Sunday, September 10. 2017
Back in 2001, I knew that most of my friends in New York didn't like
Mayor Rudy Giuliani, but I couldn't tell you why. (Well, I had heard
about his stop-and-frisk policies, but that hadn't really sunk in.) I
was visiting a friend, Liz Fink, in Brooklyn on 9/11, so I wound up
spending a lot of time over the next week watching Giuliani, and I
noticed something interesting. At every press conference, Giuliani
managed to convey the right tones: sympathy, concern, dedication,
and competent management in the face of crisis. He was, in short,
both a professional and a human being -- a stark contrast to most
of the country's politicians (most memorably GW Bush and Hillary
Clinton), who had nothing tangible to do so they spent all of their
time posturing. Even Liz granted my point. Of course, Giuliani's
spell didn't last. After the immediate crisis waned, he started
reading his press. It swelled his head, and he turned (returned?)
to being an asshole, but it was interesting to watch at the time.
Hurricanes Harvey and Irma have given some other Republicans the
opportunity to put their vicious ideological programs aside and come
out as human beings. Governors Greg Abbott and Rick Scott seem to
have mostly passed that test. Donald Trump failed, painfully and
pathetically. (If you doubt me, read
Josh Marshall: He Can't Even Fake It.)
But even he managed to have one decent moment this
week: he negotiated a deal with the Democratic leadership in Congress
to pass $15.3 billion in aid to rebuild after Harvey, and to extend
the federal debt ceiling to allow that money to be spent. Of course,
there never was any doubt that Democrats would vote to extend the
debt ceiling or to fund disaster relief. Trump needed the deal to
bypass the Republican right-flank, with ninety House Republicans
opposed. I haven't looked at the vote list, so don't know how many
of the curmudgeons hail from Texas or Florida. I didn't see enough
of Ted Cruz this week to answer
Is Ted Cruz Human? but I understand he no longer thinks the
reasons he voted against Sandy aid should apply to Harvey. It might
not matter if Trump or Cruz are sociopaths if their politics showed
some empathy and concern, but it doesn't -- making their personality
defects all the more glaring.
With the Republicans solidly in control of government all across
the disaster zone, the one silver lining is that none of them are
quoting Ronald Reagan this week, who famously said:
The most terrifying words in the English language are: I'm from the
government and I'm here to help.
The fact is that when disaster strikes, no one can be heard saying
"the markets are going to fix this in no time." Their first instinct
is to look to the government for help, because deep down they understand
that in a democratic republic, government belongs to, is accountable to,
and works for the people and their general welfare. The old joke is that
"there are no atheists in foxholes"; equally so, there are no libertarians
in hurricanes. I'm not going to slam anyone for looking to socialize the
costs of natural disasters. Rather, I'd argue that socialism would be a
good thing, not just for such extraordinary events but for everyday life.
And if you only come to realize that now, well, that's better than never.
Some scattered links this week:
Ross Barkan: Trump cut a deal with the Democrats. Is a new era upon us?
Probably not. Trump takes his policy cues from Fox & Friends,
plus whatever Paul Ryan throws his way. In theory he has some in-house
experts, but they turn out to be guys like Nick Mulvaney, who lie and
con him, then go out and brag about it to the media. Nothing any of them
want can get any Democratic support at all -- which given how corrupt
Democrats are regarded as being is a pretty astonishing statement -- so
he has little option except to depend on the narrow Republican majority,
and that is constantly endangered by a right-wing faction that doesn't
care what they wreck so long as they can push the party to the right.
The Harvey aid/debt ceiling deal worked because Democrats have no desire
to do what Republicans did for eight years: sabotaging the government
hoping folks would blame Obama. And Trump had to do it because Texas
is his turf, because federal disaster aid mostly supports the business
class that voted so heavily for him, because letting government spending
halt in the middle of a disaster recovery would be insane, and because
he couldn't trust Republicans to get the job done. There may be similar
cases where sanity dictates that he offer something to get Democrats on
board: if he really does want to legitimize DACA, that's a possibility,
but it's going to be hard to do any broader immigration legislation
without tripping over many red lines. Health care and taxes are other
issues where the Republican desire to do something insanely destructive
is too great to compromise. The other question is whether Democrats
should make a habit of bailing Trump out of his own partisan chasms.
Democrats have had a terrible track record with such "grand bargains"
in the past, and they should be extra wary now.
