Terrorist Violence On The Streets of New York

All of us deplore the recent act of violence against cyclists and pedestrians on the streets of New York. How does a society prevent a lone wolf terrorist determined to use a rental truck or even a car as a lethal weapon? And how do we prevent people from becoming so radicalized that they commit acts of terrorist violence? There are no easy answers.

The latest lone wolf attacker is an Uzbek national who has lived in the US for several years with his family. He is a licensed truck driver and a former Uber driver. It seems obvious that there should be social service programs available to help recent immigrants from totalitarian states like Uzbekistan, a former Soviet republic now ruled by a corrupt despot, make the cultural and psychological adjustment to life in an open society like the US and a difficult place like New York. But there aren’t any. One can readily understand how significant economic and financial stress, which this attacker may have experienced, generates emotional, psychological and even religious/spiritual turmoil. The ensuing vulnerability, involving a search for easy answers, that the world is black and white, and a way to imbue life with meaning and importance, provides fertile soil for extremist propaganda. Does this explain why someone would commit murder? Of course not. But It does indicate the enormity of the problem we face. The issue is not merely preventing would be terrorists from entering the country, but preventing people who are here from becoming terrorists.

Predictably, our president focuses on closing borders and attacking his political opponents. This response is not only a disgrace, it is narrow-minded and misguided. All of his empty rhetoric about keeping the country safe and moving beyond political correctness is cynical. If he meant what he said, he would acknowledge the war being waged on the streets of our towns and cities, the cold-blooded acts of terror being committed each and every day in our country. Americans are killing other Americans at an alarming rate. The number of gun related homicides from 2011 to 2015, the last year of reliable statistics, nearly equaled the total number of American soldiers killed during the Vietnam war.

If the president were serious about forsaking expediency to take effective measures to keep us safe, he would confront and defy the powerful gun lobby and support anti-gun legislation. Even if one concedes the right to own a handgun to promote the illusion of safety in one’s home or the right of hunters and sportsmen to purchase rifles, what is the rationale for anyone to have a semi-automatic rifle or hardware that converts such guns into fully automatic weapons? It is beyond shameful that we remain hostage to a powerful political lobby determined to undermine any meaningful anti-gun legislation.

Our president’s words are designed to score political points and fulfill campaign promises because he remains committed, no matter what the circumstance, to secure a personal advantage. That is who he is. He imagines that talking tough on immigration is going to solve the problem of terrorist violence, when the reality is far more complex. Meanwhile, the war on our streets continues unabated. All of us are vulnerable to acts of gun related violence while our president and the Republican party refuse to take, or even consider, any action to address the other source of terrorist violcence that claims the lives of so many Americans.

Neal Aponte, Ph.D.
Editor of Delano

Donald Trump Wags the Dog

Recently we have been stunned and frightened by Trump’s hyperbolic rhetoric threatening to unleash “fire and fury” on North Korea, a thinly veiled reference to using nuclear weapons. Coming several days after an important diplomatic victory, involving a rare unanimous UN Security Council vote to intensify sanctions against North Korea, there was no justification to escalate the public rhetoric at this particular moment. And given the fact that Trump unleashed his initial verbal assault at a scheduled event about the opioid epidemic, it appears his hostile remarks were improvised. Or were they?

While everyone agrees North Korea should not become a nuclear power, let’s remember why its regime expends precious economic resources to develop a nuclear arsenal at great sacrifice to its people, including widespread famine. The North Korean leadership believes the only way to stave off the existential threat of an American invasion is by developing nuclear weapons. In their view, history supports this claim. Both Iraq and Libya gave up nuclear weapons programs and Saddam Hussein and Muammar Qaddafi were eventually overthrown and killed. While regime change in Iraq and Libya was not linked to the termination of WMD programs, the North Koreans believe otherwise. Their leaders remain convinced that the only way to avoid a similar fate is by developing atomic weapons.

So how should we respond to North Korea’s provocative ballistic tests and aggressive statements? In the minds of many, all reasonable diplomatic efforts have reached an impasse, leaving us to contemplate taking military action against North Korea, even as most experts concluded long ago this would entail a catastrophic loss of life in both South and North Korea and perhaps elsewhere too. Given the unimaginable stakes, we must never conclude there are no diplomatic solutions. It is imperative that American and North Korean foreign ministers meet immediately to pave the way for direct contact between the leaders of these two countries. It is nothing short of remarkable that neither the foreign ministers nor the leaders of these two countries have ever met. Even at the height of the Cold War, when the Soviet Union and the US pointed thousands of nuclear warheads at one another, we made an effort to maintain strong diplomatic contact and engaged in disarmament talks and ratified treaties reducing the nuclear arsenal of both sides.

What could a meeting between North Korea and the US achieve? First, the United States must unconditionally renounce any and all interest in launching a preemptive military strike against North Korea and/or engaging in regime change. Second, the US should pledge its support to modernize the North Korea economy. This would involve a detailed list of concrete proposals regarding international private and governmental investment. Its current leader, educated in Switzerland, appears willing to engage in some level of privatization to enhance his country’s economic prospects. If we believe in the superiority of capitalist markets, the only successful strategy to engineer regime change in North Korea involves transforming its economy to improve the standard of living of its citizens. In this way, we could gradually bring North Korea into the international community and alleviate its fear of American “imperialism”. Giving North Korean citizens a place in the world economy is the best enduring strategy to diffuse the current conflict over its nuclear weapons program.

