Sunday, August 13. 2017
Laura came downstairs yesterday playing
Chris Hedges Best Speech in 2017 so I wound up listening to a fair
chunk of it. We all know that Hedges in 2007 was a Premature Antifascist --
a term US "intelligence agencies" used to describe Americans who turned
against Hitler before Pearl Harbor -- when he published his book
American Fascists: The Christian Right and the War on America,
but is he still "premature" in 2017? The world he decries sounds an
awful like the one we have come to live in. If there is a common theme
to the stories below, it's that Trump and his crew have moved decisively
into a fascist orbit: one that worships naked power while practicing
shameless greed. Of course, Trump didn't invent this world. He's just
risen to the top, like scum in a stockpot.
Brief scattered links this week:
Andrew J Bacevich: Yes Congress, Afghanistan Is Your Vietnam.
Also by Bacevich:
The Great Hysteria. The latter piece goes beyond his specialty area
(losing hopeless wars) to spell out a political agenda which in its
diagnosis of the symptoms afflicting America is remarkably similar to
that of Hedges above (except, being a conservative, he doesn't blame
Yet these advances have done remarkably little to reduce the alienation
and despair pervading a society suffering from epidemics of chronic
substance abuse, morbid obesity, teen suicide, and similar afflictions.
Throw in the world's highest incarceration rate, a seemingly endless
appetite for porn, urban school systems mired in permanent crisis, and
mass shootings that occur with metronomic regularity, and what you have
is something other than the profile of a healthy society.
He then follows this up with a ten-point political wish list, including
a couple proposals I disagree with (mandate a balanced federal budget,
return to a draft-based military) and other more sensible points sure to
be rejected by his fellow "conservatives" (e.g., "enact tax policies
that will promote greater income equality").
Dean Baker: The Zika Vaccine: The Miracle of Government-Funded Research.
Also by Baker:
Breitbart Strikes Out in Trying to Give Donald Trump Credit for Stock Market
Run Up. And this tweet, introducing:
Why Is It So Hard for Intellectuals to Envision Alternative Forms of
The upward redistribution from globalization was not an accidental outcome;
it was the point of globalization.
Doug Bandow: North Korea Does Not Trust America for a Pretty Good
Reason. For more history, see:
Bruce Cummings: Americans once carpet-bombed North Korea. It's time
to remember that past.
Celisa Calacal: These two Supreme Court cases protect police who use
Marjorie Cohn: A Preemptive Strike on North Korea Would Be Catastrophic
and Illegal: Well, the second point is bound to fall on deaf ears
in Washington, where hardly anyone has any fear of or respect for
international law. I'm not sure that Americans ever had any such fear,
but for many years after 1945 they at least gave lip service to the
idea of international law, and took some effort to pretend to respect
it. I think this shift started with the developing Cold War in the
late-1940s, as the US found it couldn't use the UN to automatically
rubber-stamp its policies, but it was in the 1990s when the US stopped
going through the motions. The obvious signal point was when Bush
refused to sign the International Criminal Court treaty, but Bush's
failure to even consider responding to the 9/11 terror attack via
international law shows us how far Washington had already crawled
up its own asshole. The two world wars led many people to believe
that a strong system of international law was necessary to prevent
further wars and genocides -- a goal which stalled under the Cold
War, but should have been rekindled after the Soviet Union ended
and the free market capitalism had become ubiquitous. Indeed, the
mass slaughters in Yugoslavia and Rwanda spurred many nations in
that direction, but the neocon ascendancy in the US derailed those
efforts, and it's rare today even to find Democrats standing up
for the UN, the World Court, and (especially) the ICC.
There are still people in Washington who recognize Cohn's point
about "catastrophic" -- and they're the only real defense we have
against Trump's impulsiveness and recklessness. Possibly the most
definitive statement of the hopelessness of Trump's evident policy
of huffing and bluffing North Korea into submission is
Jeffrey Lewis: The Game Is Over, and North Korea Has Won.
Esme Cribb: Trump TV Ad Attacks Democrats, Media as 'The President's
Enemies': Several things about this ad campaign are unprecedented:
I've never before seen a president actively campaigning for re-election
six months after taking office, but Trump started a few months back --
especially raising money, in stark contrast to his "self-financed" 2016
campaign; Trump is actively building a "cult of personality" while at
the same time claiming a false equivalency between his supporters and
the nation; he takes every criticism of his program as a personal attack
and tries to turn it into an attack on the nation, who in turn are at
least implicitly implored to lash back; he adds an air of whininess,
pleading to be allowed to be the dictator he imagined being president
to be. In some ways I wish Obama had taken this tack -- if anyone ever
had just cause to complain about vilification and obstructionism it was
he, but he never would have proclaimed himself "our president," even
though his efforts to be "a president of all the people" left his own
Yochi Dreazen: The North Korean crisis won't end until Donald Trump
John Feffer: Welcome to 2050. The 'Climate Monster' Has Arrived.
Katie Fite: Grouse Down: Focuses mostly on the sage grouse population
in California, but her description of the political pressures has also
been echoed here in Kansas, where Republicans have all but campaigned
for the extermination of prairie hens -- a nuisance, evidently, to
the local oil industry. Also, note that grouse hunting is a controversy
in the UK:
Mark Avery: Grouse shooting: half a million reasons why time's up
for this appalling 'sport'.
Margaret Flowers: Improved Medicare for All Is the Answer: A
rebuttal to the recent Nation article,
Joshua Holland: Medicare for All Isn't the Solution for Universal
Health Care. Flowers answers many point by positing an Improved
Medicare for All Act. The real differences have to do with political
will, especially in the face of special interests that make a lot of
money off the current system, and stand to keep making more and more.
One may critique Single Payer/Medicare for All schemes for not being
able to fix all of America's many health care problems. But private
insurance companies add very little value for their cut of the pie,
which makes them the easiest target for reform, and therefore the
obvious place to start. But also see:
Steven Rosenfeld: Eleven Steps for States to Rein in Health Care
Costs While Building Toward Single-Payer. Even if you support
single-payer, here is a list of things that can be done (many at
the state level) to help manage cost -- things that contribute to
providing more/better actual care, which is what we're really
- Create a state-chartered body to process all medical bills with
a single form.
- Require all private insurers to offer three uniform plans with
- Create a single state agency to buy drugs for pharmacies and
- Restore hospital price regulation so all facilities charge the
- File anti-trust legal actions against monopolistic hospital
- Put price controls in medical group contracts with private
- Reject spending caps for hospitals and patients as that hurts
- Ban drug company payments to doctors by their sales reps.
- Issue public reports on the few doctors causing most medical
- Integrate other social safety net services with providing
- Give the state subpoena power to review claims and find fraud.
Also note what's going on in Maryland:
Ann Jones: Medicare for All in One State.
Thomas Frank: Finally, Democrats are looking in the mirror. That's
reason for optimism.
Ryan Grim: Gulf Government Gave Secret $20 Million Gift to DC Think
Tank: That would be the UAE (United Arab Emirates) and the MEI
(Middle East Institute).
Gabriel Hetland: Venezuela May Be on the Brink of Civil War:
I'm having a tough time getting a coherent explanation of just what's
the problem with Venezuela these days, and this doesn't answer many
of my questions, but it's a start. (There's also Hetland's
Why Is Venezuela in Crisis?, which cites government blundering but
also a violent opposition supported by Washington, and the pre-election
Greg Grandin: What Is to Be Done in Venezuela?) Of course, never
underestimate the power of Donald Trump to make things even worse:
Ben Jacobs: Trump threatens 'military option' in Venezuela as crisis
David Leonhardt: Our Broken Economy, in One Simple Chart:
The chart measures income growth at every percentile starting with 5th,
with additional subdivisions for the 99th, at two points in time: 1980
and 2014. There's also an animated chart showing the intervening years,
which the lower percentiles being depressed before the top percentile
really spikes after 2000. A third chart shows that average income
growth dropped from 2.0% in 1980 to 1.4% in 2014, with the median
dropping far more than that -- they don't pull the number out, but
the median in 2014 is so depressed that only the top 15 percentile
receive even the reduced average income growth.
Conor Lynch: Emmanuel Macron's Sudden Collapse: French 'Radical
Centrist' Now as Unpopular as Trump: Oh my, that was an awfully
short honeymoon. Could it be that shameless neoliberalism isn't all
that popular? I've seen columns by so-called centrists speculating
that Macron's model could be translated to the UK and even to the
US. If the US had a top-two runoff like France, I could imagine a
fairly charismatic independent (someone like a younger Ross Perot,
say, but not Michael Bloomberg) getting close to Macron's first
round vote (23.8%), then beating either Trump or Clinton in the
runoff (although it's unlikely that either Trump or Clinton would
sink that low).
Bill McKibben: The Trump administration's solution to climate change:
ban the term. And for more on language chance on Trump government
Oliver Milman/Sam Morris: Trump is deleting climate change, one site
at a time.
David McCoy: Even a 'Minor' Nuclear War Would Be an Ecological Disaster
Felt Throughout the World: Just in case you were wondering.
Peter Montgomery: Trump's dominionist prayer warriors: Inside the
"Prophetic Order of the United States":
In the early morning hours of November 9, 2016, God told Frank Amedia
that with Donald Trump having been elected president, Amedia and his
fellow Trump-supporting "apostles" and "prophets" had a new mission.
Thus was born POTUS Shield, a network of Pentecostal leaders devoted
to helping Trump bring about the reign of God in America and the
world. . . .
POTUS Shield's leaders view politics as spiritual warfare, part of
a great struggle between good and evil that is taking place continuously
in "the heavenlies" and here on earth, where the righteous contend with
demonic spirits that control people, institutions and geographic regions.
They believe that Trump's election has given the church in America an
opportunity to spark a spiritual Great Awakening that will engulf the
nation and world. And they believe that a triumphant church establishing
the kingdom of God on earth will set the stage for Christ's return. Amedia
says that the "POTUS" in the group's name does not refer only to the
president of the United States, but also to a new "prophetic order of
the United States" that God is establishing.
Chris Hedges: What Trump Owes America's Christian Fascists.
Sarah Newell: Is Foxconn a Fantasy? The High Cost of Bringing
Manufacturing Jobs to Wisconsin. Trump and Gov. Scott Walker
are bully on a deal where giant Chinese electronics Foxconn
would build a factory, adding 3000 jobs in Wisconsin, maybe
13000 eventually. All they need in return:
In order for this plan to become a reality, the Wisconsin state
legislature would need to approve $3 billion in corporate incentives
to defray capital costs and workforce development costs. The math is
startling: Wisconsin will pay out $230,000 in tax dollars for each
one of the 13,000 jobs. This means Wisconsin taxpayers will shell
out $66,000 per year to subsidize jobs that will pay less than the
state average income.
Trita Parsi: For Netanyahu and the Saudis, Opposing Diplomacy With
Iran Was Never About Enrichment: An excerpt from Parsi's new
book, Losing an Enemy: Obama, Iran and the Triumph of Diplomacy.
I suspect that the real reason both Israel and Saudi Arabia decided
to take such rejectionist stands against Iran was that they realized
that they could push American buttons by doing so -- most Americans
have harbored deep-seated grudges against Iran ever since the fall
of the Shah and the Hostage Crisis -- thereby elevating their own
importance in Washington's eyes. They've doubled down since the Iran
deal, and while leaving the deal intact (so far), both countries have
effectively increased their influence in Washington (especially with
William Rivers Pitt: We Have Been at War in Iraq for 27 Years:
It started in 1990, when Saddam Hussein misinterpreted ambiguous
signals from a US ambassador as a go-ahead to invade Kuwait, an
oil-rich sheikdom that, following American inclinations, had made
large loans to Iraq for its war against Iran -- loans it then
insisted Iraq must repay. The first George Bush thought he'd get
a nice political boost from a quick little war, but sold it by
comparing Saddam to Hitler, digging a hole for political himself
when the initial Gulf War came up short -- a hole which Clinton
defended and deepend through his sanctions and no-fly zones until
the Bush II decided to fix it by plunging the US into a massive
occupation morphing into a civil war which led to ISIS and Obama
re-entering Iraq. Throughout this whole quarter-century, official
Washington doctrine has blocked out any and all dissent against
the ever-expanding sinkhole of Middle Eastern carnage fed by the
massive introduction of US troops in 1990. Actually, one can
point to a few earlier signs of the wars to come: US inheritance
of British outposts around the Gulf, Carter's declaration that
the Persian Gulf is an US security area, Reagan's installation
of American troops in Lebanon, and US support for proxy wars
against Afghanistan and Iran. Any way you slice this, the only
Americans with any clue as to how this might go awry were the
antiwar protesters. And note that while Pitt focuses on Iraq,
US involvement in Afghanistan started in 1979 -- 38 years ago --
and is at least as far from resolution (never mind success)
there as it is in Iraq, Syria, Libya, Yemen, Somalia, anywhere
else you find American drones and/or special forces.
Aja Romano: Google fird "politically incorrect" engineer has
sparked a broad ideological debate: Actually, I only see a
relatively narrow debate here, which is corporations can fire
employees for what we would otherwise deem constitutionally
protected free speech. I would favor more such protections,
but these days it's hard to stop a company -- especially one
without a union -- from firing anyone for any reason. The two
most obvious reasons for firing this particular engineer are
that he's very stupid, and that by exposing that stupidity
he's embarrassed the company. But I don't see him engendering
any serious debate on his claim that women aren't competent
at software engineering. More on this:
Cynthia Lee: I'm a woman in computer science. Let me ladysplain
the Google memo to you.
Anis Shivani: How we got from George W. Bush to Donald Trump: Liberals
had more to do with it than we'd like to think: Big thought piece
which is probably a bit harsh on Obama but reminds us how extreme the
Bush-Cheney agenda was, and how little of it was rolled back by Obama.
We need to remind ourselves that the early years of the Bush administration
felt utterly radical, that the defense of freedom of speech and mobility,
of the civility and respect that make a constitutional democracy work, never
felt so threatened, never felt more precious and worth saving, as in those
years. That feeling, unfortunately, is gone now, despite Trumpism and
whatever else will follow, because the anti-constitutional innovations
have become normalized. This happened particularly because the succeeding
Democratic administration did not take any steps to counter, philosophically,
any of the constitutional violations, or even the disrespect for science,
reason and empiricism that had deeply saturated the public discourse.
I think it's fair to say that Obama left most of his anti-Bush critique
on the campaign trail. I'm not sure how to partition the blame for that
between his wholesale adoption of Clintonites in his administration and
his innate conservatism, with its emphasis on projecting continuity and
stability. Clearly, he missed the opportunity to do important things:
to roll back the corrosive effects of money on politics; to return to
a previous American belief in international law and institutions; and
to lean back against increasing inequality. One might counter that he
had difficulty enough with more modest efforts on health care, finance
reform, and climate change.
Still, the main difference between the Bush-Cheney agenda and Trump's
is the relative shamelessness of the latter -- the garrish greed, the
naked lust for power, and the absence of any scruples over how to get
the riches they crave. You'd think that would blow up in their face --
that if nothing else the American people and media are still capable of
being shocked by corruption. But then why hasn't that already happened?
Can you mark that all down to "normalization"?
Richard Silverstein: Bibi: "This is the End, My Friend": On the
corruption scandal that threatens to bring down Israeli Prime Minister
Netanyahu, with sideward glances toward Trump's own nest feathering.
Silverstein also wrote
Israel to Shutter Al Jazeera, Join Ranks of Arab Authoritarian Regimes
Suppressing Press Freedom. As for everyday life in Israel-Palestine,
see Kate's latest news clip compendium:
Settler violence against Palestinians nearly doubled from 2016 to 2017.
This includes a quote from Gideon Levy about how certain nations have
held themselves to be above international law and norms:
More than 100 states signed the international treaty banning the use
of cluster bombs; Israel, as usual, isn't one of them. What has Israel
to do with international treaties, international law, international
organizations -- it's all one big unnecessary nuisance. Israel's fellow
rejectionists are, as usual, Russia, Pakistan, China, India and of
course the United States, the world's greatest spiller of blood since
World War II. This is the company Israel wants to keep, the club it
belongs to. Cluster bombs are an especially barbarous weapon, a bomb
that turns into countless bomblets, spreading over a wide area, killing
and wounding indiscriminately. They sometimes explode years after were
fired. The world was appalled and disgusted by such a weapon of mass
destruction, and for good reason. The world -- but not Israel. We're
a special case, as is commonly known. We're allowed to do anything.
Why? Because we can. This has been proved. We used cluster bombs in
the Second Lebanon War and the world was silent. We also use flechettes,
unmercifully. In 2002 I saw a soccer field in Gaza hit by IDF flechette
shells, which spray thousands of potentially lethal metal darts. All
the children playing on it had been hit.
Matt Taibbi: Is LIBOR, Benchmark for Trillions of Dollars in Transactions,
a Lie? Well, sure.
Clara Torres-Spelliscy: Trump Is Already Profiting From His 2020
Jason Wilson/Edward Helmore: Charlottesville: one dead after car rams
counter-protesters at far-right gathering: I skipped over several
articles leading up to Saturday's right-wing rally to oppose removing
a statue of Confederate General Robert E. Lee from a park in Virginia,
and "counter-protests" against those defending the pro-slavery icon.
However, the events were interrupted when someone droves his car into
the "counter-protest" crowd, killing one and injuring 19, then managed
to drive off. A police helicopter later crashed in the area, adding
two to the death toll.
Sheryl Gay Stolberg/Brian H Rosenthal: Man Charged After White Nationalist
Rally in Charlottesville Ends in Deadly Violence;
Summer Concepcion: David Duke: Charlottesville Rally 'Fulfills the
Promises of Donald Trump;
Esme Cribb: What We Know About the Man Accused of Ramming Car Into
Michael Eric Dyson: Charlottesville and the Bigotocracy;
Josh Matshall: "I'm Not the Angry Racist They See in That Photo"
(complains a misunderstood white guy; but when you go around complaining
about "the slow replacement of white heritage within the United States" --
when you even think "white heritage" is a thing -- you're racist);
Colbert L King: These are your people, President Trump;
Glenn Thrush/Maggie Haberman: Trump Is Criticized for Not Calling Out
Esme Cribb: Trump Didn't Want to 'Dignify' White Supremacy by Condemning
It (but he has no qualms about dignifying "radical Islamic terror"
or Rosie O'Donnell?);
German Lopez: We need to stop acting like Trump isn't pandering to white
supremacists; and, just for historical context:
Philip Bump: In 1927, Donald Trump's father was arrested after a Klan
riot in Queens. One thing I noticed during the campaign was that
Trump was quick to reverse himself whenever he inadvertently blurted
out something contrary to conservative doctrine -- as when he initially
argued that women seeking abortions should be punished -- but he never
apologized for the violence of his supporters, nor did he ever disown
the white supremacists who rallied to his cause.
Jana Winter/Elias Groll: Here's the Memo That Blew Up the NSC:
The author was Rich Higgins, a Flynn acolyte who has since been fired:
The full memo, dated May 2017, is titled "POTUS & Political Warfare."
It provides a sweeping, if at times conspiratorial, view of what it
describes as a multi-pronged attack on the Trump White House.
Trump is being attacked, the memo says, because he represents "an
existential threat to cultural Marxist memes that dominate the prevailing
cultural narrative." Those threatened by Trump include "'deep state'
actors, globalists, bankers, Islamists, and establishment Republicans."
Zak Witus: To Combat Trump's Attacks on Democracy, We Must Understand
Precedents Set by Obama: "Seven months into the Trump presidency,
many people still deny how some of Donald Trump's most regressive and
harmful policies directly continue the legacy of Barack Obama." That's
true in a number of cases ranging from prosecution of "leakers" to
brutal ICE tactics to Saudi arms sales and drone murders around the
world, though the bigger problem is that Obama failed "to change the
way we think about war" and many more things -- race, equality, the
culture of corruption. Part of that was his "no drama" pledge to
restore competency to government after the politicized corruption
of the Bush years -- something he rarely claimed credit for, and
which few Americans even noticed. One thing about Trump is that he
has no quibbles about taking credit for "good" things, regardless
of how little he was actually involved, while chalking all of his
obvious failures up to "fake news."
Matthew Yglesias: What to know about the biggest stories of the
week: We had a lot of loose talk about nuclear war; Trump feudud
with Mitch McConnell; the opioid crisis gets an official "state of
emergency"; Paul Manafort seems to be in legal trouble. Other Yglesias
pieces this week:
Trump's new immigration plan would make Americans poorer;
Big business wants you to think a tax cut for big business will stop
The looming debt ceiling fight, explained;
Donald Trump gets a daily briefing all about how great he is.
When I looked at
Crooked Timber I noticed that Laura Tillem had one of the recent
comments. It was in response to Henry Farrell's
Five Books, listing five novels:
- John Le Carré, A Perfect Spy
- Charles Dickens, Our Mutual Friend
- Dennis Lehane, The Given Day
- Marlon James, A Brief History of Seven Killings
- Hilary Mantel, Bring Up the Bodies
I had to look up the authors (although I guessed 3/5, maybe 4).
We were recently talking about how much I enjoyed the 1998 BBC/PBS
series of Our Mutual Friend, and we had recently watched
the 1987 TV rendition of A Perfect Spy (which I didn't much
care for). I doubt I've read enough novels (probably about 50,
which wouldn't last my wife a year) to construct such a list --
only obvious one is Thomas Pynchon, V., though the unfinished
Gravity's Rainbow might have wound up even better.
I probably could offer a list of non-fiction:
- George P Brockway, The End of Economic Man: Principles of Any
- Geert Mak, In Europe: Travels Through the Twentieth Century
- John McPhee, Annals of the Former World
- Jan Myrdal, Angkor: An Essay on Art and Imperialism
- David Quammen, The Song of the Dodo: Island Biogeography in
an Age of Extinctions
My "recent books" roll currently runs 552 books, so that at least
is a sample (roughly from 2003 to the present), although only one of
the books listed above comes from it (Mak's magnificent
Thursday, August 3. 2017
Took a break today and glanced at the Internet and came up with the
usual load. Noted a tweet from Kathleen Geier: "No one will look back
at this era in American politics and remember it fondly. Absolutely no
Peter Beaumont: Former Netanyahu chief of staff 'in negotiations to become
state witness': In a world increasingly run by the very rich, I reckon
it's no surprise that merely powerful politicians should strive to become
rich themselves. Of course, sometimes they get caught.
Julian Borger: Leaked Trump transcripts show his incoherent, ill-informed
narcissism: not that you expected anything else.
Esme Cribb: NSC's Senior Intelligence Director Ezra Cohen-Watnick Fired:
Reported a Flynn protégé, survived McMasters' previous efforts to fire him
thanks to intervention by Steve Bannon and Jared Kushner.
Cohen-Watnick was the latest casualty in a string of firings at the NSC.
McMaster (pictured above) replaced Fox News commentator K.T. McFarland
as his deputy in May, reportedly without seeking White House approval
first. He also reportedly fired Rich Higgins, a staffer who worked in
the council's strategic planning office on July 21, after Higgins
authored a memo claiming Trump was under attack by "globalists and
Islamists" and "cultural Marxists." McMaster also fired Derek Harvey,
Trump's top Middle East adviser, in late July.
Also see Josh Marshall on
The Deeper Story on Cohen-Watnick.
Esme Cribb: Mueller Impanels Grand Jury in Federal Russia Probe.
Bob Dreyfuss: What Did Trump and Kushner Know About Russian Money Laundering,
and When Did They Know It?
Joshua Holland: Medicare-for-All Isn't the Solution for Universal Health
Care: I haven't worked my way through this piece, so for now will
just note its existence. I was aware of the article before, but steered
to it from
Dylan Scott: What you need to know about the Senate's "right-to-try"
bill. The latter was a broadly bipartisan bill that somewhat
streamlines the options of terminally ill patients to try unproven
treatments: Republicans evidently like the bill either because it
gives patients more freedom/choice or because it helps doctors and
drug companies commit fraud.
Sharon Lerner: EPA Staffers Are Being Forced to Prioritize Energy Industry's
Wish List, Says Official Who Resigned in Protest.
Jeffrey Lewis: Scuttling the Iran Deal Will Lead to Another North Korea:
"Tehran can already make an ICBM anytime it wants, and there's nothing
Donald Trump can do about it." Still, isn't that the wrong way to look
at the problem? The real problem with North Korea isn't that they have
rockets and nuclear warheads that could be used against us. The problem
is that the regime and people there suffered through a horrific war
that devastated everything, and since then they've been isolated and
paranoid, prevented from functioning as a normal country by the sheer
spite of the United States. One forgets that Iran's interest in rockets
grew out of their own horrific decade-long war with Iraq, where Tehran
was regularly subjected to rocket attacks (which Iran reciprocated,
unlike Iraq's use of poison gas). Clearly, Iraq isn't the threat it
once was, but Iran is still surrounded by hostile regimes, with the
US and Israel actively engaging in various plots of sabotage and/or
insurrection. Scuttling the nuclear deal may or may not force Iran to
develop nuclear-armed ICBMs -- doing so wouldn't give them an effective
tool for attacking the US, but it might deter the US from attacking
Iran -- but it will certainly leave Iran more isolated, paranoid, and
repressive, much as the same sanctions regime has left North Korea.
If Trump's people had any sense, they'd not only embrace the Iran deal,
but seek to build on it, and use it as a model for opening up a modus
vivendi with North Korea.
Paul Mason: Democracy is dying -- and it's startling how few people
are worried; also
Yascha Mounk: The Past Week Proves That Trump Is Destroying Our
Democracy: These two articles came up in a row at WarInContext,
on a day when I was already thinking not just tha democracy has
been taking a bruising but that it's likely to get worse before
(if ever) it gets better. Still, Democracy is in the eye of the
beholder, so we get Mason worrying about Putin, Erdogan, and Trump
(also Poland, Hungary, Venezuela, India, the Philippines, and
China, but not Egypt or Saudi Arabia or Israel), while Mounk
sticks to Trump.
Andrew Prokop: As Trump takes aim at affirmative action, let's remember
how Jared Kushner got into Harvard: "a lot of money, and two US
senators, were involved." By the way, the two senators were Democrats,
albeit also multi-millionaires.
Jedediah Purdy: A Billionaire's Republic: Review of Ganesh Sitaraman's
new book, The Crisis of the Middle-Class Constitution. As noted
above, many of us are worried about the fate of democracy in the near
future. There are various theories about various threats, but the most
basic threat is that posed by significant inequality.
Bernie Sanders: Nissan dispute could go down as most vicious anti-union
crusade in decades:
Nissan is no stranger to trade unions. It has union representation in
42 out of 45 of its plants throughout the world -- from Japan to France,
Australia to Britain. But the company does not want unions in the US
south, because unions mean higher wages, safer working conditions,
decent healthcare and a secure retirement.
Corporations like Nissan know that if they stop workers in Mississippi
from forming a union, wages will continue to be abysmally low in this
state. Further, if workers are unable to form unions and engage in
collective bargaining, Americans throughout this country will continue
to work for longer hours for lower wages. As Americans, our goal must
be to raise wages in Mississippi and all over this country, not engage
in a destructive race to the bottom.
Nissan is not a poor company. It is not losing money. Last year, it
made a record-breaking $6.6bn in profits and it gave its CEO more than
$9.5m in total compensation.
Those kinds of obscene profits are a direct result of corporations'
decades-long assault on workers and their unions. Forty years ago, more
than a quarter of all workers belonged to a union. Today, that number
has gone down to just 11%, and in the private sector it is less than
7%. And as corporations and Republican politicians succeed in decimating
the right of workers to bargain collectively for better wages and benefits,
the American middle class, once the envy of the world, is disappearing
while income and wealth inequality is soaring. We have got to turn that
I proudly support Nissan workers' fight to form a union.
I wonder if any other Democrats have taken a stand on this. Also:
John Nichols: A Nissan Victory Could Usher in a New Era of Southern
Organizing. I've heard that the Games of Thrones showrunners
want to do a new fantasy history series that posits what would have
happened had the South won the Civil War. If you want to indulge in
alternative history, a more promising precept would have been what if
Taft-Hartley had failed in 1947 and the AFL and CIO had launched mass
organizing drives in the South, as they had planned but chickened out
on after Taft-Hartley -- and, of course, had they been successful. At
the very least, that would have advanced the civil rights movement a
decade or more, and prevented the decline of union membership, which
would have kept the Democratic Party, and ultimately the country, from
drifting far to the right.
Matt Taibbi: There Is No Way to Survive the Trump White House:
"The tenures of Reince Priebus and Anthony Scaramucci represent two
opposite, but equally ineffective, strategies for surviving the Trump
Some see in all these maneuverings an effort to purge GOP loyalists
like Spicer and Priebus. Others see a Nixonian lunge to hire thugs
in a crisis. This to me is all overthinking things. There is no
strategy. This White House is just a succession of spasmodic Trump
failures, with a growing line of people taking the fall for each of
them. You can fall with honor, or without, entertainingly or not.
But if you join this White House, fall you will. It's only a matter
Sophia Tesfaye: Trump's next military scapegoat: Foreign-born service
members targeted by Pentagon.
Sam Thielman: Stinger Missiles and Shady Deals: Ex-Biz Partner to Trump
Has a Tall Tale to Tell: Felix Sater, whose CV includes a conviction
for stock fraud as well business ties to Trump, as well as a stint as a
Trump "senior adviser."
Matthew Yglesias: Democrats' push for a new era of antitrust enforcement,
explained: Antitrust legislation, still on the books, was one of the
great achievements of the Progressive movement, even if it could be (and
mostly was) viewed as a way to defend capitalism from the capitalists.
However, it has been little enforced since then, especially under the
Reagan-Bush-Bush-Trump administrations, but Clinton's administration
is mostly remembered for its antitrust case against Microsoft (on
behalf of other high tech companies), and I can't think of any cases
filed by Obama. However, Democratic-leaning economists like Joseph
Stiglitz have lately noted the role of monopoly rents in generating
skyrocketing inequality, and other researchers -- many summarized
here -- have broadened that view. I suspect one reason many Democrats
have gone along with new antitrust planks is that they've long been
spouting the cause of competitive free markets, which is the primary
goal of antitrust. However, the forces against antitrust enforcement
are lobbyists working for dealmakers and brokers, who regardless of
their general principles will invariably argue that their sponsor
companies should be excepted. Still, an important plank, and not just
because competition is good. You should also consider how industry
consolidation destroys and undermines jobs.
Yglesias also wrote
Anthony Scaramucci, explained, as if you couldn't figure that one
out yourself. Still, worth being reminded of this:
Trump, who is very fond of zero-sum thinking, one-sided deals, and
sketchy business ethics, would naturally find [Scaramucci's] background
Some people make money by providing mutually beneficial win-win
arrangements. . . . Trump doesn't really do that. His early real
estate ventures in Manhattan and Atlantic City ended up being failures
that went bankrupt.
But in the mid-1990s, he started the process of spinning shit into
gold by launching a publicly traded company, Trump Casino Hotels &
Resorts, and bilking his investors for all they were worth.
TCHR never made any money for shareholders. "A shareholder who bought
$100 of DJT shares in 1995 could sell them for about $4 in 2005,"
according to Drew Harwell's analysis of the company. "The same investment
in MGM Resorts would have increased in value to about $600." But it did
make lots of money for Donald Trump. It spent more than $6 million on
entertaining high-end clients on Trump's golf courses. It spent $2
million more on renting Trump's plane. It bought $1.7 million of
Trump-branded merchandise. It bought a bankrupt casino from Donald
Trump for $490 million. It paid Trump millions in salary for his
work as CEO. And most lucratively of all, Trump was able to offload
debts he had personally guaranteed onto the publicly traded company.
From there, Trump hopped to starring in a reality television
programming and then into a lucrative celebrity brand licensing
business. He also launched a fake university that had to pay out
$25 million to settle fraud claims.
Trump is, in short, the kind of guy who'd look up to SkyBridge's
"make money selling bad products" business model, not down on it.
Let me also note this trip down memory lane:
Carl Boggs: The Other Side of War: Fury and Repression in St. Louis.
I moved to St. Louis and Washington University after the events described
here, and didn't know Howard Mechanic or anyone else mentioned in the
article, but did know Boggs -- a political science professor at Washington
Sunday, July 30. 2017
I shot most of my war back on Thursday's
have had limited time since then. But still I couldn't ignore these
Some scattered links:
Tariq Ali: Nawaz Sharif has gone. But Pakistan's high-level corruption
Sharif's party, the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz, is fighting back,
accusing the court of a vendetta -- which usually means that his
billions could not buy a single judge. This is truly exceptional.
Life in Pakistan has not been morally salutary for any of its citizens.
The family politics represented by the Bhutto-Zardaris and their rivals,
the Sharifs, is swathed in corruption. Each has learned from the other
how best to conceal it, minimising paperwork and juggling accounts.
Many years ago, when Benazir Bhutto was prime minister, she asked me
what people were saying about her. "They're saying your husband is
totally corrupt, but are not sure about how much you know . . ."
She knew all right, and was not in the least embarrassed: "You're
so prudish. Times have changed. This is the world we live in. They're
all doing it. Politicians in every western country . . ." Her husband,
the president-to-be Asif Ali Zardari, was imprisoned by Sharif, but no
actual proof of corruption was discovered: Zardari's loyalty to his
cronies was legendary, and they remained loyal in return. Sharif, it
appears, has been less fortunate.
Dean Baker: How about a little accountability for economists when they
Robert A Blecker: Trump's "America first" strategy for NAFTA talks
won't benefit US workers
Carole Cadwalladr: Al Gore: 'The rich have subverted all reason':
Ten years after his documentary An Inconvenient Truth, Gore
is back with a sequel and goes beyond simply remind us, "I told you
so." One thing he's started looking at is the money:
"I mean that those with access to large amounts of money and raw power,"
says Gore, "have been able to subvert all reason and fact in collective
decision making. The Koch brothers are the largest funders of climate
change denial. And ExxonMobil claims it has stopped, but it really hasn't.
It has given a quarter of a billion dollars in donations to climate denial
groups. It's clear they are trying to cripple our ability to respond to
this existential threat."
One of Trump's first acts after his inauguration was to remove all
mentions of climate change from federal websites. More overlooked is
that one of Theresa May's first actions on becoming prime minister --
within 24 hours of taking office -- was to close the Department for
Energy and Climate Change; subsequently donations from oil and gas
companies to the Conservative party continued to roll in. And what is
increasingly apparent is that the same think tanks that operate in the
States are also at work in Britain, and climate change denial operates
as a bridgehead: uniting the right and providing an entry route for
other tenets of Alt-Right belief. And, it's this network of power that
Gore has had to try to understand, in order to find a way to combat it.
Alexia Fernandez Campbell: What McCain did was hard. What Murkowski and
Collins did was much harder. I suppose McCain's vote to sink the
so-called "skinny repeal" does qualify as "something useful for once"
(a prospect I doubted when I cited Alex Pareene's
I Don't Want to Hear Another Fucking Word About John McCain Unless He
Dies or Actually Does Something Useful for Once). But McCain couldn't
have cast the killing vote without Collins and Murkowski consistently
voting against all of McConnell's ploys to repeal Obamacare -- in large
part because they seem to be the only Republicans who actually care
about the bottom-line assessments that the bills would deprive upwards
of twenty million Americans of health insurance.
Through all of this, the backlash against these two women senators was
severe. Two House Republicans threatened them with violence.
President Trump publicly shamed Murkowski on Twitter:
Senator @lisamurkowski of the Great State of Alaska really let the
Republicans, and our country, down yesterday. Too bad!
Murkowski then got a call from Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke, who
reportedly threatened to punish Alaska's economy based on her health
care vote, according to the Alaska Dispatch News.
You might recall that Murkowski actually lost the Republican primary
last time out to Tea Party fanatic Joe Miller, then beat Miller with
a write-in campaign, so she's entitled to some independence (or maybe
she's already written off the hardcore right). It will be interesting
to see how much internecine blood is spilt over "repeal-and-replace"
and other supposed Republican failures, but Reagan's so-called "eleventh
commandment" has long vanished: it seems almost certain that each and
every Republican who broke ranks even once will face right-wing primary
challengers. Even more amusing is the pouting tantrum from
John Daniel Davidson: I'm a conservative -- and I now see voting
Republican is a waste of time: "The Obamacare fiasco reveals
that once they are in power, Republicans in Washington refuse to
deliver on their promises."
Tom Engelhardt: Bombing the Rubble: "Precision warfare? Don't
make me laugh." Also:
William D Hartung: The Hidden Costs of "National Security":
"Ten ways your tax dollars pay for war -- past, present, and future>"
William G Gale: The Kansas tax cut experiment: Now that Sam Brownback's
moving on to become Trump's Ambassador at Large for Religious Freedom,
a position that will better fit his sanctimonious twaddle and hopefully
is powerless enough to limit how much real damage (as opposed to mere
embarrassment) he does, the Brookings Institute is finally getting around
to looking at his late, great signature tax scam (blessed in the beginning
by none other than Arthur Laffer, his paid consultant). Some of the bullet
- Under his plan, the tax rate on pass-through business income fell to
0. The idea was to boost investment, raise employment, and jump-start the
- The Kansas economy did not grow faster than neighboring states, the
country itself, or even Kansas' own growth in previous years.
- The experiment with tax policy was such a failure that a Republican
controlled legislature not only voted to raise taxes, but did so over
the veto of the governor.
- Second, a lowered business income tax can be manipulated. While
Kansas cut the tax rate on pass-through income to 0 in hopes of
promoting economic activity, the growth simply didn't happen. In
reality, many people in Kansas re-characterized income from labor
into business-form in order to take advantage of the 0 percent
- There are other, more general, takeaways from the tax cut experiment.
When Kansas cut taxes, its bond rating went down, and it had to cut
central services such as education and infrastructure. After seeing
this, a majority of Kansans decided they would not prefer to keep the
- Therefore, another implication is that tax reform is not just about
taxes, rather what taxes pay for. Taxes and spending are linked.
The tax cuts threw the state into a permanent budget crisis, forcing
spending cuts (and other desperate measures which ultimately weakened
the state's credit rating) at a time when courts consistently found the
state to be violating the requirement (part of the state constitution)
to adequately fund local schools. As Republicans try to pass federal
"tax reform" they'll be recycling many of the same nostrums Brownback
used in Kansas, so beware.
Jack Gross: The American Model: Book review of James Q Whitman:
Hitler's American Model: The United States and the Making of
Nazi Race Law. "What appears to be still difficult, even as
it gets told in ever finer detail, is the simple and immense
situation that America and Nazi Germany are two instantiations
of a single history of white supremacist rule." It's well known
that South Africa based its Apartheid legal system on America's
Jim Crow laws. The Nazi case is less clear, but Hitler admired
America in several respects -- white supremacy is the one detailed
here. As I recall, he also saw America's advance across the
continent as a model for his own Eastern conquests -- what we
proclaimed as Manifest Destiny he called Lebensraum.
Jim Hightower: Fight for your right to fix your own iPhone:
I'm not surprised that Apple is in the forefront of companies
seeking to maximize their profits and control of customers by
"repair prevention." Actually, I was recently was looking at a
Microsoft Surface computer and read that you can't get into it
to repair it without destroying the case -- one, I suspected,
of many traits they copied from Apple. We live in an age where
is it often cheaper to replace something than to repair it,
which may be good for various companies but as a society it is
wasteful and degrading.
