The weathervane

 

Thomas Friedman often serves as the weathervane for elite opinion. Friedman’s article, where he urges Hillary to double down on neoliberal dogma in order to thwart the evil Donald, reminds us that after all that’s happened in the 2016 election, our elite remain clueless. Along those lines, his employer, The NY Times, continues its descent into irrelevance, where its main purpose seems to flatter the 1% and continue the fiction of their merit to society.

Matt Taibbi, who writes for a music magazine, has emerged as one of the most trenchant critics of American economic, political and foreign policies. Taibbi, who christened Friedman, Flathead, says that Friedman’s purpose at the Times is to serve as the elite defender of globalization.

“We never really had a referendum on globalization in America. It just sort of happened. People had jobs one day, then the next morning they were fired, replaced by 14-year-olds in Indonesia or sweatshop laborers in Bangladesh, working in unsafe hell-holes without overtime or health care, beaten when they don’t make quotas.

Globalization in the snap of a finger essentially erased nearly two centuries of America’s bloody labor history. It’s as if the Thibodeaux Massacre, the hangings of the Molly McGuires, the Pullman Strike, the L.A. Times bombing, the Flint sit-in and thousands of other strikes and confrontations never took place.

The problem is that the major parties in the United States in particular seem almost totally disinterested in addressing the inequities of globalism. That’s because conventional wisdom is still stuck in the Friedman stage of telling people that if they’re troubled by the global economy, they’re just afraid of the future.”

And, here we are, with a Republican candidate–Trump–who has largely appealed to Republican voters who’ve been left behind by globalization.

To really understand the costs of globalization it’s nessessary to visit the flyover regions of America–Pennsylvania, Ohio, Michigan, Indiana, Illinois, Wisconsin, New York, etc. Countless shuttered factories, depressed and often nearly abandoned towns and cities, and populations overtaken by unemployment and the social breakdown that goes with it. The bleakness of the post-NAFTA industrial landscape is heartbreaking, but often completely hidden from view, especially for elites on the East and West coasts.

Like I’ve said before and will say again– economic insecurity does strange things to a society.

Defenders of globalization love to point to foreign workers in India or China and lecture you on your lack of empathy. Yeah, right. Since when do corporations, who are the biggest beneficiaries of globalization, give a rats-ass about foreign workers? After all, there’s that little detail of fiduciary responsibility that gets in the way of any concern except the bottom line.

Taibbi seems to be drinking from the same stream of consciousness on globalization so I’m going to quote big chunks of his latest article.

“Like Marxism, globalization is a borderless utopian religion. Its adherents almost by definition have to reject advocacy for the citizens of one country over another. Just as “Socialism in One Country” was an anathema to classic Marxists, “prosperity in one country” is an anathema to globalists, no matter what their politicians might say during election seasons.

If you bring up the destruction of the American middle class, pro-globalization adherents will point to facts like the rising fortunes of those hundreds of millions of Chinese workers who are now supposedly above the World Bank definition of poverty, making more than $1.90 a day.

That those same workers still have virtually no rights or benefits and on occasion have to be housed in factories with safety nets to keep them from killing themselves at an astronomical rate is immaterial to True Believers. 

They want even American voters to focus on the good news of incrementally increased wages abroad, forgetting that American workers never signed up for a plan to disenfranchise themselves so that workers in China or India could earn a few quarters more per day. Moreover, they certainly didn’t elect leaders to push such policies.

The problem with all of this is that the Democrats went so far in the direction of advocacy for the global religion that they made something as idiotic as the rise of unabashed nativist Donald Trump possible. 

Worse, Trump’s rise will give the Globalist Faith Militant an automatic argument for more time. They will decry any criticism of free trade or globalization as racist Trumpism, and Trump is such a galactic jackass that this will work, his vast inventory of offensive bleatings discrediting even the legitimate economic concerns of his voters.

But to deny that something needs to be done, and to ask American voters to keep having faith in this “we’ll all see gains in the end” fairytale that so far has very conspicuously only delivered gains to a tiny group of very wealthy people in this country, will do nothing but drive more workers into the Trump tent. 

And maybe the next strongman those voters pick to lead them out of the wilderness won’t be quite as huge an idiot, or as suicidal a campaigner, as Trump. Sooner or later, failing to deal with these questions is going to come back and bite all of us.”

