DMZ America Podcast #68: Neofascism in Italy. Is the Fed destroying the economy for the rich? Snowden granted Russian citizenship

Ted Rall, coming at things from the Left and Scott Stantis, coming from the Right, tackle the major issues of the day. First off, Italy elects Giorgia Meloni, head of the Brothers of Italy, a political party founded by neo-fascists which begs the question: is the whole world going totalitarian or what? Next, Scott and Ted discuss the Fed and its passion for bringing back the ’70’s and all the economic pain that comes with it. Lastly, breaking news as Edward Snowden, ( Ted wrote his biography), is granted Russian citizenship by Vladimir Putin. Is this just the Russian system working or is it Putin thumbing his nose at America? All of this and more on the best podcast in the world!

 

 

Why Business Wants a Recession

           Give Jerome Powell credit for candor: the Fed chairman admits that his policy of increasing interest rates to fight inflation might push the economy into a recession. “No one knows whether this process will lead to a recession or, if so, how significant that recession would be,” he recently told reporters.

            If it does, one sector won’t be entirely displeased: employers.

            According to the Deloitte accounting firm, a typical Fortune 500 company spends $1 to $2 billion a year on payroll, averaging between 50% and 60% of total spending. Controlling labor costs, unsurprisingly, is a top priority for employers.

            In the boom-bust cycle of labor-management negotiations, the post-pandemic Great Resignation has triggered a labor shortage, a phenomenon we rarely witness and tends to fizzle out fast. Workers are quitting and retiring early, tanking the labor force participation rate. Those who remain enjoy the upper hand at interviews that feel like the job prospect is sizing up the company rather than the other way around. Labor shortages are driving up salaries, shortening hours, prompting signing bonuses and forcing bosses to accommodate people who prefer to work at home. Just 8% of office workers in Manhattan are back in the office a full five days a week.

            The most recent data published, for June, finds that wages and salaries soared 16.8% on an annualized basis as benefit costs went up 14.4%.

            Workers, angry and resentful after decades of frozen real wages and merciless downsizing, are becoming demanding. This reversal of a power dynamic in which workers were supplicants and bosses called the shots has also strengthened labor unions that had been losing membership for years.

            This, some CFOs may be thinking, calls for a recession.

            Company profit margins are at a 70-year record high, up 25% each of the last two years as the result of raising prices during the pandemic. Which means that, even allowing for an 8% inflation rate, a generic S&P 500 corporation should easily be able to ride out the average 26% earnings decline suffered in the most recent typical recessions that took place in 1990, 2000 and 2020. (A bigger crisis like the 2008-09 Great Recession, which reduced earnings by 57%, is another matter.)

            No corporate officer would voluntarily reduce earnings. Or would they, in order to get something more valuable: regaining leverage over labor?

            Traditional conservative allies of big business are openly arguing in favor of higher unemployment. “The recent drop in work and labor force participation—particularly among young workers—is troubling [my emphasis],” writes Sarah Greszler in a white paper for the Heritage Foundation, the right-wing think tank. “Job openings, at 11.3 million, remain near record highs, and record percentages of employers report unfilled positions and compensation increases.”

            Greszler summarizes: “Continued low levels of employment [sic] will reduce the rate of economic growth, reduce real incomes and output, result in greater dependence on government social programs, require higher levels of taxation, and exacerbate the U.S.’s already precarious fiscal situation.”

            Workers, of course, feel like they can finally breathe. High demand for labor means that they can quit positions where they feel unappreciated and/or undercompensated, pack up and move to another state and create a healthier balance between their family and work lives. The current situation is anything but “troubling.”

            Executives at employers like Apple, Tesla and Uber have had enough of workers calling the shots. They’re demanding that people get back to work — at the office — or find another job. “A quickly shifting employer-employee dynamic could give companies the ammunition to take a harder line against the full-time work-at-home arrangements that many employees have pushed for, according to corporate policies experts. In fact, they say more companies are likely to start pressing staffers to come back to the office — at least a few days a week,” reports CNBC. “The hybrid workforce is not going to go away, but the situation where employees refuse to come to the workplace at all is not likely to hold,” Johnny C. Taylor Jr. of the Society for Human Resource Management tells the network.

