Ron Paul, The New Russian Apologist

RonPaul

 

Former US congressman Ron Paul (R-TX) is nothing if not consistent – an admirable and all too rare quality in a politician. But just sometimes, the unflinching adherence to a particular principle or policy can be a bad thing – witness the Tea Party’s stance on taxation, the National Security Cheerleader Caucus’ enthusiasm for government surveillance, or the legislate-by-Bible-verse preference of the religious right.

Ron Paul has now sadly joined this group of ideologues, not because many of the points that he makes have suddenly stopped being timely, persuasive and correct, but because he now makes them in such a way that they no longer inform or educate, but merely generate material to be used by enemies of the United States and the West as ready-made propaganda pieces.

Indeed, some of Paul’s recent pronouncements on the Ukraine crisis and the Russian usurpation of Crimea are so one-sided and so determined to examine only the faults of the West while negating or ignoring the faults of Russia, that one wonders what his motivation could possibly be. Paul seems to be adopting a one-man Fox News Strategy, whereby he single-handedly attempts to redress what he sees as an inherent bias or gross imbalance by coming down incredibly hard on one side of an argument – whilst proclaiming all the while to be fair and balanced.

The latest fodder for Kremlin-apologists came on Sunday, when Paul penned an op-ed for his own Ron Paul Institute website, the subtitle of which could easily have been ‘I told you so.’ In this piece, he lashes out at the monetary and other forms of assistance given to Ukraine over the past ten years by US-funded non-governmental organisations (NGOs):

But what do the US taxpayers get, who were forced to pay for this interventionism? Nothing good. Ukraine is a bankrupt country that will need tens of billions of dollars to survive the year. Already the US-selected prime minister has made a trip to Washington to ask for more money.

And what will the Ukrainians get? Their democracy has been undermined by the US-backed coup in Kiev. In democracies, power is transferred peacefully through elections, not seized by rebels in the streets. At least it used to be.

As with most effective attempts to mislead, there is just enough truth contained in this statement to suggest respectability and provide a stepping stone to reality, but not too much that it might get in the way of the misinformation being delivered.

It is certainly the case that the National Endowment of Democracy, a private and non-profit organisation, is active in Ukraine. But the NED is not secretive about this fact. Indeed, they detail all of their activities and funded initiatives across all of the countries where they work on their own website. Details of their funded work in Ukraine can be read here.

It is certainly possible that organisations such as the Human Rights Training Center or the Ukrainian Catholic University are nothing but shadowy US puppet organisations, greedily taking in American taxpayer money and using it to subvert the will of the Ukrainian people, just as it is possible that Barack Obama became president of the United States for the sole purpose of gathering material to aid in his upcoming romantic comedy about living and working in the White House. Possible, in other words, but eyebrow-raisingly unlikely.

But the narrative sounds very good to anyone predisposed to view any American or Western activity with suspicion, and so by floating unsubstantiated assertions that western-funded NGOs are doing anything other than trying to promote and build the strong institutions required for democracy to flourish, Paul is playing into a harmful narrative which misconstrues the intentions of his own country and those of the West.

In a separate intervention last week, Paul rhetorically asked:

Why does the US care which flag will be hoisted on a small piece of land thousands of miles away?”

The thought does not seem to occur to Paul that perhaps the United States does not care about the flag – that perhaps it is not the small piece of land that is at stake, but rather the way that it changed hands so rapidly under threat of force that is the problem. And, regrettably, he seems all too willing to recall previous bad actions and mistakes made by the United States to excuse current crimes committed by Russia:

“Where were these people when an election held in an Iraq occupied by US troops was called a ‘triumph of democracy’?

Iraq was certainly very recent, but to make a blasé statement such as this without giving a thought to the many differences between the invasion of Iraq (non-permanent and not for acquisition of land) – however terrible and wrong it may have been – and the Russian invasion and annexation of Crimea, is propagandist point-scoring at its worst.

No strangers to propagandist point-scoring themselves, the Kremlin-funded Russia Today network predictably seized on Ron Paul’s latest op-ed, and folded it into their continuing efforts to spin the Russian invasion and annexation of Ukraine’s sovereign territory as something entirely consistent with international law, recent precedent and human decency.

