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What happened to Brazil’s Foreign Policy during Dilma Rousseff’s first mandate?

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The end of the Cold War imposed new dynamics to the world. International Relations no longer have the ideological bias from the Cold War times, and have therefore become more flexible in the sense that states begin to establish relationships with key strategic partners taking into account their national interests, which are not guided by the bipolarity of the system. The Brazilian Foreign Policy, after democracy came back, in 1985, has also changed: Brazil is a more active international actor in key issues of the international system’s agenda.

While in the 1980’s Brazil was a country that participated in discussions together with developing countries, deciding to be distant from the established powers and international institutions, in the 1990’s the Brazilian Foreign Policy goes through an “aggiornamento”. The so called “autonomy by distance” becomes “autonomy through participation”. It is during Fernando Collor’s presidency that Brazil hosted the UN Conference on Environment and Development (Rio 92), at the time when the presidency and the chancellery sought to change the perception of the world in relation to Brazil, especially regarding environmental issues, which were a delicate matter to the country during the military dictatorship. The country seeks therefore to sustain an attitude of openness to dialogue both bilaterally and multilaterally. Gradually, the logic of the Brazilian Foreign Policy shapes itself pari passu to the world, which was also adjusting its modus operandi after the Cold War.

One can note that the mandate of Fernando Henrique Cardoso continued the “autonomy through participation” from his predecessors Fernando Collor and Itamar Franco and expanded its scope, establishing strategic partnerships with established powers such as the United States, the European countries and Japan; moreover he prioritized South America, foreseeing a Common Market of the South (Mercosur), possibly to the molds of the current European Union. The nomenclature “autonomy through participation” is then updated and it becomes “autonomy through integration” in Fernando Henrique’s mandate, which was essential for Brazil ‘s presence in the world in that specific time.

The solidification of the international presence of Brazil came, however, during Lula’s government. The President and his Foreign Minister, Ambassador Celso Amorim, understood the new dynamics of international relations and deepened Brazilian credentials abroad. The presidential transition between relatively antagonistic parties, PSDB (right) and PT (left), did not impair the continuity of the Brazilian Foreign Policy, on the contrary, strengthened its position in the world. The Brazilian Foreign Policy has never been homogeneous, but the continuity of its basis was maintained from the post-dictatorship period, that is 1985, to the second Lula government, that is 2010. One example was the evolution of the term autonomy coined by International Relations analysts. “Autonomy by distance” became “autonomy through participation”, soon after became “autonomy through integration” and finally it consolidated in “autonomy through diversification”, which briefly translates Lula’s Foreign Policy.

The “autonomy through diversification” was a symbol of high Brazilian self-esteem internationally. The President and his Foreign Minister, Ambassador Amorim, privileged the Brazilian Foreign Policy by strengthening bilateral relations and South-South coalitions (BRICS, IBSA, G-20, BASIC), by having cooperative, proactive and purposeful attitudes (Reform of the Security Council), by trusting traditional partners (US and Europe) and by focusing on regional integration (MERCOSUR and UNASUR).

However, it can be said that during Dilma’s mandate Brazil’s Foreign Policy has not evolved in the same way that had evolved over the past years although belonging to the same party as Lula da Silva (PT). For the first time since the 1990s, there was a change of priorities in the continuity of the Brazilian Foreign Policy. There is no evidence that the term “autonomy through diversification”, represented by Lula da Silva’s government, has been cited by analysts to characterize Dilma’s Foreign Policy. The employees from the Ministry of External Relations as well as opinion makers perhaps have implicitly represented President Dilma’s Foreign Policy as “autonomy by the indifference”. The Foreign Ministry, for example, suffered from cuts in both its budget as well as in the number of places offered to access the diplomatic career (from 100 per year during Lula da Silva’s government to 18-30 diplomats passing the public exam per year during Dilma’s mandate).