            Perhaps no one has told CEOs that at-home work empowers them too. Rather than hiring security goons to escort laid-off workers past their terrorized colleagues, companies can memory-hole the condemned by deactivating their remote-access passwords. Who’ll notice one less square on the Zoom screen?

I’m not subscribing to a dark Marxist suspicion that CEOs, the Fed and other powers-that-be are conspiring to slam the brakes on an economy that would otherwise be coming in for a soft landing as pent-up consumer demand from the pandemic naturally ebbs, in order to return their recently empowered employees to their rightful status as wage slaves. Powell and his fellow governors are doing what comes naturally to government, treating a disease based on a diagnosis that is close to a year out of date and, reasonably, including wage increases as part of their calculus of what constitutes a major driver of the inflation rate.

Business, however, does see what’s coming. If the captains of industry aren’t worried enough to be calling their pet politicians to demand an end to interest-rate hikes, one reason might be that they see a silver lining to the next recession.

(Ted Rall (Twitter: @tedrall), the political cartoonist, columnist and graphic novelist, co-hosts the left-vs-right DMZ America podcast with fellow cartoonist Scott Stantis. You can support Ted’s hard-hitting political cartoons and columns and see his work first by sponsoring his work on Patreon.)

DMZ America Podcast #67: Russian Plebiscites in Ukraine, Migrants up in the Air and the Midterms

Left-leaning editorial cartoonist Ted Rall and right-leaning editorial cartoonist Scott Stantis debate the two major developments in the Ukraine Russia war. Russia is calling up more troops and wants to hold plebiscites in the territory it controls with a view toward annexation. Ted and Scott have differing views about which aspect could lead to further escalation in the conflict. The governors of Texas and Florida are deporting asylums seeking immigrants to Northern states. We discuss the humanitarian and political aspects of this strange story. Finally: where are we in the upcoming key midterm elections?

 

 

Neither Democrats Nor Republicans Can Defeat Trumpism

           As you know if you are one of my regular readers, I’m skeptical of hysterical claims that Donald Trump and his supporters represent a uniquely existential threat to democracy and the American way of life. Right-wing populist demagogues are a recurring feature of American history; there is nothing new here. Many “mainstream” politicians have promoted and promulgated policies that stepped over the line into fascism: the Red Scares of the Palmer raids and McCarthyism, concentration camps for Japanese Americans, the John Birch society, COINTELPRO, mass surveillance by the NSA, George W. Bush’s war of aggression against Iraq and assassination drones come to mind.

Trump had four full years in office, one of which was marked by a bona fide national emergency, the COVID-19 pandemic, that he might have exploited to impose martial law, yet the republic still stands.

Trump notwithstanding, it is true that democracy, even the watered-down worn-out version of our ancient republic, is fragile. Those wary of authoritarianism can never be too vigilant. So I’m always interested in what people perceive as a threat to the current system – and what they fail to see.

            New York Times writer David Leonhardt is an intelligent mainstream subscriber to Trump Derangement Syndrome. The former president, he argues, represents a double-barreled attack on American democracy. First, Trump’s refusal to accept his loss to Joe Biden spreads the virus of delegitimization. If nothing else, elections are supposed to settle the question of which candidate is most popular. If they don’t, what’s the point of holding them?

The second threat, Leonhardt says, is that “the power to set government policy is becoming increasingly disconnected from public opinion.” The far-right Supreme Court, gerrymandering, the Senate filibuster, voter suppression and the Electoral College result in laws and rulings to the right of what most voters want.

            The sore loser concern seems overblown. Disputed elections followed by large segments of the population who refused to accept the results have occurred repeatedly. 42% of Republicans thought Obama was born in Kenya, meaning that he was unqualified to run for president. 85% of Democrats said they believed Bush cheated in the 2000 election. Conservatives thought JFK cheated Nixon out of a win in 1960 and strongly disapproved of FDR’s decision to break tradition and run for a third term in 1940. Rutherford B. Hayes became president in 1876 but there’s no doubt that his ascent to the White House was the result of the most scurrilous skullduggery imaginable. Trump’s bitching is hardly unprecedented.