RT.com wasted no time putting their own helpful gloss on Ron Paul’s words:

According to Paul, high-funded intervention doesn’t equate to spreading democracy. Instead, he wrote, the US has invested in a country where power has been passed along not by the way of a democratic election, but rather the ousting of the country’s presidents by his opponents.

Of course, the regime of Viktor Yanukovych ousted by the supposedly undemocratic popular uprising in Kiev was itself busily trying to subvert the Ukrainian democracy by cracking down on freedom of speech, silencing dissent and dramatically increasing the powers of the president, which rather muddies the waters and exposing the Ron Paul / Russia Today line as the one-sided propaganda that it is.

Ron Paul accuses President Obama of doing many of the things in America that Viktor Yanukovych did in Ukraine, albeit on a slightly smaller scale – certainly, Obama’s war on whistleblowers and the surveillance state that he has tolerated and expanded can be said to chip away at the foundation of democracy. And yet this outrage at the illiberal policies being enacted in America is nowhere to be found when he looks at the former Yanukovych government, who, for all Paul seems to know or care, were benign arbiters of justice and democracy, unjustly pushed from office by a baying mob of anti-democracy fanatics.

If the recent Edward Snowden / NSA / surveillance debate have taught us nothing else, we have at least been reminded that democracy and its institutions are fragile and never more than one generation away from serious damage, subversion or destruction. When countries such as Britain and America – who have traditionally held aloft the flame of liberty and democracy – now suffer under governments that think nothing of secret surveillance of their own citizens, detain people or subject them to indefinite curtailments on their freedom without trial or allow those who permitted torture to take place to avoid justice, how much more fragile and in need of support must be those nations with a much shorter history of democratic government?

And in this context, is NGO money spent to strengthen democratic institutions in countries around the world not one of the best investments that the West could make?

The suggestion is not that Ron Paul has no right to speak out against past US failings – he has a longstanding and admirable track record of doing so. But the problem comes when his zeal to remind people of past US and Western failings leads him not to condemn those same actions by other countries, but rather almost to praise them as a perverse means of restoring parity within the global order.

In his recent speech to the Russian parliament, Vladimir Putin ranted, raved and gave the world a stark insight into his paranoia, his sense of inadequacy and the huge chip on his shoulder concerning how his country is perceived by the rest of the world. Railing against the West, he said:

Our Western partners, led by the United States of America, prefer not to be guided by international law in their practical policies, but by the rule of the gun. They have come to believe in their exclusivity and exceptionalism, that they can decide the destinies of the world, that only they can ever be right. They act as they please: here and there, they use force against sovereign states, building coalitions based on the principle, “If you are not with us, you are against us.” To make this aggression look legitimate, they force the necessary resolutions from international organisations, and if for some reason this does not work, they simply ignore the UN Security Council and the UN overall.

They did it before, so now we can do it, too.

Ron Paul is in many ways a visionary, and is certainly a real American patriot. Which is why it is concerning that he and the dictator from Russia find themselves singing from the same hymn sheet.

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The death throes of free speech in Russia

 

As the world’s attention remains fixed on Ukraine, less attention is paid to the final nails being hammered into the coffin containing the corpse of Russia’s free and independent press. And while the annexation of Crimea and the west’s shamefully half-hearted response (slapping sanctions on a mere handful of Russian officials and exempting Vladimir Putin and his closest confidantes) certainly deserve their column inches, journalistic independence and free speech finally died in Russia, without a shot being fired. It is only right that we acknowledge this backward step, too.

A couple of excellent columns published over the past weekend aimed to do exactly that – Julia Ioffe writing at the New Republic and David Remick at The New Yorker. Both articles come highly recommended and paint a compelling, sad story.