Bryan Bender: Trump review leans toward proposing mini-nuke:
Back around 1950, Robert Oppenheimer was asked why he was opposed to
developing "the super" (the hydrogen bomb). His answer was because
the targets were too small. In the following decades, ever-larger
hydrogen bombs became all the rage, until their wholesale use
threatened to cause something called "nuclear winter." At the same
time, the US and Russia worked hard on miniaturizing nuclear weapons,
producing mini-nukes that could be lobbed by artillery (hoping, like
WWI's poison gas, that the wind didn't shift to blow the radiation
back on your own troops). The fear about small ("tactical") nuclear
weapons has always been that we wouldn't fear them enough to not use
them. Precisely this reasoning made them prime targets for arms talks,
with Bush I agreeing to remove tactical nukes from Europe and Korea,
for the time de-escalating the Cold War. This news is especially
alarming because Trump has long seemed to be fascinated with using
such weapons: indeed, this article is about a review "which Trump
established by executive order his first week in office" -- as if
he had nothing better to do.
Ta-Nehisi Coates: The First White President: Of course, many other
presidents have happened to be white -- a streak that ran up to 41 until
Barack Obama was elected in 2008 -- but what makes Trump unique isn't
the color of his skin so much as his resolve to restore the office's
racial identity, especially by obliterating any trace of Obama: "The
fact of a black president seemed to insult Donald Trump personally.
He has made the negation of Barack Obama's legacy the foundation of
his own." Various things here I'd quibble with -- the paragraph on
Mark Lilla's "The End of Identify Liberalism," followed by three on
George Packer's "The Unconnected," could support a whole post -- but
this is a view that deserves respect. For instance, his overly succinct
summary of the last decade:
When Barack Obama came into office, in 2009, he believed that he could
work with "sensible" conservatives by embracing aspects of their policy
as his own. Instead he found that his very imprimatur made that impossible.
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell announced that the GOP's primary
goal was not to find common ground but to make Obama a "one-term president."
A health-care plan inspired by Romneycare was, when proposed by Obama,
suddenly considered socialist and, not coincidentally, a form of reparations.
The first black president found that he was personally toxic to the GOP
base. An entire political party was organized around the explicit aim of
negating one man. It was thought by Obama and some of his allies that this
toxicity was the result of a relentless assault waged by Fox News and
right-wing talk radio. Trump's genius was to see that it was something
more, that it was a hunger for revanche so strong that a political novice
and accused rapist could topple the leadership of one major party and
throttle the heavily favored nominee of the other.
I would add three notes to this: (1) conservatives were never serious
about their wonk schemes, which were never more than red herrings meant
to distract and derail real reforms; (2) the right-wing would have fought
back against any white Democrat elected president in 2008 in much the
same terms, although it may have resonated differently (oddly enough, the
fact that Americans had elected a black president seemed to loosen some
of the political inhibitions against overt racism, encouraging racists to
come out into the open -- a trend Trump's election has only increased);
(3) the "hunger for revanche" was real but not broad enough to elect
Trump; that was only possible because the Democrat was so compromised
and reviled, and Republicans were so united in their opportunism.
It has long been an axiom among certain black writers and thinkers that
while whiteness endangers the bodies of black people in the immediate
sense, the larger threat is to white people themselves, the shared
country, and even the whole world. There is an impulse to blanch at
this sort of grandiosity. When W.E.B. Du Bois claims that slavery was
"singularly disastrous for modern civilization" or James Baldwin claims
that whites "have brought humanity to the edge of oblivion: because
they think they are white," the instinct is to cry exaggeration. But
there really is no other way to read the presidency of Donald Trump.
The first white president in American history is also the most dangerous
president -- and he is made more dangerous still by the fact that those
charged with analyzing him cannot name his essential nature, because
they too are implicated in it.
The Atlantic's print magazine cover story is "The Trump
Presidency: A Damage Report": Jeffrey Goldberg sets the tone:
The Autocratic Element: Can America recover from the Trump administration?,
interviews David Frum ("The thing I got most wrong is that I did not
anticipate the sheer chaos and dysfunction and slovenliness of the Trump
operation . . . We'd be in a lot worse shape if he were a more meticulous,
serious-minded person."), and introduces pieces by Eliot A. Cohen, Jack
Goldsmith, and Coates.
Sarah Kliff: This is the most brazen act of Obamacare sabotage yet:
The Trump administration has let funding for Obamacare's $63 million
in-person outreach program lapse, leading to layoffs and confusion
among nonprofits that enroll vulnerable populations in coverage. . . .
