and a dozen other intelligence agencies, Republican senators, at the urging of Trump, launched an investigation into the subject of the Russian disinformation campaign. The President and key members of the Republican Party are dismissing the unified voice of the US intelligence community despite the evidence. They seem "unable to assess true information."

At the same time, despite clear and overwhelming evidence of Trump's repeated and ongoing misuse of power for personal gain, half of America and all of the Republican Party are denying that anything untoward happened. The testimony of career foreign service officials made no difference at all.

Although Bezmenov was clearly over-estimating the impact of Soviet Marxist-Leninist propaganda, we are in fact in just the same state of demoralisation as he describes, but with respect to President Trump's agenda and his support amongst the alt-right.

What happened in the USA was not what Bezmenov predicted. Rather it was a replay of the collapse of classical liberalism because of the chaos caused by the super-rich and their irresistible desire to manipulate things for their own ends. The 2019 version of economic liberalism sees billionaires battling it out for control of the government in the open, with the ability to outspend all their rivals combined. Bloomberg, a former Republican, entered the democratic primary by spending $30 million on advertising. The other candidates have raised considerably less than this in total, let alone for advertising.

It's also clear that Russia has also been at work in the UK, especially in the process of the UK leaving the EU (aka Brexit). They seem to have part funded the Leave campaign and to have facilitated a process of demoralisation including 20 years of fake news about the EU.

The Institute for Global Affairs, London School of Economics, released a report in 2017: Soviet Subversion, Disinformation and Propaganda: How the West Fought Against It. An Analytic History, with Lessons for the Present. This provides more details as well as counter-measures that the US Govt developed to combat active measures. They point out that modern Russian propaganda is no longer ideological; it is distributed between state actors and various other interests and it is opportunistic. And there is no concerted effort to combat it.

The full, hour long interview is here.

17 Nov 2019

The Impeachment of Trump in a Nutshell

I've been following the impeachment hearings in the USA with interest. They are not only inherently interesting and political drama of the highest calibre, but they are a welcome distraction from the sewer of British politics and electioneering.

The information coming out is complex and in order to organise it I started a diagram of how the players are connected.

click to embiggen.

This diagram is still a bit messy, but it does help me to see certain things. I say "in a nutshell" but it's a big nut. I'll keep working on the diagram and update it as and when I can.

Here is the story as I understand it.

Joe Biden was instrumental in removing corrupt Prosecutor General Shokin from office. Shokin wanted revenge and so floated the story that he had just been about to open an investigation into Burisma and Biden's son Hunter who was a fig-leaf on the board. His replacement Lutsenko did investigate Burisma, but found nothing. He supported Shokin's allegations and helped to spread them to the US via various channels: a journalist named John Solomon, Paul Manafort, and the President's personal lawyer, Rudy Giuliani, who met with both Shokin and Lutsenko.

Manafort was Trump's campaign manager. He formerly worked on Ukraine President Yanukovych's campaign and when this came out he was forced to resign (because of corruption) and fled to Russia. Later he was convicted of financial crimes and is still in jail and facing further indictments.

As well as his connections to corrupt government officials, Giuliani has been cultivating business interests in Ukraine via Lev Parnas and Igor Fruman. These two were involved in a number of business deals including the ironically named Fraud Guarantee which has no customers and provides no actual services, and thus has no bone fide income, yet paid Giuliani $500,000 to provide legal services. Parnas and Fruman are charged with campaign finance violations after they channeled Russian money to Trump's campaign via fake intermediaries. Foreign political donations are illegal in the USA. Parnas has agreed to testify to Congress although I don't think he is scheduled yet.

Another story, possibly originating from Putin (who spoke about it in a 2017 press conference) was circulating that it was Ukraine who hacked the DNC server and meddled in the election. Though this story is confused because they are supposed to have intervened on Clinton's side but all the leaks were damaging to Clinton. The hacking was interference in favour of Trump, who subsequently won the election (although he lost the popular vote). Also the US intelligence community conclusively proved that is was Russia that had hacked the server. The idea is that a physical DNC server was somehow smuggled out of the US and is being hidden in Ukraine.

The Biden story made its way to Trump. He put two and two together and made five. Trump saw two opportunities. Firstly he could hurt his main political rival, Joe Biden. Secondly, he could cast doubt on the work of the US intelligence community (who he felt were working against him) and exculpate his friend and ally Vladimir Putin. He decided to use his the weight of the office of president and the apparatus of state to force the new and inexperienced Ukraine president Volodimir Zelensky to publicly open investigations into the Bidens and the server. This would achieve both aims.

It's possible that Trump believed the stories to be true, but even so, he was clearly abusing his power in choosing to take this action, whether or not it succeeded.

Trump's first problem was the Ambassador to Ukraine, Marie Yovanovich. She was competent, intelligent, and actively fighting corruption. She had implicated the head of the anti-corruption unit of the Prosecutor General's office, Nazar Kholonitsky, in witness tampering (they bugged his fish tank). Yovanovich was publically calling for his removal and prosecution.

