Tag Archives: EU

SYNDICATED COLUMN: The Thrilla at Hofstra: Trump Beat the Spread

Image result for presidential debateHe won last night.

I know it runs counter to conventional wisdom – that’s so rare for me! – but I award last night’s first 2016 presidential debate to Donald Trump.

This isn’t to say that I disagree with what the mainstream men and women of the pundit class said they witnessed. Like them, I watched a well-prepared Clinton outmaneuver a political amateur who showed up to class after a night of partying following a year of refusing to crack open a book. Trump rambled, repeated himself, interrupted and bullied. He conflated NATO and the EU. He even unleashed a fat joke.

All things being equal, I would agree with the corporate media consensus that Hillary won. But that’s the thing – things are far from equal.

Hillary Clinton is a pro. She should have wiped the floor with Trump. Instead, she delivered a performance on the line between a B+ and an A-. Trump gets closer to a C-. That’s much closer than it ought to have been.

As they say in sports, Trump beat the spread.

It went down the same way during the Democratic primaries. Hillary Clinton had every advantage: domination of the Democratic National Committee, support of a sitting president, massive name recognition, experience and personnel from a previous run, a huge pool of wealthy institutional donors, a marriage to a popular ex-president fondly remembered for presiding over a great economic expansion. Despite all that, she nearly lost to Bernie Sanders – an aging self-identified socialist from a tiny, powerless state, with no name recognition. How, many people asked, could Hillary’s inevitable Goliath of a campaign have come so close to losing to such a David?

The answer was obvious. As we learned in 2008 when she lost to another obscure politician — Obama, with a weird name, who had little experience — Hillary Clinton underperforms. She has no charm. She doesn’t learn from her mistakes. She relies on outdated fundraising methods, like sucking up to big corporate donors. Not only does she lie, she insults our intelligence as when she emerged from her daughter’s Manhattan apartment days after being diagnosed with pneumonia. “I’m fine,” she said. What’s the matter with “pneumonia sucks”?

During last night’s debate, I was struck by how many chances Trump had to nail Hillary. If he were a better debater, she’d be toast.

Hillary tacitly confirmed that the United States was behind the Stuxnet virus that attacked Iran’s nuclear centrifuges, implying that she deserves credit for forcing the Islamic Republic to the negotiating table. Because cyberwarfare is illegal, U.S. officials have always refused to comment on whether or not we helped create Stuxnet – so it remains classified. If Trump had been smarter, he would have said: “Jesus, Hillary! There you go again, revealing America’s secrets to our enemies.”

He also allowed her to weasel out of her on-again, off-again support for the Trans-Pacific Partnership “free trade” agreement. Why didn’t he reference the verbal diarrhea of close Clinton friend Terry McAuliffe, who let slip the all-too-credible assertion that President Hillary would sign TPP shortly after coming to office?

His response to Hillary’s demand that he release his taxes came close to disastrous. If ever there was a time to interrupt, there it was. Instead, he just stood there waiting for her to finish. Clearly Trump has a lot to hide. Then he made a lame gambit: “I will release my tax returns — against my lawyer’s wishes — when she releases her 33,000 e-mails that have been deleted. As soon as she releases them, I will release. I will release my tax returns. And that’s against — my lawyers, they say, ‘Don’t do it.’ I will tell you this. No — in fact, watching shows, they’re reading the papers. Almost every lawyer says, you don’t release your returns until the audit’s complete. When the audit’s complete, I’ll do it. But I would go against them if she releases her e-mails.”

It was incoherent and ridiculous. But once he decided to go that direction, why not mention her secret Goldman Sachs speech transcripts? At least that way, he would have conveyed that she has two types of things to hide (emails, speeches) as opposed to his one (taxes).

Rookie errors. But hey, Trump did great for a guy who has never run for political office before – and didn’t cram for the debate. Hillary has debated at the presidential level so many times she could probably do it half of it in her sleep. If I go into the ring with heavyweight boxing champion Tyson Fury and manage to survive a round with all but one of my teeth, it’s fair to say that I won.

What’s baffling to me is that she wasn’t able to deliver a knockout blow.

Some of it is her inability to just be real.

Part of coming off as an authentic human being is a self-deprecating sense of humor. We saw that when Trump asked Secretary Clinton how she wanted to be addressed: “Now, in all fairness to Secretary Clinton — yes, is that OK? Good. I want you to be very happy. It’s very important to me.” It was deferential. It almost seemed sweet. (Weirdly, she didn’t adjust to the honorific, failing to tack to “Mr. Trump.”)

