Smug liberals got played too

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Hey, you liberals who flocked to Bernie Sanders in the 2016 primaries, then stayed home from the polls or threw your vote to Jill Stein because you’d become convinced that Hillary Clinton wasn’t progressively pure enough for you … The Russians played you too.

Thanks to the 37-page indictment released yesterday from special counsel Robert Mueller, we know conclusively that the Russian operation to undermine Clinton and boost the chances of then-candidate Donald Trump also included pushing pro-Sanders messages in the primaries and seeking to suppress the Democratic vote or steer voters toward third parties, especially Stein, during the general election.

Read the excerpts for yourself.

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If you think these efforts didn’t affect the outcome of the race, think about this: The number of votes Stein won in Michigan was four times greater than Trump’s margin of victory over Clinton in the state. And without winning Michigan, Trump doesn’t win the White House.

As painted in the indictment, these efforts were less about Russian love for Trump (other than as a classic Chekist “useful idiot“) and more about their intense dislike for Hillary Clinton:

The Russian operations on social media were meant to communicate derogatory information about Hillary Clinton and other candidates, including Ted Cruz and Marco Rubio. And they were supposed to support Sanders and Trump.

“Use any opportunity to criticize Hillary and the rest (except Sanders and Trump—we support them),” they were directed, according to the indictment.

This was because the Russians involved really didn’t like Hillary Clinton.

Around September 14 in 2016, for example, one “account specialist” of a Russian-controlled Facebook group called “Secured Borders” was reprimanded for having a “low number of posts dedicated to criticizing Hillary Clinton.”

The specialist was also told, “it is imperative to intensify criticizing Hillary Clinton.”

I could see this unfolding in real time on social media as I watched many of my very liberal friends, family, students, and former students become increasingly hostile toward Clinton and alienated from the mainstream of the Democratic Party as they first embraced Sanders and then Stein.

They had convinced themselves that there was no substantive difference between Trump and Clinton, and therefore it mattered not whether they “voted their conscience” and cast a ballot for Stein or simply stayed home in protest.

And they often justified their decisions by repeating the Russian attacks and talking points flooding social media.

In the year and half since the election, many of those same liberals have smugly pointed at the ease with which Republicans, especially the so-called white working class, were manipulated into backing a carnival barker for president.

So, liberals, how does it feel knowing that the Russians got you too?

Seven things (revisited)

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Almost exactly a year ago (July 9, 2015 to be precise), I posted a little piece called “Seven things I want to believe.” These weren’t predictions, per se, more like short observations, hopes, and expectations.

Even so, I thought it was worth it to look back and see how these panned out. In case you don’t want to read any further, here’s the short take:

I got some right (Clinton-Sanders and the Iran nuclear deal), I got some incredibly wrong (Trump and the Grateful Dead), some partly right but wrong in tragic ways (Confederate flag and dialogue on race, ISIS sympathizers and domestic terrorism), and one (Han Solo origin pic) where it’s too soon to tell but the signs are promising.

On to the original list, with an update for each.

1) Republican voters are not so completely alienated from the political process that they will actually cast their ballots for Donald Trump.

Wow, did I get that one wrong. It’s some comfort knowing that virtually everyone else got it wrong too, but still. Come next week the billionaire (maybe) blowhard (definitely) with authoritarian tendencies will officially go from presumptive to official Republican nominee for the White House. Who saw that coming a year ago? I sure didn’t.

2) The chances of reaching a deal with Iran on its nuclear ambitions are better than 50/50.

This one did pan out, despite intense political opposition in Congress. But in the end, Iran agreed to terms, it’s nuclear weapons program has been almost completely dismantled, most economic sanctions have been lifted, and the way is clear for the country to re-enter the international community.

It also represents an impressive diplomatic victory for Obama’s legacy which will make the US safer and the region more stable. Assuming some psycho blowhard doesn’t become the next president and tear the thing up.

3) Removing the Confederate battle flag from the lawn of the South Carolina statehouse will be the start of a meaningful national dialogue on race.

We’re having dialogue, that’s for sure. But black men are still dying at the hands of police, protests are still roiling American cities in ways reminiscent of the late 1960s, and racial politics still seem paralyzed. And we still have Rudy Giuliani.

4) The Grateful Dead are done.

Dear God, they’re actually on tour. Well, at least the creaky remnants.

5) Bernie Sanders will force Hillary Clinton to actually compete for the Democratic nomination.

Nailed this one. Not only did Clinton have to compete, she had to compete all the way into June before locking up the nomination. Sanders has dragged his feet on endorsing Clinton for the last month, trying to use every last ounce of the influence he won during the primaries to try to push her and the Democratic Party as far to the progressive left as possible.

And it has worked. Clinton has embraced a number of the proposals he championed, like a $15 national minimum wage and free (public) college education. Tomorrow Sanders and Clinton hit the campaign trail together.

6) FBI arrests of supposed ISIS sympathizers actually foiled July 4th terror plots.

Who knows if they did or didn’t. Doesn’t really matter, I suppose. After all, we still got San Bernardino and Orlando. Given the nature of domestic terrorism and patterns of radicalization, we would be foolish to assume that those will be the last.

7) The Han Solo origin movie will be awesome.

This one is too soon to call. But based on Star Wars: The Force Awakens and the trailers for the upcoming Rogue One, I am more than cautiously optimistic.

Hell, I’m downright giddy.

Clinton’s WVa. defeat in context

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West Virginia welcomes Pres. Barack Obama in 2015. (NPR photo)

 

A lot of hay was made over Hillary Clinton’s big loss to Bernie Sanders in yesterday’s West Virginia primary. Especially the contrast between this year and 2008, when Clinton took 67 percent of the vote over Barack Obama’s 25 percent.

