Trump’s poor grasp of economic reality, and the prospective failure of his populism

Reiterating some of Joseph Stiglitz’s warnings about Trumpist economics, Gwynne Dyer writes:

Neither Donald Trump nor his new appointment of Andrew Puzder as Secretary of Labor understands the significance of their forthcoming collaboration.

Puzder bears a large part of the responsibility for fulfilling Trump’s election promise to “bring back” America’s lost industrial jobs: seven million in the past 35 years. That’s what created the Rust Belt and the popular anger that put Trump in power. But Puzder is a fast-food magnate who got rich by shrinking his costs, and he has never met a computer he didn’t like.

He tells us: “They’re always polite, they always upsell, they never take a vacation, they never show up late, there’s never a slip-and-fall, or an age-, sex-, or race-discrimination case”.

But it isn’t evil foreigners who “stole” seven million jobs, and will probably eliminate up to 50 million more in the next 20 years. It’s the robots and computers that Puzder is so fond of. As automation moves up the skill sets, self-driving cars will annihilate another four million jobs. A 2013 study concluded that 47 percent of existing jobs in the United States are vulnerable to automation in the next 20 years, and the numbers are as bad or worse for the other developed countries.

This is what is really driving the “populist revolution” that caused two of the world’s oldest democracies to make bizarre, self-harming political choices in the past year. First Brexit, then Trump. Neo-fascism looms as we fear  a re-run of the 1930s. Economic growth has slowed since the crash of 2008, and unemployment is much higher than it looks. The official US unemployment figure is only 5 percent, but almost one-third of American men between the ages of 25 and 54 are “economically inactive.” So angry populist leaders are popping up again all across the developed world.

The “Dirty Thirties” ended in the Second World War, and there are obvious parallels today. TheEU is fraying at the edges, and Donald Trump has talked about curtailing US support for NATO. He has also threatened to slap huge tariffs on Chinese exports to the US, and it’s probably a bad idea to push China too hard when it is already in grave economic trouble.

But this is not the 1930s. There are no ranting dictators promising revenge for lost wars, and government benefits mean that unemployment is no longer a catastrophe for most people in Western countries. The old white working class (and some of the middle class) are angry because jobs are disappearing and because immigration is changing the ethnic balance in their countries, but they are not angry enough to want a war.

Trump’s election means that we are in for a wild ride in the next four years, but he will ultimately disappoint his supporters because he is barking up the wrong tree. He cannot bring back the jobs that were lost, because most of them were not lost to his favorite culprits: Free trade and uncontrolled immigration. Even if Trump understood this, he could not admit it in public, because there is nothing he can do about it.

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Kerry’s speech and the vanishing mirage of the two state solution

The two state solution was a figment of the Western mind conjured up and carefully maintained to assuage its conscience about the Frankenstein monster it has created and nurtured in the Middle East these past 65 years. Kerry’s speech on UNSC Resolution 2334 has set out the stark fact that Israel can no longer be considered a democratic state, even in the delusory ruminations of Western politicians.

That’s fine in the sense that it is in tune with the new neo-fascist zeitgeist and incoming Trumpism.  What’s not fine is that the aggressive reaction of Israel to this clearing of the air is laying the ground for a new regional and international counter-reaction and a new conflict, the sparks of which the incoming Trump administration seem dead set to fan into all-consuming flames.

Bush Jr brought us Iraq, Obama Syria and now Trump, Israel-Iran: a new a deadlier conflict for 2017 for which Iran is preparing with deadly seriousness. UNSC Resolution 2334 is a kind of ‘non est mea culpa‘ from a dying liberal internationalist ideology, which is – if you consider the wording of the resolution carefully – entirely absorbed with the past:

The Security Council,
Reaffirming its relevant resolutions . . . Guided by the purposes and principles of the Charter of the United Nations, and reaffirming, inter alia, the inadmissibility of the acquisition of territory by force, . . .
Condemning all measures aimed at altering the demographic composition, character and status of the Palestinian Territory occupied since 1967, including East Jerusalem . . . .
Expressing grave concern that continuing Israeli settlement activities are dangerously imperilling the viability of the two-State solution based on the 1967 lines, . . .
Recalling also the obligation . . .  for the Palestinian Authority Security Forces to maintain effective operations aimed at confronting all those engaged in terror and dismantling terrorist capabilities, including the confiscation of illegal weapons,
Condemning all acts of violence against civilians, including acts of terror, as well as all acts of provocation, incitement and destruction,
Reiterating its vision of a region where two democratic States, Israel and Palestine, live side by side in peace within secure and recognized borders . . .
1. Reaffirms that the establishment by Israel of settlements in the Palestinian territory occupied since 1967, including East Jerusalem, . . . constitutes a flagrant violation under international law . . .
2. Reiterates its demand that Israel immediately and completely cease all settlement activities in the occupied Palestinian territory. . .
3. Underlines that it will not recognize any changes to the 4 June 1967 lines, including with regard to Jerusalem, other than those agreed by the parties through negotiations;
4. Stresses that the cessation of all Israeli settlement activities is essential for salvaging the two-State solution . . .;
5. Calls upon all States . . .  to distinguish, in their relevant dealings, between the territory of the State of Israel and the territories occupied since 1967;
6. Calls for immediate steps to prevent all acts of violence against civilians, including acts of terror, as well as all acts of provocation and destruction, calls for accountability in this regard, and . . . for the strengthening of ongoing efforts to combat terrorism, including through existing security coordination, and to clearly condemn all acts of terrorism;
7. Calls upon both parties to act on the basis of international law, . . .  to observe calm and restraint, and to refrain from provocative actions, incitement and inflammatory rhetoric, with the aim, inter alia, of de-escalating the situation on the ground, rebuilding trust and confidence, demonstrating through policies and actions a genuine commitment to the two-State solution, and creating the conditions necessary for promoting peace;
8. Calls upon all parties to . . .  launch credible negotiations on all final status issues in the Middle East peace process . . . ;
9. Urges . . . the intensification and acceleration of international and regional diplomatic efforts and support aimed at achieving, without delay a comprehensive, just and lasting peace in the Middle East on the basis of the relevant United Nations resolutions . . . and an end to the Israeli occupation that began in 1967; and underscores in this regard the importance of the ongoing efforts to advance the Arab Peace Initiative, the initiative of France for the convening of an international peace conference, the recent efforts of the Quartet, as well as the efforts of Egypt and the Russian Federation;
10. Confirms its determination to support the parties throughout the negotiations and in the implementation of an agreement;
11. Reaffirms its determination to examine practical ways and means to secure the full implementation of its relevant resolutions; . . . .
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Historic UNSC resolution 2334 on Israeli settlements and Obama’s legacy

The resolution “… demands Israel immediately and completely cease all settlement activities in the occupied Palestinian territory, including East Jerusalem…[which activity has] no legal validity and constitutes a flagrant violation under international law.”

There are up to 196 illegal settlements on occupied Palestinian land, in addition to hundreds of settler outposts. These settlements host up to 600,000 Jewish settlers, who were moved there in violation of international law and, in particular, the Fourth Geneva Convention.

In respect of resolution 2334, four of the five permanent members of the UN Security Council, and all 10 of the current non-permanent members voted in favour of the motion: China, France, Russia, UK, Angola, Egypt, Japan, Malaysia, New Zealand, Senegal, Spain, Ukraine, Uruguay and Venezuela. Although Egypt originally withdrew the proposed resolution which it was championing because of pressure from Israel, it eventually voted in favour, after being castigated by Malaysia, New Zealand, Senegal and Venezuela, who decided to take up the baton. Egypt’s potential moment in the sun was eclipsed. So in the end, 14 out of 15 voted for the resolution.

The wording of the US abstention, however, made it sound very much like a yes vote: Samantha Power said: “The United States has been sending a message that the settlements must stop privately and publicly for nearly five decades… One cannot simultaneously champion expanding Israeli settlements and champion a viable two state solution that would end the conflict. One had to make a choice between settlements and separation”. This sends a powerful message to Israel from the international community ahead of Trump’s typically harebrained approach to the two-stage solution at the heart of international law on the matter.

The resolution has been called toothless, and yet unlike General Assembly resolutions, UNSC resolutions are actually not advisory but mandatory. It is only because Israel will violate with impunity because of the traditional lack of American and European political will in the face of the Israel lobby that such a resolution becomes ‘toothless’. We have seen this with Israel’s total disregard for Resolution 242.