Contrary to claims about Rousseff’s lack of interest in foreign affairs, the Group of Reflection in International Relations (GR-RI), in an analysis of the presidential speech at the UN General Assembly in September 2014, shows that the Brazilian leader had given an active speech as well as her predecessor, Lula da Silva, in which she mentions important issues to the international agenda, such as solidarity in humanitarian affairs and internet governance — one can note that the latter was never brought forward properly. GR-RI’s article also mentions that new informal alliances, such as the BRICS, which “express an effort and an ability to create new policymaking procedures” — the BRICS are, in fact, the consolidation of multilateralism of reciprocity that Brazil searches in the international arena, the turning point of Dilma’s mandate concerning Foreign Affairs was even the creation of the BRICS Development Bank, which will be based in Shanghai, China, however, statistics and analysis put Brazil as one of the weakest economies of the group.

The change of priorities, although bad for the image of Brazil, can serve as a lesson for future foreign policy makers. Brazil urges to have concrete goals in the international scenario. Foreign Policy thus should be treated as a state and not a government policy. Although international relations are dynamic, Brazil needs to define its objectives to be part of the international system in the most effective way. Foreign Policy is as important to the development of a country as national policies are.

Although the adverse change of priorities has recently occurred in the Brazilian Foreign Policy, the country has always sought – and has been seeking since – to have a prominent place in the international scenario. Integration, diversification and other progressive synonymous must again be adjectives for Brazil’s Foreign Affairs. However, this does not mean lack of priority in urgent internal structural changes such as the creation of social policies and the reduction of economic disparities in the country. Overcoming internal challenges is key to Brazil. The coordination of both internal challenges and external objectives must be achieved so there is a progressive continuity that Brazil’s Foreign Policy surely deserves.

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From Popular Representation to International Isolationism: AMLO’s First Seven Months in Power

Lisdey Espinoza Pedraza

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It will soon be a year since the July 2018  Mexican presidential elections that saw Andrés Manuel López Obrador (AMLO) as the new head of the Executive. Has he lived up to the expectations 7 months after his inauguration? His popularity is real for now, it is largely based, however, on promises that have not yet been fulfilled, and that perhaps will be impossible to in his term.

One of the most striking features of his term so far is the fact that AMLO has displayed a serious disinterest in foreign affairs. AMLO won’t be attending the G-20, nor the WTO General Council Meeting to be held later on this year in Japan and Switzerland. This move risks the international presence of Mexico in the world. AMLO simply passed on the opportunity to negotiate potential trade deals with world leaders and show the world that he is indeed dissimilar from mainstream populists his outspoken opponents associate him with.

He has also effectively taken Mexico out of key regional groups in Latin America: Until his inauguration day, on December 1st, 2018 Mexico had played a central role in the Lima Group, formed by Argentina, Brazil, Canada, Chile, Colombia, Costa Rica, Guatemala, Honduras, Mexico, Panama, Paraguay and Peru. Guyana and Saint Lucia, countries pushing for the restoration of democracy, peace and security in Venezuela. Mexico has stopped participating in most of the Group’s meetings. Mexico has also stopped its active participation in the International Contact Group on Venezuela that seeks a negotiated solution to the Venezuelan problem. This group was the result of the conference jointly sponsored by the governments of Mexico and Uruguay; and that include other participating countries such as Bolivia, Costa Rica, Ecuador, France, Germany, Italy, the Netherlands, Portugal, Spain, Sweden, and the United Kingdom. AMLO has then pulled Mexico out of 2 of the most important international groups dealing with one of the most pressing issues in Latin America.

AMLO has self-imposed an awkward international isolation that has left Mexico in a fragile diplomatic position and has undermined Mexican strength to defend from Trump’s threats and tantrums.

It is hard to understand AMLO’s inward-looking strategy. Mexico has let the opportunity go to form alliances with Europe, China, or other countries suffering from Trump’s equally protectionist foreign policy. The Mexican president during his first 7 months in power has not made any single trip abroad, nor did he visit any countries prior to his inauguration. AMLO seems determined to isolate Mexico from the international community for the sake of his increasingly worrying populist-like policies at home. Mexico and the United States have built a very odd political and economic marriage. They both share an insistence to put their own country first. Alike Trump, AMLO claims that his supporters have been mistreated by past administrations and economic and political elites. Similarly, both also have very little patience for established norms, institutions, checks and balances.