In his piece, Remnick mourns the backwards steps under Putin which have now erased each and every gain made for freedom of expression under the Gorbachev glasnost era, with particular reference to the Russian government’s recent interference with popular news site Lenta.ru:

In recent years, when Russian liberals have tried to sound optimistic, they have invariably said, Well, at least they haven’t cracked down on the Internet the way the Chinese have. Lenta.ru is one Web site, not the entire Russian-language Web, to be sure, but today’s firing is still an important and ominous step. Lenta.ru was getting more than thirteen million unique visitors a month, and was far more direct and critically minded than anything on state television or in most print publications. Some staff writers and editors have said that they will leave rather than work with [new editor] Goreslavsky. They have no doubt that responsibility for today’s firing lay with Putin and his circle.

Seventy-nine staffers at Lenta.ru issued a statement of angry protest, reading, “Over the past couple of years, the space of free journalism in Russia has dramatically decreased. Some publications are directly controlled by the Kremlin, others through curators, and others by editors who fear losing their jobs. Some media outlets have been closed and others will be closed in the coming months. The problem is not that we have nowhere to run. The problem is that you have nothing more to read.”

Remnick notes that in today’s world and with modern technology, the domestic Russian media can be bought, manipulated and coerced very easily by Putin, with no need for recourse to any of the Soviet-era’s more heavy-handed techniques:

In each individual case, the degree of censorship and pressure is hardly Stalinist in degree. Putin’s media strategy is more sophisticated than that. (The book-publishing industry has remained quite free and unchanged in recent years.) The sophistication of it is that Putin exerts just enough control (blacklisting certain known dissident voices from state television, for example), and punishes just enough of his opponents, to set markers—boundaries of the permissible. Sometimes those boundaries are crossed, but a general tone has been set.

This is precisely the problem, and perhaps the reason why the assault on the Russian free press is getting much less attention than it deserves. In the modern age, the sheer number of cable television channels, newspapers and online news sites can easily give the impression of a vibrant, raucous and effective media, easily reflecting the views of the entire population and holding the leadership to account. However, because of concentration of ownership and endemic corruption, the appearance diversity or independence is merely an illusion – everyone toes the party line.

Julia Ioffe’s New Republic piece sees even more danger, with Russia’s authoritarian attempts to control speech and thought now reaching the internet:

Yesterday, the Kremlin went full-China on the Internet, the holy of holies of the Russian opposition. Using some flimsy legal pretexts, it banned access to various oppositional news sites, to the website of Moscow’s biggest radio station, and to the blog of Alexey Navalny, who is currently under house arrest. Last week, the owner of Dozhd announced that, due to the clampdown, the channel is going to close in a couple months.

Within the span of a couple months, the Kremlin, by hook and by crook, has cleared all the media underbrush. There’s suddenly not much left of the independent media, even of what little of it there was left after Putin’s first two terms at the wheel.

Some of the personal anecdotes recounted by Julia Ioffe are even more disturbing:

Then came the day a Moscow acquaintance announced on Facebook that her daughter, a first-grader, came home from school in a panic because the teacher had told the class that America was about to invade Russia. But then television host and attack dog Dmitry Kiselev went after the “radicals” in Kiev in a special broadcast dedicated to Ukraine, saying that the transfer of Crimea to the Ukrainian Soviet Republic in 1954 was “a historical crime” and blaming the dissolution of Yugoslavia on the West. “What is Yugoslavia now? A pimple on the body of Europe.”

The Russian Writer’s Union then felt the need to write an open letter to the Kremlin throwing their wholehearted support behind Russia’s annexation of Crimea:

… the Russian Writers’ Union, which is as Soviet as it sounds, declared that, “in these worrying times, when the fate not only of Russia and Ukraine, but of all European civilization, is being decided, we want to express our support of your firm and responsible position.” They also blamed “the destructive forces of the West.”

Whatever one might think of the press in the United Kingdom or United States, one cannot imagine them banding together like this to explicitly praise the leader. It is certainly true that President George W. Bush received ridiculous levels of hagiography and unquestioningly supportive coverage from the western press in the run-up to the second Iraq war, the profession as a whole did not feel the need to pledge their fealty with one voice. And though they were largely banished from the main networks, there was strong and vocal opposition. Not so in Russia today.

If there is any glimmer of hope to be had in this sorry situation, it is the fact that a sizeable number of Russians – despite their almost total erasing from the domestic news – have grown heartily sick of their country’s backward slide, and are making their views known as best they can.

