Friday, October 28, 2016

Can we apply SAT-style textual analysis to this North Carolina "undecided" voter's indecision?


by Ken

First off, I should specify that it has been many, many years since I took the SAT, and I understand that the test has undergone all sorts of changes since dinosaurs walked the earth. Also, while I did pretty well on the "verbal" portion of the test, I consistently did better on the math portion. (That's all there was in those antediluvian days.) This was surprising, in that I thought of myself, and was generally thought of, as more of a "word person" than, certainly, a math one.

Part of my problem may have been the tiresome and unproductive habit of wasting time and thought on trying to figure out the most nearly correct answer (among the multiple choices -- which themselves presented such a curious representation of reality -- offered by test-makers who hadn't thought out their choices nearly as completely as they imagined) rather than focusing on which answers the test-makers meant to get back. Actually, I tended to get trapped in the content of, say, the little texts about which we were then supposed to answer questions (and still think of the one that explained that "Horatio Alger novels" aren't at all what our clichéd image tells us they are).

Nevertheless, nevertheless. I'm wondering whether those same reasoning skills that were tested by the little-text Q-and-A's might be transferable to the post in this morning's Washington Post "Daily 202 (Morning intelligence for leaders), "The agonizing torment of a dozen undecided voters in North Carolina," by James Hohmann with Breanne Deppisch, reports on "a focus group in Charlotte last night," which purports to have shown
that these late deciders know quite a lot about both candidates. It’s not that they want to learn new information. They’ve concluded that Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton are each deeply flawed, and they’re trying to pick who they perceive as the lesser of two evils. It is an agonizing decision for most of the dozen voters who gathered in a conference room in North Carolina’s biggest city.
Among the focusees, I was especially struck by this one.
Katie Burak, 30, a financial planner, worries that there could be more riots and racial strife in her hometown if Trump wins. But she does not trust Clinton and worries that she would not rise to the occasion when national tragedies inevitably strike.

“I’m typically more conservative,” she said. “But what scares me about Trump, with the recent protests, I worry what might happen to our cities and our towns if he’s elected, especially when we’re so divided. But I also think he can bring new expertise and smart people who can advise him.”

The self-described moderate added that she does not think Clinton has empathy. “She’s too well prepared, she’s too well spoken,” said Burak. “She looks too good behind the podium. … I don’t envision her as motherly or grandmotherly. I can’t see her relating in difficult situations. Only when she has time to prepare does she look good.”

Burak said “either one could” still get her vote “hesitatingly.” “I don’t know what to do,” she said.
And I'm thinking that this little text might be investigated using some of the same reasoning skills applicable to SAT questions. A professional test-maker could probably rig up more professional questions than these, but here's a rough draft.

1. What information does Katie have that might lead her to vote for Hillary Clinton?

(a) So there will be less riots and racial strife in Charlotte.
(b) ???
(c) ???
(d) ???

2. What information does Katie have that causes her to not trust Clinton?

(a) It doesn't say, but probably it's all the lies and distortions offered by Trump.
(b) It doesn't say, but maybe this refers to the decades' worth of lies and distortions offered by right-wing sociopaths for whom vilifying Clintons is better than sex.
(c) It doesn't say, but Benghazi! Benghazi! Benghazi!
(d) It doesn't say, but it must be all those e-mails leaked by WikiLeaks showing that Clinton knows how to cozy up to the rich and powerful -- something that Donald Trump has never done. (Probably Katie reasons that WikiLeaks didn't have any of those e-mails when they might have been used against Clinton in the Democratic primaries, to benefit Bernie Sanders, and of course Julian Assange himself says, apparently with a straight face, that among all the billions and billions of documents WikiLeaks has access to, there isn't a single one that contains significantly disparaging information about Trump.)

3. What information does Katie have that leads her to believe that Clinton would not rise to the occasion when national tragedies inevitably strike?

(a) It doesn't say, but never mind her extensive experience at the upper levels of government and international relations, it's clear that she couldn't handle a crisis, unlike Trump, who we know responds to even the slightest slight by throwing a hissy fit, which will scare the dickens out of people like Vladimir Putin and the fiendish leaders of ISIS.
(b) ???
(c) ???
(d) ???

4. What information does Katie have that leads her to believe that Trump has any kind of expertise relevant to being president?

(a) It doesn't say, but he's rich, isn't he? (Well, isn't he?) And he can't have gotten rich just by finagling and conniving with and against other rich people and exploiting subordinates and other people without power, can he?
(b) It doesn't say, but even though he's really never made much money by providing goods or services, he knows all about the Art of the Deal, doesn't he? And doing deals that transfers money from other people's pockets to his pockets is just the kind of skill a president needs, isn't it?
(c) Um . . .
(d) Well . . .

5. What information does Katie have that Trump either knows or listens to smart people who advise him, except perhaps people who advise him on how to bend or break laws in pursuit of his own greed (again, a skill that's invaluable for a president)?

(a) ???
(b) ???
(c) ???
(d) ???

6. What information does Katie have that Clinton, unlike Trump doesn't have empathy, despite the fact that the old-time "hate the Clintons" fanatics used to ridicule her precisely because of all that empathetic "It takes a village" folderol?

(a) "She’s too well prepared, she’s too well spoken. She looks too good behind the podium. I don’t envision her as motherly or grandmotherly. I can’t see her relating in difficult situations. Only when she has time to prepare does she look good."
(b) What? Does Katie hear what she's saying?

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Why No "Market-Based" Health Care Reform Can Succeed


The cost of health care vs. the consumer price index for the last ten years (source; click to enlarge). Note especially 2009 and 2010, recession years for the CPI. If you do click through to the source, note that its author apparently doesn't understand the relationship between monopolies and pricing power.

by Gaius Publius

A little while ago I speculated on the future of the ACA given its recent problems and said I wasn't sure whether it would survive or not. Meanwhile, others are predicting its demise.

It's certainly true that the ACA attempts to be a so-called "free market" solution to providing health insurance and health care. And it's also true that the ACA does not have within it mechanisms to restrain the cost of either the insurance itself or the health care that citizens are buying the insurance for.

In the light of those facts, let's look again at the questions I asked earlier:
  • Is the ACA poised to collapse?
  • Will the ACA be fixed? (Or even, can the ACA be fixed?)
Benjamin Day writing at Jacobin would answer Yes to the first question and No to either of the second. His reason: No "free market" solution to providing health care can work without price controls. Is he right? Let's take a look.

(By the way, the reason I put "free market" in quotes above is that the health insurance market is actually highly consolidated and monopolistic, and no monopoly-controlled market — think Standard Oil and the petroleum market at the turn of the 20th century, or Comcast today — is in any sense "free." If you need it, you pay what the only supplier will charge you.)

Day's analysis starts with this (emphasis mine):
Why Obamacare Didn’t Work

Obamacare has failed, and so will other market-based plans. We need a socialized system.

News broke late last month that yet another of the nation’s largest health insurers, Aetna, is pulling out of state health exchanges in 2017. The company’s action marks the failure of every market-based reform included in the Affordable Care Act (ACA).