Of course, this valuable assistance can only occur if North Korea agrees to freeze, rather than dismantle, their nuclear weapons program, with UN inspectors empowered to be the sole judge verifying they have honored their commitment. A freeze would allow the regime to save face with its people after decades of propaganda describing the importance of a nuclear weapons stockpile, while defusing current tensions. The ball would be in North Korea’s court: to seize the opportunity offered by American “capitalists” and the rest of the world or to remain an economically desperate and pariah nation. Concurrently, we must scale back the public hostility and redouble our effort to engage in behind the scenes diplomacy, like the US accomplished with China during the Nixon administration.

Donald Trump’s aggressive pronouncements validate the North Korean government’s fear of America’s intentions. It also indicates he is temperamentally ill suited, as widely assumed, to resolve a major international crisis. Finally, it suggests a powerful ulterior motive: to launch a preemptive strike against the scent of a major presidential scandal, embodied by Robert Mueller’s Trump/Russia investigation, and to bolster his beleaguered political leadership. Since the war of words between Donald Trump and the North Korean regime began, Mueller’s decision to convene a second grand jury to facilitate his investigation, the FBI’s decision to secure records from Mike Flynn, Mueller’s desire to interview White House staffers, including recently departed chief of staff Reince Priebus, and perhaps most remarkably, the unannounced predawn FBI raid of Paul Manafort’s home in July, has been shunted aside as the day’s major news story. In the Hollywood movie Wag the Dog, a trumped up war distracts attention away from a sex scandal. Donald Trump’s menacing rhetoric, a sobering example of life imitating art, represents a dangerous instance of wagging the dog.

Neal Aponte, Ph.D.
Editor of Delano

The Scariest Place on Earth

Ready for a pop quiz? Name the country with the fastest growing nuclear arsenal in the world, now totaling over 100 weapons. Israel? Guess again. North Korea? Nope. Ok, here’s a disturbing hint. The country’s chronically unstable national government has been toppled several times by military coup while ethnic and religious strife generates frequent terrorist violence. Give up? Here’s another alarming clue. This country’s national intelligence service is filled with officers sympathetic to indigenous terrorist groups. In short, you have a virtual failed state with a nuclear arsenal, posing a clear and pronounced risk that terrorists could steal a nuclear warhead or enough radioactive material to build a dirty bomb. And to make matters worse, this nation has been at war with its neighbor, another country with nuclear weapons, over territory with no strategic value.

Care to hazard an educated guess? Well, how about another clue? Osama Bin Laden lived in this country for several years and many American officials believe members of its military and intelligence establishment knew his whereabouts while we engaged in a worldwide manhunt to track him down. Bin Laden resided within spitting distance from this country’s most prestigious military academy. Did I forget to mention that this nation, a major recipient of American foreign aid, is considered an important ally? No, this is not a fictional country taken from the plot of a B-grade thriller; it is the one known as Pakistan.

During America’s military effort to remove the Taliban from power in Afghanistan and to destroy Al Qaeda’s infrastructure, the former found refuge in a region of Pakistan where power resides in the hands of local warlords and the national government has limited authority. The war against American troops was directed from Pakistan, whose government resisted taking decisive military action against the Taliban because its intelligence service believed they were useful to prevent India from developing a sphere of influence in Afghanistan. One must assume that under other circumstances, the US would have taken the fight to Pakistan, but its nuclear arsenal prevented that.

Even as a domestic Taliban movement terrorized Pakistan, the military and the notorious ISI, its Inter-Services Intelligence agency, remained reluctant to confront the militants. We must remember that the Taliban were educated in religious schools or madrassas in Pakistan, established by its leader Zia-al Huq to create anti-communist cadre to defeat the pro-Soviet Afghan government in the late 1970’s. The mujhadeen fighters who resisted the Soviet puppet regime went on to establish the Taliban.

The Pakistani military and intelligence agencies have played a dangerous double game, currying American favor to secure advanced weapons and much needed aid while sheltering and/or abetting the Taliban and Al Qaeda both in Pakistan and Afghanistan. The response to the murder of Osama Bin Laden was revealing. Initially, the Pakistani government congratulated the U.S. before it condemned the attack on Bin Laden’s compound as a violation of its sovereignty. Afterwards, the Pakistani Taliban unleashed a retaliatory attack against American forces with the apparent tacit approval of the Pakistani military and intelligence community.

There is evidence Pakistan provided vital technical expertise to enable nuclear programs in both North Korea and Iran. Apparently, the father of Pakistan’s nuclear bomb was involved. Yet, the Pakistani government placed him under house arrest and refused to allow Americans to question him. Presumably, officials feared he would reveal the extent of governmental involvement in the export of nuclear technology around the world.

Conservatives condemn Obama for not doing enough to cripple or terminate Iran’s nuclear program. It is a supreme irony or hypocrisy that none of these critics recall how George H.W. Bush turned a blind eye towards Pakistan when it successfully developed and tested a nuclear weapon that made the world much more unstable and dangerous.

While Pakistan has the fastest growing nuclear arsenal in the world, they are closely followed by India, whose total supply of weapons is roughly the same. There is a dangerous nuclear arms race on the subcontinent between countries whose armies have clashed more than once over Kashmir and whose relationship remains more volatile than that between the US and the USSR during the height of the cold war. A major foreign policy objective for any American president, indeed for the entire world, should involve nuclear disarmament talks in South Asia. In the meantime, India is a stable democracy, despite its own alarming sectarian violence, while Pakistan remains a chronically unstable nation with a large and growing nuclear stockpile. It is a nightmare waiting to happen and the scariest place on earth.

