May 29, 2016

Crisis: On Trump; Sanders, Clinton & Trump; TPP; IMF and "neoliberalism"
Sections                                                                     crisis index

Bill Maher, Bernie Sanders, Scott Adams, Donald Trump
2. Like Clinton, Trump Chickens Out of Debate with

3. Emails Show ‘Collusion’ Between Big Banks and Obama
     Administration on the Trans-Pacific Trade Pact

4. Even the IMF—the IMF!—Turns on Neoliberalism

This is a Nederlog of Sunday, May 29, 2016.

This is a crisis log. It is a Sunday, and I am doing this crisis log a bit differently than otherwise, in part because I couldn't find much that I want to review, and in part because I did see some interesting videos on the latest "Real Time" by Bill Maher, one an interview with Bernie Sanders, and the other with Scott Adams on Trump's persuasion skills. Here is the survey:

There are 4 items with 5 dotted links: Item 1 is about Bernie Sanders and more specifically about Scott Adams who praised Donald Trump's enormous persuasive skills, and who predicted Trump will win the presidency "with a landslide"; item 2 is about the identical response of the two bullshit candidates when invited to debate Bernie Sanders: They chickened out; item 3 is about how the big banks and the Obama administration colluded on the TPP; and item 4 is about a recent turn against "neoliberalism" (as it is called), that
I don't quite believe, and anyway is far too academic and too half-hearted.

1. Bill Maher, Bernie Sanders, Scott Adams, Donald Trump

The first item is from "Real Time", which is Bill Maher's weekly program on HBO and consists of two videos. The first is this:
This is a good interview of over 10 minutes, and should show - to intelligent and informed people, at least - why I think Bernie Sanders is the only good choice as America's next president.

I will not discuss this. Instead, I will discuss a video with a guest of Bill Maher's, made on the same day as was the interview with Sanders, who says that in his opinion neither Sanders nor Clinton will win the upcoming presidential elections,
but Donald Trump will, and "with a landslide", and namely because of Trump's enormous persuasion skills.

The guest is Scott Adams (<-Wikipedia), also known as the creator of Dilbert (a cartoon for those who don't know), and this is the interview:

I recommend you to watch this (it is slightly over 6 minutes), but here is a summary:

Scott Adams worked for 16 years in offices; studied hypnosis; regards himself as a specialist on persuasion (which he studied "for decades") and says this in the video:
"When I saw Trump last summer, displaying the tools of persuasion, I thought 'Oh my God, he is not a crazy clown: Everything he is doing, including his ignoring of the facts, is Persuasion Perfection.' And I called him to be the landslide winner in the general elections last year, because of the tools he is using. Essentially he is using a flamethrower to a stickfight. There is nobody who is using the same tools as he is using."

There is a considerably larger amount, but this is Adams' basic argument. Is it correct?

First about the general conclusion: I do not know whether Trump will win the presidential elections, and also not by what proportion. Of course, neither does Scott Adams. He may be right, but I don't know (and don't live in the USA), though it seems rather plausible to me that if Adams is right, it is not for the
reason he gives. To which I turn now.

Second, I am a psychologist and am not much impressed by his self-declared status as a specialist on persuasion. First, I think that is hardly a science (but I think similarly about "the science" of psychology, apart from some exceptions like statistics), and second I think a better subject for study are propaganda and public relations (for there is a whole lot of intersubjective material about these efforts at persuading people to believe falsehoods).

Third, it is clearly quite possible to be a crazy clown and to be quite good at persuading people. Besides, one of the things Adams wholly misses in his fascinations with "
the tools" Trump is using, is that these "tools" work mostly because he is rarely contradicted by the main media, that also swallow his - I am sorry, but rather insane - utter disregard of facts and of consistency.

Fourth, I have seen several speeches of Trump, and in my rather trained and very learned opinion Noam Chomsky, Bill Maher and some others whose intelligences and knowledge I respect, are quite correct that Trump is predominantly stupid. He has no realistic ideas or policies; he constantly makes up things and changes his positions several times a day; he repeats the same point three, four, and sometimes seven times in one paragraph of his prose; he is extremely narcissistic; and he also is extremely temperamental, and neither of these last characteristics is desirable in a president of the USA.