The insurers that remain in the exchanges find themselves with unprecedented leverage to demand double-digit premium increases next year, which will leave eleven million patients with few options. The collapse of policies designed to increase competition between health insurers should serve as a lesson in an election year when both candidates, Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton, have been running on the promise of even more such reforms.
He then expands his theme of the failure of "market-based reform":
The first market-based reform to collapse was the introduction of CO-OPs, new consumer-owned health insurers designed to compete with large commercial plans. Of the twenty-three CO-OPs launched for 2014, sixteen have already closed their doors or been shut down by state regulators. The CO-OPs failed in part because they expected government subsidies that never arrived, but more importantly they didn’t have the size or leverage to negotiate rates with large hospital and physician groups, paying more for the same patient care than the dominant insurers they were competing with.
Not having market pricing leverage matters, obviously. In other countries, "market-based" solutions work because of decidedly non market-based practices, like government-mandated price-setting. Day again:
Most countries put hospitals on fixed budgets under a universal health-care system, but the few with private health insurers set uniform rates so market power doesn’t matter for the price of care. The Wild West capitalism that characterizes health care in the United States actually works against competition, rewarding mergers and consolidation by both insurers and providers, and undermines competition-based policy initiatives like the CO-OPs.
Any solution that places pricing power in the hands of monopolies and near-monopolies will always fail to deliver an affordable product, whether that market is cable TV or health insurance. Monopolies inevitably lead to high prices.

Day then looks at both the Clinton and Trump proposals for reform. After dismissing Trump's proposal, he says this about Clinton's proposal, the public option:
Clinton has promised to revive the Democratic campaign for a “public option,” a publicly administered health insurance plan that would compete with private insurers on the exchanges. If a new public insurance plan must negotiate with providers while trying to attract new enrollees, it’s likely to meet the same fate as the CO-OPs.

If allowed to use Medicare’s provider network and Medicare’s payment rates, a public option would have a tremendous advantage over private insurers since Medicare pays lower rates and few providers can afford to opt out of accepting Medicare patients. A weak public option that has to negotiate health-care costs as a small startup plan will fail, while a strong public option allowed to pay Medicare’s low rates is more likely to replace private insurers than compete with them.
Again, a "weak public option" will fail and a "strong public option" will replace private insurers, not compete with them. The second, replacing private insurers, is obviously a problem for the program's designers, since the ACA was created to prop up private insurers, not undermine their profitability. Day:
The last gasp of the ACA’s market-based reforms reveals an uncomfortable truth about our health-care system: we cannot afford to expand or even maintain our current access to care without cost controls, and health-care costs cannot be controlled with competition or markets.

The only cost control that works without undermining access to care is also the kind that Republican and Democratic leadership have foresworn this election: public budgeting and rate-setting through a single-payer system, or regulations that force nonprofit insurers to act like a single-payer.
And there you have it. American elite policymakers, from Clinton to Trump, from mainstream Democrats to any kind of Republican, are hell-bent on a "market" solution to health care reform, and Day is certain no market-based reform can succeed. I think he's right.

Day's piece is called "Why Obamacare Didn't Work." But it hasn't failed ... yet. In my present view, though, that's just a matter of time. What's next? This brings us back to the clash between the Sanders wing and the neoliberal (republican-aligned) wing of the Democratic Party. Until that's resolved, perhaps nothing is next but the shambles of what we have now.


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How Trump Is Planning To Rebound From The Electoral Catastrophe Making His Brand Toxic Worldwide


After winning the nomination in a ridiculous 16 ring circus of the weakest imaginable Republican primary contenders, Trump boasted how he would win deep blue states like New York, New Jersey, Oregon, Connecticut and California. He even wasted time and resources campaigning-- or at least holding his vanity rallies-- in this states. But he's losing all of them by huge margins. Yesterday the Public Policy Institute of California released a poll showing Trump with the lowest numbers in memory for any Republican nominee, just 28%. The only thing even close in the last century was Alf Landon's 31% against FDR in 1936, 80 years ago. Even Romney won 37% of California's votes. A Siena poll in New York last week, showed Trump with 30% and a Farleigh Dickenson poll of New Jersey voters last week had Trump at 40%. The latest poll from Oregon has him at 36% and the latest poll from Connecticut has him at 35%. So much for those predictions. (Trump is doing even worse in Vermont, where he's only polling 22%.)

Yesterday, Joshua Green and Sasha Issenberg, writing for Businessweek reported that "To compensate for this, Trump’s campaign has devised another strategy, which, not surprisingly, is negative. Instead of expanding the electorate, Bannon and his team are trying to shrink it. 'We have three major voter suppression operations under way,' says a senior official. They’re aimed at three groups Clinton needs to win overwhelmingly: idealistic white liberals, young women, and African Americans. Trump’s invocation at the debate of Clinton’s WikiLeaks e-mails and support for the Trans-Pacific Partnership was designed to turn off Sanders supporters. The parade of women who say they were sexually assaulted by Bill Clinton and harassed or threatened by Hillary is meant to undermine her appeal to young women. And her 1996 suggestion that some African American males are 'super predators' is the basis of a below-the-radar effort to discourage infrequent black voters from showing up at the polls-- particularly in Florida."

Bannon, Mercer, Bossie, Stone and the other neo-Nazis and Alt-right true believers may believe the immense data bank the Trump campaign is amassing in San Antonio will be used to build an even further right and more extreme alternative to the Republican Party, Trump and his family, no doubt see it through the eyes of practiced grifters and swindlers-- a way to turn on a spigot of cash flow. And they may need it. The Trump brand is definitely in the toilet across the globe. This past summer I was visiting Azerbaijan, primarily Baku, I noticed that there was a huge hulking Trump Tower in the middle of the glittering skyline. But the ostentatious new property, heavily promoted by Trump and Ivanka, was empty. In fact, it was closed down, having only opened for a week before firing the entire staff and shutting down the operation. Presumably they'll remove the toxic logo that the local bandits who own the building, the notorious Mammadov family, paid Trump to use, and re-open it under less toxic name-- like Motel 6 Baku. They already tried burning it down for the insurance money. And Baku isn't the only city where the Trump name is keeping hotel rooms empty... even at heavily discounted prices.

The prestigious new hotel in DC that he's always trying to drum up business for is the cheapest 5-star in Washington-- and the most empty. And the Trump Towers in Istanbul, where the president of the country demanded the name be changed, is desperate to sell over a dozen luxury apartments that no one will buy even at very deep discounts.
Property Turkey is privileged to offer to its clients 15 luxury apartments available for sale below market value within Istanbul's prestigious Trump Towers. This is a one-off offer for a limited period only and on a limited number of apartments.

Trump Towers located in between Sisli and Mecidiyekoy is one of Istanbul's landmark mix-use complexes, where residences and commercial units always command a premium. The complex is one of Istanbul's most prestigious.
CNN reported that travel agents and events planners are avoiding the Trump brand entirely. In DC, "room rates also indicate the hotel may be lagging behind its competition. A Tuesday night stay at the Trump hotel was priced at $505 on, more than $200 cheaper than five-star alternatives like the Four Seasons and the Jefferson. Comparable hotels like the downtown Ritz-Carlton and Hay-Adams, meanwhile, had no open rooms." The new hotel "has been the target of protests and vandalism since it opened last month. And its namesake's presidential campaign has made the Trump name awkward at best and toxic at worst for those who specialize in the hotel industry. 'There certainly are people who are concerned about the message they send by spending money in Trump-branded hotels,' said David Loeb, a senior hotel analyst at the Robert W. Baird private equity firm. Brand research studies suggest those concerns are taking hold. A Foursquare analysis showed foot traffic at Trump's hotels, casinos and golf clubs is down 16% this year. And a Young & Rubicam report released Tuesday shows consumers think Trump himself is less fun, trendy and stylish than he was three months ago. That's bad news for Trump, who claims his name is worth more than $3 billion in real estate licensing and branding deals. Industry analysts say that number is exaggerated."