The BBC reports that up to 50,000 people attended a pro-Democracy “Hands Off Ukraine” rally in central Moscow. And apparently caught off guard, Putin’s regime did not thwart the march, and mustered only 15,000 of their own supporters in a counter-demonstration:

Earlier in Moscow, tens of thousands rallied against Russia’s actions in Ukraine, the biggest such protest in two years. As many as 50,000 attended the rally, with protesters shouting: “Hands off Ukraine.”

One man told the BBC he felt Russia was turning back to the days of Soviet dictator Joseph Stalin.

Nearby, some 15,000 supporters of President Vladimir Putin came out to support the Crimean referendum. Many of them wore identical red outfits and carried Russian and Soviet flags.

But displays such as this are likely to become far fewer as the number of truly – or even partially – independent news outlets willing to provide a non-Kremlin perspective on the world dwindles to nothing.

Regrettably, the paranoid propagandists at the Kremlin are now also being encouraged to a degree by some in the west. The usually-admirable Ron Paul, for example, clearly shows the limitations of applying libertarian philosophy to its ultimate limits, and of citing moral equivalency between Russian meddling in Ukraine and unauthorised Western invasions to argue that the West has no legitimate basis to condemn Russia’s actions. Because the United States and Britain did wrong in the past, goes this argument, Russia must be allowed to do wrong now:

Paul said Crimeans should be allowed to break away from Kiev.

“I think everyone should have right to express themselves,” he said. “It is messy, that is for sure, because two big governments are very much involved in trying to tell the Ukranians what to do.”

However he said Russia had a more justifiable basis for being involved in Crimea than the US, and no government should prevent locals on the peninsula from determining their future.

This deference toward Russia maintaining a geopolitical sphere of influence whereby it is allowed to meddle and assert special interests in the politics of its neighbours would be slightly more defensible coming from Ron Paul if he did not castigate the United States for doing the same thing when it comes to influencing America’s Latin American neighbours:

PAUL: Well, I think free trade is the answer. Free trade is an answer to a lot of conflicts around the world, so I’m always promoting free trade. And you might add Cuba, too. I think we would be a lot better off trading with Cuba.

But as far as us having an obligation, a military or a financial obligation to go down and dictate to them what government they should have, I don’t like that idea. I would try to set a standard here where countries would want to emulate us. Unfortunately, sometimes we slip up on our standards and we go around the world and we try to force ourselves on others.

If free trade and an absence of foreign meddling is truly the stance favoured by Ron Paul he should be vigorously denouncing the aggressive actions taken by Russia, not seeking to justify them by finding tenuous comparisons in recent US and western foreign policy. Ukraine had a clear choice – closer engagement with the European Union or re-embracing Russia. Until Vladimir Putin began interfering in Ukraine’s internal politics and encouraging President Yanukovych to abandon the EU deal in exchange for sweeteners from Russia, Ukraine leant towards Europe. The EU may have its imperfections, but it represents a much more liberal option than anything Putin’s Russia represents, and if anyone has subverted the will of the Ukrainian people and deserves Ron Paul’s disapproval today it is Vladimir Putin.

And while Ron Paul has led from the front in the important public debate about the nature and extent of the US surveillance state, and any curtailments on free speech in America, there is no acknowledgement from him of the grave and far more routine impositions on free speech that take place in Russia. That’s not to say that every criticism of America needs to be counterbalanced with a corresponding flaw in the rest of the world, but it is certainly the case that jumping into the debate on Ukraine without acknowledging this elephant in the room significantly detracts from his argument.

When it comes to counterarguments and balance in media coverage, Russia makes America and Britain’s own tribulations look like nothing by comparison. And while it is unfortunate that some people – particular those from the left/libertarian part of the spectrum – have felt the need to use the Ukrainian crisis as an “I told you so” moment or to burnish their own non-interventionist credentials, this is nothing more than posturing for a domestic audience. It does nothing to help the people of Ukraine or Russia.

