The World This Week: Be Afraid, Be Very Afraid
Many Americans are deeply uneasy about Hillary Clinton, whose chances have been hurt by revelations about her health and by the violence that hit the US this weekend.
Time rides a winged chariot and keeps flying by. This week was no exception, leaving this author with a deluge of events to swim through. The US and Russia concluded a ceasefire in Syria that obviously did not include the Islamic State or al-Qaeda. The limited ceasefire itself seemed like an arrangement that would not last.
More importantly, the US decided to shower Israel with $38 billion over ten years in a historic military aid deal. Given the recent spats and history of mutual dislike between the leaders of the two countries, Uncle Sam’s generosity might come as a surprise to some. Therefore, this author penned a blog post at Fair Observer to explain the reason for continuing American munificence to a tempestuous ally that believes the tail wags the dog.
Even as the US hugged Israel tight, violence broke out this weekend in the land of the free and the home of the brave. First, a pipe bomb exploded on the route of a charity race in New Jersey for soldiers and sailors. Second, a stabbing attack in a shopping mall in Minnesota left eight people injured. Third, a pressure cooker containing shrapnel exploded in New York, injuring 29 people. Another unexploded bomb was found nearby.
Truth be told, the attacks themselves were not significant. No one died. However, they are affecting the American mood this election season. In a piece of news that has largely gone unnoticed, the nation’s largest police union has endorsed Donald Trump. More than two-thirds of the union’s national board supported him. The union has historically supported Republicans, though it did not endorse Mitt Romney in the 2012 election. Trump is no ordinary candidate, however, and he has an unsavory reputation that tarnishes those who associate with him.
Therefore, the union’s decision to support Trump is indicative of a wider shift in voter sentiment. Many supporting Trump are bigoted misogynists or unabashed racists. Yet many well-meaning Americans are tilting to Trump. In numerous conversations at bus stations, construction sites and down-at-heel diners, this author has found Americans rationalizing their support for Trump in different ways.
A close friend who supported Bernie Sanders told this author that Hillary Clinton is far too war-like to hold power. Trump has savaged the Bush family and damned the Iraq War in a way that redeems his sins. In contrast, Hillary Clinton voted for that disastrous war and the PATRIOT Act. More importantly, she is unwilling to hold her hand up and admit her mistakes. While Trump might be a lying braggart and an obnoxious bully, Clinton was a wolf in sheep’s clothing and would persist with a status quo that is untenable.
Another Trump supporter who is an independent made a case for voting for the Republican candidate to register his protest against a “political class [that] has grown increasingly detached and disconnected from the lives of an overwhelming majority of Americans.” He argued that current elites “seek to build an impossible society, or worse, a society whose model, we know, doesn’t work not only for everyone, but not even for 30% of the population.” As he memorably said, “a society made of only software engineers cannot function.” After all, even Google engineers need someone to manufacture the computer servers on which their software runs.
This Trump supporter is one among many who argue that globalization has failed, that trade treaties have taken jobs abroad, and that the American working class is suffering as a plutocratic global elite gets wealthier and wealthier. There is certainly more than an element of truth to this argument. In fact, in an earlier edition of The World This Week, this author argued that Trump has a point.
Trump’s criticism of the Iraq War is bold, especially given the fact that he is the Republican candidate. Trump rightly terms Bush’s foreign policy a disaster where “logic was replaced by foolishness and arrogance.” Trump is also making an oft-overlooked fact. American workers did lose out as American managers moved factories overseas to cut labor costs and increase profits. The managers were only fulfilling their fiduciary duty to maximize profits for shareholders who have done rather well even as workers have suffered.
When factories started moving away, Americans were still able to live well because of the property bubble, fueled by Alan Greenspan’s low interest rates. They were able to buy cheap products manufactured in China at Walmart. Out went Mom and Pop shops. In came the big corporations with economies of scale, low prices and almost infinite choice. At the same time, the Internet promised a brave new world. For a while, everyone was a winner in the era of globalization. Yet as most Americans are now painfully aware, the party did not last forever.
During the last two and a half decades, the benefits of globalization that Bill Clinton championed during his two terms have gone largely to the Goldman Sachs-types who sat in his cabinet and who now pay huge speaking fees to his wife. As this author has repeatedly pointed out, the financial liberalization pushed through by the Clinton consiglieres despite warnings by those who argued for prudence led directly to the Great Recession of 2008. President Bush’s response to the recession was bailing out the “too big to fail” banks through taxpayer money, a classic case of capitalism on the upside but socialism on the downside. Neither the Tea Party nor Occupy Wall Street was too pleased with bankers paying themselves bonuses with taxpayer’s money while sanctimoniously claiming that they were “doing god’s work.”