Travel + Leisure doesn't, as a rule, slag off potential advertisers, but the news is all over the hospitality industry: Trump Hotels Ditching Name For New Hotels. I don't know if Trump plans on having Barron run the business, but his new hotel ventures will be called "Scion."
Amidst reports that occupancy rates at Trump Hotels have slipped this election season, the company has announced that new brand hotels will no longer bear the Trump name.

The newest line of luxury hotels, geared towards millennials, will be called Scion, the company said.

...Although Trump Hotels has said the new name has nothing to do with the eponymous businessman’s presidential campaign, empty rooms at the hotels have caused officials “to reduce rates during the peak season," according to New York Magazine.

...According to Hipmunk, bookings at Trump Hotels plummeted 59 percent during the first half of 2016 and data from Foursquare shows a 17 percent drop in foot traffic at Trump properties since June 2015, when the reality TV star announced his presidential bid.
Yesterday Toronto's Financial Post announced what amounts to a bankruptcy for that city's Trump International Hotel & Tower. The Trump Organization licensed Trump's name to the building and manages it.
JCF Capital ULC, a closely held firm, recently bought the construction loan on the 65-story hotel and condominium building, and claims developer Talon International Inc. and related companies defaulted on making payments since last year. JCF Capital is seeking a court-supervised sales process for the property to recoup the outstanding $301 million on the debt, according to court filings made Tuesday under Canada’s bankruptcy and insolvency act.

...The court filing is the latest in the decade-long saga of the building, Trump’s first branded hotel in Canada. Since construction began in 2007, the tower has been subject to lawsuits against Donald Trump’s firm and Talon from investors who say they were duped; a court battle to end Trump’s management agreement; and protests after the U.S. presidential candidate made comments about Mexicans, Muslims, and women during his campaign.

Earlier this year, Talon attempted to sell the property after defaulting on the loan, originally given by Raiffeisen Bank International AG in 2007, the court documents show. JCF Capital acquired the loan on Oct. 3 and sent a notice to Talon twice this month asking for repayment.

The debt matured in December of last year and Talon has been in default since July 2, 2015, JCF Capital said.

The owners of the property are firms associated with Russian-born billionaire Alex Shnaider and his former business partner on the project, Val Levitan, and include Midland Development Inc. and a few numbered companies. These entities are the only shareholders of Talon, according to the court documents. Midland has already agreed to appoint a receiver, the documents show. Levitan didn’t immediately respond to an e-mail seeking comment.
Now back to the Businessweek report we started with-- the data that will be very meaningful and valuable after we find out in 11 days whether Trump manages to get above 40% or not and now many Republican office holders he drags down into the toilet with him.
Since Trump paid to build this audience with his own campaign funds, he alone will own it after Nov. 8 and can deploy it to whatever purpose he chooses. He can sell access to other campaigns or use it as the basis for a 2020 presidential run. It could become the audience for a Trump TV network. As Bannon puts it: “Trump is an entrepreneur.”

Whatever Trump decides, this group will influence Republican politics going forward. These voters, whom Cambridge Analytica has categorized as “disenfranchised new Republicans,” are younger, more populist and rural-- and also angry, active, and fiercely loyal to Trump. Capturing their loyalty was the campaign’s goal all along. It’s why, even if Trump loses, his team thinks it’s smarter than political professionals. “We knew how valuable this would be from the outset,” says Parscale. “We own the future of the Republican Party.”

...Soon after Trump secured the nomination, a team from the RNC flew to San Antonio to meet Parscale at his favorite Mexican restaurant and discuss what party officials began describing as “the merger.” Priebus boasted then of having put “more than $100 million into data and infrastructure” since Mitt Romney’s 2012 loss. More than 10 percent of that cash went solely to beefing up the RNC’s e-mail list, which now has a dedicated department of a dozen people managing a list of more than 6 million supporters. To win access to them, Trump negotiated a partnership. The party’s online fundraising specialists would use his name and keep 80 percent of the revenue, while Trump’s campaign would get the remainder. “This is exactly what the party needed the RNC to do—building assets and infrastructure and the nominee gets to benefit from it,” says Chief Digital Officer Gerrit Lansing.

Trump’s team, which hadn’t actively raised money during the primaries, was unprepared. “I was put in the position of ‘We need to start fundraising tomorrow,’ ” says Parscale. That turn was so hasty that when, in late June, Trump sent out his first e-mail solicitation, it ended up in recipients’ spam folders 60 percent of the time. Typically marketers in that situation would have begun quietly blasting less important messages from a new server to familiarize spam filters with the sender’s address. Parscale shrugs off the ensuing criticism from technologists. “Should I have set up an e-mail server a month earlier? Possibly,” he says. “We also raised $40 million in two weeks. Woo-hoo, spam rating.”

Parscale was building his own list of Trump supporters, beyond the RNC’s reach. Cambridge Analytica’s statistical models isolated likely supporters whom Parscale bombarded with ads on Facebook, while the campaign bought up e-mail lists from the likes of Gingrich and Tea Party groups to prospect for others. Some of the ads linked directly to a payment page, others-- with buttons marked “Stand with Trump” or “Support Trump”-- to a sign-up page that asked for a name, address, and online contact information. While his team at Giles-Parscale designed the ads, Parscale invited a variety of companies to set up shop in San Antonio to help determine which social media ads were most effective. Those companies test ad variations against one another-- the campaign has ultimately generated 100,000 distinct pieces of creative content-- and then roll out the strongest performers to broader audiences. At the same time, Parscale made the vendors, tech companies with names such as Sprinklr and Kenshoo, compete Apprentice-style; those whose algorithms fared worst in drumming up donors lost their contracts. Each time Parscale returned to San Antonio from Trump Tower, he would find that some vendors had been booted from their offices.

Parscale’s department not only paid for itself but also was the largest source of campaign revenue. That endeared it to a candidate stingy with other parts of the budget. When Trump fired his campaign manager, Corey Lewandowski, Parscale’s responsibilities grew, then further still when Lewandowski’s replacement, Paul Manafort, flamed out. In June, Parscale, whose prior political experience was a Bexar County tax assessor’s race (his client lost), became Trump’s digital director and, in many ways, the linchpin of his unusual run.

By the time Bannon became chief executive officer, Parscale had balanced the competition between the RNC and Cambridge Analytica, with different sources of data being tapped for the campaign’s fundraising appeals, persuasive communication, and get-out-the-vote contacts. “I’m the only one that hasn’t gained from any of this,” he says pointedly about the data rivalry.

In June, Parscale granted his first national interview, to Wired, to preemptively explain why the Federal Election Commission was about to report that an unknown agency in San Antonio was the Trump campaign’s largest vendor. In August, Giles-Parscale handled $9 million in business from Trump’s campaign; two months later, the company’s total haul had cleared $50 million, most of it money passing through to online ad networks at little markup. Parscale was delivering his services at such a discount that Kushner even worried that the agency’s efforts might have to be classified as an in-kind contribution. “Jared’s a big part of what gave me my power and ability to do what I’ve been doing,” says Parscale, who sees himself as more than just a staffer. “Because you know what I was willing to do? I was willing to do it like family.”