Finally and fifthly, I think Adams is right in one thing: Trump used a flame- thrower (insults, personal disqualifications, evident lies, racism) to people who
are not used to answering back by either good rational argument or by good flamethrowing with similar characteristics. (But again my diagnosis is different from Adams's: It works because the main media have hardly criticized Trump, and not because his methods are so "Perfect". [1])

So in summary: Adams may be correct Trump will be the next president (I don't know) but not because of the reasons he listed: Trump is not clever; he
is extremely crude; his crudity, insults, disqualifications, lies, non-facts and bullshit plans are not attacked by the main media; and he also had the luck to have met no really able debater among the other Republican candidates.

2. Like Clinton, Trump Chickens Out of Debate with Sanders

The second item is by the Common Dream's staff, and it is also about the remaining three presidential candidates:

This starts as follows:

Looks like Donald Trump took a page from Hillary Clinton's book and chickened out. 

The presumptive GOP presidential nominee said Friday afternoon that he would not debate Democratic candidate Bernie Sanders, despite having said one day prior that he'd "love to debate Bernie."

Sanders' rival for the Democratic nomination said earlier this week that she would not participate in a debate with Sanders in California ahead of that state's primary next month, despite having agreed to do so previously.

How amazing - or rather: how perfectly non-amazing that these two enormous political liars do not want to debate one of the few truth-speakers in American politics!

It is not amazing at all because both would loose, but it also should be noted that (i) both Clinton and Trump deny the American public a fair chance of comparing the three candidates, and that (ii) both Clinton and Trump do the same as the U.S. main media: Systematically discriminate the only decent politician in the race; systematically deny his chances to be wider known.

And here is Trump's statement, in full:

Based on the fact that the Democratic nominating process is totally rigged and Crooked Hillary Clinton and Deborah Wasserman Schultz will not allow Bernie Sanders to win, and now that I am the presumptive Republican nominee, it seems inappropriate that I would debate the second place finisher. Likewise, the networks want to make a killing on these events and are not proving to be too generous to charitable causes, in this case, women’s health issues. Therefore, as much as I want to debate Bernie Sanders -  and it would be an easy payday - I will wait to debate the first place finisher in the Democratic Party, probably Crooked Hillary Clinton, or whoever it may be.

I'd say this is plain cowardly baloney, with a little bit of rational sense: Trump has gained the presidential candidacy (at least in terms of delegates voting for him, and because he is the only Republican candidate left), and he doesn't gain much by debating Sanders (while standing a very serious chance of sorely losing).

And here is Bernie Sanders' reply:

Speaking with reporters in Los Angeles on Friday, Sanders said he hoped Trump would have a change of heart. 

"I hope that he changes his mind again. Mr. Trump is known to change his mind many times in a day," Sanders said. "Trump is a bully, he's a big tough guy. Well, I say to Mr. Trump, what are you afraid of?"

In a statement, the Vermont senator alluded to why Trump—whom Sanders consistently trounces in polls—might not want to face him head-on:

There is a reason why in virtually every national and statewide poll I am defeating Donald Trump, sometimes by very large margins and almost always by far larger margins than Secretary Clinton. There is a reason for that reality and the American people should be able to see it up front in a good debate and a clash of ideas.

He is right, but I suppose neither Sanders nor "the American people" will get the chance to debate or see Trump vs Sanders - except if Sanders somehow
manages to be nominated as presidential candidate, or goes for it as independent. [2]

3. Emails Show ‘Collusion’ Between Big Banks and Obama Administration on the Trans-Pacific Trade Pact

The third item is
by Nadia Prupis on Truthdig and originally on Common Dreams:

This starts as follows:

A series of emails released Friday show what activists describe as “collusion” between U.S. Trade Representative Michael Froman and Wall Street executives to push for the passage the controversial Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP).

The emails (pdf), obtained through a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request by the group Rootstrikers, which organizes against money in politics, include a message to Froman from a managing director at Goldman Sachs urging him to push for “robust commitments” on Investor-State Dispute Settlement (ISDS) provisions—which allow private corporations to sue governments for perceived loss of profits—to be included in the divisive trade deal.

“I wanted to underscore how important it is for the financial services industry to get robust commitments on ISDS in the agreement… denying our industry the same rights as enjoyed by every other sector would be terribly unfortunate,” the email states.

