Sunday, December 10. 2017
The Democrats in Congress, especially the leadership, have had a
really bad week, and I fear they've inflicted grave wounds on themselves.
John Conyers and Al Franken have resigned after enormous pressure from
the party leadership, leaving the party with fewer votes, summarily
ending two notable careers. I especially blame Nancy Pelosi and Chuck
Shumer. Back in 2016 Hillary Clinton like to posit a "Commander-in-Chief
Test," figuring she'd compare favorably to Donald Trump by emphasizing
her own fondness for military adventures -- I think her hawkishness was
a big part of why she lost, but my point isn't to rehash her delusions.
Rather, what we saw last week was a "Shop Steward" test, which Pelosi
and Shumer utterly failed. They let a little media pressure blow them
over. More importantly, they failed to insist on due process, on the
most basic principles of traditional American justice, and in doing so
they sacrificed political standing and insulted and demeaned the voters
who had elected Conyers and Franken.
Supposedly, one thing the Democrats hope to achieve in sacking
Conyers and Franken is "the moral high ground" -- demonstrating
their superior sensitivity to and concern for victims of sexual
misconduct (pretty broadly defined). In theory, this will pay off
in defeating Roy Moore in next week's Alabama Senate race and/or
in putting pressure on Donald Trump to resign. In fact, Trump was
elected president after 19 women accused him of various shades of
assault, and after he bragged about as much. While Moore is facing
a closer election than Alabama Republicans are used to, he remains
the favorite to win Tuesday. And while some Democrats imagine that
if Moore wins the Senate will refuse to seat him, I can't imagine
the Republicans sacrificing power like that. Nor, quite frankly,
should they. (The only duly elected member I can recall either
branch of Congress refusing to seat was Adam Clayton Powell, in a
shameful travesty -- although, come to think of it, they did take
months before allowing Al Franken to enter.)
Some scattered links this week:
Matthew Yglesias: 4 stories that mattered in politics this week:
The tax reform hit some snags ("Senate Republicans appear to have
written a corporate AMT provision that they intended to raise a
little bit of revenue in a sloppy way that actually raises a ton
of revenue and alienates the businesses who were supposed to benefit
from a big tax cut"); President Trump recognized Jerusalem as Israel's
capital; Al Franken announced he'll resign; The government will stay
open for a couple of weeks. Other Yglesias pieces:
We have a trial date: March 19, "the beginning of the trial at which
the Justice Department will seek to block the merger of AT&T and
Time Warner." There is no shortage of good reasons for blocking this
merger, and indeed for untangling all of the past mergers between
data transit and content companies, although it's surprising to see
Trump's DOJ lifting a finger to prevent the further concentration of
predatory corporate power.
Apple could get a staggering $47 billion windfall from the tax
What's particularly striking about this windfall is that though Apple
has been a fierce advocate for corporate tax reform -- $47 billion is
a lot of money after all -- Apple CEO Tim Cook has explained over and
over again that shoveling billions into his corporate treasury won't
boost his investment spending.
He already has plenty of cash, but beyond that, when Cook wants
Apple to invest more, he borrows the money.
Tomorrow's financial crisis today: Points out that less than ten
years after the worst recession since the 1930s Trump's administration
is working to undermine the Treasury's Office of Financial Research
and "let banks take on more risky debt:
The nature of a banking crisis is you probably won't have one in any
given year, regardless of how shoddy your regulatory framework is. As
long as asset prices are trending upward, it just doesn't matter. In
fact, as long as asset prices are trending upward, a poorly regulated
banking sector will be more profitable than a well-regulated one.
It's all good. Unless things blow up. But if your bad policymaking
takes us from a one-in-500 chance of a blow-up in any given year to a
one-in-20 chance, you're still in a world where things will probably
be fine across even an entire eight-year span in office. Probably.
Trump has taken a lot of risky bets in his life. And though he's
often lost, he's usually been insulated by his inherited wealth and
by his very real skill at structuring deals so other people end up
holding a lot of the downside. Any presidency inherently has that
kind of structure with or without skill. Presidents suffer when they
make mistakes, but other people suffer more.
?he key phrase here is "as long as asset prices are trending
upward." The surest way to keep asset prices rising is to let rich
people make and keep more money, which is what happened from the
Bush tax cuts forward to 2007-08. What broke then turned out to be
pretty simple: a big chunk of those assets were built on subprime
mortgages, and the people who signed up for the mortgages weren't
able to grow their incomes enough to cover their debts, so they
defaulted; meanwhile, the banks had leveraged themselves so much
they couldn't cover their losses, so they started to fail in a
cascade that threatened to make the "domino theory" look like
small potatoes. But the government, especially the Fed, stepped
in and pumped several trillions of dollars into the banks to prop
them up so they could unwind their losses more gracefully, while
the government did very little to help the little people who
suffered the brunt of the recession. (I was going to say "virtually
nothing," but things like extended unemployment benefits did help
keep the recession from matching the desolation caused by the Great
Depression.) We're already seeing asset bubbles in things like the
stock market. The whole point of Trump's tax cuts and deregulation
is to feed this bubble, even though there is no clear way to sustain
the trend or to appease the financier's appetite for ever greater
profits. Coupled with a massive collapse of business ethics -- this
has been growing since the "greed is good" Reagan era, but Trump is
an even more shocking role model -- it's only a matter of time before
the whole edifice collapses.
We need a healthier conversation about partisanship and sexual
The tax bill is a tax cut, not a culture war: Pushes back against the
idea that Republicans chose targets to "reform" by how much they would
hurt "blue states" (the SALT deduction being the obvious example). Shows
that the overriding reasoning behind the cuts/reforms is to favor the
rich over the poor, regardless of where they may live or do business.
Of course, the real cost to poor and working Americans won't appear in
scoring the bill -- it will come later in the form of service cuts and
the ever-widening chasm between "haves and have-nots."
Republicans need Roy Moore to pass their tax bill.
Groundbreaking empirical research shows where innovation really comes from.
Democrats need to get a grip about the budget deficit: "The tax bill
is bad, the debt is fine." ARgues that "Bush's deficits were fine and
Trump's will be too" and that "Obama's deficits were way too small."
Don't worry about the debt.
Matthew Cole/Jeremy Scahill: Trump White House Weighing Plans for Private
Spies to Counter "Deep State" Enemies: Evidently one of Erik Prince's
schemes, notably backed by Oliver North. One suspicious point is that the
scheme would still report to CIA Director Mike Pompeo, figuring him more
loyal to Trump than to the "Deep State" he nominally manages a big chunk
of. Also see
Aram Roston: Private War: Erik Prince Has H is Eye on Afghanistan's Rare
Metals. Evidently the mercenary leader is trying to turn his private
army into some sort of modern British East India Company colossus.
Juliet Eilperin: Uranium firm urged Trump officials to shrink Bears Ears
National Monument: Helps explain why Trump and Zinke radically shrunk
the borders of the National Monument (see maps). The land still belongs
to the federal government, but will now be managed by the Bureau of Land
Management. For info on what that means, see
Adam Federman: This Is How the Trump Administration Gives Big Oil the
Keys to Public Lands.
Tara Golsham: Rep. Trent Franks, who is resigning immediately, offered
staffer $5 million to be his baby surrogate: One of the more bizarre
stories of recent weeks: Arizona Republican, "a deeply conservative
member of the House Freedom Caucus and one of the most pro-life members
of Congress. Evidently he has that kind of money, and assumes it
entitles him to run roughshod over others.
Jim Kirby: Hillary Clinton's emails got as much front-page coverage in
6 days as policy did in 69: An analysis of New York Times -- your
newspaper or preferred media source may vary (with some never matching
that 6-day email window), but for a supposedly sober and serious news
source, that's pretty disgusting. One might argue that Hillary's email
controversy speaks to her character, but no more so than hundreds or
thousands of Donald Trump anecdotes. Even so, you'd think it sensible
that news coverage of an election would focus more on likely policies
and future scenarios than on past personal quirks. The only excuse I
can think of is that today's campaigns are often as shallow as the media
covering them -- or at least try to be.
Rashid Khalidi: After Jerusalem, the US Can No Longer Pretend to Be an
Honest Broker of Peace: Actually, that was clear even before Trump
ordered the US embassy moved from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, as Khalidi
knows damn well -- he's even written a whole book about it: Brokers
of Deceit: How the US Has Undermined Peace in the Middle East.
What I've yet to see anyone comment on is why the US didn't move the
embassy earlier. The basic reason is respect for international law,
which as this week's announcement shows has sunken to new lows in
Washington. The 1947 UN resolution proposing partition of the British
Mandate in Palestine -- a resolution that David Ben-Gurion lobbied
fervently for -- called for dividing the Mandate into two states, but
keeping Jerusalem separate as an international area. Immediately on
declaring independence in 1948, Israel launched a military offensive
aimed at expanding on the borders the UN prescribed. The main target
of that offensive was Jerusalem, which wound up divided between Israeli
and Jordanian forces. In 1967 Israel launched another war and drove
Jordan from East Jerusalem and the West Bank -- territories that the UN
ordered Israel to return, despite Israel's almost immediate annexation
of Jerusalem and environs. Israel's de facto control of Jerusalem has
never been squared away with the rulings of international law, so no
country with respect for international law has conceded Israel's claim.
"Until now," you might say, but the US has increasingly shown contempt
for international law, and this is just one more example.
By the way, a headline in the Wichita Eagle today: "After US decision
on Jerusalem, Gaza protests turn deadly." First line of article explains
how: "Two Hamas militants were killed in an Israeli airstrike on Saturday
after rocket fire from the enclave hit an Israeli town, as the death toll
in violence linked to President Donald Trump's decision to recognize
Jerusalem as Israel's capital rose to four." No damage was reported
from the Gazan rockets. For info about the other two deaths, see:
Peter Beaumont/Patrick Wintour: Two Palestinians shot dead and one critical
in riots after Trump speech. Also:
Raja Shehadeh: I have witnessed two intifadas. Trump's stance on Israel
may ignite a third.
Sarah Kliff: Obamacare sign-ups defy Trump's sabotage campaign.
German Lopez: Roy Moore: America "was great at the time when families
were united -- even though he had slavery." Anyone who thinks that
the problem with Moore is his fondness for underaged girls clearly
hasn't paid any attention to his politics or to his political legacy.
More worrying is Moore's unwavering contempt for the law -- after
all, Moore has been stripped of his position on the Alabama Supreme
Court for failing to submit to federal law, specifically the First
Amendment. When Donald Trump tries to tout Moore as the "law and
order candidate" he does little more than expose his own flimsy
and dicey relationship to the law. (Meanwhile, Moore's Democratic
opponent, Doug Jones, has a distinguished record as a federal
prosecutor, credentials that only someone as reality-challenged
as Trump can readily dismiss.) I wish I could say that Moore's
casual endorsement of slavery is even more shocking, but we've
always known him to be a racist. After all, Alabama's given us
George Wallace and James Sessions, so how much worse can Moore
be? Well, this statement is a pretty good example: "I think it
[America] was great at the time when families were united -- even
though we had slavery. They cared for one another. People were
strong in the families. Our families were strong. Our country
had a direction." The most obvious problem is that slavery was
a system which denied family life and bonds, one that allowed
slaveowners to prevent or break families by selling members. He
could hardly be clearer that he doesn't regard blacks as people --
as Lopez notes, only one of many blind bigotries Moore espouses.
Still, I detect another curious note in the quote: it's like he's
trying to channel ideologues like George Fitzhugh who tried to
defend slavery as anti-capitalist -- an alternative to the coarse
materialism that Bible-thumpers like Moore so despise.
More on Moore:
Andrew Prokop: Michael Flynn's involvement in a plan to build nuclear
reactors in the Middle East is looking even shadier: More "Russia"
scandal this past week, but one should recall that Russian schemes under
Putin have nothing to do with fomenting world revolution or curtailing
US imperial ambitions: they're founded on pure oligarchic greed, which
isn't at all unlike the Trump approach to business. E.g., this piece
summarizes a "whistleblower" report about a deal Flynn was working on:
According to the whistleblower, [Alex] Copson flat-out said the following
- That he "just got" a text message from Flynn saying the nuclear
plant project was "good to go," and that his business colleagues should
"put things in place"
- That Flynn was making sure sanctions on Russia would be "ripped up,"
which would let the project go forward
- That this was the "best day" of his life, and that the project would
"make a lot of very wealthy people"
- That the project would also provide a pretext for expanding a US
military presence in the Middle East (the pretext of defending the
- That citizens of Middle Eastern countries would be better off "when
we recolonize the Middle East"
David Roberts: A moment of truth arrives for Rick Perry's widely hated
coal bailout: Long article, really should be a much bigger scandal
than anything having to do with "sexual misconduct" -- with billions
of dollars of benefits going to five coal companies, paid for by rate
hikes from millions of consumers, and championed by a moron like Rick
Perry, it wouldn't even take much of a stretch from the media to blow
this up, but evidently they're too lazy to care.