There are signs that Trump’s presidential run has dealt a serious blow to his brand. His inflammatory comments about Mexican “rapists” and demeaning comments about women triggered a flood of busted deals and lost partnerships. Macy’s stopped making Trump-branded menswear, Serta halted its line of mattresses emblazoned with his logo, and celebrity chefs fled his new luxury hotel in Washington. Booking websites show that visits to Trump-branded hotels are down. Win or lose, Trump’s future may well lie in capitalizing on the intense, if limited, political support he has cultivated over the past year.

According to a source close to Trump, the idea of a Trump TV network originated during the Republican primaries as a threat Kushner issued to Roger Ailes when Trump’s inner circle was unhappy with the tenor of Fox News’s coverage. The warring factions eventually reconciled. But Trump became enamored by the power of his draw after five media companies expressed interest. “One thing Jared always tells Donald is that if the New York Times and cable news mattered, he would be at 1 percent in the polls,” says the source. “Trump supporters really don’t have a media outlet where they feel they’re represented-- CNN has gone fully against Trump, MSNBC is assumed to be against Trump, and Fox is somewhere in the middle. What we found is that our people have organized incredibly well on the web. Reddit literally had to change their rules because it was becoming all Trump. Growing the digital footprint has really allowed us to take his message directly to the people.”

It’s not clear how much of this digital audience will remain in Trump’s thrall if he loses. But the number should be substantial. “Trump will get 40 percent of the vote, and half that number at least will buy into his claim that the election was rigged and stolen from him,” says Steve Schmidt, John McCain’s 2008 presidential campaign chief and an outspoken Trump critic. “That is more than enough people to support a multibillion-dollar media business and a powerful presence in American politics.”

Digital strategists typically value contact lists at $3 to $8 per e-mail, which would price Trump’s list of supporters anywhere from $36 million to $112 million. The Trump enterprise could benefit from it in any number of ways. The easiest move would be for Trump to partner with Bannon’s global Breitbart News Network, which already has a grip on the rising generation of populist Republicans. Along with a new venture, Trump would gain a platform from which to carry on his movement, built upon the millions of names housed in Project Alamo. “This is the pipe that makes the connection between Trump and the people,” says Bannon. “He has an apparatus that connects him to an ever-expanding audience of followers.”

As it happens, this cross-pollination of right-wing populist media and politics is already occurring overseas-- and Trump’s influence on it is unmistakable. In early October, the editor-in-chief of Breitbart London, Raheem Kassam, a former adviser to Nigel Farage, announced he would run for leader of UKIP. His slogan: “Make UKIP Great Again.”

The final ignominy for a Republican Party brought low by Trump is that its own digital efforts may undermine its future. The data operation in which Priebus and the RNC invested so heavily has fed into Project Alamo, helping Parscale build Trump’s base. “They brought to the table this movement and people who were willing to donate and activate, and we brought to the table a four-year investment and said we can process that for you,” says Sean Spicer, the RNC’s chief strategist. “That willingness to embrace what the RNC built allowed them to harness that movement.”

If the election results cause the party to fracture, Trump will be better positioned than the RNC to reach this mass of voters because he’ll own the list himself-- and Priebus, after all he’s endured, will become just the latest to invest with Trump and wind up poorer for the experience.

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Thursday, October 27, 2016

Plutocrat For Congress?


Recently Eric, a longtime Blue America supporter in Mandeville Canyon, contributed $500, over ten times the average Blue America contribution. He divided it evenly between 15 candidates and each candidate got $33.33, except Mary Ellen Balchunis, Doug Applegate, Paul Clements and DuWayne Gregory, who got $33.34 each. The same day, another long-time supporter, Susan in Swarthmore sent in $5,000 and each candidate got $333.33. Everyone was really happy to see hefty contributions like those. That's because none of our candidates are like Florida New Dem Randy Perkins. He needed some money for his flailing campaign on Florida's Treasure Coast recently too. So he wrote himself another $1,000,000 check.

Randy wants to be a congressman. So Randy's buying himself a seat. Randy has nothing to offer working families in Florida's 18th congressional district-- but the folks there don't seem to mind. Randy, if he wins, would be replacing another worse-than-zero rich, spoiled congressman, Patrick Murphy. As of the September 30 FEC filing deadline, Perkins had spent $6,236,582 of which $5,802,029 had been self-funded. So the new million makes $6,802,029. I guess he wants that seat bad.

Previously, the only other federal contributions Randy Perkins had ever made were a $2,500 check to Mitt Romney in the hope of defeating Barack Obama, a $28,000 check to the NRCC and checks to conservatives of both parties, like McCain, Rick Perry, Rudy Giuliani and to corrupt Democrats like Debbie Wasserman Schultz, Alcee Hastings, and Patrick Murphy (of course)... as well as to the the Republican Party of Wisconsin and the Colorado Republican Campaign Committee. Now he calls himself a Democrat-- he switched his party ID a few weeks before registering as a candidate-- and I don't have the slightest doubt that even if he decides to stay a Democrat after being elected-- a 50/50 proposition-- he'd vote with the Republicans even more than Patrick Murphy did. And before he declared for the Senate, and started pretending to be a Democrat, Murphy voters with the GOP more than any Democrat in the House except 3 of the worst Blue Dogs of all time.

Aside from Perkins, these are the multimillionaires trying to buy House seats by spending a million dollars or more each:
Paul Mitchell (R-MI)- $3,577,287
Trey Hollingsworth (R-IN)- $2,582,150
Martin Babinec (I-NY)- $2,200,000
Vicente Gonzalez (D-TX)- $1,850,000
All the other multimillionaires who spent over a million dollars lost their primaries, like Maryland Democrat David Trone ($13,414,225), Tennessee Republican George Flinn ($2,795,000), Florida Republican Mark Freeman ($1,627,756), and Texas Republican Glen Robertson ($1,636,459).

Blue America doesn't have any million dollar donors (not even one). Our average contribution is about $45, although far more people give $20 than $200. If you can afford it, please consider contributing to one or more of the progressive House candidates who need some Get Out the Vote dontions this week and next week, by tapping on the Blue America thermometer below:

Goal Thermometer

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The Republican Wing Of The Democratic Party Rides Again


How do you know which congressional candidates-- often without records, or without easily accessible records-- you should vote for? Many people just base it on party ID. People who identify with the Democratic Party, for whatever reason, vote for Democratic candidates and people who identify with the Republican Party, vote for Republican candidates. I bet that accounts for upwards of 70% of the electorate. But on both sides of the political divide, there has been a realization dawning that not all Democrats (and, to a lesser extent, not all Republicans) are the same.

There's this thing-- the Republican wing of the Democratic Party, primarily conservatives grouped as New Dems and Blue Dogs-- that actual Democrats ought to not ever vote for. We write about this pretty frequently and I'm bringing it up again today because the New Dems just released their final list of 2016 endorsements-- two dozen of the worst Democrats (to use the term loosely)-- running for the House. Candidates have to submit applications proving that they are bona fide conservatives in order to get endorsed. Sure, some are worse than others, but if you're a Democrat who care about Democratic Party ideals, values and principles, and about getting progressive legislation passed, these are not candidates for you. The worst ones-- with records of how bad they are-- include Lou Correa (CA), Joe Garcia (FL), Pete Gallego (TX), Randy Perkins (FL), Colleen Hanabusa (HI), Brad Schneider (IL), Isadore Hall (CA), Monica Vernon (IA), Darren Soto (FL), Josh Gottheimer (NJ)... and from I know of them Matt Heinz (AZ) and Angie Craig (MN) don't seem as terrible as the rest.