While it is Ukraine that is currently being deprived of its territory in Crimea, the usurping Russians are also being robbed. Their loss, taking place with far less comment, is that of their independent press and free speech. And without a free domestic press to even go through the motions of scrutinising Vladimir Putin’s leadership, today’s Russia – in full paranoid, expansionist, Soviet-nostalgic mode – is not going to stop at Ukraine.

The Day We Fight Back

thedaywefightback

 

Sometimes help comes from the most unlikely places. That was certainly the case today when Ed Miliband used his speech at the Hugo Young memorial lecture to call for major changes to the oversight of Britain’s intelligence and security agencies.

The Guardian reports:

A major overhaul of the oversight of Britain’s intelligence agencies, which could lead to an opposition politician chairing parliament’s intelligence and security committee and reform of the intelligence commissioners, needs to be introduced, Ed Miliband has said.

The Labour leader praised Barack Obama for starting an “important debate” in the US – after the White House appointed a panel in the wake of the Edward Snowden leaks – and called for a similar debate in Britain.

In some of his most extensive comments on the NSA leaks, Miliband told a Guardian audience that reforming the oversight of GCHQ, MI5 and MI6 was “definitely” part of his campaign to challenge “unaccountable power”.

Though the details remain sketchy, it appears that Miliband envisions quite a far-reaching review, looking not just at the methods used by the security services but also the degree to which the agencies are funded, the scope of their responsibilities and the granting of a more formal role in oversight to the main opposition party:

Miliband made clear that his challenge to “unaccountable power” would include Britain’s intelligence agencies as he said that reform should focus on two areas. These are parliament’s all party intelligence and security committee, which is always chaired by a senior MP from the governing party, and the commissioners who oversee the intelligence agencies.

The Labour leader said: “I already believe, and this is what my Labour colleagues have been saying, that there are clearly changes that are going to need to be made in relation to the intelligence and security committee and the oversight it provides.

“That is everything from the resources they have at their disposal, who chairs the committee and whether it should be somebody from the government party or the opposition party, their power to compel witnesses – a range of issues.

While this may warm the heart of many a weary libertarian, it must be noted that Miliband has barely scratched the surface in terms of confronting the growth of the British national security apparatus – after all, even miracles have their limits.

Miliband praises US President Barack Obama for starting what he calls an “important debate” but neglects to mention that Obama would have quite happily allowed the NSA to continue to violate the privacy of US and world citizens in secrecy and in perpetuity, and that he is actively seeking to extradite the person who really started the debate – Edward Snowden – back to America to face charges of treason. Thus restated in the proper context, Obama’s carefully cultivated philosopher-king image begins to lose some of its sheen, as does Miliband’s boyish admiration of him.

It should also be noted that Miliband sees the answer to concerns about privacy and civil liberties very much in terms of incremental changes to the existing framework, and certainly not in creating cast-iron rules about powers that the government should rightly have and those which should be reserved by the people.  In particular, he sees the fact of ministerial oversight and sign-off of interception requests by the security agencies as a good thing and a solid check on power, rather than the rubber stamp that it really is:

On the ministerial oversight of interception, he said: “It is worth saying also that there is in this country … ministerial sign off when intercept and so on takes place. That is a very, very important safeguard. I do believe the intelligence services do important work. But I absolutely endorse the idea that there are important issues of liberty and liberty is an important part of Labour’s agenda.”

Perhaps Miliband (or indeed David Cameron or Theresa May) would care to set out a scenario – any scenario at all – where the British intelligence services might approach the government to get sign-off for a communication intercept on a surveillance target and actually be rebuffed by a skeptical minister. It simply would never happen.

Elected politicians, weighing the likely fallout of two different courses of action, are almost always going to follow the path that chips away at civil liberties by approving the intercept request rather than defending privacy and denying the request on grounds of insufficient evidence, and later being implicated in a security failure. Decisions on the authorisation of communications intercepts should rest with the judiciary, not the executive.

It is certainly true that public opinion in Britain has not swelled with outrage at the revelations of NSA and GCHQ collaboration in collecting and viewing private communications data with no reason for suspicion and no warrant.