Hillary seems allergic to humanism. Back to the TPP, for example, she could have countered Trump’s fictional assertion she “heard what I said about [TPP], and all of a sudden you were against it” with something along the lines of: “actually, that was Bernie Sanders.”

Another awkward moment was her apology for using a private email server. This should have been a win for her. It was the first time that she expressed regret in a straightforward manner. But she clearly wanted to keep talking, to make excuses, to mitigate. It was also a missed opportunity to make an email joke.

Maybe the herd is right. Maybe it’s a simple matter of she did better, he did worse. But I keep thinking, debates are graded on a curve. She was supposed to kick his ass. Yet there he is, dead even in the polls with her.

(Ted Rall is author of “Trump: A Graphic Biography,” an examination of the life of the Republican presidential nominee in comics form.)

SYNDICATED COLUMN: Who’s Really To Blame for Brexit (and Trump)

At this writing, securities markets and the international community are reeling at the news that British voters have opted to leave the European Union. The “Brexit” has provoked angry reactions from the pro-Remain camp, who accuse Leave voters of stupidity, shortsighted ignorance and, worse, thinly-disguised racism and nativism posing as nationalism.

Political analysts point out that British voters were divided geographically – Scotland wanted to stay, England wanted to leave – as well as demographically. One chart that managed to go semi-viral online displayed high support for the Brexit among older voters, opposition among the young, alongside the actuarial average years remaining that each age group would have to live with the consequences of the vote. The smartest of these pundits focus on the class divide between shiny expensive youth-oriented cities like London, where pro-European sentiments are strong, and England’s version of the Rust Belt, abandoned hellholes where citizens barely subsist in a ruined landscape of shut down factories and widespread unemployment.

“If you’ve got money, you vote in,” a voter in Manchester told The Guardian. “If you haven’t got money, you vote out,” she said.

Amid all the concern about a collapsing British pound and the possible dissolution of not only the European Union – looks like France and the Netherlands may have a similar plebiscite in the near future – but also the United Kingdom, everyone’s out to cast blame. However, no one is pointing at those who are most responsible if (and it’s far from certain) Brexit leads to an economic downturn and/or a political debacle: the West’s incompetent political class, and its idiotic enablers in the corporate media.

The postwar order began to fray during the 1970s, when business leaders and their allies in government started to push aggressively for policies that encouraged the transfer of manufacturing industries to the developing world away from what was then called the First World in preparation for what we now call the information economy. Globalization is the shorthand term for deindustrialization – some call it outsourcing, others prefer the simpler “shipping jobs overseas” – and digitalization of culture and intellectual property.

This essay isn’t about whether globalization is good or bad. It’s about the way a trend that has been consistently declared irreversible has been poorly managed. That mismanagement led to the Brexit, and may elect Donald Trump.

Even during the 1970s, globalization’s downward pressure on wages was easy to foresee. Capital was becoming increasingly fluid, crossing borders with incredible ease in search of places and people where the production of goods and services could be done as cheaply as possible. If you own a factory in Michigan, and you can figure out a way to transport your product to market at reasonable cost, doing the patriotic “made in USA” thing feels like leaving money on the table when you consider what your expenses would look like in Vietnam or Indonesia.

Workers, on the other hand, are confined by international borders, linguistic and cultural limitations, family ties, and just plain inertia, to the nations — and often the regions within those countries — where they were born. If the highest wages in the world are paid in the United Arab Emirates, you can’t just hop on a plane and expect to find a job, much less a work permit. Workers are stuck; capital moves freely. This economic imbalance between labor and management is a significant contributing factor to the decline in real median wages in countries like Great Britain and the United States since the 1970s.

Now let’s say that you’re a high-ranking member of the ruling class: a Fortune 500 CEO, a head of state, a congressman, the publisher of a big-city newspaper. You don’t need a major in history or political science in order to anticipate that subjecting tens of millions of people to long-term unemployment and underemployment is a recipe for social dysfunction and the kind of class resentment that can be exploited by a demagogue or radical populist movement.

You can do one of two things with that knowledge. You can ignore victims of economic dislocation. Or you can help them.

If you ignore them, if you greedily grab up every dollar and pound and euro you can while city after city slowly collapses into alcoholism, drug abuse and rising crime, you know you’re setting yourself up for a future of political instability. It may take a long time, but the chickens will come home to roost. When things turn ugly, it could cost you a pile of cash you amassed during your orgy of greed.