Mike Konczal: This Small Regulation Shows Us How the Economy Could Work
for Everybody: Part of Dodd-Frank the Republicans want to get rid
of, because all that regulation limits the ability of big banks to
goose up their profits by price-gouging and other fraudulent means.
Peggy Noonan: Trump Is Woody Allen Without the Humor: Unfair to
Allen, of course -- I'd rather watch Interiors (possibly the
most unfunny movie ever made, not merely the unfunniest by Allen)
than a Trump rally speech -- but no one ever looked to Noonan for
fair, or for that matter for insight. But as a piece of anti-Trump
snark this rivals Maureen Dowd:
He's not strong and self-controlled, not cool and tough, not low-key
and determined; he's whiny, weepy and self-pitying. He throws himself,
sobbing, on the body politic. He's a drama queen. It was once said,
sarcastically, of George H.W. Bush that he reminded everyone of her
first husband. Trump must remind people of their first wife. Actually
his wife, Melania, is tougher than he is with her stoicism and grace,
her self-discipline and desire to show the world respect by presenting
herself with dignity.
Half the president's tweets show utter weakness. They are plaintive,
shrill little cries, usually just after dawn. "It's very sad that
Republicans, even some that were carried over the line on my back,
do very little to protect their president." The brutes. . . .
His public brutalizing of Attorney General Jeff Sessions isn't
strong, cool and deadly; it's limp, lame and blubbery. "Sessions
has taken a VERY weak position on Hillary Clinton crimes," he
tweeted this week. Talk about projection. . . .
His inability -- not his refusal, but his inability -- to embrace
the public and rhetorical role of the presidency consistently and
constructively is weak.
"It's so easy to act presidential but that's not gonna get it
done," Mr. Trump said the other night at a rally in Youngstown,
Ohio. That is the opposite of the truth. The truth, six months in,
is that he is not presidential and is not getting it done. His mad,
blubbery petulance isn't working for him but against him. . . .
We close with the observation that it's all nonstop drama and
queen-for-a-day inside this hothouse of a White House.
Noonan closes with Anthony Scaramucci ("He seemed to think this
diarrheic diatribe was professional"), without making the obvious
point: that he's Trump's perfect "communications director" because
he recapitulates Trump's own communications style -- just classed
up a bit by extending Trump's third-grade vocabulary and grammar
into puberty, as if that's all it's going to take to get the snooty
sophisticates to stop laughing at him. Noonan cites historian Joshua
Zeitz's comment: "It's Team of Rivals but for morons."
Still, there is no reason to think that Noonan is transitioning
into some kind of satirist. It's safe to say she's the same paid
political hack she's been since Ronald Reagan signed her checks.
What happened last week was that Trump, aided by Scaramucci, found
a way to escape from his orthodox Republican chapperones and go
out on a joyride. They did manage to ditch Reince Priebus, but
while John Kelly will no doubt prove a sterner nanny, his job of
containing Trump will likely prove taxing. Meanwhile, it's not
just Noonan among the party hacks who are sounding alarms about
Charles Krauthammer: Longing for a self-contained, impenetrable
Transparency, thy name is Trump, Donald Trump. No filter, no governor,
no editor lies between his impulses and his public actions. He tweets,
therefore he is.
Ronald Reagan was so self-contained and impenetrable that his
official biographer was practically driven mad trying to figure him
out. Donald Trump is penetrable, hourly.
Wrong metaphor. Trump and Reagan were similar in one respect: neither
had anything coherent going on between their ears, just chaos and bestial
desires. The difference was that Reagan was an actor (and more importantly,
a paid corporate spokesman) who could credibly read the scripts he was
given, whereas Trump just improvises (often making shit up)-- not because
he's any good at it but because all his life he's been a boss surrounded
by ego-stroking sycophants. Krauthammer, like many conservatives, is upset
over Trump's taunting of Jeff Sessions, who's been hard at work implementing
the conservative agenda to undermine democracy and rig the justice system
while Trump's been throwing his juvenile tantrums.
Given how rare it is for such committed Republican cronies as Noonan
and Krauthammer to break ranks, their attacks on Trump may mark the end
of the honeymoon. Orthodox Republicans may not have liked Trump back in
the primary season, but they figured he'd be manageable once he got the
nomination, and they were suddenly delighted with him once he did the
one thing they most coveted: winning. And indeed he has proven pliable
in terms of policy and personnel, abandoning every shred of independent
thinking he displayed during the campaign. As long as he was helping
them get what they wanted, they could tolerate his idiosyncrasies. But
evidently something has changed: not just that he's proving ineffective
and unpopular -- the health care debacle is really more their fault
than it is Trump's -- but that he's becoming needlessly dangerous and
Trita Parsi: The Mask Is Off: Trump Is Seeking War With Iran:
President Donald Trump has made it clear, in no uncertain terms and
with no effort to disguise his duplicity, that he will claim that
Tehran is cheating on the nuclear deal by October -- the facts be
damned. In short, the fix is in. Trump will refuse to accept that
Iran is in compliance and thereby set the stage for a military
confrontation. His advisers have even been kind enough to explain
how they will go about this. Rarely has a sinister plan to destroy
an arms control agreement and pave the way for war been so openly
The unmasking of Trump's plans to sabotage the nuclear deal began
two weeks ago when he reluctantly had to certify that Iran indeed was
in compliance. Both the US intelligence as well as the International
Atomic Energy Agency had confirmed Tehran's fair play. But Trump threw
a tantrum in the Oval Office and berated his national security team
for not having found a way to claim Iran was cheating. According to
Foreign Policy, the adults in the room -- Secretary of State Rex
Tillerson, Secretary of Defense Jim Mattis, and National Security
Advisor H. R. McMaster -- eventually calmed Trump down but only on the
condition that they double down on finding a way for the president to
blow up the deal by October.
Matt Shuham: Trump Calls for 'Rough' Policing, Gives Blessing to Law
Enforcement Abuses: Probably one of the ten scariest articles of
the Trump era. Sure, there have been many instances where Trump looked
to be endorsing ad-hoc violence against protesters, foreigners, other
minorities -- why not suspected criminals? Well, because abuses eat at
and eventually destroy the very notion that we live under a fair and
equitable system of law and justice. And has become very clear over the
past few years, what we have now is already way too permissive of police
abuses. Indeed, quite a few police superintendents have come to recognize
that bringing their forces under control is a major public relations
concern. So what Trump is saying undermines responsible police as well
as the entire system of justice, and helps to make American civil society
coarser and more hateful.
On the same speech:
Dara Lind: Trump just delivered the most chilling speech of his
presidency. In reaction, see:
Cleve R Wootson Jr/Mark Berman: US police chiefs blast Trump for
endorsing 'police brutality'.
Matt Taibbi: The Anthony Scaramucci Era Will Be Freakish, Embarrassing
and All Too Short:
In the space of a week, Trump's new press expert demonstrated that he
a) didn't know how to hold off-the-record conversations b) didn't
understand that cameras and microphones keep rolling even when the
red light is off and c) doesn't bother to check the other public
statements made by administration officials before he makes statements
of his own. An alien crashed on earth and given a two-minute tutorial
on dealing with reporters would have done a better job. . . .
The Communications Director job in the Trump administration is a
no-win job, because the real Communications Director is Trump's
Twitter feed. The job that Scaramucci technically occupies is a
thankless and redundant position that involves standing before
reporters and reconciling avalanches of already-circulated lies,
contradictions, and insulting/ignorant statements.
Even a genius of the highest order couldn't make this work.
Of course, Trump hasn't had geniuses available to him. The
fourth-rate minds he has instead had in his employ just started
raging trash-fires whenever they tried to logically explain
They gave us statements like Kellyanne Conway's "alternative
facts," or Katrina Pierson's bit about how Trump wasn't changing
his position on immigration, but rather "changing the words that
he is saying."
Matthew Yglesias: The most important stories of the week, explained:
The Senate rejected three versions of ACA repeal; Trump named a
new Chief of Staff; Trump kind of banned transgender military
service; Trump feuded with his attorney general.
Reuters: US flies B-1B bombers over Korean peninsula after missile
test: Not clear from the article whether they actually flew into
North Korean air space, which would be daring the Koreans to shoot
a plane down, dramatically escalating America's snit fit over North
Korea's missile tests. Also:
Tom Phillips: China and Russia have 'responsibility' for North Korea
nuclear threat, says US. Reminds me that Casey Stengel once said
that the secret to successful managing was keeping the guys who hate
you (like North Korea) away from the ones on the fence (like Russia
and China) -- a lesson Rex Tillerson never learned. The odds of Trump
(or one of those generals he gives carte blanche to) doing something
profoundly stupid over Korea have been steadily increasing -- much as
it has with Iran (see Trita Parsi, above).
Thursday, July 27. 2017
Accumulated all this in half a week, and no doubt missed lots
along the way. Will catch up a bit on Sunday, but I don't see
much free time between now and then, and the supply seems to be
fucking endless. My fellow Americans: you should be ashamed of
Dean Baker: Obamacare Isn't Just Dying, Trump and Republicans Are Trying
to Kill It: Title could be phrased better. Although there is much
room for improvement, Obamacare is only failing where political sabotage
has kept it from being fully implemented (especially Medicaid expansion).
Trump's predictions of failure depend mostly on his own administration's
Dean Baker/Arjun Jayadev/Joseph Stiglitz: Innovation, Intellectual Property,
and Development: A Better Set of Approaches for the 21st Century:
Nina Burleigh: Alex Jones and Other Conservatives Call for Civil War
Chris Cillizza: The 29 most cringe-worthy lines from Donald Trump's
hyper-political speech to the Boy Scouts.
Esme Cribb: Scaramucci Vows to 'Kill All the F*cking Leakers' in
Profanity-Laced Rant: And to think I was feeling uncomfortable
watching Colbert doing his Italian mobster voices to paraphrase
the new White House Communications Director, but once again satire
gets gobsmacked by reality. Targets of the profanities include
Steve Bannon and Reince Preibus as well as unnamed little people.
For more, see
Ryan Lizza: Anthony Scaramucci Called Me to Unload About White
House Leakers, Reince Preibus, and Steve Bannon. Also:
Amy Davidson Sorkin: When Anthony Scaramucci Fell in Love With
Perhaps Scaramucci admires Trump's knowledge of bankruptcy, perhaps
especially moral bankruptcy, not as a degraded state but one in which
some unprofitable principles can be written off and new, more marketable
ones acquired. . . .
Radical honesty doesn't seem like an option. Neither does actually
useful information on the workings of the executive branch, or of
Congress. When he was asked, on Friday, why he believed that the
President would get "a win" on health care, he said, "The President
has really good karma, O.K.? And the world turns back to him. He's
genuinely a wonderful human being, and I think, as the members of
Congress get to know him better and get comfortable with him, they're
going to let him lead them to the right things for the American people.
So, I think we're going to get the health care done."
Lucia Graves: John McCain had the chance to do the right thing on
healthcare. He failed. I don't particularly begrudge the bipartisan
standing ovation McCain received on returning to the Senate following
surgery and a diagnosis of brain cancer. It is, after all, a famously
collegial institution, and nothing counters ideological prejudices like
personal contact. However, his purpose in returning was to advance a
partisan scheme to deprive millions of Americans of affordable and
effective health insurance while treating the richest Americans with
a sizable tax break. And while McCain said that he was opposed to the
act he voted to advance, he proved his bad faith both then and in a
later vote (see
Tara Golshan: McCain said he wouldn't vote for the Senate health care
bill. 6 hours later, he did. The fact is that McCain is one of the
great con artists in American political history, something the media
have fallen for repeatedly. If you need a refresher, see Alex Pareene's
post from February 17:
I Don't Want to Hear Another Fucking Word About John McCain Unless He
Dies or Actually Does Something Useful for Once -- since then the
odds of him dying vs. doing something useful have gone up, but even
then the odds of the latter were vanishingly slim. The only "useful
thing" I can recall him doing was to derail Boeing's original tanker
lease scam, but Boeing eventually managed to get their tankers bought --
after at least one Boeing executive went to jail. McCain's career low
point was probably his sabre-rattling against Russia over South Ossetia
in 2008 (while he was running for president), but the fact is that he's
long been the most dangerous hawk in the Senate. As for everything
else, he's just an ordinary right-wing Republican hack. David Foster
Wallace missed an opportunity when he reprinted his McCain essay as
a separate book instead of folding it into his previous collection,
Interviews With Hideous Men.
Charles P Pierce: The Price of John McCain's Republican Loyalty:
It was an ugly day in the United States Senate on Tuesday, as ugly a
day as has been seen in that chamber since the death of Strom Thurmond,
who used to make a day ugly simply by showing up. The Senate took up
the Motion To Proceed on whatever the hell hash Mitch McConnell wants
to make out of the American healthcare system. . . . But the ugliest
thing to witness on a very ugly day in the United States Senate was
what John McCain did to what was left of his legacy as a national
figure. He flew all the way across the country, leaving his high-end
government healthcare behind in Arizona, in order to cast the deciding
vote to allow debate on whatever ghastly critter emerges from what has
been an utterly undemocratic process. He flew all the way across the
country in order to facilitate the process of denying to millions of
Americans the kind of medical treatment that is keeping him alive, and
to do so at the behest of a president who mocked McCain's undeniable
As the last line indicates, and the rest of the article elaborates,
Pierce is one of many who previously succumbed to an exaggerated opinion
of McCain's forthrightness or integrity or heroism -- there is plenty of
reason to deny all three. Still, Pierce may be right about where this
thing ends. It is, as ever, a case where an ounce of prevention (or at
least forethought) could have prevented a whole world of hurt:
The Republicans have the votes now. Dean Heller and Rob Portman and
Shelley Moore Capito have lined up with their party once, and the
likelihood is their respective prices will be met again because this
is not a policy issue any more, it is pure politics now, a promise
made by an extremist majority to its unthinking base. That's what
the end of this ugly day looked like, a day on which the final bloody
death of Barack Obama's legacy was placed on the fast track by people
who know better, and on which Susan Collins of Maine was more of a
maverick than John McCain ever was. It was an ugly day in the U.S.
Senate, and there was nothing but ruin everywhere you looked.
Mehdi Hasan: Despite What the Press Says, "Maverick" McCain Has a
Long and Distinguished Record of Horribleness. By the way, here's
Tracking Congress in the Age of Trump vote card. To be fair,
he has wavered a bit since getting diagnosed with brain cancer.
Ryan Grim: Steve Bannon Wants Facebook and Google Regulated Like
Utilities: That actually makes a fair amount of sense, although
I could come up with a better scheme based on non-profit public
entities which would provide the same services without imposing
ads on users. My favorite quote from the article:
In 2011, Sen. Pat Leahy, D-Vt., then the chairman of the Judiciary
Committee, complained that Google had waited too long to hire an
armada of lobbyists. . . . They have since caught up: In the first
few months of the Trump administration, tech firms set new lobbying
spending records in Washington.
The latter probably became necessary because so many of them bet
heavily on Hillary -- no need for lobbyists when you've already got
the politicians in your pocket.
Cameron Joseph: Dem's New Slogan Is Lame, but GOP Is Giving Them a
Populist Opening: Slogan is "A Better Deal," introduced by Chuck
Shumer in (where else?) a New York Times Op-Ed, followed up by a
press event involving Shumer and Nancy Pelosi. Unclear from this
piece how the whole thing came about, but it starts to suggest some
thinking along the lines of Newt Gingrich's 1994 "Contract" -- a
hint of serious ambitions from a crew that more often seems bent
on self-sabotage. I don't mind the slogan, but the actual platform
could use some sharpening (see Corey Robin below), and it wouldn't
hurt to come up with some more credible leadership than Shumer and
Pelosi. (From a
NYT letter: "Can it be a better deal, with the same familiar
One comment on this is
Lee Drutman: The Real Civil War in the Democratic Party. He points
out that it was relatively easy to find an agenda that Shumer, Pelosi,
and left-favorite Elizabeth Warren could agree on, but that rank-and-file
Democrats are much more divided -- he says:
Among the Democratic rank-and-file, the more consequential divide is
between those willing to trust the existing establishment and those
who want entirely new leadership. It's a divide that Democratic Party
leaders ignore at their peril.
He goes on to babble nonsense about "political institutions" and
the "pragmatism" of the Democratic Party establishment, but the real
crux of the issue is that the Clintons and Obama, Shumer and Pelosi,
cannot be trusted to deliver on their campaign promises, and indeed
don't seem to be bothered by their repeated failures. On the other
hand, they're quite effective at delivering favors to the interests
that finance them.
Jamiles Lartey: 'I am livid': Donald Trump criticized for odd,
disjointed speech to Boy Scouts.
Charlie May: Judge: Kris Kobach, vice chair of Trump's voter fraud
commission, has been "misleading the Court": Much notice has
been paid recently to how Trump's treated Jeff Sessions, the first
member of the Senate to endorse Trump. Less so about Trump's other
early endorsers -- with Sessions they'd pass for the four horsemen
of the apocalypse: Newt Gingrich, Rudy Giuliani, and Chris Christie --
none given positions in the new administration. But among lesser
figures, take Kris Kobach, KS Secretary of State and the only
elected Republican to endorse Trump before state caucuses here.
Kobach famously showed up on Trump's doorstep with a binder of
his brilliant ideas for running the country, but all he got was
co-chair with Mike Pence on Trump's Election Integrity Commission,
designed to play up Kobach's most scurrilous projects. That got
him sued, in a case that he's repeatedly bumbled. And while he's
also intent on running for governor of Kansas in 2018, Trump's
appointment of Sam Brownback as pope of the State Department
means Kobach will be running against an incumbent, Jeff Colyer.
As the late Molly Ivins like to say, "lie down with dogs, get
up with fleas" -- except with Trump it's worse, more like rats
and bubonic plague (the fleas are just intermediary).
By the way, the first clue about Trump was the nepotism.
I should dig up Robert Townsend's quote on nepotism, but
it's something like: if you practice nepotism, no first-rate
people will ever work for you, because they'll know you're
prejudiced against them, and you'll be stuck with your fucking
Also see, from the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund:
Sherrilyn Ifill: President Trump's Election Integrity Commission
is illegal and unconstitutional -- that's why we filed a lawsuit.
Alex Pareene: It's Not Mitch McConnell's Fault That Your Ideas Are Bad
and Hated: Written before McConnell engineered his vote to open
Senate discussion of his secret Trumpcare bill, so his impulse to
pardon McConnell may have been premature.
Perhaps it is related to the mental block that causes them to regularly
forget that the only reason a Republican is currently president is
because he constantly and loudly promised not to be a conservative on
issues like social insurance. Instead of confronting the implications
of that victory, conservatives instead have responded like Trump's own
budget director, who regularly brags that he is tricking the president
into exchanging his (popular) non-conservative ideas for (unpopular)
This is why it's absurd to blame Mitch McConnell. The role of the
Senate is to be the place where popular things go to die -- in the
popular (albeit fictional) account of our Founders' intentions, it
acts as the "cooling saucer," where a good thing everyone likes (hot
tea) becomes something you dump down the drain (old, room temperature
tea). The rules of the Senate were perfected over many decades to turn
it into a place where the will of the people is easily frustrated. It
is extraordinarily difficult to get large, popular bills through the
Senate. Imagine, then, how hard it must be to pass incredibly
Well, maybe not so hard, because Pareene seriously underestimates
the contempt that Republican politicians have for voters they've found
so easy to manipulate, and the fear they have of movement conservatives
itching to primary them.
Heather Digby Parton: Trump's cynical jobs program: Dump your house,
move somewhere else and work for less: "Maybe Trump supporters
are glimpsing the truth: He has no plan to bring back high-paying
jobs, and never did."
The bottom line is that Trump doesn't care about American workers.
His issue is with foreign competition for American companies, which
isn't exactly the same thing. He said in a Republican primary debate,
"We are a country that is being beaten on every front. Taxes too high,
wages too high, we're not going to be able to compete against the world."
His supporters had to pretend they didn't hear that: Their wages were
Charles P Pierce: Sam Brownback Is Your New Ambassador at Large for
Religious Freedom: Remember The Peter Principle? It was
a bestselling business book back in the 1970s that argued that people
rise in organizations until they meet their level of incompetence,
then they stay there. Brownback's appointment is evidence of an
opposite corollary which rarely occurs in real life, but the only
safety net Republicans believe in is one for their own failures,
so the Trump administration sorted through all of their positions
until they found the highest one where Brownback's incompetence
will probably prove inconsequential. On the other hand, I suspect
they've underestimated the Kansas governor, former senator, and
almost instantly failed presidential aspirant. I mean, until now
it's unlikely you've ever even heard that the US has an Ambassador
at Large for Religious Freedom (the result of a 1998 law), so his
acceptance has already made the US (and, let's face it, Trump)
look more ridiculous. Brownback's chief qualification for this
post is the fervor with which he's attempted to impose his own
conservative Catholic religious beliefs on everyone else. But
the cause of "religious freedom" has most often been invoked to
defend bigotry and discrimination -- an interpretation that
Brownback will be thrilled to adopt.
Corey Robin: A Party That Wants to Die but Can't Pull the Plug:
"The Democratic Party is offering tax giveaways for corporations.
So much for learning from its mistakes." Probably unfair to write
the Democrats off for this one gaffe, but worth pointing out that
it is wrong in multiple ways: it subordinates workers to business
instead of giving them skills (as education would) they can use
to get better jobs wherever suits them best; it sends the wrong
message to business -- namely that politicians are eager to bribe
them to do things they should be doing anyway; and it doesn't give
workers the leverage they need to convert their training into
better paying jobs (as, e.g., helping them join unions would).
One problem that Democrats like Chuck Shumer have is that they're
so used to sucking up to business they don't have any other ideas.
Marshall Steinbaum: Congressional Democrats Get Serious About
Antitrust: Which would be a marked change from the Clinton
and Obama administrations -- and, I agree, a necessary one:
Antitrust must be a core component of any agenda that would address
the slow economic growth, rising inequality, and wage stagnation that
are our most pressing economic problems. At the root of all of these
is the consolidation of corporate power. Corporate profits now account
for over 15% of the economy's gross value-added, up from 5% in the
Hiroko Tabuchi: Rooftop Solar Dims Under Pressure From Utility
Lobbyists: Just in the last couple years it's started looking
like renewable electrical sources will get the upper hand over
coal and gas (and for that matter nuclear), primarily due to
dramatic cost reductions in solar panels. However, utility
companies don't like distributed solar, coal and gas companies
don't like competition, nor do domestic producers of solar panels
(the cheapest are made in Asia). A government concerned about
climate change would lean against those pressures, but Trump
is likely to respond favorably to such lobbying. Those who
laughed when Trump promised to bring coal jobs back might
Matt Taibbi: Newly Released Documents Show Government Misled Public on
Trevor Timm: If Trump wants to fire Jeff Sessions, let him -- it would
be a gift to America. One of the week's more popular stories has
been Trump's tweet attacks on his attorney general for recusing himself
from the Russia investigation instead of doing the right thing and
protecting the president and his family. Trump's too self-absorbed to
care, but after Sessions lied about his own Russia meetings, recusal
was literally the least he could do. Still, Timm is right: although
there'd be little change in replacing most of Trump's appointees with
anyone else likely to get Trump's approval, Sessions is one appointee
with his own well-defined agenda, and he's working hard to leave a
huge gash through all of our previous expectations of what justice
in America means. Also see:
Jon Swaine: Why did Donald Trump turn on attorney general Jeff
Shaun Walker: Putin: Russia will retaliate if 'insolent' US lawmakers
pass sanctions bill: Of course, American politicians think there's
no risk in voting against Russia (not to mention Iran and North Korea),
and maybe that's true as far as their own election prospects go. But
they're making the world a more dangerous place.
Sunday, July 23. 2017
I'm having a lot of trouble with websites making demands: that I
pay them money, or sign up for things, or other demands I don't have
the patience to parse. I understand that internet media businesses
have a tough time making ends meet, and I'm not unsympathetic, but
I'm not rich, and I'm not in the business of reporting on media,
and I really hate where this is going: a world where information
is locked up behind a handful of companies, where people have to
decide something is worth paying for before they can find out
whether it's worth anything at all. In such a world many people
will only be able to read things that they value because they
agree with, and most people will never read anything because the
practical value of most information is vanishingly small. This
is a hideous prospect promising a world that only grows more and
more dysfunctional. Allowing paywalls to be bypassed by agreeing
to look at tons of advertising only makes the information more
untrustworthy and unappealing. Advertising may not be the root of
all evil in America, but it's certainly contributed, especially
by raising consumer manipulation to the level of a science.
I should probably compile a list of websites I'm boycotting --
or, effectively, that are boycotting me -- but I find the practice
too annoying to obsess over. Looks like I should add the Washington
Post to the list -- clicked on several pieces and all I get now are
subscription screens. (The ad there started "I see you like great
journalism" but the WP has rarely met that mark; e.g., see
The Washington Post's War on Disability Programs Continues,
and ask yourself: why should anyone pay these people money?) I'm
especially annoyed at
The Nation blocking me out,
and have decided to stop linking to their articles. (We actually
subscribe to the print edition of The Nation, which as I
understand it entitles us to "full digital access" but I've never
set that up before -- indeed, never had to.) I've started to avoid
The New York Times and The New Yorker -- again, we
pay them money for print editions, but they have "free article"
counters, and I'd hate to waste my quota by looking at something
stupid by David Brooks. We actually pay for quite a bit of print
media, and my wife subscribes to digital things I don't even know
about (and probably wouldn't be happy about if I did know). Still,
we don't read so much or so widely because we find it entertaining
or necessary for business. We do it because we're trying to be
concerned, responsible citizens. And it sure looks like the goal
of business in America is to make citizenship cost-prohibitive.
I'll add that I don't have paywalls, advertisements, or even
any form of begware on my websites. I'm not paid for what I write,
nor do I make any money off the occasional music discs I'm sent.
I do this for free, and find that at least a few people find my
analysis and information to be useful and worthwhile -- I guess
that's my reward (that plus satisfaction in my craft). I even
spend some money to make this possible, but I do feel the need
to limit my losses. In this current media environment, that may
mean limiting the sources I consult.
PS: Add Foreign Policy to that list, demanding
about $90/year under the unsavory slogan, "Today, truth comes at
a cost." The link I was following came from
Trump assigns White House team to target Iran nuclear deal, sidelining
State Department. This probably complements several links on Iran
Binta Baxter: How the Student Loan Industry Is Helping Trump Destroy
American Democracy: Also, how Trump's helping the student loan
Cristina Cabrera: Ivanka Trump and Jared Kushner Have Raked in $212
Million Since 2016.
Daniel José Camacho: Hillary Clinton is more unpopular than Donald Trump.
Let that sink in: At least before the election, she polled better
than Trump. You'd think she'd do even better after six months of Trump's
non-stop scandals, but many recent polls show she'd still lose, and the
Democrats have yet to register tangible gains by targeting Trump --
despite Trump's own favorability polling sinking into "worst ever"
territory. Still, I'd take these polls with a grain of salt. Clinton's
own favorability ratings have taken a hit partly because people who
voted for her -- mostly people who would never have voted for Trump --
are still pissed at her for losing. As for the Democrats, they've yet
to move on from her -- something that probably won't happen until the
2018 campaigns get seriously under way. Meanwhile, for all the scandal
in Washington, there hasn't been a lot of evident everyday damage that
most people can blame directly on Trump (immigrants are the exception
here). Those things will compound over the next year -- something
Democrats need to position themselves for.
Jonathan Cohn: Only 32 House Democrats Voted Against Reauthorizing Trump's
Deportation Machine: Note, however, 9 Republicans also voted no.
Thomas Frank: The media's war on Trump is destined to fail. Why can't
it see that? Wait, there's a "media war on Trump"? How can you
tell? Didn't mainstream media gave Trump ten times as much coverage
in 2016 as they did anyone else? The New York Times gave him an
interview sandbox just last week. Sure, it made him look stupid,
but doesn't that just play into his appeal? One might argue that
Steven Colbert and Seth Myers are waging something like a war on
Trump, but they're also catering to large niche market of people
who can't stand Trump (and who have insomnia, possibly related).
But mainstream media -- the so-called objective reporters -- are
fatally compromised by corporate direction and an eye towards
entertainment, and both of those factors have played into Trump
while leaving the right-wing takeover of the Republican Party
largely unexamined. One could imagine a responsible media going
after Trump's administration, examining in depth the conflicts
of interest, the money trails, the intense lobbying both of
business fronts and other interests like the NRA and AIPAC --
and they needn't be partisan (all the better if they catch a
few corrupt Democrats along the way). But that's not going to
happen as long as the media is owned by a handful of humongous
conglomerates. On the other hand, Trump's own war on the "fake
news" media does seem to be working, if not to deter them from
serious reporting, to reinforce the tendency of his believers
to disregard anything critical they may come up with.
Glenn Greenwald/Ryan Grim: US Lawmakers Seek to Criminally Outlaw Support
for Boycott Campaign Against Israel:
The Criminalization of political speech and activism against Israel has
become one of the gravest threats to free speech in the West. In France,
activists have been arrested and prosecuted for wearing T-shirts advocating
a boycott of Israel. The U.K. has enacted a series of measures designed
to outlaw such activism. In the U.S., governors compete with one another
over who can implement the most extreme regulations to bar businesses
from participating in any boycotts aimed even at Israeli settlements,
which the world regards as illegal. On U.S. campuses, punishment of
pro-Palestinian students for expressing criticisms of Israel is so
commonplace that the Center for Constitutional Rights refers to it as
"the Palestine Exception" to free speech.
But now, a group of 43 senators -- 29 Republicans and 14 Democrats --
wants to implement a law that would make it a felony for Americans
to support the international boycott against Israel, which was launched
in protest of that country's decades-old occupation of Palestine. The
two primary sponsors of the bill are Democrat Ben Cardin of Maryland
and Republican Rob Portman of Ohio. Perhaps the most shocking aspect
is the punishment: Anyone guilty of violating the prohibitions will
face a minimum civil penalty of $250,000 and a maximum criminal penalty
of $1 million and 20 years in prison.
Philip Weiss: Critics of US 'Israel Anti-Boycott Act' say even requests
for information could expose citizens to penalties. For an example
of a similar state bill, see
Heike Schotten/Elsa Auerbach: National movement to silence BDS disguises
itself in MA legislature as 'No Hate in Bay State' act.
As this is happening, there are dozens of articles on the unfolding
human catastrophe in Gaza; e.g.
Gaza on Verge of Collapse as Israel Sends 2.2 Million People "Back to
Middle Ages" in Electricity Crisis. There is also renewed violence
in the West Bank; see:
Jason Ditz: Six Killed, Hundreds Wounded as Violence Rages Across West
Sheren Khalel: Three settlers stabbed to death and three Palestinians
shot dead in turmoil over security measures at al-Aqsa mosque compound;
also always useful to check out
Kate's latest press compilation.
Benjamin Hart: Obamacare and the Limits of Propaganda:
But now, Republicans control every lever of the federal government,
and any illusion that replacing Obamacare would be simple has been
well and truly shattered. Instead, the relentless news coverage
around health care has finally revealed Republicans' philosophy on
the issue: nothing more than knee-jerk opposition to the previous
president combined with an overwhelming desire to cut taxes for
And by thus far rejecting any reasonable fixes to the law, the
GOP has inadvertently helped drag the American public to the left.
A recent Pew survey found that 60 percent of Americans now believe
that government has a responsibility to ensure health care for its
citizens, the highest number in a decade. That includes 52 percent
of Republicans with family incomes below $30,000, up from 31 percent
a year ago.
Propaganda works best when the enemy it conjures is hazy and
easily caricatured; it works less well when everyday reality intrudes.
Americans have now gotten a taste of what citizens in other
industrialized nations have long become accustomed to, and they don't
want less of it. They want more.
John Judis: The Conflict Tearing Apart British Politics: An Interview
With David Goodhart: Judis' interviews have generally been interesting,
but this one gets pretty stupid. Goodhart's distinction between Somewheres
and Anywheres isn't ridiculous -- certainly they're more neutral terms
than Provincials and Cosmopolitans, but that's pretty much what they boil
down to. On the other hand, the way he maps British partisan politics onto
his concepts is scattered and arbitrary, obviously intent primarily on
marginalizing Jeremy Corbyn, who he clearly detests on all levels:
Jeremy Corbyn probably represents the view of about five percent of the
British people, but a lot of naïve people don't remember the 1970s and
the 1980s and the thing called the Soviet Union. They live in this
ahistorical world. Even older people who are not so naïve and realize
that Jeremy Corbyn was not to their taste in almost every respect
nonetheless planned to vote for him as a protest against Brexit on
the assumption that he was not going to be prime minister. The things
that pushed him up, gave him twelve points more than were expected,
were the very high turnout of the blob youth left, the hard core
Remainers, and enough of the blue collar voters coming back to Labour
on anti-austerity grounds. . . .
I think the traditional Labour coalition has blown apart, but on a
one-off basis Jeremy Corbyn has managed to stitch it back together
sufficiently to give him the uplift of ten percent in the vote. By
going helter skelter for the educated or semi-educated youth vote
and playing on the soft left ideology that so many kids come out of
the university with, combined with this bribe to abolish student
tuition fees, he is shoring up for his own political ends, the
middle class welfare state. So he has this huge uplift of the student
vote and enough of the blue-collar vote, but it's a one-off and I
think Labour is still on the road to oblivion as a party.
I don't know anything more about Goodhart -- e.g., I have no idea
why he should be considered some sort of expert on UK politics --
but he seems like a prime example of neoliberalism, especially in
his disdain for "the middle class welfare state" and his painting
anything government might do to help out any but the poorest of
citizens as a "bribe" -- and needless to say the poor who still
do get some paltry dole will also face a substantial helping of
shame. The left's counter to this is to establish a set of rights
which raise everyone up.
Goldhart's view of Labour as a declining, obsolescent political
force seems to be stuck in the "end of history" fantasies prevalent
in the US/UK after the collapse of Communism. Until the fall, the
ruling capitalists in the West at least had a healthy fear of worker
revolution, and therefore sought to make society and economy more
palatable. After the collapse, they lost that fear, and went on a
binge of greed that still hasn't subsided, even though they seemed
to trip up severely with the 2008 meltdown. Meanwhile, the left
tried to rethink and regroup. A recent, interesting piece on this is:
Tim Barker: The Bleak Left. I haven't finished it, and have my
own ideas which gradually formed as I was trying to write about
post-capitalism in the late 1990s. One of the first things I did
was to jettison Marx, reinterpreting his revolutionary impulses
not as early-proletarian but as late-bourgeois. Paraphrasing
Benjamin on Baudellaire, I saw him (and later Marxists) as "secret
agents, of the bourgeoisie's discontent with its own rule." That
brought me back to equality as the foundation seed both of liberal
politics and any just society. No way to properly unpack this here,
but given recent trends toward extreme inequality (thanks mostly
to neoliberalism, although inherited money also has much to do
with it, especially on the US right) it isn't at all surprising
that the left would reform to countervail, and that it would draw
both on liberal and on socialist traditions to do so.
Sam Knight: Trump's Environmental Protection Pick Is BP's Former Lawyer --
and May Preside Over Cases Involving BP.
Mike Konczal: "Neoliberalism" isn't an empty epithet. It's a real,
powerful set of ideas. Centrist Democrats are getting touchy
about being called "neoliberal" -- even in The Nation I've
seen Danny Goldberg (link, if you can read it,
here) insist that the left stop using the term. He doesn't
offer an alternative, but the first one that pops into my mind
is "corporate stooges" -- "neoliberal" at least suggests some
degree of coherence and integrity. Konczal tries to sketch out
how that ideology developed historically, going back to Charles
Peters' 1983 "A Neoliberal's Manifesto." Since then, adherents
have preferred to call themselves New Democrats (or New Labour
in Britain), while British critics have tended to use neoliberal
for macroeconomic policies that promoted free flow of capital
and trade while forcing governments to adopt austerity, with
no linkages to other issues (thus, for instance, one could be
neoliberal on economic policy, neoconservative on war, and
either liberal or conservative on social issues). However, at
present neoliberalism is a cleavage line that splits Democrats --
even if Clinton had to compromise on trade and college tuition
to secure the 2016 nomination. Indeed, neoliberal only became
an epithet as it became clear that its promises of widespread
prosperity turned out to be not just hollow but fraudulent.
Richard Lardner: Lawmakers Announce Bipartisan Deal on Sweeping
Russia Sanctions Bill: Proves two things: (1) nothing brings
a nation together like a shared enemy, even a phony one; and (2)
the Democrats have still not made a serious review of America's
habit of imperial power projection, even though it objectively
hurts both their base and their political message. A crude way
to understand the latter point is that the only times Republicans
join with Democrats is when they intuit that doing so hurts (and
helps disillusion) the Democratic Party base. Democrats wouldn't
have to go full isolationist to turn the corner on the neocon
fetish with single-power projection that has dominated US policy
since the mid-1990s. (The Iraq regime change vote marked their
ascendancy, again keyed to take advantage of an enemy Democrats
wouldn't doubt.) Democrats could, for instance, revert to their
early beliefs in international law and institutions -- a belief
that led to the UN, an organization the neocons have managed to
totally marginalize (except when they can use it). That reminds
me of a third point: this bill again testifies to the singular
anomaly of US subservience to Israel. You'd think at the very
least that Democrats would defend Obama's nuclear deal with Iran,
but their allegiance to Israel trumps party loyalty.
One should note that while Congress is limiting Trump's power
to reduce international tensions by curtailing sanctions, that
same body is evidently giving Trump a free hand to start any war
that strikes his fancy. See (if you can):
John Nichols: Paul Ryan Hands Donald Trump a Blank Check for
Dylan Matthews: President Trump's essentially unlimited pardon power,
explained: Reports are that Trump has already started discussing
using his pardon powers to obstruct the Russia investigation. Can he
do that? Yes. Would that be grounds for impeachment? Probably. Will
the Republican congress act on that? Nope. Also, where early reports
merely stated that Trump was asking about his pardon powers, now he
seems to have gotten the answer he wants:
Cristina Cabrera: Trump Asserts His 'Complete Power' to Pardon.
On the other hand, Laurence Tribe argues
No, Trump can't pardon himself. The Constitution tells us so.
Caitlin MacNeal: Spicey's Greatest Hits: Trump spokesman Sean Spicer
resigned this week, after Anthony Scaramucci was appointed as White House
Communications Director. Link has videos of some of Spicer's more famous
gaffes, but his root problem was the material he had to work with, and
the so-called journalists who cover the presidency and can't seem to dig
deeper than press briefings and Trump's twitter feed. Scaramucci is a
hedge fund guy, which makes you wonder what he's doing slumming in the
White House staff. His first job, of course, was to clean up his own
Cristina Cabrera: Scaramucci on Twitter Deletion Spree.
Tom McKay: Trump Nominates Sam Clovis, a Dude Who Is Not a Scientist,
to be Department of Agriculture's Top Scientist: But he did work
as host of a right-wing talk show back in Iowa.