The only reason to vote for Isadore Hall would be because you feel there aren't enough corrupt snazzy dressers in Congress

But a New Dem is a New Dem... It doesn't mean they're worse than a Republican, but it does mean they'll be dragging the Democratic Party further and further right and further and further into the corrupt clutches of Wall Street, something no Republican, no matter how bad, can do. (Also worth noting: two of the worst of the New Dems, Lou Correa and Isadore Hall, aren't running against Republicans Nov. 8, but against progressive Democrats, respectively Bao Nguyen and Nanette Barragan.)

On Tuesday Laura Reston dealt with the Senate version of the problem for the New Republic, asserting, correctly, that if Schumer's handpicked, Wall Street-friendly candidates blow this chance to take back the Senate, Democrats should stone Schumer rather than elect him Leader (except she put it more diplomatically in Will Mushy Moderates Cost the Democrats a Senate Majority?

Reston doesn't think much of former fracking lobbyist Katie McGinty, the 5th or 6th recruit Schumer finally managed to land as the not-Sestak candidate in Pennsylvania. She begins by quoting other journalists to puke on his Convention speech.
Delivered in a stilted, singsongy voice, McGinty’s string of platitudes earned a smattering of tepid applause from the crowd and a series of blistering reviews online. “McGinty sounds like she’s speaking to a kindergarten class, not a convention hall,” tweeted the National Journal’s Josh Kraushaar. Minutes later, the Guardian’s Dan Roberts added: “Katie McGinty, running for U.S. Senate in Pennsylvania, just gave the Saturday Night Live spoof version of a plastic political stump speech.”

That’s pretty much been the story of McGinty’s campaign--one that’s borne great resemblance to the equally lackluster efforts by the party’s chosen candidates in Florida (Rep. Patrick Murphy) and Nevada (former state Attorney General Catherine Cortez Masto). The Democrats are close to blowing the best chance they may have in years to take back the Senate: Control of the chamber has boiled down to six races where the Democratic nominees are all virtually deadlocked with their opponents. (McGinty, down by 2 percent to Toomey, according to Real Clear Politics, is lagging about five points behind Hillary Clinton in the Pennsylvania polls.) If they fall short, it will be because the party went out of its way to recruit and push loyal foot soldiers like McGinty, a career bureaucrat who, despite having a compelling personal narrative, has shown very little spark on the campaign trail-- and offered only one consistent message: Isn’t Donald Trump awful?
Confirming what I've long thought-- namely that McGinty has nothing to offer-- Reston asserts the only qualities she has-- the ones that lured Schumer and Tester into backing her-- other than qualities authoritarian Democrats like Schumer "value in their recruits: thoroughly inoffensive centrist politics, fundraising prowess, endorsements from Washington insiders, and a willingness to stick to Democratic talking points. The Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee and EMILY’s List wooed her into the race. And when her defeat looked likely, the DSCC officially endorsed her in March-- and then made sure that she won the nomination. In early April, the DSCC began pouring money into McGinty’s primary, expanding its initial investment well beyond the $1.1 million cash infusion they had originally allocated to shore up her campaign. The whopping $4 million spent by the party, EMILY’s List, and labor unions was enough to put McGinty over the top." And now they're stuck with a loser who might lose to Toomey, who-- as I expect to show in a poll next week-- would have been abandoned by the NRSC by now, the way they've abandoned Ron Johnson in Wisconsin, where Schumer was unable to insert right-wing New Dem Ron Kind instead of Feingold.
The party also recruited Cortez Masto to defend Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid’s seat in Nevada, and Murphy to challenge Marco Rubio in Florida. The Democrats would have had another flavorless centrist challenging Republican Richard Burr in North Carolina, too, if they hadn’t been turned down by a string of them. The DSCC sat down with former Senator Kay Hagan in early 2015, just months after her bitter loss in 2014, to gauge her interest in running again. Only after she and several other establishment options refused did Democrats settle on an unconventional choice-- liberal former state ACLU chief named Deborah Ross. Ross was considered a sure loss, but she’s running close to Burr with one of the most pleasantly surprising campaigns of the cycle-- offering a vision as fresh as the party’s chosen candidates’ are stale.
What Reston doesn't know is that Brad Miller, an independent-minded progressive was high on the list of every progressive group looking for an opponent to Burr and, knowing that crooked conservative Wall Street shills like Schumer and his hand-puppet Tester would never back him, demurred.
The central distinction McGinty has drawn between herself and her opponent is simple: He belongs to the same party as Donald Trump. “Donald Trump and Pat Toomey have plenty in common,” the narrator in a recent ad from the McGinty campaign says. “Even after Trump bragged about sexually assaulting women, Toomey stood by him.” Her allies have done the same. The Senate Leadership PAC recently released an ad that begins: “TOOMEY & TRUMP. Wrong for the women of Pennsylvania.”

It’s her one issue, really—and Toomey, the only senator running for reelection who hasn’t committed to supporting Trump, has made it devilishly hard for the attacks to stick. Pressed again in Monday night’s debate, he dodged again: “I don’t think my constituents care that much how one person is going to vote.” Toomey’s tactic has worked: Even as the Trump campaign was engulfed by sleaze in the weeks after his 2005 Access Hollywood tape surfaced, Toomey rose slightly in some polls, edging marginally ahead of McGinty.

Cortez Masto and Murphy have used the same playbook, repeatedly attempting to bludgeon their opponents with Trump. In an October 14 debate against Representative Joe Heck, Cortez Masto said, “When Donald Trump was making fun of the disabled, attacking Mexicans, calling them rapists and criminals, and calling women names and denigrating women-- which we know why he was, because he thinks he can sexually assault women-- Congressman Heck had high hopes Donald Trump would be president.” It didn’t quite work: In the days before that debate, Heck had disavowed the nominee altogether, helping to neutralize Cortez Masto’s prepared zingers. She had little other material to work with.

In an October 17 debate against Marco Rubio, Murphy experienced the same problem, almost comically. When Rubio attacked him for “inappropriate behavior” captured in an old photo that appears to show him groping a woman, Murphy sheepishly tried to pivot: “Let’s just talk about Donald Trump again.” It looked defensive, and furthermore, it’s hard to convince voters that a senator who famously feuded with Donald Trump in the Republican primary-- saying “Donald is not going to make America great, he’s going to make America orange”-- really stands with the Republican nominee.

After watching the recent Senate debates, Slate’s Jim Newell nailed the problem, writing that Democrats are “trapped in these races,” “adhering to the same, safe strategy of saying Trump’s name a million times, which keeps them close to their rivals but suffocates the strategies elsewhere that might reveal them as inspiring candidates in their own right, running their own races.”

