News roundup

Republican racism

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If the GOP convention had a motto it would be “make America hate again”. The theme of the convention was that of a broken America (actually the economy is doing well, a lot better than before Obama took over), where crime is on the rise (actually violent crime is down….and anyway won’t gun control be a better way of tackling gun violence?) and migrants are streaming across the border (migration into the US has been falling for sometime, more are going back to Mexico than are arriving, indeed a recent spike in arrivals is being blamed (ironically enough) on Trump’s talk of building a wall).

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Why do Republicans hate America so much? Fact checkers have had to go into overdrive trying to debunk much of what was said at the convention, notably by Trump himself. Even the Wall Street Journal (hardly a bastion of left wing sentiment) has dismissed Trump’s posturings as a recipe for a recession, that would hit low income workers that hardest.

Of course the problem is that Trump’s supporters long ago traded in the truth for comforting lies. Many actually acknowledge that they know he’s lying but they still don’t care, as they put his lies above someone else’s facts. If there was one thing that died in Cleveland it was any connection between Republicans and this little thing the rest of us call “reality”.

Perhaps most worrying of all is that it is now okay to be openly racist in the US. For years the GOP practised a system of dog whistle politics, whereby they would say certain things that at face value didn’t sound racist, but were in fact a nod and a wink to racist bigots along the lines of we know what you’re thinking and we dress up in hoods and burn crosses too.

Well now, many feel free enough to pull off their hoods and come out of the closet, resulting in a rise in hate crime. Of course, this is hardly a surprise given that it was a wave of hate that propelled Trump towards the nomination in the first place. For example, the old “Obama is a Kenyan and a Muslim” card was played by one of the speakers at the GOP convention (ignoring the fact that even if it was true Obama is from Kenya, the country is 82.5% Christian, i.e. he’d be more likely to be Christian than an American!). And David Duke, the KKK leader whom Trump was slow to disavow after he endorsed Trump, is now planning to run for office on the Republican ticket. This would be simply unthinkable a few years ago.

Fortunately, the polls do put Hillary still ahead of Trump, although perhaps not far enough. The current consensus is that she will probably carry most of the major swing states. She may struggle in Florida or Nevada, although if she captures all of the rest (where she is well ahead in the polls) it won’t matter. In congressional polls, the democrats are now also ahead.

One part of me wants Trump to lose narrowly, as this one mean his supporters don’t get the message, they’ll turn inward and tear the party apart – guaranteeing Hillary gets 8 years in charge, with control of both houses and the Supreme court. However, on the other hand, it would be much better for the GOP, and democracy itself in America, for the Trump camp to lose this election and lose big. I mean mass defections to the libertarian party, enough of a lead to Hillary that she sweeps the board in the electoral college, even in traditional GOP voting states. That might be enough of a shock to the system to scare the GOP party straight and make them realise they need to modernise as a party if they want to ever win an election again.

Oh how it Bernies

And worryingly there isn’t exactly a lot of unity on display at the Democratic convention. Firstly e-mails were leaked (fortunately this time nothing to do with Hillary) which showed how the DNC was conspiring against Bernie Sanders. Now this is not exactly a surprise, welcome to the messy world of politics! Indeed Bernie himself seemed to brush it off, endorsing Hillaryagain…. on the first day.

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However, he was met by boo’s and chanting from his own supporters (prompting one Hillary supporter to quib “this is what losers look like”). They don’t seem to get the message that they’ve lost, its a choice between Trump and Hillary now. Don’t get me wrong, I’m no fan of Hillary but I can tell the difference between two, admittedly unpleasant, but distinctly different post-election scenarios. One where we get Hilary, and she strengthens Obama care and implements one or two other left wing policies, but otherwise its business as usual. Or we get Trump…..and probably totalitarian rule and world war 3 shortly there after.

So the Bernie or bust brigade can’t dodge the question, are you happy for Trump to be president? Because voting for anyone other than Hillary or sitting out the election means you are essentially endorsing Trump. But Bernie can do very little about this. He’s no longer in control of his own revolution, nobody is.

Bears and guns

Speaking of Republicans and dumb animals, there’s the issue of bears and what to do if you meet a bear in the woods (well don’t disturb them if they are going to the toilet anyway, we all know what bears definitely do in the woods!). This was of interest to me as over the summer I was hiking in Sweden, where there are some bears (not many, but it is one of the few places in Europe where you might encounter a bear in the wild).

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Well the general advice is to avoid such encounters. Above all else you don’t want to surprise the bear (so make some noise and watch out near streams and waterfalls), as this would be interpreted as predator like behaviour by the bear. Equally you don’t want to soil your trousers and run away (this is prey like behaviour and even then it may follow as its curious as to why you are running). If all else fails, there’s bear spray. This is not a new brand of deodorant, but a very strong form of pepper spray.

Now gun nuts would say, well this is why I carry my 45 around with me. But the official advice is no, guns don’t help. A little 10g bullet ain’t going to stop 700 lbs of angry bear. Yes he might bleed to death or die of an infection several days afterwards, but that’s still going to leave him more than enough time to rip your head off. Making an already angry bear even angrier isn’t exactly helping.

So yet another of these gun myths is debunked. Guns don’t make you safer. Indeed, by luring people into a false sense of security they likely make the situation worse.

The unacceptable face of capitalism

Another big hairy beast is that of Phil Green Greed, the former owner of the now bankrupt BHS chain. He was slammed in a government report, which placed the blame for the collapse of the company on him, branding Mr Greed Green as “the unacceptable face of capitalism”. They also suggested that if he has any morals he should get out his cheque book and write out a cheque for £570 million to pay off the pensioners.

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Is he likely to do this? Like fuck he will! We are talking about one of the UK’s most prolific tax dodgers. He was relaxing on his new £100 million yacht while his minimum wage workers got sacked. Indeed, his response has been to demand an apology from the authors of this report. This is the problem with arseholes like this, or Mike Scrooge Mac Ashley over at Sports Workhouse Direct, they are so deluded and full of their own ego that they don’t see anything wrong with what they are doing.

Furthermore, this saga also debunks one of the central myths of capitalism – that it is always in the interest of a boss to run his company well. In truth it can often be easier to make money by deliberately steering it onto the rocks, milking the company dry, not investing in new products or infrastructure (just look at the railways), all while awarding yourself a massive salary. Then in the end, you burn it down for the insurance money, or dump the whole sorry mess on the taxpayer.

This is in fact a classic mafia trick. They’ll buy up a struggling (but on paper successful) business and run it into the ground, buy stuff on credit in one door and sell it out the back for half price. Then when the banks about to foreclose, they burn it down. The Kray twins used to pull this one all the time. The only difference is that they worked on a much smaller scale. So while they got a life sentence…..Mr Greed Green got a knighthood and a £100m yacht!

The IOC – More corrupt than FIFA

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The IOC, to the shock of many, decided not to issue a blanket ban on Russian athletes at the Rio Olympics, despite numerous and quite serious doping allegations, including evidence of systematic doping at the Sochi games. This passes the buck on to the individual sporting federations. However with just 10 days to go to the start of the Olympics it is extremely doubtful that they will be able to go through the process of banning athletes.

And the Russian whistleblower who risked her career and possibly her life to expose all of this? She’s been thrown under the bus. They were supposed to let her compete as a neutral but they’ve pulled back from that one.

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It is very difficult to avoid the conclusion that all of this was deliberate and planned. Anyone who thinks corruption in sport begins and ends with FIFA, I’m afraid not. The IOC president is known to be very friendly with Putin. And no doubt the IOC’s decision to hold the Sochi games in a Black Sea coastal resort miles from any snow was influenced by the decision of Putin to invite along his buddy Mr brown envelope, along with Mr ruble and his millions of friends. Naturally fearful that the Russians might expose this fact, the IOC deliberately dithered on this decision and waited until they knew it would be more or less too late for many of the sporting bodies to act.

Certainly it is true that doping is not just a Russian problem. If you believe that all Western athletes are clean, you are very naïve. However, we have evidence of blatant politically motivated interference here. I mean the evidence would seem to be that Russian athletes do train in a lab, wired up to a computer, surrounded by scientists injecting them with this or that, not unlike the training scene from the Rocky movie. Recent Russian sporting success is in fact more a success in pharmaceuticals and chemistry. And the message the IOC is sending is that even all of this can be ignored, if you pay us enough money. And to any whistle blowers the message is clearly a case of don’t even think about it.

One can only hope that hitting the IOC where it hurts, a vigorous boycott of their sponsors perhaps, will bring them to heel, although likely too late for this Olympics.

The labour civil war

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The labour civil war continues, both sides appear to be digging in. Corbyn says he ain’t going anywhere, even though it means he’s having to put up with cold silence from his side during PMQ’s. The PLP are also ignoring polls showing he’ll win by a landslide. And in retaliation, Corbyn is threatening nearly all of his own party with deselection before the next election. And in other developments, the party is threatening to block members from voting who are accused of “threatening behaviour, with party members asked to report such people – which will likely result in paranoia. Lawsuits are being filed by those barred from voting, and its likely the post of labour leader could ultimately be decided in court.

The likely sequence of events is therefore, Corbyn will almost certainly win the leadership challenge and starts a purge of his own party. The PLP will all defect to some new party, or the lib dems, Corbyn is left with a handful of hangers on (to the point where he can’t claim to be the official opposition anymore). In the next election the labour vote is split between the two factions. And the Tories, despite the economic woes of Brexit, still end up winning (presumably then going into power as a minority government or in coalition with New labour or the lib dems).

Could someone explain to me how this is helping anyone? Well anyone other than the Tories or UKIP! The fact is that Corbyn has lost the support of his own MP’s, I don’t see how he can lead the party now. Equally, the PLP need to realise there’s a grass roots push for real change (more old labour, less Tony Blair new labour) in the party and they need to listen to that.

Post coup Turkey

Last week some elements of the Turkish army, alarmed by the growing authoritarianism of President Erdogan, launched a coup. It was clearly half baked and not very well thought out. For starters they failed to capture him and his cabinet straight away. They didn’t even seem to be aware he wasn’t in the capital but away on holiday. Rule one of coups, get the guy you are trying to overthrow first. Every minute he’s free is a minute he’s mustering support in his favour. And clearly not all of the military went along with this. While Erdogan was becoming increasingly unpopular, there was no public appetite for a coup.

There is no worse case scenario for a coup plotter than launching one and failing. Its often said that if the US bid for independence failed then George Washington and all of those who signed the declaration would have been hung as traitors. The British colonies to this day would celebrate their own form of Guy Fawkes night, where effigies of the traitors of Philly are annually burned. Consider that Hugo Chavez regime is still in power in Venezuela, despite the fact he’s been dead for several years now, because despite the country’s many economic woes, no one wants to be associated with those who supported the US backed coup against him.

And so predictably, far from sending the message to Erdogan that he needs to tone things down a notch, instead its led to little short of a massive political purge. Tens of thousands have been arrested or sacked, including teachers. Several ships of the Turkish navy are still apparently missing. The US-based cleric Fethullah Gulen, a critic of Erdogan’s regime has been blamed by the Turkish government for the coup, although there is very little evidence to support this notion. Even so they have used it as an excuse to round up his supporters, who along with other opposition groups make up the bulk of those arrested (and no doubt some tortured confession will quickly emerge to retrospectively justify all of this).

There is even talk of bringing back the death penalty. This would of course invalidate Turkey’s application for EU membership. In short Erdogan is emerging as even more authoritarian that before. No doubt there will be another spike in asylum seekers fleeing Turkey, this time Turks rather than Syrians. Europe’s main ally in the region now threatens to become a source of instability and mass migration itself.

The Panama papers – an update

Finally, if you thought that whole Mossack Fonseca business had just blown over, well no. More revelations are being made every day. The latest releases relate to Africa and they reveal a fairly dirty web, showing how tax havens are used to rob the continent of its vast mineral wealth. This matters a great deal. Its often said, that on paper, if you add up the mineral resources, the population and the assets at Africa’s disposal, it should be the wealthiest continent on earth, not the poorest.

But for years Western corporations (and increasingly Chinese ones) have co-operated with corrupt local rulers to plunder Africa, lining one another’s pockets in the process, while the locals are stuck with the mess left over afterwards.