Like a skunk at a dinner party, Trump has managed to unite the entire strata of the establishment and their media cheerleaders in opposition by exposing the rottenness in American political, economic, and foreign policies. The gang that’s oh, so horrified about Trump’s boorish behavior are the same ones who assured us that invading Iraq over nonexistent weapons of mass-destruction was the proper thing, and that bailing out banks instead of homeowners in the wake of the Wall Street crash avoided moral hazard.

While we’re lectured constantly on upping our game to succeed in the globalized marketplace, the neoconservative and neoliberal elites who were responsible for the biggest foreign policy and economic disasters in US history have escaped accountability with glib justifications of  how we should “look forward and not backward.”

Defenders of globalization, like Friedman, wondering where a monster like Trump came from should take a look in the mirror.

Update: “The White House put Congress on notice Friday morning that it will be sending lawmakers a bill to implement President Barack Obama’s landmark Trans-Pacific Partnership agreement — a move intended to infuse new energy into efforts to ratify the flat-lining trade pact.” [Politico].

What’s that adage about doing the same thing and expecting different results? Oh, yeah, insanity. And, this is your Democratic president–Mr. Hope and Change.

 

 

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The political/economy of empire

 

While it’s useful to focus on what we can all do to make things better, going local will only go so far. Entering a presidential election between two deeply unpopular candidates, we are faced with problems that require a national response.

Take the US empire. Since the end of World War II the US has maintained a world wide empire to ensure global dominance. Of course, this empire hasn’t been for the average American, but for the 1% and the corporations they control. Hate Trump, or love him, his contribution in this election cycle has been to clumsily expose the political/economy of the US empire. The panicked response among the foreign policy elite and media to Trump’s apostasy with regards to the continuing operation of NATO is case in point.

Despite the media depiction of Trump as the devil incarnate, he’s actually running to the left of Clinton on issues of foreign policy. In this crazy, topsy-turvy presidential election the Democratic Party has become the party of war, with Trump flirting with traditional GOP notions of isolation. The neocons have noticed and are fleeing Trump for Hillary. Top Democrats and the media have maintained a studied silence about this turn of events.

Investigative journalist, Robert Parry, has also noticed how the media depicts all of Trump’s statements as batshit crazy when some of what he says is quite rational.

“Amid his incoherence and insults, Trump has raised valid points on several important questions, such as the risks involved in the voracious expansion of NATO up to Russia’s borders and the wisdom of demonizing Russia and its internally popular President Vladimir Putin. Over the past several years, Washington’s neocon-dominated foreign policy establishment has pushed a stunning policy of destabilizing nuclear-armed Russia in pursuit of a “regime change” in Moscow. This existentially risky strategy has taken shape with minimal substantive debate behind a “group think” driven by anti-Russian and anti-Putin propaganda. 

Much as happened in the run-up to the disastrous Iraq War in 2002-2003, the neocons and their “liberal interventionist” allies bully from the public square anyone who doesn’t share these views. Any effort to put Russia’s behavior in context makes you a “Putin apologist,” just like questioning the Iraq-WMD certainty of last decade made you a Saddam apologist.”

Local readers looking for clarification on these and other foreign policy details will be sadly disappointed in our local papers coverage. The Tribune’s turn to the Washington Post for foreign policy coverage has not served readers well. In case you’ve been living under a rock, the Washington Post is the neoconservative flagship paper in the US, and their foreign policy coverage bleeds into propaganda.

A recent article describing a security conference held at my alma mater was an illustrative example. The conference was led by a local Republican Congress-critter who sits on the House Intelligence Committee. The speakers at the security conference were other assorted Congress and neoconservative think-tank denizens. Their overriding message was one of reluctant American benevolence, that was seriously at odds with reality.

“America is the best and perhaps only hope to maintain world peace in todays dangerous times, but it’s friends and foes question its commitment to that role.”

Since it was a security conference, the attendees went on to lay out a litany of concerns. The threat of Al-Qaeda and ISIS, Iran’s support of terrorism, Russian aggression, the conflict with China over access to the South China Sea, and North Korea. The consensus was that the world is a scary place with dangers lurking around every corner, and that the US needed to spend whatever it takes to reverse American foreign policy disasters.

