Thursday, December 21, 2017

The American National nightmare becomes a global nightmare

It is a basic contention of this blog that Donald J Trump is not fit for office.

A crooked real estate developer with a dubious past and highly questionable finances. he has systematically lied his way into financial or other advantage. His personal qualities include vulgarity, sexual assault allegations and fraudulent statements on almost every subject. 

He lost the popular vote by nearly three million votes.

He has, of course, been under criminal investigation practically since before he took the oath of office. The indictment of some of closest advisers is just the beginning. His track record suggests that in due course there is no action he will not take, whether illegal or unconstitutional in order to derail his own inevitable impeachment and the indictments that must surely follow the successful investigation of Robert Mueller into his connections with Russia.

However, all of that is a matter for the American people. 

It is also a matter for the American people that Trump is cheating the US Treasury with his outrageous, self interested tax bill. Robbing the average American to benefit the corporate interest is the settled will of the Republican party, and at present they have every right to enact the legislation, however unjust, however economically wrong headed, however loathsome. It will continue to undermine American democracy by making it ever more impossible for the poor to get on the ladder to a better life. The American dream is being crushed by greed and selfishness: the perfect metaphor for the catastrophic Trump Presidency.

Yet even this act of economic and political vandalism is not the low for this vile administration. Defying the studied ambiguity of the past fifty years, Trump unilaterally decided to recognise Jerusalem as the capital of the State of Israel. It is a potentially very dangerous move, resisted for decades by all previous administrations. As always Trump rushes in where angels fear to tread. Yet having committed this act, he then turns on those who criticised the move in the United Nations general assembly, saying that aid would be suspended to those who voted against the move. Since the United States was forced to veto the Security Council resolution, it is clear that the US has very few friends on this issue.

Trump's threat is the end of the United States as a force for good in the world. It is an abdication of a policy of freedom and seeks to place the US as a hegemonic power without consent. Nothing could reduce the influence of America more quickly that to attempt to impose Trumps bullying and injustice on the international order. It turns willing allies into sullen satraps, and it will fail.

The problem now is that Putin's puppet can still cause immense damage before he is removed from office. Every day this thug remains in the White House is a national humiliation for the United States. The image of the US is being trashed, and the reality of alliances formed to support freedom and justice in the face of Soviet tyranny is being undermined- perhaps fatally.

Wednesday, December 13, 2017

The American national nightmare

On August 9th 1974 Gerald Ford took the oath of office to become president of the United States. In his brief speech he said:

"My fellow Americans, our long national nightmare is over... Our Constitution works; our great Republic is a government of laws and not of men."

43 years later, the American Republic is being tested in a way it has never been tested in the 241 years since the declaration of independence. 

It is not just that Donald Trump is a vulgar, boorish, lecher. It is not just that he has consistently lied about his businesses and has consistently used mafia levels of intimidation and fraudulent promises in order to cheat his way out of trouble. It is not just that his absurd self-regard renders him utterly unfit for any public office. It is not even that Trump was over three million votes behind in the popular vote.

There are three intersecting crises in America today. They are economic, political, and constitutional.

The United States is no longer the engine of global prosperity.  From being a global leader in a huge range of educational and business endeavour, The country has long ago lost its leadership in school education. American cities are often squalid and dangerous. Millions have lost the sense of aspiration that drove previous generations forward. The American Dream of material wealth and progress is challenged from within and without. China is set to overtake the USA as the world largest economy, while questions of sustainability and diversity now hedge American economy progress with doubt and uncertainty as to whether the goals of previous generations can be maintained, or even whether they should be. Although the American economy continues to innovate at a brisk pace, the innovators- whether in Silicon Valley or elsewhere- are often not themselves Americans. Meanwhile in manufacturing the US has continued its steady decline- outpaced only by the UK.

The sense of economic malaise has leaked into the politics of the United States. Divisive and confrontational politics are now the norm, fuelled by gerrymandering and a partisan media that routinely ignores objective truth in order to promote a biased and partial narrative. The result has been populist "uprisings" promoted by sinister and unpleasant figures such as Steve Bannon. The media manipulation is overt, but it supports covert and dangerous agendas. From the promotion of Russia to a populist view of taxation, information and arguments, whether these are legitimate or even criminal are simply not examined in any detail. The result is a media landscape which is an agora of lies, where any opinion counters any fact. The growing extremism of American politics has culminated in the ultimate wrong headed candidacy- the media creature Donald Trump.

Lets state it clearly: Donald Trump should not be the President of the United States. This is a judgement based on his flawed character, his dubious business interests and his connection with Russia. It also recognises that when a plurality of votes by a margin of over three million votes is overruled by the electoral college, then the will of the American people, which is supposed to be sovereign under the constitution, has in fact been ignored. The technicality that over-rules the will of the people must be corrected by early amendment.  However, even before this, there is a more egregious fault in the American constitutional arrangement: gerrymandering.  Gerrymandering is nothing more than the subversion of the democratic will. The Supreme Court is now hearing two cases concerning gerrymandering, and should they fail to deliver a remedy for the problem, then the future outlook is very bleak indeed. In the end, the Congress is the check on the President, and a deeply flawed President demands a deeply responsible Senate and House.  