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A history lesson for Brexiters…which they’ll never learn

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On Tuesday a group of 500 history academics signed a letter calling for the UK to remain in the EU. They warned that to leave the EU would be to condemn Britain to “irrelevance”. This list included many well known household names such as Ian Kershaw, Suzannah Lipscomb, Simon Schama and Niall Ferguson.

The last of these names was a bit of a surprise as he’s been critical of the EU in the past. However, like his colleagues Dr Ferguson has clearly decided that leaving would outweight any benefits. As he put it:

“The lesson of history is that British isolationism has often been associated with continental disintegration.”

He also accused the Leave camp of promoting a warped “scissors and paste” view of “plucky” Britain throughout history, that ignored certain historical realities (such as how impossible it would have been to win either world war without the aid of European allies or the US).

And this intervention comes on the back of a similar intervention from 150 leading scientists (including Stephen Hawking) warning that leaving the EU would be “a disaster” for science in the UK. And of course many leading economists and ex-US presidents and advisers have also warned of the consequences of leaving the EU.

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The leave camp will no doubt mumble about “bias”. But seriously, academics, particularly those from very diverse fields rarely agree on anything. All of them coming out against Brexit does kind of suggest there’s reasons to worry about it (no smoke without fire).

Unfortunately, I doubt these interventions will have any effect. If you are over 50, non-university educated, on a low wage (or retired or not working) and you get most of your news through tabloids, then you are more likely to be a leave voter.

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The reality is that most Brexit supporters aren’t going to influenced by any statement from academics, in part because they are never going to hear about it (the tabloids are certainly not going to publish them). This is why the leave camp know they can drive around in a battle bus with misleading slogans scrawled on it, despite the fact they have been thoroughly debunked weeks ago, and yet still keep a straight face.

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Indeed the “curry row is a good example of the sort of BS the leave camp is aiming for. At the moment thanks to a Tory policy (forced upon them by UKIP) you have to be earning over a certain threshold of money to become resident in the UK, which is making it difficult for UK curry houses to recruit staff from Asia. Some have responded by recruiting from Eastern Europe instead. The contrarian logic of the Brexiters is, oh leave the EU and the Eastern European chef’s will be on an equal footing with Asian ones.

Of course the reality is that actually Brexit will mean restaurants won’t be able to recruit any staff and some will be forced to close down. Clearly the problem here is a xenophobic immigration policy taken straight out of the Daily Mail and implemented without first working out its implications. However, this tactic of divide and rule is exactly the sort of methods the British used in India, pitting one ethnic group against the other. And ethnic minorities are overwhelmingly likely to vote Brexit, so you can see what the leave camp are up too.

And of course the irony is that anyone on a low wage (or worse retired and thus on a fixed income), many of whom will vote for Brexit regardless of what is said over the next few weeks, are the very people who will get absolutely screwed over if the UK leaves.

This is what worries me about the up coming referendum. It is not a rational decision being made by well informed voters. It is a vote based fear, prejudice, ignorance and lies. To paraphrase Churchill, never in the field of politics has such a momentous decision been made by so many so ill informed.

When you ignore the lessons of history…

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The election of a Green as president in Austria was soured by the high number of votes going to the far right.

While it seems that Austria has pulled back from the brink of electing a fascist as president. But hat nearly half the population were willing to do so is deeply disturbing. Those who ignore the lessons of history are doomed to repeat them.

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And for those who argue that the Austrian Freedom party are now mainstream, no fascists here, well what are they doing going around with blue Cornflowers on their lapels? For those not in the know, this was the symbol used by Austrian nazi party when they were banned between 1934 and 1938 (after trying to overthrow the government and murdering the Prime Minster). Hofer could not send out a stronger signal as to his views, short of dressing up in an SS uniform….only that would get him arrested!

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It would be a convenient time for many to go and watch Lawrence Ree’s excellent BBC series the Nazi’s a warning from history and its follow up “Auschwitz: The Nazis and ‘The Final Solution”. For there are many trends from the rise of the nazi’s that we see playing out again, both sides of the Atlantic.

Firstly the fact that Hitler was helped into power by those on the right (this is in fact the title of Ree’s first episode). Trump, and many European far right leaders, faced significant opposition from those on the centre right establishment initially, only for them to both become allies in the end. Well the same was true of Hitler. While in the history books we remember him for his fiery speeches. But when necessary he could tone things down, put on a suit and play the moderate deal maker. This was how he was able to worm his way into power.

Secondly, there is this myth of history that the nazi’s ceased power in an undemocratic way. Certainly once in power they began to abuse it and ignored or removed the checks and balances designed to limit or stop them destroying democracy. But the sad fact is that he was elected with 33% of the votes on a 80% turn out (this was the election just before the Reichstag fire). This means he had a mandate from 26% of the population, as compared to the recent Tory election “victory” of 2015 where they got 37% of the votes, with a turn out of 66% (i.e. a mandate from just 25% of the electorate). In subsequent elections the nazi’s achieved just short of a majority (although obviously one must doubt how honest such elections were). Even so the disturbing fact is is that Hitler won a larger mandate from the German electorate than David Cameron.

So while yes Hitler did abuse power, this would never have happened if it weren’t for millions of Germans buying into his racist rhetoric and voting for him. Of course the parties of the left in Germany at the time warned that he was a wolf in sheep’s clothing. But no we were assured, he’s only “talking tough” and “telling it like it is”. He has to say these things to appeal to the common voter. When he says he wants to ban all Muslims Jews he doesn’t actually mean that. The real enemy is bearded lefties like Corbyn who….might tax us a little bit more to help pay for the NHS (shock horror!)…and may have said something bad about Israel’s policy in the West bank.

And as Ree’s series describes, support for the nazi’s remained strong throughout Germany (Chaos and Consent), with many millions actively collaborating with the nazi’s (ratting out neighbours, turning in Jews, etc.), right up until the middle of the war (when it was obvious what madness they’d signed up too, but it was a little late then!). And crucially, as Ree’s 2nd series points out, it would be incorrect for us to lump the entire blame for nazi crimes on the Germans alone – many other nationalist groups in neighbouring countries supported them.

The Austrians, as noted, had their own nazi parties (yes they had more than one!). And they didn’t exactly put up much of a fight when the nazi’s took the country over (they were just as fascist already, it was more a dispute over whether they wanted to be Austrian nazi’s or German ones). Indeed, many became enthusiastic supporters of the reich (Hitler after all was Austrian, not German). I recall someone once pointing out to me that of all the countries that needed laws banning fascism it was Austria. This week’s result suggests those laws need strengthening.

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One can draw many similarities between current neo-fascists and similar parties that supported the nazi’s and collaborated in the holocaust.

In Hungary during the war the Arrow Cross, of which Jobbik is the natural successor, seized control and then allied with the nazi’s and fought alongside them. Many of the Jews and Gypsies who died in Auschwitz came from Hungary, rounded up and deported there by Hungarian fascists. The Poles too, even thought they had been invaded by Germany and many did resist the invaders, but some Poles did collaborate with the nazi round up of Jews and other minorities. Some played an active role in the Holocaust itself, as also happened in a number of the Baltic states.

Perhaps the worst offenders however were the Slovak’s. Not only did they hand over all of the Jews, but they actually ended up PAYING the nazi’s to take them away (yes really!). And of course there were plenty of people in countries like France (friends of Le Pen one assumes) or Norway who also collaborated with the nazi’s. Many tens of thousands from these countries actually joined the SS and fought on the Eastern front.

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Oh, and speaking of collaborators there’s another twist to these neo-fascist movements. Many are allied with Russia’s Vladimir Putin, either being formal allies, admirers of Putin (such as Trump or Farage) or are openly taking money from Moscow. Yes, all these ultra-nationalist marching around, waving flags, proclaiming how they are proud to be French, British, Hungarian and how they reject outside influence, yet they are essentially stooges of the Kremlin!

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Le Pen meets her bosses, how very patriotic!

So clearly what recent events show is that we have a major problem with an undercurrent of fascism throughout Europe and America that needs to be challenged. And I stress America, for as this documentary from the Beeb shows there is growing far right problem in the US too (which with the combination of guns in the US I fear is almost certainly going to lead to trouble).

My guess is that about 33-20% in some countries subscribe to these views. They are then able to con enough of the remainder (generally those from the centre right) into supporting them, often by stoking fears about immigration or other lies about the parties of the left. This is one of the reasons why the lies of the leave camp in the UK are so worrying. Its critical therefore that something must be done.

And what must be done is not repeating the mistakes of the past, when politicians and business leaders got into bed with the fascists, seeing them as a better alternative to those on the left. Well they are not. When a politician comes along advocating mass deportations, turning the country into a police state, defaulting on the nation’s debts, abolishing unions and the minimum wage we have to take him at his word. Even if he flip flops on it the following week. Because history tells us we cannot take the chance that he means what he says.

US election update

Out of Cruz control

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Well the big news I suppose was Ted Cruz dropping out of the race. To be fair, he was something of a forlorn hope, as many argued Ted Cruz was as bad as, if not worse, than Trump. I mean let’s read of a few of his ringing endorsements:

Ted Cruz is Lucifer in the Flesh” John Boehner

If you shot Ted Cruz on the floor of the senate, and the trial was held in the Senate, nobody would convict you” Mitch McConnell

Voting for Cruz over Trump is like picking between being shot or poisoned, I choose to be poisoned, who know’s maybe they’ll find a cure” (ya its called Hilary Clinton!) Lindsey Graham.

And that’s his supporters talking! His policies were crazy, a little less fascist than Trump’s yes, but not by much. Needless to say, even if he unseated Trump at a messy convention, his chances of winning against Hilary were pretty low, once people realised what they were signing up for by voting for him (basically national bankruptcy and stern authoritarianism).

John Kaisch also dropped out. He actually had a fighting chance against Hilary (in that he’s vaguely sane!), he’s rated well in the polls. Although that’s probably more because many people don’t know much about him, i.e. that he was a Lehman brother executive.

These two candidates dropping out at the same time does sort of hint at orders from above. As always with the GOP, we have to read between the lines to figure out what’s happened behind the scenes. Its possible the republican establishment has made peace with Donald Trump, although the current lack of endorsements from past presidents, candidates or the speaker suggests otherwise….its equally possible they are planning to back Hilary!

My guess is that the GOP establishment have simply decided to write off this year’s presidential election, instead focusing on senate and congressional races. Hilary is arguably the most right wing democratic candidate to emerge in recent years, so contrary to the anti-Hilary rhetoric you will hear from Fox News, the bottom line is they can live with Hilary as president.

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The polls put her at least 6 points ahead already. And such polls often ignore the 12% of “don’t knows”. The trouble for Trump is that “don’t knows” tend to pick the safest and least radical candidate, the one promising the least amount of change, which in this election is Hilary. So the balance of probability is her winning and winning by a significant margin, not least given how well she’s doing in certain key demographics (in truth Hilary could finish behind Trump nationally and still win, just via the way certain swing states will likely vote).

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Hilary would rate as the least radical candidate still in the race….and this is the Wall Street Journal talking!

Keep in mind (based on the 2012 results), a 5 point lead gives her all of the swing states and at 10 points even states like Georgia, Missouri, Arizona or Indiana become vulnerable. And any significant shift by GOP voters to a third party (e.g. the Libertarians) could lead to near total wipe out for the GOP.

Already the Koch brothers have stopped funding presidential super-pac’s and started moving money the way of senate and congressional races (which would have been another factor in Cruz and Kaisich dropping out). Ultimately if they can control the senate and congress, then they can control the white house regardless of who is in charge. They’ll want to deny Hilary a majority, although with Trump as the candidate, that might now be impossible. Even John McCain is getting worried he might lose now Trump’s the nominee.

So at the very least they’ll want to deny Hilary a large majority. At between 55-60% the democrats will be able to over ride filibustering (depending on how many Republicans they can get to support said bill). This means they will be able to present bill after bill after bill. In theory the first 100 days of Hilary could see more legislation passed than 8 years of Obama, if enough senate and congressional seats can be won.

All in all, the GOP establishment probably now see Trump as the best way for them to win back control of their party. They let the baby have his bottle, wait till after Trump’s crashed and burned and then they’ll be able to say to the Tea party types “you guys had a simple job to do, pick between Tweedledum and Tweedledee (Bush and Rubio!), but instead you picked someone as racist and retarded as your redneck inbreed trailer trash selves. And what did it get us? The worst election performance since Herbert Hoover, loss of the senate, congress, supreme court, Hilary as president, Nancy fu&%ing Pelosi as VP (actually it could well be Wesley Clark) and Elisabeth Warren as chief justice. So next time you guys need to do what you’re effing told and leave the thinking to us, that how the GOP is supposed to work dammit!”