And so Miliband’s contribution to the British debate on privacy and (remarkably) constraints on the power of the state – a very muted, anaemic debate compared to that now taking place in many other countries – is welcome, and very important. In America, politicians from both main parties and of all temperaments have spoken out in condemnation of secret government surveillance, raising public awareness and, in some cases, making continued support for these draconian surveillance measures an electoral liability. Meanwhile, the British political establishment has largely closed ranks in defence of the national security complex, and against the people.

berniesandersNSA

Contrast this quote from the independent Vermont Senator, Bernie Sanders, with Prime Minister David Cameron’s dismissive and aloof response to concerns about the practices of MI5, MI6 and GCHQ:

“We have very good rules in this country. If a telephone call is going to be listened in to, that has to be signed off by the Home Secretary personally. There are very good safeguards in place,” Cameron told ITV’s The Agenda. “You get asked, ‘What are the rules’? I’m satisfied we have pretty strong safeguards. I thought part of the reaction to the The Guardian story was – big surprise, spies learn to spy…it’s to help keep us safe.”

Does the fact that Ed Miliband took the first tentative step in support of civil liberties and dared to suggest the state should not be all-powerful over us mean that the torch has been passed to a new generation of leaders on the issue? Of course not. Miliband seems to place his complete faith in the power of the state to accomplish a whole range of other matters relating to the personal and private lives of the British people, and it is far from certain a this early stage that he is not simply using his Hugo Young lecture to score a few cheap political points with no intention of pursuing the matter any further.

But for perhaps the first time in his senior political career, Miliband spoke out in favour of the private citizen over the government, when the issue of government surveillance has been met with nothing more than dismissal and condescension by Number 10 Downing Street and the rest of the government. And for that action, he must be given some credit.

Today, February 11th 2014, has been labelled The Day We Fight Back against mass surveillance. Numerous websites are carrying links to the organisation, which is supported by more than 360 organisations in 70 countries, and which plans to petition lawmakers in these countries to take action on the serious issue of government surveillance and constitutional overreach.

The Day We Fight Back has been well-marked in the United States, with many prominent politicians adding their voices to the chorus of protest. In the UK, on the other hand, there has been a deadly silence. The focus of the British news media and the political class remains fixed on the issues of flooding in southern England, with elected politicians falling over themselves to be seen in photo opportunities surveying the damage and taking decisive action. Taking any kind of action in support of our right to privacy and freedom from government oversight is far down the list of priorities, where it even features at all.

Former Texas Congressman Ron Paul is not right about everything, but his warning about the loss of liberty, echoing Franklin, is pertinent and timeless:

ronpaulwarning

People in Britain who truly appreciate the importance of the right to privacy and the need to place constraints of any kind on government seem to be few and far between, and consequently we must look for allies in unlikely corners.

Ed Miliband’s is certainly the very unlikeliest of corners. But perhaps the Labour leader’s taking a stand for civil liberties will shame others – those who should have been holding this issue aloft all along, and warning of the dangers of an omniscient, omnipotent government – into finally doing the same.

 

Concerned readers can visit The Day We Fight Back website and add their name to a petition here.

On Young Voters And The GOP

Republicans - GOP - Young Voters

At least some people in the Republican Party seem to have woken up to the demographic timebomb ticking away under their feet, and have started to lament, if not yet analyse, the fact that the vast majority of young people in America today would sooner give up their loud music and Pac-Man video games (or whatever it is that young people do for fun these days) than vote for a GOP candidate in a presidential election.

There is an article worth reading on this topic by Jeff Jacoby in today’s Boston Globe, entitled “As Dems rack up debt, youth should flock to GOP”.

Mitt Romney is apparently the latest Republican to develop a sense of outrage that no one outside of the grey haired brigade would be seen dead voting for him:

‘I don’t mean to be flip with this,’’ said Mitt Romney during a Q&A with students at the University of Chicago last week. “But I don’t see how a young American can vote for a Democrat.’’ He cheerfully apologized to anyone who might find such a comment “offensive,’’ but went on to explain why he was in earnest.