The multiple crises in the United States are deep and probably long lasting. However the immediate delirium is the ongoing process against Mr Trump.  The Mueller investigation is clearly entering a critical phase, and appears to be confirming the suspicion of Russian direct involvement in the Trump campaign and in the early days of the administration. The indictment of several senior figures, including Gen. Flynn, Mr.Trump's first National Security Adviser, would in some other countries- Willy Brandt in 1974 Germany, for example- have driven Mr. Trump himself from office, irrespective of whether there was direct wrong doing on his part or not. In the next few weeks, we will see if Robert Mueller has sufficient evidence to prosecute Mike Pence or Donald Trump or both for "high crimes and misdemeanours". 

The American Republic is being tested as it has never been.  Over the course of 2018, we shall see whether the government is of laws or of men.  It could be a very bumpy and very dangerous ride.

Friday, December 08, 2017

No island is an island entire unto itself...

OK so there has been a breakthrough apparently...

But the breakthrough is not that a framework agreement to start substantive talks is kinda, sorta, done, maybe...

It is that now the UK public knows that the leaders of the "Leave" campaign were a bunch of charlatans. 

David Davis took "hapless" to new lows with his "my dog ate my homework" explanation of why -in fact- no impact assessments of the single most important economic policy change in 60 years, were made. Whether you choose to believe or disbelieve the shifty excrescence is a matter for you, because its all the same to the Secretary of State as to whether you believe him or not.

Meanwhile the refusal of the Conservatives to recognise that Ireland is a separate and sovereign state, and that therefore of course the UK has a land border with the EU, nearly brought the whole process to a shuddering halt. In fact that actions of the DUP have now, for the first time brought the departure of Northern Ireland from the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland to the point of being more likely than not, but that is not a breakthrough either.

The breakthrough is that there is no way to avoid a national humiliation. A humiliation that the Conservatives are wholly responsible for and which is the result of their arrogance and ignorance.

The disaster will continue to unfold until either the UK, probably shorn of territory as well as billions of pounds and vastly diminished international standing, emerges into the cold world of a post EU economy; or the British people revolts against their incompetent and dishonest government. At the moment either is possible in the short term, with a slight edge towards revolt. 

In the medium-to-long term a major reset in the UK is now looking very likely indeed.  

The anti-modern Imperial measurement, Imperial mindset of the Conservatives is growing ever more absurd. Clinging to their vision of a better yesterday, the Tories refuse to face up to the fact that their vision of the country is deluded.  Socially more divided than ever, the public realm, from the Houses of Parliament to the underfunded infrastructure, is increasingly squalid. The moth eaten relics of Empire now simply look absurd in the increasingly cold light of Brexit day.

This starts with the system of government that has delivered a government of incompetence and an opposition of fools. The government gets away with lies because they face no opposition from a House of Commons which they can whip to their service and an essentially toothless House of Lords. Neither can the Monarchy control the evil nor the idiocy.  In the name of the venerable Queen Elizabeth II baubles called the "Order of the British Empire" are still handed out to the great and the good- irrespective that the Dutch, let alone the French, have empires rather more impressive than the speckle of rocks that is the last inheritance of the moth eaten Land of Hope and Glory. The flummery of orders of the Bath or the Garter should fill any modern democrat with amusement, but for the fact that people take this dross seriously. The pageant of Monarchy "brings in the tourists", but fails to protect the rights of British citizens- it serves no useful purpose, unless you are a London hotelier. Yet still Prince Andrew and other highly intellectual, charming, and modest members of the Royal family are appointed counsellors of state with significant political power, on the clear understanding that if they use this power in public they will be swept away. The answer is clear: the substantial reserve powers of the Crown should be placed under public, not personal, control. As with the accession of King Karl Gustav XVI of Sweden in 1973, the accession of the heir of Elizabeth II should be marked by the end of the political power of the Monarchy.

The modernisation of Britain- with or without Northern Ireland- should then proceed. Not merely the long overdue constitutional reform, but economic reform. Burn the current tax code and start again. This is the only way we can then begin to tackle the catastrophic public finances of the country. Promote savings over consumption- and yes that means a prolonged and deep restructuring of the entire economy. Times will be really tough, but instead of trying to save the outdated tax-and-borrow-for-current-consumption-and-forget-about-the-future model we have now, we can start to think long term and strategically. Infrastructure spending must increase and pensions and welfare made sustainable.

So let us hope this "breakthrough" finally causes the British voters to understand the fact that the government system is broken beyond repair. Any government that has been so reckless as the Conservatives with their wealth and well being should be eviscerated and the political party responsible should be liquidated.

For the fact is that unless we punish the guilty at the next election we will continue be complicit in our own decline. A radical change of direction is not merely desirable, it is essential, and understanding that is the only way to make any kind of breakthrough and ultimate recovery.