Neal Aponte, Ph.D.
Editor of Delano

Capitalism and Its Discontents

Contemporary pundits discuss globalization as if it were a recent phenomenon. In reality, it is an old story. Moreover, the term globalization is a misnomer. Globalization refers to the global reach of the capitalist marketplace. When analysts examine the devastating effects of globalization, they are describing the impact of capitalism itself. In a thoroughly ruthless manner, private markets for goods and services, the hallmark of the capitalist system, produce winners and losers. In the early 19th century, English manufacturers used cutting edge technology and economies of scale to make cheaper textiles that ruined Indian producers. The Indian textile industry was a big loser in the capitalist marketplace, an early victim of globalization. While England remained the world’s preeminent industrial power throughout most of the 19th century, the economic center of gravity gradually shifted away to other nations like the U.S. and Germany.

By the middle of the 20th century, the U.S. became the world’s preeminent economic and financial power. But America’s dominance was challenged in the 1970’s. Many pundits feared “Japan, Inc.” would enact in the global marketplace what the Japanese failed to accomplish on the battlefield a few decades earlier. However, during the last few decades, another economic behemoth emerged in the east. As China became a central player in the global capitalist economy due to its very rapid and extensive industrialization, the economic center of gravity shifted once again. And the seismic transformation wrought by China’s industrial might generated new winners and losers in markets around the world.

In mid-century America, businesses expected to be decisive winners wherever and whenever they competed. And for a few decades this was largely true. The marketplace losers lived elsewhere, often in far-flung places. But the recent eastward shift in the economic center of gravity meant that key American businesses, like steel and auto producers, experienced what Indian manufacturers did in the early 19th century. The economic and social consequences of defeat in the global marketplace, characterized by declining industrial profits and, in turn, the threat of bankruptcy, shuttered factories, swollen rates of unemployment and the devastation of communities even whole regions of the country, came home to roost in our backyard. For some, the current gravitational shift in the world economy implied the American economy was in secular decline. But perhaps it remained more accurate to say that important sectors of American business became glaring casualties in the ceaseless struggle for competitiveness and profitability in the capitalist marketplace.

One of the important contemporary political consequences of this latest gravitational shift has been the emergence of nationalist populist movements across Europe and the U.S.. The Trump election and the emergence of the French National Front as a mainstream political power are the most important examples of this phenomenon. Fueled by rage expressed by those who feel ignored and dismissed by elites, a broad coalition including industrial workers, young people and those living in rural areas, these movements represent, in Michael Moore’s words about Trump, a “political Molotov cocktail” designed to blow up the existing political system.

Put another way, the Trump phenomenon, the surging popularity of the National Front, and the narrow defeat of populist demagogues in Austria and Holland, express the boiling frustration and anger of those who feel left behind, pushed aside or just crushed by the global capitalist marketplace. Le Pen expressed this quite well when she said French voters would choose between being globalists or patriots. The message was clear: a vote for the National Front represented an act of patriotic duty to protect France from the adverse affects of globalization. Le Pen promised to push for France’s withdrawal from the EU and the euro and to close national borders to immigrants. Her political opponent, Emmanuel Macron, ridiculed her by telling voters France could not withdraw from the global economy. Rather, he promised to render France more competitive.

While it remains important to link the emergence of nationalist populist movements with the economic and social devastation caused by a distribution of winners and losers in the world’s capitalist economy, we must raise some other critical questions: Why do workers in the US and to a lesser extent in Europe, where national unemployment has been stubbornly high for decades in countries like France and youth unemployment represents a ticking time bomb, choose to vent their political anger and frustration towards government and not private enterprises? Why are plant closings, resulting in job loss and declining incomes, understood to be the result of government policies, e.g., unwise trade deals, suffocating economic regulation and “excessive” taxation, rather than the result of corporate decision making? How do corporate decisions to relocate production abroad because of a ceaseless drive to maximize profits, or the fact that companies lose market share because of poor managerial decisions, for example, the refusal to invest in cutting edge plant and equipment in the steel industry or to meet changing consumer demand in the auto industry, remain outside our political debate?

Moreover, why haven’t progressive politicians channeled the palpable anger and frustration of those inhabiting the lowest rungs of the economic ladder? Given ever-expanding income inequality, why can’t progressives persuade the vast majority of the 99% that policies offered by Republicans deepen a profoundly unequal distribution of wealth and remain inimical to their interests? Why hasn’t a progressive analogue to the Tea Party emerged in the US? And here’s a final sobering question: what if Trump or Macron fail to address the concerns of those at the bottom? Will those brimming with passionate intensity choose a more potent Molotov cocktail, one designed to ensure the political center no longer holds?

Neal Aponte, Ph.D.
Editor of Delano

The Revenge of the Bolsheviks: Vladimir Putin and the West

A century ago, Vladimir Lenin and his Bolshevik party began a Russian revolution that toppled its Tsarist regime and shook the world. The Bolsheviks construed their victory as the opening salvo in a global struggle to smash the economic and political power of capitalists everywhere. They organized and controlled an international revolutionary movement by cementing ties with sympathetic political parties and movements in advanced industrialized nations across Europe and the US.