Imagine, for a moment, that these candidates do pull out victories on November 8. What happens six years from now? In recent midterm elections, moderate Democrats have struggled to hang onto their seats; it’s the reason the Blue Dog caucus in Congress is down to 14 members. Kay Hagan, for example, ran a cookie-cutter Democratic campaign to take her Senate seat in 2008, hewing to the middle and touting her credentials as a corporate lawyer and bank vice president. Six years later, in a midterm election, she was defeated by almost 50,000 votes despite running what Democrats considered a “perfect”-- that is, cautious and unimaginative-- campaign. With no distinct political personality to attract North Carolinians to her, Hagen was easily cast by Republicans as an Obama puppet. And her centrist appeal was not enough to generate the kind of enthusiasm required to turn voters out in a midterm election year. As one Democratic strategist said at the time, “I don’t think a field operation can create enthusiasm.”

Even if Senator Katie McGinty has the best field operation in the country six years from now, she will need something more than pat Democratic talking points to turn out the vote. And if the Democrats keep handpicking candidates who have to rely on a rogue Republican presidential contender to manufacture enthusiasm, they will almost surely forfeit any chance at holding on to the Senate over the long haul.
If you want to see progressives win seats in Congress, not shills from the Republican wing of the Democratic Party, this thermometer leads to a page that includes both House and Senate candidates, all vetted progressives-- no New Dems, no Blue Dogs, no Schumerites.

Goal Thermometer

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Who Said "I Don’t Like To Analyze Myself Because I Might Not Like What I See?"


The election is still 12 days away and the Republican Civil War over Trump is getting out of control. Fox News reported that the head of the ticket has now stopped doing fundraising events for the party. That was money the RNC was counting on for Get Out the Vote operations, not just for Trump but for Senate, House, gubernatorial and state legislative races. Trump staffers told Fox that the Oct. 19 fundraiser was the final one Trump would do for the cycle. Hillary has 41 fundraisers until Nov. 8.

I'm not saying that RNC staffers have started using Trump photos for target practice yet, but these are not happy campers. And they're not going to get any happier as Trump intensifies his very public attacks on Republican leaders. He's already turned Paul Ryan into a pariah among Republican base voters. Trumpists want blood from the GOP leaders who rejected Trump. Yesterday Jeremy Peters and Maggie Haberman reported for the NY Times that Trump's impending defeat-- "which he has already darkly alluded to as part of a plot to disenfranchise his supporters-- could further inflame those on the right whose goal all along has been to disrupt the country’s political system." Several neo-Nazis, particularly Bannon, Bossie, Stone and Mercer, are sharpening their knives, looking to take over the Republican Party and preparing to move against the designated scapegoats for the anti-Trump tsunami now building.
Some of the loudest voices on the right seem poised to channel that anger into one of their favorite and most frequent pursuits: eating their own.

Some in the deeply factionalized Republican Party, including Mr. Trump and some of his senior aides, are already fanning the flames for a revolt against the House speaker, Representative Paul D. Ryan of Wisconsin, once Congress reconvenes after the election. Mr. Trump, who has lashed out at the speaker for being critical of him, has privately said that Mr. Ryan should pay a price for his disloyalty, according to two people close to Mr. Trump who insisted on anonymity to describe internal campaign discussions.

Mr. Trump made his frustrations plain on Tuesday. “The people are very angry with the leadership of this party, because this is an election that we will win, 100 percent, if we had support from the top,” he said in an interview with Reuters. (He hastened to add: “I think we’re going to win it anyway.”)

...Trump’s campaign chairman, Stephen K. Bannon, the provocative chairman of Breitbart News, made Mr. Ryan a frequent target of its coverage while he ran the website and is said to be particularly intent on forcing Mr. Ryan out. And Mr. Bannon, who declined to be interviewed for this article, would be able to pick up at Breitbart where he left off: as a persistent irritant to the Republican establishment.

In interviews, Mr. Trump’s supporters said they were determined to harness the anti-establishment energy that Mr. Trump had catalyzed and to refocus it on the Republican leadership in Congress-- a target many of them seem just as eager to take down as they are to bring down Mrs. Clinton.

“There’s a huge chunk of people who want to see a fight taken to D.C.,” said Representative Dave Brat, Republican of Virginia and a member of the House Freedom Caucus, which has pressed Mr. Ryan on several issues since he became speaker last year. Mr. Brat said many conservatives remained perplexed as to why Mr. Ryan and Republican leaders would choose to fight Mr. Trump rather than focus their energy on Mrs. Clinton.

“Leadership comes and smacks our guy?” Mr. Brat said. “That’s where you’re going to put down a marker? Really? And the American people are just scratching their head saying, ‘Really? That’s rich.’”

Mr. Brat’s advice for Mr. Ryan: “He’d better pivot. He’d better pivot hard.”

Representative Warren Davidson of Ohio, another Freedom Caucus member, warned Republican leaders to proceed cautiously on the issues most central to Mr. Trump’s candidacy: trade and immigration.

“You can’t ignore what millions and millions of people have expressed in this election cycle,” Mr. Davidson said.

A spokeswoman for Mr. Ryan, AshLee Strong, reiterated his plans to focus his efforts on House races, and not on the presidential campaign. “Speaker Ryan is fighting to ensure we hold a strong majority next Congress, and he is always working to earn the respect and support of his colleagues,” Ms. Strong said.

Waiting to assume the role of the dogged opposition are right-leaning news media and political entities that thrive on and profit from challenging Republican leaders.

There is Breitbart, which over the weekend ran a 3,000-word article, headlined “He’s With Her,” excoriating Mr. Ryan as complicit in an increasingly likely Clinton victory.

There is Citizens United, the group that Mr. Trump’s deputy campaign manager, David N. Bossie, ran until August. A tenacious critic of Mrs. Clinton’s that has aggressively pursued the release of her private emails, Citizens United was one of several well-funded groups that put pressure on former Representative John A. Boehner of Ohio to resign as speaker. It has cautioned Mr. Ryan not to follow in Mr. Boehner’s footsteps in cutting deals considered anathema to the Republican base.

And there is Roger Stone, a political provocateur and longtime adviser to Mr. Trump who has worked to pressure the Republican establishment for years.

Also seeking greater influence are policy-minded groups like Heritage Action for America and FreedomWorks, which push Republican lawmakers to adopt a more fiscally conservative, small-government approach. In recent days, leaders of both groups have joined other conservatives in calling for the House to delay a vote on picking a candidate to be the next speaker, which usually takes place right after the November elections.

“If the party doesn’t learn lessons and change based on what’s gone on for the last year and a half, I think it’s going to be just catastrophe,” said Michael Needham, the chief executive of Heritage Action.

Still, Mr. Ryan has a bulwark of support, even among members whose districts are rife with Trump supporters. Representative Peter T. King of New York said he did not think Mr. Ryan’s opponents had the votes to block his re-election. But he added that they could make life miserable for Mr. Ryan if Republicans lose enough seats to leave them with a very thin majority.

“I think you’d find a real backlash, and a real reaction to that, I’d say, from a solid majority of the Republican conference,” Mr. King said of efforts to remove Mr. Ryan. “You can’t take people who are going to use their veto power and put them in charge.”

Newt Gingrich, a former speaker who has advised Mr. Trump throughout the campaign, also warned that damaging Mr. Ryan would be much more difficult than it might seem from afar.

“I think it is a dead end, and I would not advise any of my friends to waste a lot of energy on it,” he said.

Few are as eager to challenge their own party as Mr. Bannon, a former naval officer who is given to saying that the Marquess of Queensberry rules, the 19th-century code of conduct for fisticuffs, do not apply to politics.