AMLO has also made domestic governmental austerity another of his core administration values. If well-targeted, following years of financial profligacy, this would be a more than welcome initiative. AMLO’s austerity has been ill-targeted and non-sensical. The way he allocates funds seem to follow a vengeful and populist attitude aimed at appeasing his electoral base that elected him. He has lowered wages; he has fired a large number of civil servants and has slashed the budgets of several ministries and organisations to centralise spending and fight public sector corruption. Health, Science and Technology, Home Affairs, the military have all faced severe budget cuts. He also cancelled the construction of Mexico City’s airport, which had already been partially built, at an enormous cost. Mexico’s economic growth is slowing down, and the current administration’s ill-planned decisions will mean that AMLO will face tighter budget constraints than previous administrations.

The two most worrying aspects of AMLO’s administration so far are the hyper-centralisation that he has carried out to return all the threads of power to presidential hands; and his absolute control of the Congress, meaning that they are able to amend the Constitution in any way they please. He is also attempting to establish a parallel system of power and government in each of the 32 states by naming a personal delegate. Such delegates will oversee the disbursing of federal funding becoming de-facto local officials accountable only to the president. He is also intending to pull back funding from pre-existing social programmes for victims of domestic violence, nurseries, and sport and academic activities.

AMLO’s strategy is nothing new. It bears a striking resemblance to the PRI’s heyday when the party kept a tight control over every sector of society. This power grab has been accompanied by an aggressive expansion of his political base. He has been handing out monthly stipends to nearly 10 million retirees, more than 7 million young people, and disabled that made up a large portion of his electorate. He also sacrificed the Education Reform to gain the loyalty of one of Mexico’s most numerous, corrupt and politically influential trade unions, the National Trade Union of Teachers (SNTE).All these policies are a throwback to Mexico’s old politics of clientelism, nepotism and authoritarianism.

Security and violence also remain as one of the most pressing issues in contemporary Mexico and that the last 3 administrations have been unable to thwart. AMLO’s strategy seems equally doomed to fail as he offers nothing new. None of his current plans will mean a real difference without a radically different approach to the justice and rule of law system and institutions currently in place. He needs the political will to build the capacity for real independent prosecution, and an internationally backed commission against corruption, impunity and human rights violations would be AMLO’s best chance to keep violence and security from ruining his other priorities.

Many of the current administration plans will, in all likelihood, fail to come to fruition. The popularity of AMLO is not rooted, however, in good economic decisions, nor in confidence in its government. In Mexico, popularity does not go hand in hand with governmental efficiency and effectiveness. Nevertheless, his popularity will soon end when people realise that he is unable to solve Mexico’s myriad of problems. The inability of the current administration to deal effectively with pressing challenges will only expose the country to greater domestic and international vulnerabilities.

AMLO might be on a dangerous path towards a point of no return. He continues to display authoritarian, demagogic inclinations, and there are virtually no counterweights as political opposition is in disarray. He, nonetheless, lacks the strong economic backup that once sustained the regime of the old state party, the Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI). Therefore, he is forced to look for alternative ways to fund his ambitious political project or he will be doomed to fail. In the end, finances will be his make or break. Maintaining a patronage network to obtain votes require serious financial backing. With sufficient funds at his disposal, he could solidify his electoral base for years; without it his popularity and power will slowly erode. The damaging consequences to Mexico’s fragile institutions will last though as democratic checks and balances are harder to build than to break as the slow, protracted consolidation of democracy in Mexico has shown.