Nevertheless, this departure will put any future Trump Israeli policy, which is widely expected to be strongly biased in favour of Israel, in the position of being “rogue” in the context of international law. The importance of this factor in the long term should not be underestimated, and the assembled council members expressed their unanimous backing of Palestinian rights by applauding after the resolution was passed.

This one action by Obama before his leaving office is a prompt for a reassessment of his foreign policy.

Although Syria is a disaster, one could interpret Obama leaving a void there for Russia, Turkey and Iran to take over, as a good thing in the long-term. Indeed Obama would seem to have bucked an inheritance here. Inderjeet Parmar’s considered thesis is that it was the liberal international policy of the Democratic Party’s establishment that had decided on a course of régime change in Syria prior to 2009 and Obama’s election. Furthermore, it was Hillary Clinton in her role as Secretary of State, who deliberately tripped up the prospects for the Syrian National Council to take a political rather than military course in 2012. Hers was a plan for a war by proxy with her Saudi allies.

The Iran deal with Obama steered though the US legislative against determined efforts by Israel, thus avoiding war with Iran was clearly a positive step.

However, Obama support for the Sarkozy-Cameron idiocy in Libya was hugely destructive, although one might say that this might once again have been as a result of the undue influence of Hillary Clinton.

Another negative is the focus on and then the surge in Afghanistan – Obama’s war of choice.

In respect of Iraq, many in the US believe that the US military should have stayed to stop the sectarianism and the rise of ISIS, and that Obama’s withdrawal was a mistake. However, such a view contravenes the fact that in the first place the American and British militaries fostered the sectarian policies currently tearing the region apart, during their invasion, to further their own ends.

One could conclude in a negative sense that Obama’s wish to disengage from the Middle East, against the wishes of his establishment, was a good thing in the long term. Once the Iraq War was over, the Middle East changed completely and no amount of tinkering by a continued occupation force would have made any difference – and quite likely would have only exacerbated the situation. The decision to leave Iraq was right. The damage was done.

All in all, however, despite the positive glosses, one has to conclude that Obama was a weak president who felt hemmed in not only by the Washington bureaucracy, but also by the Clintonite establishment in his own party. This became terribly clear when he turned out to not be a fair and just enough person to stand against the demonisation of Sanders during the electoral process, which led to Trump’s win. If one is to take Obama’s legacy article in the Atlantic Magazine as a guide to his personality, it gives us a sense of sour grapes and a tendency to blame others for his mistakes. On this basis, could we say that Obama’s non-veto at this historic UNSC meeting was essentially an act of personal revenge over Netanhayu’s constant humiliations, rather than an act of statesmanship?

What should make us lean towards answering that question in the affirmative, is the fact that this was the only UNSC resolution calling on Israel to respect international law that Obama has ever refused to veto. Under George W. Bush, six similar resolutions were allowed through. Under H.W. Bush, nine resolutions critical of Israel were allowed through.

At the same time, Obama awarded Israel with its largest military aid package ever — signing a memorandum of understanding in September that would give it $38 billion over 10 years. This was supposed to be a payment in exchange for Israel accepting the Iran nuclear deal.

As Trump comes into power and takes a firmly anti-Palestinian stand, a much clearer, less duplicitous political environment will reign under American conservatives than ever did under the liberal internationalists of the Democratic Party establishment. The Palestinian people will be able, if not forced, to make better choices, especially about their leadership, and in this they will be supported by the whole world, except for America, whose star is in decline.


Liberal Zionism is a contradiction in terms according to an article in the New York Times

Israel is a de facto two-nation state which, for a long time, has included the Occupied Palestinian Territories. Half the state’s citizens are Jewish and half are Palestinian; there are around 6.3 million of each. The Jewish half is privileged and enjoys social and civil rights, whereas most of the Palestinian half is under occupation and has few or no rights at all. This is not the way a democracy should behave.

This is increasingly recognised by liberal Jews. Omri Boehm, for instance, wrote a piece in the New York Times saying that liberal Zionism is a contradiction: liberal American Jews have “identified themselves with Zionism, a political agenda rooted in the denial of liberal politics.”