Thursday, February 16, 2017

Why you should fear Trumpism's Steve Bannon: war with China within 8 years and other reasons

Wisely observing the Donald Trump Presidency is difficult because of the deliberate fog-of-confusion created by seemingly random iWorld emanations coming from Administration officials and directly from the President.

One of the thickest fogs surrounds Steve Bannon, the most significant manipulator in the Administration. With their usual attitudes, the Democrats and main stream media have focused on Bannon's association with Breitbart News deepening the fog that hides Bannon more effectively than he could achieve on his own - and he's the fog expert. He is also far more effective and dangerous than Karl Rove.

Factually Bannon is a 63-year-old Baby Boomer from an Irish-American working class family and Breitbart News was not the center of his being for those 63 years. Simply, most people do not consider their 50's and 60's as their formative years.

Yes, Bannon was on the Board of Directors of Breitbart News Board since its beginning in 2005 when he was 52, but from 2007 through 2011 Bannon was the chairman and CEO of Affinity Media. In 2012 when founder Andrew Breitbart died unexpectedly at age 43 and when Bannon was 59, The Hollywood Reporter reported:
Stephen Bannon, the filmmaker responsible for the pro-Sarah Palin movie The Undefeated, has been named executive chairman. Bannon, a former naval officer with masters degrees from Georgetown University and Harvard Business School, was a mergers and acquisitions investment banker at Goldman Sachs and has also been a Breitbart News board member since its founding.
What we know about Bannon beyond Breitbart is much more informative about him. Here's a quick rundown:
  • His working class, Irish Catholic family were pro-Kennedy, pro-union Democrats and his father was a telephone lineman.
  • Like a lot of Baby Boomers from working class families, he went to college - Virginia Tech - graduating in 1976 with a bachelor's degree in urban planning, but unlike a lot of Baby Boomers he was president of the student government association in 1975-76.
  • Like a lot of Baby Boomer college graduates, after college he was an officer in the United States Navy for seven years, first serving on the destroyer USS Paul F. Foster as a surface warfare officer in the Pacific Fleet (in 1980, the Foster was redeployed to the Persian Gulf during the aborted Desert One mission to rescue American hostages being held in Iran); unlike a lot of Baby Boomers he then served as a special assistant to the Chief of Naval Operations at the Pentagon.
  • While at the Pentagon, he obtained a master's degree in national security studies from Georgetown University School of Foreign Service.
  • After leaving the Navy Bannon received a Master of Business Administration degree with honors in 1985 from Harvard Business School.
  • After Harvard he worked as a mergers and acquisitions banker with Goldman Sachs beginning at the peak of Wall Street's hostile takeover and junk bond booms and after achieving the title of vice-president, in 1990 Bannon and some Goldman colleagues left to launch a media-focused boutique investment bank called Bannon & Co. before it was purchased in 1998 by French bank Société Générale.
  • From 1993 to 1995, while still managing Bannon & Co., Bannon was made acting director of the Earth-science research project Biosphere 2 in Oracle, Arizona; under Bannon, the project shifted emphasis from researching space exploration and colonization toward pollution and global warming.
  • In 2006 Bannon persuaded Goldman Sachs to invest in a company known as Internet Gaming Entertainment, a company that made its name and fortune as an online marketplace to sell virtual gold to World of Warcraft players and other online gamers; following a lawsuit, the company was rebranded as Affinity Media and Bannon took over as Chairman and CEO from 2007 through 2011; Bannon was involved in Hollywood for several years, financing and producing films while gradually getting more and more involved in Breitbart.
  • Bannon became a Director of Cambridge Analytica which describes itself as a unique mix of data scientists, engineers, marketing specialists, political strategists and research psychologists; Cambridge Analytica was involved in 44 U.S. congressional, US Senate, and state-level elections in the 2014 midterm elections working with the John Bolton Super PAC which advanced Bolton's pro-war national security agenda.
  • Bannon has been married three times; with his first wife Cathleen Houff Jordan he has one daughter, Maureen Bannon who is a West Point graduate and lieutenant in the 101st Airborne Division who has served in Iraq; Bannon had twin daughters with his second wife, Mary Louise Piccard, an investment banker. 
Bannon served in the Navy in his late 20's and early 30's which can be critical years for forming adult behavior patterns. One report indicates:
“He constantly used military terms, used military terms to describe people who worked for him… like, ‘grunts,’” one former Breitbart staffer recalled. “He always spoke in terms of aggression. It was always on-the-attack, double down... macho stuff. Steve has an obsession with testosterone.”