How bad could Trump be?

Well just a taster from some of his recent announcements regarding economic policy (see a Young Turks video on this here). Basically he proposed to borrow massively, then renege on those debts and drive the country over the fiscal cliff as and when he can…………………. ……..I’m pausing right now so that any bankers or economists reading this can get back up off the floor…..Trump winning would be disaster for both them or indeed anyone with any interest in this thing the rest of us call “money” (so Bernie Sanders supporters have nothing to worry about then!).

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Trump’s tax plans would require a significant rise in borrowing, even assuming no rise in public spend (to pay for wars, walls & border guards, etc.)

Obviously with the threat of a national default looming over them, many investors will stop lending money to the federal government, as they will only do so if they consider it low risk (pension funds are all but legally obliged to only take on certain forms of safe investments). The value of the dollar will plummet as those hanging onto US bonds dump them, interest rates for the US government (if they are able to borrow at all) will rise, which will then have a knock on effect across the wider economy In short, mortgages will go up along with personal and business loans, insurance, etc. And we are talking rises of 10 perhaps 15% (about what happened last time there was a major crisis like this). At the same time the costs of buying in goods from abroad will go up, likely leading to higher inflation (bad news if your on a fixed income like pensioners).

Keep in mind that what caused the last financial crisis was the fact that assets previously considered to be triple A safe (mortgage backed securities) turned out to be not so safe. Banks stopped lending to one another as nobody knew who was holding the bag. This same scenario would play out again, except now there would be no bailout, as the Federal government would be what’s in trouble. While the IMF would normally step in at this point and restore order, its difficult to see them reaching a deal with Trump. Given that the first thing they’d demand is that he commits to paying back all bond holders and balances the US books through a crash program of austerity and tax rises that would make what Greece when through seem mild.

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So in essence a vote for Trump could well be a vote for economic chaos. Its no wonder he and the establishment are at odds with one another.

Crash and Bern

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So primary season is over you say? well no, Bernie Sanders, who is wildly popular with youngsters who don’t understand how politics work millennials, is still running. His supporters still think he can win, they need to learn about this thing called maths .

Bernie’s supporters point to polls which put him well ahead of Trump and suggest he would be better able to beat Trump than Hilary. Certainly, I do agree that Hilary’s biggest problem…is that she’s Hilary Clinton. There’s a certain segment of US society who have been indoctrinated by the media to sooner gnaw their own arm off than vote for her, but there-in lies the problem for Bernie supporters. Bernie is only ahead in these polls because many aren’t as familiar with him than they are with Trump or Hilary. If we were to put together a poll of Hilary v’s David Franklin or Franklin v’s Trump you’d probably find Franklin winning…at least among those who didn’t know Franklin’s a convicted serial killer!

The fact is going around America calling yourself a socialist isn’t exactly a way to win an election. Now okay, to be fair the US has its own form of socialism, in the form of massive subsidies to certain special interests (farmers, anyone who drives a car, republican leaning states, corporations who supply the Federal government, etc.). Its basically the united states of France. The only difference is that in other countries such spending is more evenly distributed and they are better at raising taxes to pay for it. So what Bernie is proposing isn’t that radical.

But there have been many Americans who have been raised from birth to believe that socialism is the work of the devil. That its anti-democratic and will involve the “feds” coming to take away all of your wealth, guns, grandma (to the death panel) and ban all religion. Now yes, that’s a pile of grade A BS, but its the sort of thing that would cost Bernie a lot of votes, and he’s not been doing very well in certain key demographic’s he’d need to carry key swing states.

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If Bernie wins – A party election ad for Trump (actually its a Chick Tract, but same thing!)

Don’t get me wrong, I am not necessarily a Hilary supporter. Indeed I think its a travesty that the democrats could not come up with a compromise candidate somewhere between the extremes of Hilary and Bernie. But we are where we are. The fact is that Bernie continuing to run benefits only one person – Donald Trump. Bernie supporters who say “Bernie or bust” need to realise that this is the equivalent of declaring that you will vote twice for Donald Trump. Bernie needs to quit the race and endorse Hilary asap.

The Panama files

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The revelations from the Panama files of the law firm Mossack Fonseca have been on the one hand shocking, yet on the other oh so predictable. It is a well known fact that a large chunk of the world’s capital exists in a sort of “dark matter” like state. We know its there, we can see its effects when the rich flaunt their wealth, but nobody can pin down where it is, so its widely assumed to be tied up in tax havens.

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Note the data above based on a 2008 estimate, actual numbers may be much higher now.

Details are sketchy, but the estimate is that between $11.5 trillion and $20 trillion dollars is squirrelled away in tax havens, about 15% to 25% of the entire net worth of the global economy. That equals (or exceeds) the annual economic output of China. Its estimated that global governments lose out to the tune of between $100 billion to $255 billion in unpaid tax. And quite a lot of this money represents the proceeds of crime, or funds looted by corrupt regimes from the state coffers. At least $6.2 trillion of that money comes from developing nations (i.e. nearly half of the total, even though developing nations represent only about a quarter of the global economy).

What Mossack Fonseca were in the business of doing was acting as the intermediaries for transactions that allowed money to be spirited away, cached offshore in shell companies and then laundered back, often through the purchase of assets such as property in London for example. And as the BBC’s panorama reveals 95% of this company’s business was devoted to this kind of activity.

When most of us think of money laundering or offshore banking, we envisage some guy in a small office in the Cayman Islands wearing a Panama hat and Bermuda shorts with a safe in the back of the office. But no, Mossack Fonseca employs thousands of people and have many times this number in offices worldwide whom they will hire out to act as stool pigeons for dodgy deals. This is tax evasion and money laundering on literally an industrial scale. And the banks are clearly aware of this and compliant in such transactions.

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The top ten banks linked to the Panama papers

One of the methods that David Cameron’s dad employed, which was also used by the Brinks Matt robbers was “bearer bonds”. You’ve probably heard of these in a Hollywood film, where thieves break into a bank or an armoured car to steal a small suitcase which is somehow worth tens of millions because it contains “bearer bonds”. Well in truth bearer bonds have been largely banned in most of the world, given the obvious means by which they can be abused by criminals (or terrorists) to circumvent tax or money laundering legislation. However, it would seem that they are still in use, which is both shocking and on the other hand, not a surprise.

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In the wake of the Panama papers Putin searches for places he can hide away his millions in ill-gotten gains

And as noted many of the rich and powerful have been left with awkward questions to answer. A lot of the time its not what they have been saying, but what they’ve not been saying that counts. Osborne refused to answer any questions (then terminated the interview) on the issue of his offshore dealings. Parallels could be drawn with the same reaction from the Icelandic PM who has now resigned.

Cameron released a series of increasingly carefully worded statements which all but admitted that he had benefited from these offshore tax haven funds set up by his father. Indeed at the time of writing he’s actually now admitted that he had a stake. Now you’d expect Boris Johnson to use this as an opportunity to knife Cameron nice and quietly. Instead he’s been defending the PM, all but confirming that he too has had his hand in offshore deals like this. Oh, and search the Fox News site for “Panama files” brings up no hits (guess where Murdoch keeps his millions….).

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Cameron’s attempt to draw a line under all of this tonight, still leaves a lot of questions. Why would you set up a firm in the Bahamas, whose main beneficiaries (those that weren’t clearly front men….one was a local bishop) were all based in the UK, other than to avoid tax? He claims it was so they could trade in shares in dollars….then why not set up in New York or Delaware? And, given how many of these offshore shell companies often use property deals to re-shore funds, that raises questions as to how Cameron afforded a multi-million pound house in London. And it has also been revealed that while publicly talking tough about cracking down on offshore finance, Cameron has in private opposed efforts by the EU to crack down on tax havens.

And this brings us back to the EU referendum. The EU has been pushing quite heavily to end the “phantom zone” of offshore tax havens….which probably explains why so many of Farage’s hedge fund buddies favour Brexit  (Farage has been previously forced to admit he used tax havens). You can draw a direct correlation between EU efforts to crack down on tax havens and funds flowing the way of UKIP. The UK is a key hub around which many of these tax havens orbit. If the UK ceased to support them (Corbyn proposed direct rule be imposed on them) the system would start to break down.

And again, to be clear this is not a victimless crime. When Ian Cameron (or Farage) avoided paying tax, you paid the tax for them. Yes, Farage and Cameron as good as went around to every taxpayer in the UK and picked their pockets. And one of the facts that the Panama papers revealed is the degree to which the London property market is dominated by offshore dealings (Private Eye have a handy map tool available here). After all, the next best thing to a bearer bond, is the title deeds to a London flat. Of course the end result is British being priced out of the housing market by wealthy foreign billionaires using UK property (which they often leave empty) as gambling chips in a casino. Meanwhile Farage gets to blame foreigners for London being overcrowded.

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UK citizens now make up a minority of London property buyers…oh and the EU are just 4.7%

The company at the heart of this whole debacle have responded by pointing out that the only crime committed was by the person who leaked all this information. They also made some flippant statement about their e-mail being hacked. But its doubtful that anyone could access Terabits worth of data via e-mail (if they can what kind of an outfit are these jokers running!). No, I suspect an internal mole is involved. But unfortunately, they are almost certainly right, the only crime here was whoever leaked all this data, which perhaps highlights everything that is wrong with offshore banking.

Suffice to say action needs to be taken. Withdrawal from the EU will play right into the hands of those who want to turn the UK into essentially a giant tax haven (keep in mind that tax havens still need to be financed, typically through higher VAT rather than income tax, so those living in the country still end up paying quite a lot of tax). While I suspect Corbyn is going a bit far when he talks of imposing direct rule, some economic sanctions launched by Britain and the EU (block all trade, forbid anyone UK/EU citizen from owning shares in offshore funds, freeze all assets of said companies, travel bans, etc.) would have the desired effect.

However, perhaps the most obvious measure is to apply the blinding light of transparency. Make all companies that do any form of business in the EU, regardless of where they are based, declare all of their shareholders as well as the pay and earnings of senior company officials. Like vampires, these blood suckers prefer dark places, force them into the light and they’ll explode.

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Cameron’s Panamanian lawyer makes the mistake of opening the curtains

Unfortunately, neither the current PM, nor anyone else in the cabinet, are credible candidates to lead such an effort.

Tripping up Trump

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I pointed out last week that the GOP was facing a version of the prisoner dilemma, whereby they could stick together and try to stick it to Trump or act in their own selfish self interest and cosy up to the heir hair apparent (as Chris Christie did….and what the hell was he thinking while he stood there behind Trump!).

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Well it would seem after Super Tuesday, the rest of the GOP tried to imagine a Trump presidency… and after seeing visions of mushroom clouds, or him being hauled away in a straitjacket to the funny farm on his first day….or (more than likely!) Hilary giving her victory speech after sweeping the electoral college….they dug in their heels, threw their toys out of the pram and said hell no!

Over the last week, Trump has been subjected to a barrage of criticism from both his fellow candidates and from many GOP grandees. Mitt Romney called him a phony, a big fat phony. John McCain, joined in declaring him unfit for office, while 116 members of the GOP national security committee (which includes several ex-cabinet minsters, advisers and defence analysts) declared in a letter that Trump was “wildly inconsistent and unmoored in principle” “He swings from isolationism to military adventurism within the space of one sentence”.

And of course the Bush family do not like him (meaning we can add both still living Republican presidents to his enemies list). And as for those who see Trump as another Reagan, well as I discussed in a recent article, that is not the case and furthermore Reagan’s own son has been critical of Trump. So when we say the GOP establishment is against him, let us be clear, we mean pretty much an entire generation of the GOP including all living presidential candidates, presidents, many of the senior staff in those regimes and much of Congress including both the leaders of the house and senate.

I also mentioned in my prior article how Fox news faced a dilemma, in whether or not to go after Trump. The latest GOP debate suggests they’ve clearly decided to get the knifes out. They ambushed him on a number of fronts, notably Trump university (a degree mill scam Trump set up to capitalise on his Apprentice fame). Fox also introduced a new feature to the debates, a sort of “bullshit corrector” whereby if any of the candidates came out with some ridiculous grade A BS, the moderators would flash up an infographic proving he was talking codswollop.