            The gap between the right-wing politics of Congress and the Supreme Court and a relatively left electorate is mitigated by the decision of most liberals to live where their values are codified by legislation; New Yorkers, after all, still have abortion rights. Though blue staters may feel anger and sympathy for women who can’t get the procedure in the Deep South, those emotions are academic rather than visceral. Pitchfork-wielding liberals won’t be a thing any time soon.

            My apologies for burying the lede, but the we-are-in-unusual-peril argument that leaps out at me is that “mainstream” corporatist—read, non-populist, country-club—Republicans are in bed with Trump… and that that makes all the difference. Leonhardt quotes Harvard Professor Steven Levitsky, co-author of the book “How Democracies Die.”

 “When mainstream parties tolerate these guys, make excuses for them, protect them, that’s when democracy gets in trouble,” Levitsky says. “There have always been Marjorie Taylor Greenes. What I pay closer attention to is the behavior of the Kevin McCarthys.” Republican House Leader McCarthy, he points out, has backed up Greene despite her violent rhetoric.

Leonhardt correctly points out that something similar happened during the 1930s in Germany and other European countries. Hitler came to power with the support of traditional conservative parties whose leaders thought they could control the “Austrian corporal.” These louche establishmentarians “typically do not initiate attacks on democratic rules or institutions but who also do not attempt to stop these attacks. Through their complicity, these semi-loyal actors can cause a party, and a country, to slide toward authoritarianism.”

            For decades Democrats have moaned: why don’t “respectable” Republicans speak out against the extremist Birchers/Klansmen/neoconservatives/Proud Boys/Trumpies/QAnoners in their midst?

The answer is that right-wing extremism is not a fringe group.

It is the Republican base.

Racism, xenophobia, homophobia, supporting violent policing are all baseline beliefs of the “mainstream” GOP. Far-right groups like those who gathered for the Unite the Right rally in Charlottesville provide the muscle, intellectual grounding and excitement for a Republican Party that without them would be doomed to permanent minority status. “Acceptable” Republicans like McCarthy and Mitch McConnell aren’t so much afraid of being voted out or physically assaulted if they were to criticize Trump as they are afraid of losing a vital part of their party constituency.

The few Republicans who criticize Trump and by extension the right-wing populist wing of the party commit personal political suicide and risk destroying their basic coalition. Liz Cheney aside, it’s not going to happen. Anyway, Cheney is an outlier who recognizes that her future is to get hired by MSNBC as a token fake Republican.

Returning to the rise of Nazism, the only real threat to Hitler and his goons in the 1930s was Germany’s left-wing parties, the communists and the socialists. Left-wing parties maintained paramilitary organizations that took on the Nazi brownshirts in the streets. With over 30% of the vote between them—1.5 million votes more than the Nazis­—German leftists were numerous and militant enough to hold the Nazis at bay at the ballot box as well as in the streets.

Tragically and stupidly, however, the less militant socialists refused to join an alliance of convenience with the communists. Writing from exile, communist Leon Trotsky asked German socialists: “The policies of our parties are irreconcilably opposed; but if the fascists come tonight to wreck your organization’s hall, we will come running, arms in hand, to help you. Will you promise us that if our organization is threatened you will rush to our aid?” As the SPD dithered, the Nazis seized power with the complicity of traditional conservative parties. When socialists and communists finally came together, it was as inmates in Nazi concentration camps.

There is no point clinging to the foolish Democratic hope that corporate Republicans will cut Trumpies loose. The lesson of the 1930s is that the only force that can defeat an energetic and well-organized far right (and its Republican Party allies) is an energetic and well-organized far left.

(Ted Rall (Twitter: @tedrall), the political cartoonist, columnist and graphic novelist, co-hosts the left-vs-right DMZ America podcast with fellow cartoonist Scott Stantis. You can support Ted’s hard-hitting political cartoons and columns and see his work first by sponsoring his work on Patreon.)

 

Wanted: Continuity Editors

The world needs more continuity editors.

            Filmmakers hire them to check for plot holes. Like, in “Forrest Gump” the lead character’s friend Lieutenant Dan couldn’t have invested their money in Apple Computer in 1976, because the company didn’t go public until four years later. Or, in “Pulp Fiction” when hitmen played by Samuel L. Jackson and John Travolta narrowly avoid being shot, the bullet holes appear in the wall behind them before the first shot is fired.