Since this was a Republican con-fab, the US foreign policy disasters are all the black guy–Barak Obama’s–fault, never mind the idiot white guy–George Bush–who came before him, and the fact that Obama has been continuing the same disastrous foreign policies as Bush.

The whole security conference was a sick joke, with a sort of willful blindness to recent history, where since 9/11, the US has destroyed  Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya, Syria, Ukraine, etc., all in the name of maintaining “world peace in todays dangerous times.” It’s almost like the invasion of Iraq happened in another universe.

Jesus, it makes my head hurt.

Let me explain this slowly–the US is not the best and only hope to maintain world peace, but is a violent empire with hundreds of military bases garrisoning the world. The US, through NATO, has surrounded Russia, and installed an ABM system on their doorstep. The war on terror is a giant hoax. Instead of a threat to our way of life, Sunni terrorism is a Frankenstein monster we have created and nurtured in our quest for economic, military and political world dominance. As an example, we are supporting Al-Qaeda’s Syrian franchise–Al-Nusra–in our quest to overthrow the Baathist government of Bashar Assad. Our so-called independent media plays along, with CNN embedding a woman journalist costumed in a chador, with this bloodthirsty group of head-choppers.

Our foreign policy establishment and corporate media can continue to equate the US empire with American benevolence, but Trumps appeal is just one more indication of how threadbare this argument has become. Like financialization and globalization, while the American people may not know the exact details, they sense that the benefits accrue disproportionately to the 1%. They wonder why the US spends enormous resources to maintain a world-wide empire while cities at home crumble.

Making matters worse for our foreign policy establishment, the US is presently an empire in rapid decline and is vying to maintain it’s status quo in the face of aspiring powers–China and Russia, who are attempting to promote a multipolar world rather than the world we have now with the sole super-power–the US.

Commentator Alastair Crooke lays out the dilemma facing the US foreign policy elite. 

“Does he (Trump) not understand, (these “ancien regime” figures seem to say,) that rapprochement and entente with Putin now, could bring the whole structure tumbling down? It could collapse America’s entire foreign policy? Without a clear Russian “threat” (the “threat” being now a constant refrain in the U.S. Beltway), what meaning has NATO? And without NATO, why should Europe stay “on side, and [do] the right thing?” And if Damascus, Moscow and Tehran succeed in emerging with political credit and esteem from the Syria conflict, what price then for the U.S,-led “rules-based” global order?”

You’d be hard pressed to get any of this foreign policy complexity from our corporate media.

Instead we get American benevolence and Cold War 2.0.

Update: If you think I’m exaggerating about the new Cold War, watch NBC’s Olympic coverage for 15 minutes. Holy Fuck!

 

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Because Markets

 

Neoliberals believe that a market society is the natural and inexorable state of humankind, where Americans are not citizens so much as consumers. However, neoliberals recognize that this state of affairs will not arise naturally and must be constructed through political organizing. Therefore, the neoliberal political goal has been to seize the state and deploy it to create their market dystopia.

In my last post I said that I wanted to lay out some steps we could take that will help build a progressive community/mass movement.

Along those lines, I propose a judo approach, where we use our opponents strengths against them. If we are simply consumers rather than citizens we should seize the market and create a local economy that recycles capital and helps create well paying employment in our communities.

Creating a local economy requires an honest appraisal of our buying habits. What I see is that shopping has become an activity whose reward comes from getting the lowest price. The triumph of neoliberal market propaganda has been to convince Americans to shop non-stop, always seeking out the lowest possible price. It’s a race to the bottom, and it’s impoverishing us.

The first rule of a local economy is stop being so fucking cheap! Stop shopping on Amazon. Jeff Bezos is a dick. And, don’t ever shop at Walmart. The Walton’s are greedy sociopaths who fund the worst sorts of policies.

Instead, go local.

I know it’s not always possible but when it is find a local merchant that carries what you need. Talk to these local merchants and tell them why you are frequenting their establishment. This communication is the key to recreating a progressive community, as you develop a new circle of acquaintances. Tell your friends and encourage them to do likewise. Supporting local business and markets makes a lot of sense. Food is obvious. Shop at local farmers markets, and grocers and eat better. Start a garden.