That’s what happened during the 1980s, when Margaret Thatcher and Ronald Reagan dismantled the post-World War II social safety nets. Precisely at a time when the UK and the US needed more welfare, national healthcare and public education programs, they slashed them instead. Those austerity policies continued under Tony Blair, Bill Clinton, David Cameron, and – against reason and common sense – under Barack Obama after the 2008 economic meltdown.

The British and American political classes made a conscious decision over the last 40 to 50 years not to lift a finger to help those who lost their jobs to deindustrialization and globalization. Go back to college, they say. Get retrained. But most Americans can’t afford college tuition — the jobless least of all! We need(ed) a GI Bill for the dispossessed.

Even this week, many establishment types continue to criticize aging pensioners and unemployed workers over age 50, denigrating them as selfish, clueless, unwilling and unable to adapt themselves to the new – brutal – world in which we find ourselves.

No doubt: nativism and racism played a role in the Brexit vote. England is an island nation with an island mentality. Though only a few thousand Syrians entered the UK last year, with nary a passport check, images of refugees riding the roof of trains from France through the Chunnel felt like an invasion to some Britons. But bigotry shouldn’t let us ignore the economic factor. When jobs are plentiful and salaries are rising, no one minds immigration. Xenophobia grows in the soil of scarcity.

What did the elites think? Did they really believe it was possible to make so many people so desperate and so angry for so long without a risk of them lashing out?

Donald Trump is not a brilliant man. But the political classes could learn a lesson from him. He knows that an awful lot of people are angry. And he knows why.

(Ted Rall is the author of “Bernie,” a biography written with the cooperation of Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders. His next book, the graphic biography “Trump,” comes out July 19th and is now available for pre-order.)

EU Antitrust Charges Against Google? NP. Just Buy Europe

Originally published by ANewDomain.net:

The European Union is about to file antitrust charges against Google, The New York Times reports. If found guilty of abusing its market dominance — Google controls 90 percent of search in Europe — it may have to pay a six billion Euro fine. That’s equivalent to 10 percent of Google’s annual profits.

But the worst thing for Google isn’t the prospective fine, says aNewDomain legal analyst Tom Ewing. It’s that the firm will likely have to substantially change its business practices. The claim against Google is around complaints that Google favors it own products and services, non search-related, when someone in Europe uses Google to search. The complaints came from Microsoft, TripAdvisor, Yelp and others. The EU announcement this week culminates a five-year investigation, during which Google didn’t do enough to satisfy EU complaints.

That’s the whole point of anticompetition law and, likely, the EU antitrust charges against Europe. But here is a possible out for Google: Buy Europe!

Google antitrust Googe Europe antitrust

SYNDICATED COLUMN: Why I Miss the Berlin Wall

http://i.telegraph.co.uk/multimedia/archive/01412/berlin-wall_1412605c.jpg

 

This week’s coverage of the 25th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall brought me back, not to warm fuzzies about peace and freedom and Gipper Ron Ron and winning the Cold War, but the reaction of my former BFF Dan (whom I miss for his talent for lightening-quick, wicked-brilliant repostes).

The Berlin Wall has fallen, I informed him. Germany is reunited.

Thoughts?

“This,” he replied as usual without missing a beat, “is like the reunion tour recently announced by Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young. I didn’t care for any of their previous collaborations, and I’m not looking forward to the next one.”

The former two Germanies haven’t given us another Hitler. Not yet. But Germany 2.0 did revive and realize the Führer’s dream of uniting Europe into a unified trading bloc, with a common currency, big enough to give the United States a run for its devalued money. The new euro was, naturally, pegged to the old Deutsche Mark. Germany is by far the most powerful nation in Europe.

Which is a good place to start my List of Reasons I Miss the Berlin Wall.

As usually-correct economist-professor-columnist (and usually ignored) Paul Krugman has pointed out over and over, the German-dominated European Union — which would never have come into being had the Wall remained standing and the Soviet bloc continued to exist — has been an unwieldy amalgam of political autonomy and fiscal union, dragging relatively poorer nations like Portugal, Italy, Greece and Spain (“PIGS”) into a vicious cycle of austerity, budget cuts and seemingly endlessly rising unemployment. “The creation of the euro was about politics and ideology, not a response to careful economic analysis (which suggested from the beginning that Europe wasn’t ready for a single currency),” Krugman wrote in May.

Why should hard-working Germans bail out lazy, corrupt Mediterranean nations? Protestant pundits ask. Scratch the surface of the Eurozone crisis and you find that the Germans aren’t the victims here. Far from propping up their swarthy southern partners, Germans are using their control over the euro to turn the PIGS into trade debtors.