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Wall Street Wants Dems to Nominate Anyone But Sanders, Warren, or Gabbard

Eric Zuesse

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A June 16th article in the New York Times headlined “Wall Street Donors Are Swooning for Mayor Pete. (They Like Biden and Harris, Too.)”. It noted that “Two candidates in the top tier of polls, Mr. Sanders and Senator Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts, have railed against the financial industry and opted against the kind of fancy fund-raisers with catering and $2,800 admission prices that lubricate the donor industry.” By contrast, against those two: “Mr. Biden, Mr. Buttigieg and Ms. Harris have aimed to blend aggressive large- and small-money operations, much as Mr. Obama’s campaigns successfully did.” Democratic voters who are satisfied with the Democratic Party of Barack Obama and of Hillary Clinton will be satisfied with either Buttigieg or Biden or Harris to become the U.S. President. “Mr. Buttigieg has hired a full-time professional New York fund-raiser.” And, “Even a donor who recently put together an event for one of Mr. Buttigieg’s rivals said that, these days, ‘the easiest event to sell out is a Buttigieg event.’” 

Harris is also attractive to Wall Street, but her particular strengths are in Hollywood and Silicon Valley, because she’s a U.S. Senator from California, and because even if she doesn’t win the nomination, they will still need to stay within her good graces, because she’s one of their two U.S. Senators and will be pitching for them there — or else not. 

On the other hand, Politico headlined on June 13th, “California poll: Warren surges to second, Harris falls to fourth”; and, so, Harris won’t likely be able to score even nearly as big in the California money-competion as she has been expecting, and the trend seems therefore to be for Warren to emerge as the female contender, and also as the progressive (even if only on financial issues) contender, for the votes from Democrats. But Sanders still could win California: whereas Warren scored 18%, he scored 17% in the poll.

The likeliest four to win the nomination, therefore, currently seem to be Biden, Buttigieg, Sanders, and Warren. Those are the four contenders from whom the winner will likely be chosen by the time the South Carolina primary becomes decided, on (as tentatively scheduled) 29 February 2020. 

Given that neither Sanders nor Warren would likely have sufficient attraction to the big-money people who fund the campaigns, it will probably come down to either Biden or Buttigieg, and I would expect that by the time of late February, Buttigieg will have drawn, to himself, enough of Biden’s supporters, so as to be able to be the leading “moderate” in the contest. He’ll have done this on the basis of little more than promises to the voters, which he won’t keep any more than Obama or Clinton did (or than Biden or Harris would). That’s the ‘middle of the road’ type of politician, the type who keeps his promises only to his biggest donors. That would mean a failed United States, the end of the American dream. Like Obama had told Wall Street’s tycoons right after coming into the White House, when he met secretly with them inside the White House: progressives are just “pitchforks” who want them to be punished, just as Southern White racists during the days of Jim Crow had wanted Blacks to be surrounded and lynched. Obama told them that to pursue them legally would be nothing more than bigotry against the rich, and that he would “protect” them from it — and he did. Here is how I wrote about that, at Strategic Culture, back on 17 June 2018:

The Inspector General of the U.S. Department of Justice issued on 13 March 2014 its “Audit of the Department of Justice’s Efforts to Address Mortgage Fraud,” and reported that Obama’s promises to prosecute turned out to be just lies. DOJ didn’t even try; and they lied even about their efforts. The IG found: “DOJ did not uniformly ensure that mortgage fraud was prioritized at a level commensurate with its public statements. For example, the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) Criminal Investigative Division ranked mortgage fraud as the lowest criminal threat in its lowest crime category. Additionally, we found mortgage fraud to be a low priority, or not [even] listed as a priority, for the FBI Field Offices we visited.” Not just that, but, “Many Assistant United States Attorneys (AUSA) informed us about underreporting and misclassification of mortgage fraud cases.” This was important because, “Capturing such information would allow DOJ to … better evaluate its performance in targeting high-profile offenders.” …

On 27 March 2009, Obama assembled the top executives of the bailed-out financial firms in a secret meeting at the White House, and he assured them that he would cover their backs; he promised them “My administration is the only thing between you and the pitchforks”. It was never on the White House website; it was leaked out, which is one of the reasons Obama hates leakers (such as Chelsea Manning, Edward Snowden, and Julian Assange). What the DOJ’s IG indicated was, in effect, that Obama had kept his secret promise to them.

Here is the context in which he had said that (from page 234 of Ron Suskind’s 2011 book, Confidence Men, with boldfacings by me):“My administration is the only thing between you and the pitchforks.”It was an attention grabber, no doubt, especially that carefully chosen last word.