Fast forward a hundred years later and Bolshevik ideology represents a great scourge of 20th century history, associated with a brutal dictatorship that killed millions and damaged the lives of countless others. Moreover, Russia today is a humiliated nation. A devastating military defeat in Afghanistan was followed by the demise of the Soviet Union and the loss of its empire. Equally important, Russia’s economic prospects have been greatly eclipsed over the last forty years by their erstwhile communist comrades in China. To compare Russia and China, say, in 1975 versus today represents an eye-opening humiliation for the Russian nation. As many have noted, Russia is like a mafia state characterized by a corrupt system of crony capitalism while the Chinese economy, firmly integrated with trading partners around the world, has become the second largest in the world.

Putin believes that after the collapse of the Soviet system, the West attempted to exploit their Cold War victory by pushing disastrous political and economic “reforms” that weakened the Russian state and impoverished many of its citizens. In Putin’s view, the West passed up a golden opportunity to partner with the Russian Federation to create a new international political order to pursue a goal of transforming Russia into a Western style liberal democracy. Putin interprets the reform efforts of the 1990’s in much the same way Hitler exploited the Treaty of Versailles after the First World War: as the betrayal of a proud and vanquished nation.

In Putin’s view, Russia’s descent into political and social disarray in the 1990’s expressed a fundamental conflict between the interests Western elites and a strong and resurgent Russian state. In response to the remarkable and terrifying chaos of the Yeltsin years, he sought to reestablish a formidable central authority designed to promote stability and prosperity at home and to project Russian political and military authority abroad.

Putin’s political goal is clear and simple: to reclaim greatness on the world’s political stage. Like many Russian leaders before him, he believes the West wants to surround Russia with hostile governments. So first and foremost, he wants to install friendly regimes in neighboring countries, e.g., that occurred in Moldova and Bulgaria in 2016. This “soft” version of Russia’s empire would reestablish its sphere of influence and prevent further NATO incursion in Eastern Europe.

But Putin has a larger ambition. Still resentful of the West’s attempt to weaken the Russian state after the end of the Cold War, he aspires to challenge the capitalist world order like the Bolsheviks a century ago. But instead of Marxist-Leninist ideology, Putin utilizes nationalist sentiment and traditional religious values to fashion himself as the de facto leader of an international movement to eclipse the power of “globalist” political and economic elites in the West.

Seen in this context, the curious political bromance between Putin and Trump makes more sense. Yes, we do not know about Trump’s business ties to Russian interests. Yes, there are unconfirmed reports about personal information the Russians have on Trump, in a plot twist summoned from the pages of a Cold War potboiler. But focusing on these issues ignores a more compelling truth: Trump represents a dream political partner for Putin. To the extent Trump assails the enduring relevance of NATO and the viability of the EU, and offers withering criticism of Angela Merkel, who now symbolizes the push for more European solidarity, he shakes the pillars of the Western alliance. Suddenly, the ideal of a united Europe and an ironclad relationship between Europe and the U.S. recedes before a rising populist and nationalist tide across the Western world. And Putin appears poised to exploit this trend by cultivating ties with both separatist movements of the far left and nationalist movements of the far right in Europe under the rubric of “anti-globalism”.

It is stunning to see Russia emerge as a force to be reckoned with in Europe and the Middle East and sobering to consider Putin as the preeminent geopolitical thinker on the world stage. As he construes Western political and economic elites as being anti-democratic, they pursue globalization to advance their own interests at the expense of “the people”, an important part of his grand strategy will be to welcome populists like Trump or Le Pen as comrades. In Putin’s eyes, Trump is a fellow traveler. The curious relationship between these leaders goes beyond a consideration of business ties or sordid personal revelations. We have avoided accepting the plain truth: Trump envies Putin’s ability to advance his country’s interests. He fashions himself to be a leader cut from Putin’s populist and nationalist cloth.

Neal Aponte, Ph.D.
Editor of Delano

Donald Trump and the Russians: An Evolving Story

The story involving Donald Trump’s associates and Russian intelligence officials keeps getting curiouser and curiouser. And it begins well before the 2016 presidential election. In December, 2015, Gen. Mike Flynn traveled to Russia to celebrate the 10th anniversary of a television channel called Russia Today, an unabashed mouthpiece for the Kremlin. Flynn received money to be interviewed on air and to attend a gala dinner highlighted by a speech given by Vladimir Putin. But why would the ex-chief of the Defense Intelligence Agency accept money from a propaganda tool of the Russian government as tensions mounted between Russia and the US? Can you imagine a retired FSB director being paid to appear on Fox News?

American intelligence agencies established last year that the Russian government launched a concerted effort to interfere with our presidential campaign. The Obama administration responded by imposing new sanctions against Russia. Under ordinary circumstances, the Russians would have retaliated in kind. But Putin failed to do so. At the time, his reaction puzzled most observers. Now we know when sanctions were announced, Flynn discussed them with the Russian ambassador, perhaps conveying they would be rescinded by the Trump administration. This could explain why Putin dismissed Obama’s pronouncement.

Of course, Trump denied he instructed Flynn about what to say to the Russian ambassador. But Trump’s baffling comment at the time, that Russia’s mild response confirmed that Putin was “very, very smart”, suggests Flynn was not acting on his own, that a coordinated effort to disparage Obama’s course of action involved Trump himself. How else to explain why Trump praised Putin at the very moment Obama punished the Russian government for interfering in the election? At best, Trump allowed an underling to freelance on a sensitive issue of national security. At worst, he concealed his role in the whole affair. And a possible presidential cover-up might explain why Trump did not fire Flynn immediately when he lied to the vice-president.