Yes, local business can be more expensive, but this is only because the big box and internet corporations are externalizing their costs. These costs are still there but you and I and the rest of the world are paying them. Writer John Michael Greer says that these costs have been pushed under the rug for so long now that “the rug is getting mighty lumpy.”

If you have been paying attention, then you know as well as I that these costs are beginning to come home like a flock of diseased chickens. Global warming is the most obvious, but there are many, many others, like the massive inequality that’s the story of this election, and how hydraulic fracking is contaminating our water supply. Here locally, one of our lakes that provides water has been closed due to a massive toxic algae bloom.

Lambert, at Naked Capitalism has a great saying that satirizes neoliberalism–Because neoliberal markets, go die.

My version goes like this–Because local markets, go live.

 

 

 

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Live, Love, Laugh

 

My friends ask me how I stay happy knowing the things I write about.

That’s easy. No matter how bad things are, people go on with their lives, they laugh, make love and carry on the best they can.

I’m lucky in that I discovered extreme sports when I was young. Skiing down a tight couloir, racing my mountain bike along flowing single track, or flying a wing suit through the clouds allows me the luxury of not sweating the little stuff.  The sun is warm, the sky is blue and I have someone who loves me.

Why despair? Being unhappy only hurts you. Walking around like a martyr serves no good. And, Americans as a whole spend far too much time worrying about stupid shit, like terrorism or sexual predators menacing their children. I believe that the idea is to keep people perpetually frightened and under control.

If that’s true then the authoritarians have hit the trifecta. The world is being overtaken by events. There was hardly time to take in the attack in Nice before there was the Turkish coup, followed by the release of the missing 29 pages from the 9/11 report, and news of a possible coup in Armenia.

At this point there is a lot of bad stuff that’s baked in. Our elite have been busy enacting  neoliberal economics and neoconservative foreign policies that any sensible person knew were going to turn out badly. That time is now.

So what. The world has always been a shit show for a lot of people, maybe it’s my turn.

Life goes on.

One of my favorite writers, Ian Welsh, nails it when he says“Enjoy your lives as best you can. Take joy in the real things of your immediate lives. The horrors that are happening to others are not happening to you and making yourself unhappy because others are unhappy does nothing to help them, and harms you. That doesn’t mean “do nothing,” it means do what you’re reasonably able to do, and don’t sweat the rest.  There are billions of people on Earth, you aren’t personally responsible for this, and your contribution is not going to be the key if other people don’t also get off their asses.

With great change comes great opportunity. Milton Friedman and the movement right understood this concept and had a program–neoliberalism–ready when New Deal policies faltered in the 1970’s. It’s the same thing for progressives. If you want a better world start thinking about how to make it so.

Right now, both parties and many voters are reportedly unhappy with their nominees. This election represents an unprecedented opportunity for change in both political parties and going further, a chance to reform the underlying political and economic power structures in the US.

When things are going great it’s easy to be a rugged individual, but when times are tough we need the support of other humans. Unfortunately, it takes tough times to create community, or mass movements.

In the next post, I want to start discussing ways we can all do a little bit to make things better, and how these little things can help build a more progressive community/mass movement.

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There Are Alternatives

 

Neoliberalism is like a religious cult, with dogma to be upheld, apostates to cast out, and fervent belief in place of critical thinking. Margaret Thatcher well articulated the inflexibility of neoliberalism when she insisted that–“there is no alternative.”

The British voters seem to have missed the message.

In the wake of the vote by Britain to leave the European Union there’s been a rash of media stories decrying the racist, xenophobic, ignorant British voters, and warning darkly of an impoverished future. The elite contempt for democracy grows by the day. Our corporate media merely reflects this bias.

Our local paper had one of the most dishonest and infuriating editorials recently where they blamed the vote by Britain to leave the EU on racist and xenophobic voters, and likened the outcome to anti-government protestors here in the intermountain west. The editorial went so far as to conflate the British voters with western Sage-brush rebels who wield arms in defiance of the federal government.

Yes, voting is exactly the same as armed rebellion. Who knew?

However, Brexit should be viewed as an act of resistance against neoliberalism. The British voters who’ve been left behind by neoliberal capitalism, and therefore deigned superfluous, gave a big fuck-you to the British political and economic elite. In the US, Trump supporters are making the same calculation. Like the left behind Brits, they’ve watched as both parties have enacted policies that have destroyed their standard of living and left them in a precarious economic situation. These voters aren’t dumb. They know that a Leave vote or a vote for Trump probably won’t help them but they’re at the point where they just want everyone else to suffer too.