Heather Digby Parton: Trump rejects his poll numbers as fake news --
but even his voters are starting to notice the scam.
John Quiggin: Can we get to 350ppm? Yes we can: A relatively
optimistic forecast on climate change, based largely on recent
technological trends like much cheaper solar power, but noting
various risks, and assuming "the absence of political disasters
such as a long-running Trump presidency." Links to a contrasting,
downright apocalyptic view, not specifically linked to Trump:
David Wallace-Wells: The Uninhabitable Earth.
Lisa Rein: Interior Dept. ordered Glacier park chief, other climate
expert pulled from Zuckerberg tour
Sam Sacks: Trump Kicks Off Voter Fraud Commission With Innuendo That
States Are Hiding Something. Kris Kobach's voter suppression
racket is one of the most disgusting of Trump's programs. Still,
it's rather a shock to see Trump so personally involved with it.
Matt Taibbi: What Does Russiagate Look Like to Russians? Kind
of like Americans are war-crazed fanatics whose hatred of Russia
is less ideological than genetic?
For journalists like me who have backgrounds either working or living
in Russia, the new Red Scare has been an ongoing freakout. A lot of
veteran Russia reporters who may have disagreed with each other over
other issues in the past now find themselves in like-minded bewilderment
over the increasingly aggressive rhetoric.
Many of us were early Putin critics who now find ourselves in the
awkward position of having to try to argue Americans off the ledge,
or at least off the path to war, when it comes to dealing with the
There's a lot of history that's being glossed over in the rush to
restore Russia to an archenemy role.
For one, long before the DNC hack, we meddled in their elections.
This was especially annoying to Russians because we were ostensibly
teaching them the virtues of democracy at the time.
The case in point was Boris Yeltsin's 1966 campaign, where "three
American advisers [were] sent to help the pickling autocrat Yeltsin
devise campaign strategy." Yeltsin then created the corrupt oligarchy
we like to blame on Putin.
Evidently, one of the rarest skills in the world is the ability to
imagine how other people view us.
Trevor Timm: ICE agents are getting out of control. And they are only
getting worse: Immigration and Customs Enforcement (not sure
why the article refers to them as "Ice" rather than "ICE"). They've
had the legal authority, for some time, so all Trump had to do to
crank them up was "take the shackles off" ("eerily echoing the CIA's
comments post-9/11 that they would 'take the gloves off' in response
to the terrorist attack"). Of course, Trump is doing more: "stripping
away due process protections for arrested immigrants via executive
order, the US justice department has even attempted to cut off legal
representation for some immigrants."
Robin Wright: Is the Nuclear Deal With Iran Slipping Away?
Also on Iran:
Trita Parsi: War with Iran is back on the table -- thanks to Trump.
By the way, Parsi, who wrote the definitive book on why Israel decided
to pump Iran up as "an existential threat" (Treacherous Alliance:
The Secret Dealings of Israel, Iran, and the United States) has
a new book
Losing an Enemy: Obama, Iran, and the Triumph of Diplomacy.
Matthew Yglesias: The most important stories of the week, explained:
the Obamacare repeal push died, then came back; John McCain has brain
cancer; Donald Trump said some things; House Republicans released a
Other Yglesias pieces:
Trump's new communications director used to call him an anti-American
hack politician (not any more: see
Cristina Cabrera: Scaramucci on Twitter Deletion Spree);
Trumpcare still isn't dead;
A new interview reveals Trump's ignorance to be surprisingly wide-ranging;
The latest Trump interview once again reveals total disregard for the rule
Trump is mad Democrats didn't work with him on health care, but he never
tried. Also, here's a Yglesias tweet:
Look, just because Sessions hasn't actually been convicted of a crime is
no reason we can't start seizing his property now.
Sunday, July 16. 2017
Might as well go back to my original title, since this week I have
more comments (albeit fewer than usual links), and "Week Links" never
was a very good title. Browser limits are still keeping me from seeing
as much as I used to, but now that I've figured out how to work around
a couple serious bugs in Chromium I'm getting more done. Mostly rounded
these up on Saturday -- good thing since I chewed up most of Sunday
cooking a small dinner-for-two (a cut-back version of
jambalaya) and doing some
tree trimming (much too hot here to do that).
Getting very close to the end of Bernie Sanders' Our Revolution:
A Future to Believe In. First half is a campaign journal where it
turns out he was as delighted meeting us as we were finding him. Second
is a policy manual which doesn't venture as far as I would but strikes
me as a well-reasoned merger of the viable and the practical. I really
don't get people who see him as too idealistic, or as too compromised.
One thing that's missing is any real treatment of foreign policy. Some
ambitious Democrat needs to stake out a radical shift there, returning
to the belief in international law that Wilson and Roosevelt advocated,
while paring back America's penchant for military and/or clandestine
intervention. But while he touches most other bases, I do believe that
Bernie is correct that inequality is the central political issue of our
times, and the more we do on that, the better most other things will
Dean Baker: Obamacare is only 'exploding' in red states: Most of
the problems with ACA private insurance exchanges are concentrated in
states with Republican governors/legislatures, who were also culpable
for failing to expand Medicaid, leaving millions of poorer Americans
without health care insurance. "Where Republican governors have sought
to sabotage the program, they have largely succeeded. Where Democratic
governors have tried to make the ACA work, they too have largely
succeeded." That Trump thinks ACA is a disaster says more about the
bubble he gets his information from.
Dean Baker: How Rich Would Bill Gates Be Without His Copyright on
Windows? Gates' personal fortune is estimated at $70 billion,
and the copyright is at the root of that, followed by various
patents and business practices that led to Microsoft's conviction
for violating antitrust laws -- the last major antitrust case any
administration in Washington bothered to prosecute. As so-called
intellectual property goes, copyright is a minor problem, as long
as we're talking about works of art -- the latest extended terms
are way too long, and we would be better off with a program to buy
up older copyrights and move work into the public domain. Copyright
of software code has rarely proved a problem: what killed Novell's
efforts to produce a compatible DOS wasn't copyright: Microsoft's
illegal/predatory business practices protected their monopoly. The
real alternative is free software, which has been very successful
even without public funding -- fairly modest investments there
would pay huge dividends to the public. Baker also talks about
patents, which are a much more daunting problem, even beyond their
obvious costs. ("The clearest case is prescription drugs where we
will spend over $440 billion this year for drugs that would likely
sell for less than $80 billion in a free market.") Patents allow
owners to stake out broad claims and sue others for infringement
even when the latter developed innovations completely independently.
Patents made more sense when they protected capital investments for
manufacturing, but that's never the case for software patents --
they exist purely to line corporate pockets by harassing potential
competition (including from free software).
Cristina Cabrera: Poll: Majority of Republicans Now Say Colleges Are
Bad for America: The poll question is are colleges and universities
having a "negative effect on the way things are going in the country."
In 2015, 37% of Republicans thought that; today 58%. Before 2015, the
Republican figures were relatively stable (56% favorable in 2010, 54%
in 2015), and Democrats have become slightly more favorable, 65% in
2010, 72% today. The shift in Republican views coincided with the
realization that the Republican presidential primaries would turn
into contests between dumb and dumber, where candidates competed to
show how little they understood the modern world and how everything
worked (or, increasingly often, didn't work). As I recall, the first
to stake out an anti-college position was Rick Santorum, and at the
time I found his position shocking. For starters, it ignores the
fact that we completely depend on science and advanced technology
for nearly every aspect of our way of life -- what happens to us
when we stop educating smart people to develop and maintain that
technology? Nor is it just technology: the right's prejudices have
a tough time surviving any form of open debate -- which is why
conservatives have increasingly retreated into their own private
institutions. Still, this is anomalous: colleges have always been
institutions of, by, and for the elites, dominated by old money
while occasionally opening the doors to exceptionally talented
outsiders -- especially ones eager to join the system (Clinton
and Obama are obvious examples, ones that have left an especially
bitter taste for Republicans). And while the post-WWII expansion
opened those doors wider for middle class Americans, if anything
the trend has reversed lately, as prohibitive pricing is making
college more elitist again. Still, this shows an increasingly
common form of disconnect between Republican elites and masses:
the latter are driven mostly by pushing their hot buttons, and
all they have to do is get people so worked up they won't realize
the incoherency of anti-elite and anti-diversity positions, or
the fact that the rich still have their legacy privileges, so
will be the last to be deprived of higher education's blessings.
Jason Ditz: House Approves $696 Billion Military Spending Bill:
Includes $75 billion for Overseas Contingency Operations, which is
subject to change if Trump approves more "surges." Of all Trump's
budget changes, more Defense spending struck me as the easiest to
pass, because the War Lobby extends beyond Republicans and well into
the Democratic Party. More Ditz pieces:
House NDAA Amendments Would Limit US Participation in Yemen War;
Trump Wants Authority to Build New Bases in Iraq, Syria.
Dahlia Lithwick: Trump's election commission has been a disaster. It's
going exactly as planned.
As Kobach put it to Ari Berman last month, his whole master plan for
world dominion was so simple: to create in Kansas -- where he is running
for governor and has been secretary of state for a number of years --
a template for programmatic vote suppression nationwide. If he created
"the absolute best legal framework," other states and the federal
government would follow. Somehow, though, Trump's "election integrity"
commission turned into one of the most colossal cockups in an
administration already overflowing with them.
Marc Lynch: Three big lessons of the Qatar crisis.
Reza Marashi/Tyler Cullis: Trump Is Violating the Iran Deal
Josh Marshall: A Theory of the Case [07-08]:
During the election I frequently referenced one of my favorite quotes
and insights from the insight, which came from Slate's Will Saletan:
"The GOP is a failed state. Donald Trump is its warlord." To me this
clever turn of phrase captures at a quite deep level why Trump was
able to take over the GOP. The key though is that once Trump secured
the Republican nomination, once he became the Republican and Hillary
Clinton the Democrat, all the forces of asymmetric partisan polarization
kicked into place and ensured that essentially all self-identified
Republicans and Republican-leaning independents fell into line and
supported Trump. . . .
Trump embodies what I've come to think of as a "dominationist"
politics which profoundly resonates with the base of the GOP and has
an expanding resonance across the party. Party leaders made the
judgment that since they couldn't defeat Trump they should join him,
hoping he would deliver on a policy agenda favoring money and using
public policy to center risk on individuals. That hope has been
Jack O'Donnell: Trump put family first when I worked for him. It was
Julianne Schultz: The world we have bequeathed to our children feels
darker than the one I knew
Tim Shorrock: Kushner and Bannon Team Up to Privatize the War in
Afghanistan: Also Erik Prince and Stephen Feinberg, who stand
to make most of the money in the deal.
Tierney Sneed: Insurers Torch New Cruz Provision in TrumpCare: 'Simply
Unworkable': The Cruz amendment that was supposed to save McConnell's
Obamacare repeal/replace bill would allow insurance companies to offer
lower-priced plans that don't meet minimal federal guidelines for health
insurance. Of course, what makes such plans cheaper is that they don't
adequately insure the people who buy them.
Timothy Snyder: Trump is ushering in a dark new conservatism: A
historian stuck in Eastern Europe's "Bloodlands" between Hitler and
Stalin tries to drive a wedge between conservatives and Trump:
In his committed mendacity, his nostalgia for the 1930s, and his acceptance
of support from a foreign enemy of the United States, a Republican president
has closed the door on conservatism and opened the way to a darker form of
politics: a new right to replace an old one.
Conservatives were skeptical guardians of truth. . . .
The contest between conservatives and the radical right has a history
that is worth remembering. Conservatives qualified the Enlightenment of
the 18th century by characterizing traditions as the deepest kind of
fact. Fascists, by contrast, renounced the Enlightenment and offered
willful fictions as the basis for a new form of politics. The
mendacity-industrial complex of the Trump administration makes
conservatism impossible, and opens the floodgates to the sort of
drastic change that conservatives opposed.
Pace Snyder, I'm not inclined to equate Trump with Hitler, but I'm
also unwilling to credit "conservatives" with the moral or intellectual
conscience or coherence to oppose either. The one constant in the whole
history of conservatism is the belief that some people should rule over
others, and more often than not they're willing to discard any principles
they may previously have found convenient to accomplish their goal. You
see that in how willingly pretty much the whole right, and not just in
Germany and Italy, admired Hitler and Mussolini. Trump, too, captured
the right by offering the one thing it most wished for: victory. But
there is a difference: Hitler had his own agenda, one rooted in the
smoldering resentments of the Great War and the collapse of Germany's
Empire. Trump's notion of America the Great may not be much different,
but his ideas and plans are strictly derivative, a parroted, almost
cartoonish distillation of recent conservative propaganda -- a bundle
of clichés and incoherent rage, selected purely because that's what
seems to work. No doubt some Trump supporters, especially among the
"alt-right" white nationalists, can dress this up darkly. One thing
we can be sure of is that we won't be saved by conservatives.
Jeff Stein: The Kodiak Kickback: the quiet payoff for an Alaska senator
in the Senate health bill: Looks like the fix is in for "moderate"
Alaska senator Lisa Murkowski:
Buried in Senate Republicans' new health care bill is a provision to
throw about $1 billion at states where premiums run 75 percent higher
than the national average.
Curiously, there's just one state that meets this seemingly arbitrary
designation: Alaska. . . .
Republicans' health care bill will cost Alaska Medicaid recipients
about $3 billion. In exchange, they're trying to buy off Murkowski with
far less in funding for the Obamacare exchanges. We'll know soon if it
Jonathan Swan: Scoop: Bannon pushes tax hike for wealthy: Technically,
Bannon fills the same role as Karl Rove, but I've never seen anyone refer
to him as "Trump's Brain," even though Trump clearly needs one. Rove was
a political strategist in the conventional sense, a role that became more
prominent under Bush than under Clinton or Obama because it was clearer
that Bush needed one. So does Trump, but whereas Rove had a pretty good
sense of public opinion even if only to manipulate it, Bannon seems to
pull his ideas straight out of his arse. Besides, Trump's subcontracted
every policy issue to his straight conservative fellow travelers, leaving
Bannon isolated. So that Bannon wants something doesn't clearly mean a
thing. Still, higher taxes on the superrich would be a popular (and for
that matter populist) move, but don't stand a chance in a Republican
Congress almost exclusively dedicated to the opposite. Besides, as this
piece makes clear, Trump has others -- Gary Cohn and Steven Mnuchin are
prominent names here -- pulling in the other direction. Biggest
non-surprise in the article: "They're becoming far less wedded to
Matt Taibbi: Russiagate and the Magnitsky Affair, Linked Again:
Much interesting background on the Magnitsky thing, which goes a long
way to explaining why Putin remains so suspicious and ominous even if
you reject the neocons' "new cold war" aspirations. I personally think
the Trump Jr. meeting/emails are "no big deal" but also suspect that
the Trumps would love to get in on Putin's corruption scams.
Jonathan Taplin: Can the Tech Giants Be Stopped? WSJ story, but
you can read more of it in the link I provided. E.g.:
The precipitous decline in revenue for content creators has nothing to
do with changing consumer preferences for their content. People are not
reading less news, listening to less music, reading fewer books or
watching fewer movies and TV shows. The massive growth in revenue for
the digital monopolies has resulted in the massive loss of revenue for
the creators of content. The two are inextricably linked.
The numbers cited for internet ad revenue are much larger than I
expected, and seem to be almost exclusively concentrated in a handful
of companies. Meanwhile, we need a new and different model, both for
content creation and for internet services. What we have now is little
more than a siphon for draining our money and concentrating it in the
hands of a few vultures. I suppose WSJ thinks they're fighting this
with their paywall, but they're just adding to the problem.
Kenneth P Vogel/Rachel Shorey: Trump's Re-Election Campaign Doubles Its
spending on Legal Fees: So does this mean the campaign is at this
stage mostly a slush fund to defray Trump's legal costs? Too bad Clinton
couldn't run in 2000 when he needed something like to handle that sordid
impeachment affair. As it was, he had to go bankrupt, then recoup his
losses making post-presidential speeches.
Melissa Batchelor Warnke: Democrats are doubling down on the same
vanilla centrism that helped give us President Trump.
Matthew Yglesias: The most important stories of the week, explained:
Senate Republicans released a new health bill; Donald Trump Jr. has a
problem; Christopher Wray is set to be the next FBI director; the CBO
scored Trump's budget. Yglesias previously covered the same stories in
The revised health bill cuts taxes less without doing anything to boost
I don't believe Donald Trump Jr., and neither should you; and
CBO: Trump plan won't balance the budget even with his fake revenue-neutral
Poddy looks into the Kristol Ball of Counterfactuals [No More Mister
Nice Blog]: Attempts to counter an op-ed from John Podhoretz (link in
article) called "Hillary's White House would be no different from
Trump's," which argues:
Trump hasn't done anything in office, other than nominating a Supreme
Court justice and sending a raid to Syria, and Clinton wouldn't have
been able to do anything either, with both Houses of Congress run by
Republicans. Of course she would be more boring than Trump, since she
is evil but not a sower of chaos, but we wouldn't know what we were
missing. The Clinton family melodrama would resemble that of the
Trumps in its ethical compromises, with Clinton Foundation donors
hovering around the White House, which is identical to President
Trump spending every weekend hovering around the golfers and hotel
guests filling his personal coffers.
Podhoretz has one valid point here: that Clinton was going to
have a hard time separating herself and her administration from
the taint of corruption surrounding the Clinton Foundation. Nor
can we really credit much her promises to do so, given how Trump
has found it impossible to fulfill his own promises to isolate
himself from his business interests. Even so, with Clinton the
thicket of corruption complaints would be mostly laughable, blown
up by the hysterical "right-wing noise machine," whereas Trump's
numerous conflicts of interest alrealdy seem to try the patience
of mainstream journalists who'd rather play "gotcha" with Russia.
As for everything else, what Trump has actually managed to do --
even discounting things that Clinton might also have done, like
escalating the wars in Syria and Afghanistan -- has actually been
pretty astonishing. Trump has signed dozens of executive orders
reversing hard-won gains from Obama. He's signalled that the US
government won't be enforcing its civil rights laws anymore. He's
reversed some key openness protections for the Internet. He's
launched a monstrous commission on "voting fraud" that's already
having the effect of reducing voter registration. He's raising
money for a "re-election campaign" four years off, and using that
money to pay his legal bills. His Supreme Court pick is already
paying dividends for the extreme right. He may not have a lot of
legislative accomplishments yet, but he's perilously close on a
measure to repeal Obamacare that will cost more than 20 million
Americans their health insurance, while making health care more
expensive and less accessible for pretty much everyone. That
measure would be a tax bonanza for the very rich, and Republicans
are working on more of those.
The article also posits that a Clinton win would also have tipped
the Senate to the Democrats. Perhaps, but I'd shift the focus a bit:
a Democratic win in the Senate (and even more so one in the House)
would have tipped the presidential election to Clinton. Perhaps she
should have run on that, instead of trying to appeal to suposedly
moderate suburban Republicans to split their ballots and let Clinton
save us from that ogre Trump. Turns out Republicans are too shameless
to care -- anything to get their tax breaks and patronage favors and
to grind workers and their spouses and children to dust.
Still, one lesson Democrats should draw is to never again nominate
anyone so easily viewed as compromised and corrupt.
Sunday, July 9. 2017
Not much to show this week. One problem is that I'm still cramped
in terms of what I can search out. Another is that I wasted most of
Sunday on a plumbing task instead of putting the time in here. And I
must admit that said plumbing task -- installing a new kitchen faucet --
left me embarrassed and exhausted: I figured it might take an hour,
but it chewed up more like six (pretty much everything that could go
wrong did go wrong -- from the shutoff valves not working to the
supply hoses not being long enough to the drain plumbing not fitting
back together again properly) and it involved physical contortions
that I'm going to be feeling for at least a week. Moreover, I'm not
even sure I like the fancy "touchless" feature, so it's beginning to
look like a bad shopping decision -- which may be even more
Normally I feel good upon completing a house project (and, indeed,
everything seems to be working properly here, except my shoulders and
hips). So maybe more general depression is taking its toll. No doubt
many of the links below contributed, although there is an evident
shift from stories about the horrors Trump and the Republicans are
scheming to thoughts about how best to resist them, and how to build
an effective, comprehensible alternate vision.
Candice Bernd: How the Koch-Backed Effort to Privatize the Veterans Health
Administration Jeopardizes Everyone's Health Care Future
Brian Beutler: Bernie Sanders and the Progressive Left's Selfless
Defense of Obamacare:
It is easy enough to divide liberals between those who think Obamacare
was an unlovely half-measure that nevertheless improved on the pre-Obamacare
status quo and those who think it was a remarkable achievement on its own
(though there is considerable overlap between these two factions). It is
nearly impossible to find liberals or leftists of any influence who would
sit out the fight over Trumpcare, or join the fight to repeal Obamacare,
in order to make things worse in the short term (more than 20 million
Americans would lose health insurance) for the better in the long run
(single payer). In other words, the left isn't making the perfect the
enemy of the good.
The same cannot be said of conservatives, who define themselves
largely by the things they oppose. It is not a coincidence that
Republicans failed to develop and build support for an Obamacare
alternative over all the years they railed against it. . . . Once
again, the left is prioritizing the public interest over expediting
its defining ideological priorities, and once again the right is
doing just the opposite.
As the Ryan and McConnell bills have shown, Republicans cannot
define a replacement for Obamacare without (a) pointing out many
of the concrete achievements of the ACA, and (b) showing people
how much they have to lose by repeal/replace.
Jamelle Bouie: The white nationalist roots of Donald Trump's Warsaw
speech; also on the same speech:
Walter Shapiro: Donald Trump's warning about 'western civilisation'
evokes holy war.
Elizabeth Douglass: Towns sell their public water systems -- and come to
Tom Engelhardt: Aiding and Abetting the Tweeter-in-Chief.
TomDispatch also published
Danny Sjursen: Fighting the War You Know (Even if It Won't Work),
about Trump's "support" for his generals in Afghanistan.
Henry Farrell: Trump's plan to work with Putin on cybersecurity makes
no sense. Here's why.
Henry Grabar: St Louis Gave Workers a Wage Hike. Missouri Republicans
Are Taking It Away:
Republican-run states forcing Democrat-run cities to not raise the
minimum wage is a story we've seen before, of course. Alabama thwarted
Birmingham's efforts in February of last year; Ohio stopped Cleveland
in December. More than a dozen other states have passed pre-emptive
pre-emptions, abolishing municipal wage laws before any cities or
counties consider them. GOP politicians usually say minimum wage
ordinances won't actually help workers, but they also defend the
pre-emptions in principle, because they preserve a "uniform
Dilip Hiro: Trump and Saudi Arabia Against the World.
Christopher Ketcham: The Fallacy of Endless Economic Growth:
The idea that economic growth can continue forever on a finite planet
is the unifying faith of industrial civilization. That it is nonsensical
in the extreme, a deluded fantasy, doesn't appear to bother us. We hear
the holy truth in the decrees of elected officials, in the laments of
economists about flagging GDP, in the authoritative pages of opinion,
in the whirligig of advertising, at the World Bank and on Wall Street,
in the prospectuses of globe-spanning corporations and in the halls of
the smallest small-town chambers of commerce. Growth is sacrosanct.
One reason American politicians of both parties stress growth so
much is that it's the magic elixir that turns pro-business policies
into something we can pretend is good for everyone (you know, "trickle
down" and all that). Without growth, the only way anyone can improve
their lot is at the expense of someone else. But haven't we already
been running this experiment for the last forty years, since growth
rates in the former "first world" dropped in the 1970s, triggering a
feeding frenzy among the rich as they sought to hold their profits up
at the expense of workers and customers?
Mike Konczal: What the stock market's rise under Trump should teach
Democrats: Quotes Kevin Phillips describing the Democrats as
"history's second-most enthusiastic capitalist party." Lots of folks
expected the stock market to do better under Hillary Clinton, but
it's actually boomed under Trump, fattening up with the promise of
deregulation boosting profits and tax cuts keeping them safe from
the government. Turns out that being "second-most" doesn't get you
much support from the capitalists even if historically you've run
much stronger growth, and defining yourself as a "responsible
steward" of the economy doesn't satisfy anyone.
This approach hit two serious walls in 2016. The first was that people
weren't happy with the economy. Nearly three-fourths of people said the
country was on the wrong track, with similar numbers describing the
economy as rigged. Median household incomes in 2016 had finally inched
back to 2007 levels. This lead to a year of awkward juxtapositions,
with "America is Already Great" headlines running next to reports on
how much life expectancy is falling for white workers. Democrats
attacked Trump as a poor steward, someone too unstable and chaotic to
run the economy as it was. But that message doesn't motivate voters
when they believe the economy isn't working for them.
Shawn Richman: How Union-Busting Bosses Propel the Right Wing to Power:
Book review of the essay collection, Against Labor: How US Employers
Organized to Defeat Union Activism.
Joseph Stiglitz: Tell Donald Trump: the Paris climate deal is very good
for America; also:
Trump's reneging on Paris climate deal turns the US into a rogue state.
Matt Taibbi: North Korea Isn't the Only Rogue Nuclear State.
Yanis Varoufakis: A New Deal for the 21st Century:
Outsiders are having a field day almost everywhere in the West -- not
necessarily in a manner that weakens the insiders, but neither also in
a way that helps consolidate the insiders' position. The result is a
situation in which the political establishment's once unassailable
authority has died, but before any credible replacement has been born.
The cloud of uncertainty and volatility that envelops us today is the
product of this gap.
For too long, the political establishment in the West saw no threat
on the horizon to its political monopoly. Just as with asset markets,
in which price stability begets instability by encouraging excessive
risk-taking, so, too, in Western politics the insiders took absurd
risks, convinced that outsiders were never a real threat.
One example . . . was building a system of world trade and credit
that depended on the booming United States trade deficit to stabilize
global aggregate demand. It is a measure of the sheer hubris of the
Western establishment that it portrayed these steps as "riskless."
I don't really understand how Varoufakis' notion of a new New Deal
works. Rather, it looks to me like the outsiders he notes, from Trump
to Macron, offer no alternative whatsoever to neoliberal orthodoxy.
Meanwhile, when a real challenger, like Varoufakis' party in Greece,
does manage to win an election they still get beat down.
George Yancy/Noam Chomsky: On Trump and the State of the Union:
An interview with Chomsky, part of "The Stone" series.
Matthew Yglesias: The most important stories of the week, explained:
Trump went to the G20; North Korea tested a missile that could theoretically
reach Alaska; CNN and Trump continued their feud; Ted Cruz floated an idea
to resurrect Obamacare repeal; the top federal ethics official resigned.
Bernie Sanders is the Democrats' real 2020 frontrunner.
One thing I meant to touch on was the term "neoliberalism": my wife
got worked up over something Josh Marshall said about that, but as far
as I can tell it was only a tweet. I did find this piece from [2016-04-27]:
Corey Robin: When Neoliberalism Was Young: A Lookback on Clintonism
before Clinton. One thing I learned here was that Charles Peters
re-invented the term in the 1970s to describe a faction of pro-business,
anti-union, anti-communist, but socially liberal Democrats, which would
parallel the evolution of neo-conservatism (pretty much the same cocktail
with more emphasis on projecting American military might, and fewer
scruples about the company they kept). I had read Peters' Washington
Monthly in its infancy and had always admired Peters, so I was a
bit taken aback (although I will note that Peters' preference for
employee ownership of business over unions is one I share, just not
one I espouse in anti-union terms). My own acquaintance with the term
"neoliberal" dates from the 1990s, when I associated it with what was
then called "the Washington consensus" -- the chief dogma of the IMF
and World Bank. As such, it appeared to be defined in terms of US
foreign policy: it was basically the carrot as opposed to the neocon
stick, although neoconservatives would often adopt it whenever they
wanted to present a prettier face (and actually in the IMF's austerity
conditions, the veiled threat was often quite palpable).
Until recently, about the only place I ran across "neoliberal"
was from left-oriented British critics. I don't have time to try
to unpack this here, but outside of the US it's common to regard
conservatives as relics and guardians of aristocratic privilege,
liberals as individualists who advanced through bourgeois revolts,
and the left as more-or-less democratic socialists who tend to
favor limiting individual freedom when it conflicts with public
good. What distinguishes neoliberals from liberals is that their
focus has shifted from the rights of individuals to the demands
In the US, we've tended to merge our ideas of individual rights
and public good, a point reinforced by a history where virtually
everything we cherish (as opposed to various things like slavery
and ethnic cleansing that fill us with shame) comes from this
liberal-left synthesis. On the other hand, there is a small but
well-heeled and politically influential faction among Democrats
that repeatedly sacrifices the public good for the desires of
capital, and "neoliberal" would seem to distinguish them both
from people-oriented liberals and from the public-minded left.
Certainly not a very elegant term, but until we come up with
something better it serves that purpose. Not clear to me whether
"neoliberal" as I'm using it here dates back to Charles Peters,
but certainly Bill Clinton is an example, as is Andrew Cuomo,
and indeed the idea is tempting to any Democrat who depends on
Sunday, July 2. 2017
Last week I contemplated suspending Weekend Roundup. Partly I was
having grave computer problems that made surfing the web ever more
painful, and partly I was just disgusted with all the insane things
Trump and the Republicans are doing. Since then I tried Google's
Chromium browser and it's working better (although not perfectly,
never had to deal with before).
So I figured I'd compromise by just jotting down a few links
without comments, although sometimes I couldn't help myself.
Also because shit's happening so fast, I figured I should jot
down a date for each linked page (when I remembered to do so).
Then I wrote an introduction.
Meanwhile, I slogged through Noam Chomsky's essay collection,
Who Rules the World? I didn't learn a lot I didn't already
know, but I started out in a bad mood about America's many wars,
so I didn't mind Chomsky being even harsher than I would be.
Still, I wanted something lighter next, and settled for Bernie
Sanders' post-campaign book. Only about 100 pages into it --
still pre-Iowa, when he was a very longshot, yet still no more
improbable than the mess we wound up with. I talked to a friend
last week who was still complaining about "Bernie or bust" --
people who held out for something more while most of us were
willing to settle for much less (damn near nothing).
Five months in, I think we can draw some clear conclusions about
Donald Trump as President. One is that he's a lot more ignorant about
everything a national political leader does (or should do) than pretty
much anyone imagined -- including those of us who have long feared
what we thought would be the worst. One manifestation of this is that
he has no clue how to get anything done, and his ideas about what to
do rarely rise above his sociopathic prejudices.
The second, which was easier to predict from his campaign, is that
his shameless disregard for truth is orders of magnitude beyond anything
Washington -- a notorious haven for dissemblers -- has ever encountered.
The media literally have no idea where to begin, because there are no
fixed points to navigate by.
The third is that Trump has belied every intimation he made on the
campaign trail that he might break with Republican Party orthodoxy and
forge a new direction: nationalist, for sure, but giving government a
more humane role at home and a less aggressive one at home. This not
only didn't happen; as many of us suspected, it never had a chance.
Trump's trifecta of ignorance, incompetence, and dishonesty (for lack
of a better word -- mendacious implies he's somewhat clever, and even
bullshit suggests a hidden agenda) has left his administration in the
malevolent hands of Republican apparatchiks and their billionaire
His only authentic (in the sense of things he personally decided)
moves so far have been hiring relatives and touring his personal
properties -- things he's been doing for decades. And when he's not
indulging his oversized ego, he's doing what he's always tried to do:
make money. He's not responsible for creating Washington's ubiquitous
culture of graft, but he exemplifies it, especially by making sure
he's getting his cut.
Still, since Mitch McConnell unveiled his hitherto secret health
care bill (the BRCA, like the breast cancer gene -- it seems immune
to adding a "Care" suffix because it clearly doesn't), Trump's own
personal garishness has taken a back seat (despite eruptions like
the Mika Brzezinski flap) to his adopted party's crusade not just
to coddle and elevate the rich but also to demean and hurt the poor
(and anyone else they can organize their disdain against). This
should have been clear years ago, but centrist Democrats and the
bought-and-aid-for media have perpetuated the myth that they can
work with moderate counterparts among the Republicans. But while
Clinton and Obama never pointed to the obvious, Trump inadvertently
made the point when he complained of not having a chance to get a
single Democratic vote for his "repeal-and-replace Obamacare" bill.
At least this answers the thought experiment: how bad does a bill
have to be to not get a single sell-out Democrat?
Still, Republicans are using their thin Congressional margins,
the conservative-leaning Supreme Court, and anything that can be
done through executive orders (or not done by turning a blind eye
to enforcement on matters like civil rights, environment, and
antitrust), to push its anti-popular (and frequently downright
unpopular) agenda through. Just this last week, Trump's travel
ban order got a reprieve from the Supreme Court, and the House
passed two anti-immigrant bills (certain to fall short of the 60
votes the Senate used to require, but McConnell may still get
It's hard to say whether Trump's chaos (for lack of a better
word, although I was tempted by "insanity") is making their
efforts easier or harder. Matthew Yglesias sums this up in
Why Donald Trump can't make deals in Washington:
It seems paradoxical that you could combine the party discipline needed
to push controversial and unpopular legislation through on a party line
vote with total disengagement on the part of the party's top leader. But
the Trump administration seems to feature just the right mix of chaos
and conventionality to make it work. Both Vice President Mike Pence and
Chief of Staff Reince Priebus are very conventional Republicans with
deep ties to the congressional party. That seems to be good enough to
ensure that Trump will take his cues from Paul Ryan and Mitch McConnell
regardless of his personal instincts. Trump triumphed over the GOP's
leadership during the 2016 primary, but he has largely surrendered to
them on policy questions.
The result is that deals get done -- or not -- by the party's
congressional leadership. The ability to legislate hinges on Ryan and
McConnell being able to agree among themselves. Trump serves as an
ineffectual figurehead, talking tough but not really being able to
engage with the policy details enough to properly negotiate an
unprecedented rollback of the welfare state.
Here's another writer who understands that no matter how
personally noxious Donald Trump may be, his administration is
doing pretty exactly what any Republican administration would
be doing given the same powers:
Alex Pareene: This Is Normal:
What most of the worst people in Donald Trump's administration have
in common is that they are Republicans. This simple fact is obscured
sometimes by the many ways in which Trump is genuinely an aberration
from the political norm -- like his practice of naked nepotism rather
than laundering the perpetuation of class advantage through a
"meritocratic" process -- and by the fact that many of the most vocal
online spokespeople for "the resistance" ignore the recent history of
the Republican Party in favor of a Trump-centric theory of How Fucked
Up Everything Is.
But it is necessary for liberals, leftists, and Democrats to actually
be clear on the fact that the Republican Party is responsible for Trump.
The Democrats' longterm failure to make a compelling and all-encompassing
case against conservatism and the GOP as institutions, rather than making
specific cases against specific Republican politicians, is one of the
reasons the party is currently in the political wilderness. . . .
Next time you boggle at the sight of the president's unqualified
son-in-law flying to Iraq to get briefed by generals on the facts on
the ground, remember that George W. Bush sent a business school chum
to privatize Iraq's economy and a 24-year-old with no relevant experience
to reopen the Iraqi stock market.
The worst members of Trump's cabinet -- Jeff Sessions, Scott Pruitt,
Betsy DeVos -- are Republicans. Their analogues in any possible alternate
Republican presidency would've been basically identical in how they
carried out their work. Jeb Bush would've signed the AHCA. Marco Rubio
would've sold arms to Saudi Arabia. John Kasich would've abided the theft
of a Supreme Court seat and selected a justice just as conservative as
Neil Gorsuch, if not Gorsuch himself.
None of those men would've lobbed crude personal insults at cable show
hosts. They wouldn't have been as cartoonishly, personally corrupt in
their business dealings (though scores of their appointees would have
been). But even the most consequential way in which Trump differs from
a hypothetical alternate Republican president, his blatant obstruction
of the investigation into whether or not he is somehow compromised by
or in league with the Russian government, has almost no real-world
consequences, compared to his (bog-standard Republican) international
and domestic policy agendas. When Mitch McConnell's underhanded
legislative maneuvering is included in a list of ways in which Trump is
normalizing authoritarianism, you give the president far too much credit
and the Republican Party far too little.
Meanwhile, here are links (mostly without comments) to some
stories I noticed:
Zeeshan Aleem: Trump just made a humiliating economic error in front
of South Korea's president [06-30]: Confusing trade deficits with
national debt. The bigger problem -- assuming confirmation of Trump's
duncehood is no surprise -- is that US has historically bought South
Korean alliance by supporting its export-driven economic growth, a
strategy undercut by Trump's "America First" demagoguery -- oddly at
a time when Trump's blundering has triggered another confrontation
with North Korea. Also see:
Jason Ditz: Trump: North Korea Should Be Dealt With Rapidly:
but how? "South Korea and China had both been said in recent weeks
to have presented the Trump administration a diplomatic resolution,
but to have been dismissed out of hand, with the administration
ruling out any deal that reduces the 'military pressure' on North
Zack Beauchamp: This chilling NRA ad calls on its members to save
America by fighting liberals
Ari Berman: The Trump Administration Is Planning an Unprecedented Attack
on Voting Rights
Aaron Blake: Kellyanne Conway would like to question the media's patriotism --
because Mika Brzezinski questioned President Trump's [06-30]
Esme Cribb: No Staff Members Left in Science Division of White House
Chas Danner: Christie Shuts Down New Jersey Government, State Beaches
and Parks Closed [07-01]
David A Farenthold: A Time magazine with Trump on its cover hangs in his
golf clubs. It's fake. [06-27]
Michelle Goldberg: Trump No Longer Seems Able to Hide His Raw
Richard Goldstein: Jupiter Rising: On Macron and France.
Glenn Greenwald: CNN Journalists Resign: Lastest Example of Media Recklessness
on the Russia Threat
William Greider: Worried About Those Global Cyber Attacks? They Were
Started by Washington
Alex Isenstadt/Josh Dawsey: Senate GOP seethes at Trump impulsiveness
[06-27]: Sour grapes about Trump's inadvertent mucking with 2018 Senate
prospects; e.g., his PAC attacks against Dean Heller (R-NV), who must be
one of the most endangered Republican incumbents (otherwise why would he
break with Trump over gutting of ACA?).
Annie Karni/Nahal Toosi: Tight circle of security officials crafted
Trump's Syria warning [06-27]: Curious that Trump's claim that
"new intelligence" indicated that Syria was planning on launching a
chemical weapons attack appeared almost immediately after Seymour
Hersh reported that US intelligence agencies didn't believe reports
of a previous attack that Trump used as pretext for his cruise missile
volley against a Syrian Air Force base (see:
Trump's Red Line). Also note that Trump and company claimed their
warning had worked a mere two days after it was issued (see:
Michael D Shear: White House Warning Halted Syria Chemical Attack,
Officials Say [06-28].
Jeremy Kryt: Inside Trump's Disastrous 'Secret' Drug War Plans for Central
Martin Longman: And Now the Trump Presidency Begins to Fail for Real
[06-29]: Well, Trump has settled on a strategy of trying to pass everything
with straight party votes, further angering Democrats by using executive
power to reverse virtually everything associated with Obama -- in effect,
he's not only set out to erase the last eight years, he's more explicit
about that than any president ever. (Too bad Obama did just the opposite,
even though GW Bush left him a lot that should have been rolled back.)