Aside from the Flynn scandal and the possibility of a cover-up, the most astonishing part of this evolving story involves frequent and ongoing conversations between Trump campaign officials and/or other associates and Russian intelligence officials during the presidential campaign. And this begs a very simple and pivotal question: why would Trump associates have any contact with Russian officials during a presidential campaign, especially since it was reported Putin wanted to interfere with the election? During the campaign, they had frequent conversations with intelligence personnel working for a dangerous political adversary. What were they talking about? What did Trump associates want?

While American intelligence sources have not confirmed any outright collusion between Trump supporters and Russian officials to undermine the Clinton campaign, the fact these conversations occurred is mind-boggling. Do these contacts indicate a secret relationship or understanding between Trump and Putin and does this explain Trump’s reluctance to criticize Putin, even after his aggressive behavior in Crimea and Ukraine? Given events in Eastern Europe and developments in Russia over the last several years, it is surprising any major American politician would compliment Putin. But it is astounding when a presidential candidate and a standing president praise a political leader who remains committed to policies that threaten our national security. No wonder many in Eastern Europe and throughout NATO remain worried about Trump’s political resolve to contain Russian ambitions.

How are we to understand Trump’s behavior vis-à-vis Putin? Does he admire and envy the way Putin governs? Recall that in a remarkable tweet message during the campaign, he appreciated the way the Russian leader controlled his people. Some have suggested Trump views Putin as an important ally in the battle against Islamic extremists. But Russian policy in Syria, for instance, has bolstered Assad rather than target terrorists. Moreover, Russia’s air force committed war crimes against a civilian population in Aleppo. Why hasn’t Trump spoken out about Russia’s horrific role in Syria? The more sinister explanation for Trump’s reticence to confront Putin involves unconfirmed reports the Russians have compromising personal information. In this regard, the Russian general who supplied pivotal intelligence to Christopher Steele, who compiled the report indicating the Russians had “kompromat” against Trump, was found dead in a car on a Moscow street in January. Russian media reported his death as suspicious. That seems obvious. But why was he killed? For collaborating with Steele or because he knew too much?

How ironic that candidate Trump vilified Hillary Clinton and threatened to “lock her up” for using a private email server that never endangered the nation. Now there is real concern that a pivotal relationship with a menacing political adversary may be gravely compromised. There is more than a whiff of scandal here. So six weeks into Trump’s presidency, it is time to establish an independent prosecutor to get to the bottom of it. Will congressional Republicans, who spent millions to fund several investigations of Clinton’s e-mails, address a serious challenge to our national security? Or will they engage in partisan politics and refuse to allow Republicans to investigate Republicans, as Rand Paul recently put it?

Neal Aponte, Ph.D.
Editor of Delano

Donald Trump and the Russians

If the recent press conference is any guide, the hope Donald Trump would magically become more “presidential” appears utterly doomed. The Donald will remain the Donald. One of the most explosive aspects of the meeting with journalists involved a tense standoff between the president elect and a CNN reporter, with Trump refusing to call on the latter and condemning his cable network as a purveyor of “fake news”. He was angered by CNN’s coverage of a controversial story. Trump’s behavior was disturbing but not surprising. It confirmed what we know about his personality: he is remarkably thin skinned and will viciously attack anyone who challenges or threatens him in any way. This is not a reassuring quality for someone about to occupy the most powerful political office in the world.

So what triggered Trump’s emotional outburst? As CNN reported, Trump and Obama were briefed by US intelligence recently that the Russians (I was tempted to write “the Soviets”) might have personal and financial information embarrassing to the president-elect. In a remarkable plot twist out of a Le Carre novel, Russian intelligence operatives, according to a retired MI6 officer deemed to be a credible source, obtained damaging personal information on Trump during visits to Moscow. Being an old KGB operative himself, one can imagine how Vladimir Putin would be delighted to have such “kompromat” or compromising information, allowing him to become a de facto handler of a US president and capable of exercising leverage over his behavior.

We should remember that Putin leads a regime eager to reestablish its central position on the world stage after a humiliating loss in Afghanistan, a devastating defeat in the Cold War, the dissolution of the Soviet Empire and, perhaps even more significantly, being left in the dust in the global marketplace by their erstwhile communist comrades, the Chinese. And when coupled with ongoing sanctions from the West and the collapse of oil revenues that plunged the economy into crisis, one can readily understand Putin’s desperate attempt to restore Russia’s rightful place as an international force to be reckoned with.

This is the principle underlying his aggressive military action in Syria and Eastern Europe. While most Russian citizens remain unaware of their military’s action in Syria, Putin enjoys wide popularity at home because of his brazen incursions in Crimea and Ukraine to reestablish a Russian sphere of influence at its western border. Putin needs international adventures to distract attention from ongoing economic problems and to repair the wounded national psyche. And what better way to flex personal and national political muscle than by obtaining humiliating information about an American president? If such compromising evidence exists, Putin would use it to neutralize US opposition to Russian overtures in Eastern Europe and the Middle East.