But then Obama’s flat tone turned to one of support, even sympathy. “You guys have an acute public relations problem that’s turning into a political problem,” he said. “And I want to help. But you need to show that you get that this is a crisis and that everyone has to make some sacrifices.” According to one of the participants, he then said, “I’m not out there to go after you. I’m protecting you. But if I’m going to shield you from public and congressional anger, you have to give me something to work with on these issues of compensation.”

No suggestions were forthcoming from the bankers on what they might offer, and the president didn’t seem to be championing any specific proposals. He had none: neither Geithner nor Summers believed compensation controls had any merit.

After a moment, the tension in the room seemed to lift: the bankers realized he was talking about voluntary limits on compensation until the storm of public anger passed. It would be for show.

Obama said “Everyone has to make sacrifices,” but he was talking to people who simply refused to be included in that “everyone.” As the mega-crooks who had been profiting from the crimes that had brought about the global economic collapse, those “sacrifices” should have been life-imprisonments. Only by means of such accountability, would their successors not try anything of the sort that these banksters had done. But such was not to be the case. So, the crimes continued.

Obama kept his word to them. The banksters got off scot-free, and kept their personal hundreds of millions of dollars ‘earned’.

He had been lying to the public, all along. Not only would he not prosecute the banksters, but he would treat them as if the only problem was the “pitchforks,” who were “an acute public relations problem that’s turning into a political problem.” The banksters weren’t a problem, but the public were, and he would protect them from the public. And he thought that the people who wanted them prosecuted were like the KKK who had chased Blacks with pitchforks before lynching. The “pitchforks” were to blame, and he would protect the banksters from those. According to the DOJ, Obama’s Financial Fraud Enforcement Task Force (FFETF) was “established by President Barack Obama in November 2009 to wage an aggressive, coordinated and proactive effort to investigate and prosecute financial crimes.” But, according to the Department’s IG, it was all a fraud: a fraud (against the public, for the banksters) that, according to the DOJ, itself had been going on since at least November 2009.

The 13 March 2014 IG’s report continued by pointing out the Obama-appointed Attorney General’s lies, noting that on 9 October 2012, “the FFETF held a press conference to publicize the results of the initiative,” and:

“The Attorney General announced that the initiative resulted in 530 criminal defendants being charged, including 172 executives, in 285 criminal indictments or informations filed in federal courts throughout the United States during the previous 12 months. The Attorney General also announced that 110 federal civil cases were filed against over 150 defendants for losses totaling at least $37 million, and involving more than 15,000 victims. According to statements made at the press conference, these cases involved more than 73,000 homeowner victims and total losses estimated at more than $1 billion.

“Shortly after this press conference, we requested documentation that supported the statistics presented. … Over the following months, we repeatedly asked the Department about its efforts to correct the statistics. … Specifically, the number of criminal defendants charged as part of the initiative was 107, not 530 as originally reported; and the total estimated losses associated with true Distressed Homeowners cases were $95 million, 91 percent less than the $1 billion reported at the October 2012 press conference. …

“Despite being aware of the serious flaws in these statistics since at least November 2012, we found that the Department continued to cite them in mortgage fraud press releases. … According to DOJ officials, the data collected and publicly announced for an earlier FFETF mortgage fraud initiative – Operation Stolen Dreams – also may have contained similar errors.”

Basically, the IG’s report said that the Obama Administration had failed to enforce the Fraud Enforcement and Recovery Act of 2009. This bill had been passed overwhelmingly, 92-4 in the Senate, and 338-52 in the House. All Republicans had voted against it. (Perhaps Obama was secretly a Republican.) The law sent $165 million to the DOJ to catch the executive fraudsters who had brought down the U.S. economy, and it set up the Financial Crisis Inquiry Commission, and had been introduced and written by the liberal Democratic Senator Patrick Leahy. President Obama signed it on 20 May 2009. At that early stage in his Presidency, he couldn’t afford to display publicly that he was far to the right of every congressional Democrat, so he signed it.