Health care is merely the most obvious example, because Republicans made
it one eight years ago, leaving Democrats with no option other than to
pass the ACA on a straight party vote. But this dynamic applies to lots
of things, and there's no reason to think taxes, infrastructure, or
immigration will turn out any different. And note that a big part of
Trump's problem with pressing his partisan majority is that he can't
win without support of the tea party faction (or whatever they call
themselves these days) and those guys have learned to leverage their
numbers, basically to block anything that isn't extreme enough. Thus,
the House AHCA initially failed, only to pass after the leadership
made it more hurtful and even less popular. Needless to say, that
just encourages the extreme right to become even more aggressive.
On the other hand, Trump closed off the option (if it ever existed)
of moving toward the center when he staffed his administration and
started his Obama purge. So, yeah, getting things done is going to
be difficult for Trump. On the other hand, his capacity to wreck our
world is still quite extraordinary, so I wouldn't start celebrating
German Lopez: Trump's "election integrity" commission wants every voter's
name, party ID, and address [06-30]: This is Kris Kobach, a reach
which far exceeds anything Russia has been accused of trying to hack.
Such a database would be very useful for political operators. Article
has much background info on Republican voter suppression efforts, which
is what "voter fraud" is really all about. Aside from the politics,
another obvious problem is noted here:
Eric Geller/Cory Bennett: Trump voter-fraud panel's data request a gold
mine for hackers, experts warn. Meanwhile, instead of backing away
from such an obviously bad idea, Trump is doubling down:
Esme Cribb: Trump Rails Against States Rejecting His Shady Election
Hugh Miles: Al-Jazeera, insurgent TV station that divides the Arab world,
faces closure: Shutting down the closest thing the Arab world has
to a free press is one of Saudi Arabia's key demands before they will
consider calling off their blockade of Qatar, and the one that's most
clearly offensive to anyone in any country that has a relatively free
Mark Perry: Tillerson and Mattis Cleaning Up Kushner's Middle East
Brad Palmer/Nadja Popovich: As Climate Changes, Southern States Will
Suffer More Than Others: Florida, of course, but Texas and Arizona
are conspicuously red on this map. Authors argue that the poorest
counties will suffer most, but it seems obvious to me that relatively
rich individuals will be hardest hit -- e.g., it's not poor people
who own all that beachfront property soon to be submerged. Another
Carbon in Atmosphere Is Rising, Even as Emissions Stabilize.
Alex Pareene: Donald Trump Is Getting Played Like a Sucker by His Own
Budget Guy [05-26]: "Democrats dream of running against budgets
like the one drawn up by Mulvaney. It neuters Trump's single greatest
political advantage, which is that a sizable number of whites in the
Rust Belt convinced themselves that Trump was something other than a
Mitt Romney-style plutocratic Republican." I had lost track of Pareene,
but looks like he's been at
Fusion for some time. Some older posts that caught my eye:
Maybe We Need That Hillary Clinton Dark Money Group Now [06-21];
Alex Pareene: Stop Enabling the Nihilist Republican Shrug [06-01];
Actually, Why Not Cancel the White House Press Briefing? [05-12]
("A room full of people who know the man answering their questions cannot
possibly truthfully answer their questions makes for great TV, but it does
not make for meaningful coverage of the White House");
Airlines Can Treat You Like Garbage Because They Are an Oligopoly [04-11];
I Don't Want to Hear Another Fucking Word About John McCain Unless He Dies
or Actually Does Something Useful for Once [02-17]. Perhaps best is
The Long, Lucrative Right-wing Grift Is Blowing Up in the World's Face
Trump was always venal, dishonest, genuinely deluded about his financial
acumen and business success, and, you know, a wildly misogynistic accused
rapist and sexual harasser. But for most of his public life, he also
clearly knew the right sorts of things to say to sound like a reasonable
person, albeit a mostly ridiculous one. Donald Trump the deranged believer
of bizarre untruths about the world at large is actually a fairly recent
development. . . . Trump learned what to think about the world at large
from the media, and for most of his life, he was a consumer of the
Donald Trump today is a cruel dolt turned into a raving madman by cable
news and Breitbart.com. You could see the descent happen during the Obama
era, in concert with the broader maddening of the GOP. The major difference
between Trump and the other old white men who've been radicalized by the
conservative press is that his was a strangely self-directed conversion,
based on his desire to make himself known as a plausible Republican
presidential candidate. . . .
Now, and for the foreseeable future, the grifter-in-chief sits alone
in the White House residence every night, watching cable news tell him
comforting lies -- that he's a hugely popular president, that responsibility
for his myriad setbacks and failures lies with the many powerful enemies
aligned against him a grand conspiracy -- in between the ads for reverse
mortgages and "all-natural male enhancement." There's an image of America
in the age of the complete triumph of bullshit. You spend a few years
selling lousy steaks to suckers, then one morning you wake up and you're
the sucker -- and the steak.
Frank Rich: Nixon, Trump, and How a Presidency Ends: More on Nixon
than on Trump, but the relevance is clear. One note I wasn't aware of
is that the House impeachment committee considered charging Nixon with
violating the "emoluments clause," which Trump has flagrantly violated
since taking office. Another is a Gary Wills quote about Nixon's help:
"a world of little men using large powers incompetently from a
combination of suspicion and panic." As I recall, Nixon and his "little
men" were less worried about what was being investigated than what else
the investigators might find, and that's surely true of Trump too.
Corey Robin: If Republicans lose the healthcare fight, it's the beginning
of the end: One note here is that in 1977, 1983 and 1993 "the federal
government launched a major retrenchment of Social Security" -- all three
were bipartisan efforts, two signed by Democratic presidents, but this
time Democrats aren't going to give Republicans cover for their cuts and
the misery they cause. This makes me think Republicans should worry more
about passing their bill, but they're pretty locked into their delusions.
Still, note this:
One reason the Republicans are having such a hard time of it is that the
public is overwhelmingly against the Senate bill. As Politico recently
reported, Senate phones have been ringing off the hook -- almost entirely
from citizens opposed to what the Republicans are doing.
A staffer for Mississippi senator Thad Cochran claims his office
received 226 constituent calls over a four-day period: two in favor of
the Republican bill, 224 against. And, yes, you read that correctly.
Not Massachusetts. Mississippi.
Jordan Rudner: Donald Trump's Supreme Court Justice Did a Lot of Horrible
Things Today [06-26]: Subheds: He opposed a ruling that gave same-sex
parents equal rights; He made it clear how he'll side on Trump's travel
ban; He helped vote to send a man to death in Texas; He tried to take on
a case that could further weaken gun control laws; He voted to strike
down a barrier between church and state
Christopher Sellers: Trump and Pruitt are the biggest threat to the EPA
in its 47 years of existence [07-01]
Matt Taibbi: With CNN Flap, Media's Trump-Era Identity Crisis Continues
[06-28]: "Donald Trump's great talent as a politician -- some might call it
an anti-talent -- is his ability to bring everyone down to his level." Also
Megyn Kelly Vivisects Bloated Conspiracy Hog Alex Jones [06-20].
Jeffrey Toobin: The National Enquirer's Fervor for Trump: "Throughout
the 2016 Presidential race, the Enquirer embraced Trump with
sycophantic fervor. The magazine made its first political endorsement
ever, of Trump, last spring." Related:
Gabriel Sherman: What Really Happened Between Donald Trump, the Hosts
of Morning Joe, and the National Enquirer [06-30].
Matthew Yglesias: The most important stories of the week, explained
[06-30]: CBO released its analysis of Senate GOP health bill; Trump's
travel ban finally went into effect; the EU slapped Google with a $2.7
billion fine; Elizabeth Warren endorsed single-payer health care;
Donald Trump held his first Trump fundraiser at the Trump hotel. Google
was found in violation of EU antitrust laws for perverting its search
results in favor of its advertisers. That should be illegal here, too.
The fundraiser may have struck people as odd given that he famously
self-financed his 2016 campaign. Yglesias writes:
While some politicians would go the extra mile to avoid even the
appearance of personally profiting from the presidency, this was
the clearest sign yet that Trump revels in it -- donors know they
are putting money directly in Trump's pocket via the hotel fees,
Trump knows it too, and the donors know that he knows it.
Yglesias also wrote:
Republicans' health bill saves its most severe Medicaid cuts for
outside the CBO's scoring window;
The 3 leading conservative cases for the Senate health bill,
explained. Needless to say, those "cases" range from bad to fraud.
From the second article:
One key thing to understand is that even though the bill would set
Medicaid on a course that makes cuts to coverage and services inevitable,
it defers all the actual decision-making to governors and state
legislatures. The effect is that the political pain for making the
cuts will probably fall on state-level actors rather than congressional
ones, letting the members of Congress whose actions made the cuts
inevitable evade accountability.
Note: It was impossible for me to follow various links that loooked
interesting due to aggressive gatekeeping. This included
The Wall Street Journal.
The Nation. I subscribe to The Nation, so should be able to work
around that, but the new browser doesn't have the right account info.
Sunday, June 25. 2017
I'm going to suspend Weekend Roundup. Part of the reason is technical,
which I may (or may not) explain in Music Week tomorrow. Suffice it to
say that it's nearly impossible for me to search out the various links
that the posts are based on. But also I find myself wanting to give in
to depression, which has both personal and political dimensions. Maybe
I'll write about the personal sometime -- I've been toying with a plan
to write an autobiography, and it looms large there -- but my political
despair got a huge boost on Tuesday when Georgia voters turned against
Jon Ossoff in the GA-6 congressional election to replace Tom Price. At
the time, I wrote the following in my notebook:
Democrat Jon Ossoff lost the GA-6 race (48.1% to 51.9%), possibly
losing ground from his primary showing (where he got 48.12%). Both
candidates spent a lot of money -- not sure much, but Ossoff spent
$8 million in primary, and I've seen this described as the most
expensive House election ever.
[Hillary] Clinton famously trailed Trump by only 2% in the district,
so DNC thought they had a real chance with a Clinton-esque candidate.
FiveThirtyEight, however, considers the district R+9.5, and Tom Price
ran better than that in 2016. Given that district is upscale and
suburban, it is credible that a pro-Sanders Democrats might not have
done as well in this particular district, but pro-Sanders Democrats
did much better than district expectations in recent contests in
Kansas and Montana, with embarrassingly slim support from DNC/DCCC.
I also tweeted:
Ossoff loss tells me that Democrats failed to make case that it's
not just Trump but all Republicans out to hurt the majority of
Also, a second tweet I thought then but only posted today:
It would be easier to resist Trump if Republicans are getting
beat at the polls; otherwise all R's have to fear is their own
I'm not an ideological purist, so I'm not much bothered when a
Democrat (or, more rarely, a Republican) tries to tailor his/her
message to the prejudices of his/her district. Still, one worries
that Democrats too readily give up not just principles but any
sort of vision that life could be made better for their voters,
and in doing that they lose credibility -- both that they know
what to do and that they even care.
Still, one suspects that the problem with Ossoff's campaign
wasn't that he tailored his message to voters so much as to the
constituency he clearly cared most about: donors. He wound up
raising and spending (and, given the results, wasting) some $26
million -- about 70 times as much money as James Thompson had to
work with here in Kansas. Obviously, there are limits to what
money can buy in an election, but there is also a lesson: when
Democrats focus more on donors than on voters, they lose --
even if they're fabulously successful with donors (as Ossoff
and Hillary Clinton undeniably were). And while their campaign
compromises undermine voter trust, their de facto losses are
destroying a second credibility front: the notion that those of
us who lean further left have to support cowardly Democrats
because they're the only ones who can win and protect us from
the ever more vile Republicans.
Still, no matter how much those centrist, donor-supplicant
Democrats demand allegiance from left-leaning voters, somehow
they can't bring themselves to critique Republicans with even
a tiny fraction of the vitriol Republicans heap on them. For
example, Republicans have run attack ads in every House race
trying to link the Democrat to Nancy Pelosi and her "radical
agenda." I can't even imagine what they mean by that -- as far
as I've been able to tell, she's an utterly conventional hack,
her "leftist" more due to her representing San Francisco, a
district which could certainly to better. But they've worked
for years turning her into a bait word. So why don't Democrats
turn the tables on Paul Ryan, who really does have an agenda?
(By the way, I'd say that from a purely tactical view, Pelosi
is done. Sure, they did the same thing to Tom Daschle and Harry
Reid, but why not make them work a little?)
Or to pick another current example, Hillary Clinton tweeted:
"If Republicans pass this bill, they're the death party."
Why wasn't writing the bill reason enough for that tag? Does she
still think that by leaving the door open enough Republicans will
come to their senses to make a difference? Wasn't it true that
thousands of people died needlessly in the years before they
gained insurance through the ACA? Weren't the Republicans "the
death party" when every single one (ok, except for the guy who
won a freak election in New Orleans) voted against it? I do have
quibbles about "death party" -- "pro-life" Republicans use that
against Democrats who defend abortion rights, and both parties
are tainted by their kneejerk support of war and arms sales.
I'm not advocating a coarsening of political discourse, but
one needs to recognize that it's already happened, and that it's
been remarkably successful for Republicans, getting many (if not
most) Americans to turn their backs on everything that's worked
to make this a decent country, as well as to ignore (or worsen)
the many bad things we've done. I doubt there's a single solution
to this, but Democrats need to develop some backbone, and start
breaking through the shells that right-wing media have constructed
to shelter the Republicans from the effects of their actions.
Somehow I didn't even notice the House election in South Carolina
to fill Nick Mulvaney's seat. It was expectedly won by a Republican,
but it turns out the race there was as close as in Georgia, with
Democrat Archie Parnell losing 47.9-51.1%. In 2016, Trump won this
district by 18.5%, and Mulvaney won by 20%. One might argue that
the four House elections so far show the Democrats running better
than in 2016, but it still hurts that all four elected Republicans.
(Actually, the Democrats did win one: Jimmy Gomez in CA-34, but it
was a solidly Democratic seat and the "top two" primary led to a
runoff between two Democrats.)
Since Tuesday's election debacle, following several weeks of
Russia nonsense (which despite the media obsession doesn't seem
to bother voters much), political news took a remarkable turn
toward reality with the publication of Mitch McConnell's health
care bill. Crafted behind closed doors, given a new name (the
"Better Care Reconciliation Act" to avoid the stink of the House
AHCA bill -- although it shares an acronym with the "breast cancer
gene"), with McConnell promising a vote before Congress goes into
recess for July 4. The secrecy did manage to keep it out of the
news, but now that we can see what's in it's still time to panic.
Some details vary, but the overall outline is the same as the
House bill, which Trump initially applauded then admitted was "mean,
mean, mean." It starts with a massive tax cut for the rich, which
is balanced out by cutting subsidies and Medicaid, and it's stacked
so that the tax breaks are retroactive while the service cuts are
phased in over several years -- maybe you'll forget who caused them?
While the CBO hasn't had time to score it yet, the advertised hope
was that the number of people losing their insurance could be reduced
from 23 to 20 million. Trump's campaign promises of cheaper policies,
lower deductibles, and better coverage are still jokes.
Not surprisingly, the far right attacked the bill first, wanting to
make it even meaner. I read one piece that said AFP (the Koch network
campaign operation) was angling for two amendments: one is to free
insurance companies from minimum coverage regulation -- the effect
will be to let them sell fraudulent policies which don't cover many
costs so will lead to many more bankruptcies; the other is for more
"health savings accounts" -- a tax dodge only of interest to the
rich. As you may recall, Ryan's House bill originally failed to get
a majority, but while you heard some grumbling from "moderates" that
the bill went too far, the winning margin actually came from the far
right after Ryan agreed to make the bill more draconian. The Kochs
are looking for the same dynamic in the Senate.
This should be a field day for the Democrats, but as Matthew
Yglesias points out,
The health bill might pass because Trump has launched the era of
Nothing Matters politics. I've found two things especially
disturbing in the last week: one is how shamelessly Republicans
are lying about their bill; the other is how the media has been
falling for the line that this bill is a test of whether Trump and
the Republicans are able to deliver on their campaign promises.
The obvious counter to the latter is that there are a lot of very
dumb things Trump campaigned for that he cheerfully forgot once
When I started this I didn't plan on writing this much, least of all
about McConnell-Miscare, though I thought I might mention something about
Russia -- not the hacking scandal (which regardless of how bad it was
pales in comparison to what the Republicans have been doing in state
legislatures to suppress votes) but about the dangerous games of chicken
our respective air forces have been playing (for some on this, and more
on health care, see Yglesias'
The most important stories of the week, explained). I should also
point you to
Seymour M Hersh: Trump's Red Line, on Trump's escalation of the Syria
War, which directly led to the later conflicts with Russia.
I have little doubt that had technology permitted I could have built
a list of links to major Trump scandals and other misdemeanors this week,
as I have every week since inauguration. If you need a reminder of the
price Americans are paying for having hated Hillary Clinton and the
Democrats so much that they figured they had nothing to lose by turning
the federal government over to a bunch of con men and crooks, you're
free to look at my posts (most of which portend the future more than
they examine the past):
I don't know whether the Roundup will continue (although I'll probably
file some links in the notebook for possible future reference). Feels
like I'm shouting into the void. I often think back to an essay I read
as a teenager, by R.D. Laing, called "The Obvious": his point was that
everyone has their own idea of what's obvious, a condition which in no
way undermines our conviction of its obviousness. My writing starts
with a number of principles which I think I can justify but really
just seem obvious to me. If you share them, you will like what I have
to say, and if not, you won't. Clearly, a lot of people don't, and I
have no idea how to get to them. And while I'm not necessarily writing
for those who don't understand (or care), it's not very gratifying
when they don't.
Sunday, June 18. 2017
I thought I'd start with some comments on the Trump-Russia mess.
As far as I can tell (and this isn't very high on the list of things
I worry about these days), there are four separate things that need
to be investigated and understood:
What (if anything) Russia did to affect the course and outcome
of the 2016 elections, and (harder to say) did this have any actual
impact on the results. You might want to delve deeper and understand
why they did what they did, although there's little chance they will
be forthcoming on the subject, so you're likely to wind up with little
but biased speculation. [I suspect the answer here is that they did a
lot of shit that ultimately had very little impact.]
Did the meetings that various people more/less tied to the Trump
campaign had with various Russians (both officials and non-officials
with ties to the Russian leadership) discuss Russian election ops. In
particular, did Trump's people provide any assistance or direction to
the Russians. [Seems unlikely, but hard to tell given that the people
involved have repeatedly lied, and been caught lying, about meetings,
so what they ultimately admit to isn't credible -- unless some sort of
paper trail emerges, such as Sislyak's communiques to Moscow.]
Did Trump's people, in their meetings with various Russians,
make or imply any changes in US policy toward Russia that might reward
or simply incline the Russians to try to help Trump's campaign and/or
hinder Clinton's campaign? [This seems likely, as the campaign's public
statements imply a less punitive tilt toward Russia, but it could be
meant for future good will rather than as any sort of quid pro quo for
campaign help. The Russians, of course, could have found this reason
enough to help Trump vs. Clinton. Again, we don't know what transpired
in the meetings, and the fact that Trump's people have lied about them
doesn't look good.]
Did Trump and/or his people seek to obstruct the investigation,
especially by the Department of Justice, into the above? [It's pretty
clear now that they did, and that Trump was personally involved. It's
not clear whether this meets the usual requirements for prosecution --
for instance, it's not clear that there has been any fabrication of
evidence or perjury, but there clearly have been improper attempts to
apply political pressure to (in the quaint British phrasing) pervert
the course of justice.]
The problem is that even though these questions seem simple and
straightforward, they exist in a context that is politically highly
charged. Again, there are several dimensions to this:
Clinton and her supporters were initially desperate to find any
reason other than their candidate and campaign to explain her surprise
loss to one of the most unappealing (and objectively least popular)
major party candidates in history, so they were quick to jump on the
Russian hacking story (as well as Comey's handling of the email server
fiasco). Early on, they were the main driving force behind the story.
[This made it distasteful for people like me who thought she was a bad
candidate, but also helped turn it into a blatantly partisan issue,
where Trump supporters quickly became blindered to any attacks on their
A second group of influential insiders had reason to play up a
Russia scandal: the neocon faction of the security meta-state, who have
all along wanted to play up Russia as a potential enemy because their
security state only makes sense if they can point to threats. If Trump
came into office thinking he could roll back sanctions and reverse US
policy on Russia, they would have to hustle to stop him, and blowing
up his people's Russia contacts into a full-fledged scandal helped do
the trick. [This is pretty much fait accompli at this point, although
Trump himself isn't very good at sticking to his script. But while some
Republicans chafe, the Democrats have been completely won over to a
hard-line policy on Russia, even though rank-and-file Democrats are
overwhelmingly anti-war. One result here is that by posturing as hawks
Democrat politicians are losing their credibility with their party's
base -- recapitulating one of Clinton's major problems in 2016.]
As the scandal has blown up, Democrats increasingly see it as
a way of focusing opposition to Trump and disrupting the Republican
agenda. Meanwhile, Republicans feel the need to defend Trump (even to
the point of crippling investigation into the scandal) in order to get
their agenda back on track. Thus narrow legal matters have become
broad political ones, turning not on facts but on opinions.
[This makes them impossible to adjudicate via
normal procedures, and guarantees that whatever investigators find
will be dismissed to large numbers of people who put their allegiances
ahead of the facts. Ultimately, then, the issues will have to be weighed
by the voters, who by the time they get a chance will have plenty of
other distractions. Meanwhile the Democrats are missing countless
scandals and even worse policy moves, while Republicans are getting
away with -- well, "murder" may not be the choicest word here, but
if Republicans pass their Obamacare repeal many more people will die
unnecessarily than even America's itchy trigger-fingers can account
Here are some links on subjects related to Trump/Russia:
Devlin Barrett et al: Special counsel is investigating Trump for possible
obstruction of justice, officials say
Nicholas Confessore/Matthew Rosenburg/Danny Hakim: How Michael Flynn's
Disdain for Limits Led to a Legal Quagmire
Esme Cribb: Pence Hires Outside Counsel to Guide Him Through Russia
Investigations: Best case scenario: he becomes president. Worst:
Karoun Demirjian/Anne Gearan: Senate overwhelmingly votes to curtail
Trump's power to ease Russia sanctions: Vote was 97-2, with Rand
Paul and Mike Lee dissenting, so no Democrats (or Bernie Sanders).
Sanders, along with Paul, did vote against a bill that combined Iran
and Russia sanctions (see
Senate Votes 98-2 to Impose New Sanctions on Iran, Russia), as
not a single Democrat voted to protect Obama's nuclear deal with
Iran (that's what happens when you get so worked up over Russia).
Elizabeth Drew: Trump: The Presidency in Peril
Noah Feldman: One Trump Tweet Can Shake Up the Justice Department:
So now Rod Rosenstein needs to recuse himself, just because Trump
tweeted about him? That would make Rachel Brand the one person who
can legally dismiss Special Counsel Robert Mueller, and that could
be the hope.
Garrett M Graff: Robert Mueller Chooses His Investigatory Dream
Sari Horwitz et al: Special counsel is investigating Jared Kushner's
Bob Inglis: I Helped draft Clinton's impeachment articles. The charges
against Trump are more serious.
Allegra Kirkland: Close Manafort Ally Is Latest Trump Campaign Figure
Caught in Russia Mess: Rick Gates.
Lachlan Markay/Asawin Suebsaeng/Spencer Ackerman: Even Trump's Aides
Blame Him for Obstruction Probe: 'President Did This to Himself':
Trump keeps doing things that guilty people do -- at least, guilty
people who aren't much good at hiding the fact. He may not have
obstructed justice when he told Comey he "hoped" the Flynn thing
would go away, but firing Comey showed the world that he wasn't
just hoping. And firing Mueller, which he's threatened to do,
would make him look even guiltier. (Just look at how long Nixon
lasted after he fired Archibald Cox.)
William Saletan: Jeff Sessions Isn't Trying to Protect Trump. He's
Mark Joseph Stern: Robert Mueller's Probe Will Reveal Loads of Dirt From
Trump's Financial Past. Uh Oh.
Richard Wolffe: Jeff Sessions: a poor, misunderstood man exempt from
Matthew Yglesias: Trump's media allies are making the case for firing
Robert Mueller; Yglesias also wrote:
Donald Trump is really sad he's not running against Hillary Clinton
anymore, where he quotes this June 15 Trump tweet: "Why is it
that Hillary Clintons family and Dems dealings with Russia are not
looked at, but my non-dealings are?" I've never heard of any such
dealings, although I know Bill Clinton was chummy with Boris Yeltsin
back in the 1990s when the latter was drunk-driving Russia into a
ditch, a national disaster which made Putin look good. Still, the
real point is that whenever Trump or many other Republicans look bad,
their first instinct is to blame some Democrat (cf. the Steve King
And somewhere, I should mention Yglesias'
The week explained: a shooter, sanctions, Sessions, and more:
Subtitled "A brief guide to what you need to know," he actually
misses a lot of things I touch on further down below (although I
hadn't noticed the Uber story).
Someone named James T Hodgkinson took a rifle to a baseball field in
Arlington, VA where several Republican members of Congress (and a few
hangers-on) were practicing for a charity baseball game, and started
shooting. He wounded five, most seriously Rep. Steve Scalise (R-LA)
before he in turn was shot and killed by police. Hodgkinson had a long
history of writing crank letters-to-the-editor, as well as a history
of run-ins with the law, including complaints of domestic abuse and
shooting guns into trees, but he was also virulently anti-Trump, so
right-wing talking heads had a field day playing the victim. Still,
it's doubtful that this brief experience of terror will move any of
the Republicans against the wars we export abroad, let alone question
their vow of allegiance to the NRA. Some relevant links:
Angelina Chapin: The Virginia gunman is a reminder: domestic abusers
are a danger to society
Esme Cribb: Steve King Partly Blames Obama for Divisive Politics That
Led to Shooting
David Frum: Reinforcing the Boundaries of Political Decency:
He declares that "across the political spectrum, there is only
revulsion" to acts like the shooting members of Congress, he
notes that we're much less repulsed when our politicians and
commentators threaten violence:
In the wake of this crime, as after the Gabby Giffords attack in 2011,
we'll soon be talking about whether and when political rhetoric goes
too far. It's an important conversation to have, and the fact that the
president of the United States is himself the country's noisiest inciter
of political violence does not give license to anyone else to do the
same. Precisely because the president has put himself so outside
the boundary of political decency, it is vitally important to define
and defend that border. President Trump's delight in violence against
his opponents is something to isolate and condemn, not something to
condone or emulate.
What Frum doesn't note is that while assassination is still frowned
on here inside America, it is official government policy to hunt down
and kill select people who offend us abroad, as well as anyone else
who happens to be in the vicinity of one of our targets.
Charlie May: Trump's favorite right-wing websites aren't listening
to his calls for unity following GOP shooting: As Alex Jones
put it: "The first shots of the second American Civil War have already
been fired." Nor was it just the alt-right that wanted to jump on the
shooting to score cheap shots against the left: see
Brendan Gauthier: New York Times tries, fails to blame Virginia shooting
on Bernie Sanders.
Heather Digby Parton: Don't miss the point on Alexandria and San Francisco:
There is a solution for mass shootings: The San Francisco shooting
didn't get anywhere near the press of the one in Alexandria, despite
greater (albeit less famous) carnage: "an angry employee went into a
UPS facility and opened fire, killing three co-workers and himself."
Mother Jones gathers data on mass shootings and has pretty strict
criteria for inclusion: The shooting must happen in a public place and
result in three or more deaths. This leaves out many incidents in which
people are only injured, such as the
shooting of 10 people in Philadelphia last month, or those that take
place on on private property, such as the recent
killing of eight people in Mississippi during a domestic violence
shooting spree. (The
Gun Violence Archive collects incidents that involve the shooting
of two or more victims. It is voluminous.)
According to the Mother Jones criteria, yesterday's Virginia shooting
doesn't even count since it didn't meet the death threshold. The San
Francisco UPS shooting does, bring the total of such mass shootings to
six so far this year. . . .
Meanwhile, 93 people on average are shot and killed every day in
America, many of them in incidents involving multiple victims.
More than 100,000 people are struck by bullets every year. President
Donald Trump was right to speak about "carnage" in America in his
inaugural address. He just didn't acknowledge that the carnage is
from gun violence.
OK, another boring gun control piece ensues. And no doubt fewer
guns (better regulated, less automatic) would reduce those numbers.
Still, there are other reasons why America is so trigger-happy, and
change there would also help. For starters, we've been at war almost
continuously for seventy-five years, with all that entails, from
training people to kill to cheering them when they do, and making
it easier by dehumanizing supposed enemies. We've internalized war
to the point that we habitually treat projects or causes as wars,
which often as not leads to their militarization (as in the "war
on drugs"). We've increasingly turned politics into a bitter, no
holds, drag out brawl; i.e., a war. And we've allowed corporations
to be run like armies, which is one reason so many mass shootings
are job-related (or loss-of-job-related). Another is that we've
increasingly shredded the safety net, especially when it comes to
getting help for mental health problems. (Veterans still get more
help in that regard, but not enough.) It might help to require
companies to provide counseling to laid-off workers (or if that's
too much of an imposition, let the public pick up the tab). Free
(or much cheaper) education would also help. Decriminalizing drugs
would definitely help. And then there's this notion, from a tweet
by Sen. Rand Paul:
Why do we have a Second Amendment? It's not to shoot deer. It's to
shoot at the government when it becomes tyrannical!
That notion proved impractical as early as the 1791 Whiskey Rebellion.
The Second Amendment actually spoke of well-regulated militias, which
the various states maintained up to the Civil War. Once that was over,
the role for such militias (and as such the Amendment) vanished, until
it was refashioned by opportunistic politicians and activist judges to
give any crackpot a chance to kill his neighbors. As Alexandria shows,
that right doesn't help anyone. But then the left half of the political
spectrum already knew that, partly because they've much more often been
the targets of crackpots, and partly because they've generally retained
the ability to reason about evidence.
Charles Pierce: When White People Realize American Politics Are Violent:
"It's not news to anyone else." He notes America's long history of political
violence, including lynchings and a couple of wholesale racist massacres,
but also mentioning an attack on miners in Colorado. Pierce then turned
around and wrote:
This Is Not an Ideal Time to Have White Supremacists Infiltrating Law
Enforcement. Come on, is there ever a time when it was harmless
much less ideal? I recalled a prime example from fifty-some years ago,
a guy named Bull Connor. (By the way, when I went to check the name,
I also found this story:
Deputy shoots dog after many loses everything in trailer fire.
The man was then charged with disorderly conduct, but acquitted. One
of many understatements: "The Madison County Sheriff's Department
has seen greater problems than the shooting of a dog.")
Some scattered links this week in Trump's many other (and arguably
much more important) scandals:
Dean Baker: Going Private: The Trump Administration's Big Infrastructure
But Trump's big ace in the hole is that he will rely on the private sector
to provide funding for infrastructure beyond the amount he put in the budget.
This is the idea that we will privatize assets like highways and water
systems so that the private sector can profit from them.
This sounds like a great idea for someone who has spent a lifetime
running rip off schemes. We actually have considerable experience with
privatizing public assets and most of it is not good. . . .
If we think the government is run by buffoons who can't do anything
right, it is hard to see how the buffoons are supposed to rein in the
fast-moving contractors in the private sector. Putting private firms
in a position to take advantage of the lack of effective oversight is
likely to make things worse, not better.
This is a lesson we have seen repeatedly in the United States and
throughout the world. Donald Trump is incredibly ignorant of history
and almost everything else, but Congress isn't.
We should expect better of Congress. The story of mass privatization
of assets is a story of rip offs and corruption.
Kate Brannen et al: White House Officials Push for Widening War in
Syria Over Pentagon Objections: Specifically, they want to go after
Iranian forces allied with Assad. Or maybe they just want to start a
shooting war with Iran. Meanwhile, see:
Elliot Hannon: Iran Launches Missile Strikes Targeting ISIS in Syria,
Dramatically Escalating Role in Syrian Conflict. Also:
Russian Military: Airstrike Last Month Might Have Killed ISIS Leader.
On the other hand, fighting against the anti-ISIS Syrian government:
US Warplane Shoots Down Syria Jet Over Eastern Syria. And US-backed
Saudi Airstrikes on Saada Market Kill Dozens of Civilians.
Margaret Brennan/Kylie Atwood: Trump sells Qatar $12 billion of U.S.
weapons days after accusing it of funding terrorism: Does North
Korea realize all they have to do to get on Trump's good side is buy
a bunch of F-15s?
David Dayen: Betsy DeVos Moves to Help For-Profit Schools Defraud
Chauncey DeVega: Groveling before the mad king: Donald Trump's Cabinet
of sycophants: Probably the most demeaning day for a US Cabinet
since Bill Clinton got impeached and rounded up his for a forced display
of unity. For more:
Isaac Stone Fish: Emperor Trump's sycophantic cabinet meeting stinks of
Tom Engelhardt: The Making of a Pariah Nation: When I started working
on an autobiography a while back, I noted that my birthdate nearly coincided
with "the maximal state of American power in the world": the US had nearly
routed the Communists in North Korea and were closing in on the northern
border with China. Within a week, the Chinese counterattacked, and US forces
started their retreat, finally signing an armistice (but pointedly no peace
treaty) in 1953, ending (or suspending) the war as a stalemate. After WWII
the US emerged as a very rich country, with something like 50% of the world's
wealth, while Europe and East Asia were totally devastated. George Kennan
argued at the time that the point of American foreign policy should be to
preserve that discrepancy and dominance. Alas, that didn't happen, nor
could it. While the US economy enjoyed remarkable growth up to 1970, the
world economy grew even faster -- especially in Western Europe and the
Pacific Rim, where the US found business allies, treated favorably to
steer them away from the Communist bloc. After 1970, the US economy
stalled and sputtered, while the US flat-out lost its misbegotten war in
Vietnam. And alongside this economic decline, there has been a loss of
morals and decency, which we've seen play out both through a series of
Republican presidents (Nixon, Reagan, the Bushes, now Trump), although
you can see its effects nearly as well in the Democrats (Carter, Clinton,
Obama). So in a sense, my entire life experience has been touched by
national decline and degeneracy. As best I recall, Engelhardt is only
a few years older than I am, so this must be his lifelong experience
too. Sure, this decline has been long denied: Reagan's "morning in
America" made it clear that our future would be based on fraud, which
for sure was America's only booming industry during his tenure; even
last year Hillary Clinton's "America's always been great" collapsed
with her delusional campaign. Even today, Engelhardt hedges his view
of "Trump, in real time, tweet by tweet, speech by speech, sword
dance by sword dance, intervention by intervention, act by act, in
the process of dismantling the system of global power" by which the
US "made itself a truly global hegemon." The problem, of course, is
that even as Americans feel pinched and belittled, even as we've
grown ever more self-centered and contemptuous of the rest of the
world, the US is still a very dangerous, very ominous force in that
world. Moreover, although Trump starts with a sense of America's
diminish stature and role, he has no clue as to how to engineer a
more graceful landing. Rather, he's actively picking totally useless
(indeed embarrassing) fights with Cuba, Iran, and North Korea, while
subcontracting US policy in the Middle East to Israel and Saudi Arabia
(or Qatar if the price is right), and pouring more resources into the
quicksand of Afghanistan. He's undermined NATO, and sought to weaken
the EU, and his rejection of the Paris Accords has offended everyone.
While Trump will henceforth be associated with failed slogans, ranging
from "Drain the Swamp" to "Lock Her Up," "Make America Great Again"
will prove even more vexing. At least no one really knows what "Great"
means. Had he been more modest and said "Make America Good Again," it
would be clear how badly he's failing.
Meanwhile, the foreign policy gurus are desperately struggling to
scale back the damage Trump is doing. It's a difficult task, as Max
Boot admits in
Donald Trump Is Proving Too Stupid to Be President; also
Richard Evans: The Madness of King Donald, which takes a longer, more
historical view of incompetent rulers; and
Daniel Shapiro: Trump Is Letting America Get Pushed Around by Saudi
Arabia -- but they let him play with swords and touch their orb.
Thomas Erdbrink: Raising Tensions, Iranians Again Link Saudis to Terror
Attacks in Tehran
Lee Fang: Trump Officials Overseeing Health Care Overhaul Previously
Lobbied for Health Insurance Firms: Title is a little obscure,
but the gist of the article is how Trump and Secretary Tom Price are
stocking HHS with a long list of industry lobbyists (Eric Hargan,
Paula Stannard, Randolph Wayne Pate, Lance Leggitt, Keagan Lenihan
are the ones mentioned and documented).
Lee Fang: Trump Officials Overseeing Amazon-Whole Foods Merger May
Face Conflicts of Interest: May?
President Donald Trump's pick to lead the Justice Department's antitrust
division, Makan Delrahim, has worked since 2005 as a lawyer and lobbyist
at Brownstein Hyatt Farber Schreck, a firm that is registered to lobby
on behalf of Amazon. . . .
Delrahim, however, isn't the only official with ties to the merger.
Abbott Lipsky, appointed in March as the new acting Director of the FTC's
Bureau of Competition, which oversees antitrust, previously worked as a
partner in the antitrust division of the law firm Latham & Watkins.
Lipsky's former law firm has been tapped by Whole Foods' financial adviser,
Evercore, to help manage the merger with Amazon, according to Law360.
And finally, Goldman Sachs has stepped up to provide bridge financing
for the merger. The investment bank maintains a broad range of connections
to multiple officials within the Trump administration, most salient of whom
is Gary Cohn, the former chief operating officer of Goldman Sachs. As the
chief economics adviser to the president, Cohn will likely weigh in on the
Karen J Greenberg: Donald Trump Is Waging a War on Children: "America's
never-ending 'war on terror' wreaks havoc on the physical, mental, and
emotional health of kids around the world."
Jeff Hauser/Brian Dew: The Trump Administration's Underrated Threat to
the IRS: First, funding cuts targeted against enforcement. Then there
And in particular, that temporary head could make a big headache go away
from one very influential person, hedge fund billionaire and Breitbart
investor Robert Mercer. In a too-little noticed McClatchy piece last
month, it was reported that "The Internal Revenue Service is demanding
a whopping $7 billion or more in back taxes from the world's most
profitable hedge fund, whose boss's wealth and cyber savvy helped Donald
Trump pole-vault into the White House." The IRS demand is hardly
controversial, as Mercer's Renaissance Technologies attempts to use
an obviously problematic loophole to pretend that's its rapid-fire
trading constitutes long term investing that is taxed at a far lower
Jessica Huseman/Annie Waldman: Trump Administration quietly rolls back
Civil Rights efforts across federal government: Not sure how quiet
this has been, but it's not just Jeff Sessions, although he bears much
Fred Kaplan: Trump, Still Unfit for President, Is Letting His Defense
Secretary Decide Strategy in Afghanistan. This includes
US to Send 4,000 More Ground Troops to Afghanistan, nearly a 50%
increase over the 8,500 already there. Later reports suggest that
Trump will wind up sinking even more troops:
General Urges Up to 20,000 More US Troops in Afghanistan. Also:
William J Astore on Trump and the Afghan War; and
Ahmed Rashid: Afghanistan: It's Too Late.