Aja Romano: MSNBC won't cut ties to Sam Seder after all: succumbing
to alt-right outrage was a "mistake": Another cautionary tale,
showing you can't trust anything reported on right-wing media, and
that the kneejerk "zero tolerance" reactions of "liberal" media
combines are set up perfectly to be scammed. More:
Ryan Grim: MSNBC Reverses Decision to Fire Contributor Sam Seder.
Mark Joseph Stern: The Trump Administration Just Declared War on Public
Corey Williams/David Eggert: Conyers' Congressional Seat Won't Be
Filled for Nearly a Year: So, Nancy Pelosi browbeat Conyers into
resigning his seat, certain that a Democrat would replace him -- the
current gerrymander of Michigan concedes that -- but evidently the
Republican governor of Michigan can simply hold the seat open for a
Sunday, December 3. 2017
I spent literally most of last week trying to cook for 60 at the
Wichita Peace Center Annual Dinner on Friday, and I've been sore and
tired ever since. Thought compiling this post might feel like a return
to normalcy, but nothing's normal any more.
Some scattered links this week:
Matthew Yglesias: The 4 most important stories of the week, explained:
Senate Republicans are on track to pass their tax cut (as, indeed, they
did); We found our about more sexual harassers (especially Matt Lauer);
After Rexit (Rex Tillerson, rumored gone but hanging on); North Korea
launched a long-range ICBM (one that could theoretically hit anywhere
in the continental United States). Other Yglesias posts:
Republicans may regret this tax bill: This seems intuitively right.
The biggest political issue in America today is increasing inequality
and its various effects, including the binding of political power and
personal security to private wealth. Moreover, this is an issue with a
strict partisan divide: Republicans are doing everything they can to
concentrate wealth and power in the donor class, and Democrats are more
or less opposed to this and more or less in favor of a more equitable
society (at least like the ones of the New Deal/Great Society era, but
with less racism). To the extent people understand the tax bill, it is
wildly unpopular, so it's something Democrats can and will run on. It
also goes a long ways toward absolving the Democrats' own culpability
for increasing inequality: that the Republicans would, strictly through
a party-line vote, do something this brazen when inequality is already
so severe (and so unpopular) -- and Trump's deregulation program and
blatant surrender of the people's government to business interests --
should expose them for all to see. Yglesias cites
Josh Barro: The Republican tax plan creates big long-term opportunities
for Democrats. By the way, one thing Barro argues that I don't for
a moment believe is: "a corporate tax cut should tend to cause wages to
rise a little bit, because a lower corporate tax rate makes the US a
more attractive location to employ people."
We're all in Kansas now: A reference to Gov. Sam Brownback's notorious
tax cuts, the enormous fiscal damage they caused, the slower degradation
of infrastructure and services, and their near-zero boost to the economy
(possibly sub-zero compared to nationwide economic growth during the same
period). The only real difference between what Brownback passed and what
the Senate just passed is that the US government is able to float much
more debt, and thereby soften the degradation. By the way, Brownback,
anticipating confirmation as Trump's Ambassador at Large for Religious
Liberty, recently gave a "farewell address," not to the public but to
the Wichita Pachyderm Club, where the only advice he could offer to his
Trump's Treasury Department is lying about its own analysis of the tax
The tax bill's original sin: The idea that the corporate tax rate
must be reduced from 35% all the way to 20%, a much steeper cut than
anyone was even agitating for a few years ago (e.g., the Business
Roundtable was proposing 25% as recently as 2015). One thing I don't
understand is why no one is pushing a progressive tax on business
profits: maybe 10% for the first $1M, 15% for $1-10M, 20% for $10-50M,
25% for $50-250M, 30% for $250M-$1B, 35% for $1-5B, 40% above $5B.
Probably those rates should be a bit higher, and various loopholes
should be filled -- I'd like to see the overall reform on corporate
tax rates produce more (not less) revenue. But something like this
would benefit most companies while only penalizing companies that
use their sheer size and/or monopoly positions to reap huge profits.
And slowing them down would be good for everyone.
Matt Lauer totally blew it on Trump's blatant lying about Iraq and
The rules of "how Congress works" have changed: Points out that
the Senate tax bill faced concerted opposition from many special
interest lobby groups ("the National Association of Realtors, the
National Association of Homebuilders, the AARP, police unions,
hospital associations and the AMA, and the higher education lobby"),
as well as polling poorly among the public, yet Republicans stuck
to their partisan ideology and passed it anyway. That's not how
interest group politics has generally worked in Washington. Yglesias
doesn't say this, but it more generally fits the model of class
warfare. He does note that the Democrats could have crafted a more
viable ACA had they not catered to special interest groups, in the
vain hope that selling out to lobbyists would rally Republican
support for a bipartisan bill.
Had Democrats gone down a different path and pushed a bill with a
strong public option with payment rates linked to Medicare, we would
have seen a very different health policy trajectory over the past
Premiums would have been lower, which would have meant federal
subsidy outlays would have been lower, which would have made it
affordable for Congress to make the subsidies more generous.
Enrollment in ACA exchanges would have been higher; there would
have been no issue with "bare counties"; and, because of lower
premiums, the "just pay the fine" option would have been less
attractive, leading to more stable risk pools.
A deficit trigger can't fix the GOP tax plan
Crisis at the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. Also on this, see
Matt Taibbi: Trump's Consumer Victory Officially Makes a Joke of Financial
New dynamic score shows the Senate tax bill raises debt by more than
The theory behind Trump's tax cuts is exactly what gave us the failed
Bush economy: "An influx of foreign hot money isn't what we need."
A lot of meat here, but one could dig deeper. Foreign money will drive
up asset prices, which will be a windfall for business owners, but once
they sell out those businesses will no longer be rooted in the owners'
communities. Foreign ownership of American companies has been a mixed
blessing: some have gone easier on depressing labor costs, but most
wind up operating as American companies do -- as, indeed, whatever
they can get away with here -- and they're ultimately as likely to
export or automate jobs away as any other capitalists. As Yglesias
notes, much of the influx will eventually be converted into bidding
up real estate prices (he calls this "housing boom 2.0" but I'm more
skeptical that the subprime boom is repeatable, and unless average
Americans start making more money -- inconceivable under Republican
rule -- we're all stuck in the subprime market). His other point is
that the expected influx will strengthen the dollar, hurting exports
and manufacturing jobs, so while the rich get richer, the workers
If the GOP tax plan is so good, why do they lie so much about it?
Partly, I suspect, it's just force of habit, but they really don't
have anything potentially popular to offer -- they're just scamming
for the donor class, and they'll make the suckers pay for it.
New York Times Editorial Board: A Historic Tax Heist:
With barely a vote to spare early Saturday morning, the Senate passed
a tax bill confirming that the Republican leaders' primary goal is to
enrich the country's elite at the expense of everybody else, including
future generations who will end up bearing the cost. The approval of
this looting of the public purse by corporations and the wealthy makes
it a near certainty that President Trump will sign this or a similar
bill into law in the coming days.
The bill is expected to add more than $1.4 trillion to the federal
deficit over the next decade, a debt that will be paid by the poor and
middle class in future tax increases and spending cuts to Medicare,
Social Security and other government programs. Its modest tax cuts for
the middle class disappear after eight years. And up to 13 million
people stand to lose their health insurance because the bill makes
a big change to the Affordable Care Act.
Yet Republicans somehow found a way to give a giant and permanent tax
cut to corporations like Apple, General Electric and Goldman Sachs,
saving those businesses tens of billions of dollars.
Other links on the tax bill:
Steven Greenhouse: America is in crisis. The Republican tax plan will
make that worse.
Ezra Klein: "The hypocrisy is astounding": this tax bill shows the GOP's
debt concerns were pure fraud: Didn't we already know that from the
Bush years (Cheney: "deficits don't matter")? Or for that matter from
the Reagan tax cuts, when US debt exploded faster than any time since
WWII? Wasn't it clear that when McConnell railed about the debt and
tried to cut spending programs that would help rebuild the economy
that his real motive was to "make Obama a one-term president"? Klein
isn't satisfied to call this hypocrisy; he chalks it up to nihilism,
The nihilism extends to process too. Republicans complained bitterly
during the Obama administration that Democrats weren't holding enough
hearings, that they weren't leaving sufficient time to read final bill
text, that they were passing important legislation on party-line votes,
that they were using the budget reconciliation process improperly. Now
they are passing sweeping tax reform through the budget reconciliation
process with no hearings, no effort at bipartisan compromise, and bill
text that was not made public until hours before the final vote. In a
darkly comic twist, changes were handwritten into the legislation in
the final hours:
Sarah Kliff: The tax bill is the start of Obamacare collapse: It
repeals the "individual mandate," which requires individuals to buy
some form of acceptably adequate health insurance or face a tax penalty.
The mandate helps to make risk pools more equitably representative of
the general population, but it also reduce the uninsured population,
some of which wind up being treated at the expense of everyone else.
Without the mandate, insurance policy rates will rise to cover the
increased risk of adverse selection, and hospital charges will rise
to cover emergency treatment of the uninsured (some 41 million people
by current estimates).
Robert S McElvaine: I'm a Depression historian. The GOP tax bill is straight
out of 1929.
Ella Nilsen: "Lots of outrageous things in the bill aren't getting the kind
of attention they ought to"
Dylan Scott/Alvin Chang: The Republican tax bill will exacerbate income
inequality in America: Of course, you know this, but here are more
charts. Most striking, perhaps because least commonly understood, are
the figures for "pass-through income" -- Sen. Ron Johnson (R-WI, or do
I mean Koch?) withheld his vote until the bill cut this even more. The
chart that shows how 69% of all "pass-through income" goes to the top
1% explains why. The main thing that's missing here is the effect of
ending the estate tax on the concentration of wealth into an aristocracy
of heirs. One can also note that the political right has largely been
funded not by entrepreneurs but by heirs -- Richard Mellon Scaife is
a prime example, although you can also count the Kochs and Trump.
Emily Stewart: GOP Senator says it's hard to fund $14 billion children's
health care program -- then advocates for $1 trillion tax cut: after
which it will be even harder, no doubt. Republicans can always think of
excuses for not doing what they don't want to do; even more so, they can
always come up with idiotic rationales to do what they always want to do,
which is mostly to make rich people even richer.
Matt Taibbi: New Tax Plan Contains Even More Bad News for Student
Gordon G Chang: Is Donald Trump Getting Ready to Attack North Korea?
One theory floated here is that the US could disable North Korea by
bombing the pipeline that delivers oil from China and/or their one oil
refinery. Or, better still, the US could intimidate China into shutting
down the pipeline. I don't see how North Korea's leadership does not
take the former as an opening salvo in a war, one that forces them to
retaliate. As for China, they probably understand that keeping their
oil lifeline open is necessary to keeping the peace. And there are real
limits to how much the US can push China around without hurting American
investments in China (or much worse). At some point Trump's people need
to decide whether North Korea having a deterrent against an American
attack that no one in the US military wants to launch is really such
a big problem. At present it mostly seems to be an affront to the egos
of those who still believe the neocon sole-superpower promise of world
domination. Sadly, most of the writers in this "War in Asia?" issue of
The National Interest seem to buy into such delusions.
Thomas B Edsall: The Self-Destruction of American Democracy: After
raising the question of whether Putin backed Trump out of pure malice
for the American people, and quoting Henry Aaron (Brookings senior
fellow, presumably not the Hall of Famer) that "Trump is a political
weapon of mass self-destruction for American democracy -- for its norms,
for its morality, for sheer human decency," he has to admit that "we
Americans created this mess." Then he starts worrying about America's
declining influence and esteem in the world, offering a chart showing
only two (of 37) other countries with higher approval numbers for Trump
than for Obama: Israel (up to 56 from 49) and Russia (way up to 53 from
11). I think the biggest drop was in Sweden (93 to 10), followed by
Germany (86 to 11), Netherlands (92 to 17, South Korea (88 to 17),
and France (84 to 14). Britain and Canada dropped down to 23, from
79 and 83 respectively. Still, loss of approval hasn't yet done much
damage to the empire (although Egypt's decision to allow Russian air
bases is perhaps a harbinger). But this is more to the point:
Add to Trump's list of lies his race baiting, his attacks on a free
press, his charges of "fake news," his efforts to instigate new levels
of voter suppression, his undermining of the legitimacy of the electoral
process, his disregard for the independence of the judiciary, the hypocrisy
of his personal posture on sexual harassment, the patent lack of concern
for delivering results to voters who supported him, his contempt for and
manipulation of his own loyalists, his "failure of character" -- and you
have a lethal corruption of democratic leadership. . . .
At the moment, Trump's co-partisans, House and Senate Republicans,
have shown little willingness to confront him. The longer Trump stays
in office, the greater the danger that he will inflict permanent damage
on the institutions that must be essential tools in any serious attempt
to confront him.
Edsall's error is that he doesn't recognize that those Congressional
Republicans are every bit as contemptuous of democracy as Trump. Indeed,
he gives Trump too much credit, and Charles Koch and Paul Ryan not nearly
Jill Filipovic: The Men Who Cost Clinton the Election: I'm not so
sure about the headline, but is there something more than coincidence
going on here?