The problem with the revolt is that it’s been instigated and carried forward by the growing right-wing, nationalistic and xenophobic sector of of the populace in these countries ravaged by neoliberalism.

Liberal elite smugly blaming the Brexit vote of ignorance and prejudice are downplaying the serious economic concerns of these left behind voters and playing into right-wing critiques of a government run by liberal technocrats in thrall to neoliberalism. Rather that examining the causes of the economic dislocation that was the express purpose of institutions like the EU, liberals are herded into the familiar identity politics, where they lash out at ignorant, racist, losers who don’t appreciate the wonders of neoliberal globalization.

Contrary to conventional wisdom, the EU was designed specifically to be a neoliberal institution. Journalist Greg Palast, managed to interview one of the architects of the EU, Robert Mundell, who confirms this. “The imposition of the euro had one true goal: To end the European welfare state. For Mundell and the politicians who seized on his currency concept, the euro itself would be the vector infecting the European body politic with supply-side Reaganomics. Mundell saw a euro’d Europe as free of trade unions and government regulations; a Europe in which the votes of parliaments were meaningless. Each Eurozone nation, unable to control neither the value of its own currency, nor its own budget, nor its own fiscal policy, could only compete for business by slashing regulations and taxes. Mundell said, “[The euro] puts monetary policy out of the reach of politicians… Without fiscal policy, the only way nations can keep jobs is by the competitive reduction of rules on business.”

EU and NATO’s foreign policies in conjunction with US imperial diktats also contributed to Brexit. Does anyone believe that Britain would have voted for Leave if not for the invasion of Iraq? So much of the antipathy towards immigrants in Britain, as well as the rest of Europe, is a direct result of the EU and NATO’s foreign policies in the Middle East. These policies, in concert with US foreign policies of regime change, destroyed Iraq, Libya, Afghanistan, and Syria, causing resident there to flee for their lives. Most of them made for Europe. Talk about blow-back.

The abdication of a political-left, that was able to provide a class-based alternative to neoliberalism and neoconservatism has left a vacuum that the resurgent right-wing is busy filling. Even though the solutions offered will do nothing to resolve the serious economic problems, politicians like Marine Le Pen, Nigel Farage, and Donald Trump are at least offering something different than neoliberalism.

We live in an incredibly dangerous milieu. The economic dislocations produced by neoliberalism and political dislocations produced by neoconservatism are creating political conditions that are reminiscent of the 1930’s and rise of fascism.

There needs to be a better alternative to neoliberalism than hate and fear. We urgently need to build a world community based on regional cooperation, social protection and integration of immigrants, rather than a market-based system run by neoliberal bureaucrats and controlled by corporations.

 

 

 

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The Lesser Evil

 

Readers have accused me of being a Trump supporter. I’m not a supporter, but I do believe that he’s the lesser evil in a matchup against Hillary Clinton.

I know, hear me out.

The media has once again done America a disservice in their “race-horse” coverage of the presidential race. After two plus years of breathless, he said, she said, inane yammering on, there has been precious little, if any coverage of policies the candidates will pursue, and little if any history and perspective of past American domestic and foreign policies. As a result the American people are clueless about the things our government really does, and the deep-state that pulls the strings in the background. The media loved Trump when he was a sort of freak-show candidate. Now that he’s the presumptive Republican candidate, with all the defections among neoconservatives, neoliberals, and other deep-state denizens, not so much.

Trump’s policy proposals are not “insane” as described by our tendentious, neoliberal press. For the majority of Americans, their economic situation has worsened. Globalization, the off-shoring of well paying jobs, the encouragement of immigrants to lower wages in the US, the privatization of essential services, the gutting of the welfare state, are all things that have made life much more precarious for Americans. The neoliberal policies our elite have embraced have increased inequality, reduced economic stability and accelerated political and social change.

Trump is gathering support because he’s focused on two policies that have have seriously harmed average Americans–trade and immigration. Trade deals like NAFTA have hurt ordinary people by off-shoring middle-class jobs. Immigrants compete with and lower the wages of working-class people here in the US, since they’re willing to work for lower wages. Indeed, one thing that’s rarely mentioned is that US immigration policies, enacted by corporations, are designed specifically to lower labor costs and break labor unions. Trump supporters, by and large, are the one who have suffered as immigrants have lowered their wages.