As I have explained several times before, I regard the TPP, the TTIP, the TISA and indeed also the precursor NAFTA as attempts to found neofascism in the USA, Europe and Asia, and by "fascism" I understand what was understood by it in the 1930ies: The main powers in the country are - in effect - in the hands of the big corporations.

Second, I call it neofascism because this time the big multi-national corporations (many of which don't pay any of very little taxes already, many of which have former and future staff-members working for the government, of course in the interests of the corporations) do not want to play second fiddle to any politician, however sympathetic he or she may be to corporate interests and profits:

They want to be able to break any law any nation may democratically elect, on the ground that this law made their projected profits less, and they are going to do that by the (secret) ISDSs that will allow them (mostly in secret) to demand hundreds of millions or several billions from any state (any government, any parliament, any judiciary, and in the end: any population) on the mere ground that their laws harmed their projected profits.

Incidentally, please note that the ISDSs will work mostly in secret; that no one except states and corporations can appear in their "courts"; that the courts are manned by the lawyers of the big corporations, who will act as judges; that it are the people who have to pay the corporations if they voted demo- cratically for the laws that the multi-national corporations do not want; and that "the people", like all private persons, all trade unions, all judges, and all
parliamentarians have no right to appear in the "courts" of the ISDSs - all they are good for is paying the taxes that pay the corporations.

So yes: I am not amazed to see Froman and Wall Street executives collaborate on their neofascistic plans [3].

Here is a bit on the so-called "fast track":

Another mentions it would be “good for the U.S.” if lawmakers in U.S. Congress passed Trade Promotion Authority (TPA), also known as “fast track,” which would allow the president to send trade deals to the House and Senate for a yes-or-no vote, rather than allowing them to make amendments to the agreements.

“Will do what I can to assist,” reads the email from the Goldman Sachs lobbyist, sent in February 2015—just a few months before the Senate passed TPA in what opponents called a “great day for corporate America.”

This was also much furthered by Obama, and has been accepted: The Senate will now vote on the TTP with hardly any debate and no amendments on the neofascistic laws it embodies and furthers.

As to Froman: He seems an intentionally extremely evil guy, who - of course - meanwhile also is a millionaire:

Rootstrikers—which is part of a newly launched financial reform coalition called Take On Wall Street—also noted that Froman, then chief of staff to the Treasury Secretary, was “instrumental” in the 1999 repeal of the Glass-Steagall Act, which created a firewall between the investment and commercial banking sectors, and has maintained a friendly relationship with the financial industry during his time as trade rep.
Kurt Walters, campaign director at Rootstrikers, said Friday, “Wall Street knows it can get favors in closed door negotiations that could never survive the light of day in Congress. One thing has been consistent during Michael Froman’s frequent trips through the Wall Street-to-Washington revolving door: He’s repeatedly used his official positions to deliver for his friends at the biggest banks on Wall Street.”

“It’s fair to ask whether Froman is negotiating on behalf of the American public or to benefit the financial sector that gave him a massive golden parachute bonus upon his shift from Citigroup executive to U.S. Trade Representative,” Walters added, noting that Froman received more than $4 million upon leaving Citigroup in 2013.

I'd say that very clearly Froman is not "negotiating on behalf of the American public" and never was, and he has always tried "to benefit the financial sector". (And indeed they pay the best.)

4. Even the IMF—the IMF!—Turns on Neoliberalism

The fourt
h and last item today is by Andrea Germanos on Common Dreams:
This has a subtitle:
New paper by three IMF economists finds that policies of capital account liberalization and austerity fuel inequality, which in turn hurts growth—"the very thing that the neoliberal agenda is intent on  boosting."
I copied this in part because it is adequate, and in part to criticize the title: The IMF is an enormous association, and "three IMF economists" (who also express doubts about neoliberalism rather than attack it) is not - by far - the IMF.

But to the article, that starts as follows:

In what may be a sign of a "shifting zeitgeist," a new paper published this week by economists with the International Monetary Fund questions the very neoliberal policies the body has imposed.

Entitled "Neoliberalism: Oversold?" (pdf) the IMF's Jonathan Ostry, Prakash Loungani, and Davide Furceri focus their analysis on two policies of what British writer George Monbiot dubbed the "zombie doctrine": "removing restrictions on the movement of capital across a country's borders (so-called capital account liberalization); and fiscal consolidation, sometimes called 'austerity,' which is shorthand for policies to reduce fiscal deficits and debt levels."