Many of the male journalists who stand accused of sexual harassment
were on the forefront of covering the presidential race between Hillary
Clinton and Donald Trump. Matt Lauer interviewed Mrs. Clinton and Mr.
Trump in an official "commander-in-chief forum" for NBC. He notoriously
peppered and interrupted Mrs. Clinton with cold, aggressive, condescending
questions hyper-focused on her emails, only to pitch softballs at Mr.
Trump and treat him with gentle collegiality a half-hour later. Mark
Halperin and Charlie Rose set much of the televised political discourse
on the race, interviewing other pundits, opining themselves and obsessing
over the electoral play-by-play. Mr. Rose, after the election, took a
tone similar to Mr. Lauer's with Mrs. Clinton -- talking down to her,
interrupting her, portraying her as untrustworthy. Mr. Halperin was a
harsh critic of Mrs. Clinton, painting her as ruthless and corrupt,
while going surprisingly easy on Mr. Trump. The reporter Glenn Thrush,
currently on leave from The New York Times because of sexual harassment
allegations, covered Mrs. Clinton's 2008 campaign when he was at Newsday
and continued to write about her over the next eight years for Politico.
A pervasive theme of all of these men's coverage of Mrs. Clinton was
that she was dishonest and unlikable. These recent harassment allegations
suggest that perhaps the problem wasn't that Mrs. Clinton was untruthful
or inherently hard to connect with, but that these particular men hold
deep biases against women who seek power instead of sticking to acquiescent
sex-object status. . . .
It's hard to look at these men's coverage of Mrs. Clinton and not see
glimmers of that same simmering disrespect and impulse to keep women in
a subordinate place. When men turn some women into sexual objects, the
women who are inside that box are one-dimensional, while those outside of
it become disposable; the ones who refuse to be disposed of, who continue
to insist on being seen and heard, are inconvenient and pitiable at best,
deceitful shrews and crazy harpies at worst. That's exactly how some
commentary and news coverage treated Mrs. Clinton.
Of course, it's possible that an individual's hostility to Hillary
has more to do with her being a Clinton than a woman. There's no doubt
that many in the media treated her unfairly. Still, I'm more struck by
how gingerly they treated dozens of more damning scandals, especially
Trump's own sexual abuse history. Filipovic also wrote:
Matt Lauer is gone. He's left heartbreak in his wake.
Susan Hennessey et al: The Flynn Plea: A Quick and Dirty Analysis.
One recalls that from early on Flynn was offering testimony for immunity.
One thing the guilty plea suggests is he does indeed have something to
further Mueller's investigation as it closes in on Trump's inner circle.
Also note that while investigations into foreign interference in American
elections has always focused on Russia, the incident Flynn pleaded guilty
to involved lobbying Russia for Israel: see
Philip Weiss: Flynn's plea on Russia influence reveals . . . Israel's
Richard Silverstein: Flynn Pleads Guilty to Lying About Trump Sabotage
of Security Council Resolution Against Israeli Settlements. Trump's
reaction, of course, was to turn up the crazy:
Dana Milbank: Get ready for Trump's fireworks:
I tried to ignore the Trump shenanigans this week, instead writing about
the drug industry executive Trump tapped to oversee drug pricing and about
the administration lawyer who orchestrated Trump's takeover of the CFPB
after serving as lawyer for a payday lender cited by the CFPB for abuses.
But such pieces generate only a fraction of the clicks of pieces I and
others write about Trump's pyrotechnics.
Those pyrotechnics are going to increase now that Mueller has turned
Flynn. Trump's distractions will be impossible to ignore. But we --
lawmakers, the media and the public -- need to keep our focus on the
real damage Trump is doing.
Shira A Scheindlin: Trump's new team of judges will radically change
Paul Woodward: Have we been lied to about the Kate Steinle case?
Steinle was allegedly killed by an undocumented immigrant, Garcia
Zarate, who was acquitted of murder charges last week. Zarate had
been deported five times, which "made him a very effective villain
for Trump's border security campaign messages." The shooting was
clearly an accident, and it's pretty unlikely the case would ever
have been prosecuted had Zarate been a card-carrying NRA member.
But Trump (aka "the xenophobic, racist, bigot, defiling the Oval
Office") went ballistic over the verdict.
Sunday, November 19. 2017
I've often heard that "politics is the art of the possible" -- the
quote is most often attributed to Otto von Bismarck, who continued:
"the attainable -- the art of the next best." Bismarck is best known
now as the architect of the modern welfare state, something he achieved
with autocratic Prussian efficiency, his generally satisfactory answer
to the threat of proletarian revolution. But the earlier generations
he was better known as the founder of German militarism, a bequest
which less pragmatic followers parlayed into two disastrous world wars.
Then, as now, the "possible" was always limited by preconceptions --
in Bismarck's case, allegiance to the Prussian nobility, which kept
his innovations free of concessions to equality and democracy.
After immersing myself into the arcana of mainstream politics in
the 1960s -- I used to trek to the library to read Congressional
Quarterly's Weekly Reports, I subscribed to the Congressional
Record, and I drew up electoral maps much like Kevin Phillips --
I pivoted and dove into the literature of the politically impossible,
reading about utopian notions from Thomas More to Ignatius Donnelly
to Paul Goodman (whose Utopian Essays & Practical Proposals
is a title I still fancy recapitulating). But I never really lost my
bearings in reality. In college I worked on the philosophy journal
Telos, which taught one to always look toward ends (or goals)
no matter the immediate terrain, and I studied neo-Kantians with a
knack for making logic work to bridge the chasm. Later I turned into
an engineer, and eventually had the epiphany that we could rationally
think our way through complex political and economic problems to not
necessarily ideal but much more viable solutions.
From the start I was aware of the standard and many other objections
to "social engineering." No time to go into them now, but my background
in engineering taught me that I have to work within the bounds of the
possible, subject to the hard limits of physics and the slightly messier
lessons I had learned from my major in sociology. Without really losing
my early ideals -- my telos is equality, because that's the only social
arrangement that is mutually agreeable, the only one that precludes
scheming, strife, and needless harm -- I came to focus on little steps
that nudge us in the right direction, and to reject ideas that couldn't
possibly work. Thinking about this has made me a much more moderate
person, without leading me to centrism or the notion that compromise
A good example of a political agenda that cannot be implemented --
indeed, one that offers nothing constructive -- was provided a while
back by Alan Keys, a Republican presidential candidate whose entire
world view revolved around teenagers having sex and how society needs
to stop them. Maybe his analysis has some valid points, and maybe
there are some paternalistic nudges that can trim back some of the
statistical effects (like the rate of teen pregnancy), but nothing --
certainly no tolerable level of coercion -- can keep teenagers from
being interested in sex. Of course, Keys was an outlier, even among
Republican evangelicals. Only slightly more moderate is Roy Moore,
who's evidently willing to carve out an exception for teens willing
to have sex with himself. You might chalk that up to hypocrisy,
which is common among all Americans, but is especially rife among
conservatives (who regard it as a privilege of the virtuous rich)
and evangelicals (who expect personal salvation for the fervor with
which they damn all of you). But Moore's own agenda for making his
peculiar take on Christianity the law of the land is every bit as
dangerous and hopeless as Keys' obsession with teen sex.
The most chilling thing I've read in the last week was a column
by Cal Thomas,
Faith in Politics, where he urges conservative evangelicals to
put aside their frivolous defenses of Roy Moore and go back to such
fundamentals as Martin Luther's 95 Theses, where "Luther believed
governments were ordained by God to restrain sinners and little
else." The striking thing about this phrasing is how cleverly it
forges an alliance with the libertarian right, who you'd expect
to be extremely wary of God-ordained governmental restraint. But
sin has always been viewed through the eyes of tyrants and their
pet clergy, a "holy alliance" that has been the source of so much
suffering and injustice throughout world history.
News recently has been dominated by a seemingly endless series
of reports of sexual misconduct, harassment and/or assault, on
all sides of the political spectrum (at least from Roy Moore to
Al Franken), plus a number of entertainers and industry executives.
Conservatives and liberals react to these stories differently --
aside from partisan considerations (which certainly play a part
when a Senate seat is at stake), conservatives are hypocritically
worked up about illicit sex, while liberals are more concerned
with respecting the rights of women. Yet both sides (unless the
complaint hits particularly close to home) seem to be demanding
harsh punishment (see, e.g.,
Mark Joseph Stern: Al Franken Should Resign Immediately
Michelle Goldberg and
Nate Silver agree, mostly because they want to prove that
Democrats are harsher and less hypocritical on sexual misconduct;
indeed, instant banishment seems to have been the norm among
entertainers, which Kevin Spacey, Louis CK, and Jeffrey Tambor
having projects canceled, as well as more delayed firings of
Roger Ailes, Bill O'Reilly, and Harvie Weinstein). This drive
to punish, which has long been a feature of America's notion
of justice, can wind up making things worse (and not just
because it could trigger a backlash, as
Isaac Chotiner and Rebecca Traister discuss).
I'm sure many women have many things to object to here -- the
Weinstein testimonies seem especially damning, and I suspect the
hushed up Ailes and O'Reilly legacies are comparable -- but I'm
finding some aspects of the whole brouhaha troubling. Sex is a messy
subject, often fraught and embarrassing to negotiate, subject to wildly
exaggerated hopes and fears, but inevitably a part of human nature --
I keep flashing back on Brecht's chorus: "what keeps mankind alive?
bestial acts." On the other hand, we might be better off looking at
power disparities (inequality), which are clearly evident in all of
these cases, perhaps even more so in entertainment than in politics.
I can't help but think that in a more equitable society, one that
valued mutual respect and eased up a bit on arbitrary punishment,
would be bothered less by these problems.
Some scattered links this week:
Matthew Yglesias: The 4 biggest stories in politics this week:
The House passed a major tax bill ("but the House bill, as written,
doesn't conform to Senate rules and clearly can't pass"); Senate
Republicans drafted a tax bill ("that does conform to Senate rules
at the expense of creating an even starker set of financial tradeoffs");
Bob Menendez isn't guilty (I would have said something more like
"dodged conviction via mistrial"); Things are looking worse for Roy
Moore. Other Yglesias posts last week:
Senate Republicans' tax plan raises taxes on families earning less
than $75,000. The chart, clearly demonstrating how regressive the
plan is, is for 2027, without showing how one gets there. To satisfy
the Senate's "budget reconciliation" rules many of the tax cuts have
to expire in less than ten years, so this is the end state the bill
aims for, probably with the expectation that some further cuts will
be renewed before they run out (as happened with the Bush cuts). So
on the one hand, this exaggerates the "worst case" scenario, it also
clarifies the intent behind the whole scam.
Watch CEOs admit they won't actually invest more if tax reform passes:
Gary Cohn feigns surprise that so few CEOs raised their hands.
The reason few hands are raised is there's little reason to believe that
the kind of broad corporate income tax cut Republicans are pushing for
will induce much new investment. . . . The biggest immediate winners,
in fact, would be big, established companies that are already highly
profitable. Apple, for example, would get a huge tax cut even though
the company's gargantuan cash balance is all the proof in the world
that the its investments are limited by Tim Cook's beliefs about what
Apple can usefully take on, not by a limited supply of cash or a lack
Bill Clinton should have resigned: "What he did to Monica Lewinsky
was wrong, and he should have paid the price." I've sympathized with
versions of this argument -- Gary Wills has written much on how Clinton
should have resigned, and I'm on record as having said that Had I been
in the Senate I would have voted to convict him (less because I agreed
with the actual charges than because I felt he should "pay the price"
for other things he did that were wrong -- at the time I was most upset
about Clinton's bombing of Iraq, something his Republican inquisitors
applauded, prefiguring the 2003 Bush invasion). However, I was under
the impression that whatever he did with Lewinsky was mutually consented
to and should have remained private. Indeed, before Clinton (or more
specifically, before the Scaife-funded investigation into Clinton)
politicians' private affairs had hardly ever become objects of public
concern. (I suppose Grover Cleveland, America's only bachelor president,
is the exception.) Given that all US presidents have been male, you can
argue that this public nonchalance is part of a longstanding patriarchal
culture, but there's no reason to think that the right-wingers who went
after Clinton were in any way interested in advancing feminism. Perhaps
Clinton himself could have turned his resignation into a feminist talking
point: Yglesias insists, "Had Clinton resigned in disgrace under pressure
from his own party, that would have sent a strong, and useful, chilling
signal to powerful men throughout the country." Still, I doubt that's the
lesson the Republicans would have drawn. Rather, it would have shown to
them that they had the power to drive a popular, charismatic president
from office in disgrace using pretty flimsy evidence. While there's no
reason to doubt he did it for purely selfish reasons, at the time many
people were delighted that Clinton stood firm and didn't buckle under
right-wing media shaming (e.g., that was the origin of the left-Democratic
Move On organization). As for long-term impact, Yglesias seems to argue
that had Clinton resigned, we wouldn't have found ourselves on the moral
slope that led to Trump's election.