“Steve is a strong militarist, he’s in love with war—it’s almost poetry to him,” Jones told The Daily Beast in an interview last year, well before Trump won the election and Bannon landed his new job. “He’s studied it down through the ages, from Greece, through Rome... every battle, every war… Never back down, never apologize, never show weakness… He lives in a world where it’s always high noon at the O.K. Corral.”
Bannon has been said to have a love affair with war - not from any direct experience getting shot at, just a little-boy-pro-war bent offered from an ideologue's armchair view. Listen and learn when on his radio show in a March 2016 discussion with Neoliberal Lee Edwards of the Heritage Foundation he justifies the U.S. starting an inevitable war with China in order to save face because of a perceived insult:


Because he talks rapidly with a lot of emotion, here is a transcript:
We’re going to war in the South China Sea. I was a sailor there. We’re going to war in the South China Sea in five to 10 years. There’s no doubt about that. They’re taking their sandbars and making basically stationary aircraft carriers and putting missiles on those. They come here to the United States in front of our face – and you understand how important face is – and say it’s an ancient territorial sea. That's a throwdown, is it not sir.
One might be tempted to dismiss this as rhetoric to make a radio show appeal to a particular audience. After all, it conflicts with what would be called the Administration's  February 2017 "China policy."

On February 10 we saw this headline in the Washington Post Backing away from a fight, Trump to honor one-China policy which offers:
President Trump just backed down from what could have been a serious fight with China.

On Thursday evening in Washington, he appeared to shy away from confrontation with Beijing by agreeing to honor the one-China policy, during a lengthy telephone call with China’s President Xi Jinping.

The move is set to ease tensions between the world’s two most powerful nations: relations had been inflamed after Trump suggested he would only commit to the one-China policy if Beijing addressed his concerns about trade and currency issues.
On the same date theXinhua News Agency, the official press agency of the People's Republic of China, in a story with this headline Xi, Trump agree to boost win-win cooperation, develop constructive China-U.S. ties, told us:
Chinese President Xi Jinping and his U.S. counterpart Donald Trump pledged Friday to boost win-win cooperation in a variety of areas and develop a constructive China-U.S. relationship.

Trump expressed his satisfaction with the close communication the two sides have maintained since he took office and admiration toward the Chinese people for the historic accomplishment they have achieved in developing their country.

Developing U.S.-China ties has won wide support from the U.S. people, Trump said, adding that the two countries, as cooperative partners, can make joint efforts to help the bilateral relationship reach an unprecedented level.

The United States is committed to enhancing win-win cooperation with China in economy, trade, investment and international affairs, Trump said.
USA Today provided commentary:
Trump’s pullback from his provocative words and softer tone after accusations against China of unfair trade and militarism in the South China Sea could be a negotiating tactic, said Michael Auslin, a China analyst at the American Enterprise Institute, a think tank in Washington, D.C.

Until this week, Trump seemed to go out of his way to antagonize Xi. After his election, he took a congratulatory call from Taiwan’s president, which is a break in protocol under "one China." He then used Twitter and interviews with Fox News to assail China’s military installations in disputed waters in the South China Sea, its failure to control North Korea's nuclear weapons development and China's unbalanced trade policies toward the United States.

Trump politely repeated the "one China" mantra of previous U.S. administrations "to make Xi Jinping happy," said Richard Fisher of the International Assessment and Strategy Center in Arlington, Va. “What America has to do in order to deter China from here on out is not going to make (Xi) happy at all.”

At stake is whether Trump will acquiesce to China’s long-term goal of pushing the U.S. out of Asia and become the world’s sole and dominant superpower, Fisher said. If that "underlying tension" is not dealt with now, the U.S. will “face the prospect of real disaster in the not-to-distant future.”
So here we are with a question. Was Bannon's expressed opinion about war with China irrelevant?
Bannon is an ideologue who is creating policy for Rust Belt President Donald Trump as White House chief strategist. That position already made him one of the most powerful people on the planet.

Nonetheless, over the last weekend in January 2017, he was given more power as explained in The New York Times:
But the defining moment for Mr. Bannon came Saturday night in the form of an executive order giving the rumpled right-wing agitator a full seat on the “principals committee” of the National Security Council — while downgrading the roles of the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and the director of national intelligence, who will now attend only when the council is considering issues in their direct areas of responsibilities. It is a startling elevation of a political adviser, to a status alongside the secretaries of state and defense, and over the president’s top military and intelligence advisers.