Continuity editors ensure that a movie makes sense, has a consistent look, sound and feel throughout, and moves at the right pace or combination of paces. They axe scenes that don’t advance the plot and insert new ones to fill in explanations and backgrounds in order to smooth out awkward transitions.

They track the big picture.

            Hollywood isn’t the only place that needs them.

As the United States keeps sliding its slimy way through economic and sociopolitical decline toward the bubbly brown pit of collapse, our desperate need for people tasked with keeping track of the big picture and given the power to fix inconsistencies—or have access to those with that power—becomes increasingly apparent.

            The biggest, most storied organizations have a C-something-O for everything from CFO to CIO to CTO to CDO (diversity). Few (I’d say all but I must allow for the fact that I do not and cannot know everything and everyone) employ a person who brings an outsider’s viewpoint to the deep inside of a corporate boardroom.

            Large news organizations like The New York Times, for example, compile, process and disseminate a product whose breadth and depth objectively looks and feels like a miracle every single day. Yet the Times would benefit from an editor with a bird’s-eye view.

            Because the left hand of the New York Times Book Review, a Sunday supplement, doesn’t know what the right hand of the features editors who labor in the daily editions is up to, the paper often runs two or even three reviews of the same title. Meanwhile, it fails to review most titles entirely.

Pundits on the op-ed page and analysts in the business section crank out one prognosis after another, but no one ever analyzes their record of success or failure in order to determine whether they are worth paying attention to (I’m looking at you, Thomas Friedman).

Newspapers don’t see what’s missing; a country whose voters are 38% pro-socialist might like a socialist opinion columnist. No one ever takes a beat to consider the possibility that a nation in which R&B/hiphop has dominated music charts for years might not respond well to a music section in which jazz (1% of sales) and classical (also 1%) receives disproportionately high coverage.

            Our for-profit medical system is sorely lacking in many respects. One that leaps out is how à la carte recordkeeping makes it so that no one other than the patient themself enjoys comprehensive knowledge of a person’s health.

            My general practitioner, for example, maintains records of my vaccinations, lab test results, examination history and back-and-forth communications. She does not, however, have access to the files and test results collected by my pulmonologist or other specialists, some of whom I see outside my insurance network. Nor can she see the stuff from my local urgent care clinic or the doctors I’ve seen in other states or other countries, or hospital emergency rooms, or from physicians I saw in the past but who have since retired. My dental records, themselves segregated between a dentist and an orthodontist, are similarly inaccessible to my GP. This is the result of the artificial insurance divide between dental and medical care that persists despite the proven link between oral health and such “non-dental” ailments as Alzheimer’s, diabetes, stroke and heart disease. Eye care falls into the same “non-medical” category—again, contrary to science and common sense. No one has a comprehensive understanding of Ted Rall’s medical history except Ted Rall—and he didn’t go to medical school.

Everyone ought to be assigned to a big-picture medical professional who pores over all these records in search of patterns that may indicate an undiagnosed illness. Many lives could be saved; hell, insurance companies save cash when patients detect problems early, not that I care about those scum. But Americans are so accustomed to dysfunction (in this case, non-function) that we haven’t even begun to discuss the need for an integrated medical records database accessible by any licensed medical professional, much less a caste of medical analysts whose job it is to try to anticipate problems.

Like most societal shortcomings, our continuity editor-lessness comes straight from the top of the class divide: political and corporate elites. As much as our CEOs’ and political leaders’ smallmindedness is casting us adrift, no one is suffering higher opportunity costs than they are. A national high-speed rail system—the kind every other advanced country has—would open up development of new manufacturing, work and living spaces all over the nation. It would cost at least $1 trillion.

So it won’t happen any time soon.

But we spend three-quarters of a trillion bucks on “defense” every year—a budget replete with waste before you consider that the entire purpose of military spending is not merely wasteful but obscenely destructive. Slash 95% of that crap and national security would not suffer one whit. To the contrary, it would free up billions for worthwhile programs like making college free, modernizing public schools and a socialized healthcare system. Building new sectors and infrastructure from scratch generates more profits than maintaining what already exists. But they can’t even begin to think about thinking about such things, much less see them.