The Democratic Party “is focused on providing more and more benefits to my generation, mounting trillion-dollar annual deficits my generation will never pay for,’’ Romney said. While Democrats are perpetrating “the greatest inter-generational transfer of wealth in the history of humankind,’’ Republicans are “consumed with the idea of getting federal spending down and creating economic growth and opportunity so we can balance our budget and stop putting these debts on you.’’

At which point the needle on my “Are You For Real?” machine jolted as far toward the “You Must Be Kidding” end of the spectrum as it could go before the whole machine exploded in a shower of sparks.

The author himself does a good job of pouring cold water on any Republican claims to the mantle of fiscal restraint:

But that debt wasn’t piled up without plenty of Republican help. During George W. Bush’s presidency, annual federal spending skyrocketed from $1.8 trillion to $3.4 trillion, and $4.9 trillion was added to the national debt. Bush left the White House, in fact, as the biggest spender since LBJ . Granted, the profligacy of Barack Obama has outstripped even Bush’s bacchanal: CBS reports that Obama has added more to the national debt in just three years and two months than Bush did in his entire eight years. Still, younger voters can hardly be blamed if they haven’t noticed that Republicans are “consumed with the idea of getting federal spending down.’’

Therefore I do not intend to say anything more about the glaring, shameless hypocrisy of the Republicans – the party that gifted America two unfunded wars, large tax breaks not balanced by spending cuts and the joke that is Medicare Part D – laying any claim whatsoever to competency in handling the nation’s finances. Except that I will say that much of the “profligacy of Barack Obama” mentioned by the author was the result of a fiscal stimulus implemented (despite its imperfections) at a time when the US economy was in freefall, and without which the tepid recovery currently being experienced would likely be nothing but a sweet dream.

Mitt Romney and those others in the Republican Party who scratch their heads wondering why young people don’t like them miss the point entirely when they sulk that young people should embrace their economic policies. Though their fiscal policies may perhaps benefit young people in certain ways (and even this is arguable), there is no evidence based on past behaviour that they will actually have the political courage to implement them if voted into office. Old people (the beneficiaries of the “wealth transfers” that Romney claims to lament) actually vote in large numbers. Younger people don’t. The policy priorities of our political candidates duly reflect this fact.

Besides, it is not the GOP’s economic policies that are the main problem. The problem is the fact that in a bad economy, the opposition party is spending more time talking about abortion, contraception, mass deportations of illegal immigrants, repealing ObamaCare, questioning the president’s eligibility to hold office, and reinstating “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” and a host of other socially regressive policy positions which are anathema to a majority of young people today than they are about how to reduce unemployment and help a population ill-equipped to perform the more highly-skilled, non-manufacturing jobs of tomorrow.

Rick Santorum in particular often complains that the media focuses on his socially conservative policy positions and not his economic plan, but he can hardly expect young voters to thrust him into office on the back of his inspired ideas on the economy (spoiler – they are not that great) when they are more worried that he will cut off their unemployment insurance, or close down the Planned Parenthood centre where they go for medical care, or start a war with Iran.

It is no coincidence that the one Republican presidential candidate who actually walks the fiscal conservatism walk and who doesn’t continually bleat on about social issues and the culture wars – Ron Paul – vastly outperforms his rivals with young voters, in primary after primary.

Newsflash to Mitt Romney, Rick Santorum and Newt Gingrich:

Even if you had a cogent economic policy (which, by the way, none of you do) you will never appeal to young people by just tweaking your fiscal message a little bit. You had a choice when you started your presidential campaigns, and in your desperation to secure the party base you chose to fearmonger and rant about “taking back America”, and fret about turning into a socialist state, and speak about the importance of individal freedom in one breath while promising to impose your religious values on the whole country in the next.

Many young people would like an alternative to President Barack Obama, but you offer them nothing by way of a contrasting, conservative vision for the country that they could ever find acceptable. You offer them nothing. You offer racial minorities nothing. You offer women nothing. You offer the working poor and the unemployed nothing. And all of these constituencies will dutifully line up to vote for Barack Obama, and you will lose the presidential election on November 6th.

It could be otherwise, if only you offered the American people a genuine acceptable choice when they cast their votes.