David D Kirkpatrick: Trump's Business Ties in the Gulf Raise Questions
About His Allegiances
Sarah Kliff: I've covered Obamacare since day one. I've never seen lying
and obstruction like this. On the other hand, Ezra Klein thinks:
Republicans are about to make Medicare-for-all much more likely:
not, of course, by advocating it -- they're much too dedicated to
increasing corporate graft opportunities for that -- but by exposing
all of the other alternatives to Obamacare as impossible.
Stephen Ohlemacher: GOP Tax Plan in Trouble as Republicans Increasingly
Reject Import Tax: Article mentions "strong opposition from retailers,
automakers and the oil industry." As I recall, it's also opposed by the
Kochs and their AFP front group. On the other hand, the corporate cuts
are predicated on raising revenues elsewhere, and the import tax was the
bill's main offset.
Miriam Pensack: Trump to Reverse Obama Openings to Cuba Under the False
Flag of Human Rights. More on Cuba:
Marjorie Cohn: Trump Takes Aim at Obama's Détente With Cuba;
Peter Kornbluh: Normalization With Cuba Has Been a Smashing Success -- but
Trump Wants to Destroy It. For some reason this Cuba story is making
me exceptionally sad. For nearly sixty years the US has had head stuck up
ass on this, and Obama finally pried it loose. During that time America's
standing in the world has been tarnished by many things, but with Cuba it
mostly showed the extremes to which our politicians would go to further
a grudge (and not admit any culpability -- let's face it, US treatment of
Cuba from 1898-1958 was why there was a revolution). And now it seems like
the only real reason Trump has is his desire to erase everything that Obama
ever did. (Well, except for the Afghanistan Surge, which he now seems bound
to recapitulate.) And he's getting away with this because we've created
this Imperial Presidency where the guy in charge -- even though he lost
the popular vote, even though his current approval rate is around 38% --
enjoys this incredible, arbitrary power to fuck up the world. Also note:
Richard Lardner: Not all GOP Lawmakers Pleased Trump Rolled Back Some
Obama Cuba Policies.
Nick Penzenstadler et al: Most Trump real estate now sold to secretive
Corey Robin: Trump can stack the judiciary for years. That's why
Republicans stick with him; or as Dahlia Lithwick puts it:
Trump Is Trying to Stack the Federal Courts With Wackadoos.
Mustafa Santiago Ali: Trump's planned EPA cuts will hit America's
And finally some other items that caught my eye:
Andrew J Bacevich: The 'Global Order' Myth: Unusually confused
summary of Trump and the foreign policy mandarins -- dissidents
because they cling to their treasured myths and clichés, which
Trump himself shows no evidence of believing in or caring for
(unlike Obama and Clinton, who bought into every absurd concept).
On the other hand, Trump's actual foreign policy is more crazed
but not fundamentally different -- probably because he subcontracts
it to the usual suspects.
Dan Berger: Welfare and Imprisonment: How "Get Tough" Politics Have
Excluded People From Society: Review of Julilly Kohler-Hausmann's
new book, Getting Tough: Welfare and Imprisonment in 1970s America.
Tom Cahill: A New Harvard Study Just Shattered the Biggest Myth About
Bernie Supporters: "a new poll finds that [Sanders'] popularity is
greater among minorities and women than among whites and men." Still,
lowest group listed was 52%.
Nithin Coca: Meet Gov, the Open Source, Digital Community Transforming
Democracy in Taiwan
Max Ehrenfreund: Kansas's conservative experiment may have gone worse
than people thought.
Phil Giraldi: Resist this: How Hillary lost, in her own words:
Giraldi was fool enough to vote for Trump, because, as he puts it,
"he wasn't the war candidate" -- so no surprise his enthusiasm for
a book edited with commentary by Joe Lauria called How I Lost
By Hillary Clinton, based on Clinton speeches and leaked emails
from John Podesta and the DNC brain trust, The two central themes
were "Hillary as an elitist and Hillary as a hawk" -- obviously (at
least to a non-conservative) not the full gamut of Clinton's views,
but certainly a facet she had a hard time shaking, perhaps because
she spent more time raising money than appealing for votes, and
because so much of her campaign pitch was built around what she
called "the Commander-in-Chief test."
Sarah Leonard: Why Are So Many Young Voters Falling for Old Socialists?
Corbyn? Sanders? You have to ask? First, they're the only politicians to
have survived the last 35 years of neocon/neolib bullshit with integrity
intact. Second, they've established a track record of being consistently
right in understanding how that neocon/neolib bullshit would blow up.
Third, they actually have practical programs that would help most people
enjoy better lives, while making it harder for the rich and powerful to
abuse their money and power.
Mike Ludwig: In an Aging Nation, Single-Payer Is the Alternative to
Dying Under Austerity.
Alec Luhn: Russia's Massive Protests Reveal a Government Playing by
Outdated Rules; and
Nadezda Azhgikhina: Russia Is Experiencing the Largest Anti-Government
Protests in Half a Decade.
Timothy Noah: Manufacturing Won't Save Us: Review of Luis Uchitelle's
new book, Making It: Why Manufacturing Still Matters. Unfortunately,
tagline ("But it's maddeningly difficult to make an evidence-based case for
rescuing it") suggests that Noah disagrees. In point of fact, manufacturing
has mostly been rescued in America, mostly by driving labor costs down, by
breaking and avoiding unions. But rescue like that is turning large swathes
of America into a third world nation. The problem has less to do with what
business make and do than with a business model that focuses exclusively
on draining profits from workers and customers while doing nothing for
communities and the country.
Feargus O'Sullivan: The Grenfell Tower Fir eand London's Public-Housing
Crisis: It was a 24-floor apartment tower in west London, home to
600 people, now destroyed by fire, with
58 people missing and presumed dead (including and superseding the
previously announced 30 dead). The building was public housing, but
managed by a for-profit company, with some/many apartments sold to
residents and flipped for profit.
In a trend now typical across London, the borough contracted KCTMO to
refurbish the tower, in part to increase the number of apartments
available for private rent or sale. That work left the tower with
just one staircase and exit -- an exit that the management company
has failed to keep clear. Protests about the safety of the people
living in the tower fell on deaf ears. . . .
Redeveloping projects like these is especially attractive to
cash-strapped boroughs because it helps them manage severe austerity
cuts imposed by the central government. By attracting buyers to these
properties, the boroughs can generate direct profits and attract
wealthier residents who pay higher taxes and use fewer public services.
Redeveloping or remodeling public projects also means that boroughs
and developers can squeeze out extra revenue by adding homes for the
private market, or "affordable" homes that, while cheaper than market
rates, still generate some profit.
In order to maximize these profits, there is pressure to remove as
many poorer public-housing tenants as possible, to make more room for
market-rate apartments. . . .
If Grenfell Tower hadn't been rearranged to create more apartments
and re-clad to make it look newer, there's a good chance it would
still be standing intact. . . .
The reports of neglect, threats, and indifference by the
Conservative-held local council toward low-income tenants seem
especially bitter given the incredible wealth of the area as a whole.
On a national level, the media has already noted that May's new chief
of staff sat on a report that exposed serious concerns about the fire
safety of residential towers. It would still be inaccurate to present
Grenfell Tower's neglect as a Conservative issue alone. Most inner-London
boroughs are in fact held by the Labour Party, and report similar
experiences of low-income displacement, public housing neglect, and
officially sponsored gentrification. These have been powder-keg issues
in London for years, with activists warning that some crisis would come
sooner or later. It's now arrived, in the worst possible way imaginable.
For more on the political fallout (Prime Minister Theresa May seems
to have handled this especially badly), see:
Jonathan Freedland: Grenfell Tower will forever stand as a rebuke to
Lynsey Hanley: Look at Grenfell Tower and see the terrible price of
Polly Toynbee: Theresa May was too scared to meet the Grenfell survivors.
She's finished (she reminds us that "George W Bush was similarly
exposed by his clueless reaction to Hurricane Katrina"). Also:
Seraphima Kennedy: When I worked for KCTMO I had nightmares about burning
Rebecca Solnit: Victories against Trump are mounting. Here's how we deal
the final blow: Reasons to be cheerful, or at least harbor a faint
glint of hope. Still, I'm not seeing the glass half full, let alone
Matt Taibbi: Goodbye, and Good Riddance, to Centrism: On Jeremy
Corbyn and the British election.
Douglas Williams: Flint officials may face jail for water crisis.
That's bittersweet news
Matthew Yglesias: The Fed just took action to slow job creation despite
low inflation: The Fed bumped up their basic rate by a quarter-point,
despite the fact that inflation is below its 2% target, and low unemployment
is mostly the result of people giving up looking.
Sunday, June 11. 2017
Started this on Saturday and finished before midnight on Sunday, so
quick work given all the crap I ran into. If I had to summarize it, I'd
start by pointing out that as demented as Trump seems personally, the
real damage is coming from his administration, his executive orders, and
the Republican Congress, and all of that is a very logical progression
from their rightward drift since the 1970s. To paint a picture, if you're
bothered by all the flies buzzing and maggots squirming, focus first on
the rotting carcasses that are feeding them. Secondly, America's forever
war in the Middle East seems to have entered an even more surreal level,
which again can be traced back to a bunch of unexamined assumptions
about friends and enemies and how we relate to them that ultimately
make no sense whatsoever. The simplest solution would be to withdraw
from the region (and possibly the rest of the world) completely, at
least until we get our shit together, which doesn't seem likely soon.
That's largely because we've come to tolerate a political and economic
system of all-against-all, where we feel no social solidarity, where
we tolerate all kinds of lying, cheating, and gaming -- anything that
lets fortunate people get ahead of and away from the rest of us. Last
week's UK election suggests an alternative, but while the votes there
were tantalizingly close, the resolution is still evasive -- probably
because not enough of us are clear enough on why we need help.
Meanwhile. this is what I gleaned from the week that was, starting
with a summary piece I could have fit several places below, but it
works as an intro here:
Matthew Yglesias: The week, explained: Comey, Corbyn, Qatar, and
more -- Obamacare repeal, debt ceiling. I don't doubt that the
section on Qatar is true, but still don't really understand it (nor,
clearly, does Trump: see
Zeshan Aleem: Trump just slammed US ally Qatar an hour after his
administration defended it; also
Juan Cole: Tillerson-Trump Rumble over Qatar shows White House
Richard Silverstein: All's Not Well in Sunnistan; also
Vijay Prashad: ISIS Wins, as Trump Sucks Up to the Saudis, and Launches
Destructive Fight with Qatar; and perhaps most authoritatively,
Richard Falk: Interrogating the Qatar rift; more on Qatar below).
The UK held its "snap election" on Thursday, electing a new parliament
(House of Commons, anyway) and, effectively, prime minister. Conservative
(Tory) Party leader Theresa May called the election, hoping to increase
her party's slim majority -- a result that must have seemed certain given
polls at the time. But after a month or so of campaigning -- why can't we
compress American elections like that? -- the Tories lost their majority,
but will still be able to form a razor-thin majority by allying with the
DUP (Democratic Unionist Party, a right-wing party which holds 10 seats
in Northern Ireland). The results: 318 Conservative (-12), 262 Labour
(+30), 35 SNP (Scottish National Party, -21), 12 Liberal Democrats (+4),
10 DUP (+2), 13 others (-2). The popular vote split was 42% Conservative,
40% Labour (up from 30% with Ed Miliband in 2015, 29% with Gordon Brown
in 2010, and 35% for Tony Blair's winning campaign in 2005 -- almost as
good as Blair's 40.7% in 2001).
As victory margins go, the Tories are no more impressive than Trump's
Republicans in 2016, but like Trump and the Republicans they've seized
power and can do all sorts of horrible things with it. Still, this is
widely viewed as a major, perhaps crippling setback for May and party.
And while it doesn't invalidate last year's Brexit referendum, it comes
at the time when the UK and EU are scheduled to begin negotiations on
exactly how the UK and EU will relate to each other during and after
Perhaps more importantly, the gains for Labour should (but probably
won't) end the charges that Jeremy Corbin is too far left to win an
election. At the same time the business-friendly New Democrats (e.g.,
Clinton and Gore) took over the Democratic Party in the 1990s, the
similarly-minded Tony Blair refashioned New Labour into a neoliberal
powerhouse in the UK. Both movement proved successful, but over the
long haul did immense damage to the parties' rank-and-file, who were
trapped as opposition parties moved ever further to the right. After
New Labour finally crashed, Corbin ran for party leader, won in a
stunning grassroots campaign, and faced down a mutiny by surviving
Labour MPs by again rallying the rank-and-file. The result is that
this time Labour actually stood for something, and the fact that
they improved their standing rebukes the Blair-Clinton strategy of
winning by surrendering. We, of course, hear the same complaints
about Bernie Sanders. It may well be that the majority is not yet
ready for "revolution," but voters (especially young ones) are
getting there, and many more are rejecting the NDP/NLP strategy
Some scattered UK election links:
Harriet Aberholm: Jeremy Corbyn was just 2,227 votes away from chance
to be Prime Minister: "Winning seven Tory knife-edge seats could
have put Labour leader in Downing Street."
Anne Applebaum: Theresa May and the revenge of the Remainers:
Notes that while Corbyn was moving Labour to the left, May took
the Conservatives right-ward -- irritating moderates not just on
Brexit but also those "worried about the future of the National
End of Blair Era in UK: Corbyn's Left-Wing Policies win at Ballot
Harry Enten/Nate Silver: The UK Election Wasn't That Much of a Shock:
Much ado about poll gazing.
John Harris: Britain is more divided than ever. Now Labour has a chance
to unify it: Title gave me no idea what this piece would be about,
and I'm not sure the author figured it out either. Still, a bit:
The contest May herself wanted was a laughably flimsy affair, focused
on her supposedly strong leadership and her belief that a sufficient
share of the public was willing to blankly approve a vision of Brexit
that she was unable to articulate. Meanwhile, thanks to Corbyn's party
and its primary-coloured manifesto, a completely different conversation
was taking place, which began to define the agenda after May's U-turn
on social care -- about the condition of the country and the need for
a new social settlement. To all intents and purposes, Labour has just
won a historic moral victory, thanks to a faintly miraculous coalition
that included not just millions of remain voters but -- as proved by
a stream of Labour successes in the Midlands, Wales and the north --
people who once voted Ukip and backed leave.
Bemoaning a divided nation is a cliché, but it's also practical
politics for the right, since the only basis on which a majority can
merge would be for more equality and broader prosperity, which is to
say the agenda (when they're not selling out) of the left.
Mehdi Hasan: Jeremy Corbyn Is Leading the Left out of the Wilderness
and Toward Power
Toby Helm/Daniel Boffey: 'Drop hard Brexit plans,' leading Tory and
Labour MPs tell May
Zaid Jilani: Jeremy Corbyn's Critics Predicted He Would Destroy Labour.
They Were Radically Wrong.
Robert Mackey: After Election Setback, Theresa May Clings to Power in
UK Thanks to Ulster Extremists: Mostly a reminder of how right-wing
the DUP is.
Maria Margaronis: Labour's Near-Triumph Brings a New Morning to British
Politics: "Jeremy Corbyn's leadership offered an end to austerity,
a commitment to the public good, the faith that generosity is more
powerful than greed."
Emile Simpson: That Time Theresa May Forgot That Elections Come With
Opponents: She also forgot that, regardless of how much people
may be inclined to blame New Labour and/or the EU, Conservative rule
since 2010 hasn't really delivered anything of value to most British
voters -- a steady diet of austerity, cutbacks, wars, and terror,
with whatever dislocations "hard Brexit" portends. Trying to look
at this rationally, I'm surprised that they did as well as they did,
since I can't think of any credible reason for hardly anyone to stick
with them. So I liked this bit:
But of course, credit where credit is due. Jeremy Corbyn, who has been
much maligned over the last two years now looks like he will end up
outliving two Conservative prime ministers. His biggest strength, in
contrast to May, is his sincerity, which was even recognized during
the campaign by the likes of Nigel Farage. Unlike May, people trust
that he means what he says, even if they disagree with him.
Of course, Simpson goes on to complain that Corbyn's "biggest
weaknesses are his own hard-left political views," but tempers
that by noting that the Labour manifesto "was far closer to the
center than Corbyn's own views."
Steve W Thrasher: Bernie Sanders could have won. That's the Corbyn lesson
Benjamin Wallace-Wells: How Jeremy Corbyn Moved Past the Politics of
On Wednesday night, Corbyn gave the final speech of his campaign, in the
stunning Union Chapel, in Islington, his own constituency. Near the end,
he took out his reading glasses and gave a dramatic performance of a few
melodramatic lines from Shelley. "Rise, like lions after slumber / In
unvanquishable number! / Shake your chains to earth like dew / Which in
sleep had fallen on you: / ye are many -- they are few!" Corbyn was
standing in front of a red background emblazoned with Labour's slogan:
"For the many, not the few." He said that he and his audience had stood
together in places like this for countless protest meetings over the
decades -- "protect this, defend that, support this person." "Tonight
is different," Corbyn said. "We're not defending. We're not defending.
We don't need to. We are asserting. Asserting our view that a society
that cares for all is better than a society that only cares for the
few." Monday morning, the Blackpool Gazette ran an advertisement from
the Conservatives that covered half its front page. The other half was
a news story: "Poverty-hit families are forced to rely on food bank
handouts." The election was being argued on Corbyn's terms. That isn't
the same as winning, but it is something.
Gary Younge: We were told Corbyn was 'unelectable.' Then came the
And the usual scattered links on this week's Trump scandals:
Dean Baker: Trump Versus Ryan: The Race to Eliminate the Federal
Government: Another piece on Trump's budget. It bears repeating
that the real reason conservatives seek to shrink government is
that they want people to forget that the government is there to
serve them, and that with integrity and a sense of public service
government can make their lives better. So anything they can do
to make government look bad works to their favor. And, of course,
they don't apply their pitch lines to the parts of government
they not only like but depend on to maintain their privilege. On
a related issue, see
William Rivers Pitt: We Are Not Broke: Trashing the Austerity
Lies. One of their favorite pitches is that we can't afford
to do things (yet somehow we manage to spend a trillion dollars
on a war machine that does little but blowback).
Peter Baker/Maggie Haberman: Trump Grows Discontented With Attorney
General Jeff Sessions: Trump may have thought he was appointing a
loyalist who would make his legal problems go away, but all he got was
a racist/right-wing ideologist who recognizes there are still some limits
to how much he can undermine America's system of justice.
Moustafa Bayoumi: Trump's Twitter attacks on Sadiq Khan reveal how
pitiful the president is
Mohamad Bazzi: The Trump Administration Could Provoke Yet Another
Mideast War: "Trump has emboldened a recklessly aggressive Saudi
government, which is now destroying Yemen, imposing a blockade on
Qatar -- and could even stumble into a war with Iran." Long piece
on how "the Saud dynasty views itself as the rightful leader of the
Muslim world" and how that view leads them into conflicts with Iran,
all secular Arab nationalists, and challengers (like the Muslim
Brotherhood) and pretenders (like ISIS). A little short on exactly
why the Saudis turned on Qatar, another rich autocracy which has
turned into a rival by becoming even more prone to intervention:
Aside from their anger toward Iran, the Sauds were also enraged by
Qatar's support for the revolutions in Tunisia, Libya, and especially
Egypt, where Qatar became a primary backer of the Muslim Brotherhood,
which in 2012 won the first free elections in Egypt's modern history.
(Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates later backed an Egyptian
military coup, in July 2013, against the government of President
Mohamed Morsi, a Brotherhood leader.) The Sauds were already irritated
at Qatar for pursuing an independent foreign policy and trying to
increase its influence after the regional turmoil unleashed by the
US invasion of Iraq. And, like other Arab monarchs and autocrats,
the Sauds disdained Qatar's Al Jazeera satellite network, which was
critical of the monarchies and supported the uprisings in 2011.
Shawn Boburg: Trump's lawyer in Russia probe has clients with Kremlin
Gilad Edelman: Trump's Plan to Make Government Older, More Expensive,
and More Dysfunctional: "Slashing federal employees doesn't save
money. It just makes the government more dependent on private contractors
and more prone to colossal screw-ups."
Robert Greenwald: Trump Is Sending a Murderer to Do a Diplomat's Job:
"Trump just put Michael D'Andrea -- the man who invented so-called
'signature drone strikes' -- to head up intelligence operations in
Iran. Probably pure coincidence that almost immediately Tehran
was hit by an ISIS terror bomb attack (see
Juan Cole: ISIL Hits Tehran; Trump Blames Victim, Iran Hard-Liners
Blame Saudis -- who probably blame Qatar, a country they've
broken relations with while suggesting they have ties to Iranian
terrorists). Also, Richard Silverstein asks
Iran Terror Attack: Who Gains? And then there's this:
US Congressman suggests his country should back ISIS against Iran
following Tehran attacks: That's Dana Rorhbacher (R-CA).
Mark Karlin: Organizations Representing Corporations Pass Regressive
Legislation in the Shadows: Interview with Gordon Lafer, who
wrote The One Percent Solution: How Corporations Are Remaking
America One State at a Time. One reason Republicans have spent
so heavily at taking over state legislatures is that they can use
that power base for cultivating corporate favors. For an excerpt
from Lafer's book, see
Corporate Lobbies Attack the Public Interest in State Capitols.
Anne Kim: Deconstructing the Administrative State: "Donald Trump
promises that his deregulatory agenda will lead to a boom in jobs.
The real effect will be the opposite."
Naomi Klein: The Worst of Donald Trump's Toxic Agenda Is Lying in Wait --
A Major US Crisis Will Unleash It: Long piece, adapted from Klein's
new book, No Is Not Enough: Resisting Shock Politics and Winning the
World We Need.
Paul Krugman: Wrecking the Ship of State: Also see Jacob Sugarman's
more pointed comments:
If You Think the United States Is a Disaster Now, Just Wait.
Mike Ludwig: Pulling Out of the Paris Climate Pact, Trump Is Building
a Wall Around Himself
John Marshall: Trump's Saudi Arms Deal Is Actually Fake: $110 billion
in arms sales -- think of all the jobs (well, actually not that many, and
not working on anything valuable in itself, like infrastructure). But:
The $110 price tag advertised by the Trump White House includes no
actual contracts, no actual sales. Instead it is made up of a bundle
of letters of intent, statements of interest and agreements to think
about it. In other words, rather than a contract, it's more like a
wishlist: an itemized list of things the Saudis might be interested
in if the price of oil ever recovers, if they start more wars and
things the US would like to sell the Saudis. . . .
As I said, it's remarkably like the Trump-branded phony job
announcements: earlier plans, themselves not committed to, rebranded
as new decisions, with the Saudis happy to go along with the charade
to curry favor with the President who loves whoever showers praise
Also, as the Bazzi piece above notes, "From 2009 to 2016, Obama
authorized a record $115 billion in military sales to Saudi Arabia,
far more than any previous administration. (Of that total, US and
Saudi officials inked formal deals worth about $58 billion, and
Washington delivered $14 billion worth of weaponry from 2009 to
Ruth Marcus: Why Comey's testimony was utterly devastating to
Trump: This was the story Washington insiders obsessed about
all week. Everyone has an opinion, so I should probably just drop
into second-tier bullets and let you figure it out (if you care):
Peter Baker/David L Sanger: Trump-Comey Feud Eclipses a Warning on Russia:
'They Will Be Back' I've pooh-poohed the "Russia interferes with US
election" thing because it was initially pushed mostly by renascent cold
warriors (neocons nostalgic for an enemy they can overspend) and mainline
Democrats (looking for an excuse for their own failures). Also there's
the fact that no one interferes in foreign elections more than the United
States. Still, I was struck by Comey's matter-of-fact Russia indictment,
and recognize that Russia's engagement in foreign elections isn't helpful --
even if it's only one of many distortions and disinformation sources we have
to fend off. Sensible people would look for a solution which disentangles
other sources of distortion and disinformation as well.
EJ Dionne Jr: Trump doesn't understand how to be president. The Comey
story shows why.
David Frum: The Five Lines of Defense Against Comey -- and Why They
Failed: For example, all that nitpicking over Trump meekly saying
"I hope" even though Trump is the sort of person who habitually surrounds
himself with people eager to satisfy Trump's wishes. Frum wrote:
But Adam Liptak, Supreme Court reporter for The New York Times,
almost instantly produced an example of an obstruction of justice
conviction that rested precisely on "I hope" language -- and the
all-seeing eye of Twitter quickly found more. Anyone who has ever
seen a gangster movie has heard the joke, "Nice little dry cleaning
store, I hope nothing happens to it." The blunt fact is that after
Comey declined to drop the investigation or publicly clear the
president, Trump fired Comey. A hope enforced by dismissal is more
than a wish.
Frum also cites
Michael Isikoff: Four top law firms turned down requests to represent
Trump, one of them vividly explaining, "the guy won't pay and he
Fred Kaplan: What Trump Doesn't Know Will Hurt Us: "The GOP excuse
about Trump's ignorance will lead America to disaster."
Ryan Koronowski: Comey's testimony was a media disaster for Trump.
These headlines prove it.
Nancy LeTourneau: The President's Lawyer Fails Miserably in Defending
His Client: On Marc Kasowitz's rebuttal to the Comey testimony.
Meanwhile, Matthew Yglesias gets hung up proofreading:
Trump's personal lawyer just released a letter filled with typos.
Kathleen Parker: Boy Scout James Comey is no match for Donald Trump:
You can tell she's a right-winger because she thinks bad is good and
Heather Digby Parton: James Comey rivets the nation -- and tells intriguing
stories about Jeff Sessions
Adam Serwer: The Incompetence Defense: "Republican senators suggest
Trump is innocent because he didn't try very hard to obstruct justice,
or because he was bad at it."
Philip Rucker/David Nakamura: Trump accuses Comey of lying, says he'd
'100 percent' agree to testify in Russia probe: Trump denied it
all, then summed up: "No collusion. No obstruction. He's a leaker." As
Philip Bump further reports, Trump wants to turn around and go after
Comey for the leak. Bump further interviewed Stephen Kohn ("a partner
at a law firm focused on whistleblower protection") on the possibility
that the Justice Department's inspector general might prosecute Comey
for the leak. Kohn's response:
"Here is my position on that: Frivolous grandstanding," he said. "First
of all, I don't believe the inspector general would have jurisdiction
over Comey any more, because he's no longer a federal employee." The
inspector general's job is to investigate wrongdoing by employees of
the Justice Department, which Comey is no longer, thanks to Trump --
though the IG would have the ability to investigate an allegation of
"But, second," he continued, "initiating an investigation because
you don't like somebody's testimony could be considered obstruction.
And in the whistleblower context, it's both evidence of retaliation
and, under some laws, could be an adverse retaliatory act itself."
Trump's lawyer, Marc Kasowitz, also picked up on charging Comey as
a leaker. Given that the Trump administration has been in a paranoid
frenzy about leakers, that gives Trump's followers a talking point,
even if, as Bump details, there's no legal basis for the complaint.
The way politics plays today, that may be all Trump needs to deflect
Nicholas Schmidle: James Comey's Intellectual History: Background
profile on Comey, which shows he was well predisposed to screw over
Hillary Clinton but unlikely to emerge as Donald Trump's nemesis.
I suppose that makes him credible to our relentlessly rebalancing
centrists, but for now it highlights how outrageous Trump still is --
until Republicans manage to make him the new normal (as they did
with Nixon, Reagan, the Bushes, Gingrich, and Ryan).
Deborah Tannen: It's not just Trump's message that matters. There's also
Matthew Yglesias: The most important Comey takeaway is that congressional
Republicans don't care:
The question before Congress is whether or not it's appropriate for a
president to fire law enforcement officials in order to protect his
friends and associates from legal scrutiny. And the answer congressional
Republicans have given is that it's fine.
Almost since Trump was sworn in there have been flurries of pieces
on impeachment (post-Comey, see
John Nichols: Congress Has What It Needs to Impeach Trump), but
Yglesias is right here: as long as Trump is useful to Republicans in
Congress they will have no will to impeach him, no matter what he
does (even, to pick his favorite example, should he start shooting
pedestrians on New York's Fifth Avenue). Impeachment may reference
"high crimes and misdemeanors" but is purely political calculation.
Trump is safe on that count until the Republicans in Congress decide
he's a liability.
Jim Newell: Trumpcare Is on the March: "GOP Senators have quietly
retooled a Trumpcare bill that could pass." This was also noted by
Zoë Carpenter: Senate Republicans Hope You Won't Notice They're About
to Repeal Obamacare. Also, in case you need a refresher:
Alex Henderson: 9 of the most staggeringly awful statements Republicans
have made about health care just this year:
- Raul Labrador claims that no one dies from lack of health insurance
in the U.S.
- Rep. Jason Chaffetz compares cost of health care to cost of iPhones
- Warren Davidson's message to the sick and dying: Get a better job
- Mo Brooks equates illness with immorality
- Mick Mulvaney vilifies diabetics as lazy and irresponsible
- Roger Marshall claims that America's poor "just don't want health
- President Trump praises Australian health care system, failing to
understand why it's superior
- Steve Scalise falsely claims that Trumpcare does not discriminate
against preexisting conditions
- Ted Cruz, Jim Jordan claim Canadians are coming to U.S. in droves
for health care, without a shred of evidence
Ben Norton: Emails Expose How Saudi Arabia and UAE Work the US Media
to Push for War
Jonathan O'Connell: Foreign payments to Trump's businesses are legally
permitted, argues Justice Department: Something else Trump "hoped"
the DOJ would see his way.
Daniel Politi: Afghan Soldier Opens Fire on US Troops, Kills Three
Service Members: I first heard this story from a TV report,
where VP Mike Pence was proclaiming the dead soldiers "heroes"
and no one mentioned that the shooter was a supposed ally. Now
we hear that the shooter was a Taliban infiltrator. However, note
another same day report:
US Air Raid Kills Several Afghan Border Police in Helmand.
"Several" seems to be 10, and they were "patrolling too close
to a Taliban base."
Nomi Prins: In Washington, Is the Glass(-Steagall) Half Empty or Half
Full? Republicans in Congress are hard at work tearing down the
paltry Dodd-Frank reforms that Congress put in place to make a repeat
of the 2008 financial meltdown less likely -- it was, quite literally,
the least they could do. The Wichita Eagle ran an op-ed today by our
idiot Congressman Ron Estes and it gives you an idea what the sales
pitch for the Finance CHOICE Act is going to be:
Repealing Obama's regulatory nightmare. Republicans seem to think
that all they have to do to discredit regulations is count them (or
compile them in a binder and drop it on one's foot). As Estes put it,
"The scale of regulations added is incredible. Dodd-Frank added almost
28,000 new rules, which is more than every other law passed under the
Obama administration combined." He may be right that some of those
regulations "hinder smaller local lenders" -- the Democrats' Wall
Street money came from the top, and while they weren't fully satisfied
(at least after they got bailed out), they did get consideration.
Beyond that Estes spools out lie after lie -- the baldest is his
promise that "consumers must be protected from fraud." (The first
bullet item on Indivisible's
What is the Financial CHOICE Act (HR 10)? says the act would:
"Destroy the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) and obliterate
consumer protections as we currently know them, including allowing
banks to gouge consumers with credit card fees." One reason Dodd-Frank
needed so many regulations was how many different ways banks could
think of to screw consumers.
Prins' article doesn't mention Financial CHOICE, but does mention
a couple of mostly-Democratic bills to restore the separation concept
of the 1933 Glass-Steagall Act. Arguably that isn't enough, but one
can trace a direct line from the 1999 Glass-Steagall repeal (which
was triggered by Citibank's merger with Traveler's Insurance -- a
much smarter response would have been to prosecute Citibank's CEO
and Board) to the 2008 meltdown and bailouts. Also see
Paul Craig Roberts: Without a New Glass-Steagall America Will Fail.
Ned Resnikoff: Trump ends infrastructure week with some binder-themed
Chris Riotta: Donald Trump Is Sputtering with Rage Behind the Closed
Doors of the White House
Mica Rosenberg/Reade Levinson: Trump targets illegal immigrants who were
given reprieves from deportation by Obama
Bill Scheft: Who in the hell is Scott Pruitt?! Everything you were afraid
to ask about this suddenly important person
Derek Thompson: The Potemkin Policies of Donald Trump: Last week
was "Infrastructure Week," during which he unveiled a plan to privatize
air traffic control that the big airlines have been lobbying for quite
a few years, and something about reducing environmental impact studies
to no more than two pages, presumably by eliminating the study part.
Trump has also been heard complaining that all the Russia investigations
have gotten in the way of doing important work, like jobs, or terrorism,
or something like that.
The secret of the Trump infrastructure plan is: There is no infrastructure
plan. Just like there is no White House tax plan. Just like there was no
White House health care plan. More than 120 days into Trump's term in a
unified Republican government, Trump's policy accomplishments have been
more in the subtraction category (e.g., stripping away environmental
regulations) than addition. The president has signed no major legislation
and left significant portions of federal agencies unstaffed, as U.S. courts
have blocked what would be his most significant policy achievement, the
legally dubious immigration ban.
The simplest summary of White House economic policy to date is four
words long: There is no policy.
To be sure, this void has partially been filled up with Paul Ryan's
various plans -- wrecking health care, tax giveaways to the rich, undoing
regulation of big banks, etc. -- which is the point when people finally
realize just how much damage Trump and the Republicans are potentially
capable of. So much so that the one thing I'm not going to fault Trump
on is the stuff he's threatened but never tried to do. There's way too
much bad stuff that he's done to shame him for not doing more. It used
to be said that at least Mussolini got the trains to run on time. About
the best Trump can hope for is to destroy all the schedules so no one
can be sure whether they're on time or not.
Trevor Timm: ICE agents are out of control. And they are only getting
Paul Woodward: Whatever we call Trump, he stinks just as bad:
Reports that CNN fired Reza Aslan after a tweet about Trump, then
hired former Trump campaign strategist Corey Lewandowski. For the
record, here is Aslan's tweet:
This piece of shit is not just an embarrassment to America and a
stain on the presidency. He's an embarrassment to humankind.
Donald Trump is the embodiment and arguably purest distillation of
vulgarity and yet the prissy gatekeepers of American mainstream-media
civility have a problem when vulgar language is used to describe a
What other kind of language is in any sense appropriate?
There's no good answer to this. The fact is it's impossible to
convey the extent and intensity to which I'm personally disgusted
by Trump both in word and action, and I'm not alone. Sometimes I
erupt with vulgarity. Sometimes I try to be clever. Most of the
time I try to explain with some factual reference which should be
self-evident. But nothing seems to break through the shell his
supporters wear. Still, I can't blame anyone for trying. I can't
blame Kathy Griffin for her severed head joke. (Actually, I smiled
when I saw the picture, and that doesn't happen often these days.
Then my second thought was, "that's too good for him.") But I
don't like getting too personal about Trump, because regardless
of how crass he seems, the real problems with his politics are
much more widespread, and in many cases he's just following his
company around. So that's why I'd object to Aslan's tweet: it
narrows its target excessively. Still, I wouldn't fire him. He's
got a voice that's grounded in some reasonable principles --
more than you can say for "the tweeter-in-chief."
Stephen M Walt: Making the Middle East Worse, Trump-Style:
I've lodged a number of links on the Saudi-Qatari pissfest, the
ISIS-Iran terror, and the long-lasting Israel-Palestine conflict
elsewhere in this post, and apologize for not taking the time
to straighten them out. But this didn't fit clearly as a footnote
to any of those: it's more like the core problem, so I figured I
should list it separately. Walt continues to be plagued by his
conceit that the US has real interests in the Middle East and
elsewhere around the world other than supporting peace, justice,
and broad-based prosperity, so what he's looking for here is a
"balance of power" division, something Trump is truly clueless
I don't think Trump cares one way or the other about Israelis or
Palestinians (if he did, why would he assign the peace process to
his overworked, inexperienced, and borderline incompetent son-in-law?)
but jumping deeper into bed with Saudi Arabia and Egypt isn't going
to produce a breakthrough.
The folly of Trump's approach became clear on Monday, when (Sunni)
Saudi Arabia and five other Sunni states suddenly broke relations with
(Sunni) Qatar over a long-simmering set of policy disagreements. As
Robin Wright promptly tweeted, "So much for #Trump's Arab coalition.
It lasted less than two weeks." Trump's deep embrace of Riyadh didn't
cause the Saudi-Qatari rift -- though he typically tried to take credit
for it with some ill-advised tweets -- but this dispute exposed the
inherent fragility of the "Arab NATO" that Trump seems to have envisioned.
Moreover, taking sides in the Saudi-Qatari rift could easily jeopardize
U.S. access to the vital airbase there, a possibility Trump may not even
have known about when he grabbed his smartphone. And given that Trump's
State Department is sorely understaffed and the rest of his administration
is spending more time starting fires than putting them out, the United
States is in no position to try to mend the rift and bring its putative
One completely obvious point is that if the US actually wanted to
steer the region back toward some sort of multi-polar stability the
first thing to do would be to thaw relations with Iran, and to make
it clear to Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Egypt, and Israel that we won't
tolerate any sabotage on their part. The US then needs to negotiate
a moderation of the efforts of all regional powers to project power
or simply meddle in other nations' business (and, and this is crucial,
to moderate its own efforts). Obviously, this is beyond the skill set
of Trump, Kushner, et al. -- they're stuck in kneejerk reaction mode,
as has been every American "tough guy" since (well before) 2001. But
this isn't impossible stuff. All it really takes is some modesty, and
a willingness to learn from past mistakes. Would Iran be receptive?
Well, consider this:
Last but not least, Trump's response to the recent terrorist attack
in Tehran was both insensitive and strategically misguided. Although
the State Department offered a genuine and sincere statement of regret,
the White House's own (belated) response offered only anodyne sympathies
and snarkily concluded: "We underscore that states that sponsor terrorism
risk falling victim to the evil they promote." A clearer case of "blaming
the victim" would be hard to find, and all the more so given Trump's
willingness to embrace regimes whose policies have fueled lots of
terrorism in the past.
Contrast this with how Iranian President Mohammad Khatami responded
after 9/11: He offered his "condolences" and "deepest sorrow" for the
American people and called the attack a "disaster" and "the ugliest form
of terrorism ever seen." There was no hint of a lecture or snide
schadenfreude in Khatami's remarks, even though it was obvious that
the attacks were clearly a reaction (however cruel and unjustified)
to prior U.S. actions. It is hard to imagine any modern American
presidents responding as callously as Trump did.
Matthew Yglesias: The Bulshitter-in-Chief: "Donald Trump's
disregard for the truth is something more minister than ordinary
lying." Quotes philosopher Harry Frankfurt's essay "On Bullshit"
for authority when making a distinction between bullshitting and
lying, then gives plenty of examples (most familiar/memorable).
One interesting bit here comes from
Tyler Cowen: Why Trump's Staff Is Lying:
By asking subordinates to echo his bullshit, Trump accomplishes two
- He tests the loyalty of his subordinates. In Cowen's words, "if
you want to ascertain if someone is truly loyal to you, ask them to
do something outrageous or stupid."
