Thoughts on the first Republican US presidential debate

Although Fox News didn’t want anyone to watch the Republican debate without paying for it, I finally found a link to download videos of the debate.

I feel like an anthropologist examining a foreign culture when I watch Republicans debate. It is fascinating to understand why they think what they think, but I find the American Republican Party to be a bizarrely alien culture who makes less sense to me than observing an Aymara llama sacrifice or listening to the MAS Party’s rhetoric about decolonizing Bolivia.

I don’t feel much affinity for either of the two major political parties in the US. I have always used the Molly Ivins strategy in voting. If the vote is close, I vote Democrat as the lesser of two evils, but if my vote doesn’t matter, I vote Green or some other leftist party in protest. In 92 and 96, I voted for a Green party candidate, rather than vote for Bill Clinton. I did vote for Obama in 08 because I thought the vote would be close in Indiana, but I would have voted Green again in 12, but I never got around to getting an absentee ballot sent to me in Bolivia. With Bernie Sanders as a candidate for the Democrats, I finally feel that there is a major party candidate worth voting for.

So here are my thoughts about the Republican presidential candidates from a leftist perspective. I was surprised to discover that I actually found Jeb Bush to be one of the more reasonable candidates. On Common Core and immigration, he has taken positions that run against his party’s base and I respect him for it. However, I recall how Jeb implemented the dirty tricks policy in the 00 election in Florida. He disenfranchising voters in black neighborhoods which vote Democratic by fraudulently claiming they were ex-felons because a computer algorithm was used to match the names of Democratic voters to ex-felons. Fraudulently disenfranchising 76,000 voters to steal an election which was won by 500 votes is frankly disgusting politics, so I can’t listen to Jeb without thinking about that history.

Nonetheless, I find it fascinating that Jeb gets vilified for supporting Common Core, because it is aimed at establishing a standard way of testing English and math skills (which Republicans claim to want) across the nation and the program wasn’t created by the federal government (which the Republicans hate). Common Core should be something that Republicans support, but somehow it has become a symbol of the federal government bureaucracy controlling education in the irrational mind of Republican activists who are frankly ill informed. I don’t think that testing leads to good teaching practices and doesn’t inspire children to love learning which is the most important thing in education, but Common Core is relatively benign, so I don’t understand why it has riled the hatred of Republican activists.

I find Chris Christie to be another reprehensible politician because of his dirty past. His one claim to fame lies in his prosecution of Muslim terrorists, but a recent investigation found that all the people Christie prosecuted were basically tricked and entrapped by the US government and none of them were real terrorists. Apparently Christie withheld evidence which would have exonerated the suspects and sent innocent people to jail for years for no other reason than to advance his political career. I find this such reprehensible behavior, that I can’t abide the man.

I was surprised that Fox News did such a good job of highlighting the falsity of Trump’s claims on immigration by challenging him to produce any evidence that the Mexican government is sending its criminals to the US. As usual, Trump had no evidence and could only respond with more bluster. What is fascinating to me about the debates on illegal immigration is that none of the candidates has bothered to raise the obvious point that US free trade policies, the US war on drugs, the US suppression of reforming governments in Latin America, and the Dirty Wars that the US promoted in Central America are major drivers of the illegal immigration into the US. Mexico lost a million manufacturing jobs and a million peasants were driven off their lands after NAFTA was implemented. Corn producers in Mexico and Central America can’t compete with corn from the US Midwest. It seems obvious to me that the first step to stopping illegal immigration is to stop signing free trade treaties like NAFTA, CAFTA, the free trade treaties with Panama, Colombia and Peru, and the proposed TPP which drive migrant labor into the US, but nobody except academics are willing to discuss the obvious linkages between US trade policy and the current flood of illegal immigration.