The tax reform debate is stuck in the 1970s: "The '70s were a crazy
time," but he could be clearer about what the Republican tax cut scheme
was really about, and vaguer about the Democrat response -- worry about
the deficit came more after the damage was done (until they Democrats
were easily tarred as advocates of "tax-and-spend"). And even though he's
right that the situations are so different now that allowing companies
and rich investors to keep more after-tax income is even less likely to
spur job growth now, the fact is it didn't really work even when it made
more sense. Here's an inadvertently amusing line: "The politics of the
1970s, after all, would have been totally different if inflation,
unemployment, interest rates, and labor force growth were all low while
corporate profits were high." I'd hypothesize that if corporate profits
were artificially raised through political means (which is pretty much
what's happened starting with the Reagan tax cuts in 1981) all those
other factors would have been reduced. Increasing corporate profits
even more just adds to the burden the rich already impose on us all.
Sean Illing: "The fish rots from the head": a historian on the unique
corruption of Trump's White House: An interview with Robert Dallek,
who "estimates that historical examples of corruption, like that of the
Warren G. Harding administration, don't hold a candle to how Trump and
his people have conducted themselves in the White House." One thing I
noticed here is how small famous scandals were in comparison to things
that are happening every day under Trump: e.g., Teapot Dome ("in which
Harding's secretary of the interior leased Navy petroleum reserves in
Wyoming and California to private oil companies at incredibly low rates
without a competitive bidding process"). Isn't that exactly what Zinke
is trying to do with Alaska's oil reserves? Wasn't that Zinke's rationale
behind reducing several National Monuments? And how does that stack up
against the monetary value of various deregulation orders (especially
those by the EPA and FCC)? To get a handle on corruption today, you have
to look beyond first-order matters like Trump family business and direct
payoffs to the windfalls industries claim from administration largess
and beyond to corporate predation that will inevitably occur as it sinks
in that the Trump administration is no longer enforcing regulations and
laws that previously protected the public. Even short of changing laws
to encourage further predation (as Bush did with his tax cuts and "tort
reform"), the Trump administration is not just profiting from but breeding
corruption. Curiously, Dallek doesn't even mention the closest relatives:
the Reagan administration, with its embrace of "greed is good" leading to
dozens of major scandals, and the second Bush, which imploded so utterly
we wound up with the deepest recession since the 1930s.
Cristina Cabrera: Trump Puts on Hold Controversial Rollback of Elephant
Trophy Ban: In the "could be worse" department:
The U.S Fish & Wildlife Service announced on November 16 that it was
rolling back an Obama-era ban preventing the import of hunted elephants
in Zimbabwe. A similar ban had also been lifted for hunted elephants in
The decision was met with overwhelming backlash, with both liberals
and conservatives slamming the move as needlessly cruel and inhumane.
The notorious photos of the President's sons posing with a dead leopard
and a dismembered tail of a elephant from their hunting expeditions
According to the Service, it can allow such imports "only when the
killing of the animal will enhance the survival of the species." African
elephants are protected as an endangered species under the Endangered
Species Act, and critics questioned the Interior Department's defense
that allowing hunters to kill more of them would enhance their survival.
To be fair to the Trump administration, "allowing hunters to kill more
of them would enhance their survival" is also the common logic that binds
together most key Republican initiatives, like their "repeal and replace
Obamacare" and "tax cuts and jobs" acts. It's also basically why they
made Betsy De Vos Secretary of Education. For more, see
Tara Isabella Burton: Trump stalls controversial decision on big game
Alvin Chang: This simple chart debunks the conspiracy theory that Hillary
Clinton sold uranium to Russia: The latest "lock her up" chorus,
cheerleadered by Rep. Louie Gohmert (R-TX). I can't make any sense of
his chart, but the simplified one is easy enough to follow (although
it could use a dateline). Still, a couple of troubling points. One is
why Russian state-owned Rosatom would buy a Canadian uranium country
with operations in the US. Presumably it's just business, and Uranium
One still sells (as well as produces) uranium in the US market. The
other point is that the Clinton Foundation never has and never will
cleanse itself of the stench of operating as an influence peddler with
ties into the US government -- although it helps that Hillary is no
longer Secretary of State or otherwise government-employed, and it
will help more as Clinton's numerous political cronies move away from
the family and its foundation.
Adam Federman: The Plot to Loot America's Wilderness: Meet Jim
Cason, who "seems to be running the show" under Ryan Zinke at the
Department of Interior, where he's actively cultivating what promises
to be a hundred Teapot Dome scandals.
Brent D Griffiths: Trump on UCLA basketball players: 'I should have left
them in jail': If run in The New Yorker, this article would
have been filed under "Annals of Pettiness."
Gregory Hellman: House declares US military role in Yemen's civil war
unauthorized: Vote was 366-30, declaring that intervention in Yemen
is not authorized under previous "authorization of force" resolutions,
including the sweeping "war on terror" resolution from 2001. The US has
conducted drone attacks in Yemen well before the Saudi intervention in
a civil war that grew out of Arab Spring demonstrations (although the
Houthi revolt dates back even further). The US has supported the Saudi
intervention verbally, with arms shipments, and with target intelligence,
contributing to a major humanitarian disaster. Unfortunately, the new
resolution seems to have little teeth.
Cameron Joseph: Norm Coleman: I'd Have Beaten Franken in '08 if Groping
Photo Had Come Out: Probably. The final tally had Franken ahead by
312 votes, so Coleman isn't insisting on much of a swing. On the other
hand, I don't live in Minnesota, so I don't have any real feel for how
the actual 2008 campaign played out. Coleman won his seat in 2002 after
Paul Wellstone died in a plane crash and was replaced by a shockingly
tone-deaf Walter Mondale -- inactive in politics since 1984. Coleman's
win was a fluke, and he was never very popular, but Franken had a very
tough job unseating him in 2008 -- I suspect his real problem was Upton
Sinclair Complex (the famous novelist ran for governor of California
in 1934 and lost, in no small part because opponents could pick strange
quotes from his novels and present them out of context). Franken's
comedy career must have presented Coleman's handlers with a treasure
trove of bad jokes and faux pas, so many that the "groping picture"
might even have gotten lost in the noise. For his part, Franken bent
over backwards to present himself as serious and sober, and six years
later was reelected easily, by 10.4 points, an improvement suggesting
many of the voters' doubts have been answered. I've never been much
of a fan, either of his comedy or of how he cozied up to the military
to gain a mainstream political perch. Still, I've reluctantly grown
to admire his dedication and earnestness as a politician, a vocation
that has lately become ever more precarious for honest folk. So I was
shocked when the photo/story revealed, not so much by the content as
by how eagerly the media gobbled it up. In particular,
TPM, which I usually look at
first when I get up for a quick summary of the latest political flaps,
filed eight straight stories on Franken in their prioritized central
column, to the exclusion of not just Roy Moore (who had the next three
stories) but also of the House passing the Republican tax scam bill.
A couple more links on Franken:
In addition to Yglesias above, I'm running into more reconsiderations
of Bill Clinton, basically showing that the atmosphere has changed between
the 1990s and now, making Clinton look all the worse. For example:
Fred Kaplan: Trigger Warning: "A congressional hearing underlines
the dangers posed by an unstable president with unchecked authority
to launch nuclear weapons."
Azmat Khan/Anand Gopal: The Uncounted: Long and gruesome article
on the air war against ISIS in Syria and Iraq, who and what got hit,
paying some attention to the mistakes that are never expected but
somehow always occur whenever the US goes to war.
Between April 2016 and June 2017, we visited the sites of nearly 150
airstrikes across northern Iraq, not long after ISIS was evicted from
them. We toured the wreckage; we interviewed hundreds of witnesses,
survivors, family members, intelligence informants and local officials;
we photographed bomb fragments, scoured local news sources, identified
ISIS targets in the vicinity and mapped the destruction through satellite
imagery. We also visited the American air base in Qatar where the coalition
directs the air campaign. There, we were given access to the main operations
floor and interviewed senior commanders, intelligence officials, legal
advisers and civilian-casualty assessment experts. We provided their
analysts with the coordinates and date ranges of every airstrike -- 103
in all -- in three ISIS-controlled areas and examined their responses.
The result is the first systematic, ground-based sample of airstrikes
in Iraq since this latest military action began in 2014. . . .
We found that one in five of the coalition strikes we identified
resulted in civilian death, a rate more than 31 times that acknowledged
by the coalition. It is at such a distance from official claims that, in
terms of civilian deaths, this may be the least transparent war in recent
American history. Our reporting, moreover, revealed a consistent failure
by the coalition to investigate claims properly or to keep records that
make it possible to investigate the claims at all. While some of the
civilian deaths we documented were a result of proximity to a legitimate
ISIS target, many others appear to be the result simply of flawed or
outdated intelligence that conflated civilians with combatants. In this
system, Iraqis are considered guilty until proved innocent. Those who
survive the strikes, people like Basim Razzo, remain marked as possible
ISIS sympathizers, with no discernible path to clear their names.
Mike Konczal: Republicans are weaponizing the tax code: Key fact
here: "Corporations are flush with cash from large profits and
aggressively low interest rates, yet they aren't investing." This
belies any pretense that cutting corporate tax rates. Without any
real growth prospects, the cuts not only favor the rich, the other
changes are meant to penalize everyone else, moving into the realm
of class war ("capital is eating the economy").
The crucial thing to realize is that this tax reform effort reflects
more than the normal conservative allergic reaction to progressive
taxation -- going far beyond undoing the modest progressive grains
achieved by Presidents Obama and Clinton. Three major changes stand
out: These taxes are far more focused on owners than on workers, even
by Republican standards. They take advantage of the ambiguity of what
counts as income, weaponizing that vagueness to help their friends
and hurt their enemies.
And after years of pushing for a safety net that works through the
tax code, in order to keep more social democratic reforms at bay,
Republicans now reveal their willingness to demolish even those
modest protections. Their actions make clear that a welfare state
based on tax credits and refunds, rather than universal commitments,
is all too vulnerable.
More links on taxes:
Josh Marshall: There's a Digital Media Crush. But No One Will Say It:
The key sentence here is "The move to video is driven entirely by advertiser
demand." The reasoning behind this is left unexplained, but obviously it's
because advertising embedded in videos is more intrusive than static space
advertising. Part of this is that it's harder for users to block as well
as ignore, for the same reason radio and television advertising are more
intrusive than print advertising. They're also dumber, because they don't
have to offer something useful like information to catch your attention. If
past experience is any guide, it also leads to a dumbing down of content,
which eventually will make the content close to worthless. This is all bad
news for media companies hoping to make bucks off the Internet, and more
so for writers trying to scratch out a living from those companies. But
more than anything else, it calls into question the public value of an
information system based on advertising. From the very beginning, media
dependent on advertising have been corrupted by it, and that's only gotten
worse as advertisers have gained leverage and targeting data. Concentration
of media business only makes this worse, but even if we could reverse the
latter -- breaking up effective monopolies and monopsonies and restoring
"net neutrality" rules -- we should be questioning the very idea of public
information systems built on advertising.
Dylan Matthews: Senate Republicans are making it easier to push through
Trump's judge picks: Technically, this is about "blue slips," which
is one of those undemocratic rules which allow individual Senators to
flout their power, but few things in the Republican agenda are more
precious to them (or their donors) than packing the courts with verified
Andrew Prokop/Jen Kirby: The Republican Party's Roy Moore catastrophe,
explained. A couple impressions here. For one, their listing of
Moore's "extremist views" seem pretty run-of-the-mill -- things that
some 15-20% of Americans might if not agree with him at least find
untroubling. I suspect this understates his extremism, especially on
issues of religious freedom, where he has staked out his turf as a
Christian nationalist. Second, I've been under the impression that
his sexual misdeeds were in the range of harassment (compounded by
the youth of his victims, as young as 14), but at least one of the
complaints reads like attempted assault -- the girl in question was
16, and when Moore broke off the attack, he allegedly said to the
girl: "You are a child. I am the Dictrict Attorney of Etowah County.
If you tell anyone about this, no one will believe you." I reckon
it as progress that such charges are highly credible now. As for the
effect these revelations may have on the election, note: "A recent
poll even showed that 29 percent of the state's voters say the
allegations make them more likely to vote for Moore."
Also on Moore:
Corey Robin: Trump's Fantasy Capitalism: "How the president undermines
Republicans' traditional economic arguments." Robin, by the way, has
a new edition of his The Reactionary Mind book out, the subtitle
Conservatism from Edmund Burke to Donald Trump as opposed to the
original Sarah Palin. For reviews, see
John Holbro and
Grant Schulte/James Nord: Oil Leak Will Not Factor Into Decision to
Expand Keystone Pipeline: Of course, because right after a 250,000
gallon oil leak time is no time to talk about how approving a pipeline
could lead to more oil leaks. Also, note how the authors had to walk
back one of their more outrageous claims:
This version of the story corrects that there have been 17 leaks the
same size or larger than the Keystone spill instead of 17 larger than
this spill. One of the spills was the same size.