Rather than simply recally Yovanovich, as he could have done, Trump allowed Giuliani to cook up a smear campaign against her. Her exemplary record and character notwithstanding, Yovanovich, who had served in active war zones and been shot at in the course of her duties, was smeared by Lutsenko, which was repeated by Giuliani, lawyers for the President DiGenova and Toensing (picked up by Fox News), and by Trump Jr. Finally she was smeared by Trump just before he removed her from her role and again while she was giving testimony to Congress (thus committing the federal crime of witness tampering).

Yovanovich was replaced by William Taylor a man of impeccable record and character. Although he was named ChargĂ© d'affaires rather than Ambassador (the post remains unfilled). Taylor's appointment was a smoke screen as he soon came to realise. He took up the regular role of representing the US's interests in the Ukraine. However, there was another White House team at work in Ukraine, seemingly managed by Giuliani.

Three WH officials operated an alternative mission to Ukraine. Ambassador to the EU, Gordon Sondland bought his post with a $1 million donation to the Trump campaign. The hotelier has no political experience. He was teamed the Secretary of Energy, Rick Perry, and the Special Envoy to Ukraine, Kurt Volker. They affectionately referred to themselves as the "three amigos". The trio were charged by Donald Trump to put pressure on Zelensky to publicly support Trump by announcing investigations into Biden and the mythical server. Giuliani was their line manager, but SOndland at least spoke directly with Trump about this project.

In a series of meetings they conveyed Trump's message that US support was contingent on support for Trump's witch hunt to Zelensky and his top officials. On offer in payment for this compliance was a public meeting in the White House for Zelensky (which would help bolster his support and legitimise his presidency). Trump has often publicly supported his allies such as Kim, Putin, and Erdogan in this way.

Mike Pence was also roped into delivering the ultimatum. He claims ignorance of the machinations, but this hardly seems credible. If he did not know then he is incompetent. Zelensky, faced with multiple White House Officials bullying him had to play along. But he could not easily capitulate to the US without a backlash from Russia and from his own people. He was in a serious bind and stalled for time.

Seemingly Trump did not feel enough pressure was being brought to bear on Zelensky so he had his Chief of Staff, Mick Mulvaney, intervene in the Office of Budget Management to hold up financial aide to Ukraine. Zelensky did not know about this during the infamous phone call, but he was already under considerable pressure from Trump's goons. The hold on the aide was made known to Ukraine, who were agreeing to do what was asked, but not actually doing anything. Zelensky was trapped and agreed to make the required announcement, but still stalled.

Finally a whistleblower who heard about the call and some of the machinations going on, reported this to their boss. The complaint was illegally withheld from Congress, but eventually released and impeachment inquiry announced within days. At this point, the aide to Ukraine was released and Zelensky escaped from the trap Trump had set for him. However, he was still compelled to support Trump publicly, he is still under Trump's thumb and having serious problems at home. At the same time the call was moved to a high security server set up for matters of national security in a rather inept attempt at a cover up.

As pressure mounted on the President in the form of openly leaked excerpts of secret depositions in the impeachment hearings, Mulvaney went on national television and confessed that they had been trying to bribe Ukraine (by demanding investigations into Biden and the mythical server) and asserted that this was simply the norm in foreign policy. "Get over it". This has caused an ongoing rift with top White House lawyer, Pat Cipollone. There has been no coherent message from the White House.

The impeachment hearings continue and the Congress are still taking depositions in private.

Sondland is the weak link of the White House goons. His testimony to date could well leave him open to perjury charges as its apparent he knew much more than he is saying - he was fully involved and fully informed, even he is was not experienced enough to know he was breaking the law. Ignorance is not a legal defence. If you watch no other public hearing, watch Sondland's testimony on Wed 20th. He had personal phone calls with President Trump about his clandestine mission in Ukraine. Weirdly he had them on an unsecured line in a country where Russia routinely monitors communications, and with Trump speaking so loudly that others could hear the whole conversation.

Sondland is going to have to betray Trump or face jail time. And this may weaken Trump enough open the floodgates. 

The way I read it, Trump is guilty of abusing his power in the form of bribery to seek foreign interference in the 2020 election. Of course the call notes so far released are clear evidence of this, but the weight of it is in the actions of his goons in Ukraine. He is also guilty of obstruction of Congress for refusing to comply with lawful subpoenas and for blocking others from complying with lawful subpoenas. And he is guilty of obstruction of justice in the form of witness tampering. All are impeachable offenses. However, as we know, he is also guilty of obstruction of justice in the Mueller Inquiry.

It seems to me that many of the people involved have criminal liability including Giuliani. Interesting just a few days he "joked" that he had insurance in case Trump did not remain loyal to him. I do not believe for a second that this was a joke. It was a threat.

It seems clear to me that Pence, Pompeo, and Barr all knew was was going on. Mulvaney was probably involved in the strategy. They are all complicit. And it's no wonder that the GOP are fighting so hard to undermine the credibility of the impeachment inquiry. Knowingly supporting a corrupt President is hard to sell to voters. If they fail to dismiss the charges they are all going down with Trump. Indeed it seems likely that, if they fail, Trump would consider them his enemies and make a point of taking them down with him.