Needless to say, Trump fell foul of this regularly, notably over his claim to be able to save $300 billion from the Medicare budget by negotiating a better price with drug companies. It was pointed out that the US spends a total of just $78 billion on drugs through Medicare, so even if he got all the drugs for free, he’s still be short by about $222 billion! Although oddly enough Trump was more interested in defending the size of his….hands.

I would note that I’ve long called for this in debates before (some sort of BS detector so that outragious claims can be proven to be false), notably in EU debates involving Farage and the out camp. It also does seem to suggest that Fox aren’t quite as incompetent as they’d like to pretend to be. As the Young Turks commented, Fox can do good journalism when they want to, its just they usually prefer not to as it means they can get away with the sort of silly lies and half-truths (e.g. how Birmingham is totally Muslim) they broadcast instead. But I digress….

The Red Convention

Plan A for the Republican National Committiee (RNC) had been to wait and let Trump self destruct all by himself, same as happened to many of his business ventures. While this will probably happen eventually, it probably won’t happen until after the primaries, perhaps even after the election and the RNC don’t want to wait. Plan B was to clear the field and leave in one clear challenger. But that hasn’t worked out either. So plan C seems to be to keep as many of the contenders in the field for as long as possible and deny him a majority. In effect they plan to sabotage their own primary voting system, so that the decision on the candidate will then fall to the RNC grandee’s at the convention in July, who are already working out how to knife Trump as painlessly as possible.

However, this tactic will benefit Ted Cruz more than anybody. Trouble is, there are plenty who consider him as dangerous, if not worse than Trump. And he is likely to be equally unelectable. While some polls do put him ahead of Hilary, this is probably because many voters aren’t familiar with his policies. For example, Ted Cruz wants a flat tax of 10%. The US gross domestic product is $18tn, the federal budget is $3.8tn. Even if the 10% tax is somehow applied to the entire GDP (which it won’t!). That still leaves him short by about $2tn! Doubling the flat tax might work, but that would amount to a massive tax hike for everyone who isn’t a millionaire and a tax cut for the wealthy.

I suspect the RNC plan is therefore to ice Cruz at the convention also, probably by leaking some documents regarding his ineligibility to be president to the press at a critical stage of the convention. I have this vision of Romney (who speaks French) calling out to him as he enters the convention hall “Bon Chance” and Cruz replying “Merci. Or maybe one of his aides will be caught at the border shipping in maple syrup (some varieties are banned in the US) and poutine?

That would push things the way of the chosen one Marco Rubio. He stands the best chance of defeating Hilary, but let’s face it he’s just a kid. I’m convinced he shows up to these debates on a skate board shouting cowabunga to Trump as he passes him. Rubio is the preferred candidate by the RNC simply because he can be controlled. And he can be controlled because if doesn’t anything he wasn’t supposed to do his mom will ground him.

In short, the GOP convention in July could get as bloody as the red wedding in Game of Thrones. But its likely that neither Trump nor Cruz will go quietly. If Trump has captured the most delegates, but is denied the nomination, then he’ll likely walk and run as an independent, splitting the party. And similarly I can’t see Ted Cruz going down without a fight, likely they’d have to give him a senior cabinet post or something. He might even ally with Trump or run as an independent himself.

Alternatively if the RNC don’t get their way, Trump being anointed at the convention could well prompt a series of high profile resignations and defections to the Democrats (perhaps giving Obama enough of a majority to push a few more things through). I wouldn’t rule out the possibility of some moderate republican (perhaps Romney or Paul Ryan) even running against Trump as an independent.

Why the GOP has to lose in November….to save itself

All in all, what the GOP has on its hands is a mess and a mess of their own creation. For years they’ve adopted a tactic of bait and switch, manipulating their base with the most outrageous lies, using fear and scare tactics, focusing on what are essentially fringe issues (abortion, vaccines, creationism), or adopting obviously contrarian and hypocritical position on issues (i.e. gun control, ignoring that many countries have liberal guns laws, but strong gun regulation and as a result few gun deaths…and ignoring the ease with which terrorists could exploit a lack of gun regulation). In all cases the intent of these tactics was to prevent the political debate moving onto more pressing topics (such as who was responsible for the financial crisis and is it any coincidence that since Reagan’s cuts to the top rate of taxes the US now has a deficit problem).

Indeed, the GOP’s attempts threat to filibuster to stop Obama appointing a new chief justice highlights everything wrong with the party. With the Supreme court now effectively split it cannot do its job effectively, its back log of cases will grow, and one of its key jobs is to curb the executive powers of the president (so if you are afraid of President Obama one can scarcely think of a dumber thing to do than delay the appointment of a supreme court justice). The court also oversees legislation passed by Congress. So in effect the GOP are arguing for a shutdown of the entire US government for the next 10 months or so.

If that sounds crazy, well the problem is its not that crazy to Republicans, as they’ve effectively shut down Congress for the last few years as they try to wait out the clock on Obama’s presidency, ignoring many of the issues their supporters worry about, be it the rising deficit or the fact that many are still struggling from the aftermath of the Great recession. In essence they’ve treated their supporters like sheep and now the sheep on animal farm are rebelling. Trump and Cruz are the inevitable consequences of this policy and its going to earn them Hilary Clinton as president.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not necessarily a fan of Hilary. If I had a vote in November, the only situation I’d vote for her would be to stop Cruz or Trump (although that said fallout boy is a climate denier….from Florida! That’s like being a snow denier from Alaska!) and then only if I lived in a swing state, otherwise I’d probably vote for a third party candidate. Which is exactly what I’d advise any Republicans who genuinely care about their party to do, regardless of who gets the nomination. If you can’t bring yourself to vote for Hilary, vote for a third party candidate or sit out the election. The GOP losing to Hilary and losing big, might just be enough of a shock to the system to knock some sense into the party.

The leadership would be forced to realise that they need to treat their supporters as voters and not sheep and that they need come up with policies that will actually help them, rather than soundbites. While the Tea party wing will be forced to realise that if they keep putting forward wingnut’s for election with crackpot policies they’ll loose every time to ever more left wing democrats.

Debunking the Great Reagan myth

A central founding myth of the Tea Party is the legacy of Ronald Reagan. It is one of the reasons cited for supporting Trump as they see him as another Reagan (although its worth noting that not even Reagan’s own son agrees with this one). Around Reagan, or Thatcher in the UK, cults of personality have grown that border on those of many a despot. Hence why I think it would be prudent and timely to de-construct this myth and expose the realities of the Reagan Presidency.

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Figure 1: Reagan has developed something of a cult of personality that ignores the realities of his reign

Myth #1 – Reagan brought down the Soviet Union

Reality: Reagan wasn’t even in office when the Soviet Union collapsed and there is very little evidence that his policies helped push it over the edge. Economic miss-management and internal opposition offer more plausible explanations for the USSR’s collapse

Reaganite’s have a habit of claiming credit for things that happened when he wasn’t even in office, yet they are often slow to accept blame for events that occurred shortly after he left office, or even when he was in office (as we will see when discussing the economy). But it has to be acknowledged that the Soviet union collapsed after he’d left office.

The massive military spending the US engaged in is often cited as the reason why the USSR collapsed, as it couldn’t compete with the US. However in truth Soviet military spending was fairly static over the course of Reagan’s presidency, with no significant increases. This is why Republicans often cite Reagan’s star wars program for being the final nail in the coffin.

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Figure 2: Soviet military spending and US spending, keep in mind Reagan was in power between 1981 and 1989, ironically there is a steep increase in spending under Jimmy Carter & Richard Nixon!

While it is true that the soviets did initiate a counter program to star wars, but Reagan’s supporters often exaggerate the scale of this program. One of the most expensive elements of this program was the Energia rocket booster which may well have consumed as much as 1% of the total soviet budget for a brief period. However it seems unlikely building one rocket would bring down the soviet empire. And besides Energia was a multi-use program that also launched the Soviet space shuttle and was envisaged as supporting future space station construction or space colonies. And the Russian federation continued to fund this program right up until 1993, two years after the collapse. It would seem strange, if we buy into the propaganda, that if the costs of this program were so crippling to the Russian economy they’d keep spending billions of rubbles on it for a further two years afterwards.

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Figure 3: The Soviet Energia rocket with the Polyus Orbital Weapons Platform test vehicle, on its way to the launchpad

Indeed the Russians continued to fund (and ultimately deployed) a number of other ABM counter measures even after the USSR collapsed. So the neo-con narrative simply does not correspond to the facts.

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Figure 4: If competing with the US star wars system was so crippling to the USSR, why did the Russian Federation continue to fund (and deploy) weapons systems like this Topol-M? (which can evade attempts to intercept it)

Aside – So why did the Soviet Union collapse?

Well the answer is a bit more complicated that the GOP preferred answer so it would be wrong for us to point to any one single cause. Books have been written about this topic. Certainly continued competition with the West did not help, but all the indicators were that the Soviet’s were spending money that they had. Military spending by the soviets was at around 7% of GDP and it was what was going on with the other 93% that was the problem. Western counter-espionage definitely helped, but it was the Europeans, most notably the French, who led the way here. But in simple terms, the Soviet union collapsed like a house of cards because it was a house of cards.

Ultimately the soviet system just wasn’t very good at organising at running a country. The talking heads in Moscow gave out orders and dictates, setting unrealistic targets divorced from reality and expected everyone to magically achieve them. Inevitably this created all sorts of problems. For example, they drained the Aral sea away in pursuit of cotton quotas. The Reactor at Chernobyl was built without adequate shielding and without sufficient numbers of trained staff to operate it (only one member of staff in the control room that night was a qualified nuclear engineer and he was fresh out of college!). The soviets also badly mismanaged their oil supplies, mining and other core industries. One need only look at a Lada of the era as proof of everything that was wrong with the soviet system.

Ultimately three events were largely to blame. Firstly the mismanagement of their agricultural system meant the soviets went from a net food exporter to an importer in the space of a few decades. Now initially this wasn’t a big deal, because they were also one of the world’s largest oil producers and thus they were able to use their petro-dollars to buy American grain to feed the soviet populace. This incidentally counters a key neo-con myth that the soviets wanted to destroy America. Had the Kremlin ever done so, they would have destroyed their main source of food and much of the surviving Soviet population would have starved to death over the proceeding winter.

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Figure 5: Missmangement of agriculture and a dire environmental policy played a major role in the collapse of the soviet system

Soviet oil production ensured they could easily spend their way out of trouble, until in 1988 when soviet oil production peaked. Given that ex-soviet oil production rebounded in the years after the soviet union, it is generally believed that this “peak” was an artificial peak caused by soviet mismanagement, rather than a geological peak caused by a lack of oil. Either way, shortly there after this the soviets started to have financial problems.

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Figure 6: Soviet Oil production, note how it rises again after the collapse of the USSR, suggesting that miss-management by the soviets might be to blame

And as if to make matters worse, the world was struck at the same time by a massive oil glut with oil prices tumbling. This was triggered by the fact that a number of OPEC nations began cheating on their quotas leading the Saudi’s to decide to “punish” them by opening the taps. However they did so right at the same time the global economy was entering into another recession, sending oil prices off a cliff. This pretty much bankrupted the USSR.

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Figure 7: Oil prices around the time of the Soviet collapse

Some Reagan supporters, aware of all of this, have tried to make out that this was all part of Reagan’s master plan. Pro-saudi bloggers claim instead it was the Saudi king’s idea. In reality, the collapse in oil price badly effected the Saudi economy. One of the reasons why many young saudi’s took to Afghanistan (forming what would become Al-Qaeda) at this time was because they had nothing better to do back home. And recall that the trigger for the price collapse was a sluggish economy. So we would have to believe that Reagan & H. W. Bush, along with the Saudi king, deliberately sabotaged their own economies to score a few political points against the soviets.

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Figure 8: The Soviet’s didn’t take down this wall because Reagan told them, the east Germans did it because the communist system had collapsed due to internal hubris

Finally, there were many long standing opposition movements to soviet rule, the Polish Solidarity movement for example, which started long before Reagan ever got into office. Naturally when soviet bloc citizens lost their jobs and got sick of queuing for bread, they began to listen to these people and the rest is, as they say, history.