The sudden funding halt comes at a critical time for the Affordable
Care Act. Navigator groups were just beginning to ramp up outreach for
the health law's open enrollment period, which begins November 1. Now,
some have done an about-face: They've canceled outreach work and
appointments with potential enrollees because they have no budget
to cover those costs.
No outreach should translate into fewer sign-ups, hence more adverse
selection in the insured population, which threatens to cut into insurer
profits, who will respond by raising prices, demanding more subsidies.
Trump will argue that this proves Obamacare is imploding. Kliff also
Trump has found another way to undermine Obamacare. Kliff regularly
includes links at the bottom to other health care pieces. Notable here is
Elana Schor: Chris Murphy's stealthy single-payer pitch. Sen. Murphy
is proposing that all individuals and business be able to buy Medicare
through the Obamacare exchanges -- i.e., Medicare becomes the "public
option," but more notable is that this allows an easy migration from
business group plans.
Caitlin MacNeal: Haley Says North Korea 'Begging for War': Isn't this
what psychologists like to call projection? That's when you attribute your
own thoughts to someone else (projecting yourself onto the other person).
This happens a lot, especially to people who lack self-awareness, even
more so to those who lack respect, empathy, and concern for others, who
can't be bothered with even trying to understand them. As a social trait,
this sort of thing is annoying, but the misunderstandings it leads to
rarely matter. Among the powerful, it can be dangerous, and in this case
can lead to nuclear war. Of course, Haley is not the only one in Trump's
administration spouting ignorant bluster. Mattis has promised to respond
to "any threat" with "massive military response": the problem there is
that "any threat" is a very low threshold, especially given that Trump's
administration takes such umbrage over North Korea's missile and bomb
tests, repeatedly describing them as threats. Most of all there's Trump,
with his "hell and fury like never seen before" and "we'll see." Frankly,
this is a crisis which wouldn't exist if the US simply ignored it, but
having made such a big deal out of missile and bomb tests in the past,
they see continued tests as an insult and challenge to their superpower
egos -- again, they're projecting their own world-hegemonic ambitions
onto another state, one that the US has tried to destroy for 67 years
now (not so literally since 1953, more passive-aggressively, but while
the conflict drifted in and out of American consciousness, it's always
been a pressing fact-of-life in North Korea).
Several other thoughts here: long ago American presidents generally
appointed UN Ambassadors that reflected favorably on the country --
Adlai Stevenson and Andrew Young come to mind -- but at some point that
changed, the result being a string of ambassadors whose job seemed to
be to display contempt for the UN and the principles it was founded on
(Madeline Albright, John Bolton, and Nikki Haley are examples). As this
happened, American speeches at the UN ceased being honest attempts to
engage with the world and were increasingly focused for domestic political
consumption. Although several others have had notable politican careers,
Haley is relatively unique in the baldness of her political ambitions --
indeed, one suspects that she came up with the idea of campaigning for
the post by watching House of Cards, where First Lady Claire
Underwood (Robin Wright) hopes to launch her own political career by
getting her husband to nominate her for UN Ambassador.
Some more pieces on North Korea:
Andrew J Bacevich: Seven Steps to a Saner US Policy Towards North
Korea: A few quibbles, though. First, I don't see this, even
with his later carve-out "apart from Fox and a handful of outliers":
"The national media is obsessed with Trump and is determined to
bring him down." Obsessed maybe: he's a buffoon and a public menace,
which makes him news/entertainment-worthy, and they certainly love
that, but I don't see the media pressuring or panicking Trump into
starting a war. I also think he overestimates the value of deterrence
and ignores the desperation induced by ever-tightening sanctions.
The greatest risk is becoming too successful at boxing North Korea
in, leaving them with no alternatives.
Robert Parry: How 'Regime Change' Wars Led to Korea Crisis:
Specifically Iraq and Libya, which were wars the US felt safe to
pursue because neither target had sufficient power -- atom bombs
and the missiles to deliver them -- to deter US aggression. But
more generally, from WWII on, the US goal in war has always been
to unconditionally destroy its enemies and replace them with new
states subverient to America.
Jacob G Hornberger: Sanctions Are an Act of War: I'd qualify
this by saying that certain limited sanctions, like the BDS campaigns
against South Africa and Israel, are a useful means of highlighting
deplorable behavior without even suggesting the threat of war. On the
other hand, US sanctions against North Korea, Cuba, Iran, and several
others were clearly meant as low-intensity proxies of war, backed up
by threat of destruction and designed in such a way that the targets
may find no recourse. South Africa, for instance, was able to escape
sanctions by allowing free and democratic elections, and lifting the
sanctions did not depend on the result.