In theory, the move put Mr. Bannon, a former Navy surface warfare officer, admiral’s aide, investment banker, Hollywood producer and Breitbart News firebrand, on the same level as his friend, Michael T. Flynn, the national security adviser, a former Pentagon intelligence chief who was Mr. Trump’s top adviser on national security issues before a series of missteps [resulted in his resignation].
About China, as Bannon well knows, there is a model for behaving aggressively towards another country then moderating. In fact one might think Trump's "backing down" from his China threats is akin to the methods used by Hitler when the Molotov–Ribbentrop Pact was signed as a delaying tactic to give Germany time to achieve other goals before engaging in a surprise invasion of Russia. But Hitler had an ideology that favored war. He wrote several early works on his beliefs before at age 36 he completed Mein Kampf which published in two volumes in 1925 and 1926, eight years before he became Chancellor of Germany; in it he wrote:
"The soil on which we now live was not a gift bestowed by Heaven on our forefathers. But they had to conquer it by risking their lives. So also in the future our people will not obtain territory, and therewith the means of existence, as a favour from any other people, but will have to win it by the power of a triumphant sword."
Donald Trump has not written an ideological doctrine book nor has he publicly embraced any ideology. One review of his eight books (all but one openly co-written or ghost written) offered that the only consistent theme is: “We need a leader that wrote ‘The Art of the Deal,’ Trump declared during his presidential campaign announcement in June, and he has repeatedly cited that 1987 book in other appearances"; from his media interviews, his"speechifying" and his "tweeting" one can see that he has held conflicting views lacking a clear ideological orientation; with regard to war, all we have is in The America We Deserve by Donald J. Trump with David Shiflett (2000):
My rules of engagement are pretty simple. If we are going to intervene in a conflict it had better pose a direct threat to our interest- one definition of “direct” being a threat so obvious that most Americans will know where the hot spot is on the globe and will quickly understand why we are getting involved. The threat should be so direct that our leaders, including our president, should be able to make the case clearly and concisely....At the same time, we must not get involved in a long-festering conflict for humanitarian reasons.
On the other hand, Bannon has a different backstory that would allow him to define Trumpism in different ways. And he has an ideology that seems to appeal to Trump as explained here:
“I’m a Leninist,” Bannon proudly proclaimed.

“Lenin,” he answered, “wanted to destroy the state, and that’s my goal too. I want to bring everything crashing down, and destroy all of today’s establishment.”

As the Bolshevik leader once said, “The art of any propagandist and agitator consists in his ability to find the best means of influencing any given audience, by presenting a definite truth, in such a way as to make it most convincing, most easy to digest, most graphic, and most strongly impressive.”
Which brings us full circle back to the Democrats. The Democrats in power think the blathering media are important. Apparently they are too stupid to realize that of the 330,000,000+ Americans, less than 1% are watching Fox News and Breitbart.com ranks #107 in "news and media websites" in terms of internet traffic. If you are evaluating what to focus on to win elections, forget either one of those. They didn't win the election for Trump, though Democratic politicians and liberal media talking heads focusing on those right wing news outlets allow those outlets to create the conversation.

Be smart like Steve Bannon and focus on using Facebook and other social media sites. You see, listed above is the fact that he is on the Board of Directors of Cambridge Analytica. You probably don't know who they are, but using their tool psychometric profiling, they divided the US population into 32 personality types and focused on just 17 states to get Trump elected.

CEO of Cambridge Analytica, Alexander James Ashburner Nix, 41, on September 19, 2016, in a lecture outlining why 20th Century blanket advertising is dead:  "My children will certainly never, ever understand this concept of mass communication."

Nix has also explained: "We have profiled the personality of every adult in the United States of America—220 million people." Cambridge Analytica wants to become a key player in marketing and advertising, not just politics. From their webiste, you can see this:

If you're interested in how the world was radically changed by a young PhD candidate Michal Kosinski beginning in 2008 read The Data That Turned the World Upside Down which includes the following:
"In the Miami district of Little Haiti, for instance, Trump's campaign provided inhabitants with news about the failure of the Clinton Foundation following the earthquake in Haiti, in order to keep them from voting for Hillary Clinton. This was one of the goals: to keep potential Clinton voters (which include wavering left-wingers, African-Americans, and young women) away from the ballot box, to 'suppress' their vote, as one senior campaign official told Bloomberg in the weeks before the election. These 'dark posts'—sponsored news-feed-style ads in Facebook timelines that can only be seen by users with specific profiles—included videos aimed at African-Americans in which Hillary Clinton refers to black men as predators, for example."
A recent Forbes writer said about the Trump Campaign and Cambridge Analytica:
I speculated that this apparent lack of interest beating his opponent at the data-crunching game was likely to be a hindrance at the last leg of the contest, when he would be in a head-to-head race with a Democrat with access to the same data and technology as Obama had at his disposal.

Well, it turns out that what I (or most other people) didn’t know was that Trump – while vocally proclaiming that he thought personality, not processing power would win the election – would just weeks later quietly engage the services of UK data analytics providers Cambridge Analytica. I say “quietly” as this was actually done by his son-in-law Jared Kushner, through a group he set up to campaign on Trump’s behalf.