The Washington Post put it this way:

Once a Clinton stronghold, West Virginia’s political preference has shifted dramatically since she won by a landslide against Obama in the 2008 presidential primary.

Sanders himself, in a victory speech delivered in Salem, Oregon, last night hyped the contrast between Clinton’s support in 2008 and 2016:

This is a state, West Virginia, where Hillary Clinton won by more than 40 points against Barack Obama in 2008.

West Virginia is a working-class state and like may other states in this country, including Oregon, working people are hurting and what the people of West Virginia said tonight … is that we need an economy that works for all of us, not just the 1%.

Maybe that’s what voters in West Virginia were saying, including the one third of Sanders supporters who told exit pollsters that in a general election contest between he and Trump they’d cast their ballot for the demagogue billionaire. But maybe the size of Clinton’s win in 2008 is far less meaningful than anyone cares to acknowledge.

So let’s put Clinton’s comparative numbers in context.

In 2008 Clinton had a singular advantage over her primary opponent: She was running against a black man. In that contest 2 in 10 white West Virginia voters said race mattered in their vote, second only to Mississippi. And 8 in 10 of those backed Clinton.

As the New York Times reported, Clinton wasn’t especially shy about playing to that sentiment:

The voter surveys showing a strong racial component to the West Virginia voting suggest that Mr. Obama would still face pockets of significant Democratic resistance if he does become the party’s first black nominee. … Obama supporters accused Mrs. Clinton of playing the race card last week when she explicitly said that she had more support among “white Americans” than he did.

Animus toward Obama in West Virginia is so great that in 2012, a convicted felon serving time in a Texas penitentiary won 40 percent of the vote in the Democratic primary. A consequence of Obama’s environmental policies, for sure, but also his race.

I guess the point I’m trying to make here is that the scale of Clinton’s defeat in West Virginia is shocking only if you fail to put into its proper context. Clinton, as The Guardian points out, is running on a pledge to aggressively push the hated Obama’s environmental policies.

That’s a recipe for defeat in West Virginia even while its probably an asset elsewhere in the country. And just as in 2008, when Clinton’s landslide in West Virginia couldn’t change the inevitable trajectory of an eventual Obama win, Sanders’ victory won’t change the outcome either. The Guardian’s summary nails it:

Sure, coal country doesn’t love her. Sure, voters there don’t believe she simply “misspoke” when talking of her clean-energy plan. Sure, states with a 91% white electorate like West Virginia don’t love her.

She doesn’t need them to.

Bernie Sanders and the end of trade with the developing world

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Bernie Sanders visits the NY Daily News.

 

There were many, many revealing moments in Bernie Sanders’ recent long interview with the editorial board of the New York Daily News. Here’s one.

In arguing that “bad trade deals” have been responsible for the decline of the American working class, Sanders revealed what he thinks a fair trade deal would look like:

So if you are in Vietnam, where the minimum wage is 65¢ an hour, or you’re in Malaysia, where many of the workers are indentured servants because their passports are taken away when they come into this country and are working in slave-like conditions, no, I’m not going to have American workers “competing” against you under those conditions. So you have to have standards. And what fair trade means to say that it is fair. It is roughly equivalent to the wages and environmental standards in the United States.  (Emphasis added.)

Let that sink in for a minute. Sanders is claiming, in the name of fair trade, that the US should only trade with countries where wages are on par with what American workers earn. Leaving aside the issue of environmental standards, and assuming that Sanders is only talking about the current minimum wage, such a policy would eliminate trade with all but America’s richest trading partners, those where the minimum wage is $5 to $7 an hour or higher.

To see what countries would be excluded, have a look at this map showing global minimum wage levels:

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The countries with the three darkest shades of blue are those which meet Sanders’ wage standards. Everyone else would be cut off. That’s all of Latin America, Africa, and Asia with the exceptions of South Korea and Japan.

Would this bring manufacturing jobs back to the United States, as Sanders promises? Maybe, though I have my doubts. But the effects on the developing world, and the world’s poorest of the poor, would, as Zack Beauchamp explains over at Vox, be absolutely devastating:

But there’s one big problem, according to development economists I spoke to: Limiting trade with low-wage countries as severely as Sanders wants to would hurt the very poorest people on Earth. A lot.

Free trade is one of the best tools we have for fighting extreme poverty. If Sanders wins, and is serious about implementing his trade agenda as outlined in the NYDN interview and elsewhere, he will impoverish millions of already-poor people.

What’s worse is that the specific ways Sanders has proposed to roll back previous trade agreements could lead to serious reprisals from the affected countries. The nightmare scenario, experts say, is a global slide toward protectionism, wherein China and other countries take cues from the US and impose their own retaliatory tariffs. That would devastate economies in the developing world, dooming many more millions to a lifetime of crushing poverty.

Look, I don’t think Sanders is so callous that he is knowingly condemning millions upon millions of foreign workers to the kind of extreme poverty-induced misery that Americans, even those at the economic bottom, haven’t experienced in generations. I suspect he hasn’t really thought about it. That’s the real issue here.

I do think this is evidence of a much larger problem with Sanders as a candidate, and more importantly, as a possible president. He has never had to confront the practical implications or manage the negative impacts of his putting his high-minded principles into practice.

Bernie Sanders has spent the last 30 years of his career as a professional political gadfly. That’s a great place to be when believe you have truth and righteousness on your side.

It’s bad enough not to have given much hard thought about how to translate your principles into policy. But its worse, and fundamentally irresponsible, to not have considered the consequences of actually succeeding.