Adolf blew his brains out but Germany won the war. Cuz: reunification.

The most important consequence of the fall of the Berlin Wall was, of course, the 1991 dissolution of the Soviet Union. “Economic shock therapy” — U.S.-backed Russian President Boris Yeltsin’s misbegotten attempt to convert the USSR’s state economy to neoliberalist capitalism overnight — led to the infamous Russian Mortality Crisis, when death rates soared 40% in Russia, and even higher in other former Soviet republics.

It has been estimated that 30 million people either died or will die as the result of the catastrophic dissolution of the USSR.

Socialism was destroyed but not replaced. The power vacuum opened by the collapse of the Soviet system was quickly filled by gangsters. Corrupt former factory managers forcibly seized state property and industries whose profits might otherwise have been used to create a blow-softening social safety net for the millions who lost their jobs. Hard drugs from Central Asia and Afghanistan, set free to fall apart after Gorbachev stepped down, supplemented rampant alcoholism. The infamous Russian oligarchy rose during this period, widening the gap between rich and poor, and set the stage for Putinism supported by traumatized Russians who happily chose authoritarianism over the anarchy of the post-Soviet period.

No wonder most Russians tell pollsters they miss the Soviet Union.

Former Soviet client states lost their financial and military backing. Nations like Somalia and Congo disintegrated into bloody civil conflict.

But hey. The demise of the Evil Empire was good for the United States, right?

Not really.

American and European citizens paid trillions for the Cold War. After 1991, pundits promised a “peace dividend” — lower taxes, more public spending on infrastructure and social programs. Barely two years later, the peace dividend was gone — spent, ironically, on the high costs of the Soviet collapse.
“Defense cuts and reductions in military forces have brought in their wake a series of job losses,” Britain’s Independent newspaper reported in 1993. “The transitional costs of the end of the Cold War, combined with the inadequacy of government responses across Western Europe, have meant that we are worse, not better, off.”

You’d think that, as believers in the magic of the marketplace, Americans would see the value of competition in the world of ideas, militarily and politically, on the international scene. Whether or not they admit it, however, citizens of the United States have gotten softer and dumber after assuming their status as the world’s last remaining superpower. Unchallenged ideologically and otherwise, Americans questioned themselves and their beliefs in capitalism and American exceptionalism even less after the 1990s than before. But now, as de facto rulers of the last empire, Americans became the obvious targets of choice for opposition forces that want to change the new order, like fundamental Islamist movements.

It’s tough to disagree with the French writer Nicolas Bonnai, who noted in Pravda in 2012: “The US oligarchy [went] berserk, started new wars everywhere with the Bush dynasty and ruined [its] finances. Drastic inequality became the lemma of this crazy society driven by lunatic leaders and wars. Today America leads to nowhere; America is just a [locus] (Al Qaeda) of the new global matrix made of wars and terrors, manipulation and deregulation.”

The fall of the Berlin Wall created at least as many hardships as blessings.

(Ted Rall, syndicated writer and cartoonist, is the author of the new critically-acclaimed book “After We Kill You, We Will Welcome You Back As Honored Guests: Unembedded in Afghanistan.” Subscribe to Ted Rall at Beacon.)

COPYRIGHT 2014 TED RALL, DISTRIBUTED BY CREATORS.COM

SYNDICATED COLUMN: Censor Google

Last week’s EU court ruling ordering Google and other search engines (there are other search engines?) to process requests from European citizens to erase links to material about them is being criticized by techno-libertarians. Allowing people to clean up what has become the dreaded Permanent Record That Will Follow You the Rest of Your Life, they complain, creates an onerous inconvenience to tech companies, amounts to censorship, and infringes upon the free flow of information on the Internet.

Even if those concerns were valid — and they’re not — I’d agree with the European Court of Justice’s unappealable, final verdict in the case of Mario Costeja González, a Spanish national who asked that a Google link to a property foreclosure ought to be deleted since the debt had since been paid off and the matter has been resolved. He did not request, nor did the court rule, that the legal record itself, which dated back to 1998, be expunged from cyberspace — merely that he ought not to suffer shame or embarrassment for his former financial difficulties every time an acquaintance or potential employer types his name into a browser, for the remainder of his time on earth, and beyond.

Offline, the notion that people deserve a fresh start is not a radical concept; in the United States, even unpaid debts vanish from your credit report after seven years. So much stuff online is factually unreliable that “according to the Internet” is a joke. There are smears spread by angry ex-lovers, political enemies, bullies and other random sociopaths. The right to eliminate such material from search results is long overdue. It’s also not without cyber-precedent: after refusing to moderate comments by “reviewers,” many of whom had not read the books in question, Amazon now removes erroneous comments.