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It is this incestuous world of hobnobbing politicians and financiers that is riling up voters. No one epitomizes this noxious nexus more than the Clintons. Over the years, the Clinton Global Initiative has emerged as a watering hole for far too many shady characters, and money has flown into the Clinton Foundation after decidedly dodgy deals. In a classic investigative story, The New York Times chronicled how Canadian mining men profited handsomely from a Russian uranium deal and then proceeded to donate generously to the Clinton Foundation.
These Canadians are longstanding friends of the Clintons. They “built, financed and eventually sold off” a company that became known as Uranium One. This sounds like a straightforward transaction by astute businessmen. The trouble is that the Canadians sold out to the Russians, and Uranium One owned some of the richest uranium mines in Kazakhstan as well as 20% of all uranium production capacity in the US. Hillary Clinton, as US secretary of state, signed off on the deal even as Bill Clinton received $500,000 for a speech in Moscow from a Russian investment bank with close ties to the Kremlin.
All of this might be legal but it raises issues about conflicts of interest if not outright corruption. Many, including New Hampshire Review, have compared the Clintons to the scheming Underwoods of the popular television series House of Cards. Even David Geffen, a Hollywood mogul and once a major donor to the Clintons, once remarked about them: “Everybody in politics lies but they do it with such ease, it’s troubling.”
Hillary Clinton is a deeply damaged candidate with far too many skeletons in her cupboard. She has been in power far too long and, as someone wise once said, power corrupts. Earlier this year, she ironically delivered a speech on income inequality in a $12,495 Giorgio Armani jacket. It evoked Marie Antoinette’s apocryphal comment about the starving sans culottes: “If they have no bread, let them eat cake.” Actually, the irony is worse because the Clintons claim to represent les sans culottes while gorging on foie gras.
The oft-repeated charge against the Clintons is that they have courted the left with their stated intentions while appeasing the right with their actions. In a 1999 article for Salon, Charles Taylor wrote that he could not support Bill Clinton’s reelection in 1996 because “the callous Welfare Reform Act (a name that disguised its true intentions); the (similarly misnamed) Defense of Marriage Act, with its craven middle-of-the-night signing; the First Amendment-trashing Communications Decency Act” were “pieces of legislation that might have been expected of the far right.”
Those who defend the Clintons point out that the collapse of communism had created a new zeitgeist where everyone embraced heartily, including many in former politburos. They give Bill Clinton credit for balancing the budget, and appreciate Hillary Clinton for attempting health care reform. They see Clintons as pragmatists who wielded power to achieve the possible and hold the climate change-denying, anti-abortion, tax-cutting Republicans at bay.
Whatever their supporters say, the Clintons are a little past their sell-by date. The new royalty that they have created with McKinsey-trained Chelsea Clinton as heir-apparent is disconcerting to many. Political dynasties are commonplace around the world, but the Clintons are under fire because their claim to speak for the underdog does not wash anymore in an age of increasing inequality.
Given the unease against the Clintons, it would make sense if the Americans turned to someone with humble roots or new ideas. The tragedy is that they are turning to Trump. This is a man with a history of lying, bullying and fearmongering. Like Ronald Reagan and Bill Clinton, he is a draft dodger who wriggled out of serving his country in war. He is a reality television celebrity with a nose for publicity. More importantly, Trump is yet to offer new ideas, a coherent vision or credible plans to the voters.
Furthermore, Trump is a spoilt rich brat who inherited his initial capital from his father. In building his fortune, he has left behind a trail of what The Wall Street Journal calls “a trail of unpaid bills.” In a masterpiece, John Oliver skewered Trump for incessantly lying through his teeth, for repeatedly failing in business, for exaggerating his net worth, for preying on the vulnerable and for just about skirting clear of the law. This self-proclaimed billionaire is turning out to be the ultimate Teflon candidate. Nothing sticks. Trump is the incongruous candidate for the party of family values despite bragging about his “experiences with women, often seemingly very happily married and important women.”
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This weekend’s violence combined with Hillary Clinton’s abrupt departure at a ceremony commemorating the 9/11 attacks is strengthening Trump. For many Americans, a strong leader is preferable to one suffering from pneumonia to fight the Muslim terrorists who want to destroy the land of freedom. They assume that because Trump is “independently wealthy” and does not have to worry about the economic future of his children, he owes nobody in the political establishment any favors and can make much-needed bold decisions. They hope that Trump will also run the country like a business and do terrific deals to “make America great again.”
The truth is that Trump personifies all that he rails against. He is a wealthy New Yorker who has lived a life of glitz and glamor. Trump has a history of using and abusing his privilege to make more wealth. He is a wheeler dealer who has profited from his political connections. In fact, the Trumps and the Clintons have been quite chummy in the past. Interestingly, Chelsea Clinton and Ivanka Trump continue to be friends. Both these families have thrived on the cult of success that dominates American consciousness.