Myth #2 – Reagan cut back public spending and pushed for a smaller government

RealityThe Reagan administration was one of the most prolific deficit spenders in US history, government spending massively expanded under his reign and much of it was squandered on pointless projects. And far from shrinking the US government, Reagan hired nearly half a million extra civil servants

It is, to say the least strange that committed anti-communists in the GOP will come up with such elaborate explanations as to why the soviet union collapsed when the more obvious reason (it was basically a crap system) is a lot more satisfying. Well that might have something to do with the awkward conclusion that if the USSR didn’t collapse because of star wars, it means Reagan took $209 billion of taxpayers money and urinated it up against a wall.

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Figure 9: Federal spending under Reagan was exceptional high, even higher than Obama or G. W. Bush.

Star wars basically didn’t work and was little more than a massive fraud. Thirty years later and none of the hardware they set out to develop has been deployed. It was the biggest waste of public money in the history of western democracy.

Yet star wars was merely one of a whole host of foolish military projects either started under Reagan, or ones from previous administrations which were a waste of money and should haven been cancelled, but which he continued. The B-1 program for example had been cancelled under Carter, but was revived by Reagan. In another example, he wanted a 600 ship navy (don’t ask me why) so they brought back into service a bunch of old WW-2 era battleships that had been essentially obsolete since the 1940’s.

And, ironically given how many Tea Partiers tend to be conspiracy nuts, the US “black budget” expanded significantly over the Reagan era, as did the secrecy around it. And there is good evidence to suggest it wasn’t being spent wisely. The two programs we know about, the B-2 and F-111 were both budgeted on the assumption of orders in the hundreds, but Congress rightly pointed out that this would be insane given how expensive these aircraft were. Its likely had both aircraft been subject to greater public scrutiny prior to this, they would have been cancelled or re-designed. The similar A-12 program, was able to resist cancellation under Reagan, only to be cut as soon as he was out of office.

And like I said, this is they stuff we know about. In 1987, an oversight saw the US budget include a line item for a half a billion to be spent on a black project called “Aurora. Conspiracy theorist have claimed that this might be some sort of alien spacecraft. I propose a more obvious explanation, the damn thing didn’t work and was such an embarrassing screw up (who knows maybe it crashed on take off) that the powers that be decided to use the cloak of national security to push some soil over the corpse and tip-tow away.

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Figure 10: The US federal deficit soared under Reagan

And it wasn’t just in defence spending that Reagan miss-spent. He’s often remembered for firing air-traffic controllers or cutting spending on welfare programmes such as mental health services. But he also expanded Medicare, the FBI, CIA and other intelligence services. He increased total federal-government employment (excluding the military) by 400,000. And he was doing all this using the country’s credit card. Reagan had been elected because Carter had run up a deficit of $79 billion. By the time he left office Reagan blew through $155 billion. Worse, Carter’s deficit was run up during a recession, while Reagan was running deficits at a time of economic growth.

Myth #3 – Reagan was a tax cutter and this stimulated the US economy

RealityReagan cut taxes for the wealthy but overall he put up taxes. There were three recessions during his reign and any growth during his reign wasn’t as spectacular as it is sometimes portrayed

The wealthy saw taxes fall from a top rate of 70% to 28%. However, the Reagan Adm. also slipped through a range of tax increases. In fact federal taxes increased every year of his presidency except for the first and the last.

This brings us to the question of why the US economy grew under Reagan, because the implication is the opposite of what is claimed by neo-liberals (i.e. Reagan put up taxes which caused economic growth !?! ). In truth there were a host of things going on, that we need to account for. The recessions of the 70’s had been quite severe and thus the rebound effect was equally large. This may have created the illusion of growth that was stronger than it was in reality.

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Figure 11: US GDP adjusted for inflation, note the recessions include two within his term and one during the following Bush(snr) presidency

Also, there was (as noted) an oil boom going on in the middle of his presidency, which naturally pushed up growth. Indeed, for Thatcher, once you account for the 10% added to government coffers each year because of the North Sea boom, the Thatcher era “boom” doesn’t look that spectacular. Back in the US, the early 80’s was also marked by a tech revolution in the form of video games and home PC’s beginning to reaching a mass market.

Furthermore we have to ask whether any growth under Reagan (or Thatcher) due to their market liberalisation was sustainable growth, or just a boom and bust bubble. I’d argue that recent events suggest it wasn’t sutainable growth. But even over the course of the Reagan Adm. there were several economic downturns. The first, was clearly the hangover from the Carter Adm. But the second occurred 2 years through his first term. Sluggish growth inter-spaced with various downturns and recoveries followed, with a further major recession under G. H. Bush (which, if we’re going to blame Carter for Reagan’s 1st recession, its only fair we blame Reagan for this 2nd Reagan recession).

So the growth under Reagan was at best sluggish and uneven and there is little evidence that they can be related to his policies. Noting that those policies including tax increases not cuts.

Myth #4 – Americans were better off under Reagan

RealityUnder Reagan, the rich got richer and the poor got poorer

A rising tide lifts all boats. Well not under Reagan. US unemployment increased under his term in office, largely because while the yuppies in Wall Street did rather well out of it all, many of America’s primary industries were being shut down. The Reagan era is the period when large parts of the US industrial heartland became a rust belt. And in the UK Thatcher too presided over a period when many UK manufacturing towns went from full employment to virtual welfare colonies.

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Figure 12: Wages and purchasing power under different US presidents

And should anyone blame the unions for all of these, its worth noting that many of these job’s didn’t go to Asia, but they simply moved to other Western countries. At the same time for example, that ship building was in decline in the UK, new ship yards were opened in Finland and Germany, which got (and still get) many of the very same liner contracts that used to go to Newcastle and Glasgow dockyards. And in Germany and Finland union membership is actually compulsory for workers in certain heavy industries. Similarly car makers in the UK and US started to slide at the same time that German and Japanese car production rose.

And not only did Reagan or Thatcher do nothing to stop this, they actually encouraged the collapse of heavy industry. Quite apart from Thatcher’s ideologically motivated attack on the coal mining unions, this was also the era of corporate raiders who would buy up a company and then tear it down, firing thousands of workers so they could build apartments on the same site as the factory. This was an era of sleazy destructive economics, with much corruption behind the scenes.

And while the richer certainly got very rich thanks to our dynamic dyo, the lot of many others declined, as large numbers of UK and US citizens suddenly found themselves mired in a poverty trap that their children and grandchildren still found themselves stuck in. Reagan’s tax hikes disproportionally effected the poor and middle classes compared to the better off. To my mind Thatcher’s real legacy is the Ned or the Chav, while Reagan’s is the inner city ghettos of cities like Detroit or LA.

Indeed we could go further, as the fact is that growth under democratic presidents has a tendency to be higher than under Republican presidents. Reagan’s presidency was something of a rare high point by Republican standards, but still lower than Clinton, Johnson or Kennedy.

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Figure 13: GDP growth by US president, Reagan ranks highly by Republican standards, but average (at best) by the standards of democratic presidents.

Myth #5 – Reagan was an active president, with a vision who worked hard for America

RealityHe was an unimaginative, ill-informed and so ill-attentive he frequently fell asleep during meetings and important briefings

It is ironic that Reagan is known as a man with a vision, as this is not shared by those who knew him in office. As William Leuchtenburg (a history Professor from Carolina) describes in a recent book (based on cabinet papers from the Reagan era), Reagan frequently stunned those around him with his ignorance at current events. His mind, according to Peggy Noonan, was “barren terrain”. Indiana congressman Lee Hamilton describes how Reagan once interrupted a meeting on nuclear weapons policy to discuss the plot of the kids movie War Games. Clark Clifford regarded the president as “an amiable dunce” and as William Leuchtenburg summarises it “No one had ever entered the White House so grossly ill informed”.

This forced his staff to work hard to bring him up to speed on at least some basic level, or as David Broder (a white house aid) put it “The task of watering the arid desert between Reagan’s ears is a challenging one for his aides.”. However the fact was he wasn’t a very active president, frequently he would be given briefing papers which he won’t read, instead lazing around watching cowboy movies. On the day before a summit meeting with world leaders about the future of the economy, he was given a briefing book. The next morning, his chief of staff asked him had he read it (he hadn’t even opened it!). “Well, Jim, the Sound of Music was on last night.

As Lou Cannon, his principle biographer put it “Reagan may have been the one president in the history of the republic who saw his election as a chance to get some rest”. And on some cases he did so by dozing off in the middle of important meetings…once while the French President was in the room!

As for his political vision, it was sadly lacking. He simply did not have any, aside from the sort of vague Republican sympathies towards “low tax” or “commies bad”. As George Shultz (his chief of staff) puts it “Trying to forge policy was like walking through a swamp.Donald Regan recalled: “In the four years that I served as secretary of the treasury, I never saw President Reagan alone and never discussed economic philosophy”. You could walk through Ronald Reagan’s deepest thoughts” a California legislator said, “and not get your ankles wet.”.

As a consequence, a Republican senator went so far as to say: “With Ronald Reagan, no one is there. The sad fact is that we don’t have a president.”Of course in the absence of active leadership, the bureaucrats simply ran the country without him.

If Reagan’s government was the best American government ever, then it was a government where the bureaucrats in DC ran everything, raised taxes, expanded the federal government and ruled the people like a king.

Myth #6 – Reagan was a competent leader

Reality Even his own staff considered him mentally unstable and sufficiently unreliable that they drew up contingency plans to remove him from office under the 25th Amendment

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Figure 14: It did occur to Reagan’s staff that their boss might not be the full shilling

As noted it quickly dawned on many in his cabinet that the president might be mentally unstable. At the very least he was a little slow (probably early onset of his alzheimers) and not mentally competent.

This also forced him to rely ever more and more on his wife, who practically became the defacto VP. Now while president’s frequently resort to their spouse for support and advise, giving your wife top secret briefing papers is entirely another thing. And worse Nancy Reagan had a strange obsession with Astrology, something she dragged her husband into. This created something of a national security nightmare for the white house staff, quite apart from the fact that the president was now under the influence of others and not technically capable of carrying out his duties.

So serious was this situation that when Howard Baker took over as the white house chief of staff, he was advised by his predecessor to start making preparations to enact the 25th Amendment, removing the president from office on grounds incapacity. Thus it is very likely that had there been any major crisis during Reagan’s reign (such as nuclear attack), that his staff would have put this plan into action and removed him from office, either putting George Bush (snr) in charge or resorting to some sort of direct rule by the white house cabinet.

Myth #7 – Reagan was a great communicator

Reality Reagan was gaffe prone and treated his presidency much like an acting job

As Reagan’s defence chief Colin Powell put it “the President’s passive management style placed a tremendous burden on us…” . Or as Frank Carlucci, observed: “The Great Communicator wasn’t always the greatest communicator in the private sessions; you didn’t always get clean and crisp decisions. You assumed a lot. . . . You had to”.Many republicans seem to forget than in his early years the president was frequently prone to making all sorts of serious gaffes.

Such incidents led his staff to taking measures in hand to keep their president from the media, in case he blurted out something crazy. He performed all of 6 news conferences in his first year in office, a modern president would do that many in a month. In the end he and his staff took to treating the role of president essentially as an acting job. They would give him cue cards, they would put out a chalk spot to show him where to stand and he would do as he was told. As one staffer put it “Every moment of every public appearance was scheduled, every word scripted, every place where Reagan was expected to stand was chalked with toe marks.”.

The president “cut ribbons and made speeches. He did these things beautifully” Congressman Jim Wright of Texas acknowledged. But in essence the US got itself not a president for 8 years, but instead they hired an actor to play the part of a President. Unfortunately this template of a stage managed actor as a sort of presidential spokesmodel for special interests was something we’ve seen emerge on several occasions since then, most notably with G. W. Bush (jnr).

Myth #8 – Reagan’s tough line with the Soviets, or in the middle east, helped keep Americans safe

RealityHe nearly started WW3 and provoked a series of terrorist attacks against the US, notably the Lockerbie bombing

While we can look back at Reagan’s gaffe’s now with a certain level of amusement, at the time they were a little more serious. His “evil empire” speeches were taken very seriously in Moscow who became convinced that Reagan meant to attack the Warsaw Pact. As a result they were on a heightened level of alert throughout this period. This paranoia reached a head during the 1983 Able Archer exercise, which the soviets feared might be a pretext for an actual NATO first strike. They actually went on full alert a hair’s breath away from firing throughout this exercise. Worst still was a malfunction of a key early warning system (which seemed to indicate a missile attack) just prior to the exercise, which could also have led to a soviet strike had they taken these results at face value.