Already on 15 November 2011, Syracuse University’s TRAC Reports had headlined “Criminal Prosecutions for Financial Institution Fraud Continue to Fall,” and provided a chart showing that whereas such prosecutions had been running at a fairly steady rate until George W. Bush came into office in 2001, they immediately plunged during his Presidency and were continuing that decline under Obama, even after the biggest boom in alleged financial fraud cases since right before the Great Depression. And, then, on 24 September 2013, TRAC Reports bannered “Slump in FBI White Collar Crime Prosecutions,” and said that “prosecutions of white collar criminals recommended by the FBI are substantially down during the first ten months of Fiscal Year 2013.” This was especially so in the Wall Street area: “In the last year, the judicial District Court recording the largest projected drop in the rate of white collar crime prosecutions — 27.8 percent — was the Southern District of New York (Manhattan).” On 29 July 2015, Syracuse University’s TRAC Reports headlined “Federal White Collar Prosecutions At 20-Year Low,” and linked to their full study, which showed that, whereas in fiscal year 2004-2005, under George W. Bush, “Bank Fraud” had been the #1 most-prosecuted of all ”white collar crime matters,” it was, in the latest fiscal year, 2014-2015, only #3.

These were extremely serious crimes: they crashed the world’s economy in 2008. But there was no White House interest in pursuing them. Instead, the Obama Administration blocked any such prosecutions, or even investigations into specific cases.

So: if these sorts of lies weren’t outright frauds against the American public, then what could possibly be?

But that’s not all of what belongs in the “whopper” or “Big Lie” category from Obama: he lied constantly about Ukraine, and about Syria, and about Russia and about his intentions toward Russia, and about his proposed international-trade treaties: TPP. TTIP, and TISA. 

None of these whoppers was included in the listing that the NYT presented in their 14 December 2017 article “Trump’s Lies vs. Obama’s”

How horrifically bad a U.S. President Barack Obama was, wasn’t reported by America’s press. Perhaps this is why the three leading candidates among America’s Democratic Party voters today are Joe Biden, Pete Buttigieg, and Kamala Harris. Supporters of any of those three are supporting, to become the Party’s nominee, someone who would respond to an economic crash very similarly to the way that Obama did (for the elite crooks, against the public). All three despise the “pitchforks” who want accountability, and each respects only his own mega-donors. 

Being satisfied with a U.S. President such as Obama was, is to be satisfied with a Democratic Presidential candidate such as Biden or Buttigieg or Harris is.

The Times article on 16 June 2019 mentioned also that there are other candidates, who currently are scoring lower in the polls, but who would be reaping big money from Wall Street, if only the given candidate had a realistic chance of winning the nomination: such as Cory Booker, Kirsten Gillibrand, Betto O’Rourke, and Michael Bennet. Sanders and Warren could never be supported by the big donors. Such candidates are too progressive to suit any of America’s billionaires, and therefore even if one of them were to win the nomination, that person’s campaign would end up being starved for funds from the few people who control the country. The big donors want only politicians who will keep only the promises that are made privately to the big donors, and not the promises that the candidate makes to the public. The big donors don’t care about the public promises, but only about the private ones, because, in today’s America, those are the only promises that a politician keeps — such as Obama exemplified. He had the slickness that Democratic Party billionaires demand. He’s able to retain his popularity among Democrats even after he had screwed them for eight successive years. They’re looking for another Obama. Pete Buttigieg will likeliest be that person. 

The most progressive of all of the candidates, Tulsi Gabbard, hasn’t caught on even amongst progressive voters — she’s currently at less than 1% in the primaries polls — and, consequently, whereas there are plenty of Biden clones among the well-heeled candidates, the only two candidates with any chance of actually winning the nomination and who are even moderately progressive, Sanders and Warren, are being shunned by the people who finance political campaigns. Unless one of those two gets tens of millions of small-dollar donors, the best that we’ll have during 2021-2025 will be either an Obama-Clinton clone, or else the current President, Trump. 