Ariane Tabatabai: What the Iran Deal Can Teach America About North
Korea: "If credibility depends in part on a country's willingness
to follow through on military threats, surely it also depends on
whether it abides by diplomatic commitments." It seems pretty obvious
that Obama's Iran Deal could serve as a model for North Korea: both
are countries long isolated, marginalized, and threatened by the US,
and both decided to defend themselves by developing nuclear power
and missile technology into a deterrent against American attack; in
both cases the US responded with sanctions and even graver threats.
With Iran, this was resolved diplomatically, and there seems little
reason why the same couldn't be done with North Korea (in fact, the
same dispute flared up in the 1990s and was resolved by Jimmy Carter,
acting independent of the Clinton administration; Carter's agreement
was accepted by Clinton, but broke down as the US, especially under
GW Bush, failed to keep its end of the deal, resulting in North Korea
restarting its nuclear program). Unfortunately, Trump seems committed
to scuttling the Iran deal, learning nothing from it. If he does so,
he will signal to North Korea that the US cannot be trusted to follow
through with its diplomatic commitments. Indeed, the US decision to
attack Libya after it had agreed to dismantle its own nuclear program
has already been noted by North Korea's leaders.
Sophia A McClennen: A tale of two leaders of the left: New books by Bernie
Sanders and Hillary Clinton emphasize their differences: Clinton finally
finished her campaign memoir, What Happened; Sanders published his
memoir Our Revolution: A Future to Believe In before 2016 expired,
and now has a slimmed-down primer, Bernie Sanders' Guide to Political
The contrast between high priced VIP tickets to an event for a memoir
about losing the election and a down-to-earth how-to guide for progressive
politics aimed at young readers offers us clear evidence of the vastly
different ways that Clinton and Sanders see their roles as national
Sanders is looking forward and Clinton is looking back. Sanders is
engaging the young and working to build momentum for his progressive
agenda. Clinton is naming names, bristling at her unfair loss and
cashing in. . . .
And, while Clinton mocks Sanders for his idealistic desire to think
big, Sanders starts his book reminding readers that his views are those
of the bulk of Americans: "On major issue after major issue, the vast
majority of Americans support a progressive agenda." For Clinton, though,
the progressive agenda wanted by the majority is nothing more than the
hocus pocus of magic abs or the dreams of those who want a pony. . . .
She literally sees political vision as nothing but a fantasy. She has
so thoroughly imbibed the corporatist, pro-status quo version of the
Democratic party that she can't even notice how pathetically uninspiring
her positions are for those young voters she referred to as basement
dwellers on the campaign trail.
Against the snarky, negative tone of Clinton's book, Sanders offers
his readers a combination of political passion and practical advice.
When it refers to him personally, it does so by quoting a Sanders tweet
that links to the issue being covered. The tweets are used to show how
Sanders has been standing up for these issues for years. It is a
technique that privileges the cause, not the ego.
This is one thing that separates Sanders from the political pack.
I was talking to my cousin last week and she complained that with
Elizabeth Warren it's always "I'll fight for you," somehow making
the it all about her. She noted that Sanders wasn't like that, nor
was Obama. None of us mentioned Clinton. Some things are too obvious
to speak of.
Michael Paarlberg: Why Verrit, a pro-Clinton media platform, is doomed
to fail: "The website has been blasted for its unsubtle propaganda.
There is a reason it works for Republicans and not Democrats."
Brainchild of Clinton hyper-loyalist Peter Daou, the "media venture for
the 65.8 million" (referring to Clinton's popular vote tally) offers up
treacly quotes and random factoids, readymade for social media and
"verified" by the site, so that you can be sure Clinton really did say
"America is once again at a moment of reckoning."
Within days, it won the endorsement of Madame Secretary herself and
the mockery of everyone else, due in part to its founder's fondness for
all caps and getting in fights on Twitter. . . .
Thus there's far less appetite among Democrats for the type of
unsubtle propaganda that Verrit traffics. One can see it in the way
Fox News trounces MSNBC in viewership: Republicans see Fox as the only
news source they can trust in media landscape that does not align with
their values. Democrats would rather just read the New York Times. . . .
In theory, Democrats could be open to more ideological conflict, now
that they are shut out of all three branches of government, the majority
of statehouses, and have little to lose. And a smarter media outlet might
be able to tap into that demand. But it would be one catering to a very
different party than the Democrats currently are, one that sees itself
as a social movement, with a broader vision for how the world should
look, and a willingness to use media as a blunt instrument to get there.