Mr. Bannon will leave the Trump campaign having blended its brand of populism with Breitbart’s, while stirring up millions of voters who might not have visited the website before-- giving him an outlet that could become even more powerful in his battles against the Republican Party.

Mr. Gingrich agreed that the divisions the election has exposed were not likely to heal quickly, especially on Capitol Hill.

“Read The Jungle Book,” he said. “The oldest wolf is ultimately defeated as leader-- great lesson for young politicians.”

Trump isn't about the same crackpot neo-fascism that Bannon, Bossie, Stone and Mercer are all about. He's not really about ideology at all. He's about Donald J. Trump. And he's always looking for an angle. Tuesday the NY Times ran a well-thought out Michale Barbero piece, What Drives Donald Trump? and it's sure not what drives the lunatics who are running his losing campaign. I'm betting that eventually, he's bound to turn on them as well.
The intense ambitions and undisciplined behaviors of Mr. Trump have confounded even those close to him, especially as his presidential campaign comes to a tumultuous end, and he confronts the possibility of the most stinging defeat of his life. But in the more than five hours of conversations-- the last extensive biographical interviews Mr. Trump granted before running for president-- a powerful driving force emerges: his deep-seated fear of public embarrassment.

The recordings reveal a man who is fixated on his own celebrity, anxious about losing his status and contemptuous of those who fall from grace. They capture the visceral pleasure he derives from fighting, his willful lack of interest in history, his reluctance to reflect on his life and his belief that most people do not deserve his respect.

In the interviews, Mr. Trump makes clear just how difficult it is for him to imagine-- let alone accept-- defeat.

“I never had a failure,” Mr. Trump said in one of the interviews, despite his repeated corporate bankruptcies and business setbacks, “because I always turned a failure into a success.”

The interviews were conducted in 2014 by Michael D’Antonio, a Pulitzer Prize-winning reporter who later wrote a biography of Mr. Trump called The Truth About Trump.

Mr. D’Antonio now disapproves of Mr. Trump’s candidacy and gave transcripts of the interviews to Hillary Clinton’s campaign this year. After a brief meeting with a few Clinton aides, he said, he never heard back from Mrs. Clinton’s staff.

Over the past few weeks, Mr. D’Antonio gave the New York Times access to the original audio as well as transcripts of his interviews with Mr. Trump, Mr. Trump’s first wife, Ivana, and his three oldest children. The Times is using them as the basis for this article and a two-part episode of its election podcast, The Run-Up.

Mr. Trump, in a statement on Monday night, called the recordings “Pretty old and pretty boring stuff. Hope people enjoy it.”

...Trump reveals himself over and over, in the stories he tells, in his wide-ranging answers to questions and at times in casual, seemingly throwaway lines.

Who does he look up to? “I don’t have heroes,” Mr. Trump said.

Does he examine history to better understand the present? “I don’t like talking about the past,” he said, later adding, “It’s all about the present and the future.”

Who earns his respect? “For the most part,” he said, “you can’t respect people because most people aren’t worthy of respect.”

His lavish lifestyle? “I could be very happy in a one-bedroom,” he said, motioning at his vast penthouse apartment. “I don’t need this-- three floors.”

His struggle to balance work and love? “It’s very hard for somebody to be married to me,” he said.

But he always seems to return, in one form or another, to the theme of humiliation.

...He is intoxicated by the glow of his name in the news media, a subject he brings up repeatedly in the interviews.

...Ultimately, Mr. Trump fears-- more than anything else-- being ignored, overlooked or irrelevant.
And Bannon and that Alt-right crew... they're losers and when Trump isn't depending on them any longer, he'll see that fast and put th equivalent of "C" next to their names and stop taking their calls.

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Robert Kennedy Jr.: Syria Is Another Pipeline War


Proposed pipeline routes through the Middle East to gas markets in Europe. The purple line is the Western-supported Qatar-Turkey pipeline. All of the nations it passes through — Saudi Arabia, Jordan, Turkey (all highlighted in red) — have agreed to it ... except Syria. The red line is the "Islamic Pipeline" from Iran through Iraq into Syria. See text below for further explanation. (Source: MintPress News; click to enlarge)

by Gaius Publius

Summary first: We have been at war in Syria over pipelines since 1949. This is just the next mad phase.

I'm not sure most Americans have figured out what's happening in Syria, because so much of what we hear is confusing to us, and really, we know so little of the context for it. Is it an insurgency against a brutal ruler? Is it a group of insurgencies struggling for power in a nearly failed state? Is it a proxy war expressing the territorial and ideological interests of the U.S., Russia, Turkey and Iran?

Or something else?

According to Robert F. Kennedy Jr. it is something else — a war between competing national interests to build, or not build, a pipeline to the Mediterranean so natural gas can be exported to Europe. Inconveniently for Syria, that nation lies along an obvious pipeline route.

Which makes it another war between interests for money — something not very hard to understand at all.

Here's Kennedy's argument via EcoWatch. This is a long piece, well worth a full read, but I'll try to present just the relevant sections here.

The Historical Context: Decades of CIA-Sponsored Coups and Counter-Coups in Syria

Kennedy's introductory section contains an excellent examination of the history of U.S. involvement in Syria starting in the 1950s with the Cold War machinations of the Eisenhower-appointed Dulles brothers, John Foster Dulles, the Secretary of State, and Allen Dulles, the head of the CIA. Together, they effectively ruled U.S. foreign policy.

Kennedy writes (my emphasis):
Syria: Another Pipeline War

... America's unsavory record of violent interventions in Syria—obscure to the American people yet well known to Syrians—sowed fertile ground for the violent Islamic Jihadism that now complicates any effective response by our government to address the challenge of ISIS. So long as the American public and policymakers are unaware of this past, further interventions are likely to only compound the crisis. Moreover, our enemies delight in our ignorance.

... [W]e need to look at history from the Syrians' perspective and particularly the seeds of the current conflict. Long before our 2003 occupation of Iraq triggered the Sunni uprising that has now morphed into the Islamic State, the CIA had nurtured violent Jihadism as a Cold War weapon and freighted U.S./Syrian relationships with toxic baggage.

During the 1950's, President Eisenhower and the Dulles brothers rebuffed Soviet treaty proposals to leave the Middle East a cold war neutral zone and let Arabs rule Arabia. Instead, they mounted a clandestine war against Arab Nationalism—which CIA Director Allan [sic] Dulles equated with communism—particularly when Arab self-rule threatened oil concessions. They pumped secret American military aid to tyrants in Saudi Arabia, Jordan, Iraq and Lebanon favoring puppets with conservative Jihadist ideologies which they regarded as a reliable antidote to Soviet Marxism. At a White House meeting between the CIA's Director of Plans, Frank Wisner, and Secretary of State, John Foster Dulles, in September of 1957, Eisenhower advised the agency, “We should do everything possible to stress the 'holy war' aspect."