- The other is that it turns his aides into members of a distinct
tribe. "By requiring subordinates to speak untruths, a leader can
undercut their independent standing, including their standing with
the public, with the media and with other members of the
Sounds to me like how cults are formed. Yglesias continues:
But the president doesn't want a well-planned communications strategy;
he wants people who'll leap in front of the cameras to blindly defend
whatever it is he says or does.
And because he's the president of the United States, plenty of people
are willing to oblige him. That starts with official communicators like
Spicer, Conway (who simultaneously tries to keep her credibility in the
straight world by telling Joe Scarborough she needs to shower after
defending Trump), and Sarah Huckabee Sanders. But there are also the
informal surrogates. . . .
House Intelligence Committee Chair Devin Nunes embarrassed himself
but pleased Trump with a goofy effort to back up Trump's wiretapping
claims. Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin, who certainly knows better,
sat next to Trump in an Economist interview and gave him totally
undeserved credit for intimidating the Chinese on currency manipulation.
Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross hailed a small-time trade agreement with
China consisting largely of the implementation of already agreed-upon
measures as "more than has been done in the whole history of U.S.-China
relations on trade."
This kind of bullshit, like Trump's, couldn't possibly be intended to
actually convince any kind of open-minded individual. It's a performance
for an audience of one. A performance that echoes day and night across
cable news, AM talk radio, and the conservative internet.
Plus a few other things that caught my eye:
Patrick Cockburn: Britain Refuses to Accept How Terrorists Really Work:
After ISIS-claimed attacks in Manchester and London:
When Jeremy Corbyn correctly pointed out that the UK policy of regime
change in Iraq, Syria and Libya had destroyed state authority and
provided sanctuaries for al-Qaeda and Isis, he was furiously accused
of seeking to downplay the culpability of the terrorists. . . .
There is a self-interested motive for British governments to portray
terrorism as essentially home-grown cancers within the Muslim community.
Western governments as a whole like to pretend that their policy
blunders, notably those of military intervention in the Middle East
since 2001, did not prepare the soil for al-Qaeda and Isis. This
enables them to keep good relations with authoritarian Sunni states
like Saudi Arabia, Turkey and Pakistan, which are notorious for aiding
Salafi-jihadi movements. Placing the blame for terrorism on something
vague and indefinable like "radicalisation" and "extremism" avoids
embarrassing finger-pointing at Saudi-financed Wahhabism which has
made 1.6 billion Sunni Muslims, a quarter of the world's population,
so much more receptive to al-Qaeda type movements today than it was
60 years ago.
Eric Foner: The Continental Revolution: Review of Noam Maggor:
Brahmin Capitalism: Frontiers of Wealth and Populism in America's
First Gilded Age, about economic development following the US
Thomas Frank: From rust belt to mill towns: a tale of two voter revolts:
The author of What's the Matter With Kansas?, The Wrecking Crew,
and Listen, Liberal tours Britain on the eve of the election. He
doesn't predict the election very well, but he does notice things, like
When I try to put my finger on exactly what separates Britain and America,
a story I heard in a pub outside Sheffield keeps coming back to me. A man
was telling me of how he had gone on vacation to Florida, and at one point
stopped to refuel his car in a rural area. As he was standing there, an
old man rode up to the gas station on a bicycle and started rummaging
through a trash can. The Englishman asked him why he was doing this, and
was astonished to learn the man was digging for empty cans in order to
support his family.
The story is unremarkable in its immediate details. People rummaging
through trash for discarded cans is something that every American has
seen many times. What is startling is that here's a guy in Yorkshire, a
place we Americans pity for its state of perma-decline, relating this
story to me in tones of incomprehension and even horror. He simply
couldn't believe it. Left unasked was the obvious question: what kind
of civilisation allows such a fate to befall its citizens? The answer,
of course, is a society where social solidarity has almost completely
What most impressed me about the England I saw was the opposite: a
feeling I encountered, again and again, that whatever happens, people
are all in this together. Solidarity was one of the great themes after
the terrorist bombing in Manchester, as the city came together around
the victims in a truly impressive way, but it goes much further than
that. It is the sense you get that the country is somehow obliged to
help out the people of the deindustrialised zones and is failing in
its duty. It is an understanding that every miner or job-seeker or
person with dementia has a moral claim upon the rest of the English
nation and its government. It is an assumption that their countrymen
will come to their rescue if only they could hear their cries for help.
John Judis: What's Wrong With Our System of Global Trade and Finance:
Interview with economist Dani Rodrik, who has written several books on
globalization. The main thing I've learned from him is that when nations
open up trade (and/or capital and/or labor flows), sensible ones recognize
that there will be losers as well as winners and act to mitigate losses.
The US, of course, isn't one of the sensible ones. And while Trump seems
to recognize some of the losses, he doesn't have anything to offer that
actually helps fix those problems. Still, he offers that some sort of
real change needs to come:
I think the change comes because the mainstream panics, and they come
to feel that something has to be done. That's how capitalism has changed
throughout its history. If you want to be optimistic, the good news is
that capitalism has always reinvented itself. Look at the New Deal, look
at the rise of the welfare state. These were things that were done to
stave off panic or revolution or political upheaval. . . .
So I think the powerful interests are reevaluating what their interest
is. They are considering whether they have a greater interest in creating
trust and credibility and rebuilding the social contract with their
compatriots. That is how to get change to take place without a complete
overhaul of the structure of power.
Christopher Lydon: Neoliberalism Is Destroying Our Democracy: An
interview with Noam Chomsky.
Ed Pilkington: Puerto Rico votes again on statehood but US not ready
to put 51st star on the flag; also
Michelle Chen: The Bankers Behind Puerto Rico's Debt Crisis.
Matthew Rozsa: Kris Kobach, "voter fraud" vigilante, is now running for
Kansas governor: He's been Kansas' Secretary of State since 2011,
a fairly minor position whose purview includes making sure elections
are run fairly, and to that end he's managed to get a "voter ID" bill
passed, purge thousands of voters from the registration rolls, and
prosecute perhaps a half dozen people for voting twice. Earlier he
was best known as author of several anti-immigration bills, and he's
continued to do freelance work writing far right-wing bills -- by
the way, virtually all of the ones that have been passed have since
been struck down as unconstitutional. He is, in short, a right-wing
political agitator disguised as a lawyer, and is a remarkably bad
one. He was the only Kansas politician to endorse Donald Trump, and
he wrangled a couple job interviews during the transition, but came
up empty. It's not clear whether Trump worried he might not be a
team player (i.e., someone who sacrifices his own ideas to Trump's
ego), or simply decided he was an asshole -- the binders he showed
up with suggest both. Kobach launched his gubernatorial campaign
with a ringing defense of Sam Brownback's tax cuts, which the state
legislature had just repealed (overriding Brownback's veto). Rosza
asks, "have the people of Kansas not suffered enough under Sam
Brownback?" Good question. Although he's by far the most famous
(or notorious) candidate, and he ran about 4 points above Brownback
in their 2014 reëlection campaigns, I think it's unlikely he will
win the Republican primary. For starters, his fanatical anti-immigrant
shtick doesn't play well in western Kansas where agribusiness demands
cheap labor and hardly anyone with other options wants to live. But
also, most business interests would rather have someone they can keep
on a tighter leash than a demagogue with national ambitions (a trait
Kobach shares with Brownback). Still, either way, I doubt the state's
suffering will end any time soon.
Reihan Salam: The Health Care Debate Is Moving Left: "How single-payer
went from a pipe dream to mainstream." The author isn't very happy about
this, complaining "that Medicare has in some ways made America's health
system worse by serving the interests of politically powerful hospitals
over those of patients." Still:
If faced with a choice between the AHCA and Medicare for all, Republicans
shouldn't be surprised if swing voters wind up going for the latter. The
AHCA is an inchoate mess that evinces no grander philosophy for caring
for the sick and vulnerable. Single-payer health care is, if nothing else,
a coherent concept that represents a set of beliefs about how health care
should work. If Republicans want the single-payer dream to go away, they're
going to have to come up with something better than the nothing they have
Sabrina Siddiqui: Anti-Muslim rallies across US denounced by civil
rights groups: On Saturday, a group called Act for America tried
to organize "anti-Sharia law" rallies in a number of American cities
("almost 30"; I've heard 28). They seem to have been lightly attended.
(My spies here in Wichita say 30 people showed up. There wasn't a
counter-demonstration here, although in many cases more people came
to counter -- needless to say, not to defend Sharia but to reject
ACT's main focus of fomenting Islamophobia.)
Ana Swanson/Max Ehrenfreund: Republicans are predicting the beginning
of the end of the tea party in Kansas: The overwhelmingly Republican
Kansas state legislature finally managed to override Gov. Sam Brownback's
veto of a bill that raised state income taxes and eliminated a loophole
that allowed most businessmen to escape taxation altogether. The new
tax rates are lower than the ones in effect before Brownback's signature
"tax reform" became law and blew a hole in the state budget, leading to
a series of successful lawsuits against the state over whether education
funding was sufficient to satisfy the state constitution. Republicans
have done a lot of batshit-insane stuff since Brownback took office in
2011, but the one that kept biting them back the worst was the Arthur
Laffer-blessed tax cut bill. One can argue that this represents a power
shift within the Republican Party in Kansas: in 2016 rabid right-wingers
(including Rep. Tim Huelskemp) actually lost to "moderate" challengers,
whereas earlier right-wingers had often won primaries against so-called
moderates. But as this article points out, right-wingers like Kris
Kobach and their sponsors like the Koch Brothers are pissed off and
vowing civil war. Meanwhile, the Ryan-Trump "tax reform" scam looks
a lot like Brownback's, with all that implies: e.g., see
Ben Castleman et al: The Kansas Experiment Is Bad News for Trump's
Mark Weisbrot, et al: Did NAFTA Help Mexico? An Update After 23 Years:
Executive summary to a longer paper (link within):
Among the results, it finds that Mexico ranks 15th out of 20 Latin American
countries in growth of real GDP per person, the most basic economic measure
of living standards; Mexico's poverty rate in 2014 was higher than the
poverty rate of 1994; and real (inflation-adjusted) wages were almost the
same in 2014 as in 1994. It also notes that if NAFTA had been successful
in restoring Mexico's pre-1980 growth rate -- when developmentalist economic
policies were the norm -- Mexico today would be a high-income country, with
income per person comparable to Western European countries. If not for
Mexico's long-term economic failure, including the 23 years since NAFTA,
it is unlikely that immigration from Mexico would have become a major
political issue in the United States, since relatively few Mexicans would
seek to cross the border.
Lawrence Wittner: How Business "Partnerships" Flopped at the US's Largest
I've also collected a few links marking the 50th anniversary of
Israel's "Six-Day War" and the onset of the 50-years-and-counting
Ibtisam Barakat: The Persistence of Palestinian Memory: "Growing up
under occupation was like living in a war zone, where people were punished
for wanting dignity and freedom."
Omar Barghouti: For Palestinians, the 1967 War Remains an Enduring,
Neve Gordon: How Israel's Occupation Shifted From a Politics of Life
to a Politics of Death: "Palestinian life has become increasingly
expendable in Israel's eyes." The piece starts:
During a Labor Party meeting that took place not long after the June
1967 war, Golda Meir turned to Prime Minister Levi Eshkol, asking,
"What are we going to do with a million Arabs?" Eshkol paused for a
moment and then responded, "I get it. You want the dowry, but you
don't like the bride!"
This anecdote shows that, from the very beginning, Israel made a
clear distinction between the land it had occupied -- the dowry --
and the Palestinians who inhabited it -- the bride. The distinction
between the people and their land swiftly became the overarching
logic informing Israel's colonial project. Ironically, perhaps,
that logic has only been slightly modified over the past 50 years,
even as the controlling practices Israel has deployed to entrench
its colonization have, by contrast, changed dramatically.
By the way, the bride/dowry metaphor is the organizing principle
for Avi Raz's important book on Israel's diplomatic machinations
following the 1967 war: The Bride and the Dowry: Israel, Jordaon,
and the Palestinians in the Aftermath of the June 1967 War
(2012, Yale University Press). Based on recently declassified
documents, the book shows clearly how Israel's ruling circle
(especially Abba Eban) weaved back and forth between several
alternative post-war scenarios to make sure that none of them got
in the way of Israel keeping control of its newly conquered
Mehdi Hasan: A 50-Year Occupation: Israel's Six-Day War Started With
Rashid Khalidi: The Israeli-American Hammer-Lock on Palestine
Guy Laron: The Historians' War Over the Six-Day War: Author of a
recent book, The Six-Day War: The Breaking of the Middle East
(2017, Yale University Press). Surveys a number of earlier books on
the war, including works by Randolph C
Sunday, June 4. 2017
These weekend posts are killing me. I didn't even make it through
my tabs this time -- nothing from Alternet, the New Yorker, Salon,
TruthOut, Washington Monthly, nor much of what I was tipped off to
from Twitter. Just one piece on the upcoming UK elections, which
would be major if Jeffrey Corbyn and Labour pull an upset. Just a
couple links on Israel, which is celebrating the 50th anniversary
of their great military land grab in 1967, which is to say 50 years
of their unjust and often cruel occupation. A couple of uncommented
links on the problems Democrats face getting out of their own heads
and into the minds of the voters. And only a mere sampling of the
Trump's administration's penchant for graft and violence. Just an
incredible amount of crap to wade through.
Big story this week was Trump's decision to pull the United States
out of the Paris climate change deal, joining Nicaragua and Syria as
the only nations on record as unwilling to cooperate in the struggle
to keep greenhouse gases from pushing global temperatures to record
highs. One might well criticize the Paris accords for not going far
enough, but unlike the previous Kyoto agreement this one brought key
developing nations like China and India into the fold.
Here are some pertinent links:
Vicki Arroyo: The US is the biggest loser on the planet thanks to
Trump's calamitous act:
The Paris agreement was a groundbreaking deal that allowed each
country to decide its own contribution to reducing greenhouse gas
emissions. Even though it is non-binding, the agreement puts the
world on the path to keep global temperatures from rising more
than 2C, which scientists warn would be disastrous for our planet.
By abandoning the agreement, we are not only ceding global
leadership but also effectively renouncing our global citizenship.
The US is joining Nicaragua (which felt the agreement did not go
far enough) and Syria (in the midst of a devastating civil war) as
the only nations without a seat at the Paris table. As an American,
I am embarrassed and ashamed of this abdication of our responsibility,
especially since the US has been the world's largest contributor of
carbon emissions over time. We have become a rogue nation.
Perry Bacon Jr/Harry Enten: Was Trump's Paris Exit Good Politics?
They look at a lot of polling numbers, and conclude it was fine with
the Republican base, but unpopular overall. Key numbers:
Only a third of Republicans rate protecting the environment from the
effects of energy production as a top priority. Polling from Gallup
further indicates that 85 percent of Republicans don't think that
global warming will pose a serious threat in their lifetime. Education
was a major dividing line in the 2016 election, but Republicans of all
education levels think the effects of global warming are exaggerated. . . .
An overwhelming majority of Democrats (87 percent) and a clear
majority of independents (61 percent) wanted the U.S. to stay in the
climate agreement, according to a poll that was released in April and
conducted jointly by Politico and Harvard's School of Public Health.
Overall, 62 percent of Americans wanted the U.S. to remain part of the
accord (among Republicans, 56 percent favored withdrawal). . . .
It's also possible that Trump gave a win to his base on an issue
they don't care that much about while angering the opposition on an
issue they do care about. Gallup and Pew Research Center polls indicate
that global warming and fighting climate change have become higher
priorities for Democrats over the past year.
As of this writing, 538's "How Popular Is Donald Trump?" is at 55.1%
Disapprove, 38.9% Approve, so down a small bit since the announcement.
Daniel B Baer, et al: Why Abandoning Paris Is a Disaster for America:
The president's justifications for leaving the agreement are also
just plain wrong.
First, contrary to the president's assertions, America's hands are
not tied and its sovereignty is not compromised by the Paris climate
pact. The Paris agreement is an accord, not a treaty, which means it's
voluntary. The genius (and reality) of the Paris agreement is that it
requires no particular policies at all -- nor are the emissions targets
that countries committed to legally binding. Trump admitted as much in
the Rose Garden, referring to the accord's "nonbinding" nature. If the
president genuinely thinks America's targets are too onerous, he can
simply adjust them (although we believe it would be shortsighted for
the administration to do so). There is no need to exit the Paris accord
in search of a "better deal." Given the voluntary nature of the agreement,
pulling out of the Paris deal in a fit of pique is an empty gesture,
unless that gesture is meant to be a slap in the face to every single
U.S. ally and partner in the world.
The second big lie is that the Paris agreement will be a job killer.
In fact, it will help the United States capture more 21st-century jobs.
That is why dozens of U.S. corporate leaders, including many on the
president's own advisory council, urged him not to quit the agreement.
As a letter sent to the White House by ExxonMobil put it, the agreement
represents an "effective framework for addressing the risk of climate
change," and the United States is "well positioned to compete" under
the terms of the deal.
Action on climate and economic growth go hand in hand, and are
mutually reinforcing. That is why twice as much money was invested
worldwide in renewables last year as in fossil fuels, and why China
is pouring in billions to try to win this market of the future. A
bipartisan group of retired admirals and generals on the CNA Military
Advisory Board is about to release a report that will also spell out
the importance of competitiveness in advanced energy technologies --
not just to the economy, but also to the country's standing in the
world. Pulling out of climate will result in a loss of U.S. jobs and
knock the United States off its perch as a global leader in innovation
in a quickly changing global economic climate.
The article especially harps on "Trump is abdicating U.S. leadership
and inviting China to fill the void." As you may recall, China pretty
much torpedoed the Kyoto accords in the 1990s by insisting on building
their burgeoning economy on their vast coal reserves, but lately they've
decided to leave most of their coal in the ground, so agreeing to the
Paris accords was practically a no-brainer. The same shift has actually
been occurring in the US, admittedly with Obama's encouragement but more
and more it's driven by economics, even without anything like a carbon
tax to factor in the externalities. And unless Trump comes up with a
massive program to subsidize coal use, it's hard to see that changing,
and even then not significantly.
Another point they make: "Pulling out of Paris means Republicans
own climate catastrophes." Over the last several decades, we've all
seen evidence both of climate drift and even more so of freakish
extreme weather events, and the latter often trigger recognition of
the former, even when they are simply freakish. But also, despite
the popularity of Reagan's "I'm from the government and I'm here to
help" joke, when disaster strikes, no one really believes that.
Rather, they look immediately (and precisely) at the government for
relief, and they get real upset when it's not forthcoming, even
more so when it's botched (e.g., Katrina).
Coral Davenport/Eric Lipton: How GOP Leaders Came to View Climate
Science as Fake Science: Trump's decision shows how completely
his mind has been captured by a propaganda campaign orchestrated
by "fossil fuel industry players, most notably Charles D. and David
H. Koch, the Kansas-based billionaires who run a chain of refineries
(which can process 600,000 barrels of crude oil per day) as well as
a subsidiary that owns or operates 4,000 miles of pipelines that
move crude oil." The Kochs run Americans for Prosperity, perhaps
the single most effective right-wing political organization (e.g.,
they've been critical in flipping Wisconsin and Michigan for Trump).
One of their major initiatives has been to get Republicans they
back to sign their "No Climate Tax Pledge," which appears here:
Americans for Prosperity is launching an initiative to draw a line
in the sand declaring that climate change legislation will not be
used to fund a dramatic expansion in the size and scope of government.
If you oppose unrestrained growth in government at taxpayer's expense
and hidden under the guise of environmental political correctness,
then sign the pledge at the bottom of this page and return it to
our office, or visit our website at www.noclimatetax.com.
Regardless of which approach to the climate issue you favor,
we should be able to agree that any climate-change policy should
be revenue neutral. Revenue neutrality requires using all new
revenues generated by a climate tax, cap-and-trade, or regulatory
program, dollar for dollar, to cut taxes. There must also be a
guarantee that climate policies remain revenue neutral over time. . . .
Any major increase in federal revenue should be debated openly
on its merits. We therefore encourage you to pledge to the American
people that you will oppose any effort to hide a revenue increase
in a feel-good environmental bill.
Thus they ignore any substantive environmental impacts while
tying the hands of lawmakers, preventing the people from using
government to do anything for our collective benefit. That's one
prong of their attack. Denying climate science is another, and
a third is their long-term effort to undermine collective efforts
through international organizations -- a complete about-face from
the 1940s when the US championed the UN and the Bretton-Woods
organizations as a way of opening the world up and making it more
hospitable to American business. Back then Americans understood
that they'd have to give as well as take, and that we as well as
they would benefit from cooperation. That's all over now, thanks
to the right-wing propaganda effort, itself based on the premise
that dominant powers (like corporate rulers) can impose dictates
to mold their minions to their purposes.
When I opened the opinion page in the Wichita Eagle today, I
found an op-ed piece,
Withdrawing from Paris accord is a smart decision by Trump.
The contents were total bullshit. And the author, Nicolas Loris,
was identified is "the Morgan Research Fellow in Energy and
Environmental Policy at The Heritage Foundation."
By the way, the Eagle's other op-ed was by Sen. Jerry Moran:
A strong national defense also means a strong economy,
which was almost exclusively taking credit for some work on the B-21
("the world's most advanced stealth bomber") will be done in Spirit's
Wichita plant. Evidently no problem with spending precious taxpayer
money to better threaten a world that Trump has clearly shown nothing
but contempt for.
Geoff Dembicki: The Convenient Disappearance of Climate Change Denial
in China: "From Western plot to party line, how China embraced
climate science to become a green-energy powerhouse." The transition
seems to have occurred in 2011, when the leadership stopped publishing
tracts decrying climate change as a Western plot and started investing
heavily in renewables. One thing that helped tip the balance was air
pollution in Chinese cities. Another was a purge of corrupt managers
in the oil industry.
Shortly after Donald Trump won the presidency, Xi told him in a call
that China will continue fighting climate change "whatever the
circumstances." Though the new U.S. president has staffed his
administration with skeptics such as Scott Pruitt, the head of the
Environmental Protection Agency, China released data suggesting it
could meet its 2030 Paris targets a decade early. "The financial
elites I talk with," Shih said, "they think that the fact that the
Trump presidency has so obviously withdrawn from any global effort
to try to limit greenhouse gases provides China with an opportunity
to take leadership."
The paths both countries are taking couldn't be more divergent.
While Trump rescinded Obama's Clean Power Plan with a promise to end
America's "war on coal," China aims to close 800 million tons of coal
capacity by 2020. The U.S. Office of Energy Efficiency & Renewable
Energy is facing a budget cut of more than 50 percent when China is
pouring over $361 billion into renewable energy. All this "is likely
to widen China's global leadership in industries of the future,"
concluded a recent report from the Institute for Energy Economics
and Financial Analysis.
Michael Grunwald: Why Trump Actually Pulled Out of Paris: "It
wasn't because of the climate, or to help American business. He
needed to troll the world -- and this was his best shot so far."
No, Trump's abrupt withdrawal from this carefully crafted multilateral
compromise was a diplomatic and political slap: It was about extending
a middle finger to the world, while reminding his base that he shares
its resentments of fancy-pants elites and smarty-pants scientists and
tree-hugging squishes who look down on real Americans who drill for oil
and dig for coal. He was thrusting the United States into the role of
global renegade, rejecting not only the scientific consensus about
climate but the international consensus for action, joining only Syria
and Nicaragua (which wanted an even greener deal) in refusing to help
the community of nations address a planetary problem. Congress doesn't
seem willing to pay for Trump's border wall -- and Mexico certainly
isn't -- so rejecting the Paris deal was an easier way to express his
Fortress America themes without having to pass legislation. . . .
The entire debate over Paris has twisted Republicans in knots. They
used to argue against climate action in the U.S. by pointing out that
it wouldn't bind China and other developing-world emitters; then they
argued that Paris wouldn't really bind the developing world, either,
but somehow would bind the United States. In fact, China is doing its
part, dramatically winding down a coal boom that could have doomed the
planet, frenetically investing in zero-carbon energy. And it will
probably continue to do its part even though the president of the
United States is volunteering for the role of climate pariah. It's
quite likely that the United States will continue to do its part as
well, because no matter what climate policies he thinks will make
America great again, Trump can't make renewables expensive again or
coal economical again or electric vehicles nonexistent again.
California just set a target of 100 percent renewable energy by
2045, and many U.S. cities and corporations have set even more
ambitious goals for shrinking their carbon footprints. Trump can't
do much about that, either.
Mark Hertsgaard: Donald Trump's Withdrawal From the Paris Accords
Is a Crime Against Humanity; also
Sasha Abramsky: Trump Echoes Hitler in His Speech Withdrawing
From the Paris Climate Accord.
Zachary Karabell: We've Always Been America First: "Donald Trump
is just ripping off the mask." Also cites
David Frum: The Death Knell for America's Global Leadership.
Frum was actually talking more about Trump's refusal to commit
to Article 5 of the NATO treaty, but the two go hand-in-hand.
Karabell also wrote:
Pay attention to Donald Trump's actions, not his words.
Naomi Klein: Climate Change Is a People's Shock: Long piece,
prefigured by her 2014 book This Changes Everything: Capitalism
vs. the Climate. Also includes a link to Chris Hayes' 2014 piece
The New Abolitionism, about "forcing fossil fuel companies
to give up at least $10 trillion in wealth" (by leaving that
much carbon in the ground).
Tom McCarthy: 'Outmoded, irrelevant vision': Pittsburghers reject
Trump's pledge: "The president said he was exiting the Paris
climate deal on behalf of Pittsburgh -- but his view of the
environmentally minded city is off by decades, residents say." Also:
Lauren Gambino: Pittsburgh fires back at Trump: we stand with Paris,
not you; and
Lucia Graves: Why Trump's attempt to pit Pittsburgh against Paris is
Daniel Politi: John Kerry: Trump Plan for Better Climate Deal Is
Like OJ Search for "Real Killer"
Joseph Stiglitz: Trump's reneging on Paris climate deal turns the
US into a rogue state
Hiroko Tabuchi/Henry Fountain: Bucking Trump, These Cities, States
and Companies Commit to Paris Accord
Katy Waldman: We the Victims: "Trump's Paris accord speech projected
his own psychological issues all over the American people."
Ben White/Annie Karni: America's CEOs fall out of love with Trump:
An amusing side story is that several corporate bigwigs have started
to distance themselves from Trump, especially over the decision to
pull out of the Paris climate accords. As the US evolves from hegemonic
superpower to tantrum-prone bully, laughing stock, and rogue state,
America's global capitalists have ever more to disclaim and apologize
for, and it won't help them to be seen as too close to Trump. On the
Trump regularly touts himself as a strongly pro-business president
focused on creating jobs and speeding up economic growth. But both
of those depend in part on corporate confidence in the administration's
ability to deliver on taxes and regulation changes. . . .
One corporate executive noted that Trump is often swayed by the
last person he talks to, so, the executive said, remaining in the
president's good graces and keeping up access is critical. The senior
lobbyist noted that next week is supposed to be focused on changing
financial regulations with the House expected to pass a bill rolling
back much of the Dodd-Frank law and Treasury slated to release a
report on changing financial laws.
One problem here is that so many of the things corporations and
financiers want from Trump come at each other's expense, Thus far,
Republicans have been remarkably sanguine about letting business
after business rip each other (and everyone else) off, because few
businesses look at the costs they incur, least of all externalities
like air and water, but those costs add up. For instance, one reason
American manufacturing is at a disadvantage compared to other wealthy
countries is the exorbitant cost of health care and education, and
making up the difference by depressing wages isn't a real solution.
There are corporations that love Trump's Paris decision -- ok, the
only one I'm actually sure of is Peabody Coal -- but they're actually
few and far between. Most don't care much either way, or won't until
the bills come due.
By the way, this piece also includes this gem:
From a purely political perspective, the distancing of corporate
CEOs may not be especially bad for Trump. He won as a populist
railing against corporate influence, specifically singling out
Since the election, he has continued to single out Goldman Sachs:
he's tapped more of their executives for key administration jobs
than any other business.
Richard Wolffe: Trump asked when the world will start laughing at
the US. It already is
Paul Woodward: Trump believes money comes first -- he doesn't care
about climate change
Plus more on the Trump administration's continuing looting and
Daniel Altman: If Anyone Can Bankrupt the United States, Trump Can
Bruce Bartlett: Donald Trump's incompetence is a problem. His staff
should intervene: The author is a conservative who worked in the
White House for Reagan and Bush I, though he was less pleased with
Bush II. Still, his prescriptions hardly go beyond what was standard
practice for Reagan: "He should let his staff draft statements for
him and let them go through the normal vetting process, including
fact-checking. And he must resist the temptation to tweet or talk
off the top of his head about policy issues, and work through the
normal process used by every previous president." Of course, what
made that work for Reagan was that he was used to being a corporate
spokesman before he became president -- after all, he worked for GE,
and he was an actor by trade. Trump has done a bit of acting too,
but he's always fancied himself as the boss man, and bosses in
America are turning into a bunch of little emperors. On the other
hand, Reagan's staff were selected by the real powers behind the
throne to do jobs, including keeping the spokesman in line. Trump's
staff is something altogether different: a bunch of cronies and
toadies, whose principal job seems to be to flatter their leader.
And that's left them sadly deficient in the competencies previous
White House staff required -- in some cases even more so than the
Jamelle Bouie: What We Have Unleashed: "This year's string of brutal
hate crimes is intrinsically connected to the rise of Trump."
Juliet Eilperin/Emma Brown/Darryl Fears: Trump administration plans
to minimize civil rights efforts in agencies
Robert Faturechi: Tom Price Bought Drug Stocks. Then He Pushed Pharma's
Agenda in Australia
David A Graham: The Panic President: "Rarely does a leader in a
liberal democracy embrace, let alone foment, fear. But that's exactly
what Donald Trump did in response to attacks in London, as he has done
before." Graham starts by showing how London mayor Sadiq Khan responded
to the attack, then plunges into Trump's tweetstorm. Also see:
Peter Beinart: Why Trump Criticized a London Under Attack; and
David Frum: What Trump Doesn't Understand About Gun Control in
Matthew Haag: Texas Lawmaker Threatens to Shoot Colleague After Reporting
Protesters to ICE
Whitney Kassel/Loren De Jonge Schulman: Donald Trump's Great Patriotic
Purge: "The administration's assault on experts, bureaucrats, and
functionaries who make this country work isn't just foolish, it's
suicidal." The most basic difference between Republicans and Democrats
is how they view the government bureaucracy: Republicans tend to view
everything government does as political, so they insist on loyalists
consistent with their political views; Democrats, on the other hand,
see civil servants loyal only to the laws that created their jobs.
Republicans since Nixon have periodically tried to purge government,
but those instincts have never before been so naked as with Trump,
nor has the Republican agenda ever before been so narrow, corrupt,
or politically opportunistic. Moreover, instilling incompetency
doesn't seem to have any downside for Republicans, as they've long
claimed that government is useless (except for lobbyists).
In a signature theme of its first 100 days, the Trump administration,
encouraged by conservative media outlets, has launched an assault on
civil servants the likes of which should have gone out of style in
the McCarthy era. Attacks on their credibility, motivations, future
employment, and basic missions have become standard fare for White
House press briefings and initiatives. In doing so, the administration
and its backers may be crippling their legacy from the start by casting
away the experts and implementers who not only make the executive agenda
real but provide critical services for ordinary Americans. But in a move
that should trouble all regardless of political affiliation, they also
run the risk of undermining fundamental democratic principles of
Searching for policy-based or political rationale for these moves
overlooks a key point: that the United States civil service can be an
enormous asset for presidential administrations regardless of party,
and undermining it belies a misunderstanding of what public servants
actually do. These good folks, the vast majority of whom do not live
in Washington, get up in the morning to cut social security checks,
maintain aircraft carriers, treat veterans, guard the border, find
Osama bin Laden, and yes, work hard to protect the president and make
his policies look good. Many of them earn less than they would in the
private sector and are deeply committed to serving the American people.
Any effort to undercut them is irrational on its face.
Mark Mazzetti/Matthew Rosenberg/Charlie Savage: Trump Administration
Returns Copies of Report on CIA Torture to Congress
Daniel Politi: Democratic Challenger to Iowa Lawmaker Abandons Race
Due to Death Threats
CIA Names the 'Dark Prince' to Run Iran Operations, Signaling a
Tougher Stance: Michael D'Andrea.
Rebecca Solnit: The Loneliness of Donald Trump: "On the corrosive
privilege of the most mocked man in the world." She cites a Pushkin
fable on green, and is surely not the first to apply F. Scott Fitzgerald's
classic line to Trump: "They smashed up things and creatures and then
retreated back into their money or their vast carelessness or whatever
it was that kept them together, and let other people clean up the mess
they had made." She goes on, adding to the mocking of "the most mocked
man in the world":
The American buffoon's commands were disobeyed, his secrets leaked at
such a rate his office resembled the fountains at Versailles or maybe
just a sieve (this spring there was
an extraordinary piece in the Washington Post with thirty anonymous
sources), his agenda was undermined even by a minority party that was
not supposed to have much in the way of power, the judiciary kept
suspending his executive orders, and scandals erupted like boils and
sores. Instead of the dictator of the little demimondes of beauty
pageants, casinos, luxury condominiums, fake universities offering
fake educations with real debt, fake reality tv in which he was master
of the fake fate of others, an arbiter of all worth and meaning, he
became fortune's fool.
Still, if someone made him read this, he would surely respond,
"but I'm president, and you aren't." And while he goes about his
day "making America great again," he gives cover to a crew that
is driving the country into a ravine. When they succeed, all this
mockery will seem unduly soft and peculiarly sympathetic. On the
other hand, I suspect that treating Trump and the Republicans as
badly as they deserve will provoke a kneejerk reaction to defend
them. Even now, the scolds are searching hard for instances where
they can argue that satire has crossed hypothetical boundaries; e.g.,
Callum Borchers: Maher, Griffin, Colbert: Anti-Trump comedians are
having a really bad moment. I found the Griffin image amusing --
not unsettling like the first time I saw an image of one person
holding up the severed head of another, because this time the head
was clearly fake and symbolic. The other two were jokes that misfired,
partly because they used impolite terms but mostly because they made
little sense. That's an occupational hazard -- no comedian ever hits
all the time -- but singling these failures out reveals more about
the PC squeamishness of the complainers. (Where were these people
when Obama was being slandered? Or were they just overwhelmed?) And
note that Maher is often a fountain of Islamophobic bigotry, but
that's not what he's being called out for here.
Lisa Song: Trump Administration Says It Isn't Anti-Science as It
Seeks to Slash EPA Science Office
John Wagner: Trump plans week-long focus on infrastructure, starting
with privatizing air traffic control: During his campaign one of
Trump's most popular talking points was on the nation's need for
massive investment in infrastructure. After the election, Democrats
saw infrastructure investment as one area where they could work with
Trump, but as with health care the devil's in the details. Since he
took office, it's become clear that Trump's infrastructure program
will be nothing but scams fueling private profit with public debt.
It's worth noting that the scam for "privatizing" air traffic
control has been kicking around for years, backed by big airlines,
but it's very unpopular here in Kansas because it portends higher
charges to general aviation users. That should cost Trump two votes,
so his only hope of passing the deal is to pick up Democrats, who
should know better.
Paul Woodward: Donald Trump plays at being president. He doesn't
even pretend to be a world leader:
At this stage in his performance -- this act in The Trump Show
which masquerades as a presidency -- it should be clear to the audience
that the motives of the man-child acting out in front of the world are
much more emotive than ideological.
Trump has far more interest in antagonizing his critics than pleasing
No doubt Trump came back from Europe believing that after suffering
insults, he would get the last laugh. A senior White House official
(sounding like Steve Bannon) described European disappointment about
Trump's decision on Paris as "a secondary benefit," implying perhaps
that the primary benefit would be the demolition of one of the key
successes of his nemesis, Barack Obama.
Thus far, The Trump Show has largely been ritual designed
to symbolically purge America of Obama's influence.
Matthew Yglesias: Trump has granted more lobbyist waivers in 4 months
than Obama did in 8 years; also by Yglesias:
An incredibly telling thing Trump said at today's Paris event wasn't
about climate at all ("He simply has no idea what he's talking
about on any subject"); and
Jared Kushner is the domino Trump can least afford to fall in the
Russia investigation ("His unique lack of qualification for
office makes him uniquely valuable").
And finally a few more links on various stories one or more steps
removed from the Trump disaster:
Decca Aitkenhead: Brendan Cox: 'It would be easy to be consumed by
fury and hatred and bile': Interview and extract from Cox's
book about his British MP wife's murder by a right-wing racist,
Jo Cox: More in Common.
Marc Ambinder: The American Government's Secret Plan for Surviving
the End of the World: "Newly declassified CIA files offer a
glimpse of the playbook the Trump administration will reach for if
it stumbles into a nuclear war." The documents in question date
from the Carter and Reagan administrations.
William J Broad/David E Sanger: 'Last Secret' of 1967 War: Israel's
Doomsday Plan for Nuclear Display: This week is the 50th anniversary
of the fateful "Six Day War," which resulted in Israel's ongoing
occupation of East Jerusalem, the West Bank, Gaza, and the Syrian
(Golan) Heights. It's well known that Israel considered using its
nuclear weapons arsenal during the 1973 war had they not been able
to turn back Syria and Egypt, but this is the first I've heard of
a 1967 plan. The most striking point I gleaned from Tom Segev's
1967: Israel, the War, and the Year That Transformed the Middle
East (2007) was the extraordinary confidence Israel's military
leaders had in launching their war, in stark contrast to the fear
and terror most Israelis were led to feel.
Some more pieces on the war and occupation:
James North: Israel provoked the Six-Day War in 1967, and it was not
fighting for survival; North also published an interview:
Norman Finkelstein on the Six-Day-War and its mythology.
Nathan Thrall: The Past 50 Years of Israeli Occupation. And the
Thomas B Edsall: Has the Democratic Party Gotten Too Rich for Its
Maria Margaronis: Could Labour's Corbyn Actually Win the British
Elections? Tory Prime Minister Theresa May called the election
expecting a landslide to bolster her majority. After all, the New
Labour elites, unable to win themselves, hate Corbyn enough to
sabotage him, and Corbyn is so far out of the cozy neoliberal
mainstream his election would be unimaginable. But polls have
narrowed from 22 points to something like 5. I don't know much
more than that, and don't have time tonight to search further.
Election is June 8.
Mujib Mashal/Fahim Abed/Jawad Sukhanyar: Deadly Bombing in Kabul Is
One of the Afghan War's Worst Strikes: Truck bomb, killed at
least 80, disclaimed by the Taliban. Comes just a few weeks after
the US dropped its own "mother of all bombs" on Afghanistan.
Rajan Menon: What Would War Mean in Korea? Makes the key points
I and many others have been making ever since Trump started rattling
sabres, so make sure you understand. By the way, just noticed that
Menon has a book called The Conceit of Humanitarian Intervention
(2016). That's a good word for it: conceit. It denotes narcissistic
self-regard, crediting yourself for helping others when more likely
you're doing them great harm. It's an excuse for more war, not a
solution for real suffering. And everywhere the US has done it, the
humanitarian impulses are quickly discarded when it rapidly decays
into a struggle for self-defense and propping up the tarnished image
of American omnipotence.