Democrats and Republicans alike have been puzzled by Trump’s curious lack of interest in condemning or even acknowledging Russian aggression, his suggestion to lift sanctions imposed after Putin’s invasion of the Crimea and his turning a blind eye to probable war crimes committed by the Russian Air Force in Aleppo as he remains determined to align with Putin to defeat ISIS. Many have been baffled if not alarmed by Trump’s war of words with the intelligence community, as he remained dubious of its conclusion that the Russians hacked DNC computers and directed a disinformation campaign against Hillary Clinton, coupled with his defense of Putin’s leadership style. In fact, Trump has been consistently more critical of Obama and US intelligence officials than of Putin. Has the president elect’s curious behavior reflected the presence of damaging information obtained by the Russians? At this time, we do not know. Of course, Trump condemns the allegation as fake news. How ironic coming from a politician who resurrected his political career questioning if Obama was an American citizen and who referred to the National Enquirer as a credible news source.

But even more ominous is the extraordinary rumor about contact between the Trump campaign and Russian officials to coordinate efforts against Clinton. While it is simply stunning to contemplate this, it should be noted that Ron Wyden, a US senator from Oregon, pushed FBI director Comey about this allegation in a public hearing and that the latter refused to even acknowledge if the agency was pursuing an investigation. Of course, if there is any shred of truth to the story, it is grounds for immediate impeachment. And it would place our entire political system into House of Cards territory. For now, this is putting the cart before the horse. Perhaps none of it will amount to anything. Perhaps the Russian ambassador, who called the story about Russian hacking “pulp fiction”, will be proven right. But does anyone believe the Russian denial is credible? And given Trump’s shaky relationship with the truth, is it unreasonable to harbor doubts or fears about his vehement denials? To quote a TV news anchor about an emerging story about the Watergate break in: I believe we will be hearing more about this story. Let us hope the intelligence community will conclude that allegations about colluding with the Russians belong to the pages of a Cold War potboiler rather than the headlines of today’s newspapers.

However, even if there was no collaboration between the Trump campaign and the Russians, Trump’s attack on the American intelligence community signals another red flag about his personal temperament. Trump objected to their conclusion that the Russian government tried to influence the outcome of the recent presidential election because he interpreted it as a challenge to the legitimacy of his electoral victory. Trump’s belief that their intelligence finding was simply a personal attack rendered him unwilling or unable to register any concern about a hostile foreign power trying to undermine a hallmark of our democracy, the integrity of our electoral process. Quick to take offense and prone to take offense often, the president elect seems intent on denigrating anyone he perceives as personally challenging or threatening. His vindictiveness could make the Nixon White House and its infamous enemies list appear to be a model of relative tolerance.

Neal Aponte, Ph.D.
Editor of Delano

The Election of Donald Trump and Its Aftermath, Part 2

During the campaign, Donald Trump promised to become the greatest jobs president God ever gave to America. He railed against unfair trade deals that, in his view, prompted a mass exodus of jobs to countries like Mexico and China and condemned governmental regulations that ruined industries such as coal. While his xenophobic populist speeches crossed rhetorical boundaries adhered to by major party candidates, they highlighted a theme familiar to Republican voters. Ever since Reagan, conservative politicians have characterized government as the sworn enemy of prosperity: its policies undermined economic growth and squeezed middle and working class incomes. Trump vowed to reverse this pernicious trend.

If the president elect negotiates tougher bilateral trade deals and cuts corporate taxes, will shuttered coal plants and steel mills flicker back to life, allowing him to restore these declining industries? The historical record suggests otherwise. The coal industry was decimated by cheaper and cleaner natural gas, while steel mills closed because their plant and equipment was old and inefficient and labor costs were high. As steel from China became cheaper to make, increased demand for its products resulted in greater market share. Accordingly, more favorable trade deals and/or lower taxes will not return lost jobs to American coal and steel workers.

Every player in the free enterprise economy engages in cutthroat competition that distributes winners and losers across the globe. Many refer to globalization as if it were a recent development. In fact it’s very old news. The capitalist economy has always been a worldwide phenomenon. An early 19th century example of globalization involved the destruction of the Indian textile industry by Britain’s East India Trade Company. Cheaper British textiles slashed demand for Indian products, just as Chinese producers succeeded at the expense of American manufacturers. How will private companies and government respond to the continuous evolution of the global marketplace? Will we seek to revive dying industries, as Trump promised, or identify emerging ones, like the manufacture of solar panels and wind turbines, as Bill McKibben proposed, to employ American workers at good wages, revitalize hard hit areas of the country and renew macroeconomic growth?

One recent Oxford study found that nearly half of all American jobs could disappear over the coming decades due to automation. Better trade deals and lower taxes will not reverse this trend. Democrats must address this burgeoning economic problem by ensuring that workers who lose their jobs due to technological change and/or the migration of companies elsewhere, receive every opportunity to get retrained. Moreover, public education should provide curriculums for young people to find good jobs in rising, not declining, industries. Government must assist workers as they adapt to technological innovation and ruthless competition in the global marketplace. And this effort must be highlighted as an important example of how government is a friend to working and middle class families, not their enemy as Republicans contend. Levying tariffs and taxes to protect jobs, industries and markets against foreign competition, as Trump threatened, characterizes nations that cannot successfully compete globally. Protecting jobs from automation or more efficient production elsewhere, is surely a losing strategy for American workers.