The CIA began its active meddling in Syria in 1949—barely a year after the agency's creation. Syrian patriots had declared war on the Nazis, expelled their Vichy French colonial rulers and crafted a fragile secularist democracy based on the American model. But in March of 1949, Syria's democratically elected president, Shukri-al-Kuwaiti, hesitated to approve the Trans Arabian Pipeline, an American project intended to connect the oil fields of Saudi Arabia to the ports of Lebanon via Syria. In his book, Legacy of Ashes, CIA historian Tim Weiner recounts that in retaliation, the CIA engineered a coup, replacing al-Kuwaiti with the CIA's handpicked dictator, a convicted swindler named Husni al-Za'im. Al-Za'im barely had time to dissolve parliament and approve the American pipeline before his countrymen deposed him, 14 weeks into his regime.
Kennedy then details the history of coups and counter-coups in and against Syria, and concludes this section with this:
Thanks in large part to Allan Dulles and the CIA, whose foreign policy intrigues were often directly at odds with the stated policies of our nation, the idealistic path outlined in the Atlantic Charter was the road not taken. In 1957, my grandfather, Ambassador Joseph P. Kennedy, sat on a secret committee charged with investigating CIA's clandestine mischief in the Mid-East. The so called “Bruce Lovett Report," to which he was a signatory, described CIA coup plots in Jordan, Syria, Iran, Iraq and Egypt, all common knowledge on the Arab street, but virtually unknown to the American people who believed, at face value, their government's denials.

The report blamed the CIA for the rampant anti-Americanism that was then mysteriously taking root “in the many countries in the world today." ... A parade of Iranian and Syrian dictators, including Bashar al-Assad and his father, have invoked the history of the CIA's bloody coups as a pretext for their authoritarian rule, repressive tactics and their need for a strong Russian alliance. These stories are therefore well known to the people of Syria and Iran who naturally interpret talk of U.S. intervention in the context of that history.

While the compliant American press parrots the narrative that our military support for the Syrian insurgency is purely humanitarian, many Syrians see the present crisis as just another proxy war over pipelines and geopolitics. Before rushing deeper into the conflagration, it would be wise for us to consider the abundant facts supporting that perspective.
So much for our supposed interest in "humanitarian" intervention in Syria. From a Syrian point of view, it has never been thus. It has been about pipelines since 1949, and they understand that, even if we don't.

The Current Conflagration

Kennedy then turns to the present, or the near-present. Refer to the map above as you read:
A Pipeline War

In [the Syrians'] view, our war against Bashar Assad did not begin with the peaceful civil protests of the Arab Spring in 2011. Instead it began in 2000 when Qatar proposed to construct a $10 billion, 1,500km pipeline through Saudi Arabia, Jordan, Syria and Turkey.

Qatar shares with Iran, the South Pars/North Dome gas field, the world's richest natural gas repository. The international trade embargo, until recently, prohibited Iran from selling gas abroad and ensured that Qatar's gas could only reach European markets if it is liquefied and shipped by sea, a route that restricts volume and dramatically raises costs.

The EU, which gets 30 percent of its gas from Russia, was equally hungry for the pipeline which would have given its members cheap energy and relief from Vladimir Putin's stifling economic and political leverage. Turkey, Russia's second largest gas customer, was particularly anxious to end its reliance on its ancient rival and to position itself as the lucrative transect hub for Asian fuels to EU markets. The Qatari pipeline would have benefited Saudi Arabia's conservative Sunni Monarchy by giving them a foothold in Shia dominated Syria.

The Saudi's geopolitical goal is to contain the economic and political power of the Kingdom's principal rival, Iran, a Shiite state, and close ally of Bashar Assad. The Saudi monarchy viewed the U.S. sponsored Shia takeover in Iraq as a demotion to its regional power and was already engaged in a proxy war against Tehran in Yemen, highlighted by the Saudi genocide against the Iranian backed Houthi tribe.
Which puts the Qatari pipeline squarely opposite to Russia's national interest — natural gas (methane) sales to Europe.
Of course, the Russians, who sell 70 percent of their gas exports to Europe, viewed the Qatar/Turkey pipeline as an existential threat. In Putin's view, the Qatar pipeline is a NATO plot to change the status quo, deprive Russia of its only foothold in the Middle East, strangle the Russian economy and end Russian leverage in the European energy market. In 2009, Assad announced that he would refuse to sign the agreement to allow the pipeline to run through Syria “to protect the interests of our Russian ally."
That was likely the last straw vis-à-vis the U.S. Which brings us to another pipeline, the so-called "Islamic Pipeline" (see map above):
"Assad further enraged the Gulf's Sunni monarchs by endorsing a Russian approved “Islamic pipeline" running from Iran's side of the gas field through Syria and to the ports of Lebanon. The Islamic pipeline would make Shia Iran instead of Sunni Qatar, the principal supplier to the European energy market and dramatically increase Tehran's influence in the Mid-East and the world. Israel also was understandably determined to derail the Islamic pipeline which would enrich Iran and Syria and presumably strengthen their proxies, Hezbollah and Hamas.
Another, competing pipeline which would run through Syrian territory, but this time carrying Iranian gas instead of Qatari gas. Thus the demonizing of Assad as evil in the mold of Saddam Hussein, instead of just a run-of-the-mill Middle East autocrat, as bad as some but better than others. Kennedy includes a good section on the history of the al-Assad family's rule of Syria, including this information from top reporters Sy Hersh and Robert Parry:
According to Hersh, “He certainly wasn't beheading people every Wednesday like the Saudis do in Mecca." Another veteran journalist, Bob Parry, echoes that assessment. “No one in the region has clean hands but in the realms of torture, mass killings, civil liberties and supporting terrorism, Assad is much better than the Saudis."
In September 2013, the Sunni states involved in the Qatar-Turkey pipeline were so determined to remove Syrian opposition to the pipeline that they offered, via John Kerry, to carry the whole cost of an U.S. invasion to topple al-Assad.
Kerry reiterated the offer to Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-FL27): “With respect to Arab countries offering to bear the costs of [an American invasion] to topple Assad, the answer is profoundly Yes, they have. The offer is on the table."
Obama's response:
Despite pressure from Republicans, Barrack Obama balked at hiring out young Americans to die as mercenaries for a pipeline conglomerate. Obama wisely ignored Republican clamoring to put ground troops in Syria or to funnel more funding to “moderate insurgents." But by late 2011, Republican pressure and our Sunni allies had pushed the American government into the fray.
The rest is a history of provocation and over-reaction — a great deal of both — and chaos and death in Syria. Kennedy provides much detail here, at one point adding:
[Syria's] moderates are fleeing a war that is not their war. They simply want to escape being crushed between the anvil of Assad's Russian backed tyranny and the vicious Jihadi Sunni hammer that we had a hand in wielding in a global battle over competing pipelines. You can't blame the Syrian people for not widely embracing a blueprint for their nation minted in either Washington or Moscow. The super powers have left no options for an idealistic future that moderate Syrians might consider fighting for. And no one wants to die for a pipeline.
I'll leave it there, but again, do read the entire piece if you want to truly understand what's going on in Syria, and what is about to go on.

Bottom Line

Bottom line, it's as Kennedy said: "No one wants to die for a pipeline" ... but many do and will.

I'll offer three thoughts. One, if we weren't so determined to be deeply dependent on fossil fuels, this would be their war, not ours. Two, we are deeply dependent on fossil fuels because of the political machinations of the oil companies, their CEOs, and the banks and hedge funds who fund them, all of whom pay our government officials — via campaign contributions and the revolving door — to prolong that dependence. We're here because the holders of big oil money want us here.

And three, keep all this in mind during the term of the next president. It will help you make sense of the phony warrior-cum-humanitarian arguments we're almost certain to be subjected to.

We have been at war in Syria over pipelines since 1949. This is just the next mad phase.


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