Ijeoma Oluo: LeBron James reminds us that even the rich and famous
face racist hatred
Jeffrey D Sachs: It isn't just Trump: The American system is broken
Matt Taibbi: Republicans and Democrats Continue to Block Drug Reimportation --
After Publicly Endorsing It
Douglas Williams: The Democratic party still thinks it will win by
'not being Trump'
Sunday, May 28. 2017
Three fairly prominent figures died in the last couple days -- at
least prominent enough to warrant articles in the Wichita Eagle: Jim
Bunning, Greg Allman, and Zbigniew Brzezinski. Naturally, I go back
furthest with Bunning. I became conscious of baseball in 1957, when
I was six, and for many years I could recite the all-star teams from
that (and practically no other) year. Bunning was the starting pitcher
for the AL, vs. Curt Simmons for the NL. That was the year Cincinnati
stuffed the ballot boxes, causing a scandal by electing seven position
players to the NL team. Commissioner Ford Frick overruled the voters
and replaced Gus Bell and Wally Post with Hank Aaron and Willie Mays.
In my memory, he also picked Stan Musial over Ted Kluszewski at 1B
and Eddie Matthews over Don Hoak at 3B, but he stopped short and didn't
pick the equally obvious Ernie Banks vs. Roy McMillan. According to the
Wikipedia page, Musial actually won, and Hoak (and McMillan and
2B Johnny Temple and C Ed Bailey) started. My memory of the AL team
somehow lost 1B Vic Wertz (no idea who played there, since I was
pretty sure it wasn't Moose Skowron, on the team as a reserve) and
2B Nellie Fox (I thought Frank Bolling, who didn't make the team --
Casey Stengel liked to stock his bench with Yankees, so he went with
Bunning won the game, pitching three scoreless innings while
Simmons walked in two runs. Biggest surprise from the game summary
was that Bell pinch-hit for Robinson (no doubt the only time that
ever happened, despite being teammates for many years) and came up
with a two-run double. Bunning had his best season in 1957, going
20-8, although he also won 19 in 1962, and after he was traded to
Philadelphia in 1964 had three straight 19-win years, winding up
with a 234-184 record and a lot of strikeouts (2855). He played
during a period (1955-71) when W totals were especially depressed --
I worked out a system for adjusting W-L totals over the years but
don't have the data handy (one significant result was that Cy Young,
Walter Johnson, and Warren Spahn came out with almost identical
adjusted W-L totals). But also Bunning spent most of his career as
the star on losing teams, so that also reduced his career standing.
Still, a marvelous pitcher. He was also one of the more militant
leaders in the baseball players union, but after he retired he
turned into an extreme right-wing crank and got elected to the
Senate from Kentucky, where his two terms went from dismal to worse.
If there was a Hall of Fame for guys kicking the ladder away after
they used it, he'd be in.
I have far less to say about Allman, but nothing negative. His
most recent albums were engaging and enjoyable, and early in his
career he contributed to some even better ones.
People much younger than me might remember Brzezinski for his
biting criticism of GW Bush's Iraq fiasco. He was the Democrats'
original answer to Henry Kissinger, a foreign policy mandarin with
a deep-seated hatred of the Soviet Union and anything even vaguely
communist, and he seemed to be the dominant force that bent Jimmy
Carter's his initial foreign policy focus on human rights toward
an unscrupulously anti-communist stance. Still, decades later, after
the fall of the Soviet Union, even after Carter wrote his essential
book Palestine Peace Not Apartheid, Carter stuck to his line
that his signature peace treaty between Israel and Egypt was driven
primarily by his desire to curtail Soviet influence. It's not that
Brzezinski offered any real break from the rabid anti-communism of
previous administrations so much as he kept Carter from changing
course, and in their Iran and Afghanistan policies they set the
stage for everything the US has butchered and blundered ever since --
including Trump's "Arab NATO" summit last week.
Last week when I was reading John D Dower's new book The Violent
American Century: War and Terror Since World War II I ran across
a paragraph I wanted to quote about how Reagan both adopted and extended
policies begun under the Carter administration, while simultaneously
belittling and slandering Carter. It seemed to me that we are witnessing
Trump making the same move. But since then Zbigniew Brzezinski died,
so I figure in his honor I should start with the previous paragraph:
Although Carter failed in his bid for a second term as president his
"doctrine" laid the ground for an enhanced US infrastructure of war,
especially in the Greater Middle East. Less than two months after his
address, Carter oversaw creation of a Rapid Deployment Joint Task
Force that tapped all four major branches of the military (army, navy,
air force, and marines). Within two years, this evolved into Central
Command (CENTCOM), responsible for operations in Southwest Asia,
Central Asia, and the Persian Gulf and Indian Ocean, initiating what
one official navy historian called "a period of expansion unmatched in
the postwar era. Simultaneously, Carter's national security adviser
Zbigniew Brzezinski launched the effective but ultimately nearsighted
policy of providing support to the Afghan mujahedeen combating Soviet
forces in their country. Conducted mainly through the CIA, the
objective of this top-secret operation was in Brzezinski's words, "to
make the Soviets bleed for as much and as long as is possible."
Carter's successor Ronald Reagan inherited these initiatives and
ran with them, even while belittling his predecessor's policies. In
his presidential campaign, Reagan promised "to unite people of every
background and faith in a great crusade to restore the America of our
dreams." This, he went on -- in words that surely pleased the ghost of
Henry Luce -- necessitated repudiating policies that had left the
nation's defense "in shambles," and doing "a better job of exporting
If Trump seems less committed to "exporting Americanism" than Reagan
(or Luce, who coined the term/slogan "American century"), it's not for
lack of flag-waving bluster, arrogance, or ignorance. It's just that
decades of excoriating "weak leaders" like Carter, Clinton and Obama,
and replacing them with "strong" but inept totems like Reagan, the
Bushes, and Trump have taken their toll. The lurches toward the right
have weakened the once-robust economy and frayed social bonds, and
those in turn have degraded institutions. And while it's easy to put
the blame for this decay on a right-wing political movement dedicated
to the aggrandizement of an ever-smaller circle of billionaires, the
equally important thing I'm noticing here is how completely Carter,
Clinton, and Obama internalized the logic of their/our enemies and
failed to plot any sort of alternative to the right's agenda, which
ultimately has less to do with spreading "the American way of life"
than with subjugating the world to global capital. Indeed, it appears
as though the last people left believing in Luce's Americanism are
the hegemonic leaders of the Democratic Party.
I wound up completely exhausted and disgusted from last week's
compilation of Trump atrocities (see my
Midweek Roundup). I know I said, shortly after Trump's inauguration,
that "we can do this shit every week," but I'm less sure now --
not to mention I'm doubting my personal effectiveness.
In particular, the Montana election loss took a toll on my psyche.
Then I saw the following tweet (liked by someone I thought I liked):
"I wonder what Bernie has learned from his massive loss and that of
his scions, Mello, Feingold, Teachout, Thompson, Quist. Probably
nothing." Quist, in Montana, ran anywhere from 6-12% ahead of Clinton
(at least in the counties I've seen). So did Thompson here in Kansas.
They lost, but at least they ran, they gave voters real choices, and
they got little or no support from the Clinton-dominated national
party (which has made it their business to reduce party differences
to a minimum, even as the Republicans stake out extreme turf on the
right). The others I haven't looked at closely, but Bernie wasn't
the one who lost to Donald Trump. What lessons should he learn from
those defeats? Offer less of an alternative? Take his voters for
granted? Further legitimize the other side? Clinton Democrats have
been doing those things for 25 years now, and look where they've
Meanwhile, a few quick links, probably little commentary -- but
these things pretty well speak for themselves.
Some scattered links this week in Trump world:
Esme Cribb: Trump Lashes Out at Media Upon Return to US: 'Fake News
Is the Enemy!' I can remember when "fake news" was self-identified,
the successor of what we used to call satire, its fakeness intended to
help sharpen a point. Now, for Trump at least, it's just any report you
don't want to face up to. But already Trump has done so much he needs
to deny that he's broadening his targets. For more, see
Peter Maas: Donald Trump's War on Journalism Has Begun. But Journalists
Are Not His Main Target. The "main targets" referred to are sources,
those disclosing to journalists what Trump's administration is doing.
If government was "of, by, and for the people," you'd think it would be
ok for said people to see just what was happening, but that's not in
Trump's scheme of things. Also:
Olivia Nuzzi: Trump's Love-Hate Relationship With Anonymous Sourcing.
David Dayen: Trump's "America First" Infrastructure Plan: Let Saudi
Arabia and Blackstone Take Care of It
Chauncey DeVega: 'We Have an Obligation to Speak About Donald Trump's
Mental Health Issues . . . Our Survival as a Species May Be at Stake':
I think there's something to speak about here -- it all has a certain
perverse satisfaction -- but I'm skeptical that it will do any good,
and I think it's been a big mistake all along to focus on Trump and
not on the Republican policies he's committed to (especially the ones
he explicitly attacked before the election).
Henry Farrell: Thanks to Trump, Germany says it can't rely on the United
States. What does that mean? Another view:
David Frum: Trump's Trip Was a Catastrophe for US-Europe Relations.
Also on the NATO meeting:
Fred Kaplan: The Tussle in Brussels. And then there's:
Elisabeth Braw: Germany Is Quietly Building a European Army Under Its
Rebecca Gordon: Trump Is Trying to Cover Up His Lies by Destroying
Information: "For an administration that depends on ignorance,
public knowledge is enemy number one."
Maggie Haberman/Glenn Thrush/Julie Hirschfeld Davis: Trump Returns to
Crisis Over Kushner as White House Tries to Contain It: So it turns
out that Kushner omitted multiple meetings with various Russians when
he applied for his security clearance. Also that he tried to set up
some kind of "back channel" communications link with Russia that would
bypass normal security protocols. Many more stories on Kushner, like:
Jeet Heer: Why Trump Is a Salesman With Autocrats and a Slumlord
With Allies. Heer also wrote, back on May 15,
Donald Trump Killed the "Indispensable Nation." Good! ("Trump
has ushered in a new era of American hegemony, one in which the
hegemon is adrift, mercurial, and utterly irresponsible.") Both
of these pieces are sidelong glances at a "superpower" which
expects the world to bow and cater to its whims without expecting
or getting much of anything in return -- well, beyond catching
some of the chaos mean indifference engenders.
Paul Krugman: It's All About Trump's Contempt
Cezary Podcul: Trump's New Bank Regulator: Lawyer Who Helped Banks
Charge More Fees: "Keith Noreika helped big banks avoid state
laws protecting consumers. As head of the Office of the Comptroller
of the Currency, he now has the power to override those state laws."
Michael D Shear/Mark Landler: Trump Ends Trip Where He Started; At Odds
With Alies and Grilled on Russia: In particular, he got several
earfulls on his refusal to endorse the Paris climate accords. He says
he will make a decision on that next week -- sure, he's spent the last
two years campaigning against it, but he's already broken dozens of
campaign promises. One wonders whether any of the other G7 leaders
added credible threats. I haven't heard anyone propose this, but why
shouldn't the other 194 nations that signed the accord levy sanctions
on nations that refuse to cooperate on what is truly a global problem?
For one thing, sanctions would have a real effect in lowering emissions --
most obviously by depressing the American economy. They could go further
and freeze US assets. They could deny airspace rights to US flights,
especially by the military (a significant global polluter).
Matt Shuham: WH Budget Chief: 'I Hope' Fewer People Get Social Security
John Wagner/Robert Costa/Ashley Parker: Trump considers major changes
amid escalating Russia crisis
Stephen M Walt: What's the Point of Donald Trump's Afghan Surge?
Five questions for McMaster. Meanwhile:
Ruchi Kumar: War in Afghanistan Is Killing Children in Record Numbers
Also a few links less directly tied to Trump, though mostly still
to America's bout of political insanity:
Andrew J Bacevich: The Beltway Foreign-Policy 'Blob' Strikes Back
Ari Berman: Democrats Are Launching a Commission to Protect American
Democracy From Trump: Trump's first (and thus far only) special
commission was launched to investigate "election integrity" -- i.e.,
why so many likely Democrats were allowed to vote. That threatens to
hit the Democrats where they live, so in this case at least they're
doing something on their own. I think they should be doing a lot more
of this, including running a "shadow cabinet" that continually tracks
everything the Trump billionaires and lobbyists are up to.
Linda J Bilmes: Iraq and Afghanistan: The $6 trillion bill for America's
longest war is unpaid
Michelle Chen: Why Are Canada's Prescription Drugs So Much Cheaper
Jason Ditz: US Is Killing More Civilians in Syria Air War Than Assad
Is: Thought I'd mention this since I read a Charles Krauthammer
column last week (look it up if you want it) that decried Assad's
"genocidal war" in Syria. By the way:
Samuel Oakford: US officials confirm their Coalition allies have
killed 80 civilians -- but none will accept responsibility.
David Hajdu: Bold-Sounding Things: "Doesn't every political resistance
need a soundtrack?"
Daniel Politi: White Supremacist in Portland Kills Two Men Who Tried
to Stop His Racist Rants: This in turn elicited a deep background
Alana Semuels: The Racist History of Portland, the Whitest City in
Carol Schaeffer: How Hungary Became a Haven for the Alt-Right
Matt Taibbi: The Democrats Need a New Message: This was Taibbi's
reaction to the Democrats' loss to billionaire/goon Greg Gianforte
in the Montana special election. It's worth noting that Democrat Rob
Quist ran 13% points better than Hillary Clinton did in November,
although I can also note that local Democrats have won a number of
statewide races in the not-too-distant past, so I had reason to be
more optimistic here than in the Kansas race (Gianforte won this one
by 6.5%; Ron Estes won in KS by 6.8%). I think the key paragraphs
Unsurprisingly, the disintegrating Trump bears a historically low
approval rating. But polls also show that the Democratic Party has
lost five percentage points in its own approval rating dating back
to November, when it was at 45 percent.
The Democrats are now hovering around 40 percent, just a hair
over the Trump-tarnished Republicans, at 39 percent. Similar surveys
have shown that despite the near daily barrage of news stories pegging
the president as a bumbling incompetent in the employ of a hostile
foreign power, Trump, incredibly, would still beat Hillary Clinton
in a rematch today, and perhaps even by a larger margin than before.
To be sure, prospects for Democrats look better further out, but
that's because most people haven't been paying attention to all the
shit Republicans are pulling, and in most cases the adverse effects
won't hit home for months or even years, by which time it will be
too late. Still, one reason people haven't been paying attention is
that Democrats keep talking about Trump personally rather than the
Republicans universally, and a large segment of Americans have shown
themselves to be impervious to anything you say about Trump.
As for the old message, Taibbi cites
Jeff Stein: Study: Hillary Clinton's TV ads were almost entirely
Hillary Clinton's campaign ran TV ads that had less to do with policy
than any other presidential candidate in the past four presidential
races, according to a new study published on Monday by the Wesleyan
Clinton's team spent a whopping $1 billion on the election in all --
about twice what Donald Trump's campaign spent. Clinton spent $72 million
on television ads in the final weeks alone.
But only 25 percent of advertising supporting her campaign went after
Trump on policy grounds, the researchers found. By comparison, every other
presidential candidate going back to at least 2000 devoted more than 40
percent of his or her advertising to policy-based attacks. None spent
nearly as much time going after an opponent's personality as Clinton's
Clinton's ad strategy had, I think, the perverse effect of inoculating
Trump against further personal attacks and not framing issues that the
Democrats could follow up on post-election. It conveyed to voters that
issues don't matter -- only personalities and character -- and as such
Clinton offered little help down-ballot. Conversely, most Republican
money was spent down-ballot, and that created a powerful momentum to
capture Congress as well as to elect Trump. But then the Clintons have
a long history of sabotaging their party mates -- all the better to
concentrate their deal-making opportunities with donors (as well as
their retirement bonuses).
For a more optimistic accounting of Montana, see:
Matthew Yglesias: Republicans' 7-point win in last night's Montana
election is great news for Democrats; for more pessimistic views, see:
Andrew O'Hehir: Wake Up, Liberals: There Will Be No 2018 'Blue Wave,' No
Democratic Majority and No Impeachment; and
Ed Kilgore: 6 Takeaways From Montana's Special Election.
Rebecca Traister: Hillary Clinton Is Furious. And Resigned. And Funny.
And Worried. "The surreal post-election life of the woman who would
have been president." Long piece, not unsympathetic, not without
interest, especially on problems of sexual politics. You might also
be interested in
Katie Serena: Hillary Clinton Roasts Donald Trump in Wellseley College
Commencement Speech, where she "even took a whack at humor,"
introducing herself as "the former president of the Wellseley College
Young Republicans" and reminiscing about "how she and her peers were
'furious' over the election of Richard Nixon." She could have used
some of that fury lately, but instead she's "OK."
Joan C Williams: The Dumb Politics of Elite Condescension: Author
also has a book, White Working Class: Overcoming Class Cluelessness
Dave Zirin: A Lynching on the University of Maryland Campus, and
Why I Called the Murder of Richard Collins III a Lynching.
What a bummer this is all turning into. Nor can I say it's different
than I expected. And it's really unhealthy to go through life with so
many occasions to say "I told you so."
Wednesday, May 24. 2017
Didn't do a Weekend Roundup on Sunday, not for lack of material
but because I had something better to do. Still, this stuff has been
piling up at an incredible rate, with no likelihood of abating any
time soon. One thing I didn't get to is the terror bombing at an
Ariana Grande concert in Manchester, UK, which killed 22, mostly
young girls. The bomber was from Libya, set loose by NATO's entry
into civil war there, itself prefigured by the 2003 US-UK invasion
of Iraq, and indeed decades of UK and US intervention in the area,
originally to exploit resources (and open the Suez Canal), then to
support repressive crony governments, and ultimately just to sell
arms and encourage everyone to kill each other. When atrocities like
this happen, it's always proper not just to condemn the ones who
directly did this but to recall and curse those US/UK politicians
who paved the way, including Democrats like Obama and the Clintons,
Labourites like Blair, as well as the usual right-wingers.
Some quick links on Manchester:
Trump's Thursday schedule includes a meeting of NATO, where UK Prime
Minister Theresa May is expected to use the Manchester bombing as an
to formally join fight against Isil. No one expects Donald Trump
to be the voice of reason at this meeting: even without NATO's "help"
US Killed Record Number of Civilians in Past Month of ISIS Strikes.
Also on Thursday, Montana will elect a new House member. See
Both Parties Are Spinning Hard in Montana's Strange, Evolving Special
Ed Kilgore/Margaret Hartmann: Montana GOP Candidate Allegedly 'Body Slams'
Journalist, Is Charged With Assault.
Some scattered links this week in the Trumpworld:
Dean Baker: Will President Trump Make Rust-Belt Manufacturing Great
Again? No evidence so far. Baker also wrote
A Job Guarantee and the Federal Reserve Board.
Sharon Begley: Trump wasn't always so linguistically challenged. What
could explain the change? Some people who have researched Trump's
various utterances from decades ago argue that he wasn't always such
a scattered, incoherent moron:
For decades, studies have found that deterioration in the fluency,
complexity, and vocabulary level of spontaneous speech can indicate
slipping brain function due to normal aging or neurodegenerative
disease. STAT and the experts therefore considered only unscripted
utterances, not planned speeches and statements, since only the
former tap the neural networks that offer a window into brain function.
The experts noted clear changes from Trump's unscripted answers
30 years ago to those in 2017, in some cases stark enough to raise
questions about his brain health. They noted, however, that the same
sort of linguistic decline can also reflect stress, frustration,
anger, or just plain fatigue.
Begly also wrote:
Psychological need to be right underlies Trump's refusal to concede
Russell Berman: The Trump Organization Says It's 'Not Practical' to
Comply With the Emoluments Clause
Bridgette Dunlap: Trump's Abortion Policy Isn't About Morality -- It's
Mike Konczal: How the "Populist' President Is Creating an Aristocracy
Sharon Lerner: Donald Trump's Pick for EPA Enforcement Office Was a
Lobbyist for Superfund Polluters: Meet Susan Bodine.
Eric Lipton: White House Moves to Block Ethics Inquiry Into Ex-Lobbyists
Dozens of former lobbyists and industry lawyers are working in the
Trump administration, which has hired them at a much higher rate than
the previous administration. Keeping the waivers confidential would
make it impossible to know whether any such officials are violating
federal ethics rules or have been given a pass to ignore them.
Dahlia Lithwick: Is Donald Trump Too Incapacitated to Be President?
The 25th amendment to the constitution would seem to be the simplest
way to dispose of the increasingly erratic Donald Trump. Whereas
impeachment requires a simple majority of the House and a two-thirds
super-majority of the Senate to convict, all the 25th amendment takes
is the Vice President and a majority of the cabinet to decide that
the President is "incapacitated but not dead." Still, this approach
suffers from the fact that so many of the people who would have to
sign off were chosen by Trump primarily for their own incompetence
(a list I would start with Mike Pence himself):
Moreover, so many of the Cabinet officials who might rightly affirm
that Trump is unable to discharge his duties are similarly unable to
discharge their own. Trump's chief infirmity -- the vanity, wealth,
and self-regard that was mistakenly confused with effective leadership --
is actually shared by the vast majority of his Cabinet, most of whom --
in the manner of any individual Kardashian -- seem to prize money and
power more than they prize governance or democracy. For instance, it's
abundantly clear that neither Betsy DeVos nor Ben Carson are fit to
execute their own Cabinet positions. Are they also to be summarily
removed? Jeff Sessions has gone along with the worst of Trump's plans,
drafting the legal justification for the stalled-out Muslim ban. If we
can see clearly enough to judge Trump unfit, surely Sessions is as
We already know that the people with the power to stop Trump -- the
Republicans in the House and Senate who declare themselves "troubled"
and "concerned" by his actions -- are so hell-bent on destroying the
regulatory state, harming the weak, imposing Christianity on nonbelievers,
and giving tax breaks to the wealthy that Trump's fitness raises no
alarms. Unfortunately, that isn't a DSM-IV level diagnosable pathology.
It's what we call conservatism in America.
Lauren McCauley: Comcast Threatens Legal Action Against Net Neutrality
Proponents: FCC chairman Ajit Pai is working on rescinding the
"net neutrality" rules, which currently require internet service
providers (like Comcast) to provide equal access to all websites.
Without those rules, they'd be free to pick and choose, and to
scam both providers and users.
Jose Pagliery: Trump's casino was a money laundering concern shortly
after it opened: Old history, but recently dug up through a FOIA
The Trump Taj Mahal casino broke anti-money laundering rules 106 times
in its first year and a half of operation in the early 1990s, according
to the IRS in a 1998 settlement agreement. . . .
Trump's casino ended up paying the Treasury Department a $477,000
fine in 1998 without admitting any liability under the Bank Secrecy Act.
Jamie Peck: Billionaire Betsy DeVos wants to scrap student debt
forgiveness. Surprised? After WWII the American economy was
growing fast and science was held in high esteem, so government
worked hard to expand access to higher education, to make it
affordable and accessible to many more people, to build up a
much better educated workforce (and citizenry). Then, from the
1980s on, the economy slowed, collage came to be viewed more as
a certification program for getting ahead (or not falling back),
and costs skyrocketed. Now we've entered into a stage where the
rich want to keep the advantages of education to themselves, or
at the very least make everyone else pay dearly for the privilege.
And that's the mindset of rich people like DeVos and Trump, who
inherited their fortunes. So, sure, this policy makes perfect
sense to them, while condemning everyone else to servitude and
CJ Polychroniou/Marcus Rolle: Illusions and Dangers in Trump's
"America First" Policy: An Interview With Economist Robert Pollin
Priebus: Trump Considering Amending or Abolishing 1st Amendment:
One of the scarier things Trump said during the campaign was how he
wanted to change libel laws so that people with thin skins and deep
pockets (like himself) can sue people who criticize (or make fun of)
them. Libel laws are primarily limited by the first amendment (freedom
of speech and press), although one always has to worry that the courts
will carve out some kind of exception (as they did, for instance, to
prosecute "obscenity"). It's not inconceivable that Trump could pass
something like that and pack the courts to uphold it, although it's
also not very likely. But repealing the first amendment is certainly
way beyond his dreams, and if he recognizes that that's what it would
take, his scheme is pretty much dead. Still, useful to know that his
respect for American democracy is so low that he'd even consider the
prospect. But didn't we already know that?
Shaun Richman: Republicans Want to Turn the National Labor Relations
Board Into a Force for Union Busting: I already thought it was,
but I suppose it could get even worse.
Jeremy Scahill/Alex Emmons/Ryan Grim: Trump Called Rodrigo Duterte to
Congratulate Him on His Murderous Drug War: "You Are Doing an Amazing
According to one former hitman, Duterte formed an organization called
the "Davao Death Squad" -- a mafia-like organization of plainclothes
assassins that would kill suspected criminals, journalists, and
opposition politicians, often from the backs of motorcycles. Multiple
former members of the group have come forward and said that they
killed people on Duterte's direct orders.
Duterte has even bragged that he personally killed criminals from
the back of a motorcycle. "In Davao I used to do it personally," he
told a group of business leaders in Manila. "Just to show to the guys
[police officers] that if I can do it, why can't you."
In 2016, Duterte campaigned on a policy of mass extermination for
anyone involved in the drug trade. "I'd be happy to slaughter them.
If Germany had Hitler, the Philippines would have me," Duterte said
after his inauguration in September.
Despite human rights concerns, the U.S. has long considered the
Philippines a military ally, and under Obama the U.S. gave the country's
military tens of millions of dollars in weapons and resources per year.
The U.S. government does not provide lethal weapons directly to the
Philippine National Police, which has a decadeslong history of
extrajudicial killings. But it does allow U.S. weapons manufacturers
to sell to them directly. In 2015 the State Department authorized more
than $250 million in arms sales from U.S. defense contractors to
security forces in the Philippines.
Nate Silver: Donald Trump's Base Is Shrinking: His overall approval
numbers haven't dropped this much, but those who "strongly approve" of
Trump has dropped "from a peak of around 30 percent in February to just
21 or 22 percent of the electorate now." Meanwhile, the number of people
who "strongly disapprove" of him has shot up "from the mid-30s in early
February to 44.1 percent as of Tuesday."
Matthew Stevenson: Is Trump the Worst President Ever? Posted back
on February 17, so too early for a fair hearing, but it's not really
his point to answer the question ("such a milestone could be a tall
order. He would need to match Nixon's paranoia and arrogance with
Lyndon Johnson's military incompetence, and then throw in Chester
Arthur's corruption and maybe Harding's lust for life") -- just to
provide a quick review for your history buffs.
Amy B Wang: Sinkhole forms in front of Mar-a-Lago; metaphors pour
Matthew Yglesias: Trump isn't a toddler -- he's a product of America's
culture of impunity for the rich: Notes that both
Ross Douthat and
David Brooks have recently tried to explain Trump away as "a toddler"
(so that's the kind of original thinking that lands you a job writing
opinion for the New York Times?):
My 2-year-old son misbehaves all the time. The reason is simple: He's
He stuck his foot in a serving bowl at dinner Tuesday night. He
screams in inappropriate situations. He's terrified of vacuum cleaners.
He thinks it's funny to throw rocks at birds. He has poor impulse control
and limited understanding of the consequences of his actions.
But he's also, fundamentally, a good kid. If you tell him no, he'll
usually listen. If you remind him of the rules, he'll acknowledge them
and obey. He shows remorse when his misdeeds are pointed out to him,
and if you walk him through a cause-and-effect chain he'll alter his
behavior. Like all little kids, he needs discipline, and he's got a lot
to learn. But he is learning, and he has some notion of consequences
and right and wrong.
Trump is not like that -- at all. . . .
He's 70 years old. And he's not just any kind of 70-year-old. He's
a white male 70-year-old. A famous one. A rich one. One who's been rich
since the day he was born. He's a man who's learned over the course of
a long and rich life that he is free to operate without consequence.
He's the beneficiary of vast and enormous privilege, not just the ability
to enjoy lavish consumption goods but the privilege of impunity that
America grants to the wealthy.
Scattered links on Trump's holy war trek:
Peter Beinart: What Trump Reveals by Calling Terrorists 'Losers':
So why is Trump putting ISIS in the same category in which he places
Rosie O'Donnell? Because for him, America's primary goal is not freedom
or tolerance. It's success. Trump espouses no deeply held political,
religious, or moral doctrine. He sees government through the lens of
business. And thus, he's more comfortable with the language of winning
and losing than the language of right and wrong. That's why he's so
obsessed with the margin of his electoral victory and the size of his
crowds. It's why he responds to articles critical of him by saying that
the newspapers that published them are "failing." For Trump, losing is
worst thing you can do.
If there's a silver lining here, it's that people who judge right
and wrong (or good and evil) are often far more deranged, precisely
because their value judgments are more deeply buried in their personal
history and circumstances. It's interesting how quickly Trump's prejudices
seem to melt away when he actually meets such obviously successful people
as the leaders of China, Mexico, and Saudi Arabia (and, one might add,
Russia). Maybe he needs state visits to Iran and North Korea? I might
add that for normal people, being called a "loser" is less taunting
(and less inaccurate) than what Bush called the 9/11 terrorists:
Bryan Bender: Israeli Officers: You're Doing ISIS Wrong: Israel
has its own foreign policy objectives, and they've long been peculiarly
at odds with its supposed ally, the United States. When, for instance,
the US was supporting Iraq's war against Iran, Israel was helping Iran --
even to the point of selling Iran American weapons (which was OK with
Reagan as long as some of the profits were channeled to the Contras in
Nicaragua, which Reagan was legally barred from funding on his own --
you know, the "Iran-Contra Scandal"). Israel has repeatedly intervened
in Syria, not to promote any constructive agenda, just to balance off
the forces to keep the war going longer. But if they had to choose,
they'd rather see ISIS come out ahead than Hezbollah, and now they're
casting aspersions about the US for tilting the other direction. The
bottom line is that while the US always assumes that the goal is peace
and stability -- even if that's hard to discern from what the US does --
Israel never wants peace or stability: they seek continual turmoil and
conflict, because any lasting peace would involve them settling with
the Palestinians, and that's the one thing they can't consider. When
this finally sinks in, you'll begin to understand how schizophrenic
US policy is in the region. We keep thinking we have allies in the
region, but actually all we have are alignments: temporary, fragile,
counterproductive, and often downright embarrassing.
Natasha Bertrand: Flabbergasted anchor points out to commerce secretary
why there wasn't a 'single hint of a protester' in Saudi Arabia:
Wilbur Ross was delighted by the reception the Trump entourage received
in Saudi Arabia ("there was not a single hint of a protester anywhere
there during the whole time").
James Carden: What Explains Trump's Sharp About-Face on Saudi Arabia?
I don't quite buy that the Trump administration really has an "obsession
with Iran" -- that's just a clever way to curry favor with people who
still have deep-seated resentment against post-Shah iran. It's obvious
that Israel turned on Iran only once Iraq was squashed in 1991 because
they needed an "existential security threat" to talk about whenever
brought up the Palestinians. (For the long history of this, see Trita
Parsi's 2007 book, Treacherous Alliance: The Secret Dealings of
Israel, Iran, and the United States.) Saudi Arabia was threatened
by Ayatollah Khomeini during the 1979 revolution -- effectively he
challenged Saudi pre-eminence in the holy places of Islam, which hit
the Kingdom very close to home. But nothing since then justifies the
Saudi's evident obsession with Iran -- other than the ease with which
anti-Iranian rhetoric ingratiates themselves with the US. Before the
Saudis got all worked up over Iran, their desires to purchase American
arms were frustrated by the Israel lobby -- the two states were, after
all, nominal enemies. Now they seem to be virtual allies inasmuch as
they share a common enemy, but isn't the real reason that matters their
new desire to become an effective hegemon over the Sunni Arab world?
Meanwhile, first Obama and now Trump have found it convenient to sell
arms to the Saudis: effectively, it's a jobs program that never has to
navigate through Congress or even hit the US budget. The new thing is
that Trump's finally selling it as such, but he's picked a terrible
time to do so: pre-Salman the Saudis never used their expensive toys,
but lately they've been increasing violence and chaos everywhere they
reach, and entangling the US as they go.
I should work this in somewhere and this seems as good a place as
any: the visceral reaction most Americans had to the self-declaration
of an Islamic State would have been just as easy to stir up against
the real Islamic State: Saudi Arabia. This didn't happen because the
Saudis have a lot of oil and money, and because they feign allegiance
and (perhaps rent?) alliance to the United States. They also may have
seemed less threatening for lack of territorial ambitions, but they
have invaded Yemen, attempted to buy Lebanon (through Rafik Hariri),
supported proxy forces in Iraq, Syria, and Libya, and largely treat
the Persian Gulf sheikdoms as vassals. Although they've bought lots
of American arms for a long time, they never organized them into an
effective military for fear of a coup -- until Salman acceded to the
throne and they launched the war in Yemen. Until recently they had
enough money to buy loyalty, but they're faced now with both sinking
oil prices and declining reserves -- along with buying more arms,
that means belt-tightening elsewhere, and the most obvious waste is
the bloated and often embarrassing royal family. The odds of a coup
in the near future have shot up, and if/when it happens it is most
likely to adopt the IS model with its renewed Caliphate. It may be
possible to rout ISIS from the cities of Upper Mesopotamia, but the
idea of a Caliphate will survive, as it has since the 7th Century,
and no one could adopt it more readily then the regime that controls
Mecca and Medina -- a regime armed to the teeth thanks to Obama and
Patrick Cockburn: Trump's Extravagant Saudi Trip Distracts from His
Crisis at Home
Andrew Exum: What Progressives Miss About Arms Sales: Thinks "Trump
had a great visit to Saudi Arabia" -- great for him, great for the Saudis
"and other Arab Gulf states, and -- last but not least -- it was a great
visit for magical, glowing orbs." Especially great was the "deliverable":
"$110 billion in arms sales to Saudi Arabia -- with an additional $240
billion committed over a 10-year period." He then chides "progressives"
for not celebrating:
I want to spend a little time talking about one of the reasons why the
trip went so well. I'll warn you: This is a somewhat taboo subject for
progressive foreign-policy types. The subject, friends, is arms sales.
Progressives don't like arms sales very much, but they need to pay
attention to them, because they're one big way Republicans are fighting
for -- and winning -- the votes of working-class Americans who have
traditionally voted for Democrats.
As I've pointed out elsewhere, Obama (considered a "progressive"
in some parts) has been using arms sales, especially to dictatorial
Arab States and Eastern Europe, as a jobs program for much of his
two terms. For many years selling arms to the Saudis seemed harmless
enough -- they never used them, and they had lots of dollars we
wanted back -- but eventually these arms sales started to make the
world more conflict-prone and dangerous: US relations with Russia
deteriorated as Obama kept pushing NATO closer to Russia's borders,
and the Saudis and Qataris started using their arms, first in Libya
and even more dramatically in Yemen. While the Saudis have generally
tried to align their foreign interventions -- until recently mostly
cash and propaganda -- with the US, they've always cast their efforts
in their own terms, which from the founding of the tribe with its
Wahhabist trappings in the late 18th century has always been framed
as jihad. Jihadist warfare has actually been very rare in Islamic
history, but since the Saudis started spending billions to promote
their peculiar flavor of Salafism it's become ubiquitous, more often
than not rebounding back against the US, who so encouraged the Saudis
to frame their opposition to Communism (and Nasserism and Baathism,
nationalist movements seen as Soviet proxies) in religious terms.
Further complicating this is that Saudi Arabia and the Gulf monarchies
are among the most reactionary and repressive states in the world.
By feeding them arms -- and by little things like Trump participating
in that sword dance and orb touching -- the US becomes complicit not
only in their jihadism but also in their suppression of human rights.
One effect of this is that US leaders have lost control of their own
policy, and while this has become increasingly evident over the past
year -- the tipping point was Saudi Arabia's attack on Yemen -- the
event that people will remember is Trump's visit, where the formerly
"great" America has been reduced to grovelling for arms sales (or,
if you're a pseudo-progressive, "jobs").
Exum may be right that many defense contractor workers voted for
Trump, but that's only after the Democrats abandoned the unions that
were formerly common -- e.g., Boeing shut down their Wichita factory
after office workers there unionized, moving their operations to
union-free South Carolina and Texas. Still, what Chalmers Johnson
liked to call Military Keynesianism has steadily declined in value
ever since WWII, and there are plenty of healthier things progressives
can push for. Meanwhile, it's no accident that Republicans like Trump
have thrived in the increasingly vicious atmosphere of violence and
hate generated by perpetual war.
Kareem Fahim: After assurances by Trump, Bahrain mounts deadliest raid
in years on opposition
Emma Green: Pope Francis, Trump Whisperer? Article is interesting,
but let me first point to the picture, which shows Melania and Ivanka
wearing headware (veils), in marked contrast to their scarfless
appearance in Saudi Arabia.
Fred Kaplan: Trump's Sunni Strategy: "The president wants America to
take sides in the Middle East's sectarian rivalry. That won't end well."
Actually, it's already started badly. As recently at the 1970s there was
essentially no violent conflict between Sunni and Shi'a, but then the
Saudis started pushing their Salafist sectarianism, Ayatollah Khomeini
challenged their control of Mecca, and the Saudis backed the US-Pakistani
promotion of jihadism in Afghanistan. In the 1990s the US tried to raise
up Shi'a resistance in Iraq, which became the basis of a sectarian civil
war after the US invasion in 2003 -- one where the US played both sides
against one another. Then the US wound up opposing both sides in Syria
through various proxies it has no real control over, including the Saudis
and Qataris, both backing jihadist groups. Year after year this muddled
strategy has only produced more war and more backlash.
Rashid Khalidi: Why Donald Trump's 'Arab Nato' would be a terrible
Paul Pillar: Trump's Riyadh Speech: Bowing to the Saudi Regime
David Shariatmadari: Who better to lecture Muslims than Islam expert
Donald Trump? Worse still, Trump's big speech in Saudi Arabia was
mainly written by Steven Miller, although the result was little more
than a sop -- for someone so belligerent toward strangers, it doesn't
seem to take more than a little shameless flattery to win Trump over.
This is not only hard to defend morally. Siding with Saudi Arabia and
antagonising Iran in order to weaken jihadism won't work, to put it
mildly. Though the Saudi kingdom has taken part in military action
against Isis, its state textbooks are deemed acceptable in Isis-run
schools. It has backed militant Islamist rebels in Syria, and continues
to export an extremely intolerant version of Islam.
Trump cut a weird figure at Murabba Palace on Saturday night, bobbing
along to a traditional sword dance like someone who'd stumbled into the
wrong wedding reception.
Richard Silverstein: Trump's Saudi Soliloquy: "one of the most
hypocritical speeches in American political history." Curious that
I have yet to see a single post which contrasts Trump's Riyadh speech
with the Cairo speech Obama gave early in his presidency, even though
the latter turned out to be pretty hypocritical as well. Still, reading
Silverstein's comments I'm more stuck by the extraordinary amount of
falsehood and nonsense in the speech. Silverstein also wrote a bit
about the Jerusalem leg of Trump's tour:
Trump Selfie with Israeli MK Features Two Moral Degenerate Birds of a
Feather. The selfie Trump was cornered into was with Oren Hazan,
who bills himself "the Israeli Trump."