Likewise, anyone who studies how the Central American gangs were formed can see that they arose out of the Dirty Wars that Reagan fomented in the 1980s. The children of Central American refugees in the 1980s learned how to form gangs by watching the Bloods and the Crips in LA. They were then thrown into US jails in California and then sent back to Central America where they started their own gangs. The next time Trump starts bloviating about immigrant crime, somebody should point out how the US war on drugs led to the formation of the Colombian and Mexican drug cartels and how the US war on Communism in the 80s led to the formation of the Central American gangs. Trump loves to argue that illegal immigrants are rapists, but anyone who looks at rape statistics in El Salvador which has the highest incidence of rape per capita in the hemisphere can clearly see that the US policy of training and funding the Dirty War led to the subsequent rape epidemic in El Salvador, just as the US policy of supporting the coup against Manuel Zelaya has led to many of the current human rights violations which are occurring today in Honduras. Yes, rape of Central American immigrants is real problem, but only a blowhard like Trump has the gall to blame the victims when US foreign policy had a hand in creating the problem, just like the US has to bear a large responsibility for the current violence occurring in Mexico. The US policy of not controlling its own gun sales has allowed arms to flood into Mexico and the US policy of funding the drug war in Mexico has created the open warfare which has left thousands dead and created anti-drug units that are almost as bad as the drug cartels who they battle.

The best way to control illegal immigration is not to build a wall, but to scrap NAFTA, CAFTA, the free trade agreement with Colombia and Panama, and the TPP and help those countries build up their national economies, so they don’t need to export their workers to the US. The second step is to stop financing the US drug war which creates violence in those countries and stop opposing and undermining reform governments like Zelaya in Honduras, the Sandinistas in Nicaragua, the FMLN in El Salvador, Aristide in Haiti and Chavez in Venezuela which attempted to better the conditions in their countries, so people don’t have to migrate to the US to find work. Once we have eliminated the “push” factors of illegal immigration, then we can get a handle on the “pull” factors within the US such as cracking down on employers who hire undocumented labor. LA found that raising the minimum wage led to a decrease in undocumented labor since employers who had to pay higher wages anyway decided that they might as well employ documented laborers. Of course, Trump and the rest of the Republican Party is incapable of thinking about real solutions to the immigration problem, since these sorts of solutions run counter to their ideological blinders.

The one positive thing that I can say about Trump is that at least he is willing to say that the government has to provide a solution to health care for all people. Most of the Republicans would be happy to leave it up to an unregulated private market, but Trump knows that would be a disaster. Funny how running a business which has to provide health care to its workers makes businessmen realize how bad unregulated markets can be. Frankly, Trump’s proposed solution is not that different than the Obamacare that the Republicans vilify. From Trump’s comments at the debate, it appears to me that Trump knows that a Medicare for All solution is the most economically efficient solution, but he couldn’t say it to a Republican audience. Just like he can’t say that prohibiting abortion would be a political disaster, but anyone can clearly see that the Republicans would get trounced at the polls if they ever managed to prohibit abortion. It is a great cause to rile up the base, but prohibition of abortion is like prohibition of alcohol in the 1920s. It is a policy which will erode support for the Republicans in the general population in the long run.

The foreign policy debate of the Republican candidates is another area where the Republicans are shooting themselves in the foot. Do the Republicans really believe that the American people want another war in the MiddleEast and will vote for a policy of warmongering? Do they really think that Americans want to heighten tensions with Iran, when polls show that the majority of Americans support the nuclear deal with Iran and are strongly opposed to another war?