Matt Taibbi: RIP Edward Herman, Who Co-Wrote a Book That's Now More
Important Than Ever: The book, co-authored by Noam Chomsky, is
Manufacturing Consent: The Political Economy of the Mass Media,
originally published in 1988.
The really sad part about the Herman/Chomsky thesis was that it didn't
rely upon coercion or violence. Newspapers and TV channels portrayed
the world in this America-centric way not because they were forced to.
Mostly, they were just intellectually lazy and disinterested in the
stated mission of their business, i.e., telling the truth.
In fact, media outlets were simply vehicles for conveying ads, and
a consistent and un-troubling view of the political universe was a
prerequisite for selling cars, candy bars, detergent, etc. Upset people
don't buy stuff. This is why Sunday afternoon broadcasts featured golf
tournaments and not police beatings or reports from cancer wards near
The news business was about making money, and making money back then
for big media was easy. So why make a fuss?
It occurs to me that the big money isn't so easy any more, which
helps explain the air of desperation that hangs over cable and internet
news outlets these days -- their need to provoke fear and stoke fights,
building up an air of loyalty. One even suspects that Fox gravitated
to right-wing politics less because of its sponsorship than due to a
psychological profile of a sizable audience that could be captured.
As Taibbi concludes, "It's a shame [Herman] never wrote a sequel. Now
more than ever, we could use another Manufacturing Consent."
By the way, while Herman and Chomsky identified "anti-communism" as
their "fifth filter," that should be generalized to denigrating anyone
on the US list of bad countries or movements -- especially the routine
characterization of Russia, Iran, and Venezuela as non-democracies,
even though all three have elections that are arguably fairer and
freer than America's 2016 election. One consequence of this is that
American media has lost all credibility in many of these nations.
For example, see
Oleg Kashin: When Russians stopped believing in the Western media.
Zephyr Teachout: The Menendez trial revealed everything that's gone
wrong with US bribery law: The corruption case against Senator
Bob Menendez (D-NJ) ended in a hung jury mistrial, even short of
the appeals process which has severely weakened most anti-corruption
I'm with the jury: Even after closely following the trial, I have no
strong view on Menendez's guilt or innocence, given the laws they have
to work with. I do have a view, however, that the Supreme Court has
been playing a shell game with corruption laws. It has stripped
anti-corruption legislation of its power in two areas: campaign
finance laws and anti-bribery laws. The public is left with little
recourse against a growing threat of corruption. Whatever happens
with this particular case, this is no way to do corruption law. . . .
It is fitting that the trial ended with a hung jury. The Court
has struck down so many laws that would have made this case easier.
If laws prohibiting Super PACs were still in place, we'd have no
$600,000 donation. But in the very case enabling Super PACs, Citizens
United, the Court suggested that bribery laws would be powerful tools
to combat corruption threats -- and then went ahead and weakened
those laws. . . .
Was it friendship? Was it corrupt? Or was it our fault for creating
a system that encourages "friendships" that blur the line?
Sunday, November 12. 2017
Matt Taibbi is a dedicated, insightful journalist and a terrific writer,
but ever since the 2016 campaign started he's repeatedly gotten tripped up
by having to meet advance deadlines for Rolling Stone that have left
many of his pieces dated on arrival. His latest is especially unfortunate:
A Year After Trump's Election, Nothing Has Changed. The factoid he chose
to build his article around was a recent poll arguing that
12 months later, Trump would probably still win the 2016 election.
The assumption is that Trump is still running against Hillary Clinton.
Trump, of course, has been in the news every day since the election,
and is already raising money for 2020 and making rally appearances in
active campaigning mode. Aside from her self-serving, self-rationalizing
book tour Clinton has largely dropped out of site, conceding she's not
running again, and not scoring any points attacking Trump -- not that
Trump's stopped attacking her, most recently accusing her of being the
real "Russia colluder." Still, the poll in question shows Trump and
Clinton in a dead 40-40 tie -- i.e., both candidates are doing worse
than they did one year ago, but in the interest of sensationalism, the
author gives Trump the tiebreaker ("Given that Trump overperformed in
key, blue-leaning swing states, that means he'd probably have won again.")
As it happens, Taibbi's article was written before and appeared after
the 2017 elections where Democrats swept two gubernatorial races (in VA
and NJ), and picked up fairly dramatic gains in down-ballot elections
all over the country. For details, start with FiveThirtyEight's
What Went Down on Election Night 2017.
Nate Silver explains further:
Democrats had a really good night on Tuesday, easily claiming the Virginia
and New Jersey gubernatorial races, flipping control of the Washington
state Senate and possibly also the Virginia House of Delegates, passing
a ballot measure in Maine that will expand Medicaid in the state, winning
a variety of mayoral elections around the country, and gaining control of
key county executive seats in suburban New York.
They also got pretty much exactly the results you'd expect when opposing
a Republican president with a 38 percent approval rating.
That's not to downplay Democrats' accomplishments. Democrats' results
were consistent enough, and their margins were large enough, that Tuesday's
elections had a wave-like feel. That includes how they performed in Virginia,
where Ralph Northam won by considerably more than polls projected. When
almost all the toss-up races go a certain way, and when the party winning
those toss-up races also accomplishes certain things that were thought to
be extreme long shots (such as possibly winning the Virginia House of
Delegates), it's almost certainly a reflection of the national environment.
Silver also notes:
- President Trump's approval rating is only 37.6 percent.
- Democrats lead by approximately 10 points on the generic Congressional
- Republican incumbents are retiring at a rapid pace; there were two
retirements (from New Jersey Rep. Frank LoBiondo and Texas Rep. Ted Poe)
on Tuesday alone.
- Democrats are recruiting astonishing numbers of candidates for
- Democrats have performed well overall in special elections to the
U.S. Congress, relative to the partisanship of those districts; they've
also performed well in special elections to state legislatures.
- The opposition party almost always gains ground at midterm elections.
This is one of the most durable empirical rules of American politics.
The thing I find most striking about these election results is the
unity Democrats showed. Mainstream Democrats still bitch about lefties
who defected to Ralph Nader in 2000, but as someone who remembers how
mainstream Democrats sandbagged McGovern in 1972 (and who's read about
how Bryan was repeatedly voted down after 1896), I've long been more
concerned about how "centrists" might break if anyone on the left wins
the Democratic Party nomination. Yet last week saw a remarkably diverse
group of Democrats triumphant. The lesson I take away from the results
is that most voters have come to realize is that the problem isn't just
Trump and some of his ilk but the whole Republican Party, and that the
only hope people have is to unite behind the Democrats, regardless of
whether they zig left or zag right. Especially after last week's flap
over Donna Brazile's book Hacks, that's good news.
It's also news that belies Taibbi's main thesis: not so much that
nothing has changed in the year since Trump's shocking election win as
the charge that we're still responding as stupidly to Trump as we did
during the campaign. On the former, the administration's worker bees
have torn up thousands of pages of regulations meant to protect us
from predatory business, major law enforcement organizations have been
reoriented to persecute immigrants while ignoring civil rights and
antitrust, and the judiciary is being stock with fresh right-wingers.
The full brunt of those changes may not have sunk in -- they certainly
haven't hit all their intended victims yet -- but even if you fail to
appreciate the threats these changes have a way of becoming tangible
very suddenly. And given how Republican health care proposals polled
down around 20%, you may need to rethink your assumptions about how
dumb and gullible the American people are.
Republican proposals on "tax reform" are polling little better than
their effort to wreck health care. This polling is helping to stall
the agenda, but Republicans in Congress are so ideological, and so
beholden to their sponsors, that most are willing to buck and polls
and follow their orders. What we've needed all year has been for
elections to show Republicans that their choices have consequences,
and hopefully that's started to happen now.
But whereas the first half of Taibbi's article can be blamed on
bad timing, the second half winds up being even more annoying:
Despising Trump and his followers is easy. What's hard is imagining
how we put Humpty Dumpty together again. This country is broken. It
is devastated by hate and distrust. What is needed is a massive effort
at national reconciliation. It will have to be inspired, delicate and
ingenious to work. Someone needs to come up with a positive vision for
the entire country, one that is more about love and community than
That will probably mean abandoning the impulse to continually
litigate the question of who is worse, Republicans or Democrats. . . .
The people running the Democratic Party are opportunists and hacks,
and for as long as the despicable and easily hated Trump is president,
that is what these dopes will focus on, not realizing that most of the
country is crying out for something different.
Well, I'm as eager as the next guy for a high-minded conversation
about common problems and reasonable solutions, but that's not what
politics is about these days (and probably never was). But let's face
it, the immediate problem is that one side's totally unprincipled and
totally unreasonable, and the only way past that is to beat that side
down so severely no one ever dares utter "trickle down" again. They
need to get beat down as bad as the Nazis in WWII -- so bad the stink
of collaboration much less membership takes generations to wash off.
Then maybe we can pick up the pieces.
As for the "hacks and opportunists," sure they are, but they're
approachable in ways the Republicans simply aren't. I've seen good
people, hard-working activists, come into Wichita for years and urge
us to go talk to our Congressman, as if the person in that office
(remember, we're talking about Todd Tiahrt, Mike Pompeo, and Ron
Estes) was merely misinformed but fundamentally reasonable. I've
met plenty of hacks and opportunists who are at least approachable,
but not these guys. They've sold their souls, and they're never
By the way, Thomas Frank's article on the Trump Day anniversary
runs into pretty much the same problem:
We're still aghast at Donald Trump -- but what good has that done?
Well, the American political system doesn't give you a lot of latitude
to repair a botched election -- everyone in office has fixed terms,
the option of signing recall petitions is very limited (and doesn't
apply to Trump), impeachment is virtually impossible without massive
Republican defections -- so sometimes being constantly aghast is all
one can do. And while the last three US presidents had their share of
intractably obsessive opponents, they pale to the numbers of people
constantly on Trump's case. Frank wants to minimize our effect, not
least because he wants us to consider bigger, wider, deeper, older
faults that Trump makes worse but isn't uniquely responsible for.
Trump's sins are continuous with the last 50 years of our history.
His bigotry and racist dog-whistling? Conservatives have been doing
that since forever. His vain obsession with ratings, his strutting
braggadocio? Welcome to the land of Hollywood and pro wrestling.
His tweeting? The technology is new, but the urge to evade the
mainstream media is not. His outreach to working-class voters? His
hatred of the press? He lifts those straight from his hero Richard
Nixon. His combination of populist style with enrich-the-rich policies?
Republicans have been following that recipe since the days of Ronald
Reagan. His "wrecking crew" approach to government, which made the
cover of Time magazine last week? I myself made the same observation,
under the same title, about the administration of George W Bush.
The trends Trump personifies are going to destroy this country one
of these days. They've already done a hell of a job on the middle
But declaring it all so ghastly isn't going to halt these trends
or remove the reprobate from the White House. Waving a piece of paper
covered with mean words in Trump's face won't make him retreat to his
tower in New York. To make him do that you must understand where he
comes from, how he operates, why his supporters like him, and how we
might coax a few of them away.
The parade of the aghast will have none of that. Strategy is not
the goal; a horror-high is. And so its practitioners routinely rail
against Trump's supporters along with Trump himself, imagining
themselves beleaguered by a country they no longer understand nor
As an engineer, I've long related to the idea that you have to
understand something to change it -- at least to change it in a
deliberate and viable way -- but politics doesn't seem to work that
way. For nearly all of my life, the most powerful political motivator
has been disgust. And while that may seem like a recent bad trend,
I pretty clearly remember characters like Dick Nixon, Barry Goldwater,
and George Wallace. So it really doesn't bother me when people are
simply aghast at Trump without understanding the fine points. Sure,
at some point we need to get a better idea of what to do, but all
the present situation demands is resistance, and as people line up
to defend and demean Trump, those connections Frank wants us to
learn are getting made.
My tweet for the day:
Wasn't #VeteransDay originally Armistice Day (a celebration of peace at
the end of an unprecedentedly horrific war)? I guess when the US went
to a permanent war footing, they had to rename it.
Some scattered links this week:
Matthew Yglesias: The 4 most important stories in politics this week:
Democrats won a landslide in Virginia; New allegations surfaced about
Roy Moore; The House moved ahead with a tax bill; Senate Republicans
unveiled a different bill. Other Yglesias pieces this week:
Democrats ought to invest in Doug Jones's campaign against Roy Moore.
I agree, but less because I think "Roy Moore is dangerously unfit for
office" -- true enough, but he's angling to replace Jeff Sessions, who
was dangerously unfit himself -- than because I think Democrats should
challenge everywhere a reversal of the slide toward oligarchy would help
most of the people. There's a risk, of course, that Democrats may focus
so much on Moore's peculiar degeneracy they fail to make their best case,
but as Yglesias concludes, "hey, you never know."
Gary Cohn explains the GOP tax plan: "The most excited group out there
are big CEOs": easy to see why, as the main effect is to shore up
the already booming stock market, but Cohn sees more benefits in "the
whole trickle-down through the economy."
It's not just Virginia: Maine has a crucial lesson for Democrats:
"Medicaid expansion ran well ahead of Hillary Clinton, and that serves
as a potent reminder that the Democratic Party's basic bread-and-butter
promise of taxing rich people to provide useful public services is more
popular than the broader Democratic gestalt."