The ruling only affects Europe. But Congress should also introduce the U.S. Internet to the joys of forgetting. Obviously, obvious lies ought to be deleted: just last week, conservative bloggers spread the meme that I had “made fun of” the Americans killed in Benghazi. I didn’t; not even close. Google can’t stop right-wingers from lying about me, but it would sure be nice of them to stop linking to those lies.

But I’d go further. Lots of information is accurate yet ought to stay hidden. An unretouched nude photo is basically “true,” but should it be made public without your consent?

We Americans are rightly chastised for our lack of historical memory, yet society benefits enormously from the flip side of our forgetfulness — our ability to outgrow the shame of our mistakes in order to reinvent ourselves.

“More and more Internet users want a little of the ephemerality and the forgetfulness of predigital days,” Viktor Mayer-Schönberger, professor of Internet governance at the Oxford Internet Institute, said after the EU court issued its decision. Whether your youthful indiscretions include drunk driving or you had an affair with your boss as an intern, everyone deserves a second chance, a fresh start. “If you’re always tied to the past, it’s difficult to grow, to change,” Mayer-Schönberger notes. “Do we want to go into a world where we largely undo forgetting?”

Ah, but what of poor Google? “Search engine companies now face a potential avalanche of requests for redaction,” Jonathan Zittrain, a law and computer science professor at Harvard, fretted in a New York Times op/ed.

Maybe. So what?

Unemployment, even among STEM majors, is high. Tech companies have been almost criminally impecunious, hiring a small fraction of the number of employees needed to get the economy moving again, not to mention provide decent customer service.

Google has fewer employees than a minor GM parts supplier.

Would it really be so terrible for Google to hire 10,000 American workers to process link deletion requests? So what if lawyers make more money? They buy, they spend; everything trickles down, right? Google is worth more than Great Britain. It’s not like they can’t afford it.

Onerous? Google has a space program. It is mapping every curb and bump on America’s 4 million miles of roads.

They’re smart. They can figure this out.

“In the United States, the court’s ruling would clash with the First Amendment,” the Times reported with an unwarranted level of certitude. But I don’t see how. The First Amendment prohibits censorship by the government. Google isn’t a government agency — it’s a publisher.

This is what the EU story is really about, what makes it important. In order to avoid legal liability for, among other things, linking to libelous content, Google, Bing and other search engines have always maintained that they are neutral “platforms.” As Zittrain says, “Data is data.” But it’s not.

Google currently enjoys the liberal regulatory regime of a truly neutral communications platform, like the Postal Service and a phone company. Because what people choose to write in a letter or say on the phone is beyond anyone’s control, it would be unreasonable to blame the USPS or AT&T for what gets written or said (though the NSA would like to change that).

Google-as-platform is, and always was, a ridiculous fiction. Search results, Google claims, are objective. What comes up first, second and so on isn’t up to them. It’s just algorithms. Data is data. The thing is, algorithms are codes. Computer programs. They’re programmed by people. By definition, coders decide.

Algorithms are not, cannot be, and never will be, “objective.”

That’s just common sense. But we also have history. We know for a fact that Google manipulates searches, tweaking their oh-so-objective algorithms when they cough up results they don’t like. For example, they downgrade duplicated content — say, the same essay cut-and-pasted across multiple blogs. They sanction websites that try to game the system for higher Google listings by using keywords that are popular (sex, girls, cats) but unrelated to the accompanying content.

They censor. Which makes them a publisher.

You probably agree with a lot of Google’s censorship — kiddie porn, for example — but it’s still censorship. Deciding that some things won’t get in is the main thing a publisher does. Google is a publisher, not a platform. This real-world truth will eventually be affirmed by American courts, exposing Google not only to libel lawsuits but also to claims by owners of intellectual property (I’m talking to you, newspapers and magazines) that they are illegally profiting by selling ads next to the relevant URLs.

Although the right to censor search results that are “inadequate, irrelevant or no longer relevant” (the words of the EU ruling) would prevent, say, the gossip site TMZ from digging up dirt on celebrities, there would also be a salutary effect upon the free exchange of information online.

In a well-moderated comments section, censorship of trolls elevates the level of dialogue and encourages people who might otherwise remain silent due to their fear of being targeted for online reputation to participate. A Google that purges inadequate, irrelevant or no longer relevant items would be a better Google.

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COPYRIGHT 2014 TED RALL, DISTRIBUTED BY CREATORS.COM