Gridlock if Hillary wins

By this time next week, one can but hope, the 2016 US election will be over. Barring a black swan event — which is to say one as improbable as that creature — Hillary Clinton will be president-elect. Then what?

Much may depend on the decisiveness of her winning margin. The race appeared to be narrowing in the final furlong. This is not unusual. FBI director James Comey has helped, perhaps unintentionally. News that his agents had come across a fresh trove of emails that might contain some sent by Hillary via her private server while she was Secretary of State perked up Donald Trump’s flagging campaign like a line of cocaine.

With any luck, the lift will prove equally short-lived. If the polls are to be believed, Trump may come close in the national vote next Tuesday but still lose fairly decisively in the electoral college. He has refused to say whether he will accept the result, asserting that the system is rigged. As, indeed, it is. The Founding Fathers rigged it to reduce the risk of the teeming North electing a president who might try to outlaw slavery in the agrarian South.

What would be dangerous in the present instance would be a replay of the 2000 election in which the Democrat, Al Gore, won a popular majority while failing to assemble a majority of the electoral votes awarded by each state on a winner take all basis. He lost when the Supreme Court awarded Florida to the Republican, George Bush, on the basis of still disputed recount. Gore conceded gracefully. Trump has offered no grounds for believing he would behave in a like manner. There could be blood.

A result that is clean and clear will test Trump’s ability to brand defeat as triumph. Branding, an art that has quite a lot in common with lying, is his peculiar forte. A protean character, he should have no trouble finding a formula if he wants one and, as it happens, there is a claim he can legitimately make. He has performed a useful service. He has turned over the rock of American politics and exposed what lies beneath.

Trump may be the Republican candidate, but by no stretch of the imagination has he been running as a Republican. Previously of no fixed political address, he putsched the Grand Old Party with rhetorical techniques that will sound uncannily familiar to readers of Volker Ullrich’s excellent new biography of Adolph Hitler.

He has come within sight of the winning the White House because a significant percentage of American voters, predominantly white working and middle class men, feel betrayed by the GOP of House Speaker Paul Ryan and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, not to mention the lengthy menu of presidential alternatives initially on offer.

Where will the okes go if and when Trump goes back to being a property developer and reality TV star?

Clinton is convinced that, for the sake of the country, she must make a play for their allegiance as profoundly as many seem to hate her. “If we don’t get this right,” she told the New Yorker’s George Packer in a recent interview, “what we’re seeing with Trump now will just be the beginning. Because when people feel that their government has failed them and the economy isn’t working for them, they are ripe for the kind of populist nationalist appeals that we’re hearing from Trump.”

“Getting it right” will be easier said than done unless the Republicans chose to draw similar conclusions from the Trump phenomenon and see their way to cooperating with the new administration. That seems unlikely unless Congress also changes hands next week. The best Hillary can hope for is a tenuous majority in the Senate while the GOP retains a lock on the House.

Things could get ugly. Doug Schoen, who worked for Bill Clinton as a pollster but has taken Rupert Murdoch’s shilling to be a Fox News talking head, drew attention to himself on Monday by announcing he had made “one of the most difficult decision of my life”: while he could not vote for Trump, he would not be voting for Hillary either. His reason: fear that the Republicans would try to turn the email affair into a new Watergate to bring down her administration or at least limit her to a single term.

“I am now convinced that we will be facing the very real possibility of a constitutional crisis should Secretary Clinton win the election…There will be no goodwill or honeymoon period for Clinton. Her…agenda will take a back seat to partisan division…with little chance on constructive legislative action.”

It is hard to see how withholding his vote from Clinton might rescue the country from Republicans bent on her political destruction through the criminalisation of political difference. But Schoen’s prediction of gridlock worse that anything Washington has yet experienced is not beyond the bounds of possibility.

MARs attack

Donald Trump, billionaire property developer, casino owner and carnival barker – America’s answer to Julius Malema — has been the clear front runner for the Republican presidential nomination since mid-July. Not only is he well ahead of the pack nationally, polling consistently at around 30% of likely Republican primary voters, he is currently the clear favourite to collect the most nominating delegates in Iowa, New Hampshire, Nevada, South Carolina and Florida when the real voting begins.