Paul Woodward: Trump struts onto the world stage only to become a
laughingstock: Also cites
Susan B Glasser: 'People Here Think Trump Is a Laughinstock'.
Scattered links on Trump/Comey/Russia:
Former CIA Chief Tells of Concern Over Possible Russia Ties to Trump
Campaign: Unsigned NY Times article on John Brennan's testimony
and other things. Also:
Greg Miller: CIA director alerted FBI to pattern of contacts between
Russian officials and Trump campaign associates; and
Yochi Dreazen: Obama's CIA chief just offered a Trump-Russia quote
for the ages. I'm still not a fan of anyone charging anyone with
treason, but Brennan's earlier quote about Trump speaking to the CIA
post-inauguration remains apt: a "despicable display of
Vera Bergengruen: Flynn stopped military plan Turkey opposed -- after
being paid as its agent. Also:
Mark Mazzetti/Matthew Rosenberg: Michael Flynn Misled Pentagon About
Russia Ties, Letter Says; and
Karoun Demirjian: Flynn takes 5th on Senate subpoena as a top House Democrat alleges new evidence of lies.
Karoun Demirjian/Devlin Barrett: How a dubious Russian document influenced
the FBI's handling of the Clinton probe
Adam Entous/Ellen Nakashima: Trump asked intelligence chief to push
back against FBI collusion probe after Comey revealed its existence:
He made his appeals to Daniel Coats (DNI) and Adm. Michael S Rogers
(NSA), "urging them to publicly deny the existence of any evidence
of collusion during the 2016 election."
Chris Hedges: The Dying Republic: A Vast Disconnect Between Faux Values
and the Corporate Controlled Anti-Democratic Reality
Dara Lind: It's becoming increasingly clear that Jared Kushner is
part of Trump's Russia problem
Ryan Lizza: Trump's Damning Responses to the Russia Investigation
Josh Marshall: The President Lawyers Up: The lawyer is Marc Kasowitz,
who has made a nice living defending Trump in civil suits, including the
big one against Trump University. Note that Kasowitz is the partner of
Joe Lieberman, the former CT senator whose name briefly seemed to be at
the top of Trump's short list to become FBI Director.
Joshua Matz: Donald Trump's panoply of abuses demand more than a
Josh Meyer: Russia meeting revelation could trigger obstruction
Josh Marshall: The Continuing Triumph of Trump's Razor: Marshall
assumes that his term is self-evident, but in case you missed it, it's
Urban Dictionary: "When seeking an explanation for the behavior of . . .
Donald J. Trump, always choose the stupidest possible explanation."
Philip Shenon: Trump's Worst Nightmare Comes True: So he fires James
Comey, and gets Robert Mueller instead. Also on Mueller:
Karen J Greenberg: 4 Reasons Why Robert Mueller Is an Ideal Special
Josh Marshall: Thoughts on the Special Counsel Appointment.
Matthew Yglesias/Alex Ward: This week, explained: spies, special counsel,
and Flynn: And, upon further reflection, Yglesias' next post was:
The case for impeaching Trump -- and fast.
Meanwhile, Mick Mulvaney released a new budget, titled A
New Foundation for American Greatness:
John Cassidy: The Trump Administration's Budget Charade:
In March, the Trump Administration released a so-called skinny budget,
which contained the broad outlines of its spending plans. The proposed
cuts in domestic and international programs were so draconian,
mean-spirited, and misguided that I termed it a Voldemort budget, and
many other commentators offered similar reviews. On Tuesday, the White
House released the full version of its budget, and, if anything, the
details are even more disturbing.
The document describes how the Trump Administration would shred the
social safety net, particularly Medicaid, which provides health care to
the poor, to finance tax cuts for corporations and rich households. On
top of this, the budget's revenue and deficit projections are so
contingent upon wishful thinking and accounting sleights of hand that
they are virtually meaningless.
Benjamin Dangl: Trump's Budget Expands Global War on the Backs of the
Denise Lu/Kim Soffen: What Trump's budget cuts from the social safety
Trudy Lieberman: Donald Trump to Hungry Seniors: Drop Dead
Jim Newell: Trump's Biggest Broken Promise:
The most black-and-white broken promise of President Donald Trump's
early tenure has been his administration's treatment of Medicaid. On
the campaign trail, he promised not to cut the health care program
that covers more than 70 million low-income people. "I'm not going
to cut Social Security like every other Republican, and I'm not going
to cut Medicare or Medicaid," Trump said in an interview during the
campaign that was then posted on his official web site. "Every other
Republican is going to cut, and even if they wouldn't, they don't
know what to do because they don't know where the money is. I do."
Charles P Pierce: Make No Mistake: This Is Not a 'Trump Budget':
This is a Republican budget, a movement conservative budget, a product
of the tinpot economic theory and the misbegotten Randian view of human
nature towards which every serious Republican has pledged troth since
the days of Reagan, a government-sanctioned fulfillment of all the
wishes that Paul Ryan wished over the keg during the college experience
that our contributions to Social Security helped buy him.
Mulvaney, a Tea Party fanatic, held a press conference Tuesday morning
to shill for this slab of Dickensian offal, and listening to him I got
the feeling that, not only is Mulvaney of a different political persuasion,
but that he was raised in a different dimensional space. There are individual
atrocities a'plenty: zeroing out Meals on Wheels; an outright assault on
the government's role in science; a butchery of Medicaid that only makes
marginal sense if the dead-fish healthcare bill passes first; shredding
any EPA efforts to combat climate change; and hefty cuts to the SCHIP
program for children's health, food stamps, and the Earned Income Tax
Credit. These are Republican proposals, movement conservative proposals,
proposals that any Republican candidate would be proud to take to the
Iowa caucuses in 2020.
Matt Shuham: WH Budget Center: 'I Hope" Fewer People Get Social Security
Marshall Steinbaum: Your Economics Are On Backwards: Why Trump's Budget
Will Not Spur Growth: As noted elsewhere, the case for balancing
the budget is based on high growth stimulated by lower taxes for the
rich. Steinbaum explains why this doesn't work:
The reason regressive tax cuts don't spur growth is that, rather than
incentivizing investment or employment, lower rates for top earners
only encourage them to negotiate for higher salaries. Under President
Eisenhower, the top marginal income tax rate was 90 percent. This rate
created a de facto maximum income, because it simply made no sense to
demand exorbitant pay packages. Instead, companies spent these dollars
elsewhere -- either in expanded capacity or higher wages for their
workers. Not shockingly (except, perhaps, to conservatives), growth
Today's economy is the opposite: Rates are so low that an additional
dollar of income for the rich running or owning businesses is almost
always more appealing than spending that additional dollar on investment
or wages. And growth is sluggish, at best.
For an example of how far rewards at the top have gone, see
Sam Pizzigati: Walmart's $237 Million Man: How Americans Subsidize
Inequality. Also recommended for more general issues is
In Conversation: Brad DeLong and Marshall Steinbaum, an interview
with Heather Boushey -- all three edited After Piketty: The Agenda
for Economics and Inequality. Interesting comment here from DeLong:
Ronald Reagan was absolutely awful for the manufacturing jobs of the
Michigan Reagan Democrats. He pushed the dollar up by 50 percent. And
lo and behold, that just sent Midwestern manufacturing a signal that
it should shut down. Today, the dollar is up by 10 percent since Trump's
election, and whatever legislation rolls through Congress is likely to
involve a large tax decrease for the rich, in which case we will see
another bigger dollar cycle than we have now. Let the dollar go up by
another 10 percent, and that's a hit to the manufacturing employment
that is much, much larger than China's entry into the World Trade
Organization or any plausible effects of the North American Free
Matthew Yglesias: Donald Trump's budget relies on magic economic growth;
The dumb accounting error at the heart of Trump's budget. From the
But budgets are important as statements of values. One clear headline
value of the Trump budget is an overwhelming preference for cutting
taxes on high-income families over providing food, medical care, housing
assistance, and other support to low-income families.
The growth accounting mess shows a parallel value -- or, rather,
lack of value -- placed on the idea of governing with integrity. . . .
Trump's White House is just going through the motions. They're supposed
to release a budget proposal, so they released a budget proposal. Whether
or not it makes any sense is a matter of total indifference to them. But
they've now kicked the can to congressional Republicans in an awkward
way, since if Congress wants to enact a budget, they need to enact a
real one with details filled in. Meaning they can't possibly match the
unrealistic aspirations Trump has laid out for them.
Also a few links less directly tied to Trump, though sometimes still
to America's bout of political insanity:
Max Boot: The Seth Rich 'Scandal' Shows That Fox News Is Morally
Beth Gardiner: Three Reasons to Believe in China's Renewable Energy Boom:
Some astonishing numbers here, like "China added 35 gigawatts of new solar
generation in 2016 alone" and that coal consumption "fell in 2016 for the
third straight year." Meanwhile, back in the USA:
Dahr Jamail: Scientists Predict There Will Be No Glaciers in the
Contiguous US by 2050 -- but Trump Is Stomping on the Gas Pedal.
Paul Krugman: Trucking and Blue-Collar Woes: Starts with a chart on
"wages of transportation and warehousing workers in today's dollars,
which have fallen by a third since the early 1970s." He further explains
Why? This is neither a trade nor a technology story. We're not importing
Chinese trucking services; robot truck drivers are a possible future, but
not here yet. The article mentions workers displaced from manufacturing,
but that's a pretty thin reed. What it doesn't mention is the obvious
Unfortunately the occupational categories covered by the BLS have
changed a bit, so it will take someone with more time than I have right
now to do this right. But using the data at unionstats we can see that
a drastic fall in trucker unionization took place during the 1980s: 38
percent of "heavy truck" drivers covered by unions in 1983, already down
to 25 percent by 1991. It's not quite comparable, but only 13 percent of
"drivers/sales workers and truck drivers" were covered last year.
In short, this looks very much like a non tradable industry where
workers used to have a lot of bargaining power through collective action,
and lost it in the great union-busting that took place under Reagan and
Krugman speculates that "the great majority of the people whose chance
at a middle-class life was destroyed by those political changes voted for
Trump." But he doesn't follow up. Why did they vote for Trump? It sure
wasn't because Trump promised to bring unions back, because he never did.
All they got from Trump was a chance to vent their spleen. But Clinton
didn't offer to bring back unions either. Maybe she offered them a chance
to go back to school somewhat cheaper, but even that wasn't clear. If you
want to have a middle class, you have to pay middle class wages to
blue-collar workers. And if you aren't willing to go that far, everything
you say about "middle class" is cant.
Elsewhere, Krugman linked to
Sarah Birnbaum: An Economist reporter dishes on Trump's 'priming the pump'
interview, including the story of how Ag Secretary Sonny Perdue saved
So Sonny Perdue literally asked his staff to draw up a map of the bits
of America that had voted for Donald Trump and the bits of America that
do well from exporting grain and corn through NAFTA. [The map] showed
how these two areas often overlap. So he went in, said to Donald Trump,
"Actually, Trump America, your voters, they do pretty well out of NAFTA."
And the president said, "Oh. Then maybe I won't withdraw from NAFTA."
Evidently there was no one around to point out that those same
grain and corn exports was what drove so many Mexican peasants from
their farms to seek employment in the US -- the single most dramatic
effect of NAFTA wasn't the loss of American factory jobs but the
decimation of Mexican agriculture due to the flood of cheaper US
grain. But then, the piece also includes a quote from David Rennie,
describing the "atmosphere" of the Oval Office:
It's kind of like being in a royal palace several hundred years ago,
with people coming in and out, trying to catch the ear of the king.
That's the feel at the Trump Oval Office. He likes to be surrounded
by his courtiers. . . .
And the role of some pretty senior figures, including cabinet
secretaries, was to chime in and agree with whatever the president
had just said, rather than offering candid advice.
There was a moment with Steve Mnuchin, the Treasury secretary.
We were talking [to Trump] about China and currency manipulation.
On the campaign trail, Trump was very ferocious about [calling China
a currency manipulator.] [In our interview], he said, "As soon as I
started talking about China being a currency manipulator, they cut
it out." Actually that's not true. China [stopped manipulating the
currency] two or three years ago.
What was striking was, when he made that point, Steve Mnuchin,
the Treasury secretary, chimed in and said, "Oh yeah. The day he
became president, they changed their behavior!" And factually,
that's just not right. It's quite striking to see a cabinet
secretary making that point in that way.
Laura Secor: The Patient Resilience of Iran's Reformers: While
Trump was forging his anti-Iran coalition in Saudi Arabia, Iran had
a presidential election, where 75% of the electorate turned out and
57% of the voters reëlected Hassan Rouhani, the "moderate reformer"
who signed the deal halting Iran's "nuclear program," over a much
more conservative, anti-Western opponent. Also:
Hooman Majd: Iran Just Prove Trump Wrong;
Muhammad Sahimi: As Iran Elects a Moderate, Trump Cozies up to its
Terrorist Enemy Saudi Arabia.
Matt Taibbi: Roger Ailes Was One of the Worst Americans Ever:
Makes a good case, but that got me wondering who were the ten worst
Americans ever. Naturally, the list tends toward political figures,
because their misdeeds tend to be amplified in ways that mere bank
robbers and serial killers can never attain (compare, e.g., Ted
Bundy and McGeorge Bundy, although at least Ted was solely culpable
where McGeorge was wrapped up in groupthink and depended on others
to do the actual dirty work. Here's a quick, off the top of my head,
list, in more-or-less chronological order:
- Aaron Burr, who made the first blatant attempt to turn the young
republic into a kleptocracy; he could have been our Yeltsin or Suharto
or Mubarak or Mobuto.
- John C. Calhoun, the would be architect of slavocracy and de facto
designer of the use of "states rights" to perpetuate white supremacy.
- John Wilkes Boothe, whose assassination of Abraham Lincoln ended
any chance for a graceful reconstruction (not that such was actually
- John D. Rockefeller, whose ruthlessness turned business into empire
building on a grand scale.
- J. Edgar Hoover, whose iron control of the FBI created a bureaucracy
that could cower presidents.
- Joseph McCarthy, whose witch hunts elevated the "paranoid style" so
common in American politics to an unprecedented level of viciousness.
- Richard Nixon, for many things including his singular lack of scruples
when it came to winning elections.
- Henry Kissinger, the foreign policy mandarin who exported dirty wars
all around the world.
- Antonin Scalia, the judge and legal theorist whose "originalism" set
new standards for sophistry in support of right-wing politics.
- Dick Cheney, the prime driver behind the so-called "global war on
terrorism"; i.e., the poisonous projection of American power into every
corner of the globe.
Can Ailes crack that list? That's a tall order, but I wouldn't dismiss
the suggestion out of hand. One might argue that the conservative backlash
that lifted Nixon and Reagan was just a matter of re-centering politics
after exceptionally liberal periods, but the right-wing resurgence from
1994 onward has almost exclusively been manufactured by a broad network
of well-funded behind-the-scenes actors and their success is mostly due
to the creation of a hardcore propaganda network, of which Ailes' Fox News
has been the flagship. The only other individual to rise out of this swamp
to a comparable level of notoreity has been Charles Koch -- another prime
candidate, especially if we expand the list a bit.
Back to the story, Taibbi writes:
Moreover, Ailes built a financial empire waving images of the Clintons
and the Obamas in front of scared conservatives. It's no surprise that
a range of media companies are now raking in fortunes waving images of
Donald Trump in front of terrified Democrats.
It's not that Trump isn't or shouldn't be frightening. But it's
conspicuous that our media landscape is now a perfect Ailes-ian dystopia,
cleaved into camps of captive audiences geeked up on terror and disgust.
The more scared and hate-filled we are, the more advertising dollars
come pouring in, on both sides.
Trump in many ways was a perfect Ailes product, merging as he did the
properties of entertainment and news in a sociopathic programming package
that, as CBS chief Les Moonves pointed out, was terrible for the country,
but great for the bottom line.
The the nth time, Taibbi exaggerates the symmetry, because right and
center have very distinct approaches to reality, not to mention vastly
different political agendas. Right-wing fear and loathing of Clinton/Obama
had less to do with policy than with style, and only touched reality when
they caught the Democrats doing something corrupt. Clinton and Obama, at
least, almost never actually changed anything, so heaping scorn on them
seemed to have little effect. The media might be just as happy ridiculing
Trump -- indeed, the effort bar is pretty low there -- but less obviously
(especially to the media) Trump and the Republicans are doing real damage,
undermining our welfare and way of life, and it's pretty scandalous just
to think of that as entertainment.
Alex Tizon: My Family's Slave: "She lived with us for 56 years. She
raised me and my siblings without pay. I was 11, a typical American kid,
before I realized who she was."
Whew! Think I'll spend the next couple days away from the computer,
out back painting the fence.
Sunday, May 14. 2017
Arthur Protin asked me to
comment on a recent interview with linguist George Lakoff:
Paul Rosenberg: Don't think of a rampaging elephant: Linguist George
Lakoff explains how the Democrats helped elect Trump.
Lakoff has tried to promote himself as the liberal alternative
to Frank Luntz, who's built a lucrative career polling and coining
euphemisms for Republicans. I first read his 2004 primer, Don't
Think of an Elephant! Know Your Values and Frame the Debate,
which consolidated ideas from his earlier Moral Politics: How
Liberals and Conservatives Think -- a dichotomy he's still
pitching as "the strict father/nurturent parent distinction." I've
never liked this concept. I'll grant that conservatives like the
flattering "strict father" construct, not least because it conflates
family and society, in both cases celebrating hierarchical (and,
sure, patriarchal) order, and there's something to be said for
recognizing how they see themselves. But the alternative family
model isn't something I'd like to see scaled up to society, where
nurturing morphs into something patronizing, condescending, and
meddlesome, and worse still that it grants the fundamentally wrong
notion that what's good for families is equally good and proper
for society and government. This is just one of many cases where
Lakoff accepts the framing given by Republicans and tries to game
it, rather than doing what he advises: changing the framing. I
don't doubt that his understanding of cognitive psychology yields
some useful insights into how Democrats might better express their
case -- especially the notion that you lead with your values, not
with mind-numbing wonkery. But it's not just that Democrats don't
know how best to talk. A far bigger problem is that Democrats lack
consensus on values, except inasmuch as they've been dictated by
the need to collect and coalesce all of the minorities that the
You see, back in Nixon days, with Kevin Phillips and Pat Buchanan
doing the nerd-work, Republicans started strategizing how to build
a post/anti-New Deal majority. They started with the GOP's core base
(meaning business), whipped up a counterculture backlash (long on
patriotism and patriarchy), and lured in white southerners (with
various codings of racism) and Catholics (hence their about face on
abortion), played up the military and guns everywhere. The idea was
to move Nixon's "silent majority" to their side by driving a wedge
between them and everyone else, who had no options other than to
become Democrats. The Democrats played along, collecting the votes
Republicans drove their way while offering little in return. Rather,
with unions losing power and businesses gaining, politicians like
the Clintons figured out how to triangulate between their base and
various moneyed interests (especially finance and high-tech).
Lakoff is right that Clinton's campaign often played into Trump's
hands. While some examples are new, that's been happening at least
since Bill Clinton ran first for president in 1992. Clinton adopted
so many Republican talking points -- on crime and welfare, on fiscal
balance, on deregulating banks and job-killing trade deals -- that
the Republicans had nowhere to go but even further right. For more
on Clinton and his legacy, see Thomas Frank's Listen, Liberal!
Or, What Ever Happened to the Party of the People? The key point
is that Clinton almost never challenged the values Republicans tried
to put forth. Rather, he offered a more efficient (and slightly less
inhumane) implementation of them. Indeed, his administration oversaw
the largest spurt of growth in the wealth of the already rich. If
the rich still favored Republicans, that was only because the latter
promised them even more -- maybe not wealth, but more importantly
power. That Clinton left the rich unsatisfied was only part of the
problem his legacy would face. He also left his voters disillusioned,
and his post-presidency buckraking left him looking even more cynical
and corrupt, in ways that could never be spun or reframed.
So Hillary Clinton's own political career started with two big
problems. One was that she was viewed as a person whose credentials
were built on nepotism -- not on her own considerable competency,
except perhaps in marrying well -- and even when she seemed to be
in charge, he remained in her shadow. The second was that she
couldn't separate herself from the legacy of ashes -- the demise
of American manufacturing jobs, the concentration of wealth for
a global financial elite. Indeed, with her high-paid speeches to
Wall Street, she seemed not just blind but shameless. Her husband
had refashioned the Democratic Party into a personal political
machine, both by promoting personal cronies and by losing control
of Congress (a source of potential rivals), leaving her with a
substantial but very circumscribed fan base.
As for Hillary's campaign, as Lakoff says, the focus was
The Clinton campaign decided that the best way to defeat Trump was
to use his own words against him. So they showed these clips of Trump
saying outrageous things. Now what Trump was doing in those clips was
saying out loud things that upset liberals, and that's exactly what
his followers liked about him. So of course they were showing what
actually was helping Trump with his supporters.
Lakoff doesn't say this, but the lesson I draw was that Clinton's
big failure was in treating Trump as an anomalous, embarrassing
personal foe, rather than recognizing that the real threat of a
Trump administration would be all of the Republicans he would
bring into government. She thought that by underplaying partisan
differences she could detach some suburban "moderates" to break
party ranks, and that would make her margin. Her indifference
to her party (and ultimately to her base) followed the pattern
of her husband and Barack Obama, who both lost Democratic control
of Congress after two years, after which they were re-elected but
could never implement any supposed promises. You can even imagine
that they actually prefer divided power: not only does it provide
a ready excuse for their own inability to deliver on popular (as
opposed to donor-oriented) campaign promises, it makes them look
more heroic staving off the Republican assault (a threat which
Republicans have played to the hilt). When Harry Truman found
himself with a Republican Congress in 1946, he went out and waged
a fierce campaign against the "do-nothing Congress." That's one
thing you never saw Clinton or Obama do.
So, sure, you can nitpick Clinton's framing and phrasing all
over the place. A popular view in my household is that she lost
the election with her "deplorables" comment, but you can pick
out dozens of other self-inflicted nicks. I saw an interview
somewhere where a guy said that "everything she says sounds
like bullshit to me" where Trump "made sense." Maybe she could
have been coached into talking more effectively, but the subtext
here is that the guy distrusts her and (somehow) trusts Trump.
Lakoff is inclined to view Trump as some kind of genius (or at
least idiot savant) for this feat, but my own take is that
Hillary was simply extraordinarily tarnished goods. Democrats
have many problems, but not recognizing that is a big one.
Lakoff has a section on "how Trump's tweets look":
Trump's tweets have at least three functions. The first function is
what I call preemptive framing. Getting framing out there before
reporters can frame it differently. So for example, on the Russian
hacking, he tweeted that the evidence showed that it had no effect
on the election. Which is a lie, it didn't say that at all. But the
idea was to get it out there to 31 million people looking at his
tweets, legitimizing the elections: The Russian hacks didn't mean
anything. He does that a lot, constantly preempting.
The second use of tweets is diversion. When something important
is coming up, like the question of whether he is going to use a
blind trust, the conflicts of interest. So what does he do instead?
He attacks Meryl Streep. And then they talk about Meryl Streep for
a couple of days. That's a diversion.
The third one is that he sends out trial balloons. For example,
the stuff about nuclear weapons, he said we need to pay more
attention to nukes. If there's no big outcry and reaction, then he
can go on and do the rest. These are ways of disrupting the news
cycle, getting the real issues out of the news cycle and turning
it to his advantage.
Trump is very, very smart. Trump for 50 years has learned how
to use people's brains against them. That's what master salesmen do.
The three things may have some validity, but Lakoff lost me at
"very, very smart." Much empirical observation suggests that he's
actually very, very stupid. Indeed, much of the reason so many
people (especially in the media) follow him is that they sense
they're watching a train wreck. But also he gets away with shit
because he's rich and famous and (now) very powerful. But can you
really say tweets work for Trump? As I recall, his campaign shut
down his Twitter feed the week or two before the election, just
enough to cause a suspension in the daily embarrassments Trump
Lakoff goes on to talk about how advertisers use repetition
to drum ideas into brains, giving "Crooked Hillary" as an example.
Still, what made "Crooked Hillary" so effective wasn't how many
times Trump repeated it. The problem was how it dovetailed with
her speeches and foundation, about all the money she and her
husband had raked in from their so-called public service. It may
have been impossible for the Democrats to nominate an unassailable
candidate, but with her they made it awfully easy.
For a more detail exposition of Lakoff's thinking, see his
Understanding Trump. There is a fair amount to be learned here,
and some useful advice, but he keeps coming back to his guiding
"strict father" idea, and it's not clear where to go from there.
As someone who grew up under a strict (but not very smart or wise)
father, my instinct is to rebel, but I wouldn't want to generalize
that -- surely there are some fathers worthy of emulation, and I
wouldn't want to condemn such people to rule by the Reagans, Bushes,
and Trumps of this world. The fact is that I consider conservative
family values as desirable, both for individuals and for society.
On the other hand, such family life isn't guaranteed to work out,
nor is it all that common, and I've known lots of people who grew
up just fine without a "strict father." But more importantly, the
desired function of government isn't at all analogous to family.
This distinction seems increasingly lost these days -- indeed,
important concepts like public interest and countervailing power
(indeed, checks and balances) have lost currency -- but that's
in large part because the Democrats have followed the Republicans
in becoming whores of K-Street.
Still, I find what Lakoff and, especially, Luntz do more than
a little disturbing. They're saying that we can't understand a
thing in its own terms, but instead will waver with the choice
of wording. It's easy to understand the attraction of such clever
sophistry for Republicans, because they often have good reason
to cloak their schemes in misleading rhetoric. Any change they
want to make is a "reform." More underhanded schemes get more
camouflage -- the gold standard is still Bush's plan to expedite
the clearcutting of forests on public lands, aka the "Healthy
Forests Initiative." Similarly, efforts they dislike get labels
like Entitlement Programs or Death Taxes or Obamacare. And so much
the better when they get supposedly neutral or even opposition
sources to adopt their terminology, but at the very least they
make you work extra hard to reclaim the language.
Republicans need to do this because so much of their agenda
is contrary to the interests of many or most people. But I doubt
that the answer to this is to come up with your own peculiarly
slanted vocabulary. Better, I think, to debunk when they're
trying to con you, because they're always out to con you. Even
the "strict father" model of hierarchy is a con, originating
in the notion that the social order starts with the king on
top, with its extension to the family just an afterthought.
But they can't very well lead with the king, given that we
fought a foundational war to free ourselves from such tyranny.
Indeed, beyond the dubious case of "strict fathers" it's hard
to find any broad acceptance of social hierarchy in America --
something Democrats should give some thought to.
On the other hand, Democratic (or liberal) euphemisms and
slogans haven't fared all that well either, and to the extent
they obfuscate or distort they undermine our claims to base
our political discourse in the world of fact and logic. Aside
from "pro-choice" I can't think of many examples. (In contrast
to "right-to-life" it actually means something, but I believe
that a more important point is that entering into an extended
responsibility requires a conscious choice -- pregnancy doesn't,
but the free option of an abortion makes parenthood a deliberate
choice. But I also think that deciding to continue or abort a
pregnancy is a personal matter, not something the state should
involve itself in. So there are two reasons beyond the frivolous
air of "choice.")
There is, by the way, a growing body of literature on the low
regard reason is held in regarding political matters. One book I
have on my shelf (but somehow haven't gotten to) is Jonathan
Haidt's The Righteous Mind: Why Good People Are Divided by
Politics and Religion (2012); another is Drew Westen's
The Political Brain: The Role of Emotion in Deciding the
Fate of the Nation (2007). These books and similar research
provide hints for politicians to try to scam the system. They
also provide clues for honest citizens trying to foil them.
The big news story this week was Trump's firing of FBI Director
James Comey. This has forced me to revisit two positions I have
tended to hold in these pages. The first is that when people would
warn of some likely coup, I always assumed they meant that some
organization like the US military might step in to relieve Trump
of his power. This, pretty clearly, was not going to happen: (1)
the US military still has some scruples about things like this;
and (2) Trump is giving them everything they want anyway, so what
reason might they have to turn on him? Trump's firing of Comey
isn't a coup, because Trump was already in power. It was a purge,
and not his first one -- he fired all those US Attorneys, and
several other people who dared to question him. But those were
mostly regular political appointees, so to some extent they were
expected. As I understand it, the FBI Director enjoys the job
security of a ten-year term, so Trump broke some new ground in
firing Comey. It seems clear now that Trump will continue to
break new ground in purging the federal government of people he
disagrees with -- to an extent which may not be illegal but is
already beyond anything we have previously experienced.
Second, I tended to disagree with the many people who expected
Trump not to survive his 4-year term. I would express this in odds,
which were always somewhat a bit above zero. I still don't consider
a premature termination of some sort to be likely, but the odds have
jumped up significantly. I don't want to bother with plotting out
various angles here. Just suffice it to say that he's become a much
greater embarrassment in the past week. In particular, I don't see
how he can escape an independent prosecutor at this point. Sure,
he'll try to stall, like he has done with his tax returns, but I
think the Russia investigation will be much harder to dodge. Also,
I think he's dug a deeper hole for himself there. It seems most
likely that Comey would have done to him what he did to Hillary
Clinton: decide not to prosecute, but present a long list of
embarrassments Democrats could turn into talking points (after
all, he's a fair guy, and that would balance off his previous
errors). Hard to say whether an independent prosecutor would do
anything differently. Probably depends on whether he draws some
partisan equivalent of Kenneth Starr.
Meanwhile, some links on the purge:
Max Boot: Trump Keeps Acting Like He Has Something to Hide
Jonathan Chait: Trump Has Sparked the Biggest Political Crisis Since
Trump Is Trying to Control the FBI. It's Time to Freak Out.
Esme Cribb: UN Ambassador Defends Comey Firing: Trump Is 'CEO of the
Country': Nikki Haley, adding "He can hire and fire whoever he
wants." Actually, many of his hires must first be approved by the US
Senate. And most government employees are protected by civil service
laws. CEOs often have similar restrictions, but Haley seems to think
they possess enough absolute power for the president to envy, much
as CEOs often envy the power of absolute monarchs and dictators.
Tim Dickinson: The Totally Deserved but Deeply Troubling Firing of
Bridgette Dunlap: Trump's Surprise at Comey Firing Fallout Is a Scary
James Fallows: Five Reasons the Comey Affair Is Worse Than Watergate:
"The underlying offense"; "The blatancy of the interference"; "The nature
of the president"; "The resiliency of the fabric of American institutions";
and "The cravenness of party leaders."
Travis Gettys: Comey Furious Over Trump Team's Smear Campaign -- and
He's Prepared to Respond
Charles Krauthammer: A political ax murder: Not that he minds
("Comey had to go") but still "brutal even by Washington standards.
(Or even Roman standards. Where was the vein-opening knife and the
Michael Kruse: 'He Doesn't Give a Crap Who He Fires': "The only
people who aren't surprised by Trump's dismissal of James Comey are
the people who've watched his whole career."
Kathleen Parker: A theory: Trump fired Comey because he's taller:
Probably the most benign spin, but one that occurred to my wife,
so I figure it's worth mentioning.
David Rothkopf: Is America a Failing State?
The brazen firing of Comey is an escalation. If Trump is allowed to
get away with this and appoint a lackey as chief investigator into
his team's alleged wrongdoing, the world will see the United States
as a failing state, one that is turning its back on the core ideas
on which it was founded -- that no individual is above the law and
that those in the government, at every level including the president,
work for the people.
Michael S Schmidt: In a Private Dinner, Trump Demanded Loyalty. Comey
Bruce Shapiro: Comey's Firing Is Worse Than the Saturday Night
Andrew Sullivan: Trump Just Incriminated Himself
Jeffrey Toobin: Firing Comey Was a Grave Abuse of Power: "In
1974, Republicans put country before Party and told Nixon it was
time to go. Today's G.O.P. seems unlikely to live up to its
Laurence H Tribe: Trump must be impeached. Here's why. I wouldn't
normally bother with such an unlikely scenario, but consider the
source. For more on Tribe, see:
Dahlia Lithwick: How the President Obstructed Justice. In an
unrelated matter, Tribe had made some news recently:
Ryan Koronowski: One of the Nation's Most Respected Constitutional
Scholars Sells Out to Nation's Largest Coal Company.
By firing James Comey, Trump as put impeachment on the table.
Some scattered links this week in the Trumpiverse:
Robert L Borosage: Donald Trump Is Waging a War on Workers
Rosa Brooks: Donald Trump Is America's Experiment in Having No
Government: For example:
Meanwhile, President Trump froze most federal hiring, ensuring, for
the experiment's sake, that the executive branch is also short-staffed
at middle and lower levels. Similarly, Trump has asked Congress to slash
the budgets for most civilian agencies, in the hopes that those employees
who remain will be unable to fund any programs. He has moved quickly to
eliminate many of the regulations put into place by previous governments,
leaving private sector actors more free to pollute the environment and
fleece the general public. This week, President Trump announced his
intention to precipitously slash corporate taxes as well, in an apparent
effort to reduce federal revenues and thus further reduce the federal
government's ability to function.
Elisabeth Garber-Paul: Jeff Sessions Orders Harsher Sentences, Taking
US Policy Back to the 1980s
Peter Maass: Birth of a Radical: Profile of Steve Bannon protégé
Gareth Porter: Will Trump Agree to the Pentagon's Permanent War in
Iraq, Afghanistan and Syria?
Micah Schwartzman/Mark Joseph Stern: How Trump Will Transform the
Federal Courts: Republicans have been systematically nominating
younger judges, on the theory that they'll stay in power longer,
resulting through natural selection in a disproportionately conservative
bench. Trump's influence will also be furthered by McConnell keeping
open "more than 100 court vacancies" (double the number open when
Obama became president).
Steven W Thrasher: Trump voter fraud commission is a shameless white
power grab: Hard to think of anything America needs less than a
kangaroo court led by Mike Pence and Kris Kobach coming up with new
schemes to keep even more people from voting. Still, voter suppression
has already helped Republicans get elected, for instance in Wisconsin:
Ari Berman: Wisconsin's Voter-ID Law Suppressed 200,000 Votes in 2016
(Trump Won by 22,748); Berman also wrote:
Trump's Commission on 'Election Integrity' Will Lead to Massive Voter
James Traub: Donald Trump Is the President America Deserves: Author
normally covers politics in France, which after spurning Marine Le Pen
seems relatively sane and sensible.
Matthew Yglesias: The latest Trump interview once again reveals appalling
ignorance and dishonesty
Also a few links less directly tied to Trump, though sometimes still
to America's bout of political insanity:
Jessica Bonanno: Progressive Senators Are Going Big for Employee
Ownership of the Businesses They Work At: Specifically, Bernie
Sanders and Kirsten Gillibrand. I'm a big fan of employee-owned
businesses: they promise to harmonize labor-management relations,
and they inherently incentivize workers to contribute as much as
possible. This strikes me as preferable even to unions, which give
workers more power and a fairer share of profits but work mostly
through adversarial conflict. Gar Alperovitz has written much
about this. Thomas Geoghegan has focused more on Germany's
co-determination system, which gives workers board seats but
not actual equity.
Ariel Dorfman: What Herman Melville Can Teach Us About the Trump Era:
"He would point out that what plagues us are the sins of the past coming
home to roost: America's tolerance of bigotry and blindness to its own
Tom Engelhardt: The Globalization of Misery. Also new at TomDispatch
Danny Sjursen: America's Wars and "More" Strategy; and
William Hartung: Ignoring the Costs of War. From the latter:
Even on the rare occasions when the costs of American war preparations
and war making are actually covered in the media, they never receive
the sort of attention that would be commensurate with their importance.
Last September, for example, the Costs of War Project at Brown University's
Watson Institute released a
paper demonstrating that, since 2001, the U.S. had racked up $4.79
trillion in current and future costs from its wars in Iraq, Afghanistan,
Pakistan, and Syria, as well as in the war at home being waged by the
Department of Homeland Security. . . .
On the dubious theory that more is always better when it comes to
Pentagon spending (even if that means less is worse elsewhere in
America), Trump is requesting a $54 billion increase in military
spending for 2018. No small sum, it's roughly equal to the entire
annual military budget of France, larger than the defense budgets
of the United Kingdom, Germany, and Japan, and only $12 billion less
than the entire Russian military budget of 2015.
Henry Farrell: Cybercriminals have just mounted a massive worldwide
attack. Here's how NSA secrets helped them. Also:
Sam Biddle: Leaked NSA Malware Is Helping Hijack Computers Around
Richard Kreitner: 'Trump Is Just Tearing Off the Mask': An Interview
with Eric Foner: Who has a new book: Battles for Freedom: The
Use and Abuse of American History.
Nina Martin: The Last Person You'd Expect to Die in Childbirth:
"The US has the worst rate of maternal deaths in the developed world,
and 60 percent are preventable."
Sophia A McClennen: The DNC's elephant in the room: Dems have a problem --
it's not Donald Trump: Some sobering numbers here:
Trump currently has a 45.1[*] percent favorability rating, one of the lowest
for any president in the history of polling. But Democrats fare worse.
The DNC has only a 38.8 percent favorability rating.
A January Gallup poll indicated that party identification is at record
lows, with 42 percent identifying as independents, 29 percent as Democrats,
and 26 percent as Republicans. A recent Washington Post poll showed that
the DNC trailed both Trump and the GOP when voters were asked if the party
was "in touch" with their concerns. In fact, only 28 percent of those
polled felt the party was connected with issues that matter to them. . . .
The elephant in the room for the DNC isn't Trump or the GOP or Bernie
bros or Russian hackers; it is its own elitist, corporatist, cronyist,
corrupt system that consistently refuses to listen to the will of the
people it hopes to represent. Thus far, though, DNC leadership has
refused to take these issues seriously. It's a strategy that smacks
of arrogance and hubris. And it's a politics that looks a lot more
like the GOP than a party invested in helping the little guy.
[*] Latest figure at 538 is 40.6% approve Trump, 53.4% disapprove.
Jacob Sugarman: The Financial Crisis That Spawned Austerity, Corporatized
the Democratic Party and Gave the World Donald Trump: Interview
with Kim Phillips-Fein, who has a new book about New York City's
default in 1975: Fear City: New York City's Fiscal Crisis and the
Rise of Austerity Politics.
Matt Taibbi: Free Lunch for Everyone: Review of Rutger Bregman's
book, Utopia for Realists, which "argues that money should be
free and a 15-hour work week sounds about right." Taibbi also wrote
The War in the White House, which prematurely cited April 5-7
as "the most crucial [period] in the history of America's last
president, Donald John Trump." Mostly about Steve Bannon, whose
power was curtailed during said period, yet a month later he's
started to look like the sane one. The fact that someone with
the imagination and flair of Taibbi can't write a piece on Trump
that doesn't seem hopelessly dated two weeks hence is possibly
the scariest statement you can make about the president.
Stephen M Walt: 'Mission Accomplished' Will Never Come in Afghanistan