Many more Trump aides are looking at criminal indictment (joining the long list of criminals that Trump has associated with over the years).

Last week Trump was found guilty of misappropriating and misusing funds from his charity for personal gain. It is now a matter of public record that he is corrupt. Trump is presently being investigated by the Southern District of New York for fraud and is likely to spend the rest of his life in court if not in prison once he leaves office. He has been fighting very hard to prevent his tax returns from being released and we can only assume that this is because they are incriminating in some way. His business empire is crumbling now that his father is no longer able to bail him out. The transparent attempt to subvert the emoluments clause in holding the G7 at this own resort failed, which leaves Doral losing vast sums of money for Trump.

The institution of democracy and the validity of the Constitution of the USA hang in the balance. But the Founders anticipated this moment. They gave the three branches of government equal status and power. It will all turn on whether Republican senators back Trump and corruption or back the Constitution and take their bitter medicine.

10 Nov 2019

The British Elite Are Terrified of Corbyn

This comparison of two stories from the Express says it all.

One party want to raise the minimum wage to £10.50. The other party wants to raise the minimum wage to £10.00. One is hailed as a boon for workers while the other is derides as destroying jobs. Logic suggests that the higher amount ought to draw fire for hurting jobs, since the argument is that higher wages suppresses job creation.

But the paper does not follow logic. In Sept 2019 it rails against £10.00 proposed by Labour, but in Nov 2019 it hails the Tory proposed increase to £10.50.

This is nonsense. This is fake news. This is misinformation. The "free press" may be free, but they are liars. What the hell do we do about this? 

25 Oct 2019

The Debt Clock and the Generational Disaster in the USA.

Check out this amazing Debt Clock for the USA.

It's scary in several ways. Look particularly at the bottom left under "Unfunded Liabilities".
Unfunded Liability - (n) liability is a debt or obligation one party owes to other(s) some future date in time. Debt gets commonly settled by payment or performance of a service. An Unfunded Liability describes any liability, debt, mortgage, or obligation that one either does not have savings set aside for it. 
At present the US Government has unfunded liabilities of $126 trillion. Just to be clear the US government has promised to $126 trillion but has no budget for paying any of it. This is medicare, pensions, social security, government debt, and so on.

And the GDP of the USA is $19 trillion. So the unfunded liabilities are 679% of GDP.

What happens when the US government defaults on its obligations? The constraints on debts to banks and other nations mean they will get priority. A major power defaulting on debts would threaten global chaos on a scale that would make the global financial crisis look like a day in the park. So what will happen is defaulting on domestic obligations: medicare, pensions, social security.

The other thing to notice is the differential between rise in wages and the rise in health care and education. Comparing 2000 and now.
mean income:      $30,872 → $33,445 (+  8.3%)
healthcare costs:  $5,508 → $11,516 (+109.1%)
college tuition:  $11,897 → $24,568 (+106.5%)

This trend is only continuing. It goes with another fact: successive generations have saved less, and fewer have saved at all, for retirement. Saving for retirement requires that we earn enough to put some aside. In my life time the developed world has moved from the wages of one man supporting the entire family with some put aside for a pension, to the wages of both parents being insufficient for live on.

This has been great for corporate profit margins. It has been great for shareholder dividends in this generation. But in another 50 years not only will the population be aging and longer lived, but it won't have saved for retirement. Just at the time when the government's own financial crisis is forcing them to stop spending on domestic obligations.

23 Oct 2019

Some Thoughts on the Politics of the Bottom.

From the protests in Chile:

“We are not from the Right
nor from the Left.
We are from the Bottom
and we are coming for the ones at the Top”

In the politics of the Bottom we have to acknowledge that the Bottom have a uniformly terrible experience of government bureaucracy. They especially have a terrible experience of the legal system and the welfare system. Less money is spent on the Bottom. They get a worse education. They work harder. They don't live as long. They are bullied by the state and management. They are despised.

So the Bottom might not see socialism (the state running things) as a great idea. Handing power to the people who torment, torture, and kill the Bottom may seem like a bad idea to folk at the Bottom. Hence, many vote on the right to the consternation of the left. And they would not be wrong. You cannot empower the disempowered, by handing power to the state. The social liberal aims to give the Bottom a step up through education, healthcare, etc. But the bias in the system constantly sabotages this.

Unfortunately, contra the Liberal myth, the Bottom want to be empowered without taking responsibility. Who appears to offer this? Fascists. The Mafia. Gangs...
"Join us! No one will push you around (except us), we'll look after you and your family, you'll make good money, and there is a career path if you want it."
Fascists understand the bottom better than Socialists or Social Liberals. This is not a good thing... Economic Liberals (NeoLiberals) see the Bottom as an obstacle to prosperity.

The is a problem of Essentialism: the idea that being at the Bottom is not a matter of circumstances or chance; that is is somehow meaningful. If you trace back, people at the Bottom usually had everything taken away by the Top at some point and never recovered.

We have to somehow find a new dynamic. The court cases in the USA which aim to hold the oil companies to account for their deceptions on climate change is one good sign. Similarly the holding of big pharma to account for the opioid crisis.