One that looks curiously like what Clinton's main rival for the nomination
But if there's one group that Daou hates more than Republicans, it's
Bernie Sanders supporters.
I followed Daou's blog for a while, citing him once in 2006, then
maybe a dozen times in 2010-12, but I wasn't aware that he worked for
Clinton in 2008, and haven't noticed him since 2012. I wouldn't have
expected him as a "Hillary superfan," but clearly she does have some
kind of cult (cf.
Abby Ohlheiser: Inside the huge, 'secret' Facebook group for Hillary
Clinton's biggest fans; Ohlheiser also got stuck with investigating
What even is Verrit, the news source endorsed by Hillary Clinton?),
and the timing here coincides with Clinton's campaign memoir, which
evidently features a number of attempts to blame Bernie for her loss.
All of this is happening at a time when there are literally hundreds
of stories each week about how Trump and the Republicans are scheming
and acting against the majority of Americans: you'd think that would
be reason enough to bury the hatchet and unite Hillary and Bernie
supporters, but Daou seems more intent on smearing Bernie than on
resisting Trump (see
Who's Paying Peter Daou to Smear Bernie Sanders and the Left?).
I wouldn't discount the power of money here, but I'll also note that
it's pretty much inevitable that centrists will spend more of their
time attacking and distancing themselves from the left, because that's
how they curry favor with their well-to-do patrons. For another view:
Jack Shafer: This Pro-Hillary Website Looks Like North Korea
Matthew Yglesias: The 4 stories that defined the week, explained:
Hurricane Irma battered the Caribbean; Donald Trump ended DACA; Donald
Trump changed his tune on DACA; Democrats stuck a deal with the White
House. Other Yglesias links:
The debt ceiling deal is a template for how Trump can get things done;
Trump is souring on his top economic aide for the worst possible reason
("Gary Cohn is too tough on Nazis");
5 different things people mean when they say we need to revive antitrust --
more like different aspects of the general problem of concentrating corporate
Stanley Fischer announces resignation, opening yet another Fed vacancy for
Trump ("good news for people who like risky banking");
Trump's arguments on DACA contradict his position on the travel ban;
Trump isn't delivering his own DACA policy because he's cowardly and
The looming fight over "tax reform," explained ("in the end, it's
about a tax cut for the rich");
The case for immigration ("America's openness to people who want
to move here and make a better life for themselves is fuel for that
greatness" -- how ironical, or dumb, does that make a anti-immigrant
politician so obsessed with the nation's greatness?);
Seattle should make a pitch to be Amazon's 2nd headquarters -- this
skirts the real issue of why Amazon needs a second corporate headquarters
in these times when every company is looking to make management leaner
(and meaner), though he does offer this:
And from the company's point of view, the best part is that it will
also set off an irresistible race to the bottom as cities compete to
shower subsidies on the company in hopes of luring the proposed 50,000
jobs spread across 8 million square feet of offices at an average
compensation of $100,000 a piece.
I'd like to see federal legislation to make it illegal (or at least
prohibitive) for states and local entities to bid for corporate favors.
Boeing, in particular, has engaged in this peculiar combination of
bribery and extortion so regularly you'd think they had decided that
their "core competency" was political influence peddling, not airframes.
This process damages losing states and cities without notably helping
the winning bidders.
The "Case for Immigration" piece is long and covers a lot of good
points. I suspect one could construct a counter-argument, a "Case
Against Immigration," but it couldn't argue for economic growth --
indeed, it would try to make a virtue out of conservation that can
only be achieved with zero or negative growth -- and it certainly
wouldn't bruit the word "greatness" anywhere. Indeed, it would call
for dismantling America's world hegemony, which both pushes and pulls
Took a quick look at some Hurricane Irma news before posting. The
storm is moving north at about 14 mph, so its crawl up Florida's Gulf
Coast is pretty slow. I saw some live broadcasts while the eye was
over Naples about 6PM EST, and I've seen some later video showing
Naples pretty severely flooded. I suppose it's good that the eye has
moved inland: almost straight north through Fort Myers to about 35
miles east of Sarasota at 10PM EST, but the current forecast track
has it shifting northwest to pass straight through Tampa, then
briefly out to sea before landing again west of Ocala. It should
weaken faster over land, regenerate some over water, but the storm
is so large it's producing storm surges and tropical-storm-force
winds along the east coast as well as the west. Looks like it will
move into Georgia around 2PM Monday, and Tennessee 2PM Tuesday,
stalling there and dumping a lot of rain.