These are in fact the neoconservative policies of Reagan and Thatcher, which indeed meanwhile have done a very great amount of harm to anyone who belongs (or once belonged to) the middle class or the lower incomes group.

For one thing, since Reagan and Thatcher the few rich have grown very much richer, while the many non-rich all since then hardly gained anything or grew a whole lot poorer.

And since these policies were started in 1979 and 1980, and since these effects have been shown many times in economical statistics, it is not quite remarkable that three economists who work for the IMF also write about these policies and their effects.

An evaluation of these two neoliberal policies, the authors write, leads to "three disquieting conclusions." As they note in the paper:

The benefits in terms of increased growth seem fairly difficult to establish when looking at a broad group of countries.

The costs in terms of increased inequality are prominent. Such costs epitomize the trade-off between the growth and equity effects of some aspects of the neoliberal agenda.

Increased inequality in turn hurts the level and sustainability of growth. Even if growth is the sole or main purpose of the neoliberal agenda, advocates of that agenda still need to pay attention to the distributional effects.

To put it in non-economical non-academic clear terms: There is no increased growth; there is greatly increased economic inequality; and without a considerable and well-paid middle class (that meanwhile mostly disappeared) there is no hope for growth in countries that now mostly lack a middle class.

I agree with that, but it needed a goodly amount of "translation". This is alo true of the following bit:

While the authors write "There is much to cheer in the neoliberal agenda," they conclude that "the benefits of some policies that are an important part of the neoliberal agenda appear to have been somewhat overplayed."

Or, as political economist Richard Murphy charges: "the IMF may now be realizing that it has been involved in a massive exercise in redistributing wealth upwards in society."

The statement in the first paragraph are - once again - academic bullshit: What is there "to cheer in the neoliberal agenda"? I am asking: Personally, I think absolutely nothing, but the three economists don't tell what they are willing to cheer.

As to Murphy: Either he is an idiot or he tells us that the IMF is idiotic. For clearly enormous economic inequalities have been rising for 35 years now.
If "the IMF" is only now seeing this, it means they didn't even look at the statistics on incomes and inequalities for the last 35 years.

Finally, here is Yves Smith (from Naked Capitalism (<-Wikipedia))

The publication of this IMF paper is a sign that the zeitgeist is, years after the crisis, finally shifting. It is becoming too hard to maintain the pretense that the policies that produced the global financial crisis, which are almost entirely still intact, are working. And the elites and their economic alchemists may also recognize that if they don’t change course pretty soon, they risk the loss of not just legitimacy but control. With Trump and Le Pen at the barricades, the IMF wake-up call may be too late.

I think that is correct, and incidentally not at all flattering for the IMF: "It is becoming too hard to maintain the pretense that the policies that produced the global financial crisis, which are almost entirely still intact, are working."


[1] In fact - as Bill Maher also said - Trump's methods are very childish. And as I said: It is not that Trump has "enormous persuasion skills"; it is that the main media (i) like Trump better than Clinton and like Clinton than Sanders (in majority) and (ii) have given up, in the last 10 to 15 years, of trying to inform the public with facts they ought to know, and therefore (iii) do not criticize Trump, also because they gain financially by not doing so.

[2] Sanders still may become the Democrats' presidential candidate, either because he succeeds in getting the most votes, or because he manages to convince the Democratic Party to put the USA's interests before those of the few leaders of the Democrats, and propose as their candidate the one who is likely to win against Trump, namely Sanders. Both are manifestly possible, but
I guess both by now have a probability lower than 1/2.

As to Sanders' running as an independent: I think he would be justified in doing so, especially given the machinations of the Democrats in terms of super- delegates. (If Sanders comes to lose, it is probably because of superdelegates, who were never elected.) And I think if he does so, he makes a good chance of winning.

Whether he will do so remains to be seen, and will be decided in the next month.

[3] In case you were willing to reply "but Froman and Rubin are Jews or have a Jewish background": I am an atheist with parents and grandparents who did far more for "the Jews" in WW II than most other Dutchmen, and I do not believe the Jewish religious myth that Jews are superior to other people, nor do I believe the Nazi myth that Jews are inferior to other people. They are on average the same as any other large collection of people, which is neither very good nor very bad, and neither very intelligent nor very stupid. And some simply are bad men, just as some others simply are good men.

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