Nobody seems willing to state the obvious truth that the US had a very weak position in negotiating with Iran and the Obama administration actually got a pretty good deal considering the circumstances. First of all, Iran does have a legal right under the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty to develop a civilian nuclear power and there is little evidence that Iran was pursuing a nuclear bomb. Unlike Israel, Pakistan and India who either never signed the NNT or openly violated it to get their nuclear weapons, Iran has played by the rules of the NNT and the US didn’t have much of a legal basis to prevent Iran from developing its civilian nuclear power program. The other obvious point is that negotiating from a position of strength and vilifying Iran as an enemy of America which the Republicans advocate is a policy which will never work with Iran. Nobody who understands the first thing about Iranian nationalism would ever think that “doubling up and tripling up the sanctions” or denouncing the Iranian government as Islamic terrorists will work. Yes, it might have been possible to get the 4 US hostages in the negotiations, but you have 3 dual Iranian-American citizens and 1 CIA contractor in custody, meaning that 3 out of the 4 are considered Iranian citizens by Iran and the other one has credible evidence of being a CIA spy. The US does not have a strong case to demand their release, like it did for the 3 US hikers, Sarah Shourd, Shane Bauer and Josh Fattal. I honestly doubt that any of the Republican candidates could have negotiated a better deal with Iran, and most of them would have torpedoed any deal with their asinine saber-rattling.

Another thing that seems so insane about the Republican debate is the obvious point that ISIS is the result of US foreign policy in the US of invading Iraq and overthrowing the Assad government in Syria which destabilized the region and created the space for ISIS to arise. When Jeb Bush in the debate claimed that ISIS arose because the US was pulling its troops out of Iraq, I wondered if Bush’s solution is to keep thousands of US troops stationed in Iraq for the next 50 years. The only way to defeat ISIS is to work with groups which are officially regarded as the enemy, such as the Iraqi Shiites allied with Iran and Assad’s government and groups such as the Iraqi Kurds who we can not openly support for fear of alienating the Turkish government, who fears Kurdish nationalism. Nobody in either the Republican or Democratic party seems willing to speak these obvious truths, so we have a futile policy of throwing more bombs at ISIS which will never do anything but create more civilian casualties and increase local support for ISIS. Bombastic and jingoistic rhetoric that America needs to “get tough on ISIS” will do nothing to defeat ISIS and only makes it harder for the US to collaborate with the local forces which ultimately will defeat ISIS. In the Republican party, there is outright denial of the fundamental reality that the US needs to collaborate with Iran in order to help organize the Iraqi Shiites to defeat ISIS.

There were a couple of moments during the debate were I found myself applauding the Republican candidates. Mike Huckabee’s defense of social security benefits and Rand Paul’s criticism of government surveillance and the violation of the 4th amendment were laudable, although Huckabee’s and Paul’s positions on other issues make it hard to support them. The only candidate who I found impressive was John Kasich, especially when he stated that he would go to a gay marriage and support a gay daughter not because he supports homosexuality, but because God give him unconditional love and it is his Christian duty to show that love toward others in his life. I can respect a politician who understands Christianity in that light, rather than as a means to demonize others.

If I had to choose between Hillary Clinton and Bob Kasich in the general election, I might be inclined toward Kasich, but the problem with voting for a Republican for president is the fact that you get a rubber stamp on the insane measures that the Republican congress wants to pass. The proposed Republican budget for 2016 would throw 11 million Americans off health insurance and cut non-military funding by $4.8 trillion. It would cut $1.2 trillion from the Medicare budget, cut 70% of the funding for community health centers, cut 31% of Pell Grants funding, eliminate 110,000 children from  Head Start, plus cut 15% of funding for: 1. public housing, 2. persons with disability housing, 3. WIC (Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants and Children) and 4. LIHEAP (Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program). Finally, it would gut Title II of the Dodd-Frank bill, which regulates Wall Street.

Given how bad the Republican congress will be without a presidential veto to restrain it, you almost have to wish for a Democrat in the White House, even if it means someone as bad as Hillary Clinton, who is in bed with Wall Street and the big banks. I keep hoping that Bernie Sanders can defeat Clinton in the Democratic primary, but as long as the Black and Hispanic vote stays with Hillary,  we seem to be condemned to another election between a venal Clinton and someone from the Republican clown car, whose economic policy consists of stealing from the poor to give to the rich. Get ready for another election between the lesser of two evils.

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