There’s no realistic way that the U.S. will have any improvement over Bush and Obama and Clinton and Trump, unless Democratic Party voters refuse to settle for the people who are being backed by the Democratic Party’s billionaires. And it also won’t happen from the Republican Party’s billionaires. The only way it even possibly could  happen is if Democrats choose only a progressive, and won’t any longer settle for merely a liberal (a “moderate” in the Democratic Party) (such as Democratic Party primary voters have done in the recent past, and seem inclined to do now). It would need to be a substantially different electorate.

Just as Republican voters are ignorant of how bad the Bushes and Trump are, Democratic voters are ignorant of how bad the Clintons and Obama are. Each Party’s voters are the fools of that Party’s billionaires, and don’t even know it. 

The situation is the same in any ‘democracy’. But no actual democracy is like this.

However, The rottenness of the billionaires’ picks could still end up defeating the billionaires. And here are examples of how:

On June 19th, the Washington Post bannered “Back home in South Bend, Buttigieg faces ‘his nightmare’”, and reported that:

A white police officer had shot and killed a black man early Sunday. Buttigieg canceled several days of campaign events — including an LGBTQ gala in New York — and rushed back to Indiana to “be with the South Bend community,” in the words of a campaign spokesman.

Instead of showcasing But­tigieg’s ability to lead through a crisis, however, the shooting is exposing what has long been considered an Achilles’ heel of his candidacy: his frosty relationship with South Bend’s black residents. … 

“How’s he handling it?” said Oliver Davis, the longest-serving black member of the South Bend Common Council. “Well, he talked to the media before the family. He skipped the family vigil, full of black residents. And then he then gave a speech to the police. So, how do you think that went over?” 

That speech was to the swearing-in of South Bend’s new police class. It had six members. All of them are white. They are to be the new people policing black neighorhoods in Mayor Buttigieg’s South Bend. How well is Buttigieg likely to perform in the largely Black South Carolina Democratic primary, on or around 29 February 2020? 

Also on June 19th, the New York Times headlined “Joe Biden and Democratic Rivals Exchange Attacks Over His Remarks on Segregationists: Mr. Biden’s fond remarks about dealing with segregationist senators are raising questions about both his political past and his political acumen now in dealing with it.” On that same day, Politico bannered “Biden comments trigger renewed scrutiny of his record on race” and reported that Biden was one of the leading U.S. Senators for criminalizing the types of narcotics that especially Blacks were addicted to, and that he was largely responsible for filling our prisons with Blacks. So: How well is Biden likely to perform in the largely Black South Carolina Democratic primary?

If those two candidates get eliminated on account of their too obviously not turning out to be like Obama but instead more like Hillary Clinton, then, perhaps, Sanders, or Warren, or the female Black, Harris, will come to dominate and possibly to win the nomination. But, if Sanders wins it, then none of the billionaires will be funding the Democratic Presidential campaign. But, if Trump’s campaign gets virtually all of the billionaires’ money, then could that fact alone sink his campaign, by exposing, even to some of Trump’s customary voters, that he doesn’t really represent their interests, after all? 

Author’s note: first posted at strategic-culture.org

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Trump’s New Wall? Mexico’s Southern Border

Lisdey Espinoza Pedraza

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For much of modern history, Mexico defined itself in opposition to the United States. In recent years, the two countries stepped up cooperation on almost all relevant issues, and the two nations are now deeply intertwined politically, economically and culturally. This is bound to change. After months of ignoring Donald Trump’s provocations, López Obrador reacted rapidly to Trump’s shakedown and agreed to a number of resolutions of extraordinary scope and urgency: the new Mexican administration agreed to deploy the country’s federal police to its southern border to crack down on immigration; and opened the door to the controversial “Remain in Mexico” policy that would turn Mexico into a Third Safe Country in less than a month from now.

As stated in the agreement, Mexico would take in all the refugees that the US decides to send back to Mexico to await resolution of their asylum process. This could take years, given the substantial immigration backlog in American courts. The agreement goes further: Mexico is responsible for the provision of education, health care and employment for such refugees. This could easily lead to a serious humanitarian crisis that Mexican institutions will be unable to deal with.