As per Americano logic, Trump is smart because he is rich. Ipso facto, this smart man can solve the nation’s problems and be a great president. Americans forget that, given his record, Trump is quite likely to use the president’s office to benefit his cronies and children à la Silvio Berlusconi. Already, Trump is showing signs of being even more dynastic than the Clintons. At the Republican National Convention, Trump rolled out his mannequin-like Trumplets to trumpet his greatness. Yet Hillary Clinton is so unacceptable to many Americans that they are willing to vote for an abominable demagogue who speaks uncouthly, behaves disgracefully and is unfit to run for any office, leave aside that of president.
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Foreign Policy Narratives of The New York Times
The New York Times has constructed foreign policy narratives that have downplayed the suffering of people abroad, the role of America and multinational corporations, and the highly oppressive practices of US allies.
The New York Times has done some great reporting, much with foreign policy implications in an increasingly linked world. It has exposed the expanding Amazon model of micromanagement and grueling work practices, brought sunlight to cozy think tank-corporate alliances, and exposed government surveillance and the Pentagon Papers.
But as of late, the Times has become part of what Hollywood actor Matt Damon calls our topsy-turvy world. The New York Times offers biased, false foreign policy narratives. Sure, much of the media long ago abandoned their raison d’être, as Rolling Stone’s Matt Taibbi describes in “The Summer of the Shill,” hilariously explaining how a friend would go to Russian media for news about America and the American media for news about Russia. The bashing of Donald Trump… Read more
China Sets Up Shop in Africa
China’s military strategy takes a substantial leap with the construction of its first overseas military installation in Djibouti.
The People’s Liberation Army (PLA) of China will soon take control of a dual-use port facility in Djibouti. Designed to serve both military and civilian functions—thus the moniker of dual use—the naval installation will serve China’s national interests in the western Indian Ocean region and can be used as a platform for operations in the Middle East and Africa.
This is the first overseas military base for the People’s Republic. The PLA has historically focused its efforts at protecting China’s borders, which made the military an army-, not naval-, dominated force. This base, estimated to be finished in early 2017, demonstrates that the PLA is increasingly interested in the maritime domain. Once a bloated organization tied down by inefficiency and poor strategic planning, the PLA is becoming increasingly more efficient, technologically competitive and strategically prepared. The base being… Read more
Italy’s History in Africa is a Messy Affair
In the first of a three-part series, Fasil Amdetsion looks at the evolution of Italy’s relationship with its former colonies in the Horn of Africa.
Earlier this year, Italy hosted the first ever Italy-Africa Ministerial Conference in Rome. Held at the cavernous travertine-laden Farnesina headquarters of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the meeting was attended by high-level delegations from over 40 African countries.
In his closing remarks, Italian Prime Minister Matteo Renzi underscored his intention of broadening political and economic ties with the African continent, by voicing his hope for a “future in which Africa is seen not as the greatest threat—as some demagogues would have it—but as the greatest opportunity.”
The conference, which is intended to be a biennial affair, and Renzi’s visits to sub-Saharan Africa (the first ever by a sitting Italian premier) reflect the Italian government’s commitment to reinvigorating the relationship. Italy has been late to realize the mutual benefits that can accrue… Read more
Economic Crises and Political Uncertainty Plague Zimbabwe
With the economy in freefall and battling a rising tide of protest, Zimbabwe’s ruling party is in crisis.
Zimbabwe is facing a transition, but the outcome remains unclear. For months, the state has been battling a rising tide of protests and “stay-aways” prompted by economic collapse and poor management of the budget. The once-formidable opposition has finally found its unity following a decade of fractiousness, while the ruling ZANU-PF descends into factionalism and rivalry around the battle to succeed nonagenarian President Robert Mugabe at the helm of the kleptocratic state.
Balancing on the verge of economic collapse for over a decade, the Zimbabwean economy faltered in the early 2000s, recovered briefly (albeit from a low base) following dollarization in 2009 and has again hit the skids as it faces a biting liquidity crisis and foreign currency shortfall, leaving the country unable to pay its foreign and domestic debts. The International Monetary Fund (IMF), the World Bank… Read more
The Battle for Venezuela is Heating Up
National surveys show the economic crisis and food shortages have taken their toll on the quality of life for Venezuelans.
In Venezuela, more than half a million people marched on September 1 to protest against the government, calling on the electoral authority to approve a recall referendum against President Nicolas Maduro.
“In light of these objectives, amply fulfilled, I declare that the ‘taking of Caracas’ was a resounding success, marking the time of a struggle that starts now,” said Jesús Torrealba, secretary of the opposition Democratic Unity Roundtable (MUD).
Opposition supporters have expressed their disagreement with government policies and said that they felt “anger” because of the difficult situation Venezuelans currently face. Food shortages exceed 80% and more than half of the population claim to have gone to bed hungry, according to several national polls. The MUD has devised new methods of protesting and called on citizens to participate in a “National Cacerolazo” at 8:00pm and pound kitchen… Read more
The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Fair Observer’s editorial policy.
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