The Republican Party, Or The Mikado

Okay, so some good news out of St. Louis. Ron Paul, the only Republican presidential candidate still in the race whose political ideology, record in office and personality that I can reasonably tolerate, is apparently doing well in the Missouri caucuses. So says the St Louis Post-Dispatch:

http://www.stltoday.com/news/local/metro/ron-paul-supporters-dominate-gop-caucus-in-st-louis/article_4c7977d4-75e0-11e1-858e-001a4bcf6878.html

Hooray.

Except, why is Missouri having a caucus, didn’t they just have a primary last month? Why, yes, they did, but it was a non-binding primary because some awesome person or people in the legislature screwed up and left a law requiring the state to hold a primary on a date that was earlier than the Republican National Committee would sanction. So they went ahead and held the primary in accordance with their state law, but it was essentially a “beauty contest” because the results counted for nothing. These caucuses, happening now, are the ones that count.

As The St. Louis Post-Dispatch helpfully explains:

“The slate backing Paul cast 158 votes in the non-binding caucus Saturday. The purpose was to choose representatives to a round of Congressional district meetings in April and June that will repeat the process to send 52 delegates from Missouri to the August convention in Tampa, Fla.”

Is that clear everyone? What do you mean, no?

So. The primaries that happened last month in Missouri counted for nothing. But that’s okay, because the caucuses that are happening now will choose the representatives that then go on to another round of meetings in April and June, the output of that meeting being the selection of 52 delegates to travel from Missouri to Florida where they can then all bicker together about who will have the honour of being electorally destroyed by Barack Obama in November.

Ladies and gentlemen, I give you the greatest democratic system on the face of the earth, etc.

Seriously, this is the stuff of which Gilbert & Sullivan operettas were made in terms of farcical plots, topsy-turvydom and bureaucratic nonsensical officialdom.

Firstly, having a long series of primaries and caucuses is dumb, because by the time the race gets to the big states that actually, y’know, contribute the most to the union (we can quibble about how we define “contribute the most” but we all know it’s true – lose Alabama, for instance, and the USA will pick itself up and limp on, ‘real America’ or not; lose California or New York or Texas and there’s a mortal wound right there) the race is pretty much already decided. Sure, it’s great to make the big rich hot-shots trek around a million diners and pancake houses pressing the flesh every morning and participating in good ol’ fashioned retail politics. But why should ethanol-swilling rural Iowans and their special interests have more of a say in choosing the nominee than those residents of the industrial midwest, or the two heavily populated coasts? It makes no sense, and the way in which those overlooked states which rightly try to increase their influence by bringing forward their primaries have been bullied, slapped down or penalised by the establishment is, if anything, the real affront to democracy taking place in America at the moment.

Secondly. if you are going to have a series of primaries and caucuses, can we at least get together to apply roughly the same rules to them all, so that you don’t need to fire up IBM’s Deep Blue supercomputer to work out the impact of each primary election night on the fortunes of the respective candidates? I know, I know, state’s rights and so on and so forth. That’s fine. Every state is allowed to do what they want and organise their primaries the way they best see fit. But when the existing method makes you all look like a disorganised bunch of ass clowns, maybe it’s time to actually get together and come up with a more uniform system. Now when might be a good opportunity to do that? If only there was some upcoming pre-arranged big gathering of the nation’s top Republicans, in a big convention city like, say, Tampa, Florida, that would perhaps be ideal. But we can only wish.

Thirdly. As long as America persists with the ridiculous system they have in place at the moment (and the Democrats aren’t much better on their side, but of course Obama’s renomination is not being contested so we hear nothing about the “superdelegate” shenanigans this time around), I will continue to unapologetically act as cheerleader for Ron Paul’s scrappy efforts to increase his delegate haul by using his army of devoted supporters to out-organise the front-runners and win the apparently-crucial but almost-unreported actual meetings that assign the delegates for real.

After all, if the rules are stupid or flexible enough that winning a majority of votes in a state’s primary or caucus doesn’t guarantee you something approaching a commensurate proportion of delegates to the convention, three cheers for the guy with the smarts to actually play the system.