This approach contradicts previous Mexican presidential vows for regional development and humanitarian relief rather than confrontation and enforcement. Conditions on the ground in Mexico are far harsher than the Mexican Foreign Affairs Minister, Marcelo Ebrard and the President, Andrés Manuel López Obrador, would like to admit, and this is partly due to the current administration’s miscalculations: López Obrador has dramatically cut the budget for governmental agencies responsible for managing refugees and processing removals. Mexican border towns are also ill-equipped for handling transient migrant populations; and Mexico also faces other more systematic challenges, such as corruption and lack of rule of law enforcement. The new policy agreed with the American government is likely to result in a significant increase in claims filed for asylum in Mexico. Mexico’s immigration bureaucracies are utterly overwhelmed, and López Obrador’s misguided budget cuts have exacerbated their failings.

Mexico’s immigration policy is now bound by an immoral and unacceptable deal that will effectively turn Mexico into Trump’s border wall. The global system for the protection of refugees is based on the notion of shared responsibility among countries. It is very dangerous for the US to use Mexico as a pawn to set an example and ignore its international responsibility. This agreement also violates international law on refugees: Mexico is a life-threatening country for undocumented migrants. Human trafficking, recruitment for organised criminal organisations, abduction, extortion, sexual violence, and disappearances are some of the issues migrants face in Mexico. Finally, Mexico’s National Guard, the agency that will be in charge of monitoring the southern border, was created by López Obrador to tackle domestic crime. Its members have no training nor knowledge on immigration matters. It is an untested new military force that could end up creating more problems than the ones it is trying to solve.  Deploying agents to the border could also have a high political cost for the president.

The agreement with Trump gives López Obrador 45 days to show progress. If Mexico fails, Mexico will be forced to set in motion some version of Safe Third Country agreement, or face further tariff bullying from the US. This deal has been sold by the new Mexican administration as a victory over the US. More migrants, less money, extreme violence and a recalcitrant, unpredictable northern neighbour are the ingredients for a potential, impending refugee crisis, not a diplomatic victory.

Could Mexico have taken a different approach? Yes. Trump’s decision to impose tariffs would exacerbate the underlying causes of immigration in the region and do nothing to address it. His bullying to force Mexico to crack down on immigration was a cheap electoral ploy to mobilise its base with a view to winning the 2020 elections. This is nothing new. Trump is not seeking a solution; he is seeking a political gain. He built his first presidential campaign on an anti-Mexico and an anti-immigrant rhetoric. It worked in 2016, and he is planning to repeat the same formula.

The Mexican administration lack of knowledge on diplomatic matters, and their inability to play politics let a golden opportunity go. Using trade to bludgeon Mexico into compliance with an immigration crack down makes no sense: Mexico is not responsible for the increase in migratory flows. Central America’s poverty and violence trace back to American policies in the 1980s. Mexico is not responsible either for America’s famously dysfunctional immigration system. Trump’s economic threats against Mexico may not even have been legal: both the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), and the newly agreed US-Mexico-Canada Agreement (USMCA) require most trade between members to be tariff free.

Mexico could also have hit back with by levying tariffs that would have hurt swing-state voters, and in turn hurt Trump. This was the golden opportunity Mexico let slip from its hands. Mexico could have responded by hitting Trump where it hurts: Tariffs on American goods heading south. Mexico responded in a similar manner in June last year in response to the steel and aluminium tariffs. Mexico could have raised those tariffs each month in tandem with American levels.

This retaliation would have highlighted the gap between Trump’s anti-Mexican rhetoric and the underlying interdependence of the US and Mexico with stark consequences for the US presidential elections of 2020. Many of the biggest exporters to Mexico such as Arizona. Florida. California, Michigan and Illinois are swing states. New tariffs could have thrown Texas into recession and put its 38 electoral votes into play. It is all too late now, Mexico could have inadvertently helped Trump to get re-elected. Mexico has less than a month left to show some backbone and demand real American cooperation on the region’s shared challenges and rejecting Trump’s threats once and for all. The relationship between Mexico and the US could have been an example of cooperation under difficult conditions, but that would have required different American and Mexican presidents.

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