A key part of the effort to strengthen America’s place in the global marketplace involves modernizing America’s rail lines, ports, bridges, tunnels and roads. Given Trump’s promise to rebuild the nation’s decaying infrastructure, Democrats should hold his feet to the fire and insist that he honor his campaign pledge. Perhaps the Keynesian prescription of putting more money in the hands of more people, as opposed to cutting taxes for the wealthy, as the key to generate renewed economic growth, will provide an opportunity for Trump and congressional Democrats to work together.

But what happens if Trump proposes massive infrastructure spending and runs into conservative opposition in Congress? How will he square his promise to rebuild with the Republican effort to reduce the federal debt and balance the budget? Will Republicans seek to cut money for other social programs to compensate for increased infrastructure spending? There is a potential for serious conflict between Trump and congressional Republicans. One can even imagine a scenario where Trump seeks Democratic support for increased outlays over the opposition of the Republican leadership. Much stranger things have happened recently.

Trump’s compelling promise to put America back to work and enhance levels of macroeconomic growth, underscores a critical failure of the first Obama administration. Obama’s stimulus package to revive the economy was far too small. While the economy rebounded, sluggish growth coupled with the loss of jobs over a long period of time, provided an opening for Trump’s angry populist appeal. He assailed Obama’s economic program as a failure, even as the economy crawled back from the edge of an abyss. But the sad fact is that Obama’s policies did not allow more working families to improve their economic condition. And this proved fatal to the Clinton campaign.

But what if Trump fails to deliver on his promise to be a “jobs” president? What will happen to Rust Belt voters who ultimately swung the election in his favor or to all those who harbored misgivings about his qualifications and temperament but voted for him anyway because he promised jobs? How will they react when the stock market rallies and his economic policies produce an even greater concentration of wealth at the top while factories in their communities remain closed? Will white working class voters become more cynical and apathetic? Or will their smoldering anger create a potential opening for more sinister demagogues to emerge?

Neal Aponte, Ph.D.
Editor of Delano

The Election of Donald Trump and its Aftermath

Suddenly, the world feels more unstable and dangerous. More than 60% of voters believed Donald Trump was both unqualified and temperamentally unsuited to be president. Millions harbored grave doubts yet voted for him anyway. So the election result resembles an unprecedented crapshoot. Political developments such as mass deportations of illegal immigrants, a wall at the Mexican border, repudiation of the Paris climate accord and the Iran nuclear deal, potential trade wars with China or Mexico, a very conservative tilt at the Supreme Court, further tax cuts for the wealthy exacerbating income inequality, the denial of climate change and the dismantling of the Affordable Care Act, appear likely. With a Republican majority in both houses of Congress, Trump will be able to roll back or undo many of Barack Obama’s legislative achievements. Suddenly, all bets are off. It is nothing less than astonishing.

There is no one single explanation for the outcome. Some see it as a “white lash” against the Obama presidency and changing national demographics, while others understand it to be an expression of anxiety about electing a very smart and capable woman. Certainly, there is an urgent need to maintain national conversations about racial justice and gender equality in our political and personal lives. Insisting on these dialogues transcends a politically correct attitude or a preoccupation with identity politics. They remain central to any progressive Democratic agenda.

But we cannot ignore the impact of socioeconomic class. While most pundits continue to offer a bland cliché about Trump being a change candidate versus Clinton representing the status quo, Michael Moore, in his recent film about “Trumpland”, argued Trump would win because many construed their vote as an “anger management tool” after being ignored by Republican and Democratic elites. Their support would be like heaving a political Molotov cocktail to blow the system up.

Even though the economy is light years ahead of where it was eight years ago, after the last Republican administration left it in shambles, too many working families believe that nobody represents their economic interests in Washington. Seen this way, the election result reflects a perfect storm of race, gender and class, orchestrated to perfection by a celebrity outsider who ran a maverick populist campaign playing to the pronounced fear and outrage felt by millions.

Plant closings across the industrial heartland, resulting in significant job loss and declining living standards, devastated working and middle class families and their communities over a period of decades. Both Trump and Sanders acknowledged the economic anguish of these families and organized their campaigns around it, while Clinton was perceived, rightly or wrongly, as being insufficiently attuned and responsive to it.

As Michael Moore noted in his movie, Donald Trump told Ford executives that if they closed American plants and relocated production in Mexico, he would levy tariffs on cars produced there for the US market. He threatened to make those cars so expensive, nobody would buy them. To my knowledge, no other presidential candidate has ever talked that way to officers of a major corporation. Whether or not he had the legal authority under NAFTA to make good on his promise, employees and their families waited a long time for someone to issue this kind of ultimatum to their bosses. Trump’s populist message was sweet music to the ears of workers across the rust belt that felt Bill Clinton cost them jobs when he signed NAFTA into law in 1994.

As many Trump supporters believed he was the only candidate who understood their anger and resentment, they cut him a tremendous amount of slack. So comments and incidents that would have quickly ended the political aspirations of any other candidate did not deter Trump’s fortunes. Many voters, including a majority of white women, dismissed or ignored the campaign’s unseemly moments because he stood up for their economic interests and voiced their pent up rage towards an unresponsive political system.

The alarming takeaway from this election is that many working and middle class men and women no longer believe the Democratic Party represents their interests. This time around, many placed their hopes on Trump when he accused China of “raping” the US economy or argued NAFTA was horrible for US workers. But the economic upheaval experienced by working and middle class Trump voters does not stem from a trade deal engineered by government or prevailing tax rates. Accordingly, scrapping NAFTA or rejecting the proposed TPP and lowering corporate tax rates will not recover lost jobs.

