Sunday, February 11. 2018
I've been reading David Frum's Trumpocracy: The Corruption of the
American Republic, and generally finding it useful in its clear and
principled critique of Trump's vanity, authoritarianism, and corruption,
and how Frum's fellow conservatives have squandered whatever principles
they may have had (probably not many) in becoming toadying enablers to
such a public menace. Among other things, he's finally convinced me
that the Russians had something to do with electing Trump, especially
(not quite the same thing) by releasing the Podesta hack mere hours
after the "Access Hollywood" tape. (By the way, what we need to really
clarify the issue isn't a more complete record of Trump-Russia contacts,
but a much better understanding of the various Trump/Republican cyber
efforts, which seem to have had an outsized impact on election day.
My guess is that expertise and data flowed both ways, not that I've
seen any proof of that. We do have proof of high-level contacts, which
suggests intent to collude, but how did that get turned into meaningful
The book is not without faults, such as his fawning over General
H.R. McMaster (among other things a Vietnam War defeat denier), or
his own background as a G.W. Bush speechwriter (reportedly the guy
who coined the "axis of evil" phrase). Based on the intro, at some
point I expected him to finally explain why Trumpism is bad for
conservatives, and he finally takes a shot at that on pp. 206-207:
Maybe you do not much care about the future of the Republican
Party. You should. Conservatives will always be with us. If
conservatives become convinced that they cannot win democratically,
they will not abandon conservatism. They will reject democracy. The
stability of American society depends on conservatives' ability to
find a way forward from the Trump dead end, toward a conservatism that
can not only win elections but also govern responsibly, a conservatism
that is culturally modern, economically inclusive, and environmentally
responsible, that upholds markets at home and US leadership
He then spends another page expanding on what enlightened, principled
conservatives believe in and should be doing -- none of which has any
currency within the actual Republican Party, at least as constituted in
the White House and Congress. He doesn't say this, but the closest match
to his ideal conservative politician is Barack Obama. On the other hand,
his beloved Republicans have already realized that they cannot win fair
democratic elections, so grasp at every campaign trick and every tactical
manoeuvre at their disposal: huge money, bald-faced lies, gerrymandering,
filibusters, packing the courts. They know full well that their policies
are extremely unpopular, but they persist in pushing them through, hoping
that come election time they can turn the voters' ire against opponents
who are often caught up in their own corruption and incompetence.
If you look back at how the Republicans formed their coalition -- one
that has never been overwhelmingly popular, one that has often had to
depend on low voter turnout to edge out narrow wins -- you'll find that
they have repeatedly swapped away responsible establishmentarian (which
is a form of conservative) positions to capture blocks willing to vote
against their own economic interests. It wouldn't be difficult to imagine
conservatives who didn't pander to racial or other prejudice, who accepted
that abortion is a private matter, who favored sensible restrictions on
guns, who favored a much lower profile for the military, who didn't feel
threatened by immigration, who understood the need to protect and preserve
the environment, who recognized that equal justice is essential for any
sort of free and fair society. Republicans took those positions not out
of ideological conviction but because they hoped to capture significant
blocks of irrational voters. Indeed, it's not uncommon for conservatives
in other countries to accept high progressive taxes and a robust social
welfare net, because those policies have proven effective at building
stable middle class nations. (For example, right-leaning parties in
Switzerland and Taiwan were responsible for creating universal health
care systems -- if only to take the issue away from left-leaning
But not only have Republicans undermined their traditional values
by opportunistic demagoguery, they've surrendered control of the party
to a very small cabal of extremely wealthy donors, who've imposed an
extreme laissez-faire economic doctrine on top of all the bigotry and
invective they've built the Party on. The problem there is not only
does their ideology not work for the Party's base voters, it doesn't
work as a governing philosophy. Thus far, Republican rule has blown
up three times: under Nixon's skullduggery, under Bush I's corruption,
and under Bush II's war and much more. And the prospects of Trump
solving any of those problems are about as close to zero as you can
get. The fact that Republicans keep bouncing back after each disaster
is the chief political problem of our times, especially as it appears
they've doubled down each time. Until they're totally repudiated,
nothing in the party will get better.
Some scattered links this week:
Matthew Yglesias: The 4 most important stories in politics this week:
The government shut down for six hours; What the bill actually does: the
budget deal that ended the shutdown; DREAMers in the balance: one of the
most pressing problems not addressed in the bill; Another senior White
House official resigned in disgrace: Rob Porter. The first three were
all tangents of the shutdown/budget deal, so I expected more. Other
Yglesias pieces this week:
Congress still isn't taking the opioid crisis seriously: compares
$6 billion for opioid issues in the budget deal to that extra $160
billion for the Pentagon. I'm not sure that's a very useful way to
look at the problem: the real fix to the opioid crisis is an overhaul
of the whole healthcare system, not just some band-aid clinics. On
the other hand, the defense budget should be determined by the risk
left in the international system after the diplomats have done what
they can to ensure peace, and that's the exact opposite of what Trump
et al. are doing.
The proof is in: Republicans never cared about the deficit: Actually,
this has been clear for a long time, especially when Republicans want to
pass tax cuts -- deficits exploded following the Reagan and Bush tax cuts,
and no one doubts they will again following Trump's own $1.5 trillion cut.
Similarly, none of the military build-ups under Reagan, Bush, or Trump
were funded with additional taxes; indeed, they were done same time taxes
were being cut, simply adding to the deficits. So the only thing new here
was that the Republicans allowed some non-military spending that Democrats
particularly wanted -- stuff that if anything makes the Trump regime look
a bit less brutal and callous.
Democrats flipped a Missouri state legislature seat that Trump won by 28
points: Democrats lost another Missouri seat 53-47, in a district
Trump won by 59 points.
Congress should swap a DACA fix for something Republicans actually care
about: Yglesias suggests further tax cuts, but that's already been
done, and was done with no Democratic support whatsoever, so I don't
see how this works. Moreover, there's not a lot that Republicans want
to do that Democrats can in good conscience go along with. Wall funding,
maybe, because the wall is stupid and wasteful but ultimately changes
The Trump Show is addling our brains and blinding us to what matters.
Offers a sample list of stories that have gotten buried under Trump's
- Ben Penn reported that
Labor Department political appointees spiked an internal economic analysis
of a new rule governing the handling of tips received by millions of workers
in the food service industry. If the suppressed report is correct, the rule
the Trump administration is promulgating could cost workers billions of
dollars in lost income.
- The Centers for Disease Control reported that
flu hospitalizations in the United States are taking place at a record
pace, while Vox's own Sarah Kliff reported on how Congress's defunding
of Community Health Centers is creating a
crisis of health care access for 26 million Americans.
- In separate CDC news, Lena Sun of the Washington Post reported that
CDC efforts to halt new outbreaks of exotic infectious diseases abroad are
headed for an 80 percent cut.
- Kriston Capps reported for CityLab that the Department of Housing and
Urban Development is
considering new work requirements for recipients of public housing
assistance, measures that would impose hardship on some of the most deprived people in the country.
- Separately, Rachel Cohen and Zaid Jilani of the Intercept reported
on HUD consideration of proposals to
raise rents for public housing users.
- Yet another HUD story has reporters from
both the Washington Post and
CNN uncovering considerable evidence that HUD Secretary Ben Carson's
son, who does not work at HUD, is nonetheless intimately involved in HUD
business mostly in ways designed to benefit himself personally.
- Mick Mulvaney, who is still serving as acting director of the Consumer
Financial Protection Bureau while Trump fails to nominate anyone at all to
fill the job on a permanent basis,
stripped the CFPB's fair lending office of enforcement powers.
- Alan Rappeport of the New York Times reported that not only has the
payday lending industry won a number of regulatory favors from the Trump
administration, they'll be repaying the president personally by holding
annual retreat at the Trump Doral Golf Club.
- We had
two significant train derailments, even as Trump revealed his
infrastructure "plan" to be
essentially a giant magic asterisk.
By the way, for more on the CFPB, see
Sheelah Kolhatkar: The Steady, Alarming Destruction of the Consumer
Financial Protection Bureau.
Jeff Bezos' Quest to Find America's Stupidest Mayor: So Amazon is
taking bids from cities/counties/states to host their "HQ2," offering
some large number of office jobs to the winner, i.e., the taxpayers
willing to offer them the biggest kickback. Businesses do this all
the time, and the bigger the prize they can offer, the more saliva
they have to wade through. Is this a good deal, even locally? Most
likely not. Of course, it's even worse for the federal government,
where the zero sum game adds up to zero. There should be a federal
law to either outlaw tax allowances for developments or to tax them
punitively. That wouldn't end all such bidding, but it would be a
good start, and taxing other enticements could follow. As for the
However, most research indicates that the cost to state and local
governments for these subsidies typically outweighs the benefits in
terms of employment and tax revenue, including in the cases of Amazon's
growing network of fulfillment centers.
A new analysis by the Economic Policy Institute looking at employment
in counties that managed to land a fulfillment center in the last 15
years found no evidence that overall employment increased, and in some
instances employment even fell relative to comparison counties. The
implication was that the commitments made to win Amazon's facilities --
subsidies likely worth over $1 billion dollars in total -- usually were
enough of a drag on the rest of the economy, either by imposing a higher
tax burden or diverting resources, to more than offset any jobs and
spending created by Amazon.
One side note: Contrary to the article, Amazon has collected sales
tax here in Kansas (one of the highest in the country) for many years
now, but in our case at least that has little if any effect on whether
we buy locally or through Amazon. Price, selection, and home delivery
are our main reasons for buying on Amazon. I realize some people hate
Amazon on principle, but I'm not one of them. Still, doesn't mean I'm
not bothered about some of the shit they pull. For instance, the reason
we pay sales tax is they opened a distribution center in southeast KS,
with a lot of local perks for the jobs. They closed that as soon as
the initial perks expired (but they still collect KS sales tax).
Baker also wrote:
Three Percent GDP Growth and Democrats' Irresponsible Opposition to Trump
Tax Cuts. Note that he's not saying that opposition was irresponsible.
Just that some of the reasons Democrats gave for opposing the bill were
less than helpful: especially worries about increasing federal debt, and
the argument that a 3% GDP growth rate was impossible -- although he does
admit that nothing in the bill gets us anywhere near 3%. He should also
acknowledge that an extra $1.5 trillion in debt will place downward
pressure on public spending, and that would hurt the economy, as well
as the people's valuation of government services. We would, for instance,
be better off if the government left tax rates unchanged and simply spent
an extra $1.5 trillion, especially on infrastructure but actually on
pretty much anything. He goes into more nuts and bolts on GDP growth,
but the bottom line there is that lowering taxes on the rich doesn't
do a thing for GDP growth. The trick there -- what is needed to get
past our current sluggish recovery -- is to pay workers more, creating
more demand and luring more currently unemployed people into the
workforce (standard unemployment rates are exceptionally low now, but
labor participation rates are still well below 2007 levels, which helps
explain why this recover doesn't feel as strong as previous ones.)
Dan Balz: White House under John Kelly is not so calm and competent after
all: That's still mostly Trump, but people who thought Kelly himself
was "calm and competent" have begun to have doubts -- and, really, this
dates back before the Porter/Sorensen scandals. In particular, it's been
pretty clear that Kelly was instrumental in getting Trump to back down
from any bipartisan DACA deal, so he seems as much an ideology-driven
activist as guys he's banished like Bannon and Gorka. I think he's still
safe from external cries for his head (e.g.,
John Nichols: John Kelly Has Got to Go) but having embarrassed the
petulant president, he's suddenly on thin ice. Another Kelly piece:
Heather Digby Parton: John Kelly's True Self and ICE's Mission Creep:
Tyranny Is Spreading.
David Dayen: Senate Republicans Kept Provision to Fight High Drug Prices
Out of Spending Bill, Democrats Say.
Leo Gerard: Donald Trump's broken trade promises:
The U.S. Commerce Department announced this week that the 2017 trade
deficit rose to the highest level since 2008. . . . The Commerce
Department reported the trade deficit rose 12 percent during Trump's
first year in office, that the goods deficit with China jumped 8
percent to a record $375.2 billion, that the overall non-petroleum
goods deficit shot up to an unprecedented high of $740.7 billion.
Those terrible numbers testify to an administration dawdling, not
performing for American workers who voted for Donald Trump based
on campaign promises of quick and easy action to cure bad trade.
I note this because I'm a bit surprised by the numbers, although
most likely they're a continuation of past trends. Trade deficits
dropped after 2008 because the economy crashed, resulting in less
trade. If nothing else changed (and damn little did), it makes
sense that trade deficits would have risen with the slow recovery.
On the other hand, I've heard charges that Trump's treasury has
been suppressing the dollar to improve exports, and I've noticed
several instances of "punitive" tariffs (one that Boeing lobbied
for would have added three times the cost of competing Canadian
aircraft; it has since been struck down). I wouldn't go as far as
the author in crediting "right thinking" to Trump officials like
Wilbur Ross or Peter Navarro, nor would I whine about China
"stealing trade secrets from American companies." Trump may be
trying to renegotiate NAFTA, but he's finding that he's up not
just against Canada and Mexico but many US businesses (including
farmers) that have a stake in the status quo. Indeed, a big part
of the rationale for his tax bill was that it would make it more
attractive for foreigners to invest capital in the US. For that
to happen, the US will need to run higher trade deficits, so
foreigners will have more capital to return to the US. And what
happens then is less that the new capital will generate jobs than
that it will inflate asset prices, increasing inequality, while
turning more and more American businesses into siphons for the
Thomas Gibbons-Neff: Trump Wants a Military Parade. But Not Everyone
Is in Step. The official story is that Trump got the idea watching
a Bastille Day parade in France. He assumed that if a second-rate
power like France could put on a good show, a nation which spends
more than ten times as much on soldiers and high-tech gadgetry could
put on something really spectacular -- something he might cite as
proof that he had "made America great again." Of course, it might
have just been his fetish for large crowds and high ratings. But
the first image that popped into my mind was stock footage of the
parades of missiles and tanks the Soviet Union used to put on --
used by the American press to whip up Cold War fears, not least by
reminding us that the Soviet system was close-minded, militaristic,
and sinister. (Nowadays the same footage is most often used to
represent North Korea.) The second image, of course, was of Nazi
parades meant to psych up the Volk to launch WWII. The third was
the military parade in Egypt where Sadat was assassinated. None
of these images seem fitting for a peaceful democracy -- although
you can appreciate Trump's confusion, as the America he seeks to
"make great again" scarcely qualifies on either count. Indeed,
one wonders why France march-steps: nostalgia for their former
globe-spanning empire? some kind of complex over their having
been reduced to a bit role in NATO? maybe they feel some need
to intimidate their revolution-minded citizens? Colbert reacted
to Trump: "He knows Bastille Day is about poor people chopping
off rich people's heads, right?"
Among the reactions to Trump's parade:
Jonathan Freedland: Trump's desire for a military parade reveals him as
a would-be despot;
Alex Ward: Ex-Navy SEAL calls Trump's military parade idea "third
Umair Irfan: Puerto Rico's blackout, the largest in American history,
Fred Kaplan: No Time to Talk: "Trump's foreign policy is all military,
no diplomacy. We're starting to see the consequences." Trump's tilt toward
the military reflects a belief that force (and only force) works -- that
all America has to do is act like a Great Power (which Obama manifestly
failed to do) and the world will fall in line. In such a world, adding to
the military reinforces US primacy, while diplomacy (successful or not)
undercuts it. Accordingly, Nikki Haley's job at the UN isn't to negotiate
consensus; it's to bark out threats and orders. The problem is that the
only way conflicts actually end is through agreement. Sometimes this can
be very one-sided, as in the German and Japanese surrenders in WWII, but
usually it's more complicated, involving more give-and-take. That's a
worldview Trump cannot even conceive of, and that's not likely change,
as it suits the neocons in his administration. They believe that it's
actually good for conflicts to fester indeterminately, as long as the
only response the president can conceive of is building up more power.
Obama and Kerry (if not necessarily Clinton) could occasionally see
another way out, but Trump cannot.
Kaplan also wrote on nuclear strategy:
Mattis Goes Nuclear: "Trump's secretary of defense has recently adopted
some dubious and dangerous ideas about nuclear strategy." This piece fits
in neatly with
Matt Taibbi: Donald Trump's Thinking on Nukes Is Insane and Ignorant.
It's certainly the case that Mattis isn't ignorant, and it's possible
he's not insane either, but he's certainly deluded if he thinks he can
see any strategic use for nuclear weapons. While Taibbi makes occasional
reference to Trump's mental state, his article is actually more focused
on the US military's latest strategizing on nuclear weapons, including
the proliferation of "low-yield" warheads as part of a trillion dollar
"modernization" program -- i.e., he's at least as troubled by what
"adults" like Mattis are thinking as what Trump might foolishly do.
One thing Taibbi and Kaplan don't do is explain why the nuclear bomb
mandarins are pushing such an ambitious program now, and why it makes
sense to people like Trump (aside from the obvious points about insanity
and ignorance). What we're seeing is the convergence of two big ideas:
the neocon notion that world order can only be enforced by a single
global power, one that forces everyone else to tremble and pay tribute,
and the conservative notion that the rich are rightful (and righteous)
rulers. This trillion dollar nuclear "modernization" is the sort of
thing big businesses do precisely because their smaller competitors
cannot afford to. This actually fits well with the neocon hysteria
over other countries' "nuclear ambitions" -- how dare anyone else try
to compete with us?
By the way, one other point occurs to me. Trump has long styled
himself as the consummate dealmaker, so many people assumed he'd
use his skills to negotiate (and in some cases re-negotiate) deals
with America's adversaries. But actually, the deals Trump has done
throughout his career are a very limited subset: alliances, based
on mutual greed, to be satisfied at the expense of someone else (or,
rather often it seems, his investors). About the only deal he's
worked so far was with the Saudis: he sold them arms (and blanket
support for their imperial ambitions in Yemen and elsewhere). But
even that deal only worked because the Saudis were so eager to suck
up to him -- a posture he's used to in the business world, but much
rarer in world affairs. Of course, even that wasn't his own work.
It was, at best, something others pitched to him in ways he could
Patrick Lawrence: A major opening at the Pyeongchang Olympics -- but
not from Mike Pence: "Kim Jong-un's sister and the South Korean
president have lunch, while Mike Pence rattles the sabers ever louder."
Lawrence makes several points:
First, we can discard all assertions in the American press that Moon,
the South Korean president, had suddenly turned hostile toward the
North in conformity with U.S. policy after his election last May. . . .
Second, there is as of now no evident intention in Washington to
approach the negotiating table, as all other nations traditionally
involved in the Korean crisis urge. This appears to hold true under
any circumstances. . . .
Third, in view of Pence's remarks in Tokyo and Seoul, we must
conclude that there are no moderating voices on foreign policy left
in the Trump administration -- to the extent, I mean, that there may
have been any from the beginning. There had been intermittent
suggestions that tempering perspectives in the executive were
keeping things at least minimally civilized. Read Pence's remarks
and imagine they were uttered by Mattis or H.R. McMaster, Trump's
ever-belligerent national security adviser; either of the other two
could have made those statements verbatim. By all appearances, these
figures are now interchangeable. In short, the military runs the
White House on the foreign policy side -- this without any inhibiting
pressure one can detect from other quarters.
Dara Lind: Trump's draft plan to punish legal immigrants for sending US-born
kids to Head Start: "Or getting insured through the Children's Health
Insurance Program, or getting assistance to heat their homes."
Anna North: Trump's long history of employing -- and defending -- men accused
of hurting women: Rob Porter, of course, but note the list also includes
Andrew Puzder, Trump's Secretary of Labor nominee who was forced to withdraw
due to assaulting his (now ex-) wife. Related:
Jen Kirby: John Kelly has a history of believing men over women.
And since these articles appeared, Kirby has also written about Trump
speechwriter David Sorensen:
A second White House aide resigns over domestic abuse allegations.
David Remnick: A Reckoning With Women Awaits Trump: One reason the
spousal abuse charges against Porter, Sorensen, and ultimately Kelly,
blew up so fast is that they fit in perfectly with what we know and
despise about Trump himself:
Donald Trump is the least mysterious figure in the history of the
American Presidency. His infantile character, duplicity, cold-heartedness,
and self-dealing greed are evident not merely to the majority of the
poll-answering electorate but, sooner or later, to those who make the
decision to work at his side. . . . Sooner or later, Trump's satraps
and lieutenants, present and former, come to betray a vivid sense of
just how imperilled and imperilling this Presidency is. In their
sotto-voce remarks to the White House press, these aides seem to
compete in their synonyms for the President's modesty of intelligence
("moron," "idiot," "fool"); his colossal narcissism; his lack of human
empathy. They admit to reporters how little he studies the basics of
domestic policy and national security; how partial he is to autocrats
like himself; how indifferent he is to allies. They are shocked, they
proclaim, absolutely shocked. In the past few days, it has been Trump's
misogyny, his heedless attitude toward women and issues of harassment
and abuse, that has shocked them most. And those who know him best
recognize the political consequences ahead.
Mark Schmitt: The Art of the Scam:
Most American workers this month will see their take-home pay go up,
some a little and a few quite a bit, as the new tax act takes effect
and less money is withheld for federal income taxes.
But for many, the gift will be short-lived. Because the law was
rushed and written in a partisan frenzy, withholding may not be
accurate and you might owe money to the I.R.S. next year. You might
even be advised to file new forms so that more money is withheld --
and then the forms and withholding amounts are likely to change again
later in the year and then again every year thereafter as the cuts
for individuals head toward expiration. . . .
It's the experience of the scam economy, where nothing is certain
and anything gained might disappear without warning. It's an economy
where risk is shifted onto individuals and families, financial predators
lurk behind every robocall and pop-up ad, work schedules are changed
without notice and Americans have endless choices about savings,
education, health care and other needs but very little clear guidance
about how to make those choices wisely or safely. . . .
A proposal for paid family leave recently floated by Ivanka Trump
and Senator Marco Rubio takes the policy of "give with one hand, take
away with the other" to an absurd extreme: New parents could pay for
leave from their future Social Security payments, trading a week of
paid leave for a week of retirement benefits, as if people could make
a rational, informed choice between needs that will typically fall
40 years apart in the life cycle.
Finally, this administration has eagerly taken down the guardrails
intended to protect individuals from the worst predators: the "fiduciary
rule," which had required investment advisers to act in the interest of
their clients; the hard-fought rules that protect students from worthless
for-profit colleges and student loans they can't repay; and even the
recent Labor Department rule requiring that employees receive the tips
that are intended for them. Virtually every enforcement action of the
Consumer Financial Protection Bureau has been put on hold or canceled --
even the investigation of the Equifax hack that disclosed the financial
records of millions of people -- exposing all of us to even more scams
It bears noting that all this is happening at the same time people
are encouraged to grab as much money as they can now because without
it their future looks increasingly bleak -- a practice increasingly
free of scruples, as certain political leaders attest.
Alex Ward: Israel just attacked Syria. That's scary, but nothing new.
I've been reading that the US military's favorite option for dealing with
North Korea is what they call a "bloody nose" attack: the US swoops in,
blows some shit up, causes some hurt, but in a limited way that doesn't
invite the escalation of a full-scale response. This is basically what
Israel has been doing to Syria, repeatedly, since well before civil war
broke out, and it's happened a half-dozen times or more during the war.
Syria doesn't want to fight Israel, so they don't respond in kind, let
alone escalate. The assumption is that North Korea doesn't really want
to fight either, so would hold back and be humiliated rather than risk
massive destruction. If you believe that, you have to ask yourself why
you let North Korea's missiles and nuclear bombs worry you in the first
place. Of course, introspection isn't a strong trait of anyone in the
Trump administration, least of all the blowhard-in-chief.
By the way, for more on what we're risking in Korea see:
Yochi Dreazen: Here's what war with North Korea would look like.
Also, a reminder of the last time the US made war on North Korea:
David McNeill: Unknown to most Americans, the US 'totally destroyed'
North Korea once before.
Sunday, February 4. 2018
Can't say as I really felt any energy or appetite for doing a
roundup this weekend. Still, practically wrote itself:
Some scattered links this week:
Matthew Yglesias: 4 big stories from a very weird week in Washington:
It's a "new American moment" (Trump's "state of the union" speech);
we talked a lot about a memo (the Nunes memo, accusing the FBI of
picking on Trump for "deep state" political reasons); Trump has an
infrastructure plan ("all that's missing, basically, are the details");
Amazon is (maybe) going to revolutionize health care (maybe) -- some
kind of new joint venture between Amazon, Berkshire, and JP Morgan.
Other Yglesias pieces:
The Steele dossier, explained, with Andrew Prokop.
Trump's new infrastructure "plan," explained: "No money, no details,
and no explanation of how it works." Well, some numbers, but they're
beyond ridiculous. The federal government would pony up $200 billion,
but from spending cuts elsewhere (and presumably not military), not
from new revenues (which the tax bill will shrink by $1.5 trillion),
so the net stimulus effect will be negative. The expectation is that
the federal money would then be matched at a 6.5/1 ratio by state and
local governments, despite the fact that the latter have nowhere near
that kind of borrowing power -- so the key idea is to nudge them into
forming "public-private partnerships," which will put tollgates on
everything they do, so the public will wind up paying much more for
the infrastructure development than would be the case if government
did it all itself. Why?
A more cynical view would be that the main issue here is Trump likes
to talk about the idea of a big infrastructure package, but Trump
doesn't actually run the Trump administration. Neither congressional
Republicans nor the veteran GOP politicians and operatives who do run
the Trump administration want to see a big federal infrastructure
package. If they wanted one, they would have done a deal with Barack
Obama when he was president and called over and over again for one.
What they actually want is cuts in the social safety net -- cuts
that Democrats aren't going to agree to and that aren't especially
Now Trump has a thing that he can say is his plan, congressional
conservatives can propose paying for it with safety net cuts that
Democrats won't agree to, and Republicans can try to pass the whole
thing off as an example of gridlock or obstruction rather than
reflecting the fact that conservatives don't favor spending more
money on federal infrastructure.
If Trump acted normal, he'd be an unpopular president with an unpopular
agenda: actually, he is, but if he acted normal, we'd be talking
about how unpopular that agenda is, instead of what a boor and moron
It's worth emphasizing that the Trump Show does have some real strategic
benefits for Trump.
For starters, it ensures that all but the very biggest policy stories
are deprived of oxygen. The typical American has never been exposed to a
robust news cycle about the administration's move to allow broadband
internet providers to sell private user data, its various assaults on
non-climate environmental policy, the dismantling of the Consumer
Financial Protection Bureau, or budget proposals that starve the very
job training and vocational education programs Trump touted in his
State of the Union address.