2 ways of reading Trump's objections to the AT&T/Time Warner
merger: Some hints that the Trump administration has surprisingly
found an antitrust case to get interested in, mostly because it involves
their arch-nemesis CNN. Still, would be a good thing if the merger didn't
go through. Last section subtitled "It would be nice to have a trustworthy
But we don't have a president like that. We have a president who lies
constantly, who disregards the norms of American government, who's openly
disdainful of the social function of a free press, and who's set up his
administration in a way that seems to generally sideline expertise while
opening the door to massive financial conflicts of interest.
A simple, boring lesson from Democrats' landslide in Virginia and
beyond: "There is no microtargeting magic -- when you win you do
Being out of power has boosted Democratic enthusiasm, making it easier
to recruit more and better candidates and easier to turn voters out for
lower profile elections. At the same time, Trump is broadly unpopular
nationwide which flips some voters into the D column while anti-inspiring
others to stay home. In an atmosphere like that, a lot of different kinds
of candidates using a lot of different kinds of strategies can win in a
lot of different kinds of places.
Democrats picked up 2 seats in the Georgia state legislature, too.
Notable fact here is that both seats were not only previously held by
Republicans, they were uncontested in 2016. Shows Democrats do better
when they actually run candidates.
Northam's win in the Virginia governor race shows the GOP is in big
What's really at stake in Tuesday's elections.
The real fix for gerrymandering is proportional representation.
The Republican tax plan's original sin: The big corporate tax cut,
especially the idée fixe of reducing the rate from 35% to 20%.
There's simply no way to make that work -- even with what amounts to a
long-term tax increase on middle incomes, which seems to be what
"reform" is adding up to.
Anne Applebaum: Trump is part of the Saudi story: As Crown Prince
Mohammed bin Salman consolidates his power base, he's arrested rivals
and charged them with "corruption" -- Applebaum notes that Putin and
Xi have leveled that same charge against their own rivals, and also:
But Trump is also part of the story. By his own example -- through his
disdain for courts and for the media, through his scorn for ethical
norms -- Trump has cast doubt on the Western model. He may even have
encouraged the Saudi prince more directly. Jared Kushner, Trump's
son-in-law, a living embodiment of American nepotism, visited Riyadh
for long talks -- officially to promote Mideast peace, but perhaps
business and politics came up, too -- in the days before the arrest.
The image of two princelings, scheming late into the night, makes a
textbook illustration of the decline of American prestige and American
values, even in a country that is closely allied to the United States.
Still, Saudi Arabia seems to have graduated from the allies that
follow America's lead to become (like Israel) an ally that "wags the
dog" according to its own peculiar logic. See several recent pieces:
Dean Baker: Blaming Inequality on Technology: Sloppy Thinking for the
Educated. Also by Baker (from Sept. 15), a review of Yanis Varoufakis'
Adults in the Room: The Sordid Tale of Greece's Battle Against Austerity
and the Troika.
Katheryn Brightbill: Roy Moore's alleged pursuit of a young girl is the
symptom of a larger problem in evangelical circles.
Nancy Cook: How Flynn -- and the Russia scandal -- landed in the West
Wing: This is amusing:
New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, the early transition chief for a newly
elected Donald Trump, and his team had deep reservations about Flynn,
fearing the retired three-star Army general who had been ousted from
the Obama administration suffered from poor judgment and espoused
far-out ideas on foreign policy. . . .
But when Christie was fired from his transition perch on Nov. 11 --
replaced by soon-to-be Vice President Mike Pence -- Flynn and former
White House chief strategist Steve Bannon celebrated by tossing binders
full of potential personnel picks, carefully culled by Christie's team,
into trash bins with a sense of ceremonial glee.
Note that Christie's shortlist was long on generals -- in fact, it
doesn't appear he considered anyone else.
Cora Currier/Danielle Marie Mackey: Trump Administration Suddenly Cancels
Refugee Program That Saved Lives of Central American Children.
Peter Dreier: Most Americans Are Liberal, Even If They Don't Know It:
A lot of polling data, on issues rather than policies, e.g.: "78 percent
of Americans say we need sweeping new laws to reduce the influence of
money in politics"; "76 percent believe the wealthiest Americans should
pay higher taxes."
Thomas Frank: Why have we built a paradise for offshore
Jacob Greene/Allison McManus: Mysterious Deaths and Forced Disappearances.
This is Egypt's U.S.-Backed War on Terror.
Gardiner Harris: State Department to Offer Buyouts in Effort to Cut Staff.
Well, what would Exxon do? Still, I find it incomprehensible that all of
Tillerson's efforts to eliminate useless State Dept. jobs have still left
an appointment in the works for Sam Brownback. Still, note this:
Some employees will not be eligible for the buyouts, including many
members of the security, information technology, medical and building
staffs, areas in which the department is trying to hire more people
or is offering bonuses for them to stay.
Fred Kaplan: Lost in Asia: "Trump's trip shows what happens when a
world leader is set adrift in the world with no strategy or goals."
Sarah Kliff: Obamacare just had its best week in months: Sign-ups
during the first week of open enrollment are up, despite Trump executive
orders to cut advertising and support. Maine approved a referendum to
expand Medicaid, and Virginia will lean more toward expanding.
Paul Krugman: Leprechaun Economics and Neo-Lafferism: One of a
series of posts on economist claims about growth under the Republicans'
"tax reform" bill. Due to several assumptions I don't begin to buy,
the theory is that lower corporate taxes will be matched by a massive
capital inflow that will increase GDP. Since such investment will
return profits abroad, Krugman argues that GNI (Gross National Income)
is the more relevant measure, and that will be much less than growth
in GDP (again, assuming that any such thing happens). "Leprechaun"
refers to Ireland, which has attracted a lot of foreign investment
with low corporate tax rates, so is the most relevant example (but
a very small country compared to the US, so effects are likely to
be much less notable here). Lafferism is the theory that tax cuts
generate such enormous economic growth they actually increase tax
revenues. Neo-Lafferism is the next formulation after Lafferism
itself has been proven to be total horseshit.
Dara Lind: Thousands of immigrants are losing their DACA protections
Robinson Meyer: Syria Is Joining the Paris Agreement. Now What?
Well, that leaves the United States as the only country to reject
the climate accord.
Charlie Savage: Trump Is Rapidly Reshaping the Judiciary. Here's How.
Jon Swaine: Offshore cash helped fund Steve Bannon's attacks on Hillary
Sunday, November 5. 2017
Again, a very late start, so this is very catch-as-catch-can.
Some scattered links this week:
Matthew Yglesias: 4 stories that drove politics this week: I moved
Yglesias' weekly summaries up top a couple weeks ago as I've found lately
that he's become a pretty good chronicler of the Trump travesty, which
especially as I've started to tune out myself makes for a useful intro
to whatever happened recently. This week's stories: We finally saw the
GOP's tax bill; Mueller revealed indictments -- and a guilty plea; Jeff
Sessions is back in the spotlight: specifically, for Russia stuff, going
back to his false testimony during his confirmation hearings; and, Jerome
Powell will be the next Federal Reserve chair. Other Yglesias pieces:
Republicans should admit to themselves they mostly don't want big
change: "It's a cranky old person party, not a policy visionary
The Republican tax plan, in one chart:
Big-picture summary is that over the first 10 years, the bill has:
- $1 trillion net tax cut for business owners
- $172 billion tax cut for people who inherit multi-million dollar estates
- $300 billion net tax cut for individuals.
Republicans changed their minds and now want to cut the mortgage
Jerome Powell, President Trump's reported choice to head the Federal
Reserve, explained: "Good news for people who like lax bank regulation."
Republicans promised a tax reform bill by today. Here's why they don't
have one: November 1. "Nobody knew taxes were so complicated."
Booker calls on antitrust regulators to start paying attention to workers.
Key word to add to your vocabulary is "monopsony":
Antitrust law normally comes up in the context of monopoly power,
the prospect that a company will control such a large share of output
that it can raise prices or reduce quality. But it also applies to
situations of monopsony power, in which market concentration
offers undue leverage over workers or upstream suppliers. Antitrust
regulators have consistently recognized the importance of the monopsony
issue when it comes to cartels between separate companies -- suing a
number of big Silicon Valley companies that had reached an illegal "no
poaching" agreement to depress engineers' wages -- but has not in recent
years appeared to recognize such concerns when conducting merger review.
. . .
Booker's letter starts with a premise that's now become common in
progressive circles: that the American economy is becoming broadly
more concentrated across a range of sectors. . . . At the same time,
corporate profits as a share of the overall economy are at an unusually
high level, the stock market is booming, and wage growth has been
incredibly restrained even as the economy has recovered from the
depths of the Great Recession.
Congressional Republicans are helping Trump with a big cover-up:
Several things here, including:
George W. Bush put his personal wealth in a blind trust. Jimmy Carter
sold his peanut farm. Barack Obama held all his assets in simple
diversified index funds. There is a way in which a modern president
with a modicum of integrity conducts himself, and Trump has refused
to do it.
Rather than liquidate his assets and put the proceeds in a trust,
Trump has simply turned over day-to-day management of the family
business to his two older sons -- sons who continue to serve as
surrogates and part of his political operation, even while his
oldest daughter and her husband serve as top White House aides.
Ivanka Trump is reeling in Chinese trademarks while Eric and Donald
Jr. do real estate deals in India. Trump is billing the Secret
Service six figures for the privilege of renting golf carts at
his golf courses. People with interests before the government can --
and do -- pay direct cash bribes to the president by joining his
Mar-a-Lago club or holding events at his hotel in Washington, DC. . . .
There's an interesting lesson in the fact that Paul Manafort is
being brought down by criminal money laundering and tax evasion
charges that are at best tangentially related to his work for
Trump's campaign -- there's a lot of white-collar crime happening
in America that people are getting away with. . . .
Manafort's criminal misconduct only came to light because he
happened to have stumbled into massive political scandal that put
his conduct under the microscope in a way that most rich criminals
By the same token, over the years Trump has been repeatedly fined
for breaking federal money laundering rules, been paid millions in
hush money to settle civil fraud claims, been caught breaking New
Jersey casino law, been caught violating the Hart-Scott-Rodino Act,
been caught violating federal securities law, been caught violating
New York nonprofit law, and -- of course -- been accused of multiple
counts of sexual assault.
Yet throughout this storied history of lawbreaking, Trump has never
faced a major criminal charge. He gets caught, he pays a civil penalty,
and he keeps on being a rich guy who enjoys rich-guy impunity -- just
Paul Ryan won't let indictments stop him from cutting taxes on the
Trump's response to indictments: "why aren't Crooked Hillary & the
Dems the focus?????"
The question that matters now: what will Republicans do when Trump fires
Mueller? "Probably nothing."
Tom Engelhardt: Doing Bin Laden's Bidding: I read (or maybe misread)
a turn of phrase today that describes America's "War on Terror" aptly:
"flailing forward." I always thought freedom meant you can choose what
to do, and therefore free people can refuse to do stupid things just
because they get taunted. Maybe Bin Laden didn't appreciate how much
destruction the US would wreak when he challenged the insecure egos of
American power, but he was certainly baiting the giant to blunder into
"the graveyard of empires" -- as Afghanistan was known even before 2001.
Looking back, 16 years later, it's extraordinary how September 11,
2001, would set the pattern for everything that followed. Each further
goading act, from Afghanistan to Libya, San Bernardino to Orlando,
Iraq to Niger, each further humiliation would trigger yet more of the
same behavior in Washington. After all, so many people and institutions --
above all, the U.S. military and the rest of the national security
state -- came to have a vested interest in Osama bin Laden's version
of our world. . . .
After all, Osama bin Laden managed to involve the United States in
16 years of fruitless wars, most now "generational" conflicts with no
end in sight, which would only encourage the creation and spread of
terror groups, the disintegration of order across significant parts
of the planet, and the displacement of whole populations in staggering
numbers. At the same time, he helped turn twenty-first-century Washington
into a war machine of the first order that ate the rest of the government
for lunch. He gave the national security state the means -- the excuse,
if you will -- to rise to a kind of power, prominence, and funding that
might otherwise have been inconceivable. In the process -- undoubtedly
fulfilling his wildest dreams -- he helped speed up the decline of the
very country that, since the Cold War ended, had been plugging itself
as the greatest ever.
That, of course, is old news. The new news here concerns Niger,
where four US special forces soldiers were recently killed despite
hardly anyone in America realizing they were there. What's happened
since is a recapitulation of the Afghanistan-Iraq-Libya disaster:
And suddenly U.S. Africa Command was highlighting its desire for more
money from Congress; the military was moving to arm its Reaper drones
in Niger with Hellfire missiles for future counterterrorism operations;
and Secretary of Defense Mattis was assuring senators privately that
the military would "expand" its "counterterrorism focus" in Africa.