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Figure 15: Deployment of the Pershing missiles dramatically heightened Cold War tensions

Meanwhile, Reagan’s posturing in the middle east far from keeping America safe, had the opposite effect, leading to a wave of terrorism launched against Americans. Prior to the bombing of Colonel Gaddafi’s headquarters, the Libyans had actually been downscaling involvement in terrorism. However instead this attack lead to a pronounced escalation. It is not clear whether it was Gaddafi or some other middle east group, possibly the Iranians (in revenge for the shoot down of an Iran airliner by a US destroyer) who bombed the Pan-Am flight over Lockerbie. But the very fact that there’s more than one candidates isn’t exactly an endorsement of Reagan’s foreign policy.

And of course there was his regime’s intervention in Afghanistan, which involved giving much weapons and CIA training to a group of Jihadi’s who Reagan went so far as to compare to the founding fathers…..groups we now know as “the Taliban” and “Al-Qaeda”. The actions of the CIA in Afghanistan, were naive at best and dangerously counter-productive at worst. The US was getting involved in a tribal war, which had little to do with geopolitics and they were aiding and abetting Jihadi groups who were arguably as great a danger to the US as the soviets.

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Figure 16: The Taliban who came to Tea, Reagan’s support for Islamists in the 80’s led eventually to 9/11

And then there’s his support for Saddam Hussein, even after he started gassing the kurds and was supplied with a large amount of weapons in the Iran/Iraq war (America also supplied weapons to the Iranians, indeed America’s policy here seemed to be to keep the war going for as long as possible). And of course there was the disastrous intervention in Grenada and Beirut to consider (again this too probably provoked a number of terrorist attacks against the US).

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Figure 17: Under Reagan the US was an ally of Saddam, supplying him with much hardware

That said, we need to consider that Reagan was surrounded by Neo-con hawks at this time, many of whom were urging a much more aggressive US stance on a foreign policy. There are some who argue we should credit the president with reigning in the neo-cons, as they would have almost certainly started WW3 if he had not restrained them.

Myth #9 – Reagan was a climate change denier and anti-science, just like any good GOP president should be

RealityScientific research undertaken during his term of office proved the link between recent warming and CO2 emissions, under Reagan’s term the IPCC was founded based in no small part to research conducted by US scientists

It is practically a rite of passage for any Republican candidate these days to take an anti-science position and decry “evolution”, stem cell research conducted by scientists “with an agenda”. And of course, any presidential candidate must be a climate change denier.

However George Shultz has pointed out that the Reagan white house, for all its faults, took a very different approach. While they cut research funding to a number of environmental causes, climate science funding continued. This led to the founding of the IPCC, with the US agreeing to provide a significant portion of its funding. Now some claim that this might have been a miscalculation by the Reagan white house, attempting to bury the problem in a sea of analysis. But the fact still remains that while modern republicans deny climate change (despite having access to far stronger evidence), the Reagan government was at least open to the idea of doing something.

Also around this time the issue of the ozone layer emerged. And again, while skeptical of the issue, the Reagan Adm. did at least try to tackle the problem, again with further investigation of the science and possible solutions. This eventually led to the Montreal Protocol signed under his predecessor. Again, the contrast between Reagan’s approach to environmental issues, and modern Republicans is pretty stark. Noting that he was not a person known for his pro-environmental views (Carter had solar panels put up on the white house, which Reagan then had taken down).

Of course, given the ineptitude discussed earlier, we do have to wonder how much of this was Reagan’s policy and how much of it was well informed advisers pushing pieces of paper under his nose for signature knowing he won’t bother to read it. But certainly his administration did not take the sort of actively anti-science approach that is now a virtual entry requirement for the GOP. Yes, Reagan was to the left of many modern republicans on the environment!

Myth #10 – Reagan was a racist and pro-gun and would be the ideal Tea Party president

RealityThere is little evidence to support this, his policies are largely neutral on these issues, I suspect Reagan would have been appalled at the Tea Party

To the Tea Party Reagan has become a blank canvas that you can paint anything on to. This is a common thread for the many who see Trump as a new Ronald Reagan. And equally those on the left have tended to view him as a near cartoon like bogeyman. Hence some have been going back through his speeches with a racist code book in hand and picking out various phrases and terms and interpreting them as sign’s of Reagan inherent racism.

As I pointed out earlier, anything we hear from a Reagan speech was generally scripted and not really his words. Indeed, one of his most prominent speech writers is now known to be a racist. So I would take anything said by Reagan while in office with a certain pinch of salt. Furthermore, I would argue that Reagan simply wasn’t the sort of person to form strong opinions. As a privileged white guy from California, who worked most of his life in a film industry that was more white than this year’s Oscar nominations, he probably never had sufficient contact with any minorities to form strong opinions.

But as regards “building a wall” and shipping the Mexicans out, Reagan actually enacted an amnesty that helped 3 million undocumented migrants gain residency in the US.

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Figure 18: Reagan, while supportive of the 2nd amendment, was not in favour of an unregulated free-for all

Similarly, I would argue the Tea Party view that Reagan was pro-gun isn’t entirely supported by the facts. Recall that he was nearly killed by an assassin in his first year of office. An attack that would ultimately lead many years later to the so-called “Brady law”. Over the course of his presidency he passed one measure that relaxed certain regulations on guns, but signed into law another (criminalising attempts to make concealable firearms, indeed the very law those trying to use 3D printers to make guns are likely falling foul of).

Several items of gun control legislation were drafted under his presidency, although ultimately signed into law by other presidents. The Gun-free schools act was signed by Bush (snr). While the Brady law was signed by Bill Clinton (in no small part due to Reagan stating he was in favour of it) as was the assault weapons ban (which Reagan also supported).

On the whole I’d argue Reagan was largely neutral on guns. Like many Republicans he was, at least in principle, in favour of legalised gun ownership. But he certainly wasn’t in favour of the unregulated free for all that we now see many Tea baggers argue for. And keep in mind Reagan wasn’t facing the scenario Obama now faces where spree shootings have become a daily occurrence. I suspect had Reagan faced this sort of problem neither he nor his administration would have hesitated to bring in appropriate measures.

Indeed, prior to the recent measures taken by Obama, the Brady foundation gave him an F for prevention of gun violence, suggesting he was weaker on gun control than Reagan. Yes, if we were to argue that Obama is “anti-gun” we would have to move the goal posts of what counts as anti-gun (i.e. regulation v’s banning them) so far to the right than even Reagan, Arnold Schwarzenegger, Sylvester Stallone and many other republicans would have to also count as being “anti-gun”.

And as regards the tea party (aka the American Taliban), while Reagan was something of an outsider within the GOP, he was certainly not a radical, he did not favour burning the house down just for the hell of it. We’ve seen all sorts of self-destructive policies coming out of the Tea party the last few years, no-gun regulations even in the face of mass shootings, no debt ceiling increase, even if it means the US government going bankrupt (recall no President has ran up a higher deficit than Reagan), shut down Congress until Obama scraps Obamacare, or more recently threatening to shutdown the Supreme court for nearly year in the hope they can get a more conservative justice in the job. It is difficult to believe Reagan would have gone along with this sort of behaviour. I suspect he would have considered it as un-American and entirely counter productive.

Myth #11 – Reagan did not abuse his office like more recent presidents

RealityReagan should have been impeached for his involvement in Iran-Contra

Certainly it is true that many US president’s have done things in office that could be seen as an abuse of power. Obama has some tough questions to answer over the PRISM spy network, which was never subject to proper judicial, legislative nor public scrutiny. Clinton’s private affairs, while I would argue they were not grounds for impeachment, they still weren’t the sort of behaviour we’d expect from a US president. And let’s not even begin to discuss G. W. Bush lying to congress and the public about WMD’s and starting an illegal war, not to mention approving torture, detention without trial and co-operating with states known to be hostile to the US (such as Gaddafi’s Libya and Assad’s Syria).

However, its difficult, even for G. W. Bush, to top the high crimes committed by the Reagan Adm. In two works – Iran/Contra.

For those unfamiliar with the crisis I’ll attempt a brief summary, although American Dad provides a more humorous one here. But in short, as part of his efforts to fight what Reagan considered to be communist aggression, he funded various CIA operations against socialist groups in south and central America. One group to attract US attention was the Sandinista’s. Exactly how communist the Sandinista’s were is a matter of dispute. Keep in mind they are currently in government in Nicaragua and while they are fairly left-wing, they are certainly not communist. And even if they were, they were clearly not taking their orders from Moscow.

Unfortunately for the US the main opposition to the Sandinista’s were a group called the Contras, a rebel group known to use terrorist tactics as well as trading in drugs…much of which ultimately ended up on the streets of the US. Naturally congress would not allow funding of the Contra’s, pointing out the hypocrisy of them spending billions a year on a war on drugs, but then help a bunch of drug dealers to found a narco-state.

At the same time the US was approached by the Iranians with an offer to trade US hostages in Lebanon for weapons. The Reagan Adm. approved of this sale and then diverted the funds to the Contras who used the money to buy guns. However, the Contra’s actually used some of the money to ship drugs and then used the profits of this to buy yet more guns. Exactly how compliant the CIA was all of this is still disputed, some argue the CIA actively helped the shipment of drugs into the US, others argue they knew about it but simply turned a blind eye and actively suppressed attempts to expose it. But certainly the CIA and the white house would have known that the Contras were actively using funds that they had supplied to smuggle drugs into the US.

By trading weapons for hostages Reagan was contradicting a long standing US doctrine of never negotiating with terrorists….and then giving the proceeds to another bunch of terrorists! Worse, Iran was at this point considered an enemy of the US. Many other US allies in the region considered Iran to be their main military threat, notably US ally Saddam (who again was at war with them). This is why I think we can dismiss the suggestion earlier than the Saudi’s helped America bring down the USSR by increasing oil production. After this little escapade the Saudi’s won’t have pissed on Reagan to put out a fire.

By aiding and abetting known enemies of the US (and terrorists) many have argued that the Reagan Adm’s actions on Iran/Contra constituted high treason. While that might be going a bit far, certainly his actions meet the criteria of “high crimes” and “abuse of power” laid out in the US constitution as grounds for presidential impeachment. And keep in mind this would have swept up not just Reagan but also Bush (snr) who had his grubby paw prints all over this scandal (again recall he had been head of the CIA).

However Reagan was spared impeachment by a partisan political system (the GOP knew that if they pulled the trigger on this they could kiss goodbye to the presidency next election). And the fact that they had a compliant fall guy in Oliver North….guaranteeing Oliver North would never be short of a few bob, as the GOP made sure he was well cared for afterwards…after all we won’t want him spilling his guts….

But again, we have to ask, how complicit was Reagan in Iran/Contra? I suspect he may have vaguely nodded to his staff when they discussed it, but did he actually understand what it was they were up too and the geopolitical implications of it? If it had come to trial I suspect any good lawyer would have gotten him off on grounds of diminished responsibility.

The Church of the one true Ronald

The reality of Reagan, once we de-construct the propaganda and the cult of personality, is that of a slightly senile retired actor, who through a combination of luck and coincidence managed to blunder into the white house. He was very much the accidental president. However, once in power he was quickly out of his depth and forced to rely on others, be it his wife or a snake pit of neo-con hawks, neo-liberal cheerleaders or big government bureaucrats, whom he pretty left to run the country, with mixed results. In essence for 8 years the US didn’t have a president, they hired an actor who played the role of president. Although due to this pesky thing called “the constitution” they had to give him some input on the direction his character was going to take.

But many on in the GOP will steadfastly refuse to believe this. Indeed another myth we failed to tackle is the idea that he was popular during his reign. Actually his approval ratings were no better than many other presidents while in office, at times in fact they dipped as low as 30%. Reagan’s popularity only really started to rise after his diagnosis with Alzheimers. And since then the myth’s above (and many more) have grown around him.

Reagan’s cult of personality is perhaps an interesting thing to study as it does show you how major religions get started. I won’t be surprised if in a post-apocalyptic future of a ruined America, many worship icons to the one true Ronald, the last of God’s profit prophet, before the end times. And perhaps worryingly, they are already naming everything and anything after Reagan. Thousands of streets, schools, airports, bus stops and landmarks were promptly named after him (including a mountain!). If a hobo laid down on a park bench for too long he could find himself staying at the “Ronald Reagan Restorium” by the time he sobers up. They even tried to get his face carved into the side of Mt Rushmore.