Elites who have benefitted from cheaper foreign goods and lower labor costs for services performed by immigrants here, then turn around and accuse Trump supporters of being racists. It’s all mighty convenient.

Trump, in his own unique way, is also making a case for traditional capitalism, where goods and services are produced rather than relying on finacialization. As this article entitled, Who is Afraid of Donald Trump, makes clear :“The capitalist class had its own redistribution of wealth, and the financial elite have appropriated nearly all the fruits of this victory. It is not surprising that in this situation we see a rise of not only the working class, but also a part of the bourgeoisie. And Trump attacks against political correctness are by no means a manifestation of his personal feelings, his unrestraint and rudeness; it’s a conscious strategy to consolidate those social groups that have suffered under the dictatorship of political correctness. They were hit practically and financially; they lost their income, jobs and revenues. Trump’s propaganda is quite rational, and it is effective not because it, as the intellectuals think, resonates with the feelings and prejudices of the people, but because it reflects their real interests, even if expressed in a distorted form. The billionaire only bullies the groups which will not vote for him anyway. But it consolidates the voices of millions of white (and actually not just white) working class people, who are mortally tired of political correctness.”

I also believe that a president Trump would be less of a menace to the world than Clinton with his foreign policies.

I know, hear me out.

Trump questions the US’s penchant for regime change and destruction of other countries,  and he has claimed he will work with Putin rather than likening him to Hitler, as did Hillary. Most importantly, the deep-state denizens are deserting the Republican party and pledging their fealty to Hillary. A president Trump, in all likelihood, would face a revolt among the deep-state that actually runs things in Washington. Because of this, I’m convinced that a president Trump would be much less effective in managing American foreign policy, which increasingly only menaces world peace.

Whether domestically or through their foreign policy actions, US presidents increasingly only carry out detrimental policies. If I have to pick one of these mother-fuckers, then I damn well want the least effective one.

 

 

 

 

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The Greater Evil

 

Readers accuse me of being a Trump supporter.

I’m not a supporter, I’m just making the case that Hillary Clinton is the greater evil.

I know, hear me out.

The conventional wisdom is that Hillary is a progressive, like Bernie Sanders, but a pragmatic one, who gets things done.

Hillary gets things done, for sure. The problem is the things she gets done are horrible. Her failures are everywhere–market based healthcare, her unwavering allegiance to the financial industry, the bankruptcy law she helped pass as a senator from New York, are just some of her shitty neoliberal domestic policies. Recently, after Trump correctly stated that the US can print money, Hillary lied and repeated fairy tales of Weimar hyper-inflation, ignoring the fact that the US has a sovereign currency.

Meanwhile, her actions as Secretary of State were not just bad policies, but crimes. Hillary’s record includes supporting the contras against the Nicaraguan people in the 1980s, supporting the NATO bombing of the former Yugoslavia, supporting the ongoing Bush-Iraq War, the ongoing Afghan mess, and as Secretary of State the destruction of the secular state of Libya, the military coup in Honduras, and the present attempt at regime change in Syria.  Trump has only talked about doing horrible things. Hillary has done horrible things. Her hands are dripping with blood.

And, not just Hillary, but all of our leaders. The actions of  the American elite over the last 40 years have ensured that someone like Trump would come along. The New Deal policies that were implemented to preclude the rise of a fascist like Hitler or Mussolini, have been destroyed deliberately by the neoliberal economic policies embraced by elites like Hillary and Bill Clinton, Ronald Reagan, George Bush, and Barak Obama. Both political parties have been complicit in the destruction.

Update: Others share my feelings about never voting for Hillary. Here’s commentator–John, at Naked Capitalism.

“Jill Stein stated it most eloquently to Amy Goodman: “Hillary has already done all the things people are afraid Trump will do” They are both sociopaths, but Trump may actually be the less effective one. His narcissism will cause so much chaos and the bureaucratic mire of DC so thick where he does not understand how to work the system…he may be effectively hamstrung. Hills will go in and work it from day one for all her crap neo liberal neocon supporters.”

 

 

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