If and when the Revolution arrives, some of the formerly-rich may think to themselves as they journey atop their tumbrels: I should’ve hired a continuity editor.

(Ted Rall (Twitter: @tedrall), the political cartoonist, columnist and graphic novelist, co-hosts the left-vs-right DMZ America podcast with fellow cartoonist Scott Stantis. You can support Ted’s hard-hitting political cartoons and columns and see his work first by sponsoring his work on Patreon.)

DMZ America Podcast #66: Special guest Charles Lipson joins Scott Stantis and Ted Rall to discuss the war in Ukraine and what happens if the President-elect dies before the electoral college meets?

Charles Lipson, University of Chicago Professor Emeritus of political science, and a regular contributor to Real Clear Politics, Newsweek, Spectator/World and The Wall Street Journal, joins cartoonists Scott Stantis and Ted Rall in a freewheeling discussion on the continuing war in Ukraine. They also take a deep dive into presidential succession. With Joe Biden insisting he’s really running for reelection and Donald Trump doing the same, we have to wonder—because at the time of the next election, one will be 82 and the other 78. What happens if the winner dies before the electoral college convenes? Interesting people having interesting conversation. You should listen.

 

Democrats Should Stop Crying Trump

           As a businessman, Donald Trump did a lot of terrible things. He stiffed vendors. He hired illegal immigrants as construction workers and abused them. People went into debt paying for his fake university education.

            As a president, Donald Trump was awful. He kept children in cages. During the pandemic he promoted quackery and denied science. He stacked the Supreme Court with right-wing cretins. He claimed Biden stole the election, then encouraged his supporters to keep him in office by means of a coup.

            The truth about Trump is bad enough. So when Democrats and anti-Trump Republicans describe Trump as an existential threat to democracy, God, apple pie, cat videos and everything good and decent in the world, they’re abandoning high political and moral ground that ought to be easy to hold.

            No matter what you think of the former president, one fact belies the overheated handwringing that defines Trump Derangement Syndrome: he served four years, yet here we still are. No World War III. The Constitution remains in effect. Cities are not burning, though they’ve become seriously sketchy. Trump’s coup attempt was, like many of his projects, hardly planned and half-assed executed, and fizzled in a matter of hours.

            In some respects, Trump did well. He negotiated and ordered the U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan. He held high-level talks with North Korea. He oversaw Operation Warp Speed, which suspended regulations in the interest of developing the COVID vaccine in record time. It is unlikely that Hillary Clinton would have done that stuff.

            When President Biden argues, as he did recently in Philadelphia, that “Donald Trump and the MAGA Republicans represent an extremism that threatens the very foundations of our republic,” even the most fervent Democrat has to ask themself: if that’s true, why is the republic still standing after four years of this dangerous despot? If Trump wanted to replace our system of government with “semi-fascist” authoritarianism, why would he have waited four long years to do so before ultimately missing his chance—unless, and this is really insane, he’s plotting to finally pull the trigger during his upcoming possible second term?

            Trump is what he is and what he is is reprehensible: rhetorically divisive and bigoted, rabidly anti-intellectual, callous and disrespectful of the high office he held, the nation whose government he headed and the deep need of the people for leadership that takes everyone who lives here, citizens and non-citizens, into careful consideration. It is not, or at least ought not to be, necessary to exaggerate Trump’s toxic politics or personality.

            Yet that is exactly what Democrats keep doing.

Los Angeles Detective Mark Fuhrman claimed he found one bloody glove at the scene of Nicole Brown Simpson’s murder and its match at O.J.’s house, thus justifying a search. That story seemed too good to be true. I believed that Fuhrman found both gloves at Nicole’s place and took one to O.J.’s so he could link him to the killing—O.J. was guilty, he thought. Why not give justice a little assist? The answer, of course, is that the jury didn’t buy the prosecution’s too-neat story. So O.J. walked. Legally correct; cosmically heinous. And it’s prosecutor Marcia Clark’s fault.