This cult of personality of Reagan is not only delusional and a disservice to the man, but it is also extremely dangerous. It raises the risk of the US repeating many mistakes committed in the past. Or worse, pursuing policies that even Reagan won’t have supported. And electing a genuine nut as President (i.e. Trump or Cruz) might just destroy the country. Those who ignore the lessons of history are doomed to repeat them.

Weekend round up

Trump and the Republican civil war

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As the BBC discussed this week the Republican party is now caught up in a civil war, with the party establishment fighting off the Tea party. Much of the GOP recognise that no matter how popular Trump might appear, all the demographics are against him and ultimately he has only a very slim chance of defeating Hilary. While yes some polls do put him ahead, its always dangerous to read too much into such polls this early in the campaign. The suspicion is that once its set as Hilary v’s Trump and once its broken down on a state by state level, she will pull a good deal ahead. More crucially the GOP is forced to ask, even if we can get him elected, is that a good thing? A ill-mannered egomaniac buffoon who goes around insulting people is simply not a credible candidate for President of the United States.

Events however took a shock turn with governor Chris Christie endorsing Trump. In essence this shows that the GOP faces a sort of “prisoner dilemma”. If they all stick together and oppose Trump they should be able to deny him the nomination (although that risks him running as an independent). But individually it may be in their interests to slither on over to the winning side. Within the next few days and weeks the rest of the GOP will face this choice. Some, notably Cruz, Rubio and Bush will almost certainly opt to avoid any endorsement for the time being, but longer term they might be forced too.

Fox news faces an interesting dilemma. They do not like Trump one bit, largely because he can’t be controlled and is a danger to their interests. He is in essence a Frankenstein monster of their creation which they may have to now destroy…or fire Megan Kelly (who all the same might want to brush up on her resume just in case!). However, backing Hilary would create “issues”. Fox has spent the last twenty odd years portraying her as the wicked witch of the West. So they would have to come out and say “Benghazi, e-mails, whitewater, oh that was all just a pile of BS we put out to distract you while our corporate buddies raided your pension funds”. Well we all know what happened to the boy who cried wolf….he got a job on Fox!

As I see it there are four possible end games to this:

Scenario #1 (the most likely), Hilary trounces Trump in the election, sweeping into power taking control of congress too. Regardless of whether Obama gets his nominee to the Supreme court through, Hilary will do so and likely replace one or two other justice’s during her term. While she doesn’t turn the US into a socialist republic (as Fox would have you believe), she does continue on the policies of Obama, cementing in Obamacare and gets his modest background check rules on guns pushed through. In the fallout that follows the GOP faces inward and in the ensuing political blood bath the party splits.

Scenario #2, Rubio pulls a rabbit out of his butt and manages to beat Trump. Being the egomanic bully that he is, Trump runs as an independent, costing Rubio (who actually has a half decent chance of beating Hilary) the election. In the post mortem that follows, again the GOP implodes and splits.

Scenario #3, Trump, somehow manages to get elected, quickly proves to be dreadful at the job, even worse than James Buchanan, alienates US allies, starts (and loses) an economic war with the likes of China and tries to enact racist national socialist policies which quickly put him on collision course with both Congress and the Supreme court (regardless of who gets Scalia’s job, a vague glance at the constitution says you can’t discriminate against Mexicans or Muslims). He might prove to be so unpopular that democrat leaning states consider temporary (or permanent) succession. In he end, he is removed from office under the terms of the 25th amendment (probably after he attempts to start an actual war with China or Russia!). In the political bloodbath that follows the GOP splits.

Scenario #4, the CIA, NSA, Mossad, FSB, the mob….or whoever does this sort of cloak and dagger stuff in China terminates his campaign “with extreme prejudice” (and I mean way worse than anything that comes out of his mouth). In the wake of this his VC (likely Christy or Palin….now it all starts to make sense!) gets the job….although chances are they’ll take out both of em too just to be sure, in which case Rubio gets the job and probably beats Hilary.

So rather worryingly the only scenario now where the GOP holds it together (and wins the election) involves Trump getting whacked….which I’m hoping his own security are aware of!

The Tory party split

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And speaking of break ups…. there’s the war within the Tory party. Cameron is now withholding documents from anti-EU cabinet members. This probably makes sense as they’ll inevitably go through said documents and try to put a pro-UKIP spin on it. For example, recent migration figures came out showing a drop in migration rates into the UK, which inevitably the right wing press spun to suggest the opposite was true. However cutting off minsters like this represents a break with protocol.

As one or two of the Sunday newspapers discuss, there is every possibility that the Tory party could split over this referendum. Win or loose, Cameron will almost certainly face a challenge to his leadership. The markets show increasing signs of nervousness. Rating agencies are threatening a downgrade, the G20 warning of a decade of economic limbo for the UK, while Brexit is negotiated (which will not be quick and will leave millions of brit’s stuck in limbo). Meanwhile university leaders are worried about the impact on research funding, while defence chiefs warn that Brexit will put at risk British security.

With the stakes this high, its likely that things will get nasty, particularly as we get close to referendum day. If the result is leave, I can’t see Cameron surviving as PM. While if its stay, I can’s see how his wayward ministers can remain in government. And as the likes of Boris or IDS are unlikely to be happy on the backbenches, its likely the party will split. Cameron may well have just chosen the EU as the hill on which he and his party end up dying on.

Another victim of Tory cuts

Another story people may have missed was Welsh police deliberately running over a dog on the A55. While some of the media did pick up on this, they failed to point out that this dog was in effect another victim of Tory cuts. Normal procedure for dealing with a stray animal on the road is to form a rolling blockade, bring traffic to a stop, deal with the animal and then restart traffic.

However, this process is costly and both council and police budgets have come under strain recently. I recall pointing out some time ago how police and councils were trying to get the victims of traffic accidents to pay for the costs associated with the aftermath of an accident (even if it wasn’t the drivers fault!). Of course, this is a dangerous thing to do as it simply encourages people who get into difficulty to not call the police and opt for a “big society” solution (a BBC reporter mentions how she ended up facing the wrong way on the hard shoulder after a skid on some oil and wisely called the police to help her turn around safely….which she then got billed for!). Obviously this increases the risk of accidents, which is precisely why they shouldn’t be doing this!

Similarly the advice now to dog owners is, if your dog gets loose on the road, don’t call the police, they’ll just run him over. Instead, go out onto an active motorway and try to retrieve the dog yourself. Yes, you’ll probably cause a pileup, but at least you’ll save Osborne a few bob.

So when you hear Osborne and Cameron talking about the need to find “inventive” ways to save on government spending, this is what they are talking about.

Irish Election results – populists dodging responsibly

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Understanding Irish politics

The results of the Irish election show a resounding defeat for the Irish labour party. This is not really a surprise, much like the Tories operation liberal shield, its inevitable the smaller party will suffer worst in a situation where a government pursues unpopular policies. Despite the austerity, its likely Fine Gael will still be the largest party, although they won’t have enough votes, even if we include the obvious candidates, to form a coalition government.

This raises the question that has been asked since the start of the campaign. Will Fianna Fail go for a coalition with Sinn Fein? Certainly the party blamed for causing the recession had a remarkably good showing (perhaps showing how short forgetful many people are!). Sinn Fein say they are ruling out any coalition. This is not surprising given that as a party of protest, they’ll quickly lose support if they ever have to live up to the wild promises they’ve been making. But if a party isn’t prepared to go into government, what’s the point of voting for them? They can oppose the government for free by standing outside the Dail with a placard! Why do we need to pay them a salary to do this inside the house?

But the alternative to stopping Sinn Fein would be an unholy alliance between Fine Gael and Fianna Fail. The question is, will this just prove to be a bridge too far? Its possible Fine Gale will pull together enough independents to form a minority government, however a quick review of the results suggests that this is likely impossible. Most of the independents are running on an anti-government or anti-austernity platform and clearly will not go into government. Even adding all of them together, one struggles to come up with a majority.

Clearly, FF know have decided not a good time to be in government (lots of unpopular decisions will need to be made and they don’t want to renege on promises that quite frankly they should never have made) and like SF (who’ve spent the last five years just make all sorts of wild promises) they are seeking to dodge responsibility, likely meaning a hung parliament. An early election is a real possibility. But again, if FF (or SF) aren’t prepared to go into government, what’s the point of voting for them? Those who live in glass houses shouldn’t throw rocks.

Weekend blogging catchup

Rumble in the EU Jungle

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Coming to a field in Surrey?

David Cameron suggested this week that the current border arrangements with France could be rescinded in the event of a vote to leave the EU. This would mean migrants won’t meet a UK border guard until they were across the channel and thus they would become the UK’s problem and not France. As a result he was accused of scaremongering. While this may be true to some degree, but I think the key point missed in this debate was that a vote to leave the EU will have implications well beyond EU treaties.

In essence if the UK votes to leave, all bets are off. Many of the treaties and agreements the UK has signed with its neighbours, allies and trading partners over the last fifty years (relating to migration, defence, trade, etc.) were negotiated on the basis that the UK was a member of the EU. Inevitably they will have to be renegotiated and it is very unlikely the UK will get such a good a deal as a non-EU member. The US for example has made it clear that a vote to leave the EU will invalidate current trade treaties between the UK and the US. A UK of 60 million simply will not get as good a deal as an EU of 500 million.

One could draw a parallel with the Scottish independence debate. The SNP and the Tories both thought they would have each other over the same barrel in the event of a Yes vote. In truth compromise would be necessary. The idea that the Scot’s could share the pound was always absurd, as was the notion that they could gain independence or EU membership according to such an aggressive timetable as put forward by the SNP. Equally however, the rUK could not afford to antagonise a now independent country who controlled most of the Britain’s fossil fuels, water and renewable electricity supply….not unless they fancied going through a winter without heating and electricity!

So similarly, there will have to be some negotiation in the event of Brexit. The only difference is that the EU (or the US, or China) will very firmly have the UK over a barrel, with the UK holding very few if any cards. The UK will need to establish trade deals and do so quickly or risk mass capital flight out of the country. Indeed, speaking of energy, the generally UK imports more gas from pipelines cross the Channel than it sends the other way and electrical imports from France are critical to balancing the grid in southern England. Inevitably, on many issues that come up the UK will probably have to make most of the concessions. Not least because the EU (and in particular the French) will have various “nuclear” options with which they can use to very quickly bring the UK to heel (withdrawing passport controls at Calais being one of those).

Another flash point is Northern Ireland. The good Friday agreement only works because there’s an open border. The minute you put in border controls, it breaks down, it would have to be re-negotiated and my guess is that Sinn Fein will probably demand a border poll as the price for even starting such negotiations. And maintaining an open border means that all a migrant needs to do is hop on a plane to Dublin (and Ryanair do direct flights from Sofia or Marrakech to Dublin for around 30 euro, Turkish Airlines fly’s direct Dublin to Ankara, although ticket prices are a little higher), get on a bus (and there are buses outside Dublin airport direct to Belfast) and you’re across the border and into the UK.

Then of course there’s the issue of NATO. There are many who would argue that the EU is the glue that joins NATO together. Of the European nations in NATO only two, Iceland and Norway. are not members of the EU. And both are part of the Schengen area and have free trade agreements with the EU (quite unlike the sort of arrangements UKIP want, both agree to the imposition of EU legislation to maintain their trading status with the EU), plus they have very specific reasons for being in NATO (i.e. they are vulnerable to invasion and lack the means to defend themselves). Given events in the US (i.e. if a loon like Trump or a leftie like Bernie Sanders became president) if NATO starts taking a more Europe led approach, it is by no means guaranteed that the UK can remain a member of NATO.

The problem is that UKIP seem to think that they’ll get everything their own way, they can keep all of the current agreements and be lavished with gifts. They will often try to claim that the EU has more to lose than the UK, even thought in reality the complete opposite is true.

Dr C*nt and the Medics

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Tory smugness drone Jeremy Hcunt has a problem with his junior doctors, whom he is now at war with. It would seem that the doctors think that working 18 hour shifts seven days a week might endanger patient safety. But what would they know, its not as if they’ve got medical degrees or something….oh, wait, apparently they do!

Also it would seem they are a tad upset as it would seem they’d signed these things called “contracts” a few years ago, which my dictionary tells me is merely “A bidding agreement which is legally enforceable”. Unfortunately, the doctors should have perhaps read the Ferengi rules of acquisition (number 17) which states “A contract is a contract is a contract… but only between Ferengi”….or perhaps between Tories!