While some of Trump's antics and culture war battles are misfires
that turn off even voters who might be sympathetic to his policy agenda,
overall, he does better during the Trump Show. In moments when he
manages to effectively fracture American society along racial lines,
he regains the loyalty of the white voters who continue to make up a
large majority of the electorate. Trump's actual execution of the
politics of racial demagoguery is often not so deft, but the basic
concept of elevating racial conflict and downplaying banal public
policy debates makes perfect sense for him. . . .
Whether his erratic behavior sinks him in the end, meanwhile, is
likely to have less to do with political perceptions than with actual
policy outcomes. During campaign 2016, I worried -- as did many
observers -- that Trump's erratic, impulsive behavior would get the
country ensnared in a disastrous war or crash the American economy.
So far, he hasn't done either of those things.
That's a low bar, to be sure. But it's not a given that a president
will clear it; just ask George W. Bush.
In Kennedy's speech, Democrats rediscovered Barack Obama's compelling
vision: "America is about equality, across all dimensions."
Trump's game is to pit people against each other and get them so caught
up in their internecine games that they don't notice the wholesale
looting of America that's taking place under his administration.
Donald Trump as no solutions for America's big problems: Useful
The Puerto Rico saga is marginal to American politics because Puerto Rico
itself is a marginal part of the country -- an island physically separated
from the mainland, whose residents lack representation in Congress or the
right to vote in presidential elections.
But the sad state of that island is worth dwelling on, because the
devastation of Hurricane Maria remains the one real crisis that Trump's
dealt with that hasn't simply been self-inflicted. He's been inattentive,
ill-informed, dishonest, and ineffective, capping it with tonight's solemn
pledge of solidarity that's totally disconnected from the actual reality
on the ground.
Most of the problems Trump is ignoring are chronic rather than acute,
and if the country needs to suffer through a few more years of neglect
we'll make it. Puerto Rico is facing acute problems and the president is,
likewise, doing nothing.
If we're lucky, those of us on the mainland won't have to find out
what it's like to live through that. But Trump makes it clear on a daily
basis that if we ever do, there's no way he's going to rise to the occasion.
Trump's approval rating is below 50% in 38 states: Map is interesting.
Note that he's below 50% here in Kansas, as well as Nebraska and Utah,
Mississippi and South Carolina. He's only under 40% in one state that
he actually carried, but it's a big one: Texas.
The truth about the Trump economy, explained: The low unemployment
rates Trump touted in his SOTA, like most other growth statistics, are
easily explained as extensions of trends established over the past 5-6
years, which is to say under Obama. Trump hasn't caused them, but he
hasn't blown them up either. On the other hand, that growth partly masks
a longer-term weakness in the economy, which is why workforce participation
is still below 2000 levels: there may be a lot of jobs, but not very good
ones. The one area where Trump has had a discernible effect is the stock
market boom, which started under Obama but has been boosted further by
Trump's deregulation agenda, and now by business tax cuts. Nonetheless,
last week was a rough one for Wall Street, which has been blamed on fear
of interest rate hikes, but like all bubbles is mostly a matter of the
investor class having more money than it knows what to do with.
It's largely forgotten now, but back during the mid-aughts (a time of
more rapid wage growth than what we saw in 2017, incidentally), it was
commonplace in conservative circles to proclaim that we were living
through a "Bush Boom" touched off by his game-changing tax cuts and
deregulation. That story, obviously, eventually ended in tears, as a
poorly supervised financial system channeled inequitably shared growth
into an unsustainable pyramid of debt that eventually collapsed.
For another explanation of the current economy, see
Dean Baker: It's Still the Yellen-Obama Economy. For a view of how
it may end, see:
Nomi Prins: Here Comes the Next Financial Crisis.
An immigration crackdown is a recipe for national decline.
Yglesias also contributed to:
The real state of the union in 2018, explained.
Glenn Greenwald: In a Major Free Speech Victory, a Federal Court Strikes
Down a Law that Punishes Supporters of Israel Boycott: Story has
a local angle, as it was a Kansas Mennonite who challenged the state
law. Note that the governor who signed that law is the new US "ambassador
at large for religious freedom."
Jacob Hacker: Trump's tax cuts are worse than fiercest critics claim:
Introduces a term that's unlikely to mean anything to anyone:
The problem isn't just that the cuts will make inequality worse -- if
that were the case, then adding more tax cuts for the middle class and
poor would fix things. Nor is the issue that driving up the debt will
threaten popular social programs like Social Security and Medicare --
though it certainly will.
The fundamental problem concerns not redistribution but
predistribution: all the ways in which government rules and
activities change how American capitalism distributes its rewards in
the first place. Predistribution policies -- like public investments
in infrastructure, education, research and development, and the
regulation of labor and financial markets -- built the American
middle class. And the collapse of such investment and regulations
is the main reason that the middle class has experienced stagnant
wages, plummeting bargaining power and a declining share of national
income since the late 1970s. If we are going to tackle American
inequality, we need to take seriously the imperative of changing
how markets work. . . .
Thus, the biggest defect of tax cuts -- any tax cuts -- is that they
represent a huge lost opportunity to invest in our future. If the past
generation has taught us anything, it's that tax cuts for investors
and a soaring stock market do little or nothing to help most Americans.
By contrast, we know that public investments in productive physical
and human assets do help, and they disproportionately help the less
well off. Rich people have plenty of private capital to invest. Those
who aren't rich have their human capital (which rests on public
investments) and the public capital that we all share as citizens:
transportation and communication networks, shared scientific knowledge
fostered by public R&D spending, civic institutions and so on.
If we really want to boost growth, we need to return to the successful
investment model that really made America great in the 20th century. And
that requires more revenues, not less; a more effective IRS, not a weaker
one; and, yes, new taxes, such as a levy on carbon emissions that
threaten our planet and a surcharge on short-term financial speculation
that threatens our economy.
Two (possibly more) points here: the real sources of inequality lie
outside of the tax code: the real engine of inequality is the drive for
profit, which we tend to overlook by viewing it as the natural state of
capitalism. In fact, inequality can be limited or even rolled back by
political policies which: increase competition, which both reduces and
spreads out profits; strengthen labor, which distributes gross margins
more equitably to workers; and progressive taxation, which redistributes
profits through public works and services. Conversely, inequality can
be increased by opposite policies, as we've seen repeatedly over the
past forty years. Hacker's "predistribution" policy point is important,
but relatively minor -- effectively, a subset of the third point, that
reducing government income is itself an intrinsic goal of the right's
push for tax cuts. It's not just that the right doesn't want government
to help people; the right doesn't want people to get in the habit of
looking to government to help themselves. (On the other hand, they can
get pretty agitated when they need help themselves.)
Hacker's leaning against the fact that the only time we tend to talk
about inequality is when considering tax bills, and even there the right
likes to muddy the waters by offering chump change to the masses. It is
true that strongly progressive taxation (combined with direct income
redistribution) could compensate for inequality built into the private
sector economy, but hardly anyone on the left is pushing for rates that
would effectively cap private wealth (or, beyond occasional mentions of
a "basic income" for significant income support). Rather, both sides
struggle to move the scrimmage line a bit (for marginal income rates
between 33-39%, although the right has been more ambitious in their
proposals to eliminate estate taxes and vastly reduce taxes on capital
gains and business income -- matters of import to the very rich, but
esoteric to most people). [PS: Just noticed this, pace my generalization:
Hamilton Nolan: The Estate Tax Should Be 100 Percent. Nolan also wrote:
The Entire Rationale for These Tax Cuts Is Bullshit. Found these links
Alex Pareene: Tom Steyer Has Too Much Money.]
Ezra Klein: How democracies die, explained: Ruminations based on
a new book by Steven Levitsky and Daniel Ziblatt, How Democracies
Demagogues and authoritarians do not destroy democracies. It's established
political parties, and the choices they make when faced with demagogues
and authoritarians, that decide whether democracies survive.
"2017 was the best year for conservatives in the 30 years that I've
been here," Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said this week. "The
best year on all fronts. And a lot of people were shocked because we
didn't know what we were getting with Donald Trump."
The best year on all fronts. Think about that for a moment.
If you want to know why congressional Republicans are opening an assault
on the FBI in order to protect Trump, it can be found in that comment.
This was a year in which Trump undermined the press, fired the director
of the FBI, cozied up to Russia, baselessly alleged he was wiretapped,
threatened to jail his political opponents, publicly humiliated his
attorney general for recusing himself from an investigation, repeatedly
claimed massive voter fraud against him, appointed a raft of unqualified
and occasionally ridiculous candidates to key positions, mishandled the
aftermath of the Puerto Rico hurricane, and threatened to use antitrust
and libel laws against his enemies.
And yet McConnell surveyed the tax cuts he passed and the regulations
he repealed and called this not a mixed year for his political movement,
not a good year for his political movement, but the best year he'd ever
Richard J Evans has written a couple of relevant book reviews on the
the most exercised of analogies:
A Warning From History and
Rule by Fear -- the former on a new biography of Hitler, the latter
a broader history of "the rise and fall of the Third Reich." Back during
the Bush years I found the analogy tempting enough that I bought a copy
of Evans' own book, The Coming of the Third Reich, but I never
got around to reading it. (I read Cullen Murphy's more explicitly topical
Are We Rome? instead, partly because at the time I knew considerably
less about Rome. Most recently I've been reading Tony Judt's essays from
the Bush years, When the Facts Change, which reminds me how awful
Bush was, while at the same time bringing to mind Michael Lewis' intro to
the 2010 reprint of Liar's Poker, his book about financial scandal
in the 1980s, a tale he finally had to deem "how quaint.")
PR Lockhart: Trump's reaction to the NFL protests shows how he fights
the culture war. Not sure this subject is worth this much reading,
but I'll note that I think the reason many conservatives take a special
delight in football is that they relate to the idea of the strong
dominating the relatively weak through force and violence. That's a
view peculiar to fans. The players, and observers who actually watch
the play and not just the markers, know that what really matters is
teamwork. And while most plays are intricately planned, there's also
a fair amount of leeway for improvisation. You also see teamwork in
baseball and basketball, but in no other sport is it so central as
it is in football. That makes the players more like workers, and
helps foster solidarity -- a point which more than any (other than
opportunism, I guess) explains Trump's vituperation. He's bothered
less by supposed disrespect for the flag than by his disgust that
the owners can't control their workers.
Josh Marshall: First Take: The 'Nunes Memo' Is Even Weaker Than Expected.
Zack Beauchamp/Alex Ward: The 9 biggest questions about the Nunes memo,
Alex Emmons: Nunes Memo Accidentally Confirms the Legitimacy of the
Dylan Scott: Trump's abandoned promise to bring down drug prices,
explained: Something Trump mentioned in the SOTA, then gestured
to Democrats that now would be a good time for them to applaud.
Emily Stewart: The Trump administration's surprising idea to nationalize
America's 5G network, explained: "Nobody thinks it's a good idea,
including the FCC." Well, as their handling of the "net neutrality"
matter shown, the FCC doesn't work for the public interest any more;
it's been captured by the industry it was meant to regulate. I doubt
Trump's people will pursue this further, because it's a non-starter
with the corrupt cabal known as the Congressional Republicans, and
the communications industry has been more bipartisan than most, so
they have a fair number of Democrats in their pocket as well. But
on the surface, sure, why not nationalize the 5G network? It would
be easier (and cheaper) for the federal government to raise the
investment. They wouldn't have to engineer all sorts of cutouts
and paywalls to recoup their investment. And they could make it a
point to provide inexpensive, reliable service everywhere instead
of having private companies cherry-pick a few lucrative markets.
This sort of thing hasn't happened often in the past because it's
rare for Congress to interfere in a market private companies think
they can make money. (The Post Office and the TVA are two such
Stewart also wrote:
Paul Ryan tweets -- then deletes -- brag about public school worker who
saw $1.50 pay raise. Fact check: that's a weekly pay check, so the
deduction change nets out to less than four cents per hour.
Sunday, January 28. 2018
I figured the big political story of the week was Trump going to Davos,
announcing "America is open for business," and hat-in-hand begging foreign
capitalists to invest in America. He'd probably tell you that the reason
he's courting foreign investment is to create jobs for Americans, but
that's merely a second-order side-effect. The reason capitalists invest
money is for profits -- to take more money back out of America than they
put in. By "open for business" Trump means "come rip us off -- we'll make
it easy for you."
Trump's Davos mission effectively ends any prospect that Trump might
have actually tried to implement some sort of "economic nationalist"
agenda. The odds that he would do so were never very good. The balance
of corporate power has swung from manufacturing to finance, and that
has driven the globalization that has undermined America's manufacturing
base while greatly increasing the relative wealth of the top percent.
Trump himself has benefited from this scheme, not really by working the
finance and trade angles as by offering rich investors diversifying
investments in high-end real estate.
None of this was really a secret when Trump was campaigning. To the
extent he had concrete proposals, they were always aimed at making it
easier for businesses, including banks, to screw over customers (and
employees), policy consistent throughout his own long career. Given
that's all he ever wanted to do, it's not just laziness for him to kick
back and let the Republican Party policy wonks go crazy. It's not even
clear that Trump cares about his signature anti-immigration stance. Sure,
the hard-liners he's surrounded himself with have been able to keep him
in line (although his occasional thrashing adds confusion to the issue,
and thus far camouflage -- much ado last week about his seemingly generous
offer on the "dreamers" wrapped up in numerous unpalatable demands).
Some scattered links this week:
Matthew Yglesias: The 4 most important politics stories of the week:
The government reopened (until February 8, anyhow); Trump released his
hostage demands; Mueller is working on obstruction of justice; Pennsylvania
Republicans got some bad news: embattled Rep. Pat Meehan is retiring, and
the Supreme Court ruled against a gerrymander map which gave Republicans
a 13-5 House margin. Other Yglesias pieces this week:
Dean Baker: The Corporate Tax Cut Bonanza.
Jane Coaston: In 2008, Hillary Clinton's faith adviser was accused of
sexual harassment -- and was kept on: More telling, his victim was
reassigned. Still, for me the more shocking (at least more dispiriting)
aspect of the story is that she had a "faith adviser." Didn't that sort
of role go out of fashion with Rasputin?
Masha Gessen: At Davos -- and Always -- Donald Trump Can Only Think in
the Present Tense: Notes that Trump managed to get through Davos
without making any outrageous faux pas, while media ignored anything
of longer-term import:
Reading the U.S. media, you would think that all the attendees of Davos
2018 cared about was whether Donald Trump obeyed the teleprompter and
sounded reasonably civilized while inviting the moneybags of the world
to invest in the United States. [George] Soros's remarks got a bit of
coverage, while the more visionary conversation seemed not to register at
all. This shows how provincial we have become. Our chronic embarrassment --
or fear of embarrassment -- when it comes to our President may be a new
phenomenon, but our lack of imagination is not. The American political
conversation has long been based on outdated economic and social ideas,
and now it's really showing.
By the way, I haven't seen this in any piece on the web, but Seth
Myers, in a subordinate clause, mentioned that no American president
had attended Davos before Trump since 2000. That means the last US
president to take advantage of the opportunity to pander before the
global elites was . . . Bill Clinton. Even there, it's possible that
the lame duck was more interested in lining up contributors to his
future foundation than anything else. I think I actually recall a
story about Clinton in Davos: if memory serves, he skipped out on
the ill-fated Camp David negotiations between Barak and Arafat --
his inattention contributing to both failure and the breakout of the
so-called Al-Aqsa Intifada following that failure. Should be some
sort of cautionary tale, but it's probably true that Trump had
nothing better that he was capable of doing.
For more on what Soros had to say, see:
John Cassidy: How George Soros Upstaged Donald Trump at Davos.
Ryan Grim/Lee Fang: The Dead Enders: "Candidates who signed up to
battle Donald Trump must get past the Democratic Party first."
German Lopez: Marshall County, Kentucky, high school shooting: what we
know: For starters, two dead, eighteen others injured. Among the
- The shooting comes a day after another shooting at a high school
in Italy, Texas, where a 16-year-old student shot a 15-year-old girl,
who is now recovering from her injuries.
- This part of Kentucky has seen school shootings in the past, the
AP reported: "Marshall County High School is about 30 minutes from Heath
High School in Paducah, Kentucky, where a 1997 mass shooting killed three
and injured five."
- So far in 2018, there have been at least 11 school shootings . . .
Kali Holloway: Trump isn't crazy, he's just a terrible person:
Interview with Allen Frances, the psychiatrist who wrote the DSM entry
on narcissistic personality disorder. Frances also has a more general
book: Twilight of American Sanity: A Psychiatrist Analyzes the Age
of Trump. Such a book could be interesting, but his answers in the
interview don't guarantee that it will be.
Patrick Lawrence: Now the US is playing spoiler role in Korea, Syria
and elsewhere. But why? News items include new, arbitrary and
unilateral sanctions against North Korea and Russia, and an avowal
to leave US troops in Syria after ISIS has been defeated (meaning,
driven from its previous territory). One can think of other cases
where the US is acting aggressive arbitrarily with no evident hope
or interest in advancing a diplomatic solution. Trump's mandarins
seem to regard diplomacy with such phobia they can't even imagine
how to accept surrender, much less consider any form of compromise.
On Syria, also see
Patrick Cockburn: By Remaining in Syria the US Is Fuelling More Wars
in the Middle East.
Charlie May: The Koch brothers are "all in" for 2018 with plans to spend
up to $400 million: As Charles Koch said, "We've made more progress
in the last five years than I had in the previous 50."
Sarah Okeson: Making the world safe for loan sharks: "Trump's consumer
protection office helps payday loan companies exploit borrowers." Moreover,
they don't even have to try changing the law. They can just stop enforcing
Paul Kiel: Newly defanged, top consumer protection agency drops
investigation of high-cost lender.
Andrew Prokop: Trump's attempt to fire Robert Mueller, explained:
The event in question actually happened last June, when the White House
counsel threatened to resign rather than carry out the order. Trump was
subsequently talked down by White House staff. Strikes me as one of many
cases where Trump's default position is to think he can do anything he
wants -- even something which is not a very good idea. Very likely Trump
ran into problems like that even before becoming president: businessmen
routinely check with lawyers before carrying out their arbitrary whims,
and probably get shot down a lot. So I wouldn't make a big deal out of
this particular incident, but it does illustrate that Trump thinks he's
above the law, and that could well turn into a problem. For more, see:
Emily Stewart: Lindsey Graham: firing Mueller "would be the end" of the
Esme Cribb: Gowdy to GOP Colleagues: Mueller Is 'Fair' So 'Leave Him the
Jeffrey Toobin: The Answer to Whether Trump Obstructed Justice Now Seems
Daniel Rodgers: The Uses and Abuses of "Neoliberalism", plus comments
Julia Ott: Words Can't Do the Work for Us,
Mike Konczal: How Ideology Works,
NDB Connolly: A White Story, and
Timothy Shenk: Jargon or Clickbait?, plus a
reply by Rodgers. I haven't sorted through all of this, but Konczal is
certainly right that there is a coherent and dangerous ideology there, even
if the word "neoliberalism" isn't an especially good summation of it. My
own experience with the word is largely conditioned by the following:
- I first encountered the word as used by British leftists like David
Harvey -- author of A Brief History of Neoliberalism (2005); also
see his interview,
Neoliberalism Is a Political Project,
Thinking Through David Harvey's Theorisation of Neoliberalism, and (more
RSA Animate: Crises of Capitalism -- so
it always struck me as an Anglicism, preconditioned by the fact that in
British politics the Liberal party is distinct from Labour and rooted in
19th century laissez-faire. Similar liberals once existed in the US, but
they generally made their peace with labor in the New Deal Democrats,
while conservatives have turned "liberal" into a broad curse word meant
to cover any and all leftist deviancies.
- Granted, since the 1970s a faction of Democrats have wanted to
stress both their traditional liberal beliefs and their opposition to
social democracy/welfare state, usually combined with support for an
aggressive anti-communist foreign policy. Some actually called themselves
neoliberals. Later the term became useful to opponents for describing
so-called New Democrats, with their eager support for business interests,
globalization and ("humanitarian") interventionist foreign policy -- the
Clintons, most obviously.
- Meanwhile, a group which single-mindedly promoted an aggressive,
hegemony-seeking foreign policy came to call themselves neoconservatives.
While they tended to support conventional conservative causes in domestic
policy, they frequently styled their prescriptions for other countries
as neoliberalism -- presumably to give it a softer edge, although the
agenda meant to impose austerity in government while liberating capital
everywhere. For a while I was tempted to treat this as a unified ideology
and call it "neoism."
Danny Sjursen: Wrong on Nam, Wrong on Terror: Reviews a long list
of books about America's Vietnam War seeking to reverse in theory the
actual results of the war: failure, withdrawal, and defeat. (One book
he doesn't get around to is Max Boot: The Road Not Taken: Edward
Lansdale and the American Tragedy in Vietnam.) Sjursen points out
that many of today's prominent War on Terror architects became officers
shortly after Vietnam, so their education was formed in understanding
(or more often misunderstanding) that war's lessons. That should give
them a head start in rewriting imaginary Wars on Terror -- you know,
the kind where we get to win.
Matt Taibbi: How Donald Trump's Schizoid Administration Upended the
GOP: Taibbi continues to worry about the health of our two-party
Pre-trump, the gop was a brilliant if unlikely coalition -- a healthy
heaping of silent-majority racial paranoia, wedded to redundant patriotism
and Christian family values, in service of one-percenter policies that
benefited exactly the demographic the average Republican voter hated most
of all: Richie Rich city dwellers who embraced globalist economics, read
The Economist and may even have been literally Jewish. In other
words, Jared Kushner.
Just 12 months later, all of those groups are now openly recoiling
from one another with the disgusted vehemence of a bunch of strangers
waking up in a pile after a particularly drunken and embarrassing keg
party. Polls show that conservative Christians, saddled with a president
who pays off porn stars and brags about grabbing women by the pussy,
are finally, if slowly, slinking away from the Trump brand.
Yacht-accident victim Rupert Murdoch and other GOP kingmakers are
in a worse spot. They've watched in horror as once-obedient viewers
shook off decades of Frankensteinian programming and went rogue. Since
2016, the audience has turned to the likes of Breitbart and Alex Jones'
InfoWars for more purely distilled versions of the anti-government,
anti-minority hysteria stations like Fox once pumped over the airwaves
to keep old white people awake and agitated enough to watch the
commercials. An October Harvard-Harris poll showed 61 percent of
Republicans support Bannon's movement to unseat the Republican
establishment. . . .
A year into this presidency, in other words, the Republicans have
become a ghost ship of irreconcilable voter blocs, piloted by a madman
executive who's now proved he's too unstable to really represent any
of them, and moreover drives party divisions wider every time he opens
Taibbi misunderestimates Republicans at all levels. For the base, it
would be nice to think that they flocked to Trump over fifteen generic
conservative clones because they wanted a candidate who would protect
safety nets like Social Security, who would "drain the swamp" of moneyed
special interests, who would avoid war, and who might even have the bold
imagination to replace crappy Obamacare with single payer. You can find
support for all those hopes in Trump's campaign blather, but if you paid
more than casual attention you'd realize he was simply the biggest fraud
of all. Rather, it's more likely that the base flocked to Trump because
they recognized he was as confused and filled with kneejerk spite as they
were. Where they misjudged him wasn't on policy; it was in thinking that
as a billionaire he must be a functional, competent sociopath -- someone
who could act coherently even with an agenda that made no sense.
On the other hand, all the Republican donor establishment really wanted
was a front man who could sell their self-interest to enough schmoes to
seize power and cram their agenda through. While Trump wasn't ideal, they
realized he had substantial appeal beyond what more reliable tools like
Paul Ryan and Mike Pence could ever dream of. Perhaps some recognized the
downside of running a flamboyant moron, but even so they've managed to
overcome incredible embarrassments before and bounce right back: witness
the Tea Party outburst and their triumphant 2010 election just two years
after GW Bush oversaw the meltdown of the entire economy. So Trump proves
to be a complete disaster? They'll steal what they can while they can,
maybe lose an election, and bounce right back as if nothing that happened
was ever their fault.
For more on how they do this, see:
Ari Berman: How the GOP Rigs Elections.
Rachel Wolfe: The awards for 2018's quintessentially American restaurants
all went to immigrants.
Sunday, January 21. 2018
This week marks the first anniversary of Trump's inauguration as
president, or as we're more inclined to note: one year down, three
more to go. Supporters like to tout the economy, especially the
record high stock market -- something which affects few Americans,
but at least partially reflects things Trump has actually done,
like turning a blind eye to corruption, and slashing corporate
tax rates. Supporters also point to low unemployment and marginal
wage growth, two trends that started before Trump but at least
he hasn't wrecked yet. Also, Trump's approval ratings have seen
a slight uptick over the last month, but he is still way under
water, with by far the worst ratings of any first-year president
since they've been measuring. I'm not sure where Herbert Hoover
ranks: by the end of his first year the stock market had crashed
and the Great Depression started, but even three years later,
with conditions worsening, Hoover's vote share was higher than
Trump's approval ratings.
Perhaps economic indicators are overrated? Or maybe it's just
that most people aren't feeling part of the much touted growth?
What little wage growth there has been most likely gets sucked
up by higher prices -- oil, for instance, is up sharply, while
help like food stamps is being cut back. But most likely most of
us have yet to be hit with the full impact of Trump's regulatory
and tax shifts. Moreover, much of what Trump's minions have done
over the last year simply increase risk -- something you may not
notice and won't have to pay for until it's too late. The most
obvious risk is war with North Korea, which hasn't happened but
could break out with shocking speed. Other risks, like withdrawal
from the Paris Accords on global warming, will necessarily play
out slower, but could be even harder to reverse. In between, it's
a pretty sure bet that increasing inequality and deregulation will
create financial bubbles which will burst and turn into recession.
Other instances of risk increase include EPA changes which will
increase pollution, changes to Obamacare which will reduce the
number of people insured, and continued reduction of educational
opportunities -- as the future becomes ever more dependent on
people with technical skills, those skills will become rarer
(well, except for immigrants, but Trump's working on curtailing
Some scattered links this week:
Matthew Yglesias: The government is shutting down because Donald Trump
doesn't know what he's doing: The basic argument is that Trump
precipitated the government shutdown by rescinding Obama's DACA order,
setting the enforcement clock at six months to provide pressure on
Congress to do something. However, the Republicans who run Congress
don't want to do anything, and their opposition makes it impossible
for Democrats to advance any legislation, even when it has support of
most Americans and enough Republicans to create a majority. There's
little reason to think Democrats would choose to disrupt government
simply to force action on DACA, but for twenty years now Republicans
have routinely used the threat of shutdown to coerce concessions,
and even now they have various schemes up their sleeves -- Trump, in
particular, saw this as an opportunity to sneak funding for his Great
Wall through. As Yglesias points out, Trump has made this worse by
being totally unclear about his own goals and intentions.
Other Yglesias pieces:
Trump's biggest weakness is on regular policy issues.