Like Fuhrman, the anti-Trump coalition—DNC-aligned media outlets, Democrats, anti-Trump Republicans and their allies in “deep state” strongholds like the FBI—is so determined to nail their quarry that going after him for his actual crimes isn’t enough. They want to be really, really sure he goes down. So they exaggerate Trump’s sins and, in notable cases, make them up out of whole cloth.

January 6th, tax fraud, sleazy business deals, hobnobbing with right-wing extremists—all these offer more than enough grist for a competent political team to kneecap Trump with a disciplined campaign of attack ads and drum up support for civil and perhaps criminal prosecution on the most serious charges. The problem for Democrats is, they keep focusing on lines of attack that were neither true nor could ever have been true—so their credibility is in tatters.

They are the boys who cried Trump.

There was the now-debunked Steele dossier and its sensational—and ridiculous—claim that Trump, a famous germaphobe, hired Russian prostitutes so he could watch them pee on his hotel bed in Moscow…because the Obamas had once slept in said bed. Uh-huh.

            During the 2016 campaign Trump said: “Russia, if you’re listening, I hope you’re able to find the 30,000 emails that are missing, I think you will probably be rewarded mightily by our press.” Watch the video. It was clearly a joke. Yet corporate media insisted for years that Trump meant it seriously—because, obviously, that’s exactly the way you’d make such a covert, fraught, illegal, international request—and, even more absurdly, that Russian government hackers (who, if they existed, were not actually government employees) got straight to work on Trump’s assignment the very same day.

            The mother of all disinformation campaigns, still ongoing on a cable-television channel near you, was Russiagate—the conspiracy theory that Trump cheated his way into the White House with the help of those self-same Russian hackers. For a man who was allegedly a stooge of Vladimir Putin, however, Trump’s presidency was marked by deteriorating relations with the Kremlin from start to finish. In the end, of course, what never made sense became perfectly clear; the real conspiracy in 2016 was Hillary’s; it turned out that Clinton campaign lawyer Michael Sussman ginned up the Trump Russiagate hoax and fed it to the FBI with the hope that the ensuing investigation would smear Trump and the Republicans as foreign operatives.

            It is entirely possible to look at Trump and his opponents and conclude: they’re both worthless liars, albeit about different matters.

            The alternative having failed them repeatedly, it is perhaps time for Democrats to try a new line of attack against Trump: playing it straight.

Why not go after the guy for what he’s actually done?

(Ted Rall (Twitter: @tedrall), the political cartoonist, columnist and graphic novelist, co-hosts the left-vs-right DMZ America podcast with fellow cartoonist Scott Stantis. You can support Ted’s hard-hitting political cartoons and columns and see his work first by sponsoring his work on Patreon.)

DMZ America Podcast 65: Abortion and the Midterms, Hunter Biden’s Secret Laptop and Gannett Fires Its Last Political Cartoonist

Editorial cartoonists Ted Rall and Scott Stantis are in a glum mood following the Gannett newspaper chain’s decision to fire/lay off/buy out their colleague Andy Marlette, marking another milestone in the media’s war against political cartooning. First, however, Rall and Stantis discuss the evolving prospects for the midterm elections in light of the increasing impact of the Dodds decision overturning abortion rights, Hunter Biden’s laptop and what’s on it and why corporate media still refuses to talk about it.

 

DMZ America Podcast #64: Gorby Dies, Biden speaks and how’d we handle Covid?

This week’s episode sees two of America’s top editorial cartoonists, Ted Rall (on the Left) and Scott Stantis (on the Right), debate the legacy of the last leader of the Soviet Union, Mikhail Gorbachev. Next, the boys critique President Joe Biden’s recent speech calling MAGA Republicans fascist. In the third segment Scott and Ted review the reports coming out analyzing America’s Covid response. (Spoiler alert: we didn’t do too good). Plus, as always, flamethrower drones.

 

The U.S. Played Gorbachev for a Fool

            Mikhail Gorbachev, the last leader of the Soviet Union who died this week, was a member of that tribe of politicians who can diagnose a problem but doesn’t know how to treat it. As he grew up, he couldn’t understand why a nation blessed with extraordinary natural resources and an enviable geographically strategic position had so much trouble delivering economic prosperity to its people. “Mr. Gorbachev has said he finally realized, as regional party boss, that something much more serious was wrong with the Soviet system than just inefficiency, theft and poor planning. The deeper flaw was that no one could break out with new ideas,” The Washington Post wrote in his obituary.