Also it would appear that our Mr Hcunt is unfamiliar with this thing called “capitalism”. There is plenty of demand for doctors overseas, or in Scotland (where these new contracts don’t apply) and it would be all too easy for any doctors who don’t like these contracts to simply leave and go overseas, after the NHS spending all the money it costs to train them in the first place. And with the sort of tight border controls the bigot brigade are demanding its doubtful enough replacements can be drafted in from overseas to replace them. In short, the NHS in England is being set up to fail….

…which beg’s the question, is this the whole point of the this doctor’s strike? The Tories, who don’t use the NHS (they all have private health care) want it to fail so that they can privatise it, same way they did with the UK’s energy market and railways under Thatcher.

US election – why Rand Paul’s plight tells us a lot

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In the US primary races the democrats Bernie Sanders and Hilary Clinton are neck and neck. As one commentator puts itBernie is a bit fuzzy on historical events since Woodstock” . Meanwhile the Republican battle is dominated by Trump and Cruz (a Canadian visitor who seems to think he should be president). Several candidates lagging in the polls have dropped out. Unusually one of these was the libertarian Rand Paul. His father tended to perform reasonably well attracting a near cult like following. But this time the Paulestinians seem to have deserted Rand Paul. This begs the question why?

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I would argue the reason why was that it was always myth that a large chuck of the republicans subscribed to libertarianism. As I’ve discussed in the past, if anything right wing parties like the Republicans are the ideological enemies of libertarians, as many Republican’s, and in particular those in the Tea Party, advocate big government and authoritarian policies.

For example, immigration, which many Republicans want to stop. However this means the state putting a guy at the border checking people’s papers are in order, faceless bureaucrats centrally planning the economy (by deciding how many should be allowed in) and employers facing government interference in who they hire (e.g. don’t hire this young fellow from Poland with a degree and relevant experience, no you have to take Bob from the job centre down the road who likes to sniff glue and was sacked from his last job for laziness). Similarly the GOP wants to allow intrusive government surveillance of the sort that we’re more familiar reading about in 1984. The fact is, the GOP is not a libertarian friendly party, this is why the US has a separate libertarian party.

So why were all those Tea baggers flocking to Rand or Ron Paul in previous elections? Well it might have something to do with dog whistle politics. Often both Paul’s would say things that sounded a little bit racist, such as wanted to repeal equality laws or expressing support for the Confederates in the Civil war on the basis of “state rights”. Now both claimed that no, they weren’t being racist, it just this is how they interpreted these issues from a libertarian prospective. I would argue however, that what was actually happening was that the many racists in the GOP were decoding these speeches as a nod and a wink from the Paul’s along the lines of “we don’t like Nig%ers neither”.

Obviously once such individuals were presented with an actual racist to vote for (two of them in fact), they quickly switched support to Trump or Cruz and Rand Paul found his base evaporating. This theory would also serve to explain why many of the other Republicans are struggling in the polls. Many of them try to tap into this “small government” Tea Party types by talking about downscaling the government by cutting X number of departments (then forgetting how many they planned to cut). However, they don’t seem to understand that very few Americans actually want this, its the racist code words that some are reacting too.

The fact is that they two candidates leading the polls are very much big government national socialists. While Cruz or Trump might cut back some parts of the state (the bit that does important things like rescue people from hurricanes or provides medical care to wounded veterans), in reality they are running on a ticket of expanding government, with more surveillance and government powers, more FBI/CIA agents, more border guards and with bans on gay marriage or abortion. In short Trump and Cruz want a US government that is so big and so authoritarian it is allowed to come into your home, up the stairs and dictate what consenting adults can do in private.

All this is very worrying. Two decades of Fox News lies has created a Frankenstein monster that is now out of control, much as how similar Daily Mail bigotry in the UK now threatens the very survival of the United Kingdom (given the very real possibility of the UK breaking up if the UK votes to leave the EU).

If there are any nuclear options for the grandee’s of the GOP to play, now is the time. I would advocate all of the established candidates pulling out and endorsing one of their own (likely Kaisch or Rubio) as the challenger to the Tea Party candidates. Furthermore they should make it clear that if their guy loses to Trump or Cruz they will all leave the party and either endorse Hilary or Michael Blomberg as well as handing them control of all of the GOP superpac’s, all but guaranteeing the Tea Party candidate will lose and lose badly.

Irish Election – A fight in more ways than one

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A bit of a boob from Sinn Fein!

One has to contrast events in the US with those in Ireland. An election was announced on the 6th of February with polling day on the 26th. A twenty day campaign, although the country has been in defacto election mode for a month or two now. Even so compare that with the two years of campaigning in the US. American doesn’t have a democracy, they have an elaborate system where you pile more and more money onto a weighting scales and the one who says the dumbest things and has the biggest pile wins. No wonder Trump is out in front!

Of course its not that we don’t have problems of our own in Ireland. They’re called “Sinn Fein”. Like many populists parties they’ve been promising everything under the sun. Abolition of water charges and other unpopular austerity measures, 100,000 new homes…while at the same time cutting taxes. They’re even promising an extra holiday! It is a manifesto that only appeals to those who are poor at maths…. which unfortunately appears to be about a fifth of the electorate. The other parties have all vowed not to form a coalition with Sinn Fein, even if they have to go to the polls again or enter into a grand coalition (that said, I won’t be surprised if one of them reneges on that after election day). A grand coalition is a possibility as its likely the Irish labour party are likely to go the way of the lib dems (inevitably blamed for everything the past coalition did, even tho it was the other bigger parties idea in the first place).

And it is for good reason that Sinn Fein should be kept from power as there has been a spate of recent murders in Ireland, which are believed to be linked to fighting between republican controlled gangs with SF or IRA links. In most countries politicians say I’m not a crook. SF politicians have to say, well I’m not a crook any more and I forget where my victims are buried.

Judge Scalia no more

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One of the most right-wing and outspoken of the US supreme court judges, Judge Scalia died in his sleep on Saturday. This is quite a significant event, as it provides Obama with the opportunity to change the balance of the Supreme court towards a more liberal view point.

That said, Scalia was so far to the right, you could put G. W. Bush on the Supreme court and it would still pull the court to the left. He was so far too the right that he was treated as a cartoon figure by some comedians. This is the guy who allowed the US Supreme court to ignore the “well regulated” bit of the 2nd amendment and effectively decide it meant “no regulation” of guns. He recently voted against Obama’s climate change mitigation plans, which has the potential to all but guarantee that Florida drowns. Quite apart from handing the US presidency to Bush, even though Gore had clearly won the most votes (minor pesky detail that!).

Anyway, needless to say, the GOP nominee’s aren’t seeing the funny side of it and are suggesting that Obama should not appoint a replacement (even thought its entirely within his right, the Constitution makes no mention of any pause in election years, indeed it seems to imply he should do so promptly). The Republicans have threatened to fight it right the way through Congress….of course they’d never dream of replacing a Supreme court justice in a presidential election year…of course Bush did this very thing in 2009…and Reagan did in 1988…..

Trump Exposed

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I do wonder if Trump pulling out of the debate the other night had something to do with a Channel 4 documentary about him, which revealed some of the numerous skeletons in his closet, something that would inevitably have come up in questioning….Or it could be he’s just an narcissistic egomaniac.

Apparently, not only was he afraid of Megyn Kelly, but he wanted to be paid to show up! I mean if they guy can’t handle some right wing hack, how does he propose to deal with questions from international journalists, such as Jeremy Paxman…..or world leaders like Merkel or Putin? Never has somebody so unfit for high office actually stood for election.

And as the C4 show discussed you have people from his own party lining up to denounce him, literally running from Bill “neocon” Kristol to Glen Beck. Yes, Glenn “I see Nazi’s” Beck thinks Trump goes too far. That’s like the head of the Westboro baptist church calling someone a bible thumping nutter.

There is to say the least, a certain irony to the many blue collar, tea party Republicans flocking to Trump (or Cruz) because “congress lies to them and works for the rich”….so instead they want a rich, megalomanic, draft dodger who has only ever cared about himself and who has won awards for his skills at lying.

Four Bankruptcies and a bailout

As Carly Fiorina pointed out how can you vote for someone who has gone bankrupt not once, but four times. In most countries going bankrupt once automatically disqualifies you from high office. Why? Because it does sort of suggest you aren’t good with handling money and hence we really shouldn’t be putting such a person in charge of tax payers money.

Bankruptcy is supposed to be a matter of last resort, as the damage to ones reputation and credit is supposed to make people think twice, given that others (creditors, employee’s, etc.) will lose money too as a result. Trump has tried to portray it as a set of sound business decisions. But it meant that he reduced his losses, while throwing his employee’s and investors under the bus. In short it suggests he’s not the sort of person who will not lead from the front, but the sort who will hide behind women and children and screw over the very people supporting him at any opportunity. And running from a fight with Megyn Kelly, also doesn’t bode well.

Trump’s real New York values

Also people who file for bankruptcy tend to have skeletons in their closet. In the death throes of their business prior to bankruptcy they may have borrowed money and favour from various shady sources. This leaves the candidate susceptible to possible blackmail in office. And some of Trump’s “shady contacts”, as the C4 program mentioned are extremely dodgy….Let’s just call them “good clean family men”.

That Trump, or his father, would have mob connections should not be a surprise. Back before the FBI crackdowns of the 80’s the mob practically ran many blue collar industries in New York, including construction. There is no way either of the Trumps could put up a building in the city without the nod from one or other of the New York families (whose “turf” it was being built on)….well unless he fancied winding up in the foundations himself!

Indeed one of the main concrete supplier to the Trump Tower complex, was a mob controlled company operated by two well known gangsters, Anthony “Fat Tony” Salerno (then head of the Genovese family) and Paul Castellano (the don of the Gambino family, if his name rings a bell its because he was famously gunned down outside a NY steakhouse under the orders of future boss John Gotti).

If there’s one question I’d have liked to see someone ask Trump its “where is Jimmy Hoffa buried”. Because I cannot help but notice that he disappeared around about the same time they were building the Trump tower…..oh and he also frequently uses migrant workers on his construction projects which is sort of hypocritically given his stance on immigration (to those unemployed builders flocking to his rallies, its thanks to people like Trump that your unemployed).

And needless to say Trump’s involvement in Casino’s, notably Atlantic City (a mob haven since the roaring 20’s) should raise all sorts of red flags. Quite apart from the skim” racket (as portrayed in the film Casino), Casino’s offer the mafia various criminal opportunities, from rigged gambling games with high rollers, robberies, loan sharking, prostitution, drugs, etc. Indeed one of the reasons why many US states ban gambling (which does seem a somewhat Un-American thing to do) is precisely because gambling tends to attract “an unsavoury element”.

So needless to say, no way Trump would have built any of those Casino’s unless the local mob knew they were going to get their little suitcases every month. And its likely he’d have had to consult with them if he was going to let it go bankrupt…. not least because a well known mafia trick is to deliberately run a business into the ground while ordering stuff on the company account (which is sold on off the books). The Kray twins used to pull a similar trick with nightclubs and pub’s all the time.

However, many on the right in the US have felt the effects of the Great Recession, much like the rest of us. But rather than consider whether they need to re-evaluate their politics (now that they are the ones dependant on welfare, or in a low paid job) they have, rather typically, opted instead to blame immigrants, foreigners and Obama for the crisis. So they’ve followed the siren call of the loudest blowhard.

Which brings us to what I would argue is the really big issue with Trump – he doesn’t have any actual policies. Once you filter out the racism, the insane posturing and the obviously unworkable (e.g. build a wall and make the Mexicans pay for it….he does understand how dependant the US is on oil, manufactured goods, foodstuffs and other products imported from Mexico or countries further south?), there is nothing that resembles a coherent plan from Trump. Its no wonder Palin has endorsed him, as he’s basically copying her tactic of making a speech made up of a miss-match of folksy patriotic buzz words.

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So voting for him, is voting for government paralysis by an incompetent narcissistic megalomanic with known mafia ties. This will of course in all likeihood have the opposite effect of what his supporters want… not least because it makes it much more likely that Hilary (or Sanders) gets elected, likely because many moderate Republicans hold their nose and vote for her! In short Trump is a Frankenstein monster of the GOP’s own creation.