And that's the reality of Trumpism. His immigration policies are contrary
to the tangible interests of most Americans, and all the rest of his
policies are too. Here are a few policy stories from January alone:
- Trump is opening coastal waters to offshore drilling, even in states
whose Republican governors don't want it (to say nothing of states whose
Democratic governors don't).
- Trump's Consumer Financial Protection Bureau announced plans to go
easier on payday lenders with new, laxer rules down the road and generous
- Trump also offered waivers from full regulatory sanctions for a bunch
of banks that have been convicted of crimes, including the German giant
Deutsche Bank, to which he is personally in debt.
- Three-quarters of the National Parks Advisory Board quit, citing
Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke's "inexcusable" stewardship of precious
- We learned that America has 3.2 million more uninsured people than
it did a year ago despite a growing economy, as the Trump administration
rolls out a broad suite of Medicaid cuts.
It's a fallacy to think that Trump's various antics are a deliberate
effort to distract attention from these policy issues. A president who
was capable of planning and executing a political master plan wouldn't
be looking at a 39 percent approval rating amid good economic conditions.
It is true, however, that discussing Trump primarily as a personality,
a media phenomenon, and a locus of culture war politics puts a kind of
floor under his support. By contrast, there's basically no constituency
at all for Trump's anti-Medicaid agenda, with only 22 percent of Republicans
saying they want to see cuts to the program.
Donald Trump's terrifying plan to win the 2018 midterms.
Congressional Republicans think Donald Trump's sloth and ignorance is
a feature, not a bug: "A weak, easy-to-manipulate president is what
they want." A nice rundown here of recent cases where Trump started to
zag off course only to have his Republican minders turn him around.
Some other links on the shutdown:
A couple more thoughts, which occurred to me while reading Krugman
but nothing specific there. The constitutional system of checks and
balances was set up before anyone had any inkling that there would
be political parties, much less that party blocs could distort or
even scam the system. The first such flaw was made obvious by the
1800 election, and was quickly patched over by amendment. But later
flaws have been harder to fix, especially when becomes committed to
exploiting a flaw -- e.g., the Republicans have elected four minority
presidents since 1860, versus zero for the Democrats. Up into the
1980s there was a fair amount of bipartisan trading in Congress,
mostly because both parties had overlapping minorities -- liberal
Republicans and conservative Democrats. Since then, Republicans
have captured nearly every right- (or center-) leaning Democratic
constituency, and Republicans have adopted internal caucus rules
that encourage block voting. After 2008, Republicans took advantage
of every parliamentary trick Congress (especially the Senate) had
to obstruct efforts by the Democrats -- getting their way almost
all of the time. Now, with razor-thin majorities in Congress, they
expect to get their way all of the time, even when they're trying
to pass enormously unpopular programs -- something they have no
qualms or inhibitions about. Those checks always favored inaction
over change, which generally suited conservatives, but for the
nonce seems about the only recourse Democrats have left, lest the
Republicans complete their destruction of liberal democracy -- if
the stakes were less you'd never see Democrats holding out anywhere
near as tenaciously as Republicans did against Obama.
The other thing I've noticed is that the Republicans have really
mastered the art of being the opposition party, obstructing and
haranguing the Democrats and, given the public's deep cynicism
about politicians, they've managed to avoid any responsibility for
their role in Washington dysfunction. I suspect that one reason
Trump won was that the American people wanted to spare themselves
another four years of relentless Clinton-bashing. On the other
hand, what's worked so well in opposition has done nothing to
prepare the Republicans for ruling responsibly. Rather, they've
kept up the same old demagoguery, the only difference being that
as the party in power they find it more profitable to sell off
favors. A year ago some significant number of voters evidently
believed that Clinton would be more corrupt than Trump -- either
because Trump had no track record in politics, or because the
Clinton had faithfully served their donors for decades. What
this past year has proven is that Trump has not only taken over
the swamp, he's made it more fetid than ever.
Kate Aronoff: Stunning Special Election in Wisconsin Shows Scott Walker's
Foxconn Deal Isn't the Political Winner It Was Sold As: A state
senate district Trump won by 20 points just elected a Democrat.
Anna Maria Barry-Jester: There's Been a Massive Shift to the Right in
the Immigration Debate: Headline's a bit overstated. What's happened
is that between Trump and the anti-immigrant faction of the Republican
Party, it's become much harder to get any sort of immigration reform
passed. Meanwhile, the pro-immigration faction of the Democratic Party
has been forced into a corner, fighting a rear-guard battle to salvage
immigration hopes for the most broadly popular segment (the "Dreamers"),
often at the expense of others. But underlying views haven't shifted
so much, if at all -- indeed, it's possible that the public as a whole
is moving slightly more pro-immigrant, in part in reaction to Trump
and his racist outbursts.
Nathan Heller: Estonia, the Digital Republic: By far the most
successful of the former SSRs. Evidently, a big part of their success
is how extensively they've "gone digital," wiring the country together
and making government open and accessible through those wires. Sample
sentence: "Many ambitious techies I met in Tallinn, though, were
leaving industry to go work for the state." -- Which is to say, for
the public. A lot of this has long seemed possible, but isn't done
in the US because the essential degree of trust is inevitably lacking
in a system with predatory capitalism and a coercive police state.
But a tiny country on the Baltic which twenty years ago was dirt
poor can get it together. Interesting.
Elizabeth Kolbert: The Psychology of Inequality: Reports on
various sociological and psychological studies into how people
think about inequality, mostly as summarized by Keith Payne in
his book The Broken Ladder: How Inequality Affects the Way We
Think, Live, and Die. One thing I've noticed from extensive
reading about increasing inequality is that it's easy to recite
the numbers that show what's happening with money, but it's much
harder to translate those numbers to changes to human lives --
and simply fleshing them out with examples still doesn't seem to
work. These studies, in and of themselves, may not be convincing
either, but (like the statistics) they help frame the problem.
An important piece.
Mark Joseph Stern: An Awful Ruling From One of Trump's Worst Judicial
Appointees: "John K Bush's opinion in Peffer v. Stephens
will let the police ransack almost any suspect's home." Remember,
Trump's judges will be around much longer than he will. Just another
long-term consequence of a blind, ignorant, stupid decision last
Matt Taibbi: Forget the Memo -- Can We Worry About the Banks? Also
on that memo, see
Glenn Greenwald/Jon Schwarz: Republicans Have Four Easy Ways
Robin Wright: One Year In, Trump's Middle East Policy Is Imploding:
This makes it sound more coherent than it ever was:
Trump had four goals in the Middle East when he came into office,
beginning with energizing the peace process. The second was wrapping
up the war against the Islamic State launched by his predecessor, in
2014. The third was checking Iran's influence in the region and wringing
out new concessions on its nuclear program. The fourth was deepening
support for a certain type of Arab leader, notably Egypt's President,
Abdel Fattah El-Sisi, and the Saudi royal family.
Moreover, the people tasked with these jobs (e.g., Jared Kushner),
show how little care or thought went into the plan. Actually, you
could reduce these four ventures into a single directive: do whatever
pro-Israeli donors tell you to do. Israel-Palestine peace prospects
have been a complete bust, and Trump's vow to remember who voted
against the US at the UN will further strain relationships. Even
with Trump's full support, the Saudis' adventures are bogged down
everywhere. Trump's sniping at Iran has provoked protests, but none
of the other parties want to break or change the deal, and there is
no evidence that Iran is in violation of it. The war against ISIS
may seem like more of a success: the US has helped to drive ISIS out
of Iraq and its major strongholds in Syria, but that just means that
the conditions that allowed ISIS to emerge -- the power vacuum in
Syria and the sectarian regime in Iraq -- have been reset. Maybe if
Trump had negotiated a resolution to Syria's civil war the former
ISIS area would stabilize, but Trump and Tillerson have failed to
negotiate a single treaty -- indeed, they don't seem to have any
desire, inclination or skill to do so. The result is that not just
in the Middle East but everywhere US relations with world powers
have become more strained and dangerous.
For more on Yemen, see:
Nicolas Niarchos: How the U.S. Is Making the War in Yemen Worse.
Sunday, January 14. 2018
After Trump made his "shit-hole countries" comment, Matt Taibbi asked
on Twitter whether any president had previously said anything comparable.
Not sure what he found out. My own first thought was that Thomas Jefferson
probably said something less succinct but roughly equivalent about Haiti,
and such views were probably very common among American politicians --
certainly as long as slaveholders remained in power, and probably much
later. Indeed, GW Bush's critique of "nation building" was pointedly
directed at Haiti, and the Clinton operation Bush so disparaged was
primarily instigated to stem the influx of refugees from Haiti's
dictatorship. (Indeed, it was Clinton who converted Guantanamo from
a navy base into a prison "holding tank" for Haitian refugees.)
But I do want to share one example I picked up from a tweet (by
Remi Brulin). This is
evidently from a transcript of a conversation between Nixon and
Kissinger, from May 4, 1972:
President: I'll see that the United States does not lose. I'm putting
it quite bluntly. I'll be quite precise. South Vietnam may lose. But
the United States cannot lose. Which means, basically, I have made my
decision. Whatever happens to South Vietnam, we are going to cream
North Vietnam. . . . For once, we've got to use the maximum power of
this country . . . against this shit-ass little country, to win the
war. . . . The only place where you and I disagree . . . is with
regard to the bombing. You're so goddamned concerned about the
civilians and I don't give a damn. I don't care.
Kissinger: I'm concerned about the civilians because I don't want
the world to be mobilized against you as a butcher . . .
Some scattered links this week:
Matthew Yglesias: The 4 most important stories in politics this week:
Trump scuttled a DACA deal; CHIP got cheaper but still didn't pass; Trump
said some things; Arizona's Senate race heated up. Other Yglesias
Arizona's already very complicated Senate race, explained.
Tuesday's DACA negotiation stunt showed how dangerously we've lowered
the bar for Trump.
There's something more than a little pointless about the mental fitness
debate. Trump is, for better or worse, now pursuing an utterly orthodox
Republican Party approach on every policy issue under the sun. Ultimately,
Trump's slothful work habits and boundless incuriosity are more a problem
for that party's leaders than for anyone else. If their considered judgment
is that this policy agenda is better pursued by a lazy, ignorant cable news
addict than by Mike Pence, that's really their problem.
The agenda itself, however, is a problem. . . .
On a policy level, however, Ike Brannon and Logan Albright of the Cato
Institute have concluded that "deporting the approximately 750,000 people
currently in the DACA program would be over $60 billion to the federal
government along with a $280 billion reduction in economic growth over
the next decade."
Of course, there is no realistic way that all 750,000 DACA recipients
will be deported, but losing legal authorization to live and work in the
United States will hurt them nonetheless by forcing them out of the
legitimate labor market and into the shadows. A report compiled this
summer by the Center for American Progress concluded that obtaining
DACA protection raised recipients' wages by 69 percent on average, and
it stands to reason that losing it would cause a large-scale reversal
with concomitant negative effects for GDP growth, productivity, and
With the economy finally enjoying low unemployment (as Trump likes
to brag), there is no conceivable upside to deporting a large group of
young, well-educated workers who are contributing meaningfully to the
American economy. Which is precisely why Republicans keep teasing their
willingness to offer them some legislative relief. But instead of doing
the right thing for the country, the GOP is hung up on the idea of using
the DACA issue as leverage to jam up the Democrats and either extract
some concessions on other immigration issues or force the party into an
internecine argument about whether they are doing enough for the DREAMers.
Trump is mad that "Sneaky Dianne Feinstein" debunked a key Republican
theory on Trump and Russia.
Newly released Senate testimony debunks a key conservative theory on
Trump and Russia.
Donald Trump's phony war with the press, explained.
Filing your taxes on a postcard isn't going to happen.
Thomas Frank: Paul Krugman got the working class wrong. That had
consequences: Frank's been pushing a line about how white blue-collar
workers have been flocking to the Republican Party at least since his
2004 book What's the Matter With Kansas?, while Krugman has
preferred to point out that base support for the Republicans comes
from above-average income families. I've tended to agree with Krugman
on this for two reasons: one is that the data generally shows support
for Republicans -- even Trump -- is more upscale; the other is that
I've felt that the urban professionals Democrats have tried to appeal
to lately have been too quick to discard or ignore the white working
class, and this blunts their understanding of inequality. Still, if
the trend has gotten worse -- and Trump's election argues that it has --
this is largely because Frank is right about the corrosive effects of
the New Democrats' appeal to urban elitism. Moreover, it matters not
just because it's cost the Democrats some critical elections; it's
one problem that would be relatively straightforward to fix. For
Joan C Williams: Liberal elite, it's time to strike a deal with the
Greg Grandin: The Death Cult of Trumpism:
Trump won by running against the entire legacy of the postwar order:
endless war, austerity, "free trade," unfettered corporate power, and
inequality. A year into his tenure, the war has expanded, the Pentagon's
budget has increased, and deregulation has accelerated. Tax cuts will
continue the class war against the poor, and judicial and executive-agency
appointments will increase monopoly rule.
Unable to offer an alternative other than driving the existing agenda
forward at breakneck speed, Trumpism's only chance at political survival
is to handicap Earth's odds of survival. Trump leverages tribal resentment
against an emerging manifest common destiny, a true universalism that
recognizes that we all share the same vulnerable planet. He stokes an
enraged refusal of limits, even as those limits are recognized. "We're
going to see the end of the world in our generation," a coal-country
voter said in a recent Politico profile, explaining what he knows is
his dead-end support for Trump.
Glenn Greenwald: The Same Democrats Who Denounce Donald Trump as a
Lawless, Treasonous Authoritarian Just Voted to Give Him Vast Warrantless
Spying Powers: The House passed a bill to renew NSA's warrantless
eavesdropping on American citizens, rejecting an amendment to at least
require a warrant. Among the bill's backers were Nancy Pelosi and the
House Democratic leadership, including many who have spent much of the
last year arguing that Trump is in league with Putin. For more, see:
John Nichols: Democratic Defections Allow an Assault on Civil Liberties
to Pass the House.
Sean Illing: Richard Rorty's prescient warnings for the American left:
Rorty died in 2007, and this is mostly picked up from his 1998 book
Achieving Our Country, a time when what was probably America's
largest "left" organization, Move On, was preoccupied with defending
President Bill Clinton from impeachment charges based on lies about
his consensual but inappropriate sex with a White House intern. That
wasn't what you'd call a high water point for the American left. Sure,
we might have found ourselves in the same lame position in 2017 had
Hillary Clinton been elected president, but while her loss has been
a setback for mainstream liberals, it has done wonders to clarify why
we need a principled and ambitious left. As such, events have rendered
Rorty's book obsolete. Two problems here: first is that Rorty's task --
to explain why the left in America had become atrophied and ineffective --
has been rendered academic by the renascent left; and second, his answer
turns out not to have been a very good one. He tries to argue that the
problem is that the "reformist left," which had accomplished so many
important reforms from 1900 to 1964, gave way to a "cultural left,"
which abandoned effective politics as it retreated into academia to
focus on cultural matters. He starts critiquing the latter by charging
that the new left was hostile to "anyone opposed to communism -- including
Democrats, union workers, and technocrats." Makes you wonder whether he
was paying any attention at all: in the first place, what distinguished
the new left from the old was its rejection of the Soviet Union (and its
Trotskyite and Maoist critics) as the model and exemplar of socialism.
Still, it is true that the new left were critical of US practice in the
Cold War -- especially the practice of Democratic Party leaders like
presidents Truman, Kennedy, and Johnson. The all-important fact is that
the fundamental directive of the Cold War was to undermine labor and
anti-colonial movements around the world and ultimately within the US
itself. The fact is that Democrats failed to support unions as business
waged an unrelenting struggle to contain, cripple, and roll back labor
even well before the new left -- and even more so when the New Democrats
rose under Reagan and ruled with Clinton.
I'm getting rather tired of people blaming "the left" for the rise
of the right since the late 1970s. The left has never come anywhere
near the levers of power in the US. At best, the labor movement in
the 1930s, civil rights in the 1960s, antiwar and environment and
women in the 1970s, prodded establishment liberals into making some
reforms to calm down the challenge. And while Democrats have enjoyed
brief periods of power from Carter in 1977 through Obama in 2016, the
ones in power have done damn little to advance the quintessential
left positions: toward more equality, peace, and freedom.
Jonathan M Katz: This is how ignorant you have to be to call Haiti a
'shithole': After overthrowing slavery in 1804, and defeating a
force sent by Napoleon to reclaim the colony. France demanded "reparations"
in 1825, effectively bankrupting Haiti for the rest of the 19th century.
After that, the Americans entered, invading Haiti in 1915 and occupying
the country until 1934, returning periodically through CIA coups and
other acts, with full-scale military invasions in 1994 and 2004.
Some more relevant links here:
Mike Konczal: 3 Reasons Why Republicans Will Let the Rich Abuse the Tax
Code. Also by Konczal:
Trump Is Creating a Grifter Economy.
Andrew Prokop: Wall Street Journal: Trump's lawyer arranged for $130,000
in hush money for an ex-porn star.
Corey Robin: If authoritarianism is looming in the US, how come Donald
Trump looks so weak? Offers a cautionary note on the temptation to
compare Trump to Hitler, that other notorious racist demagogue who came
into power through a crooked back door deal. As Robin points out, the
big difference is that a year after seizing power Hitler had consolidated
his control to the point where he had thousands of opponents locked up
in concentration camps, whereas Trump's most public opponents headline
high-rating television shows and are looking forward to massive election
wins later this year. Maybe you can liken ICE under Trump to the Gestapo,
but their charter is so limited few Americans give them a second thought.
I have no doubt but that the Republican Party, with its gerrymanders and
voter suppression and psychological research and propaganda machine, has
taken a profoundly anti-democratic turn -- I've been reading Nancy McLean's
brilliant and deeply disturbing Democracy in Chains: The Deep History
of the Radical Right's Stealth Plan for America -- and I'm sure Trump
would score very high on Theodor Adorno's
F-Scale (a measure of "authoritarian personality" developed right
after WWII). And, sure, MAGA has overtones similar to Thousand-Year
Reich, but Republicans are more interested in smashing and stripping
the state than building it up its power. Trump may blunder his way
into nuclear war, but he isn't about to conquer the world. Trump's
nationalism is peculiarly hollow. Even his racism comes off more as
bad manners than as a coherent belief. I'm not one to belittle how
much real damage he is doing, but we shouldn't overstate it either.
Still, I'm extra worried about his threats because America has already
suffered (even if survived) a long series of Republican malefactors,
whose repeated depredations have contributed to the toll Trump adds to.
Robin does us a service to quoting Philip Roth on Nixon in 1974:
Of course there have been others as venal and lawless [as Richard Nixon]
in American politics, but even a Joe McCarthy was more identifiable as
human clay than this guy is. The wonder of Nixon (and contemporary America)
is that a man so transparently fraudulent, if not on the edge of mental
disorder, could ever have won the confidence and approval of a people who
generally require at least a little something of the 'human touch' in
Tierney Sneed: How Kris Kobach Has Created a Giant Headache for the Trump
Emily Stewart: Hawaii's missile scare "reminds us how precarious the
nuclear age is": For nearly a year now Trump and Kim Jong Un have
been taunting one another about nuclear war, setting an ominous context
for Saturday's false alarm of a "ballistic missilb threat inbound to
Hawaii." Also see (posted before the Hawaii event)
Robert Andersen/Martin J Sherwin: Nuclear war became more likely this
week -- here's why.
Stewart also wrote:
Gamer who made "swatting" call over video game dispute now facing
manslaughter charges: This is a local Wichita story. While I
believe that the guy who called in the false report that resulted
in deployment of a SWAT team and the killing of a totally innocent
man is some kind of criminal act, there's been no mention in the
local press whatsoever of the SWAT cop who actually fired the shot.
The fact that only one cop fired underscores how unclear it was
that anyone needed to shoot. I've also seen no discussion of
whether it's reasonable policy to dispatch an entire SWAT team
to a situation where there has been no on-site investigation
to determine that such a response is appropriate -- in this
case it clearly wasn't. Speaking of Wichita, also note this story:
Wichita Police Officer's Shot Misses Dog, Injures Girl. This
was in response to a "domestic dispute," but the man and woman
weren't even in the room when, for some unexplained reason (or,
I suppose, none) a cop decided to shoot the dog. He missed, the
bullet richocheted, and the girl was hit.
More fallout from Michael Wolff's Fire and Fury:
Sunday, January 7. 2018
Started collecting the Yglesias links and Taibbi on Wolff last night,
and this is as far as I got today. Of Yglesias' big four stories, I left
oil drilling, anti-pot enforcement, and the Pakistan aid cut on the
floor: mostly didn't run across anything very good on those subjects,
although that's partly because it seems like my source trawling has
taken a big hit (especially since Paul Woodward's
WarInContext went on hiatus).
That leaves a bunch on the Wolff book, the unseemly end of the Kobach
Commission, and some Iran links. Oh, and dumb Trump tricks, but that's
Of the missing stories (and, of course, there are many more than
the "known unknowns"), the break with Pakistan seems likely to be
most fateful. Americans have bitched since 2002 that they're not
getting their money's worth in Pakistan, but Pervez Musharraf's
turn against the Taliban was never popular there, especially with
the ISI, and only a combination of sticks and carrots made the move
at all palatable. It remains to be seen whether Trump removing the
carrots will tip the balance, but renewed Pakistani support for the
Taliban could make the US stake in Afghanistan much more precarious --
at worst it might provoke a major US escalation there, with pressure
to attack Pakistan's border territories ("sanctuaries"), with a real
risk of igniting a much larger conflagration. Probably won't come to
that, but Pakistan is a country with more than 200 million people,
with a large diaspora (especially in the UK), with nuclear weapons,
with a military which has fought three major wars with India and
remains more than a little paranoid on that front.
The reasonable solution for Arghanistan is to try to negotiate
some sort of loose federation which allows the Taliban to share
power, especially in the Pashtun provinces where it remains popular,
while the US military exits gracefully. This is unlikely to happen
because the Trump administration has no clue how diplomacy works
and no desire to find out. Pakistan could be a useful intermediary,
so cutting them out seems like a short-sighted move. But it is a
trademark Trump move: rash, unconsidered, prone to violence with no
regard for consequences; cf. Syria, Libya, Somalia, Palestine, North
Korea. It's only a matter of time before one of those bites back
Same is basically true of the offshore oil leases, but probably
on a slower time schedule. It will take several years before anyone
starts drilling, and there will be a lot of litigation along the
way. But eventually some of those offshore rigs will blow up and
spread oil all over tourist beaches in Florida and/or California.
Some people will make money, at least short-term, and some will be
hit with losses in the longer term, but at least it will mostly be
money. That matters a lot to Trump, but less so to you and me.
Less clear what the marijuana prosecution impact will be. In
theory Sessions just kicked the ball down to local US attorneys,
who can choose to prosecute cases or not. But a year ago Sessions
initiated a purge and replaced all of Obama's prosecutors with his
own, so it's likely that at least some of them will take the bait
and try to make names for themselves. Meanwhile, politicization of
the Department of Justice keeps ratcheting up. Trump and Congressional
Republicans have renewed attacks on Sessions for failing to protect
Trump from the Mueller investigation, and they've gone further to
question the political loyalties of the FBI. Meanwhile the courts
are increasingly being filled up with Republican hacks. The net
result of all this is that people on all sides are coming to view
"justice" in America as a vehicle of partisan patronage. It's going
to be hard to restore trust in law once it's been abused so severely
by goons like Trump and Sessions.
I haven't written much about the whole Russia situation. A big part
early on was the fear that neocons were just using it to whip up a new
cold war, which is something they were very keen on at least as early
as 2001, when Bush took office and Yeltsin gave way to Putin. With his
KGB background, it's always been easy to paint Putin as bearing Cold
War grudges, even more so as a master of underhanded tactics -- most
egregiously, I think, in his reopening of the Chechen War. The Cold
War was very good for the defense industry, and generally bad for the
American people (as well as many others around the world), so I regard
any effort to reignite it as dastardly.
The neocons had modest success doing so during the Obama years,
especially with recent sanctions in response to the Russia annexing
Crimea and, allegedly, supporting separatists in eastern Ukraine.
Hillary Clinton was especially vociferous at Russia-baiting, so it
was no surprise that Putin favored her opponent. Trump himself had
pitched numerous business ventures to Russian oligarchs, so he must
have seemed to Putin like someone to deal with. Indeed, there seems
to have been mutual attraction between many Republicans and Putin,
possibly based on the former's admiration of strong men and contempt
for democracy. It's worth noting that Russia is the only country
where the ultra-rich have profited more inequally since 2000 than
the United States.
The second major reason for resisting the post-election claims of
Russian interference has been how it was used by Clinton dead-enders
as an excuse for losing the 2016 election. Their desperation to blame
anyone but the candidate has blinded them to the real lessons of the
campaign's failure. (Presumably I don't need to reiterate them here.)
A third reason, I reckon, is the hypocrisy of blaming Russia while
ignoring Israel's much more pervasive involvement in US elections:
I've seen numerous liberals describe Trump as "Putin's bitch" (most
recently in Dawn Oberg's song, "Nothing Rhymes With Orange"), but
if Trump's anyone's bitch, it's Netanyahu's (or more directly,
Sheldon Adelson's -- who, as Philip Weiss notes in the link below
put more money into the campaign than Trump himself did).
On the other hand, the "Russiagate" story is sticking, and
lately the focus has shifted to culprits one feels no sympathy
whatsoever for. The problem isn't really collusion: Trump's
people were very sloppy about their meetings with Russians,
but they were sloppy and inept in pretty much everything they
did. On the other hand, it sure looks like they would have
colluded had they figured out how, and they were aware enough
that they were overstepping bounds to lie about it afterwards --
greatly increasing their culpability. It's also clear that Flynn
and Manafort had their own Russian deals, which wound up looking
worse than they initially were after they joined the campaign.
What Russia actually did to tilt the election toward Trump
wasn't much -- certainly cost-wise it's a small drop in the
ocean of money agents working for Adelson and the Kochs spent
to get Trump elected. It would be a mistake to play up Russia's
hacking genius, just as one shouldn't underestimate the effect
of AFP's grassroots organizing. Elections are run in a crooked
world -- even more so since the Citizens United ruling unlocked
all that "dark money" -- but one thing that Clinton really can't
complain about is not having enough money to compete.
On the other hand, what "Russiagate" is making increasingly clear
is the utter contempt that Donald Trump and (increasingly) the whole
Republican Party have for law, justice, truth, and fairness. I don't
hold any fondness for James Comey, whose own handling of the Clinton
email server case was shameless political hackery, and I've actively
disliked Robert Mueller for decades -- ever since he prosecuted that
ridiculous Ohio 7 sedition case (which my dear friend, the late
Elizabeth Fink, was a successful defense counsel on). But Trump's
interference in their jobs has been blatantly self-serving -- if
not technically obstruction of justice easily conveying that intent.