            It is, however, possible to be too open to new ideas. Arms reduction negotiations with the United States led to increasingly close ties between the Soviet leadership under Gorbachev and the Reagan and first Bush administrations. He took meetings with advisers and officials of the World Bank and IMF, capitalist institutions for which the socialist utopian vision represented by the existence of the USSR presented an existential threat, and listened to their countless entreaties to reform the socialist economy, privatize state enterprises and replace the social safety net with brutal austerity. Do these things, he was told, and we will help you.

Of the many mistakes he made, Gorbachev’s biggest was to trust his biggest enemy, the United States.

            Socialism didn’t kill the Soviet Union; capitalism did. Privatization of small businesses and other of Gorby’s perestroika reforms tanked the Soviet economy toward the end of the 1980s. By late 1990 suppressed inflation, global recession and supply problems had sent the country into a tailspin. A desperate Gorbachev reached out to the Bush administration for assistance.

            At first, Bush almost behaved like a human being, promising the USSR up to $1 billion in loan guarantees to buy American agricultural products. “Instability in the Soviet Union is very definitely not, in my view, in the interests of the United States,” said Secretary of State James A. Baker III. “I want perestroika to succeed,” Bush said. “The Soviet Union is facing tough times, difficult times, but I believe that this is a good reason to act now in order to help the Soviet Union stay the course of democratization and to undertake market reforms.”

            Six months later, however, the tiny credits had expired and Bush refused to renew them. Bush also cooled to the suggestion that the U.S. should help bring the USSR in for a soft capitalist landing. “My only reservations are, will it help? Will it encourage reform?” Bush commented to Soviet requests for direct cash grants. “I think President Gorbachev knows we have understandable concerns about his creditworthiness and I hope he understands that I, and the other allied leaders, want to move forward.” Gorbachev was offered pennies on the dollar of the Marshall Plan-scale aid he needed to keep his country afloat.

            As the Soviet Union dissolved, the United States dithered. “A shortage of foreign capital is not what plunged your economy into crisis, nor can your economic ills be cured by a simple infusion of cash,” Bush lectured Gorbachev in August 1991. Neither statement, of course, was true. Gorbachev glumly noted the “increasingly obvious discrepancy” between America’s supportive rhetoric and “and the nature of our economic relations.”

            “Until Gorbachev’s resignation in December 1991, no American grants or loans would help the Soviet leaders in their struggle to turn 70 years of communist totalitarian rule into a Western-styled socialist democracy,” Diana Villiers Negroponte wrote in Wilson Quarterly.

            Disintegration of the former Soviet Union and the decision of the Western policymakers to sit on the sidelines chewing popcorn rather than offering a helping hand led to dire economic and social consequences in the 15 former Soviet republics, including Russia. Life expectancy plunged, with up to five million excess adult deaths in Russia during the 1990s. Birth rates collapsed. There was out-of-control crime and human trafficking. Boris Yeltsin, Gorbachev’s U.S.-backed replacement as president of Russia, was a fall-down-drunk alcoholic who once wandered out of the White House in his underwear to Pennsylvania Avenue where he tried to hail a taxi to get some pizza.

            Russia, a superpower that defeated Nazi Germany and terrified the United States with nightmare scenarios of communist dominoes falling all around the world, was looted, impoverished and humiliated. At bare minimum, the U.S. let it happen. At worst, they held the knife that plunged into Russia’s back—a scenario that seems more likely considering the zillions of times Republicans have given Reagan and Bush credit for defeating the Soviet Union in the Cold War.

            It is not hard to see why the Russian people wanted something different and better, or why they blamed Gorbachev for trusting the Americans. In 1996, when Gorbachev ran for president of Russia, he received less than 1% of the vote.

            He’d been played for a fool by his American friends.

(Ted Rall (Twitter: @tedrall), the political cartoonist, columnist and graphic novelist, co-hosts the left-vs-right DMZ America podcast with fellow cartoonist Scott Stantis. You can support Ted’s hard-hitting political cartoons and columns and see his work first by sponsoring his work on Patreon.)

 

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