The military began to prepare to deploy Hellfire Missile-armed Reaper
drones to Niger. "The war is morphing," Graham insisted. "You're going
to see more actions in Africa, not less; you're going to see more
aggression by the United States toward our enemies, not less; you're
going to have decisions being made not in the White House but out in
Rumors were soon floating around that, as the Washington Post
reported, the administration might "loosen restrictions on the U.S.
military's ability to use lethal force in Niger" (as it already had done
in the Trump era in places like Syria and Yemen). And so it expectably
went, as events in Niger proceeded from utter obscurity to the
near-apocalyptic, while -- despite the strangeness of the Trumpian
moment -- the responses came in exactly as anyone reviewing the last
16 years might have imagined they would.
All of this will predictably make things in central Africa worse,
not better, leading to . . . well, more than a decade and a half after
9/11, you know just as well as I do where it's leading. And there are
remarkably few brakes on the situation, especially with three generals
of our losing wars ruling the roost in Washington and Donald Trump now
lashed to the mast of his chief of staff.
Our resident expert on US Africa Command is Nick Turse, but while
this was happening, he was distracted by
A Red Scare in the Gray Zone.
Juliette Garside: Paradise Papers leak reveals secrets of the world
elite's hidden wealth. Also:
Jon Swaine/Ed Pilkington: The wealthy men in Trump's inner circle with
links to tax havens.
William Greider: What Killed the Democratic Party? Cites a recent
Autopsy: The Democratic Party in Crisis. This appeared before
Donna Brazile: Inside Hillary Clinton's Secret Takeover of the DNC,
which details the remarkable extent the Clinton campaign controlled the
DNC all through the primary season. Brazile's revelations are further
monetized in her book, Hacks: The Inside Story of the Break-ins and
Breakdowns That Put Donald Trump in the White House. Josh Marshall
attempts to mount a counterattack in
Donna Brazile Needs to Back Up Her Self-Serving Claims, insisting
that "There's zero advantage to re-litigating the toxic 2016 primaries."
Personally, I felt that Hillary Clinton had earned the right to tell her
side of the story in What Happened, so I see no further harm in
Brazile's Hacks. (I suppose I might draw a line if Debby
Wasserman-Schultz manages to find a publisher.) Still, the one thing
that keeps bugging me about all of the 2016 Democratic autopsies --
especially the Jonathan Allen/Amie Parnes Shattered: Inside Hillary
Clinton's Doomed Campaign -- is the nagging question: where did all
of the money Clinton raised go? And why didn't she use more of it to
build up the party she supposedly was the leader of?
Mike Konczal: Trump Is Creating a Grifter Economy.
German Lopez/Karen Turner: Sutherland Springs, Texas, church shooting:
what we know: "At least 26 people were killed . . . The shooter is
also dead following a brief chase." Also:
Texas church shooting: suspect named as at least 26 confirmed dead --
as it happened.
Noam Maggor: Amazon wants goodies and tax breaks to move its HQ to your
city. Say no thanks. I want to underscore that the practice of giving
tax breaks and incentives to companies that promise jobs is actually far
worse than a zero-sum "race to the bottom." For evidence specific to
Amazon, look no further than the perks they received to open a distribution
center in Coffeyville, KS. Then try to find it. They've already closed it,
moving on to greener pastures.
Mike McIntire/Sasha Chavkin/Martha M Hamilton: Commerce Secretary's
Offshore Ties to Putin 'Cronies'. Also,
Jesse Drucker: Kremlin Cash Behind Billionaire's Twitter and Facebook
Simon Tisdall: Trump's Asia tour will expose his craving for the approval
of despots: Not just despots. I got stuck watching Japan's Prime
Minister blowing smoke up Trump's ass in their first press appearance.
Trump's vanity clearly hasn't escaped the notice of world leaders.
Alex Ward: Bowe Bergdahl isn't going to prison. But he is getting
a "dishonorable discharge" -- you know, like the shooter in Texas got.
Among those who thought the sentence too lenient:
Donald Trump made it a campaign issue in 2016, calling Bergdahl a
"traitor," even suggesting that he should be executed. About an hour
after the ruling by a military judge, Trump tweeted his thoughts:
"The decision on Sergeant Bergdahl is a complete and total disgrace
to our Country and to our Military."
Of course, Bergdahl isn't the only soldier Trump has disparaged
for "getting captured."
Sarah Wildman: Saudi Arabia announces arrest of billionaire prince
Alwaleed bin Talal. Without specifically commenting on Prince
Alwaleed, Trump evidently approves:
Mark Landler: Trump Tells Saudi King That He Supports Modernization
Drive. Also by Wildman:
Mueller has enough evidence to charge Michael Flynn.
Sunday, October 29. 2017
Just the bare bones this week.
Some scattered links this week:
Matthew Yglesias: 4 stories that mattered this week: Congressional
Republicans passed a budget; More sexual harassment shoes dropped;
Retiring Republicans blasted Trump; Opioid abuse is officially
an emergency. Other Yglesias posts:
There's less than meets the eye to the Trump stock rally: "German,
French, and Japanese stocks are all doing way better."
Lou Dobbs's Trump interview is a masterpiece of sycophancy and
nonsense: "precisely because the softball format leads to such easy
questions, Trump's frequent inability to answer them reveals the depths
of his ignorance better than any tough grilling possibly could."
Jeff Flake, Bob Corker, and John McCain need to start acting like senators,
Trump and a key Senate Republican are fighting on Twitter.
The real stakes in the tax reform debate:
Democrats have grown more critical of inequality in recent years with
Barack Obama proclaiming economic inequality to be the "defining
challenge of our time." Energy in the party shifted even-further-left
and fueled an unexpected level of support for Bernie Sanders and an
unprecedented level of skepticism about the basic fundraising model
of American politics.
Even more surprisingly, in the GOP camp Donald Trump ran hard to
the right on culture war issues while also promising a more egalitarian
form of economics -- promising to be a champion of working class
But in office, while Trump has continued to obsessively feed the
culture war maw, he is pushing a policy agenda that would add enormous
fuel to the fire of inequality -- enormous, regressive rate cuts flying
under the banner of "tax reform."
Yglesias touts a report by Kevin Hassett, head of the White House
Council of Economic Advisers, as "crucial because it's honest," but
even "honesty" doesn't help much when you're extraordinarily full of
Hassett's contention, in essence, is that the best way to benefit the
American worker is to engage in a global version of this subsidy game.
Instead of targeted subsidies for new investments from one particular
company, he and Trump want to offer a broad subsidy to all investment
profits -- old profits and new profits, real returns on productive
investments and returns on monopoly rents -- in the hopes of maximally
catering to investor interests. By catering to the interests of the
global investor class in this way, he thinks, we can do so much to
boost the growth of the American economy that almost everyone will
end up better off.
Even if "almost everyone will end up better off" by cutting the
taxes that rich people pay, that doesn't mean that tax cuts are "the
best way to benefit the American worker." Direct redistribution to
workers would be much more efficient. So would less direct approaches
such as increasing labor's leverage. But the supposition that "almost
everyone will end up better off" is itself highly suspect. The only
way giving the rich more money "trickles down" is when the rich spend
it to increase demand (which they don't do much of, although that does
account for a few jobs here in Wichita building private jets) or when
the rich invest more in productive capacity. The problem here is that
even at present -- before Trump's tax cuts kick in -- the rich have
more money than they know how to productively invest. A big part of
the problem here is that by sucking up money that working folks and
the government would be spending, their hoarding reduces aggregate
demand, and as such reduces the return on investments in productive
capacity. This effect is so large one has to wonder whether tax cuts
generate any tangible growth at all, much less growth so substantial
that "almost everyone benefits."
Yglesias goes further and notes that "Doug Holtz-Eakin, a well-regarded
former Congressional Budget Office director and current think tank leader,
believes that eliminating the estate tax will create lots of jobs." The
piece cited was written for the American Family Business Foundation, a
political front group founded to promote repeal of estate and gift taxes,
and is typical of the hackwork Holtz-Eakin has made a career out of.
Trump's latest big interview is both funny and terrifying: Before
the Lou Dobbs interview, this one with Maria Bartiromo, also of Fox
Business Channel. Subheds include: "Trump doesn't know anything about
any issue"; "Bartiromo keeps ineptly trying to cover for Trump"; and
"Trump gets all kinds of facts wrong."
Over the course of the interview, Trump also claims to be working on
a major infrastructure bill, a major welfare reform bill, and an
unspecified economic development bill of some kind.
Under almost any other past president, that kind of thing would be
considered a huge news-making get for an interviewer. But even Fox
didn't tout Bartiromo's big scoops on Trump's legislative agenda,
because 10 months into the Trump presidency, nobody is so foolish as
to believe that him saying, "We're doing a big infrastructure bill,"
means that the Trump administration is, in fact, doing a big
infrastructure bill. The president just mouths off at turns ignorantly
and dishonestly, and nobody pays much attention to it unless he says
something unusually inflammatory.
Dean Baker: The problem of doctors' salaries.
Julian Borger: Trump team drawing up fresh plans to bolster US nuclear
Alastair Campbell: The time has come for Theresa May to tell the nation:
Brexit can't be done: Fantasy from Tony Blair's former director of
communications, but the facts are sound enough, just the political will
is weak. Campbell has also written:
My fantasy Corbyn speech: 'I can no longer go along with a ruinous
Alexia Fernández Campbell: Nurses returning from Puerto Rico accuse
the federal government of leaving people to die.
Danica Cotto: Puerto Rico Says It's Scrapping $300M Whitefish Contract:
Not clear how a 2-year-old company from Interior Secretary's Ryan Zinke's
home town managed to win a $300M no-bid contract, but the more people
look into it the more suspicious it seems. For instance:
Whitefish Energy contract bars government from auditing deal. For more:
Ken Klippenstein: $300M Puerto Rico Recovery Contract Awarded to Tiny
Utility Company Linked to Major Trump Donor; also
Kate Aronoff: Disaster Capitalists Take Big Step Toward Privatizing
Puerto Rico's Electric Grid.
Thomas Frank: What Harvey Weinstein tells us about the liberal world:
I'm not sure you can draw any conclusions about political philosophy
from someone like Weinstein, who more than anything else testifies
that people with power tend to abuse it, regardless of their professed
values. Still, this is quasi-amusing:
Perhaps Weinstein's liberalism was a put-on all along. It certainly wasn't
consistent or thorough. He strongly disapproved of Bernie Sanders, for
example. And on election night in November 2008, Weinstein could be found
celebrating Barack Obama's impending victory on the peculiar grounds that
"stock market averages will go up around the world."
The mogul's liberalism could also be starkly militaristic. On the release
of his work of bald war propaganda, Seal Team Six, he opined to CNN
"Colin Powell, the best military genius of our time, supports the
president -- supports President Obama. And the military love him. I made
this movie. I know the military. They respect this man for what he's done.
He's killed more terrorists in his short watch than George Bush did in
eight years. He's the true hawk."
Ronald A Klain: He who must be named:
For decades, conservatives labored to make their movement more humane.
Ronald Reagan put a jovial face on conservative policies -- more Dale
Carnegie than Ayn Rand; George H.W. Bush promised a "kinder, gentler"
tenure; George W. Bush ran on "compassionate conservatism." . . .
That was then. Today, we are living the Politics of Mean. In the
Trump presidency, with its daily acts of cruelty, punching down is a
feature, not a bug. And the only thing more disquieting than a president
who practices the Politics of Mean are the voters who celebrate it. . . .
Since Trump's victory, his meanness has been infectious. We have
seen it in neo-Nazis marching in Charlottesville and elsewhere, students
chanting "build that wall" at Hispanic peers, and a rise of racial
epithets and anti-Semitic graffiti on college campuses. Puerto Rico,
again, provides a current example. As The Post's Jenna Johnson recently
reported, countless Trump supporters -- including some in Texas, who
themselves took Federal Emergency Management Agency aid after Hurricane
Harvey -- back the president's proposal to limit aid to Puerto Rico and
believe that fellow Americans there should "fix their own country up."
The obvious difference between then (1980-2000) and now is sixteen
years of endless war, although it's worth noting that conservatism has
always prided itself on being a hard way of life, a stance which never
took much prodding to tip over into meanness. Indeed, even while feigning
compassion conservative political pitches always started with playing on
people's prejudices -- primordially racism, as Reagan made clear when he
launched his 1980 campaign over the graves of slain civil rights workers.
Klain calls for a list of recent presidents and wannabes to stand up to
Trump's Politics of Mean. They should, of course, but it would be even
more helpful if they owned up to how their own errors got us here.
Julia Manchester: National Weather Service 'on the brink of failure'
due to job vacancies.
Rupert Neate: World's witnessing a new Gilded Age as billionaires' wealth
swells to $6tn.
Billionaires' fortunes increased by 17% on average last year due to the
strong performance of their companies and investments, particularly in
technology and commodities. The billionaires' average return was double
that achieved by the world's stock markets and far more than the average
interest rates of just 0.35% offered by UK instant-access high street
John Nichols: Trump's FCC Chair Moves to Undermine Journalism and
Mark Perry: Are Trump's Generals in Over Their Heads? "For many in
Washington, they're the only thing standing between the president and
chaos. But their growing clout is starting to worry military experts."