We seem to only be a short matter of time until Trump's contempt
becomes too blatant to ignore, and while I doubt that will phase
his Republican enablers or his most fervently blinkered base, it
should at least help bury his awful political agenda.
Meanwhile, here are some other ways Trump has stunk up last week:
Matthew Yglesias: Trump's week of feuds with Bannon, Pakistan, marijuana
smokers, and ocean waters, explained: Trump broke ties with Steve
Bannon; Trump opened up huge areas to offshore drilling; Trump is cracking
down on marijuana; Trump is cutting off aid to Pakistan. Trump breaking
with Bannon doesn't amount to much, but Bannon will struggle for a while
without the Mercers' money. Basically what happened there was that Bannon's
always been a side bet for them, useful for electing Trump but unnecessary
with Trump in office, able to further their graft. The oil drilling story
is a prime example of graft under Trump, while the other two are cases
where ideology and arrogance threaten to blow things up. Other Yglesias
The Steele dossier, explained, with Andrew Prokop.
Cory Gardner showed how Senate Republicans could check Trump if they
2018 is the year that will decide if Trumpocracy replaces American
democracy: Two takeaway points here: one is that despite all of the
chaos surrounding him, Trump has consolidated effective power within the
Republican Party, such that opposing him in any significant way marks
one has a heretic and traitor; the second is that if Republicans are not
rebuffed in the 2018 elections Trump's control will harden and become
even more flagrant and dangerous. Yglesias gets a little carried away
on the latter point, at one point noting that "even Adolf Hitler was
dismissed by many as a buffoon" -- Trump's megalomania is comparatively
fickle and suffused with greed, making African dictators like Idi Amin
and Mobutu closer role models. He also fails to note the key point:
that in all substantive respects, it was Trump who surrendered to the
orthodox Republicans. Trump didn't bend anyone to his will; he merely
proved himself to be a useful tool of movement conservatism, which in
turn agreed to provide him cover for his personal graft. In some ways,
this makes the Republicans more vulnerable in 2018, if Democrats can
convince voters that the Party and the President are one.
The scary reality behind Trump's long Tuesday of weird tweets: "He's
relying on Fox News for all his information." Of course, that was equally
true before he became president. Back during the campaign, I noted that
he didn't engage in didn't follow Republican custom in couching his racism
in "dog whistle" terms because he wasn't a "whistler," he was a "dog."
Among Republican rank-and-file, his lack of subtlety and cleverness was
taken as authenticity and conviction, even though he merely echoed the
coarseness he heard on Fox. Of course, one might reasonably expect a
responsible statesman to seek out more reliable information, even if
as a politician he chooses to bend it to his own purposes. But Trump
lacks such skills, and would probably just get confused trying to sort
out the truth. Sticking with Fox no doubt makes his life easier, but
makes ours more dangerous.
Esme Cribb: Trump: 'Ronald Reagan Had the Same Problem' as Me With 'Fake
News': Actually, Reagan had the same problem with facts, with truth,
although even Reagan knew when to throw in the towel. After all, what was
his Iran-Contra quote? "A few months ago I told the American people I did
not trade arms for hostages. My heart and my best intentions tell me that's
true, but the facts and evidence tell me it is not." As Matt Taibbi notes
(see link below), Reagan was cognitively impaired well before he was
diagnosed with Alzheimer's: e.g., the CIA used to shoot movies to brief
Reagan on world leaders, finding that the only way to get his attention.
Still, no previous president has shown so little regard for facts or so
much hostility to honest investigation so early in his term as Trump.
While it's possible that age-related cognitive impairment may contribute
to this, it strikes me as overly charitable to blame mental illness.
From early on, Trump was a liar and scoundrel, a spoiled one given his
inherited wealth, and he's only gotten worse as he's gotten caught up
in his many intrigues.
Josh Marshall (see
Is President Trump Mentally Ill? It Doesn't Matter) adds this comment:
All the diagnosis of a mental illness could tell us is that Trump might
be prone to act in ways that we literally see him acting in every day:
impulsive, erratic, driven by petty aggressions and paranoia, showing
poor impulsive control, an inability to moderate self-destructive behavior.
He is frequently either frighteningly out of touch with reality or
sufficiently pathological in his lying that it is impossible to tell.
Both are very bad.
John Feffer: Trump and Neocons Are Exploiting an Iran Protest Movement
They Know Nothing About: I don't doubt that most Iranians have good
reason to assemble and protest against their government, indeed their
entire political system, and indeed as an American I sympathize with the
rights of people everywhere to organize and petition their governments
for change. But Washington pols habitually play their kneejerk games,
touting dissent against so-called enemies while overlooking suppression
of dissent by so-called allies, showing their own motives to be wholly
cynical. Thus, American support for protests in Iran immediately taints
those protesters as pro-American and anti-Iranian. (Nor are we just
talking about Trump, who has become little more than an Israeli-Saudi
puppet on Iran; Hillary Clinton was also quick to support the Iranian
masses against theocracy, jumping to the conclusion that their goals
are the same as her own.) For more, see
Trita Parsi: These Are the Real Causes of the Iran Protests;
Simon Tisdall: Iran unrest: it's the economy, stupid, not a cry for
freedom or foreign plotters; and
Sanam Vakil: How Donald Trump's tweets help Iran's supreme leader.
German Lopez: Trump has disbanded his voter fraud commission, blaming
state resistance and
Trump's voter fraud commission, explained: Presidential commissions
have long been a method for addressing matters of broad and/or deep
concern. Lyndon Johnson, for instance, convened two of the more famous
ones: the Warren Commission to investigate the assassination of John
F. Kennedy, and the Kerner Commission on domestic violence (i.e., the
"race riots" of 1965-68). They've rarely proved very satisfactory,
although the commission investigating the Challenger NASA disaster
(famously including physicist Richard Feynman) did appear to get to
the bottom of the story. But Obama's sop to the deficit hawks, the
Simpson-Bowles commission, proved to be biased and useless. There
were some suggestions that Trump should have appointed a commission
to investigate Russian interference in the 2016 election, but (not by
choice) he wound up with a special prosecutor instead. One area where
a commission might be useful would be to look into immigration laws
and patterns, to try to clear away many of the popular myths on the
subject, and try to come up with a sensible balance between all the
competing interests and views. (Of course, had Trump done that, he
would have stacked the deck supporting his own prejudices, thereby
losing any possibility of building consensus.) Instead, the one (and
only) problem Trump decided to be worthy of a presidential commission
was the vanishingly tiny question of voter fraud. This was widely
viewed as a vehicle for Kansas Secretary of State (and ALEC busybody)
Kris Kobach, who appeared on Trump's doorstep with a folder full of
schemes -- this appears to be the one that struck Trump's fancy: as
the article makes clear, "the voter fraud myth has been used repeatedly
to suppress voters." And few things have been more evident over recent
decades than Republican efforts to undermine the popular vote. Indeed,
that makes perfect sense, given that the Republican agenda heaps favors
on the rich and powerful while undermining the vast majority -- people
who could rise up and vote them out of office if only the Democrats
offered a credible alternative.
Jeff Sparrow: Milo Yiannopoulos's draft and the role of editors in
dealing with the far-right.
Michael Wolff: Donald Trump Didn't Want to Be President: An excerpt
from Wolff's new book, Fire and Fury: Inside the Trump White House,
Amazon's #1 bestseller and the talk of Washington (except on Fox News)
this past week. The excerpt runs from election night to a few months past
inauguration -- Priebus and Bannon are still on board at the end, but
probably not Flynn -- but the title focuses on election night, when "the
unexpected trend" shook Trump, who "looked as if he had seen a ghost.
Melania was in tears -- and not of joy."
Some other pieces on the book:
Matthew d'Ancona: Fire and Fury? Maybe Donald Trump is only just getting
started. Minor point, but I've reached for Shakespear analogies as
well, though I doubt it's possible to dumb the Bard down far enough.
At times, Trump roars in the manner of the world's stupidest King Lear,
as Ivanka stumbles behind him, a clueless Cordelia. Bannon makes a fine
Iago, alongside a rep company of useless aides rotating as Rosencrantz
Jonathan Freedland: Fire and Fury confirms our worst fears -- about the
Republicans: Well, it should, but not for the reasons Freeland gives:
an old gripe that "moderate Republicans" aren't willing to stand up to
deranged Trump and restore sanity to their party and nation. Rather, the
book -- like numerous public reports -- shows a leader incapable of
original thought or independent action, and therefore a usable (albeit
imperfect) tool for party hacks, to go about their business of showing
us that what we really should fear isn't crazy Trump for their own sober
Michelle Goldberg: Everyone in Trumpworld Knows He's an Idiot.
Lloyd Green: Fire and Fury: Inside the Trump White House review -- tell-all
Jen Kirby: 8 ways Fire and Fury brings back the cringe of Sean Spicer in
the White House.
Peter Maass: Enough About Steve Bannon. Rupert Murdoch's Influence on
Donald Trump Is More Dangerous.
Andrew Prokop: The controversy around Michael Wolff's gossipy new Trump
Maryam Saleh: Trump on Saudi Leadership Shake-Up: "We've Put Our Man on
William Saletan: What Michael Wolff Got Right About Donald Trump:
That Trump makes more sense once you recognize that he never really wanted
to win: he was just garnering publicity, building up his brand, so he
could exploit it after the rigged election installed Crooked Hillary.
Emily Stewart: Trump tweets that he's a genius and "a very stable genius
Matt Taibbi: Why Michael Wolff's Book is Good News: Takes some solace
in Trump's incompetence underming his malevolent impulses: "Trump could
be cunning, focused and bursting with willpower, in addition to being a
gross, ignorant pig. We can only hope that Wolff is right that he isn't
Philip Weiss: A foreign leader -- Netanyahu -- set Trump's agenda in
Middle East, Michael Wolff book says.
Richard Wolffe: Trump's Bannon outburst removes any shred of presidential
decorum: Maybe the book offers more reason for Trump to strike back
at Bannon, but the excerpt (link above) doesn't feature Bannon as either
a major source or major player, so it's not clear what got under Trump's
skin. Bannon does have enemies both in the White House and elsewhere in
the GOP, so maybe they got to Trump first, and that was enough to provoke
the tantrum. Wolffe himself notes: "The trigger for the outburst is in
fact Trump's trigger-happy nature."
Monday, January 1. 2018
As 2017 ends, I'm reminded of how sick to my stomach I was election
night 2016 -- I normally stay up past 4AM, so pretty much the whole
weight of the catastrophe was clear before I tried to sleep. At that
point I could predict a whole series of unfortunate future events. In
that regard, I haven't been especially surprised by what Trump and the
Republicans have done in 2017. They've pretty much lived up to the
threat they clearly posed -- the main surprises coming in the form of
comic excess, like cabinet secretaries Betsy DeVos, Rick Perry, and
Ben Carson. Trump himself has proven to be even more of a bloviating
buffoon than he was during the campaign. And his scatterbrained reign
is succeeding in one important respect where Hillary Clinton's campaign
failed: through his own ineptness, he's making it clear that the real
threat to most Americans these days comes from regular Republicans.
One shouldn't get overoptimistic that Democrats will capitalize on
that point with a resounding electoral win in 2018, but that's not as
much of a fantasy as it was a year ago when Clinton et al. snatched
defeat from what should have been a clearcut victory.
Some scattered links this week:
Umair Irlan/Brian Resnick: Megadisasters devastated America this year.
They're going to get worse. The big ticket items were hurricanes
Harvey, Irma, and Maria, but floods, droughts, tornadoes, wildfires,
and other severe weather took their toll.
Requests for federal disaster aid jumped tenfold compared to 2016,
with 4.7 million people registering with the Federal Emergency
As of October, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration
had counted 15 disasters with damages topping $1 billion, tying 2017
with 2011 for the most billion-dollar disasters in a year to date.
And that was before the California wildfires.
Many people reflexively blame these disasters on climate change,
and there is evidence that some of that is true -- the piece looks
at several such arguments. But the price tag is also rising due to
increasing development, and also due to infrastructure neglect --
the Puerto Rican power grid the most obvious example. The other big
question (not really raised here) is what happens if/when government
fails to cope with disaster costs. Unfortunately, we're bound to
find out the hard way.
Fred Kaplan: The UN Vote on Jerusalem Was a Dramatic Rebuke to Trump
That He Brought on Himself: The UN voted 128-9 (with 35 abstentions)
to "declare null and void the United States' recent recognition of
Jerusalem as the capital of Israel." The US (Trump and Nikki Haley)
responded by throwing a hissy fit:
The rebuke is amplified by the fact that Trump had announced the day
before that he would revoke financial aid for any country that voted
for the resolution. "Let them vote against us," he said at a cabinet
meeting on Wednesday. "We'll save a lot. We don't care. But this isn't
like it used to be where they could vote against you and then you pay
them hundreds of millions of dollars. We're not going to be taken
advantage of any longer."
Trump's U.N. ambassador, Nikki Haley, wrote a letter to other delegates,
warning, "The U.S. will be taking names" during the roll call. "As you
consider your vote," she elaborated, "I encourage you to know the president
and the U.S. take this vote personally. She then tweeted, "At the UN we're
always asked to do more and give more. So, when we make a decision, at the
will of the American ppl, abt where to locate OUR embassy, we don't expect
those we've helped to target us." . . .
The countries that voted for the resolution -- or, as Trump sees it,
against him -- include four of the five biggest recipients of U.S. aid:
Afghanistan, Iraq, Egypt, and Jordan. They also include countries that
Trump has courted since taking office -- Saudi Arabia, Russia, China,
India, Pakistan, and Vietnam. They also include every country in Western
Europe, though Trump might not care about that.
Ezra Klein: Incoherent, authoritarian, uninformed: Trump's New York
Times interview is a scary read. Charles P Pierce has a similar
take on the same interview:
Trump's New York Times Interview Is a Portrait of a Man in Cognitive
Decline. Trump's becoming so incoherent it's impossible to discern
any method in his madness. That may seem alarming, but it's giving too
much credit to the office, assuming the myth of leadership that hasn't
been true for many years. Even highly competent presidents -- Obama,
most clearly, or Clinton or Johnson, or for that matter Eisenhower --
are often prisoners of their administrations, alliances and choices.
Having approved a series of astonishingly bad personnel picks, Trump's
already handed his administration over to its fate, something which
will be increasingly clear as he continues to lose his grip. The best
we can do under these circumstances is to refocus on what his staff
actually do, and recognize the corruption and moral rot it's shot
Paul Krugman: America Is Not Yet Lost: Still, it's been pretty bad:
Many of us came into 2017 expecting the worst. And in many ways, the
worst is what we got.
Donald Trump has been every bit as horrible as one might have expected;
he continues, day after day, to prove himself utterly unfit for office,
morally and intellectually. And the Republican Party -- including so-called
moderates -- turns out, if anything, to be even worse than one might have
expected. At this point it's evidently composed entirely of cynical
apparatchiks, willing to sell out every principle -- and every shred of
their own dignity -- as long as their donors get big tax cuts.
Meanwhile, conservative media have given up even the pretense of doing
real reporting, and become blatant organs of ruling-party propaganda.
Like Yglesias below, Krugman sees hope in the broad popular resistance
that has risen up against Trump and the Republicans. Still:
And even if voters rise up effectively against the awful people currently
in power, we'll be a long way from restoring basic American values. Our
democracy needs two decent parties, and at this point the G.O.P. seems
to be irretrievably corrupt.
Isn't that the rub? The Republicans have clawed their way back into
power, after eight GW Bush years that by any objective standards should
have been totally discrediting, precisely because most Americans (not
just Republicans but many Democrats who supported Clinton) see avarice,
greed, power, and corruption as the American value. That is what
needs to be changed to restore decency to politics, to make democracy
work for all. In that regard, I'd focus more on converting one party
than both. The Republicans will change, as they always have, once the
vast majority recoil against their corruption. But that won't happen
until the people are presented with an honest alternative, which is
what Hillary Clinton somehow failed to do in 2016.
Krugman also wrote:
Republicans Despise the Working Class and
Republicans Despise the Working Class, Continued:
Josh Barro argues that Republicans have forgotten how to talk about tax
cuts. But I think it runs deeper: Republicans have developed a deep
disdain for people who just work for a living, and this disdain shines
through everything they do. This is true both on substance -- the tax
bill heavily favors owners over workers -- and in the way they talk
I think one pretty obvious clue came when Ayn Rand groupie Paul Ryan
gave a Labor Day speech extolling America's entrepreneurs ("job creators")
without even mentioning the people who actually do the work. Such people
regard jobs alternatively as charity or more often as a bottom line loss --
an expense best cut by automation or offshoring.
Sharon Lerner: Banned from the Banking Industry for Life, a Scott Pruitt
Friend Finds a New Home at the EPA: Albert Kelly, head of the EPA's
Superfund program -- a job he has no relevant experience for, unless
Maryam Saleh: One Year of Immigration Under Trump: My first thought
a year ago was that of all the areas Trump could affect as president,
the one he's likely to impact most directly, and most cruelly, is
immigration. Plenty of competition, and some of his efforts have been
partially stymied, but that fear has proven well grounded.
Mitch Smith: Fatal 'Swatting' Episode in Kansas Raises Quandry: Who Is
to Blame? Big story here in Wichita also noted nationwide. A gamer
in Los Angeles called police in Wichita reporting a murder and hostage
situation. Police deployed a SWAT team to the prank address and shot
and killed a resident.
Matthew Yglesias: The political lesson of 2017: resistance works:
No week-in-review piece this week, but this is a fair note to strike
to sum up the past year. Problem, of course, is that while resistance
has halted or slowed down some very bad things, it hasn't won anything
of note, while Trump and the Republicans have pushed lots of things
through that will be hard if even possible to reverse. True, several
attempts at "repeal and replace of Obamacare" failed, but Republicans
still managed to sneak a repeal of the "individual mandate" -- never
very popular but long touted as the cornerstone of any scheme to get
to universal coverage through private insurance -- tacking it onto a
bill that was already overwhelmingly unpopular. Where Democrats are
easily cowed by any hint of unpopularity, Republicans just get more
determined to use the power they have to enact the changes they want,
always figuring they can con the public into giving them more power.
That the electoral tide has shifted is a good sign, but in the short
term will only make them more desperate. The tax bill is a prime example
of taking what you can when you can, with no regard to public opinion.
Indeed, the whole "smash and grab" operation known as the Trump
administration is driven like that.
Other Yglesias pieces:
How to Make Metro Great Again: Tinkering with the DC subway system.
The biggest surprise of Trump's first year is his hard-right economic
policy: About the only "populist" move of Trump's early campaign
was the scorn he heaped on big money donors, a luxury he enjoyed only
so long as he could afford to self-finance his campaign. He eased off
on that late in the campaign, secure that many voters would cut him
some slack compared to the donor queen, Crooked Hillary. There never
was any substance to his "economic populism" -- e.g., look at his tax
cut proposals during the campaign -- and he wasted no time surrendering
all the key economic positions to ultra-rich donors and their lackeys.
Less successfully, he's let orthodox Republicans in Congress run his
legislative agenda; in exchange, they haven't questioned his personal
or political scandals, and more often than not tried to provide him
cover. In the end, he lacks both the moral courage and intellectual
depth to plot his own way. Hence he's turned himself into little more
than a tool, a particularly rusty one at that.
The economy is normal again
Micah Zenko: How Donald Trump Learned to Love War in 2017: Well, seems
to be an inescapable part of the job. In his first year, Obama may not have
come to love war -- at least not as ardently as GW Bush in his first year --
but he was well on the way to becoming an enthusiastic participant. Hillary
Clinton tried to convince us that she, and not Trump, the one truly prepared
to be Commander-in-Chief, but all it takes is deference to the top brass to
get passing marks in that test -- something she should have remembered as
it was key to husband Bill's embrace of the military in his first war-loving
year. The hope some had for Trump was that he would push his fondness for
business deals ahead of the failed neocon agenda and realize that customary
rivals like Iran, Russia, China, and even North Korea could be turned into
business opportunities, benefiting American investors (if not workers).
In reality, the Donald Trump administration has demonstrated no interest
in reducing America's military commitments and interventions, nor committed
itself in any meaningful way to preventing conflicts or resolving them.
Moreover, as 2017 wraps up, the trend lines are actually running in the
opposite direction, with no indication that the Trump administration has
the right membership or motivation to turn things around.
President Trump has maintained or expanded the wars that he inherited
from his predecessor.
As Jennifer Wilson and I pointed out in an appropriately titled
column in August, "Donald Trump Is Dropping Bombs at Unprecedented
Levels." Within eight months of assuming office, Trump -- with the
announcement of six "precision aistrikes" in Libya -- had bombed every
country that former President Barack Obama had in eight years. One month
after that, the United States surpassed the 26,172 bombs that had been
dropped in 2016. Through the end of December 2017, Trump had authorized
more airstrikes in Somalia in one year (33), than George W. Bush and
Obama had since the United States first began intervening there in early
The growth in airstrikes was accompanied by a more than proportional
increase in civilian deaths, . . . But as the volume of airstrikes and
deaths increased, the Trump administration has subsequently made no
progress in winding down America's wars. Moreover, it doesn't even
pretend that the United States should play any role in supporting
While Obama was campaigning, he liked to say that he wants to
change the way we think about war, but in remarkably short time it
was he who changed his thinking. Trump scarcely had any thinking
to change. His instinct to give the generals unstinting support
locked him into Obama's failing wars. The Russia collusion scandal
precludes any opening there. Obeisance to Israel and Saudi Arabia
have reopened conflict with Iran. His own stupid bluster has turned
North Korea into a potential nuclear confrontation. Meanwhile, he's
tearing down the international institutions that offer the only
path toward peace and stability.
TPM: 2017 Golden Dukes Winners Announced! Considering everything
they had to choose from, a pretty lame selection: Scott Pruitt is
guilty alone of more conspicuous corruption than anyone ranked here.
Or maybe they didn't have that much to choose from? Maybe they only
read TPM headlines? Rep. Duke Cunningham raked in millions and wound
up in jail to get this award named.
Monday, December 25. 2017
A day late from the usual Sunday, but having missed last week, I
figured the exercise would be worthwhile. Like our trash collection,
we're running a day late this week.
Growing up we always had a special
dinner on Christmas Eve, then gathered around the tree in the living
room and opened presents. I gave up on shopping and presents after my
parents died in 2000 -- partly, I suppose, because we moved to Wichita
in 1999 to be closer to my family, but after doing serious shopping I
got sick and missed that last Christmas. We tried to keep the tradition
going, but it fizzled out when my brother and his family moved away.
The only thing I kept was the Christmas Eve dinner, which I've ever
since subjected my sister and her son to. I rustled up a bit pot of
paella last night, with a lobster, some shrimp and scallops instead of
the usual clams. I figured I'd do some tapas on the side, but didn't
come up with much: potatoes with tuna and egg, a white bean salad, a
pisto (onions, zucchini, peppers, tomatoes, cooked down to a paste),
sauteed mushrooms in garlic sauce, some olives, a loaf of "bake it
yourself" garlic bread. Per a tradition that only started after we
returned to Wichita, I made date pudding (topped with caramel sauce
and whipped cream) for dessert. I was feeling pretty depressed, but
the sensation vanished as soon as I started cooking. That's pretty
much all I have to show for 2017, but it feels like I'm accomplishing
something when I do it.
Biggest story from the last couple weeks were the Republican tax
bill: a massive giveaway to corporations, proprietors who can take
advantage of the "pass-through income" provisions, and to the growth
and consolidation of aristocracy, and eventually a drain on the
economy and an excuse for cutting back on actually useful services
the government provides. But also very important are the end of FCC
"net neutrality" rules and the latest round of sanctions against
North Korea. Of course, the latter could instantly jump to the head
of the list.
Some scattered links this week:
Matthew Yglesias: The 4 most important political stories of the week
[Dec. 22]: Congress passed a major tax cut; The government won't shut
down for Christmas; Affordable Care Act signups remained robust;
Republicans turned on Robert Mueller; and
The 4 biggest policy stories of the week, explained [Dec. 15]: A
Democrat won a Senate election in Alabama: Doug Jones; Republicans
wrote their tax bill; Sexual harassment accusations kept rolling
Congress; Net neutrality.
Other Yglesias pieces:
The real cost of the Republican tax bill: Argues that the models
showing revenues down by $1-1.5 trillion will likely be proven low,
not least because IRS enforcement under Trump is likely to be slack.
I would add that actual revenues in Kansas have consistently fallen
short of expectations, because the Brownback cuts allowed unanticipated
The tax cut expectations game.
What "affordable housing" really means.
We're witnessing the wholesale looting of America:
Throughout the 2016 campaign, the political class talked a lot about "norms"
and how Donald Trump was violating them all. He brushed off fact-checkers,
assailed the media, went on Twitter tirades against his critics, and dabbled
in racism. Since taking office, his norm busting has spread. Members of
Congress who under other circumstances might be constrained by shame, custom,
or the will of their constituents have learned from Trump's election that
you can get away with more than we used to think.
Norm erosion is real, and it matters. . . . These scholars are all
considering deep, long-lasting differences in cultural norms, but we also
know from experience that norms can sometimes shift dramatically in unusual
circumstances. Sometimes a blackout or other disaster prompts a few people
who would ordinarily be too cautious to break store windows in broad daylight
to become more brazen. And the normal course of ordinary life flips into
reverse, as those with some inclination toward bad acts recognize a moment
of impunity and grab what they can, while those who would ordinarily be
invested in upholding order are afraid and stay inside. The sheer quantity
of bad acts makes it impossible for anyone to hold anyone accountable. Soon,
a whole neighborhood can be in ruins.
Or a whole country. . . .
It takes a lot more than Donald Trump to orchestrate the kind of feeding
frenzy that's currently playing out in Washington. Nothing about this would
work if not for the fact that hundreds of Republican Party members of
Congress wake up each morning and decide anew that they are indifferent to
the myriad financial conflicts of interest in which Trump and his family
are enmeshed. Moral and political responsibility for the looting ultimately
rests on the shoulders of the GOP members of Congress who decided that the
appropriate reaction to Trump's inauguration was to start smashing and
grabbing as much as possible for themselves and their donors rather than
uphold their constitutional obligations.
Why Trump's tax cuts won't be repealed.
Republicans are on tilt with their super-unpopular tax bill.
Collective ownership of the means of production.
Dean Baker: Bubbles: Are They Back?
Should we be concerned about a bubble now? Stock prices and housing prices
are both high by historical standards. The ratio of stock prices-to-trend
corporate earnings is more than 27-to-1; this compares to a long-term
average of 15-to-1.
House prices are also high by historic standards. Inflation-adjusted
house prices are still well below their bubble peaks, but are about 40
percent above their long-term average.
Baker also wrote:
Diverting Class Warfare Into Generational Warfare: Round LVIII; e.g.:
It is also important to understand that government action was at the
center of this upward redistribution. Without government-granted patent
monopolies for Windows and other Microsoft software, Bill Gates would
probably still be working for a living.