The best short answer is supplied by Ronald Brownstein of the National Journal: “The blue-collar wing of the Republican primary electorate consolidated around one candidate. The party’s white collar wing remains fragmented.”

John Judis, another astute analyst, unpacks the Trump fan base as Middle American Radicals, or MARs, a category first proposed by sociologist Donald Warren in a 1976 monograph, “The Radical Centre: Middle Americans and the Political of Alienation.” Continue reading “MARs attack”

Goading the US on AGOA

Here’s a question I have about the time the South African government is taking to remove barriers to US chicken, pork and beef exports. Is Pretoria acting in good faith? Or is Minister of Trade and Industry Rob Davies deliberately trying to provoke the Obama administration into suspending South Africa’s benefits under the African Growth and Opportunity Act? Publicly, he keeps insisting that SA is doing every it can to get things resolved. And yet one hears that every time there’s a meeting, the SA side raises some new complication.

Davies sits on the central committee of the SA Communist Party whose fingerprints are all over a draft ANC policy document which all but declares the US a hostile power. The chapter on international relations asserts that Washington has launched a new cold war against China and Russia and accuses the US of working to destabilise SA’s “progressive” friends the world over. The SACP might well consider it a propaganda coup if the US were to reimpose tariffs on key SA exports for what Davies would claim was no good reason. Look, the wicked imperialists are trying to destabilise us too! Continue reading “Goading the US on AGOA”

Buying in

If you’re desperate to emigrate to the US, have half a million dollars you’re willing to park with an American property developer without earning much of a return, and can’t qualify otherwise, you might want to take a look at the EB-5 Immigrant Investor Programme and then consider another plan.

In the decade ending September 30 last year, EB-5 visas were the ticket to a green card for just 166 South Africans, or 1,1 per cent of the 13 141 who received US immigrant visas because they, or someone in their immediate family, had what America considers to be the right stuff.

The programme is up for renewal by Congress at the end of this month. While it has not been without controversy, it is one of the few facets of US immigration policy which most politicians can agree to like, especially when it’s sending bacon to their constituents. Continue reading “Buying in”

AGOA and the Dinosaurs

Rob Davies, the minister of trade and industry, is a member of the South African Communist Party’s central committee whose collective signature is on an article in the current African Communist. In it we learn that the African Growth and Opportunity Act, which helped SA run a $2 billion trade surplus with the US last year, is a tool devised by newly confident “monopoly capital” to force neo-liberal policies down the throats of SA’s working class.

“Imperialist” America, say Mr Davies and his friends — prime exhibits all in SA’s Jurassic Park of failed ideology — are “pushing South Africa very hard” by attaching “conditionalities” to AGOA’s just enacted 10-year renewal.

The SACP dinosaurs acknowledge “the US is not necessarily keen to drop its AGOA relationship with South Africa”. On that, at least, they are correct. Shakier, though, is the logic on which they base their conclusion. Call it Sino-manic infantilism. Continue reading “AGOA and the Dinosaurs”

Home to roost

It’s common to hear people who should know better call the African Growth and Opportunity Act an agreement. It isn’t. It’s a one-way grant of preferential access to the American market for African countries that meet certain criteria. The recipients made no binding concessions of their own to secure these preferences. The donor calls the shots. That’s life.

The US wanted to negotiate a free trade agreement with South Africa after AGOA went into effect.  The negotiations failed in 2006 leaving a sour taste in Washington’s mouth. South Africa says they failed because the US was asking for more than its South African Customs Union partners — Namibia, Botswana, Swaziland and Lesotho — felt able to give. That’s not an excuse that’s universally accepted on the US side. The feeling here is that South Africa preferred to keep getting without giving.

Now come the consequences. What’s given unilaterally can also be taken away unilaterally. The US is threatening denial of AGOA benefits to get what it wants. That includes a share of the SA market for frozen chicken legs and wings.  SA says US exporters were dumping their surpluses on SA at less that the cost of production before punitive duties were imposed in 2000.

Were it so inclined, the US government could take SA to the World Trade Organisation over those duties. Why hasn’t it? Two reasons. One, success is by no means certain. Two, Washington has another tool to work its will: the threat of dropping SA from AGOA.