The simple inconvenient truth is this: private enterprises seek to lower their production costs and to fatten their bottom lines. Companies relocate to Mexico, China or elsewhere because loyalty to higher profits trumps any loyalty to workers, their families and communities. The global economic system based on the private marketplace has never been warm or fuzzy. It is always cruel and devastating, ruthless and relentless, demanding continual technological change and entrepreneurial risk taking. Since its inception, individuals, private companies and nation states have been among the glittering winners and ruined losers.

In this election, those ruined by a ceaseless global economic battle have spoken. How will progressive Democrats respond?   Will they initiate a national conversation about the underlying meaning of “It’s the economy, stupid” to explain and address the root causes of chronic job loss, stagnating wages and worsening income inequality? The central challenge before them will be to elaborate a cogent narrative that responds to the anguish of working families with concrete policy recommendations that distinguish them from the political right.  As Republicans repeat their mantra of tax cuts for the wealthy and fiscal austerity, they are clearly aligned with the 1%. Where do Democrats stand? Because so many remain unable to answer this question, we witnessed the most stunning political outcome in recent memory.

Neal Aponte, Ph.D.,
Editor of Delano

Government As A Dirty Word

In the short span of a generation or two, there was a remarkable change in how we construe the role of government in our lives.  The shift from FDR’s remark that ‘government is ourselves’ to Ronald Reagan’s notorious sound bite, “the nine most terrifying words in the English language are: I’m from the government and I’m here to help”, revealed just how far we traveled.

The political right wing fashions itself as the guardian of individual rights, as if citizens were like naïve and innocent children in need of protection from an army of faceless bureaucrats determined to control the lives of the American people against their will. Government as bogeyman, expressed by Reagan’s quip, represents the animating principle of right wing fear mongering.  But if we demystified what government actually does, could we diminish the political right’s ability to frighten voters?

Here is a list to get us started:  Government is the cop who keeps our streets safe and the soldier who fights wars against those who threaten us.  Government is those who protect us from fire and natural disasters and who educates many of our children. Government keeps our drinking water and the air we breathe safe from harmful levels of pollution. It ensures the medicines we take have been properly tested and that working conditions in factories and fields across the country are not hazardous. It provides our parents and grandparents and great grandparents with medical coverage and financial support. And it subsidizes important scientific research the private sector does and/or would not fund on its own. Government provides subsidies to all types of farmers. It provides security at our airports and harbors. It purchases the military hardware we need to defend our homeland and interests abroad. And it protects our natural resources from development so future generations may know and experience the majestic wonder of nature.

Is there anything nefarious and threatening here? Of course, this list is not exhaustive. And government hardly does any of these things as efficiently as possible.  Moreover, as Edward Snowden and others have shown, our government has the capacity and will to spy on all forms of personal and governmental communication.  But putting this important issue aside, does anything on this brief list interfere with our ability to live and work as free citizens in a vibrant democracy? Does any of this inhibit creative and entrepreneurial activity?  Of course our tax code should be simplified and become more equitable. Of course some governmental regulation may stifle economic innovation.  Of course there is too much red tape.  But technological hubs like Silicon Valley are the envy of the world. And is there a private company anywhere that does not have wasteful bureaucratic procedures that inhibit dynamic activity? Suffocating red tape and organizational inefficiency are features of all modern organizations, public and private. Just ask anyone who deals with an insurance company or a cable provider.

The political right bemoans the existence of governmental waste, but has little or nothing to say about subsidies to wealthy farmers or agribusinesses, or about legendary cost overruns engineered by private companies working with the Department of Defense. And if we are talking about “welfare queens”, why have we not heard anything from the political right about one of the largest recent recipients of governmental aid, Hamid Karzai, the former president of Afghanistan, and his family, who reputedly squirreled away hundreds of millions of dollars, if not more, since the time he assumed office? Why isn’t the political right, or anyone for that matter, talking about prosecuting the Karzai family for defrauding the US taxpayer? And exactly how much money was unaccounted for during the protracted wars in Afghanistan and Iraq?  How much American money was wasted and/or siphoned by private contractors hired by a Republican administration to work in these countries?

While we should address waste and inefficiency, our current political discourse dismisses how government enhances individual freedom and quality of life. Take away any of the functions cited above and our lives as citizens would be worse off, even intolerable. In addition, political oversight protects us from private sector excess.  Remember that the near meltdown of 2008-9 was not the result of government spending or the behavior of devious bureaucrats. Massive speculation by the private sector, whose focus was to maximize profit above everything else, precipitated the recent crisis. Without proper governmental oversight, the private financial sector nearly triggered a second economic collapse. And without immediate governmental response, our economy would have fallen off the cliff. The lesson here is that we need more not less political intervention in the financial marketplace.

The recent economic crisis shows that unregulated private markets, rather than governmental action, present the greatest danger to the lives of a majority of Americans and pose the greatest threat to our individual and collective pursuit of happiness. Accordingly, conservative ideology turns things inside out by asserting that government is the enemy of a free and liberal civil society. In truth, their claim functions as a powerful smokescreen. It skillfully presents an argument that benefits the 1% as if it benefitted the other 99%. As long as too many of us remain enthralled by the political right’s fear mongering, asserting that government is the problem rather than an important part of any solution, politicians who promote and defend the interests of a few against the interests of the many will remain in power.

Neal Aponte, Ph.D.                                                                                                                Editor of Delano

 

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