We spent over $450 billion on prescription drugs in 2017. Without
government-granted patent monopolies we would probably have spent less
than $80 billion. The difference of $370 billion is equal to an increase
of a 5.0 percentage point increase in the Social Security payroll tax.
But the generational warriors don't want anyone talking about how much
money our children to pay drug companies with government-granted patent
Baker is a bit confused about Microsoft -- patents played at most a
small role in building its monopoly -- the late 1990s antitrust case
which Microsoft lost covered much of this -- but copyrights are essential
for maintaining it.
Zack Beauchamp: We are sleepwalking toward war with North Korea.
Sean Illing: How the baby boomers -- not millennials -- screwed America:
Interview with Bruce Gibney, author of A Generation of Sociopaths: How
the Baby Boomers Betrayed America, which looks to be pretty awful. I
don't doubt that various age cohorts grow up with different experiences,
but there has always been more variation within a generation than change
from one to the next. It's not that Gibney is unobservant -- he identifies
Ronald Reagan's 1980 election as the turning point from which today's rot
stemmed -- but he pairs his superficial groupings with clichéd analysis
and bogus measures (especially the growth of debt). Gibney, like so many
reactionaries from the 1950s on, blamed postwar affluence for breeding a
generation of selfish ingrates who lack the social solidarity bred in
their parents by depression and war. As Gibney puts it:
I think the major factor is that the boomers grew up in a time of
uninterrupted prosperity. And so they simply took it for granted.
They assumed the economy would just grow three percent a year forever
and that wages would go up every year and that there would always be
a good job for everyone who wanted it.
This was a fantasy and the result of a spoiled generation assuming
things would be easy and that no sacrifices would have to be made in
order to preserve prosperity for future generations.
Gibney's argument might be more interesting if he focused on things
that were truly new and widespread, like that "boomers" were the first
cohort to grow up with television and its mass consumer advertising,
with news presented more in images than in words, with world travel
reduced from months or weeks to hours, with science promising greater
control of nature but also raising the spectre of extinction. Maybe
some people responded to such sweeping change by becoming sociopaths,
but (for a while, at least) the opposite seemed to be happening: in
the late '60s and early '70s, the "boomers" were in the forefront of
movements for the environment, sexual equality, for consumer rights,
for civil rights and against war. You can argue that the new left was
too individualistic and too nonchalant about power, and that those
weaknesses made it easier for conservative reaction to seize power --
and beset the country with all the ills Gibney decries. But the fact
that Bill Clinton, GW Bush, and Donald Trump were all born in 1946
doesn't make them representative of a generation. Indeed, they were
clearly exceptional, carefully selected by unrepresentative powers.
Nothing actual in this piece about "millennials" -- one's political
hopes for them (e.g.,
Steven Olikara: Here's one reason to be optimistic about politics:
Millennials in office) lie not in generational change but in
the fact that thanks to the conservative reaction they've been so
severely screwed. But that only changes if they recognize the real
Ezra Klein: "An orgy of serious policy discussion" with Paul Krugman.
Mike Konczal: "Neoliberalism" isn't an empty epithet. It's a real,
powerful set of ideas. Good explanation of the word, if you wind
up stuck needing to use it.
Kevin M Kruse: The Second Klan: Review of Linda Gordon's book,
The Second Coming of the KKK: The Ku Klux Klan and the American
German Lopez: The past year of research has made it very clear: Trump won
because of racial resentment: Three charts here, mapping the tendencies
of people "least satisfied" with economics, "most sexist," and "most denying
of racism" to vote for Trump. The latter two are highly polarized, as well
they should be: Trump was blatantly racist and sexist, especially compared
to his opponent, and his campaign actively polarized people on those issues,
so of course sexists and racists (not uncommonly the same people) voted for
him overwhelmingly. Still, to say he won because he appealed to racism you
have to quantify how large that voter share was. Given that racists were
already highly aligned with the Republican Party it's hard to see a lot of
movement on that score, not that were was none. "Economic dissatisfaction"
is another story: that the "least satisfied" tilted toward Trump at all
is the surprise -- really, a complete breakdown in the Democratic Party's
messaging, all the more damning given how easy it should have been to
depict Trump as the poster boy for exorbitant greed and privilege. The
underlying facts have never been in doubt. That we keep rehashing them
has more to do with politics. Sanders supporters were quick to identify
the failed economic hopes of the white lower classes because that's one
thing their program addressed and could convert into the additional votes
necessary to beat Trump and the Republicans. Diehard Clinton supporters
like the racism narrative, because it shifts blame from the candidate to
the "deplorable" voters.
Premilla Nadasen: Extreme poverty returns to America.
Rebecca Solnit: Don't let the alt-right hijack #MeToo for their agenda.
Matt Stoller: What is net neutrality? It protects us from corporate
Matt Taibbi: Bob Corker Facing Ethics Questions? What a Surprise:
"The Tennessee senator's financial success has been one of Washington's
open questions for years." Corker flip-flopped on the tax bill, first
voting against it because it would increase the deficit, then voting
for it even though its impact on the deficit hasn't changed (but the
joint committee added a break on real estate taxes that evidently saves
Corker millions of dollars). More on Corker:
Mary Papenfuss: #CorkerKickback Turns Up the Flame Under Senator for
His Tax Vote Switch. Paul Krugman, in
Passing Through to Corruption, also mentions Corker:
Senator Bob Corker, citing concerns about the deficit, was the only
Republican to vote against the Senate version of the tax bill. Now,
however, he says he will vote for a final version that is no better
when it comes to fiscal probity. What changed?
Well, one thing that changed was the insertion of a provision that
wasn't in the Senate bill: Real estate companies were added to the
list of "pass-through" businesses whose owners will get sharply lower
tax rates. These pass-through provisions are arguably the worst feature
of the bill. They will open the tax system to a huge amount of gaming,
of exploiting legal loopholes to avoid tax.
But one thing they will also do, thanks to that last-minute addition,
is give huge tax breaks to elected officials who own a lot of income-producing
real estate -- officials like Donald Trump and, yes, Bob Corker.
Todd VanDerWerff: Disney acquiring Fox means big, scary things for film
and TV: "Here are five reasons the deal is terrifying -- and only
one of them is increased media consolidation."
Sunday, December 10. 2017
The Democrats in Congress, especially the leadership, have had a
really bad week, and I fear they've inflicted grave wounds on themselves.
John Conyers and Al Franken have resigned after enormous pressure from
the party leadership, leaving the party with fewer votes, summarily
ending two notable careers. I especially blame Nancy Pelosi and Chuck
Shumer. Back in 2016 Hillary Clinton like to posit a "Commander-in-Chief
Test," figuring she'd compare favorably to Donald Trump by emphasizing
her own fondness for military adventures -- I think her hawkishness was
a big part of why she lost, but my point isn't to rehash her delusions.
Rather, what we saw last week was a "Shop Steward" test, which Pelosi
and Shumer utterly failed. They let a little media pressure blow them
over. More importantly, they failed to insist on due process, on the
most basic principles of traditional American justice, and in doing so
they sacrificed political standing and insulted and demeaned the voters
who had elected Conyers and Franken.
Supposedly, one thing the Democrats hope to achieve in sacking
Conyers and Franken is "the moral high ground" -- demonstrating
their superior sensitivity to and concern for victims of sexual
misconduct (pretty broadly defined). In theory, this will pay off
in defeating Roy Moore in next week's Alabama Senate race and/or
in putting pressure on Donald Trump to resign. In fact, Trump was
elected president after 19 women accused him of various shades of
assault, and after he bragged about as much. While Moore is facing
a closer election than Alabama Republicans are used to, he remains
the favorite to win Tuesday. And while some Democrats imagine that
if Moore wins the Senate will refuse to seat him, I can't imagine
the Republicans sacrificing power like that. Nor, quite frankly,
should they. (The only duly elected member I can recall either
branch of Congress refusing to seat was Adam Clayton Powell, in a
shameful travesty -- although, come to think of it, they did take
months before allowing Al Franken to enter.)
Some scattered links this week:
Matthew Yglesias: 4 stories that mattered in politics this week:
The tax reform hit some snags ("Senate Republicans appear to have
written a corporate AMT provision that they intended to raise a
little bit of revenue in a sloppy way that actually raises a ton
of revenue and alienates the businesses who were supposed to benefit
from a big tax cut"); President Trump recognized Jerusalem as Israel's
capital; Al Franken announced he'll resign; The government will stay
open for a couple of weeks. Other Yglesias pieces:
We have a trial date: March 19, "the beginning of the trial at which
the Justice Department will seek to block the merger of AT&T and
Time Warner." There is no shortage of good reasons for blocking this
merger, and indeed for untangling all of the past mergers between
data transit and content companies, although it's surprising to see
Trump's DOJ lifting a finger to prevent the further concentration of
predatory corporate power.
Apple could get a staggering $47 billion windfall from the tax
What's particularly striking about this windfall is that though Apple
has been a fierce advocate for corporate tax reform -- $47 billion is
a lot of money after all -- Apple CEO Tim Cook has explained over and
over again that shoveling billions into his corporate treasury won't
boost his investment spending.
He already has plenty of cash, but beyond that, when Cook wants
Apple to invest more, he borrows the money.
Tomorrow's financial crisis today: Points out that less than ten
years after the worst recession since the 1930s Trump's administration
is working to undermine the Treasury's Office of Financial Research
and "let banks take on more risky debt:
The nature of a banking crisis is you probably won't have one in any
given year, regardless of how shoddy your regulatory framework is. As
long as asset prices are trending upward, it just doesn't matter. In
fact, as long as asset prices are trending upward, a poorly regulated
banking sector will be more profitable than a well-regulated one.
It's all good. Unless things blow up. But if your bad policymaking
takes us from a one-in-500 chance of a blow-up in any given year to a
one-in-20 chance, you're still in a world where things will probably
be fine across even an entire eight-year span in office. Probably.
Trump has taken a lot of risky bets in his life. And though he's
often lost, he's usually been insulated by his inherited wealth and
by his very real skill at structuring deals so other people end up
holding a lot of the downside. Any presidency inherently has that
kind of structure with or without skill. Presidents suffer when they
make mistakes, but other people suffer more.
?he key phrase here is "as long as asset prices are trending
upward." The surest way to keep asset prices rising is to let rich
people make and keep more money, which is what happened from the
Bush tax cuts forward to 2007-08. What broke then turned out to be
pretty simple: a big chunk of those assets were built on subprime
mortgages, and the people who signed up for the mortgages weren't
able to grow their incomes enough to cover their debts, so they
defaulted; meanwhile, the banks had leveraged themselves so much
they couldn't cover their losses, so they started to fail in a
cascade that threatened to make the "domino theory" look like
small potatoes. But the government, especially the Fed, stepped
in and pumped several trillions of dollars into the banks to prop
them up so they could unwind their losses more gracefully, while
the government did very little to help the little people who
suffered the brunt of the recession. (I was going to say "virtually
nothing," but things like extended unemployment benefits did help
keep the recession from matching the desolation caused by the Great
Depression.) We're already seeing asset bubbles in things like the
stock market. The whole point of Trump's tax cuts and deregulation
is to feed this bubble, even though there is no clear way to sustain
the trend or to appease the financier's appetite for ever greater
profits. Coupled with a massive collapse of business ethics -- this
has been growing since the "greed is good" Reagan era, but Trump is
an even more shocking role model -- it's only a matter of time before
the whole edifice collapses.
We need a healthier conversation about partisanship and sexual
The tax bill is a tax cut, not a culture war: Pushes back against the
idea that Republicans chose targets to "reform" by how much they would
hurt "blue states" (the SALT deduction being the obvious example). Shows
that the overriding reasoning behind the cuts/reforms is to favor the
rich over the poor, regardless of where they may live or do business.
Of course, the real cost to poor and working Americans won't appear in
scoring the bill -- it will come later in the form of service cuts and
the ever-widening chasm between "haves and have-nots."
Republicans need Roy Moore to pass their tax bill.
Groundbreaking empirical research shows where innovation really comes from.
Democrats need to get a grip about the budget deficit: "The tax bill
is bad, the debt is fine." ARgues that "Bush's deficits were fine and
Trump's will be too" and that "Obama's deficits were way too small."
Don't worry about the debt.
Matthew Cole/Jeremy Scahill: Trump White House Weighing Plans for Private
Spies to Counter "Deep State" Enemies: Evidently one of Erik Prince's
schemes, notably backed by Oliver North. One suspicious point is that the
scheme would still report to CIA Director Mike Pompeo, figuring him more
loyal to Trump than to the "Deep State" he nominally manages a big chunk
of. Also see
Aram Roston: Private War: Erik Prince Has H is Eye on Afghanistan's Rare
Metals. Evidently the mercenary leader is trying to turn his private
army into some sort of modern British East India Company colossus.
Juliet Eilperin: Uranium firm urged Trump officials to shrink Bears Ears
National Monument: Helps explain why Trump and Zinke radically shrunk
the borders of the National Monument (see maps). The land still belongs
to the federal government, but will now be managed by the Bureau of Land
Management. For info on what that means, see
Adam Federman: This Is How the Trump Administration Gives Big Oil the
Keys to Public Lands.
Tara Golsham: Rep. Trent Franks, who is resigning immediately, offered
staffer $5 million to be his baby surrogate: One of the more bizarre
stories of recent weeks: Arizona Republican, "a deeply conservative
member of the House Freedom Caucus and one of the most pro-life members
of Congress. Evidently he has that kind of money, and assumes it
entitles him to run roughshod over others.
Jim Kirby: Hillary Clinton's emails got as much front-page coverage in
6 days as policy did in 69: An analysis of New York Times -- your
newspaper or preferred media source may vary (with some never matching
that 6-day email window), but for a supposedly sober and serious news
source, that's pretty disgusting. One might argue that Hillary's email
controversy speaks to her character, but no more so than hundreds or
thousands of Donald Trump anecdotes. Even so, you'd think it sensible
that news coverage of an election would focus more on likely policies
and future scenarios than on past personal quirks. The only excuse I
can think of is that today's campaigns are often as shallow as the media
covering them -- or at least try to be.
Rashid Khalidi: After Jerusalem, the US Can No Longer Pretend to Be an
Honest Broker of Peace: Actually, that was clear even before Trump
ordered the US embassy moved from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, as Khalidi
knows damn well -- he's even written a whole book about it: Brokers
of Deceit: How the US Has Undermined Peace in the Middle East.
What I've yet to see anyone comment on is why the US didn't move the
embassy earlier. The basic reason is respect for international law,
which as this week's announcement shows has sunken to new lows in
Washington. The 1947 UN resolution proposing partition of the British
Mandate in Palestine -- a resolution that David Ben-Gurion lobbied
fervently for -- called for dividing the Mandate into two states, but
keeping Jerusalem separate as an international area. Immediately on
declaring independence in 1948, Israel launched a military offensive
aimed at expanding on the borders the UN prescribed. The main target
of that offensive was Jerusalem, which wound up divided between Israeli
and Jordanian forces. In 1967 Israel launched another war and drove
Jordan from East Jerusalem and the West Bank -- territories that the UN
ordered Israel to return, despite Israel's almost immediate annexation
of Jerusalem and environs. Israel's de facto control of Jerusalem has
never been squared away with the rulings of international law, so no
country with respect for international law has conceded Israel's claim.
"Until now," you might say, but the US has increasingly shown contempt
for international law, and this is just one more example.
By the way, a headline in the Wichita Eagle today: "After US decision
on Jerusalem, Gaza protests turn deadly." First line of article explains
how: "Two Hamas militants were killed in an Israeli airstrike on Saturday
after rocket fire from the enclave hit an Israeli town, as the death toll
in violence linked to President Donald Trump's decision to recognize
Jerusalem as Israel's capital rose to four." No damage was reported
from the Gazan rockets. For info about the other two deaths, see:
Peter Beaumont/Patrick Wintour: Two Palestinians shot dead and one critical
in riots after Trump speech. Also:
Raja Shehadeh: I have witnessed two intifadas. Trump's stance on Israel
may ignite a third.
Sarah Kliff: Obamacare sign-ups defy Trump's sabotage campaign.
German Lopez: Roy Moore: America "was great at the time when families
were united -- even though he had slavery." Anyone who thinks that
the problem with Moore is his fondness for underaged girls clearly
hasn't paid any attention to his politics or to his political legacy.
More worrying is Moore's unwavering contempt for the law -- after
all, Moore has been stripped of his position on the Alabama Supreme
Court for failing to submit to federal law, specifically the First
Amendment. When Donald Trump tries to tout Moore as the "law and
order candidate" he does little more than expose his own flimsy
and dicey relationship to the law. (Meanwhile, Moore's Democratic
opponent, Doug Jones, has a distinguished record as a federal
prosecutor, credentials that only someone as reality-challenged
as Trump can readily dismiss.) I wish I could say that Moore's
casual endorsement of slavery is even more shocking, but we've
always known him to be a racist. After all, Alabama's given us
George Wallace and James Sessions, so how much worse can Moore
be? Well, this statement is a pretty good example: "I think it
[America] was great at the time when families were united -- even
though we had slavery. They cared for one another. People were
strong in the families. Our families were strong. Our country
had a direction." The most obvious problem is that slavery was
a system which denied family life and bonds, one that allowed
slaveowners to prevent or break families by selling members. He
could hardly be clearer that he doesn't regard blacks as people --
as Lopez notes, only one of many blind bigotries Moore espouses.
Still, I detect another curious note in the quote: it's like he's
trying to channel ideologues like George Fitzhugh who tried to
defend slavery as anti-capitalist -- an alternative to the coarse
materialism that Bible-thumpers like Moore so despise.
More on Moore:
Andrew Prokop: Michael Flynn's involvement in a plan to build nuclear
reactors in the Middle East is looking even shadier: More "Russia"
scandal this past week, but one should recall that Russian schemes under
Putin have nothing to do with fomenting world revolution or curtailing
US imperial ambitions: they're founded on pure oligarchic greed, which
isn't at all unlike the Trump approach to business. E.g., this piece
summarizes a "whistleblower" report about a deal Flynn was working on:
According to the whistleblower, [Alex] Copson flat-out said the following
- That he "just got" a text message from Flynn saying the nuclear
plant project was "good to go," and that his business colleagues should
"put things in place"
- That Flynn was making sure sanctions on Russia would be "ripped up,"
which would let the project go forward
- That this was the "best day" of his life, and that the project would
"make a lot of very wealthy people"
- That the project would also provide a pretext for expanding a US
military presence in the Middle East (the pretext of defending the
- That citizens of Middle Eastern countries would be better off "when
we recolonize the Middle East"
David Roberts: A moment of truth arrives for Rick Perry's widely hated
coal bailout: Long article, really should be a much bigger scandal
than anything having to do with "sexual misconduct" -- with billions
of dollars of benefits going to five coal companies, paid for by rate
hikes from millions of consumers, and championed by a moron like Rick
Perry, it wouldn't even take much of a stretch from the media to blow
this up, but evidently they're too lazy to care.
Aja Romano: MSNBC won't cut ties to Sam Seder after all: succumbing
to alt-right outrage was a "mistake": Another cautionary tale,
showing you can't trust anything reported on right-wing media, and
that the kneejerk "zero tolerance" reactions of "liberal" media
combines are set up perfectly to be scammed. More:
Ryan Grim: MSNBC Reverses Decision to Fire Contributor Sam Seder.
Mark Joseph Stern: The Trump Administration Just Declared War on Public
Corey Williams/David Eggert: Conyers' Congressional Seat Won't Be
Filled for Nearly a Year: So, Nancy Pelosi browbeat Conyers into
resigning his seat, certain that a Democrat would replace him -- the
current gerrymander of Michigan concedes that -- but evidently the
Republican governor of Michigan can simply hold the seat open for a
Sunday, December 3. 2017
I spent literally most of last week trying to cook for 60 at the
Wichita Peace Center Annual Dinner on Friday, and I've been sore and
tired ever since. Thought compiling this post might feel like a return
to normalcy, but nothing's normal any more.
Some scattered links this week:
Matthew Yglesias: The 4 most important stories of the week, explained:
Senate Republicans are on track to pass their tax cut (as, indeed, they
did); We found our about more sexual harassers (especially Matt Lauer);
After Rexit (Rex Tillerson, rumored gone but hanging on); North Korea
launched a long-range ICBM (one that could theoretically hit anywhere
in the continental United States). Other Yglesias posts:
Republicans may regret this tax bill: This seems intuitively right.
The biggest political issue in America today is increasing inequality
and its various effects, including the binding of political power and
personal security to private wealth. Moreover, this is an issue with a
strict partisan divide: Republicans are doing everything they can to
concentrate wealth and power in the donor class, and Democrats are more
or less opposed to this and more or less in favor of a more equitable
society (at least like the ones of the New Deal/Great Society era, but
with less racism). To the extent people understand the tax bill, it is
wildly unpopular, so it's something Democrats can and will run on. It
also goes a long ways toward absolving the Democrats' own culpability
for increasing inequality: that the Republicans would, strictly through
a party-line vote, do something this brazen when inequality is already
so severe (and so unpopular) -- and Trump's deregulation program and
blatant surrender of the people's government to business interests --
should expose them for all to see. Yglesias cites
Josh Barro: The Republican tax plan creates big long-term opportunities
for Democrats. By the way, one thing Barro argues that I don't for
a moment believe is: "a corporate tax cut should tend to cause wages to
rise a little bit, because a lower corporate tax rate makes the US a
more attractive location to employ people."
We're all in Kansas now: A reference to Gov. Sam Brownback's notorious
tax cuts, the enormous fiscal damage they caused, the slower degradation
of infrastructure and services, and their near-zero boost to the economy
(possibly sub-zero compared to nationwide economic growth during the same
period). The only real difference between what Brownback passed and what
the Senate just passed is that the US government is able to float much
more debt, and thereby soften the degradation. By the way, Brownback,
anticipating confirmation as Trump's Ambassador at Large for Religious
Liberty, recently gave a "farewell address," not to the public but to
the Wichita Pachyderm Club, where the only advice he could offer to his
Trump's Treasury Department is lying about its own analysis of the tax
The tax bill's original sin: The idea that the corporate tax rate
must be reduced from 35% all the way to 20%, a much steeper cut than
anyone was even agitating for a few years ago (e.g., the Business
Roundtable was proposing 25% as recently as 2015). One thing I don't
understand is why no one is pushing a progressive tax on business
profits: maybe 10% for the first $1M, 15% for $1-10M, 20% for $10-50M,
25% for $50-250M, 30% for $250M-$1B, 35% for $1-5B, 40% above $5B.
Probably those rates should be a bit higher, and various loopholes
should be filled -- I'd like to see the overall reform on corporate
tax rates produce more (not less) revenue. But something like this
would benefit most companies while only penalizing companies that
use their sheer size and/or monopoly positions to reap huge profits.
And slowing them down would be good for everyone.
Matt Lauer totally blew it on Trump's blatant lying about Iraq and
The rules of "how Congress works" have changed: Points out that
the Senate tax bill faced concerted opposition from many special
interest lobby groups ("the National Association of Realtors, the
National Association of Homebuilders, the AARP, police unions,
hospital associations and the AMA, and the higher education lobby"),
as well as polling poorly among the public, yet Republicans stuck
to their partisan ideology and passed it anyway. That's not how
interest group politics has generally worked in Washington. Yglesias
doesn't say this, but it more generally fits the model of class
warfare. He does note that the Democrats could have crafted a more
viable ACA had they not catered to special interest groups, in the
vain hope that selling out to lobbyists would rally Republican
support for a bipartisan bill.
Had Democrats gone down a different path and pushed a bill with a
strong public option with payment rates linked to Medicare, we would
have seen a very different health policy trajectory over the past
Premiums would have been lower, which would have meant federal
subsidy outlays would have been lower, which would have made it
affordable for Congress to make the subsidies more generous.
Enrollment in ACA exchanges would have been higher; there would
have been no issue with "bare counties"; and, because of lower
premiums, the "just pay the fine" option would have been less
attractive, leading to more stable risk pools.
A deficit trigger can't fix the GOP tax plan
Crisis at the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. Also on this, see
Matt Taibbi: Trump's Consumer Victory Officially Makes a Joke of Financial
New dynamic score shows the Senate tax bill raises debt by more than
The theory behind Trump's tax cuts is exactly what gave us the failed
Bush economy: "An influx of foreign hot money isn't what we need."
A lot of meat here, but one could dig deeper. Foreign money will drive
up asset prices, which will be a windfall for business owners, but once
they sell out those businesses will no longer be rooted in the owners'
communities. Foreign ownership of American companies has been a mixed
blessing: some have gone easier on depressing labor costs, but most
wind up operating as American companies do -- as, indeed, whatever
they can get away with here -- and they're ultimately as likely to
export or automate jobs away as any other capitalists. As Yglesias
notes, much of the influx will eventually be converted into bidding
up real estate prices (he calls this "housing boom 2.0" but I'm more
skeptical that the subprime boom is repeatable, and unless average
Americans start making more money -- inconceivable under Republican
rule -- we're all stuck in the subprime market). His other point is
that the expected influx will strengthen the dollar, hurting exports
and manufacturing jobs, so while the rich get richer, the workers
If the GOP tax plan is so good, why do they lie so much about it?
Partly, I suspect, it's just force of habit, but they really don't
have anything potentially popular to offer -- they're just scamming
for the donor class, and they'll make the suckers pay for it.
New York Times Editorial Board: A Historic Tax Heist:
With barely a vote to spare early Saturday morning, the Senate passed
a tax bill confirming that the Republican leaders' primary goal is to
enrich the country's elite at the expense of everybody else, including
future generations who will end up bearing the cost. The approval of
this looting of the public purse by corporations and the wealthy makes
it a near certainty that President Trump will sign this or a similar
bill into law in the coming days.
The bill is expected to add more than $1.4 trillion to the federal
deficit over the next decade, a debt that will be paid by the poor and
middle class in future tax increases and spending cuts to Medicare,
Social Security and other government programs. Its modest tax cuts for
the middle class disappear after eight years. And up to 13 million
people stand to lose their health insurance because the bill makes
a big change to the Affordable Care Act.
Yet Republicans somehow found a way to give a giant and permanent tax
cut to corporations like Apple, General Electric and Goldman Sachs,
saving those businesses tens of billions of dollars.
Other links on the tax bill:
Steven Greenhouse: America is in crisis. The Republican tax plan will
make that worse.