Kushner is said to have been the brains behind Trump’s election technology strategy but is also a recent adoptee of Big Data. He became aware of the power of online marketing while experimenting with Facebook targeted advertising, and noticing how quickly he could increase sales of his father-in-law’s branded merchandise by a factor of 10 – from $8,000 to $80,000 per day – simply by refining the target demographic.

Trump’s data campaign followed a different strategy than the Democrat one which had been credited with playing a large part in securing the last two elections. Obama’s operation focused on identifying swing voters who could go either way, in areas with a likelihood of high voter turnout. Trump’s campaign, on the other hand, centred around deciding which of his key political platforms – for example cutting immigration or “draining the swamp” of corrupt or incompetent politicians and bureaucrats – would work best with segmented voter groups. Once up and running at the end of the summer, it was soon sending out tailored messages to 100,000 targeted voters every day.
What the writer of that story either did not know or failed to report is important - Steve Bannon has been on the Board of Directors of Cambridge Analytica since its creation. On August 17, 2016, Bannon was appointed chief executive of Donald Trump's campaign. The Forbes story says "the Trump data campaign" was "up and running at the end of summer." Perhaps that timing was just a coincidence.

It is not as if there is no warning. We have been given a picture of what goes on in his mind such as this from The Hollywood Reporter Ringside With Steve Bannon at Trump Tower as the President-Elect's Strategist Plots "An Entirely New Political Movement" (Exclusive):
"Darkness is good," says Bannon, who amid the suits surrounding him at Trump Tower, looks like a graduate student in his T-shirt, open button-down and tatty blue blazer — albeit a 62-year-old graduate student. "Dick Cheney. Darth Vader. Satan. That's power. It only helps us when they" — I believe by "they" he means liberals and the media, already promoting calls for his ouster — "get it wrong. When they're blind to who we are and what we're doing."

On that precise point, The New York Times, in a widely circulated article, will describe this day at Trump Tower as a scene of "disarray" for the transition team. In fact, it's all hands on: Mike Pence, the vice president-elect and transition chief, and Reince Priebus, the new chief of staff, shuttling between full conference rooms; Jared Kushner, Trump's son-in-law and by many accounts his closest adviser, conferring in the halls; Sen. Jeff Sessions in and out of meetings on the transition team floor; Rudy Giuliani upstairs with Trump (overheard: "Is the boss meeting-meeting with Rudy or just shooting the shit?"), and Bannon with a long line of men and women outside his corner office. If this is disarray, it's a peculiarly focused and organized kind.

It's the Bannon theme, the myopia of the media — that it tells only the story that confirms its own view, that in the end it was incapable of seeing an alternative outcome and of making a true risk assessment of the political variables — reaffirming the Hillary Clinton camp's own political myopia. This defines the parallel realities in which liberals, in their view of themselves, represent a morally superior character and Bannon — immortalized on Twitter as a white nationalist, racist, anti-Semite thug — the ultimate depravity of Trumpism.

The focus on Bannon, if not necessarily the description, is right. He's the man with the idea. If Trumpism is to represent something intellectually and historically coherent, it's Bannon's job to make it so. In this, he could not be a less reassuring or more confusing figure for liberals — fiercely intelligent and yet reflexively drawn to the inverse of every liberal assumption and shibboleth.
That last paragraph summarizes why we should fear Bannon.

At the end of the article Bannon is quoted as saying: "I am Thomas Cromwell in the court of the Tudors."

While some called Cromwell a doctrinaire hack, others consider him the presiding genius handling the break with Rome and creating the laws and administrative procedures that reshaped post-Reformation England by translating royal supremacy into parliamentary terms, creating powerful new organs of government to take charge of Church lands, and largely removing the medieval features of central government.

Bannon should keep in mind that despite his successes as an insider revolutionary, ultimately Cromwell was executed by the ruler he served.

Nonetheless, that self-characterization should remind us to keep in mind that Bannon:
  • Is the White House Chief Strategist.
  • Advocates a disruptive political revolution as defined by Lenin "to destroy the state" and "to bring everything crashing down, and destroy all of today’s establishment."
  • Believes Lenin's statement “the art of any propagandist and agitator consists in his ability to find the best means of influencing any given audience, by presenting a definite truth, in such a way as to make it most convincing, most easy to digest, most graphic, and most strongly impressive" which we must recognize in the context that Bannon is an expert on using big data to target propaganda to generate public political support for political goals including warfare.
  • Favors Militarism (his daughter is a West Point graduate serving in the 101st Airborn, a fact that must reflect on her father in some way) and he believes in going to war "to save face."
  • Sits on the National Security Council alongside the Secretaries of State and Defense, and over the President’s top military and intelligence advisers.
  • Expects, perhaps even relishes the prospect of, a war with China before the end of Trump's second term, which could easily be triggered as I will explore in a future post.