Now, as a result of the chicken dispute, it looks likely that the US Congress will renew AGOA with a clause obliging the US Trade Representative (the person, Michael Froman, and the agency he runs) to launch a review of South Africa’s eligibility within 30 days of the the renewal legislation becoming law.

The legal language mandating the review calls for it to be conducted with reference to a specific subsection — highlighted in italics below — of AGOA’s section 104: Continue reading “Home to roost”

Bad Behaviour

From this remove, the South African commentariat’s reaction to events in Parliament on February 12 seemed a little shrill. Who doubted that the Economic Freedom Fighters would cause a ruckus with the intention of being removed? Not the government and its heat-packing waitrons, obviously. Nor can any other half-way sensate observer have been overly gobsmacked either, if they were honest.

As for the jamming of cell phone signals, that can hardly have been aimed exclusively at the media. It must have affected every mobile in the chamber. In any event, there was nothing to stop people taking pictures and videos of whatever transpired for sharing immediately afterwards. Is the right to live tweet now sacrosanct?

Realising that these are matters that have already been well masticated inside and outside the local media bubble, I raise them simply to say what has been happening in the US Congress this past week has demonstrated that South Africa’s politicians have no monopoly on loutishness. Only in the US case, with respect, issues of a rather more global nature are at stake, the US being a substantial power which, whatever the prejudices of the SA establishment, many other countries still take seriously, look to for leadership and don’t sophomorically accuse of spying.

The Republican Party, or a goodly number of its members, have shown themselves to be motivated by a contempt for President Obama that leads them to acts some would — and do — say border on treason. That goes too far. Nevertheless, lines have been crossed. Continue reading “Bad Behaviour”

History marches past the Zumacrats

“Communism”, said Lenin, “equals Soviet power plus the electrification of the whole country”. For communism, substitute the creation of a new class of black industrialists. Swap ANC for Soviet. The result is President Jacob Zuma’s justification for wanting to commission a massive new fleet of nuclear power stations from, in what would be a delicious irony if true, Lenin’s latest successor.

Which begs the question: is the means suited to the end? Or will the Zumacrats land up on the wrong side of history, lashing the South African economy to an obsolete model and leaving the new class, benighted, with an albatross? Will they learn nothing from the success of their own renewable energy procurement programme?

There’s a revolution under way. Its equation might be liberation equals solar power plus batteries to store it by the megawatt for when the fusion reactor in the sky is occluded. In the vanguard — another lovely twist — are South Africans. Elon Musk of Tesla and SpaceX fame. His cousin, SolarCity’s Lyndon Rive. And, less well known, Mike Thackeray, a Comrades Marathon standout credited with a critical breakthrough in lithium-ion technology and now working at the US government’s Argonne laboratories outside Chicago. Continue reading “History marches past the Zumacrats”

An Open Letter to Steve Hayes

Steve Hayes, CEO of the US Corporate Council on Africa, gets alarmist. Wearing my Brand South Africa hat, I respond:

Dear Steve,

If nothing else, it takes courage to go public with a piece like your latest column on the US News and World Report website. One has to assume that dues-paying members of the Corporate Council on Africa might prefer its CEO to abstain from sounding shrill alarums about the continent’s most advanced and diversified economy particularly when that economy’s president is due in Washington in a few weeks time.

You lament what you see as South Africa turning away from the US and Western Europe and towards its partners — China, India, Brazil and Russia — in the BRICS grouping of major emerging markets. Could you blame us if the analysis in your article accurately reflects thinking in America’s boardrooms? Happily, I don’t for a moment believe it does. Nor, I would argue, is it correct to see the BRICS partnership as necessarily hostile to US or European interests. That smacks of Manichean oldthink.

South Africa — and on this you are right — is presently in a difficult place. But the one place we are not is in denial. The woes you list we fully acknowledge. Have you read the diagnostic on which our National Development Plan based? Were you listening when the ANC embraced Goldman Sachs’ “Two Decades of Freedom” evaluation not just for the laudatory sections but in its warts and all totality? Have you been keeping current with everything our government has been saying, especially since the election? You do not have to listen that closely to hear genuine urgency in the voices of our leaders. The ratings agencies are not telling us anything we don’t know or that we aren’t addressing. Continue reading “An Open Letter to Steve Hayes”