Ezra Klein: "The hypocrisy is astounding": this tax bill shows the GOP's
debt concerns were pure fraud: Didn't we already know that from the
Bush years (Cheney: "deficits don't matter")? Or for that matter from
the Reagan tax cuts, when US debt exploded faster than any time since
WWII? Wasn't it clear that when McConnell railed about the debt and
tried to cut spending programs that would help rebuild the economy
that his real motive was to "make Obama a one-term president"? Klein
isn't satisfied to call this hypocrisy; he chalks it up to nihilism,
The nihilism extends to process too. Republicans complained bitterly
during the Obama administration that Democrats weren't holding enough
hearings, that they weren't leaving sufficient time to read final bill
text, that they were passing important legislation on party-line votes,
that they were using the budget reconciliation process improperly. Now
they are passing sweeping tax reform through the budget reconciliation
process with no hearings, no effort at bipartisan compromise, and bill
text that was not made public until hours before the final vote. In a
darkly comic twist, changes were handwritten into the legislation in
the final hours:
Sarah Kliff: The tax bill is the start of Obamacare collapse: It
repeals the "individual mandate," which requires individuals to buy
some form of acceptably adequate health insurance or face a tax penalty.
The mandate helps to make risk pools more equitably representative of
the general population, but it also reduce the uninsured population,
some of which wind up being treated at the expense of everyone else.
Without the mandate, insurance policy rates will rise to cover the
increased risk of adverse selection, and hospital charges will rise
to cover emergency treatment of the uninsured (some 41 million people
by current estimates).
Robert S McElvaine: I'm a Depression historian. The GOP tax bill is straight
out of 1929.
Ella Nilsen: "Lots of outrageous things in the bill aren't getting the kind
of attention they ought to"
Dylan Scott/Alvin Chang: The Republican tax bill will exacerbate income
inequality in America: Of course, you know this, but here are more
charts. Most striking, perhaps because least commonly understood, are
the figures for "pass-through income" -- Sen. Ron Johnson (R-WI, or do
I mean Koch?) withheld his vote until the bill cut this even more. The
chart that shows how 69% of all "pass-through income" goes to the top
1% explains why. The main thing that's missing here is the effect of
ending the estate tax on the concentration of wealth into an aristocracy
of heirs. One can also note that the political right has largely been
funded not by entrepreneurs but by heirs -- Richard Mellon Scaife is
a prime example, although you can also count the Kochs and Trump.
Emily Stewart: GOP Senator says it's hard to fund $14 billion children's
health care program -- then advocates for $1 trillion tax cut: after
which it will be even harder, no doubt. Republicans can always think of
excuses for not doing what they don't want to do; even more so, they can
always come up with idiotic rationales to do what they always want to do,
which is mostly to make rich people even richer.
Matt Taibbi: New Tax Plan Contains Even More Bad News for Student
Gordon G Chang: Is Donald Trump Getting Ready to Attack North Korea?
One theory floated here is that the US could disable North Korea by
bombing the pipeline that delivers oil from China and/or their one oil
refinery. Or, better still, the US could intimidate China into shutting
down the pipeline. I don't see how North Korea's leadership does not
take the former as an opening salvo in a war, one that forces them to
retaliate. As for China, they probably understand that keeping their
oil lifeline open is necessary to keeping the peace. And there are real
limits to how much the US can push China around without hurting American
investments in China (or much worse). At some point Trump's people need
to decide whether North Korea having a deterrent against an American
attack that no one in the US military wants to launch is really such
a big problem. At present it mostly seems to be an affront to the egos
of those who still believe the neocon sole-superpower promise of world
domination. Sadly, most of the writers in this "War in Asia?" issue of
The National Interest seem to buy into such delusions.
Thomas B Edsall: The Self-Destruction of American Democracy: After
raising the question of whether Putin backed Trump out of pure malice
for the American people, and quoting Henry Aaron (Brookings senior
fellow, presumably not the Hall of Famer) that "Trump is a political
weapon of mass self-destruction for American democracy -- for its norms,
for its morality, for sheer human decency," he has to admit that "we
Americans created this mess." Then he starts worrying about America's
declining influence and esteem in the world, offering a chart showing
only two (of 37) other countries with higher approval numbers for Trump
than for Obama: Israel (up to 56 from 49) and Russia (way up to 53 from
11). I think the biggest drop was in Sweden (93 to 10), followed by
Germany (86 to 11), Netherlands (92 to 17, South Korea (88 to 17),
and France (84 to 14). Britain and Canada dropped down to 23, from
79 and 83 respectively. Still, loss of approval hasn't yet done much
damage to the empire (although Egypt's decision to allow Russian air
bases is perhaps a harbinger). But this is more to the point:
Add to Trump's list of lies his race baiting, his attacks on a free
press, his charges of "fake news," his efforts to instigate new levels
of voter suppression, his undermining of the legitimacy of the electoral
process, his disregard for the independence of the judiciary, the hypocrisy
of his personal posture on sexual harassment, the patent lack of concern
for delivering results to voters who supported him, his contempt for and
manipulation of his own loyalists, his "failure of character" -- and you
have a lethal corruption of democratic leadership. . . .
At the moment, Trump's co-partisans, House and Senate Republicans,
have shown little willingness to confront him. The longer Trump stays
in office, the greater the danger that he will inflict permanent damage
on the institutions that must be essential tools in any serious attempt
to confront him.
Edsall's error is that he doesn't recognize that those Congressional
Republicans are every bit as contemptuous of democracy as Trump. Indeed,
he gives Trump too much credit, and Charles Koch and Paul Ryan not nearly
Jill Filipovic: The Men Who Cost Clinton the Election: I'm not so
sure about the headline, but is there something more than coincidence
going on here?
Many of the male journalists who stand accused of sexual harassment
were on the forefront of covering the presidential race between Hillary
Clinton and Donald Trump. Matt Lauer interviewed Mrs. Clinton and Mr.
Trump in an official "commander-in-chief forum" for NBC. He notoriously
peppered and interrupted Mrs. Clinton with cold, aggressive, condescending
questions hyper-focused on her emails, only to pitch softballs at Mr.
Trump and treat him with gentle collegiality a half-hour later. Mark
Halperin and Charlie Rose set much of the televised political discourse
on the race, interviewing other pundits, opining themselves and obsessing
over the electoral play-by-play. Mr. Rose, after the election, took a
tone similar to Mr. Lauer's with Mrs. Clinton -- talking down to her,
interrupting her, portraying her as untrustworthy. Mr. Halperin was a
harsh critic of Mrs. Clinton, painting her as ruthless and corrupt,
while going surprisingly easy on Mr. Trump. The reporter Glenn Thrush,
currently on leave from The New York Times because of sexual harassment
allegations, covered Mrs. Clinton's 2008 campaign when he was at Newsday
and continued to write about her over the next eight years for Politico.
A pervasive theme of all of these men's coverage of Mrs. Clinton was
that she was dishonest and unlikable. These recent harassment allegations
suggest that perhaps the problem wasn't that Mrs. Clinton was untruthful
or inherently hard to connect with, but that these particular men hold
deep biases against women who seek power instead of sticking to acquiescent
sex-object status. . . .
It's hard to look at these men's coverage of Mrs. Clinton and not see
glimmers of that same simmering disrespect and impulse to keep women in
a subordinate place. When men turn some women into sexual objects, the
women who are inside that box are one-dimensional, while those outside of
it become disposable; the ones who refuse to be disposed of, who continue
to insist on being seen and heard, are inconvenient and pitiable at best,
deceitful shrews and crazy harpies at worst. That's exactly how some
commentary and news coverage treated Mrs. Clinton.
Of course, it's possible that an individual's hostility to Hillary
has more to do with her being a Clinton than a woman. There's no doubt
that many in the media treated her unfairly. Still, I'm more struck by
how gingerly they treated dozens of more damning scandals, especially
Trump's own sexual abuse history. Filipovic also wrote:
Matt Lauer is gone. He's left heartbreak in his wake.
Susan Hennessey et al: The Flynn Plea: A Quick and Dirty Analysis.
One recalls that from early on Flynn was offering testimony for immunity.
One thing the guilty plea suggests is he does indeed have something to
further Mueller's investigation as it closes in on Trump's inner circle.
Also note that while investigations into foreign interference in American
elections has always focused on Russia, the incident Flynn pleaded guilty
to involved lobbying Russia for Israel: see
Philip Weiss: Flynn's plea on Russia influence reveals . . . Israel's
Richard Silverstein: Flynn Pleads Guilty to Lying About Trump Sabotage
of Security Council Resolution Against Israeli Settlements. Trump's
reaction, of course, was to turn up the crazy:
Dana Milbank: Get ready for Trump's fireworks:
I tried to ignore the Trump shenanigans this week, instead writing about
the drug industry executive Trump tapped to oversee drug pricing and about
the administration lawyer who orchestrated Trump's takeover of the CFPB
after serving as lawyer for a payday lender cited by the CFPB for abuses.
But such pieces generate only a fraction of the clicks of pieces I and
others write about Trump's pyrotechnics.
Those pyrotechnics are going to increase now that Mueller has turned
Flynn. Trump's distractions will be impossible to ignore. But we --
lawmakers, the media and the public -- need to keep our focus on the
real damage Trump is doing.
Shira A Scheindlin: Trump's new team of judges will radically change
Paul Woodward: Have we been lied to about the Kate Steinle case?
Steinle was allegedly killed by an undocumented immigrant, Garcia
Zarate, who was acquitted of murder charges last week. Zarate had
been deported five times, which "made him a very effective villain
for Trump's border security campaign messages." The shooting was
clearly an accident, and it's pretty unlikely the case would ever
have been prosecuted had Zarate been a card-carrying NRA member.
But Trump (aka "the xenophobic, racist, bigot, defiling the Oval
Office") went ballistic over the verdict.
Sunday, November 19. 2017
I've often heard that "politics is the art of the possible" -- the
quote is most often attributed to Otto von Bismarck, who continued:
"the attainable -- the art of the next best." Bismarck is best known
now as the architect of the modern welfare state, something he achieved
with autocratic Prussian efficiency, his generally satisfactory answer
to the threat of proletarian revolution. But the earlier generations
he was better known as the founder of German militarism, a bequest
which less pragmatic followers parlayed into two disastrous world wars.
Then, as now, the "possible" was always limited by preconceptions --
in Bismarck's case, allegiance to the Prussian nobility, which kept
his innovations free of concessions to equality and democracy.
After immersing myself into the arcana of mainstream politics in
the 1960s -- I used to trek to the library to read Congressional
Quarterly's Weekly Reports, I subscribed to the Congressional
Record, and I drew up electoral maps much like Kevin Phillips --
I pivoted and dove into the literature of the politically impossible,
reading about utopian notions from Thomas More to Ignatius Donnelly
to Paul Goodman (whose Utopian Essays & Practical Proposals
is a title I still fancy recapitulating). But I never really lost my
bearings in reality. In college I worked on the philosophy journal
Telos, which taught one to always look toward ends (or goals)
no matter the immediate terrain, and I studied neo-Kantians with a
knack for making logic work to bridge the chasm. Later I turned into
an engineer, and eventually had the epiphany that we could rationally
think our way through complex political and economic problems to not
necessarily ideal but much more viable solutions.
From the start I was aware of the standard and many other objections
to "social engineering." No time to go into them now, but my background
in engineering taught me that I have to work within the bounds of the
possible, subject to the hard limits of physics and the slightly messier
lessons I had learned from my major in sociology. Without really losing
my early ideals -- my telos is equality, because that's the only social
arrangement that is mutually agreeable, the only one that precludes
scheming, strife, and needless harm -- I came to focus on little steps
that nudge us in the right direction, and to reject ideas that couldn't
possibly work. Thinking about this has made me a much more moderate
person, without leading me to centrism or the notion that compromise
A good example of a political agenda that cannot be implemented --
indeed, one that offers nothing constructive -- was provided a while
back by Alan Keys, a Republican presidential candidate whose entire
world view revolved around teenagers having sex and how society needs
to stop them. Maybe his analysis has some valid points, and maybe
there are some paternalistic nudges that can trim back some of the
statistical effects (like the rate of teen pregnancy), but nothing --
certainly no tolerable level of coercion -- can keep teenagers from
being interested in sex. Of course, Keys was an outlier, even among
Republican evangelicals. Only slightly more moderate is Roy Moore,
who's evidently willing to carve out an exception for teens willing
to have sex with himself. You might chalk that up to hypocrisy,
which is common among all Americans, but is especially rife among
conservatives (who regard it as a privilege of the virtuous rich)
and evangelicals (who expect personal salvation for the fervor with
which they damn all of you). But Moore's own agenda for making his
peculiar take on Christianity the law of the land is every bit as
dangerous and hopeless as Keys' obsession with teen sex.
The most chilling thing I've read in the last week was a column
by Cal Thomas,
Faith in Politics, where he urges conservative evangelicals to
put aside their frivolous defenses of Roy Moore and go back to such
fundamentals as Martin Luther's 95 Theses, where "Luther believed
governments were ordained by God to restrain sinners and little
else." The striking thing about this phrasing is how cleverly it
forges an alliance with the libertarian right, who you'd expect
to be extremely wary of God-ordained governmental restraint. But
sin has always been viewed through the eyes of tyrants and their
pet clergy, a "holy alliance" that has been the source of so much
suffering and injustice throughout world history.
News recently has been dominated by a seemingly endless series
of reports of sexual misconduct, harassment and/or assault, on
all sides of the political spectrum (at least from Roy Moore to
Al Franken), plus a number of entertainers and industry executives.
Conservatives and liberals react to these stories differently --
aside from partisan considerations (which certainly play a part
when a Senate seat is at stake), conservatives are hypocritically
worked up about illicit sex, while liberals are more concerned
with respecting the rights of women. Yet both sides (unless the
complaint hits particularly close to home) seem to be demanding
harsh punishment (see, e.g.,
Mark Joseph Stern: Al Franken Should Resign Immediately
Michelle Goldberg and
Nate Silver agree, mostly because they want to prove that
Democrats are harsher and less hypocritical on sexual misconduct;
indeed, instant banishment seems to have been the norm among
entertainers, which Kevin Spacey, Louis CK, and Jeffrey Tambor
having projects canceled, as well as more delayed firings of
Roger Ailes, Bill O'Reilly, and Harvie Weinstein). This drive
to punish, which has long been a feature of America's notion
of justice, can wind up making things worse (and not just
because it could trigger a backlash, as
Isaac Chotiner and Rebecca Traister discuss).
I'm sure many women have many things to object to here -- the
Weinstein testimonies seem especially damning, and I suspect the
hushed up Ailes and O'Reilly legacies are comparable -- but I'm
finding some aspects of the whole brouhaha troubling. Sex is a messy
subject, often fraught and embarrassing to negotiate, subject to wildly
exaggerated hopes and fears, but inevitably a part of human nature --
I keep flashing back on Brecht's chorus: "what keeps mankind alive?
bestial acts." On the other hand, we might be better off looking at
power disparities (inequality), which are clearly evident in all of
these cases, perhaps even more so in entertainment than in politics.
I can't help but think that in a more equitable society, one that
valued mutual respect and eased up a bit on arbitrary punishment,
would be bothered less by these problems.
Some scattered links this week:
Matthew Yglesias: The 4 biggest stories in politics this week:
The House passed a major tax bill ("but the House bill, as written,
doesn't conform to Senate rules and clearly can't pass"); Senate
Republicans drafted a tax bill ("that does conform to Senate rules
at the expense of creating an even starker set of financial tradeoffs");
Bob Menendez isn't guilty (I would have said something more like
"dodged conviction via mistrial"); Things are looking worse for Roy
Moore. Other Yglesias posts last week:
Senate Republicans' tax plan raises taxes on families earning less
than $75,000. The chart, clearly demonstrating how regressive the
plan is, is for 2027, without showing how one gets there. To satisfy
the Senate's "budget reconciliation" rules many of the tax cuts have
to expire in less than ten years, so this is the end state the bill
aims for, probably with the expectation that some further cuts will
be renewed before they run out (as happened with the Bush cuts). So
on the one hand, this exaggerates the "worst case" scenario, it also
clarifies the intent behind the whole scam.
Watch CEOs admit they won't actually invest more if tax reform passes:
Gary Cohn feigns surprise that so few CEOs raised their hands.
The reason few hands are raised is there's little reason to believe that
the kind of broad corporate income tax cut Republicans are pushing for
will induce much new investment. . . . The biggest immediate winners,
in fact, would be big, established companies that are already highly
profitable. Apple, for example, would get a huge tax cut even though
the company's gargantuan cash balance is all the proof in the world
that the its investments are limited by Tim Cook's beliefs about what
Apple can usefully take on, not by a limited supply of cash or a lack
Bill Clinton should have resigned: "What he did to Monica Lewinsky
was wrong, and he should have paid the price." I've sympathized with
versions of this argument -- Gary Wills has written much on how Clinton
should have resigned, and I'm on record as having said that Had I been
in the Senate I would have voted to convict him (less because I agreed
with the actual charges than because I felt he should "pay the price"
for other things he did that were wrong -- at the time I was most upset
about Clinton's bombing of Iraq, something his Republican inquisitors
applauded, prefiguring the 2003 Bush invasion). However, I was under
the impression that whatever he did with Lewinsky was mutually consented
to and should have remained private. Indeed, before Clinton (or more
specifically, before the Scaife-funded investigation into Clinton)
politicians' private affairs had hardly ever become objects of public
concern. (I suppose Grover Cleveland, America's only bachelor president,
is the exception.) Given that all US presidents have been male, you can
argue that this public nonchalance is part of a longstanding patriarchal
culture, but there's no reason to think that the right-wingers who went
after Clinton were in any way interested in advancing feminism. Perhaps
Clinton himself could have turned his resignation into a feminist talking
point: Yglesias insists, "Had Clinton resigned in disgrace under pressure
from his own party, that would have sent a strong, and useful, chilling
signal to powerful men throughout the country." Still, I doubt that's the
lesson the Republicans would have drawn. Rather, it would have shown to
them that they had the power to drive a popular, charismatic president
from office in disgrace using pretty flimsy evidence. While there's no
reason to doubt he did it for purely selfish reasons, at the time many
people were delighted that Clinton stood firm and didn't buckle under
right-wing media shaming (e.g., that was the origin of the left-Democratic
Move On organization). As for long-term impact, Yglesias seems to argue
that had Clinton resigned, we wouldn't have found ourselves on the moral
slope that led to Trump's election.
The tax reform debate is stuck in the 1970s: "The '70s were a crazy
time," but he could be clearer about what the Republican tax cut scheme
was really about, and vaguer about the Democrat response -- worry about
the deficit came more after the damage was done (until they Democrats
were easily tarred as advocates of "tax-and-spend"). And even though he's
right that the situations are so different now that allowing companies
and rich investors to keep more after-tax income is even less likely to
spur job growth now, the fact is it didn't really work even when it made
more sense. Here's an inadvertently amusing line: "The politics of the
1970s, after all, would have been totally different if inflation,
unemployment, interest rates, and labor force growth were all low while
corporate profits were high." I'd hypothesize that if corporate profits
were artificially raised through political means (which is pretty much
what's happened starting with the Reagan tax cuts in 1981) all those
other factors would have been reduced. Increasing corporate profits
even more just adds to the burden the rich already impose on us all.
Sean Illing: "The fish rots from the head": a historian on the unique
corruption of Trump's White House: An interview with Robert Dallek,
who "estimates that historical examples of corruption, like that of the
Warren G. Harding administration, don't hold a candle to how Trump and
his people have conducted themselves in the White House." One thing I
noticed here is how small famous scandals were in comparison to things
that are happening every day under Trump: e.g., Teapot Dome ("in which
Harding's secretary of the interior leased Navy petroleum reserves in
Wyoming and California to private oil companies at incredibly low rates
without a competitive bidding process"). Isn't that exactly what Zinke
is trying to do with Alaska's oil reserves? Wasn't that Zinke's rationale
behind reducing several National Monuments? And how does that stack up
against the monetary value of various deregulation orders (especially
those by the EPA and FCC)? To get a handle on corruption today, you have
to look beyond first-order matters like Trump family business and direct
payoffs to the windfalls industries claim from administration largess
and beyond to corporate predation that will inevitably occur as it sinks
in that the Trump administration is no longer enforcing regulations and
laws that previously protected the public. Even short of changing laws
to encourage further predation (as Bush did with his tax cuts and "tort
reform"), the Trump administration is not just profiting from but breeding
corruption. Curiously, Dallek doesn't even mention the closest relatives:
the Reagan administration, with its embrace of "greed is good" leading to
dozens of major scandals, and the second Bush, which imploded so utterly
we wound up with the deepest recession since the 1930s.
Cristina Cabrera: Trump Puts on Hold Controversial Rollback of Elephant
Trophy Ban: In the "could be worse" department:
The U.S Fish & Wildlife Service announced on November 16 that it was
rolling back an Obama-era ban preventing the import of hunted elephants
in Zimbabwe. A similar ban had also been lifted for hunted elephants in
The decision was met with overwhelming backlash, with both liberals
and conservatives slamming the move as needlessly cruel and inhumane.
The notorious photos of the President's sons posing with a dead leopard
and a dismembered tail of a elephant from their hunting expeditions
According to the Service, it can allow such imports "only when the
killing of the animal will enhance the survival of the species." African
elephants are protected as an endangered species under the Endangered
Species Act, and critics questioned the Interior Department's defense
that allowing hunters to kill more of them would enhance their survival.
To be fair to the Trump administration, "allowing hunters to kill more
of them would enhance their survival" is also the common logic that binds
together most key Republican initiatives, like their "repeal and replace
Obamacare" and "tax cuts and jobs" acts. It's also basically why they
made Betsy De Vos Secretary of Education. For more, see
Tara Isabella Burton: Trump stalls controversial decision on big game
Alvin Chang: This simple chart debunks the conspiracy theory that Hillary
Clinton sold uranium to Russia: The latest "lock her up" chorus,
cheerleadered by Rep. Louie Gohmert (R-TX). I can't make any sense of
his chart, but the simplified one is easy enough to follow (although
it could use a dateline). Still, a couple of troubling points. One is
why Russian state-owned Rosatom would buy a Canadian uranium country
with operations in the US. Presumably it's just business, and Uranium
One still sells (as well as produces) uranium in the US market. The
other point is that the Clinton Foundation never has and never will
cleanse itself of the stench of operating as an influence peddler with
ties into the US government -- although it helps that Hillary is no
longer Secretary of State or otherwise government-employed, and it
will help more as Clinton's numerous political cronies move away from
the family and its foundation.
Adam Federman: The Plot to Loot America's Wilderness: Meet Jim
Cason, who "seems to be running the show" under Ryan Zinke at the
Department of Interior, where he's actively cultivating what promises
to be a hundred Teapot Dome scandals.
Brent D Griffiths: Trump on UCLA basketball players: 'I should have left
them in jail': If run in The New Yorker, this article would
have been filed under "Annals of Pettiness."
Gregory Hellman: House declares US military role in Yemen's civil war
unauthorized: Vote was 366-30, declaring that intervention in Yemen
is not authorized under previous "authorization of force" resolutions,
including the sweeping "war on terror" resolution from 2001. The US has
conducted drone attacks in Yemen well before the Saudi intervention in
a civil war that grew out of Arab Spring demonstrations (although the
Houthi revolt dates back even further). The US has supported the Saudi
intervention verbally, with arms shipments, and with target intelligence,
contributing to a major humanitarian disaster. Unfortunately, the new
resolution seems to have little teeth.
Cameron Joseph: Norm Coleman: I'd Have Beaten Franken in '08 if Groping
Photo Had Come Out: Probably. The final tally had Franken ahead by
312 votes, so Coleman isn't insisting on much of a swing. On the other
hand, I don't live in Minnesota, so I don't have any real feel for how
the actual 2008 campaign played out. Coleman won his seat in 2002 after
Paul Wellstone died in a plane crash and was replaced by a shockingly
tone-deaf Walter Mondale -- inactive in politics since 1984. Coleman's
win was a fluke, and he was never very popular, but Franken had a very
tough job unseating him in 2008 -- I suspect his real problem was Upton
Sinclair Complex (the famous novelist ran for governor of California
in 1934 and lost, in no small part because opponents could pick strange
quotes from his novels and present them out of context). Franken's
comedy career must have presented Coleman's handlers with a treasure
trove of bad jokes and faux pas, so many that the "groping picture"
might even have gotten lost in the noise. For his part, Franken bent
over backwards to present himself as serious and sober, and six years
later was reelected easily, by 10.4 points, an improvement suggesting
many of the voters' doubts have been answered. I've never been much
of a fan, either of his comedy or of how he cozied up to the military
to gain a mainstream political perch. Still, I've reluctantly grown
to admire his dedication and earnestness as a politician, a vocation
that has lately become ever more precarious for honest folk. So I was
shocked when the photo/story revealed, not so much by the content as
by how eagerly the media gobbled it up. In particular,
TPM, which I usually look at
first when I get up for a quick summary of the latest political flaps,
filed eight straight stories on Franken in their prioritized central
column, to the exclusion of not just Roy Moore (who had the next three
stories) but also of the House passing the Republican tax scam bill.
A couple more links on Franken:
In addition to Yglesias above, I'm running into more reconsiderations
of Bill Clinton, basically showing that the atmosphere has changed between
the 1990s and now, making Clinton look all the worse. For example:
Fred Kaplan: Trigger Warning: "A congressional hearing underlines
the dangers posed by an unstable president with unchecked authority
to launch nuclear weapons."
Azmat Khan/Anand Gopal: The Uncounted: Long and gruesome article
on the air war against ISIS in Syria and Iraq, who and what got hit,
paying some attention to the mistakes that are never expected but
somehow always occur whenever the US goes to war.
Between April 2016 and June 2017, we visited the sites of nearly 150
airstrikes across northern Iraq, not long after ISIS was evicted from
them. We toured the wreckage; we interviewed hundreds of witnesses,
survivors, family members, intelligence informants and local officials;
we photographed bomb fragments, scoured local news sources, identified
ISIS targets in the vicinity and mapped the destruction through satellite
imagery. We also visited the American air base in Qatar where the coalition
directs the air campaign. There, we were given access to the main operations
floor and interviewed senior commanders, intelligence officials, legal
advisers and civilian-casualty assessment experts. We provided their
analysts with the coordinates and date ranges of every airstrike -- 103
in all -- in three ISIS-controlled areas and examined their responses.
The result is the first systematic, ground-based sample of airstrikes
in Iraq since this latest military action began in 2014. . . .
We found that one in five of the coalition strikes we identified
resulted in civilian death, a rate more than 31 times that acknowledged
by the coalition. It is at such a distance from official claims that, in
terms of civilian deaths, this may be the least transparent war in recent
American history. Our reporting, moreover, revealed a consistent failure
by the coalition to investigate claims properly or to keep records that
make it possible to investigate the claims at all. While some of the
civilian deaths we documented were a result of proximity to a legitimate
ISIS target, many others appear to be the result simply of flawed or
outdated intelligence that conflated civilians with combatants. In this
system, Iraqis are considered guilty until proved innocent. Those who
survive the strikes, people like Basim Razzo, remain marked as possible
ISIS sympathizers, with no discernible path to clear their names.
Mike Konczal: Republicans are weaponizing the tax code: Key fact
here: "Corporations are flush with cash from large profits and
aggressively low interest rates, yet they aren't investing." This
belies any pretense that cutting corporate tax rates. Without any
real growth prospects, the cuts not only favor the rich, the other
changes are meant to penalize everyone else, moving into the realm
of class war ("capital is eating the economy").
The crucial thing to realize is that this tax reform effort reflects
more than the normal conservative allergic reaction to progressive
taxation -- going far beyond undoing the modest progressive grains
achieved by Presidents Obama and Clinton. Three major changes stand
out: These taxes are far more focused on owners than on workers, even
by Republican standards. They take advantage of the ambiguity of what
counts as income, weaponizing that vagueness to help their friends
and hurt their enemies.
And after years of pushing for a safety net that works through the
tax code, in order to keep more social democratic reforms at bay,
Republicans now reveal their willingness to demolish even those
modest protections. Their actions make clear that a welfare state
based on tax credits and refunds, rather than universal commitments,
is all too vulnerable.
More links on taxes:
Josh Marshall: There's a Digital Media Crush. But No One Will Say It:
The key sentence here is "The move to video is driven entirely by advertiser
demand." The reasoning behind this is left unexplained, but obviously it's
because advertising embedded in videos is more intrusive than static space
advertising. Part of this is that it's harder for users to block as well
as ignore, for the same reason radio and television advertising are more
intrusive than print advertising. They're also dumber, because they don't
have to offer something useful like information to catch your attention. If
past experience is any guide, it also leads to a dumbing down of content,
which eventually will make the content close to worthless. This is all bad
news for media companies hoping to make bucks off the Internet, and more
so for writers trying to scratch out a living from those companies. But
more than anything else, it calls into question the public value of an
information system based on advertising. From the very beginning, media
dependent on advertising have been corrupted by it, and that's only gotten
worse as advertisers have gained leverage and targeting data. Concentration
of media business only makes this worse, but even if we could reverse the
latter -- breaking up effective monopolies and monopsonies and restoring
"net neutrality" rules -- we should be questioning the very idea of public
information systems built on advertising.
Dylan Matthews: Senate Republicans are making it easier to push through
Trump's judge picks: Technically, this is about "blue slips," which
is one of those undemocratic rules which allow individual Senators to
flout their power, but few things in the Republican agenda are more
precious to them (or their donors) than packing the courts with verified
Andrew Prokop/Jen Kirby: The Republican Party's Roy Moore catastrophe,
explained. A couple impressions here. For one, their listing of
Moore's "extremist views" seem pretty run-of-the-mill -- things that
some 15-20% of Americans might if not agree with him at least find
untroubling. I suspect this understates his extremism, especially on
issues of religious freedom, where he has staked out his turf as a
Christian nationalist. Second, I've been under the impression that
his sexual misdeeds were in the range of harassment (compounded by
the youth of his victims, as young as 14), but at least one of the
complaints reads like attempted assault -- the girl in question was
16, and when Moore broke off the attack, he allegedly said to the
girl: "You are a child. I am the Dictrict Attorney of Etowah County.
If you tell anyone about this, no one will believe you." I reckon
it as progress that such charges are highly credible now. As for the
effect these revelations may have on the election, note: "A recent
poll even showed that 29 percent of the state's voters say the
allegations make them more likely to vote for Moore."
Also on Moore:
Corey Robin: Trump's Fantasy Capitalism: "How the president undermines
Republicans' traditional economic arguments." Robin, by the way, has
a new edition of his The Reactionary Mind book out, the subtitle
Conservatism from Edmund Burke to Donald Trump as opposed to the
original Sarah Palin. For reviews, see
John Holbro and
Grant Schulte/James Nord: Oil Leak Will Not Factor Into Decision to
Expand Keystone Pipeline: Of course, because right after a 250,000
gallon oil leak time is no time to talk about how approving a pipeline
could lead to more oil leaks. Also, note how the authors had to walk
back one of their more outrageous claims:
This version of the story corrects that there have been 17 leaks the
same size or larger than the Keystone spill instead of 17 larger than
this spill. One of the spills was the same size.
Matt Taibbi: RIP Edward Herman, Who Co-Wrote a Book That's Now More
Important Than Ever: The book, co-authored by Noam Chomsky, is
Manufacturing Consent: The Political Economy of the Mass Media,
originally published in 1988.
The really sad part about the Herman/Chomsky thesis was that it didn't
rely upon coercion or violence. Newspapers and TV channels portrayed
the world in this America-centric way not because they were forced to.
Mostly, they were just intellectually lazy and disinterested in the
stated mission of their business, i.e., telling the truth.
In fact, media outlets were simply vehicles for conveying ads, and
a consistent and un-troubling view of the political universe was a
prerequisite for selling cars, candy bars, detergent, etc. Upset people
don't buy stuff. This is why Sunday afternoon broadcasts featured golf
tournaments and not police beatings or reports from cancer wards near
The news business was about making money, and making money back then
for big media was easy. So why make a fuss?
It occurs to me that the big money isn't so easy any more, which
helps explain the air of desperation that hangs over cable and internet
news outlets these days -- their need to provoke fear and stoke fights,
building up an air of loyalty. One even suspects that Fox gravitated
to right-wing politics less because of its sponsorship than due to a
psychological profile of a sizable audience that could be captured.
As Taibbi concludes, "It's a shame [Herman] never wrote a sequel. Now
more than ever, we could use another Manufacturing Consent."
By the way, while Herman and Chomsky identified "anti-communism" as
their "fifth filter," that should be generalized to denigrating anyone
on the US list of bad countries or movements -- especially the routine
characterization of Russia, Iran, and Venezuela as non-democracies,
even though all three have elections that are arguably fairer and
freer than America's 2016 election. One consequence of this is that
American media has lost all credibility in many of these nations.
For example, see
Oleg Kashin: When Russians stopped believing in the Western media.
Zephyr Teachout: The Menendez trial revealed everything that's gone
wrong with US bribery law: The corruption case against Senator
Bob Menendez (D-NJ) ended in a hung jury mistrial, even short of
the appeals process which has severely weakened most anti-corruption
I'm with the jury: Even after closely following the trial, I have no
strong view on Menendez's guilt or innocence, given the laws they have
to work with. I do have a view, however, that the Supreme Court has
been playing a shell game with corruption laws. It has stripped
anti-corruption legislation of its power in two areas: campaign
finance laws and anti-bribery laws. The public is left with little
recourse against a growing threat of corruption. Whatever happens
with this particular case, this is no way to do corruption law. . . .
It is fitting that the trial ended with a hung jury. The Court
has struck down so many laws that would have made this case easier.
If laws prohibiting Super PACs were still in place, we'd have no
$600,000 donation. But in the very case enabling Super PACs, Citizens
United, the Court suggested that bribery laws would be powerful tools
to combat corruption threats -- and then went ahead and weakened
those laws. . . .
Was it friendship? Was it corrupt? Or was it our fault for creating
a system that encourages "friendships" that blur the line?
Sunday, November 12. 2017
Matt Taibbi is a dedicated, insightful journalist and a terrific writer,
but ever since the 2016 campaign started he's repeatedly gotten tripped up
by having to meet advance deadlines for Rolling Stone that have left
many of his pieces dated on arrival. His latest is especially unfortunate:
A Year After Trump's Election, Nothing Has Changed. The factoid he chose
to build his article around was a recent poll arguing that
12 months later, Trump would probably still win the 2016 election.
The assumption is that Trump is still running against Hillary Clinton.
Trump, of course, has been in the news every day since the election,
and is already raising money for 2020 and making rally appearances in
active campaigning mode. Aside from her self-serving, self-rationalizing
book tour Clinton has largely dropped out of site, conceding she's not
running again, and not scoring any points attacking Trump -- not that
Trump's stopped attacking her, most recently accusing her of being the
real "Russia colluder." Still, the poll in question shows Trump and
Clinton in a dead 40-40 tie -- i.e., both candidates are doing worse
than they did one year ago, but in the interest of sensationalism, the
author gives Trump the tiebreaker ("Given that Trump overperformed in
key, blue-leaning swing states, that means he'd probably have won again.")
As it happens, Taibbi's article was written before and appeared after
the 2017 elections where Democrats swept two gubernatorial races (in VA
and NJ), and picked up fairly dramatic gains in down-ballot elections
all over the country. For details, start with FiveThirtyEight's
What Went Down on Election Night 2017.
Nate Silver explains further:
Democrats had a really good night on Tuesday, easily claiming the Virginia
and New Jersey gubernatorial races, flipping control of the Washington
state Senate and possibly also the Virginia House of Delegates, passing
a ballot measure in Maine that will expand Medicaid in the state, winning
a variety of mayoral elections around the country, and gaining control of
key county executive seats in suburban New York.
They also got pretty much exactly the results you'd expect when opposing
a Republican president with a 38 percent approval rating.
That's not to downplay Democrats' accomplishments. Democrats' results
were consistent enough, and their margins were large enough, that Tuesday's
elections had a wave-like feel. That includes how they performed in Virginia,
where Ralph Northam won by considerably more than polls projected. When
almost all the toss-up races go a certain way, and when the party winning
those toss-up races also accomplishes certain things that were thought to
be extreme long shots (such as possibly winning the Virginia House of
Delegates), it's almost certainly a reflection of the national environment.
Silver also notes:
- President Trump's approval rating is only 37.6 percent.
- Democrats lead by approximately 10 points on the generic Congressional
- Republican incumbents are retiring at a rapid pace; there were two
retirements (from New Jersey Rep. Frank LoBiondo and Texas Rep. Ted Poe)
on Tuesday alone.
- Democrats are recruiting astonishing numbers of candidates for
- Democrats have performed well overall in special elections to the
U.S. Congress, relative to the partisanship of those districts; they've
also performed well in special elections to state legislatures.
- The opposition party almost always gains ground at midterm elections.
This is one of the most durable empirical rules of American politics.
The thing I find most striking about these election results is the
unity Democrats showed. Mainstream Democrats still bitch about lefties
who defected to Ralph Nader in 2000, but as someone who remembers how
mainstream Democrats sandbagged McGovern in 1972 (and who's read about
how Bryan was repeatedly voted down after 1896), I've long been more
concerned about how "centrists" might break if anyone on the left wins
the Democratic Party nomination. Yet last week saw a remarkably diverse
group of Democrats triumphant. The lesson I take away from the results
is that most voters have come to realize is that the problem isn't just
Trump and some of his ilk but the whole Republican Party, and that the
only hope people have is to unite behind the Democrats, regardless of
whether they zig left or zag right. Especially after last week's flap
over Donna Brazile's book Hacks, that's good news.
It's also news that belies Taibbi's main thesis: not so much that
nothing has changed in the year since Trump's shocking election win as
the charge that we're still responding as stupidly to Trump as we did
during the campaign. On the former, the administration's worker bees
have torn up thousands of pages of regulations meant to protect us
from predatory business, major law enforcement organizations have been
reoriented to persecute immigrants while ignoring civil rights and
antitrust, and the judiciary is being stock with fresh right-wingers.
The full brunt of those changes may not have sunk in -- they certainly
haven't hit all their intended victims yet -- but even if you fail to
appreciate the threats these changes have a way of becoming tangible
very suddenly. And given how Republican health care proposals polled
down around 20%, you may need to rethink your assumptions about how
dumb and gullible the American people are.
Republican proposals on "tax reform" are polling little better than
their effort to wreck health care. This polling is helping to stall
the agenda, but Republicans in Congress are so ideological, and so
beholden to their sponsors, that most are willing to buck and polls
and follow their orders. What we've needed all year has been for
elections to show Republicans that their choices have consequences,
and hopefully that's started to happen now.
But whereas the first half of Taibbi's article can be blamed on
bad timing, the second half winds up being even more annoying:
Despising Trump and his followers is easy. What's hard is imagining
how we put Humpty Dumpty together again. This country is broken. It
is devastated by hate and distrust. What is needed is a massive effort
at national reconciliation. It will have to be inspired, delicate and
ingenious to work. Someone needs to come up with a positive vision for
the entire country, one that is more about love and community than
That will probably mean abandoning the impulse to continually
litigate the question of who is worse, Republicans or Democrats. . . .
The people running the Democratic Party are opportunists and hacks,
and for as long as the despicable and easily hated Trump is president,
that is what these dopes will focus on, not realizing that most of the
country is crying out for something different.
Well, I'm as eager as the next guy for a high-minded conversation
about common problems and reasonable solutions, but that's not what
politics is about these days (and probably never was). But let's face
it, the immediate problem is that one side's totally unprincipled and
totally unreasonable, and the only way past that is to beat that side
down so severely no one ever dares utter "trickle down" again. They
need to get beat down as bad as the Nazis in WWII -- so bad the stink
of collaboration much less membership takes generations to wash off.
Then maybe we can pick up the pieces.
As for the "hacks and opportunists," sure they are, but they're
approachable in ways the Republicans simply aren't. I've seen good
people, hard-working activists, come into Wichita for years and urge
us to go talk to our Congressman, as if the person in that office
(remember, we're talking about Todd Tiahrt, Mike Pompeo, and Ron
Estes) was merely misinformed but fundamentally reasonable. I've
met plenty of hacks and opportunists who are at least approachable,
but not these guys. They've sold their souls, and they're never
By the way, Thomas Frank's article on the Trump Day anniversary
runs into pretty much the same problem:
We're still aghast at Donald Trump -- but what good has that done?
Well, the American political system doesn't give you a lot of latitude
to repair a botched election -- everyone in office has fixed terms,
the option of signing recall petitions is very limited (and doesn't
apply to Trump), impeachment is virtually impossible without massive
Republican defections -- so sometimes being constantly aghast is all
one can do. And while the last three US presidents had their share of
intractably obsessive opponents, they pale to the numbers of people
constantly on Trump's case. Frank wants to minimize our effect, not
least because he wants us to consider bigger, wider, deeper, older
faults that Trump makes worse but isn't uniquely responsible for.
Trump's sins are continuous with the last 50 years of our history.
His bigotry and racist dog-whistling? Conservatives have been doing
that since forever. His vain obsession with ratings, his strutting
braggadocio? Welcome to the land of Hollywood and pro wrestling.
His tweeting? The technology is new, but the urge to evade the
mainstream media is not. His outreach to working-class voters? His
hatred of the press? He lifts those straight from his hero Richard
Nixon. His combination of populist style with enrich-the-rich policies?
Republicans have been following that recipe since the days of Ronald
Reagan. His "wrecking crew" approach to government, which made the
cover of Time magazine last week? I myself made the same observation,
under the same title, about the administration of George W Bush.
The trends Trump personifies are going to destroy this country one
of these days. They've already done a hell of a job on the middle
But declaring it all so ghastly isn't going to halt these trends
or remove the reprobate from the White House. Waving a piece of paper
covered with mean words in Trump's face won't make him retreat to his
tower in New York. To make him do that you must understand where he
comes from, how he operates, why his supporters like him, and how we
might coax a few of them away.
The parade of the aghast will have none of that. Strategy is not
the goal; a horror-high is. And so its practitioners routinely rail
against Trump's supporters along with Trump himself, imagining
themselves beleaguered by a country they no longer understand nor
As an engineer, I've long related to the idea that you have to
understand something to change it -- at least to change it in a
deliberate and viable way -- but politics doesn't seem to work that
way. For nearly all of my life, the most powerful political motivator
has been disgust. And while that may seem like a recent bad trend,
I pretty clearly remember characters like Dick Nixon, Barry Goldwater,
and George Wallace. So it really doesn't bother me when people are
simply aghast at Trump without understanding the fine points. Sure,
at some point we need to get a better idea of what to do, but all
the present situation demands is resistance, and as people line up
to defend and demean Trump, those connections Frank wants us to
learn are getting made.
My tweet for the day:
Wasn't #VeteransDay originally Armistice Day (a celebration of peace at
the end of an unprecedentedly horrific war)? I guess when the US went
to a permanent war footing, they had to rename it.
Some scattered links this week:
Matthew Yglesias: The 4 most important stories in politics this week:
Democrats won a landslide in Virginia; New allegations surfaced about
Roy Moore; The House moved ahead with a tax bill; Senate Republicans
unveiled a different bill. Other Yglesias pieces this week:
Democrats ought to invest in Doug Jones's campaign against Roy Moore.
I agree, but less because I think "Roy Moore is dangerously unfit for
office" -- true enough, but he's angling to replace Jeff Sessions, who
was dangerously unfit himself -- than because I think Democrats should
challenge everywhere a reversal of the slide toward oligarchy would help
most of the people. There's a risk, of course, that Democrats may focus
so much on Moore's peculiar degeneracy they fail to make their best case,
but as Yglesias concludes, "hey, you never know."
Gary Cohn explains the GOP tax plan: "The most excited group out there
are big CEOs": easy to see why, as the main effect is to shore up
the already booming stock market, but Cohn sees more benefits in "the
whole trickle-down through the economy."
It's not just Virginia: Maine has a crucial lesson for Democrats:
"Medicaid expansion ran well ahead of Hillary Clinton, and that serves
as a potent reminder that the Democratic Party's basic bread-and-butter
promise of taxing rich people to provide useful public services is more
popular than the broader Democratic gestalt."
2 ways of reading Trump's objections to the AT&T/Time Warner
merger: Some hints that the Trump administration has surprisingly
found an antitrust case to get interested in, mostly because it involves
their arch-nemesis CNN. Still, would be a good thing if the merger didn't
go through. Last section subtitled "It would be nice to have a trustworthy
But we don't have a president like that. We have a president who lies
constantly, who disregards the norms of American government, who's openly
disdainful of the social function of a free press, and who's set up his
administration in a way that seems to generally sideline expertise while
opening the door to massive financial conflicts of interest.
A simple, boring lesson from Democrats' landslide in Virginia and
beyond: "There is no microtargeting magic -- when you win you do
Being out of power has boosted Democratic enthusiasm, making it easier
to recruit more and better candidates and easier to turn voters out for
lower profile elections. At the same time, Trump is broadly unpopular
nationwide which flips some voters into the D column while anti-inspiring
others to stay home. In an atmosphere like that, a lot of different kinds
of candidates using a lot of different kinds of strategies can win in a
lot of different kinds of places.
Democrats picked up 2 seats in the Georgia state legislature, too.
Notable fact here is that both seats were not only previously held by
Republicans, they were uncontested in 2016. Shows Democrats do better
when they actually run candidates.
Northam's win in the Virginia governor race shows the GOP is in big
What's really at stake in Tuesday's elections.
The real fix for gerrymandering is proportional representation.
The Republican tax plan's original sin: The big corporate tax cut,
especially the idée fixe of reducing the rate from 35% to 20%.
There's simply no way to make that work -- even with what amounts to a
long-term tax increase on middle incomes, which seems to be what
"reform" is adding up to.
Anne Applebaum: Trump is part of the Saudi story: As Crown Prince
Mohammed bin Salman consolidates his power base, he's arrested rivals
and charged them with "corruption" -- Applebaum notes that Putin and
Xi have leveled that same charge against their own rivals, and also:
But Trump is also part of the story. By his own example -- through his
disdain for courts and for the media, through his scorn for ethical
norms -- Trump has cast doubt on the Western model. He may even have
encouraged the Saudi prince more directly. Jared Kushner, Trump's
son-in-law, a living embodiment of American nepotism, visited Riyadh
for long talks -- officially to promote Mideast peace, but perhaps
business and politics came up, too -- in the days before the arrest.
The image of two princelings, scheming late into the night, makes a
textbook illustration of the decline of American prestige and American
values, even in a country that is closely allied to the United States.
Still, Saudi Arabia seems to have graduated from the allies that
follow America's lead to become (like Israel) an ally that "wags the
dog" according to its own peculiar logic. See several recent pieces:
Dean Baker: Blaming Inequality on Technology: Sloppy Thinking for the
Educated. Also by Baker (from Sept. 15), a review of Yanis Varoufakis'
Adults in the Room: The Sordid Tale of Greece's Battle Against Austerity
and the Troika.
Katheryn Brightbill: Roy Moore's alleged pursuit of a young girl is the
symptom of a larger problem in evangelical circles.
Nancy Cook: How Flynn -- and the Russia scandal -- landed in the West
Wing: This is amusing:
New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, the early transition chief for a newly
elected Donald Trump, and his team had deep reservations about Flynn,
fearing the retired three-star Army general who had been ousted from
the Obama administration suffered from poor judgment and espoused
far-out ideas on foreign policy. . . .
But when Christie was fired from his transition perch on Nov. 11 --
replaced by soon-to-be Vice President Mike Pence -- Flynn and former
White House chief strategist Steve Bannon celebrated by tossing binders
full of potential personnel picks, carefully culled by Christie's team,
into trash bins with a sense of ceremonial glee.
Note that Christie's shortlist was long on generals -- in fact, it
doesn't appear he considered anyone else.
Cora Currier/Danielle Marie Mackey: Trump Administration Suddenly Cancels
Refugee Program That Saved Lives of Central American Children.
Peter Dreier: Most Americans Are Liberal, Even If They Don't Know It:
A lot of polling data, on issues rather than policies, e.g.: "78 percent
of Americans say we need sweeping new laws to reduce the influence of
money in politics"; "76 percent believe the wealthiest Americans should
pay higher taxes."
Thomas Frank: Why have we built a paradise for offshore
Jacob Greene/Allison McManus: Mysterious Deaths and Forced Disappearances.
This is Egypt's U.S.-Backed War on Terror.
Gardiner Harris: State Department to Offer Buyouts in Effort to Cut Staff.
Well, what would Exxon do? Still, I find it incomprehensible that all of
Tillerson's efforts to eliminate useless State Dept. jobs have still left
an appointment in the works for Sam Brownback. Still, note this:
Some employees will not be eligible for the buyouts, including many
members of the security, information technology, medical and building
staffs, areas in which the department is trying to hire more people
or is offering bonuses for them to stay.
Fred Kaplan: Lost in Asia: "Trump's trip shows what happens when a
world leader is set adrift in the world with no strategy or goals."
Sarah Kliff: Obamacare just had its best week in months: Sign-ups
during the first week of open enrollment are up, despite Trump executive
orders to cut advertising and support. Maine approved a referendum to
expand Medicaid, and Virginia will lean more toward expanding.
Paul Krugman: Leprechaun Economics and Neo-Lafferism: One of a
series of posts on economist claims about growth under the Republicans'
"tax reform" bill. Due to several assumptions I don't begin to buy,
the theory is that lower corporate taxes will be matched by a massive
capital inflow that will increase GDP. Since such investment will
return profits abroad, Krugman argues that GNI (Gross National Income)
is the more relevant measure, and that will be much less than growth
in GDP (again, assuming that any such thing happens). "Leprechaun"
refers to Ireland, which has attracted a lot of foreign investment
with low corporate tax rates, so is the most relevant example (but
a very small country compared to the US, so effects are likely to
be much less notable here). Lafferism is the theory that tax cuts
generate such enormous economic growth they actually increase tax
revenues. Neo-Lafferism is the next formulation after Lafferism
itself has been proven to be total horseshit.
Dara Lind: Thousands of immigrants are losing their DACA protections
Robinson Meyer: Syria Is Joining the Paris Agreement. Now What?
Well, that leaves the United States as the only country to reject
the climate accord.
Charlie Savage: Trump Is Rapidly Reshaping the Judiciary. Here's How.
Jon Swaine: Offshore cash helped fund Steve Bannon's attacks on Hillary
Sunday, November 5. 2017
Again, a very late start, so this is very catch-as-catch-can.
Some scattered links this week:
Matthew Yglesias: 4 stories that drove politics this week: I moved
Yglesias' weekly summaries up top a couple weeks ago as I've found lately
that he's become a pretty good chronicler of the Trump travesty, which
especially as I've started to tune out myself makes for a useful intro
to whatever happened recently. This week's stories: We finally saw the
GOP's tax bill; Mueller revealed indictments -- and a guilty plea; Jeff
Sessions is back in the spotlight: specifically, for Russia stuff, going
back to his false testimony during his confirmation hearings; and, Jerome
Powell will be the next Federal Reserve chair. Other Yglesias pieces:
Republicans should admit to themselves they mostly don't want big
change: "It's a cranky old person party, not a policy visionary
The Republican tax plan, in one chart:
Big-picture summary is that over the first 10 years, the bill has:
- $1 trillion net tax cut for business owners
- $172 billion tax cut for people who inherit multi-million dollar estates
- $300 billion net tax cut for individuals.
Republicans changed their minds and now want to cut the mortgage
Jerome Powell, President Trump's reported choice to head the Federal
Reserve, explained: "Good news for people who like lax bank regulation."
Republicans promised a tax reform bill by today. Here's why they don't
have one: November 1. "Nobody knew taxes were so complicated."
Booker calls on antitrust regulators to start paying attention to workers.
Key word to add to your vocabulary is "monopsony":
Antitrust law normally comes up in the context of monopoly power,
the prospect that a company will control such a large share of output
that it can raise prices or reduce quality. But it also applies to
situations of monopsony power, in which market concentration
offers undue leverage over workers or upstream suppliers. Antitrust
regulators have consistently recognized the importance of the monopsony
issue when it comes to cartels between separate companies -- suing a
number of big Silicon Valley companies that had reached an illegal "no
poaching" agreement to depress engineers' wages -- but has not in recent
years appeared to recognize such concerns when conducting merger review.
. . .
Booker's letter starts with a premise that's now become common in
progressive circles: that the American economy is becoming broadly
more concentrated across a range of sectors. . . . At the same time,
corporate profits as a share of the overall economy are at an unusually
high level, the stock market is booming, and wage growth has been
incredibly restrained even as the economy has recovered from the
depths of the Great Recession.
Congressional Republicans are helping Trump with a big cover-up:
Several things here, including:
George W. Bush put his personal wealth in a blind trust. Jimmy Carter
sold his peanut farm. Barack Obama held all his assets in simple
diversified index funds. There is a way in which a modern president
with a modicum of integrity conducts himself, and Trump has refused
to do it.
Rather than liquidate his assets and put the proceeds in a trust,
Trump has simply turned over day-to-day management of the family
business to his two older sons -- sons who continue to serve as
surrogates and part of his political operation, even while his
oldest daughter and her husband serve as top White House aides.
Ivanka Trump is reeling in Chinese trademarks while Eric and Donald
Jr. do real estate deals in India. Trump is billing the Secret
Service six figures for the privilege of renting golf carts at
his golf courses. People with interests before the government can --
and do -- pay direct cash bribes to the president by joining his
Mar-a-Lago club or holding events at his hotel in Washington, DC. . . .
There's an interesting lesson in the fact that Paul Manafort is
being brought down by criminal money laundering and tax evasion
charges that are at best tangentially related to his work for
Trump's campaign -- there's a lot of white-collar crime happening
in America that people are getting away with. . . .
Manafort's criminal misconduct only came to light because he
happened to have stumbled into massive political scandal that put
his conduct under the microscope in a way that most rich criminals
By the same token, over the years Trump has been repeatedly fined
for breaking federal money laundering rules, been paid millions in
hush money to settle civil fraud claims, been caught breaking New
Jersey casino law, been caught violating the Hart-Scott-Rodino Act,
been caught violating federal securities law, been caught violating
New York nonprofit law, and -- of course -- been accused of multiple
counts of sexual assault.
Yet throughout this storied history of lawbreaking, Trump has never
faced a major criminal charge. He gets caught, he pays a civil penalty,
and he keeps on being a rich guy who enjoys rich-guy impunity -- just
Paul Ryan won't let indictments stop him from cutting taxes on the
Trump's response to indictments: "why aren't Crooked Hillary & the
Dems the focus?????"
The question that matters now: what will Republicans do when Trump fires
Mueller? "Probably nothing."
Tom Engelhardt: Doing Bin Laden's Bidding: I read (or maybe misread)
a turn of phrase today that describes America's "War on Terror" aptly:
"flailing forward." I always thought freedom meant you can choose what
to do, and therefore free people can refuse to do stupid things just
because they get taunted. Maybe Bin Laden didn't appreciate how much
destruction the US would wreak when he challenged the insecure egos of
American power, but he was certainly baiting the giant to blunder into
"the graveyard of empires" -- as Afghanistan was known even before 2001.
Looking back, 16 years later, it's extraordinary how September 11,
2001, would set the pattern for everything that followed. Each further
goading act, from Afghanistan to Libya, San Bernardino to Orlando,
Iraq to Niger, each further humiliation would trigger yet more of the
same behavior in Washington. After all, so many people and institutions --
above all, the U.S. military and the rest of the national security
state -- came to have a vested interest in Osama bin Laden's version
of our world. . . .
After all, Osama bin Laden managed to involve the United States in
16 years of fruitless wars, most now "generational" conflicts with no
end in sight, which would only encourage the creation and spread of
terror groups, the disintegration of order across significant parts
of the planet, and the displacement of whole populations in staggering
numbers. At the same time, he helped turn twenty-first-century Washington
into a war machine of the first order that ate the rest of the government
for lunch. He gave the national security state the means -- the excuse,
if you will -- to rise to a kind of power, prominence, and funding that
might otherwise have been inconceivable. In the process -- undoubtedly
fulfilling his wildest dreams -- he helped speed up the decline of the
very country that, since the Cold War ended, had been plugging itself
as the greatest ever.
That, of course, is old news. The new news here concerns Niger,
where four US special forces soldiers were recently killed despite
hardly anyone in America realizing they were there. What's happened
since is a recapitulation of the Afghanistan-Iraq-Libya disaster:
And suddenly U.S. Africa Command was highlighting its desire for more
money from Congress; the military was moving to arm its Reaper drones
in Niger with Hellfire missiles for future counterterrorism operations;
and Secretary of Defense Mattis was assuring senators privately that
the military would "expand" its "counterterrorism focus" in Africa.
The military began to prepare to deploy Hellfire Missile-armed Reaper
drones to Niger. "The war is morphing," Graham insisted. "You're going
to see more actions in Africa, not less; you're going to see more
aggression by the United States toward our enemies, not less; you're
going to have decisions being made not in the White House but out in
Rumors were soon floating around that, as the Washington Post
reported, the administration might "loosen restrictions on the U.S.
military's ability to use lethal force in Niger" (as it already had done
in the Trump era in places like Syria and Yemen). And so it expectably
went, as events in Niger proceeded from utter obscurity to the
near-apocalyptic, while -- despite the strangeness of the Trumpian
moment -- the responses came in exactly as anyone reviewing the last
16 years might have imagined they would.
All of this will predictably make things in central Africa worse,
not better, leading to . . . well, more than a decade and a half after
9/11, you know just as well as I do where it's leading. And there are
remarkably few brakes on the situation, especially with three generals
of our losing wars ruling the roost in Washington and Donald Trump now
lashed to the mast of his chief of staff.
Our resident expert on US Africa Command is Nick Turse, but while
this was happening, he was distracted by
A Red Scare in the Gray Zone.
Juliette Garside: Paradise Papers leak reveals secrets of the world
elite's hidden wealth. Also:
Jon Swaine/Ed Pilkington: The wealthy men in Trump's inner circle with
links to tax havens.
William Greider: What Killed the Democratic Party? Cites a recent
Autopsy: The Democratic Party in Crisis. This appeared before
Donna Brazile: Inside Hillary Clinton's Secret Takeover of the DNC,
which details the remarkable extent the Clinton campaign controlled the
DNC all through the primary season. Brazile's revelations are further
monetized in her book, Hacks: The Inside Story of the Break-ins and
Breakdowns That Put Donald Trump in the White House. Josh Marshall
attempts to mount a counterattack in
Donna Brazile Needs to Back Up Her Self-Serving Claims, insisting
that "There's zero advantage to re-litigating the toxic 2016 primaries."
Personally, I felt that Hillary Clinton had earned the right to tell her
side of the story in What Happened, so I see no further harm in
Brazile's Hacks. (I suppose I might draw a line if Debby
Wasserman-Schultz manages to find a publisher.) Still, the one thing
that keeps bugging me about all of the 2016 Democratic autopsies --
especially the Jonathan Allen/Amie Parnes Shattered: Inside Hillary
Clinton's Doomed Campaign -- is the nagging question: where did all
of the money Clinton raised go? And why didn't she use more of it to
build up the party she supposedly was the leader of?
Mike Konczal: Trump Is Creating a Grifter Economy.
German Lopez/Karen Turner: Sutherland Springs, Texas, church shooting:
what we know: "At least 26 people were killed . . . The shooter is
also dead following a brief chase." Also:
Texas church shooting: suspect named as at least 26 confirmed dead --
as it happened.
Noam Maggor: Amazon wants goodies and tax breaks to move its HQ to your
city. Say no thanks. I want to underscore that the practice of giving
tax breaks and incentives to companies that promise jobs is actually far
worse than a zero-sum "race to the bottom." For evidence specific to
Amazon, look no further than the perks they received to open a distribution
center in Coffeyville, KS. Then try to find it. They've already closed it,
moving on to greener pastures.
Mike McIntire/Sasha Chavkin/Martha M Hamilton: Commerce Secretary's
Offshore Ties to Putin 'Cronies'. Also,
Jesse Drucker: Kremlin Cash Behind Billionaire's Twitter and Facebook
Simon Tisdall: Trump's Asia tour will expose his craving for the approval
of despots: Not just despots. I got stuck watching Japan's Prime
Minister blowing smoke up Trump's ass in their first press appearance.
Trump's vanity clearly hasn't escaped the notice of world leaders.
Alex Ward: Bowe Bergdahl isn't going to prison. But he is getting
a "dishonorable discharge" -- you know, like the shooter in Texas got.
Among those who thought the sentence too lenient:
Donald Trump made it a campaign issue in 2016, calling Bergdahl a
"traitor," even suggesting that he should be executed. About an hour
after the ruling by a military judge, Trump tweeted his thoughts:
"The decision on Sergeant Bergdahl is a complete and total disgrace
to our Country and to our Military."
Of course, Bergdahl isn't the only soldier Trump has disparaged
for "getting captured."
Sarah Wildman: Saudi Arabia announces arrest of billionaire prince
Alwaleed bin Talal. Without specifically commenting on Prince
Alwaleed, Trump evidently approves:
Mark Landler: Trump Tells Saudi King That He Supports Modernization
Drive. Also by Wildman:
Mueller has enough evidence to charge Michael Flynn.
Sunday, October 29. 2017
Just the bare bones this week.
Some scattered links this week:
Matthew Yglesias: 4 stories that mattered this week: Congressional
Republicans passed a budget; More sexual harassment shoes dropped;
Retiring Republicans blasted Trump; Opioid abuse is officially
an emergency. Other Yglesias posts:
There's less than meets the eye to the Trump stock rally: "German,
French, and Japanese stocks are all doing way better."
Lou Dobbs's Trump interview is a masterpiece of sycophancy and
nonsense: "precisely because the softball format leads to such easy
questions, Trump's frequent inability to answer them reveals the depths
of his ignorance better than any tough grilling possibly could."
Jeff Flake, Bob Corker, and John McCain need to start acting like senators,
Trump and a key Senate Republican are fighting on Twitter.
The real stakes in the tax reform debate:
Democrats have grown more critical of inequality in recent years with
Barack Obama proclaiming economic inequality to be the "defining
challenge of our time." Energy in the party shifted even-further-left
and fueled an unexpected level of support for Bernie Sanders and an
unprecedented level of skepticism about the basic fundraising model
of American politics.
Even more surprisingly, in the GOP camp Donald Trump ran hard to
the right on culture war issues while also promising a more egalitarian
form of economics -- promising to be a champion of working class
But in office, while Trump has continued to obsessively feed the
culture war maw, he is pushing a policy agenda that would add enormous
fuel to the fire of inequality -- enormous, regressive rate cuts flying
under the banner of "tax reform."
Yglesias touts a report by Kevin Hassett, head of the White House
Council of Economic Advisers, as "crucial because it's honest," but
even "honesty" doesn't help much when you're extraordinarily full of
Hassett's contention, in essence, is that the best way to benefit the
American worker is to engage in a global version of this subsidy game.
Instead of targeted subsidies for new investments from one particular
company, he and Trump want to offer a broad subsidy to all investment
profits -- old profits and new profits, real returns on productive
investments and returns on monopoly rents -- in the hopes of maximally
catering to investor interests. By catering to the interests of the
global investor class in this way, he thinks, we can do so much to
boost the growth of the American economy that almost everyone will
end up better off.
Even if "almost everyone will end up better off" by cutting the
taxes that rich people pay, that doesn't mean that tax cuts are "the
best way to benefit the American worker." Direct redistribution to
workers would be much more efficient. So would less direct approaches
such as increasing labor's leverage. But the supposition that "almost
everyone will end up better off" is itself highly suspect. The only
way giving the rich more money "trickles down" is when the rich spend
it to increase demand (which they don't do much of, although that does
account for a few jobs here in Wichita building private jets) or when
the rich invest more in productive capacity. The problem here is that
even at present -- before Trump's tax cuts kick in -- the rich have
more money than they know how to productively invest. A big part of
the problem here is that by sucking up money that working folks and
the government would be spending, their hoarding reduces aggregate
demand, and as such reduces the return on investments in productive
capacity. This effect is so large one has to wonder whether tax cuts
generate any tangible growth at all, much less growth so substantial
that "almost everyone benefits."
Yglesias goes further and notes that "Doug Holtz-Eakin, a well-regarded
former Congressional Budget Office director and current think tank leader,
believes that eliminating the estate tax will create lots of jobs." The
piece cited was written for the American Family Business Foundation, a
political front group founded to promote repeal of estate and gift taxes,
and is typical of the hackwork Holtz-Eakin has made a career out of.
Trump's latest big interview is both funny and terrifying: Before
the Lou Dobbs interview, this one with Maria Bartiromo, also of Fox
Business Channel. Subheds include: "Trump doesn't know anything about
any issue"; "Bartiromo keeps ineptly trying to cover for Trump"; and
"Trump gets all kinds of facts wrong."
Over the course of the interview, Trump also claims to be working on
a major infrastructure bill, a major welfare reform bill, and an
unspecified economic development bill of some kind.
Under almost any other past president, that kind of thing would be
considered a huge news-making get for an interviewer. But even Fox
didn't tout Bartiromo's big scoops on Trump's legislative agenda,
because 10 months into the Trump presidency, nobody is so foolish as
to believe that him saying, "We're doing a big infrastructure bill,"
means that the Trump administration is, in fact, doing a big
infrastructure bill. The president just mouths off at turns ignorantly
and dishonestly, and nobody pays much attention to it unless he says
something unusually inflammatory.
Dean Baker: The problem of doctors' salaries.
Julian Borger: Trump team drawing up fresh plans to bolster US nuclear
Alastair Campbell: The time has come for Theresa May to tell the nation:
Brexit can't be done: Fantasy from Tony Blair's former director of
communications, but the facts are sound enough, just the political will
is weak. Campbell has also written:
My fantasy Corbyn speech: 'I can no longer go along with a ruinous
Alexia Fernández Campbell: Nurses returning from Puerto Rico accuse
the federal government of leaving people to die.
Danica Cotto: Puerto Rico Says It's Scrapping $300M Whitefish Contract:
Not clear how a 2-year-old company from Interior Secretary's Ryan Zinke's
home town managed to win a $300M no-bid contract, but the more people
look into it the more suspicious it seems. For instance:
Whitefish Energy contract bars government from auditing deal. For more:
Ken Klippenstein: $300M Puerto Rico Recovery Contract Awarded to Tiny
Utility Company Linked to Major Trump Donor; also
Kate Aronoff: Disaster Capitalists Take Big Step Toward Privatizing
Puerto Rico's Electric Grid.
Thomas Frank: What Harvey Weinstein tells us about the liberal world:
I'm not sure you can draw any conclusions about political philosophy
from someone like Weinstein, who more than anything else testifies
that people with power tend to abuse it, regardless of their professed
values. Still, this is quasi-amusing:
Perhaps Weinstein's liberalism was a put-on all along. It certainly wasn't
consistent or thorough. He strongly disapproved of Bernie Sanders, for
example. And on election night in November 2008, Weinstein could be found
celebrating Barack Obama's impending victory on the peculiar grounds that
"stock market averages will go up around the world."
The mogul's liberalism could also be starkly militaristic. On the release
of his work of bald war propaganda, Seal Team Six, he opined to CNN
"Colin Powell, the best military genius of our time, supports the
president -- supports President Obama. And the military love him. I made
this movie. I know the military. They respect this man for what he's done.
He's killed more terrorists in his short watch than George Bush did in
eight years. He's the true hawk."
Ronald A Klain: He who must be named:
For decades, conservatives labored to make their movement more humane.
Ronald Reagan put a jovial face on conservative policies -- more Dale
Carnegie than Ayn Rand; George H.W. Bush promised a "kinder, gentler"
tenure; George W. Bush ran on "compassionate conservatism." . . .
That was then. Today, we are living the Politics of Mean. In the
Trump presidency, with its daily acts of cruelty, punching down is a
feature, not a bug. And the only thing more disquieting than a president
who practices the Politics of Mean are the voters who celebrate it. . . .
Since Trump's victory, his meanness has been infectious. We have
seen it in neo-Nazis marching in Charlottesville and elsewhere, students
chanting "build that wall" at Hispanic peers, and a rise of racial
epithets and anti-Semitic graffiti on college campuses. Puerto Rico,
again, provides a current example. As The Post's Jenna Johnson recently
reported, countless Trump supporters -- including some in Texas, who
themselves took Federal Emergency Management Agency aid after Hurricane
Harvey -- back the president's proposal to limit aid to Puerto Rico and
believe that fellow Americans there should "fix their own country up."
The obvious difference between then (1980-2000) and now is sixteen
years of endless war, although it's worth noting that conservatism has
always prided itself on being a hard way of life, a stance which never
took much prodding to tip over into meanness. Indeed, even while feigning
compassion conservative political pitches always started with playing on
people's prejudices -- primordially racism, as Reagan made clear when he
launched his 1980 campaign over the graves of slain civil rights workers.
Klain calls for a list of recent presidents and wannabes to stand up to
Trump's Politics of Mean. They should, of course, but it would be even
more helpful if they owned up to how their own errors got us here.
Julia Manchester: National Weather Service 'on the brink of failure'
due to job vacancies.
Rupert Neate: World's witnessing a new Gilded Age as billionaires' wealth
swells to $6tn.
Billionaires' fortunes increased by 17% on average last year due to the
strong performance of their companies and investments, particularly in
technology and commodities. The billionaires' average return was double
that achieved by the world's stock markets and far more than the average
interest rates of just 0.35% offered by UK instant-access high street
John Nichols: Trump's FCC Chair Moves to Undermine Journalism and
Mark Perry: Are Trump's Generals in Over Their Heads? "For many in
Washington, they're the only thing standing between the president and
chaos. But their growing clout is starting to worry military experts."
One problem is that as more generals move into politics, the military
itself (at least at the top) becomes increasingly politicized. I would
add that the competency and maturity they supposedly possess are traits
with little real evidence to back them up.
Paul Woodward also adds:
The problem with viewing the former and current generals in this
administration as the indispensable "adult supervision" Trump requires,
is that these individuals are the sole source of legitimacy for
his presidency -- exactly the reason he surrounded himself with this
kind of Teflon political protection.
Instead of seeing Mattis et al as the only thing that stands between
us and Armageddon, we should probably see them as the primary obstacle
to the outright exposure of the fraud that has been perpetrated by Trump
and the cadre of visibly corrupt cronies he has installed in most of the
executive branch of government.
Speaking of the alleged competence of generals, see
Senior military officials sanctioned for more than 500 cases of serious
misconduct: That just since 2013.
Andrew Prokop: 6 charts that explain why American politics is so broken:
"The Pew Research Center's political typology report, explained." Actually,
I'm not sure he charts do explain "why American politics is so broken" --
for one thing, nothing here on the influence of money, which is by far the
biggest breaker. They do show several disconnects, including "Most Americans --
including a good chunk of Republicans -- want corporate taxes raised, not
lowered" and "It's only a vocal minority of Americans who are anti-immigrant."
Nor do most of the typology groups make much sense, although "Country-First
Conservatives" are defined exclusively by their hatred for immigrants.
Still, worth noting that "Solid Liberals" are more numerous than "Core
Conservatives" (16-13% among the general public, 25-20% among "politically
Charlie Savage: Will Congress Ever Limit the Forever-Expanding 9/11
Joseph E Stiglitz: America Has a Monopoly Problem -- and It's Huge.
Nick Turse: It's Not Just Niger -- U.S. Military Activity Is a "Recruiting
Tool" for Terror Groups Across West Africa.
Sunday, October 22. 2017
I didn't get a head start on this -- in fact, started after dinner on
Sunday, so it's pretty quick and dirty, with a limited set of sources.
Still, it's so easy to find such appalling stories that posts like this
practically write themselves.
Some scattered links this week:
Matthew Yglesias: 4 political stories that actually mattered this week:
We got a bipartisan insurance stabilization deal: thanks to Sens.
Patty Murray (D-WA) and Lamar Alexander (R-TN), but: Republican leaders
don't seem to want a deal, like Paul Ryan, with Trump both waxing and
waning; The administration tested some new tax arguments, like
"corporate tax cuts boost wages" and "math forces tax cuts for the rich";
Nobody knows what's happening with NAFTA, hence no real story here,
but Trump's folks are blowing some smoke. Other Yglesias pieces this week:
The raging controversy over Trump and the families of fallen soldiers,
explained: well, more like summarized, as it's hard to explain how
tone-deaf Trump is in human interactions as straightforward (albeit no
doubt unpleasant) as issuing condolences.
Yet Trump has managed to completely and utterly botch this relatively
simple job less than a week after creating a major diplomatic crisis
with Iran for no particular reason. The humanitarian crisis in Puerto
Rico appears to be, if anything, intensifying as citizens cope with a
chronic lack of safe water. The president has willfully destabilized
individual health insurance markets without any clear plan and is
actively scuttling congressional efforts to stabilize the situation.
Other serious challenges are lurking out there in the world, yet the
Trump administration seemed incapable of issuing a simple condolence
statement or answering a question about it without unleashing a
multi-front political fiasco.
Trump aide says manufacturing decline increases abortions, death, and drug
abuse: "He might be right." Reviews research on "China shock" -- what
happens to areas hard hit by job losses due to cheaper imports. You can
blame this on trade deals, but it's also indicative of the frayed safety
net all across the country.
Republians say they can't figure out how to not cut taxes for the
rich: "It's really not very hard." If, say, you wanted to lower
rates on the first $100k of income, that would reduce taxes on those
who make more too, but you could offset that by increasing the rate
further up the income scale. Or you could do it lots of other ways.
And don't bother cutting the estate tax, something no one in the
middle class has to pay -- that's only a benefit for the very rich.
Trump says a big corporate tax cut will boost average incomes by $4,000
Sarah Aziza: How Long Can the Courts Keep Donald Trump's Muslim Ban at
Bay? Two federal judges issued injunctions against the third iteration
of Trump's travel ban last week.
Julia Belluz: White House officials think childhood obesity is not a
problem. Have they seen the data? Their campaign to wipe out
Obama's legacy (in this case, Michelle Obama's) continues apace.
Aida Chavez: House Republicans Warn Congress Not to "Bail Out" Puerto
Jason C Ditz: What Are U.S. Forces Doing in Niger Anyway?: Four US
Special Forces were killed in an ambush a couple weeks ago, finally
pointing a spotlight on US intervention there (much like the Benghazi
Turns out that for five years Niger has been a toe in the expanding
American footprint in Africa, and has become a hub of U.S. military
activity (about 800 soldiers are serving as advisors and training
local forces there now) and, according to Nick Turse, the location
of a brand new $100 million drone base. Meanwhile, the region has
become a crossroads of Islamist activity, from Boko Haram in Nigeria
to al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb across the Sahel. And now,
apparently, ISIS. . . .
Niger is far from the exception. In March 2012, the Pentagon
confirmed that U.S. troops were attacked in the southern Yemeni
city of Aden, and that a CIA officer was killed. This was the
first time officials confirmed that the U.S. had ground troops
operating inside Yemen at all. The revelation is even more stunning
when one recalls that the White House publicly ruled out sending
ground troops to Yemen several times in the years leading up to
More war news from around the world:
Lee Fang/Nick Surgey: Koch Brothers' Internal Strategy Memo on Selling
Tax Cuts: Ignore the Deficit: After all, deficits only matter when
a Democrat is president and might use deficits for expanding services
and/or growing the economy -- things Republicans oppose and, especially,
want to make sure no Democrat gets credit for. But when Republicans are
in power, well, as Dick Cheney said, "deficits don't matter."
Sarah Kliff: Medicare X: the Democrats' supercharged public option plan,
explained: Specifically, Sens. Bennet and Kaine, a plan that makes
less sense than Bernie Sanders' Medicare-for-all but would involve less
turmoil by adding a Medicare-based plan to the Obamacare exchanges as a
public option, increasing competition for private insurance plans.
Paul Krugman: Lies, Lies, Lies, Lies, Lies, Lies, Lies, Lies, Lies,
Lies: A propos of the Trump's "new" arguments for slashing taxes,
Modern conservatives have been lying about taxes pretty much from the
beginning of their movement. Made-up sob stories about family farms
broken up to pay inheritance taxes, magical claims about self-financing
tax cuts, and so on go all the way back to the 1970s. But the selling
of tax cuts under Trump has taken things to a whole new level, both in
terms of the brazenness of the lies and their sheer number. Both the
depth and the breadth of the dishonesty make it hard even for those of
us who do this for a living to keep track.
He then comes up with a list of ten (see the article for details,
although you're probably familiar with most of them already):
- America is the most highly-taxed country in the world
- The estate tax is destroying farmers and truckers
- Taxation of pass-through entities is a burden on small business
- Cutting profits taxes really benefits workers
- Repatriating overseas profits will create jobs
- This is not a tax cut for the rich
- It's a big tax cut for the middle class
- It won't increase the deficit
- Cutting taxes will jump-start rapid growth
- Tax cuts will pay for themselves
One thing that's missing in this debate is what do we need taxes for.
Some people argue that taxes should be limited to a certain percentage
of GDP -- often the same people who don't understand why government
spends more now than it did under Coolidge or McKinley. I think it's
obvious that a lot of things that we need in today's economic world
are necessarily more expensive than they were in past eras (especially
things that didn't really exist back then). To figure this out, one
needs some kind of multifactor analysis, and I think especially one
has to ask what things are most efficiently produced and distributed
through public channels. I think this list is large and growing, and
may include things that surprise you. If this list is as large as I
think, we need to be looking not at ways to cut taxes but at ways to
grow them, and how to do so fairly and efficiently. As it is, the
relentless focus on cutting taxes is an attack on public spending,
and ultimately on the public taxes are meant to serve.
Jane Mayer: The Danger of President Pence: A profile of the
vice president, one which raises plenty to be alarmed about, not
least because his odds of being elevated to the presidency via
the 25th amendment (the one that says all it takes is a majority
of the cabinet to find Trump incompetent -- perhaps something
Trump should have considered before giving Pence so much say in
picking nominees). For more on the 25th, see
Jeannie Suk Gersen: How Anti-Trump Psychiatrists Are Mobilizing
Behind the Twenty-Fifth Amendment.
Anna North: A detained 17-year-old immigrant wants an abortion. The
government went to court to stop her. Here's a case where the
Trump administration isn't being run like a business -- try finding
an angle where it makes sense for the government to prevent a detained
emigrant from obtaining an abortion -- but more like a shady religious
cult. For more cultlike behavior:
Doe is not the only minor who's been affected by the policy, according
to the ACLU. In March, according to court documents filed by the group,
another minor at a shelter in Texas chose to have a medication abortion
after getting a judge's permission for the procedure. After she had
taken the first dose of the medication, ORR officials forced her to go
to an emergency room to see if the abortion could be reversed. Ultimately,
she was allowed to proceed with the abortion and take the remaining dose
of the medication. In another case, the ACLU said, Lloyd traveled from
Washington, DC, to meet personally with a young woman to try to convince
her not to have an abortion.
Jon Schwartz: It Didn't Just Start Now: John Kelly Has Always Been a
Hard-Right Bully: The former Marine General has had a tough week,
not only failing repeatedly to keep Trump from embarrassing himself,
but having his own Trumpian moment making baseless charges against
Rep. Frederica Wilson. The best Trump mouthpiece Sarah Sanders came
up with in Kelly's defense was
It's "highly inappropriate" to question John Kelly -- because he's a
general. Schwartz compresses "Kelly's worldview, as expressed in
2010" into this short list:
- No one outside of the military can legitimately question any
of America's wars.
- No one who is in the military ever questions any of
- America and its wars are and have always been good.
- America is under terrifying threat from incomprehensible
- Our country is hamstrung by its sniveling "chattering class."
I've run across many more links on Kelly and Wilson, but I'd rather
point out this one:
Alice Speri: Top Trump Official John Kelly Ordered ICE to Portray
Immigrants as Criminals to Justify Raids.
Matt Shuham: Forbes: Trump Drops on 'Richest Americans' List as Net Worth
Takes a Hit: Down $600 million to $3.1 billion, dropping 92 spots
(from 156 to 248). No real analysis here as to why. Certainly, it's not
because he's resolved his conflicts-of-interest and made it impossible
to use his office to feather his own nest. And this looks extra bad with
the stock market setting new record highs. On the other hand, leaving
his day-to-day business decisions in the hands of Jr. and Eric may not
ave been the smartest idea. And naming so many properties after himself
has politicized them, which makes their value at least partly subject
to his extraordinarily low popularity.