One problem is that as more generals move into politics, the military
itself (at least at the top) becomes increasingly politicized. I would
add that the competency and maturity they supposedly possess are traits
with little real evidence to back them up.
Paul Woodward also adds:
The problem with viewing the former and current generals in this
administration as the indispensable "adult supervision" Trump requires,
is that these individuals are the sole source of legitimacy for
his presidency -- exactly the reason he surrounded himself with this
kind of Teflon political protection.
Instead of seeing Mattis et al as the only thing that stands between
us and Armageddon, we should probably see them as the primary obstacle
to the outright exposure of the fraud that has been perpetrated by Trump
and the cadre of visibly corrupt cronies he has installed in most of the
executive branch of government.
Speaking of the alleged competence of generals, see
Senior military officials sanctioned for more than 500 cases of serious
misconduct: That just since 2013.
Andrew Prokop: 6 charts that explain why American politics is so broken:
"The Pew Research Center's political typology report, explained." Actually,
I'm not sure he charts do explain "why American politics is so broken" --
for one thing, nothing here on the influence of money, which is by far the
biggest breaker. They do show several disconnects, including "Most Americans --
including a good chunk of Republicans -- want corporate taxes raised, not
lowered" and "It's only a vocal minority of Americans who are anti-immigrant."
Nor do most of the typology groups make much sense, although "Country-First
Conservatives" are defined exclusively by their hatred for immigrants.
Still, worth noting that "Solid Liberals" are more numerous than "Core
Conservatives" (16-13% among the general public, 25-20% among "politically
Charlie Savage: Will Congress Ever Limit the Forever-Expanding 9/11
Joseph E Stiglitz: America Has a Monopoly Problem -- and It's Huge.
Nick Turse: It's Not Just Niger -- U.S. Military Activity Is a "Recruiting
Tool" for Terror Groups Across West Africa.
Sunday, October 22. 2017
I didn't get a head start on this -- in fact, started after dinner on
Sunday, so it's pretty quick and dirty, with a limited set of sources.
Still, it's so easy to find such appalling stories that posts like this
practically write themselves.
Some scattered links this week:
Matthew Yglesias: 4 political stories that actually mattered this week:
We got a bipartisan insurance stabilization deal: thanks to Sens.
Patty Murray (D-WA) and Lamar Alexander (R-TN), but: Republican leaders
don't seem to want a deal, like Paul Ryan, with Trump both waxing and
waning; The administration tested some new tax arguments, like
"corporate tax cuts boost wages" and "math forces tax cuts for the rich";
Nobody knows what's happening with NAFTA, hence no real story here,
but Trump's folks are blowing some smoke. Other Yglesias pieces this week:
The raging controversy over Trump and the families of fallen soldiers,
explained: well, more like summarized, as it's hard to explain how
tone-deaf Trump is in human interactions as straightforward (albeit no
doubt unpleasant) as issuing condolences.
Yet Trump has managed to completely and utterly botch this relatively
simple job less than a week after creating a major diplomatic crisis
with Iran for no particular reason. The humanitarian crisis in Puerto
Rico appears to be, if anything, intensifying as citizens cope with a
chronic lack of safe water. The president has willfully destabilized
individual health insurance markets without any clear plan and is
actively scuttling congressional efforts to stabilize the situation.
Other serious challenges are lurking out there in the world, yet the
Trump administration seemed incapable of issuing a simple condolence
statement or answering a question about it without unleashing a
multi-front political fiasco.
Trump aide says manufacturing decline increases abortions, death, and drug
abuse: "He might be right." Reviews research on "China shock" -- what
happens to areas hard hit by job losses due to cheaper imports. You can
blame this on trade deals, but it's also indicative of the frayed safety
net all across the country.
Republians say they can't figure out how to not cut taxes for the
rich: "It's really not very hard." If, say, you wanted to lower
rates on the first $100k of income, that would reduce taxes on those
who make more too, but you could offset that by increasing the rate
further up the income scale. Or you could do it lots of other ways.
And don't bother cutting the estate tax, something no one in the
middle class has to pay -- that's only a benefit for the very rich.
Trump says a big corporate tax cut will boost average incomes by $4,000
Sarah Aziza: How Long Can the Courts Keep Donald Trump's Muslim Ban at
Bay? Two federal judges issued injunctions against the third iteration
of Trump's travel ban last week.
Julia Belluz: White House officials think childhood obesity is not a
problem. Have they seen the data? Their campaign to wipe out
Obama's legacy (in this case, Michelle Obama's) continues apace.
Aida Chavez: House Republicans Warn Congress Not to "Bail Out" Puerto
Jason C Ditz: What Are U.S. Forces Doing in Niger Anyway?: Four US
Special Forces were killed in an ambush a couple weeks ago, finally
pointing a spotlight on US intervention there (much like the Benghazi
Turns out that for five years Niger has been a toe in the expanding
American footprint in Africa, and has become a hub of U.S. military
activity (about 800 soldiers are serving as advisors and training
local forces there now) and, according to Nick Turse, the location
of a brand new $100 million drone base. Meanwhile, the region has
become a crossroads of Islamist activity, from Boko Haram in Nigeria
to al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb across the Sahel. And now,
apparently, ISIS. . . .
Niger is far from the exception. In March 2012, the Pentagon
confirmed that U.S. troops were attacked in the southern Yemeni
city of Aden, and that a CIA officer was killed. This was the
first time officials confirmed that the U.S. had ground troops
operating inside Yemen at all. The revelation is even more stunning
when one recalls that the White House publicly ruled out sending
ground troops to Yemen several times in the years leading up to
More war news from around the world:
Lee Fang/Nick Surgey: Koch Brothers' Internal Strategy Memo on Selling
Tax Cuts: Ignore the Deficit: After all, deficits only matter when
a Democrat is president and might use deficits for expanding services
and/or growing the economy -- things Republicans oppose and, especially,
want to make sure no Democrat gets credit for. But when Republicans are
in power, well, as Dick Cheney said, "deficits don't matter."
Sarah Kliff: Medicare X: the Democrats' supercharged public option plan,
explained: Specifically, Sens. Bennet and Kaine, a plan that makes
less sense than Bernie Sanders' Medicare-for-all but would involve less
turmoil by adding a Medicare-based plan to the Obamacare exchanges as a
public option, increasing competition for private insurance plans.
Paul Krugman: Lies, Lies, Lies, Lies, Lies, Lies, Lies, Lies, Lies,
Lies: A propos of the Trump's "new" arguments for slashing taxes,
Modern conservatives have been lying about taxes pretty much from the
beginning of their movement. Made-up sob stories about family farms
broken up to pay inheritance taxes, magical claims about self-financing
tax cuts, and so on go all the way back to the 1970s. But the selling
of tax cuts under Trump has taken things to a whole new level, both in
terms of the brazenness of the lies and their sheer number. Both the
depth and the breadth of the dishonesty make it hard even for those of
us who do this for a living to keep track.
He then comes up with a list of ten (see the article for details,
although you're probably familiar with most of them already):
- America is the most highly-taxed country in the world
- The estate tax is destroying farmers and truckers
- Taxation of pass-through entities is a burden on small business
- Cutting profits taxes really benefits workers
- Repatriating overseas profits will create jobs
- This is not a tax cut for the rich
- It's a big tax cut for the middle class
- It won't increase the deficit
- Cutting taxes will jump-start rapid growth
- Tax cuts will pay for themselves
One thing that's missing in this debate is what do we need taxes for.
Some people argue that taxes should be limited to a certain percentage
of GDP -- often the same people who don't understand why government
spends more now than it did under Coolidge or McKinley. I think it's
obvious that a lot of things that we need in today's economic world
are necessarily more expensive than they were in past eras (especially
things that didn't really exist back then). To figure this out, one
needs some kind of multifactor analysis, and I think especially one
has to ask what things are most efficiently produced and distributed
through public channels. I think this list is large and growing, and
may include things that surprise you. If this list is as large as I
think, we need to be looking not at ways to cut taxes but at ways to
grow them, and how to do so fairly and efficiently. As it is, the
relentless focus on cutting taxes is an attack on public spending,
and ultimately on the public taxes are meant to serve.
Jane Mayer: The Danger of President Pence: A profile of the
vice president, one which raises plenty to be alarmed about, not
least because his odds of being elevated to the presidency via
the 25th amendment (the one that says all it takes is a majority
of the cabinet to find Trump incompetent -- perhaps something
Trump should have considered before giving Pence so much say in
picking nominees). For more on the 25th, see
Jeannie Suk Gersen: How Anti-Trump Psychiatrists Are Mobilizing
Behind the Twenty-Fifth Amendment.
Anna North: A detained 17-year-old immigrant wants an abortion. The
government went to court to stop her. Here's a case where the
Trump administration isn't being run like a business -- try finding
an angle where it makes sense for the government to prevent a detained
emigrant from obtaining an abortion -- but more like a shady religious
cult. For more cultlike behavior:
Doe is not the only minor who's been affected by the policy, according
to the ACLU. In March, according to court documents filed by the group,
another minor at a shelter in Texas chose to have a medication abortion
after getting a judge's permission for the procedure. After she had
taken the first dose of the medication, ORR officials forced her to go
to an emergency room to see if the abortion could be reversed. Ultimately,
she was allowed to proceed with the abortion and take the remaining dose
of the medication. In another case, the ACLU said, Lloyd traveled from
Washington, DC, to meet personally with a young woman to try to convince
her not to have an abortion.
Jon Schwartz: It Didn't Just Start Now: John Kelly Has Always Been a
Hard-Right Bully: The former Marine General has had a tough week,
not only failing repeatedly to keep Trump from embarrassing himself,
but having his own Trumpian moment making baseless charges against
Rep. Frederica Wilson. The best Trump mouthpiece Sarah Sanders came
up with in Kelly's defense was
It's "highly inappropriate" to question John Kelly -- because he's a
general. Schwartz compresses "Kelly's worldview, as expressed in
2010" into this short list:
- No one outside of the military can legitimately question any
of America's wars.
- No one who is in the military ever questions any of
- America and its wars are and have always been good.
- America is under terrifying threat from incomprehensible
- Our country is hamstrung by its sniveling "chattering class."
I've run across many more links on Kelly and Wilson, but I'd rather
point out this one:
Alice Speri: Top Trump Official John Kelly Ordered ICE to Portray
Immigrants as Criminals to Justify Raids.
Matt Shuham: Forbes: Trump Drops on 'Richest Americans' List as Net Worth
Takes a Hit: Down $600 million to $3.1 billion, dropping 92 spots
(from 156 to 248). No real analysis here as to why. Certainly, it's not
because he's resolved his conflicts-of-interest and made it impossible
to use his office to feather his own nest. And this looks extra bad with
the stock market setting new record highs. On the other hand, leaving
his day-to-day business decisions in the hands of Jr. and Eric may not
ave been the smartest idea. And naming so many properties after himself
has politicized them, which makes their value at least partly subject
to his extraordinarily low popularity.
Sunday, October 15. 2017
Every week since January has featured multiple stories about how
Donald Trump (and/or the Republicans) are corrupting government,
undermining democracy, degrading our short- and long-term economic
prospects, and quite often endangering world peace. Still, most of
those stories could be understood as some combination of the greed,
demagoguery, and narrow-minded ignorance that constitutes what passes
as the conservative world-view. But some things happened this week
that makes me think Trump has crossed a previously unknown line into
a qualitatively new level of, well, I'm groping for words, trying to
avoid "evil," so let's call it derangement. The US withdrawal from
UNESCO was the first such story, followed by the trashing of the
agreement with Iran to terminate their "nuclear program," but then
there was Trump's executive order to undermine Obamacare -- an act
of pure spite following the Republican failure to repeal the ACA.
As Ezra Klein's tweet explains:
Trump's new policy will increase premiums by 20%, cost the government
$194 billion, increase the deficit, destabilize insurance markets, and
increase the number of uninsured Americans. There is nothing it makes
better; it's pure policy nihilism.
Sure, I've often felt like Republicans generated their policy ideas
from a deep well of spite and vindictiveness, with scant concern for
consequences because deep down they really didn't give a shit about
anyone other than themselves (actually, a small subset of the fools
they manipulating into voting for them). But usually you could also
discern a positive slant, like their fondness for helping predatory
businesses rip everyone else off. Trump certainly isn't beyond that,
especially for his own businesses, but he mostly leaves such matters
to his subordinates -- after all, their experience in business and
lobbies gives them a command of detail he lacks, as well as motives
he doesn't disapprove of.
That's should have left Trump free to focus on "big picture" items,
but not understanding them either, he's been preoccupied with petty
feuds and tone-deaf publicity stunts, but his hatred for Obama is so
great that he'll gladly sign any executive order that wipes out any
hint of his predecessor's legacy. That's the source of much of his
policy nihilism, although he's occasionally broken new ground, as
with his UNESCO withdrawal -- ending 72 years of more/less trying to
work with the rest of the world's nations for the common good.
I suppose what this really means is that for the first time since
he took office, I've come around to the view that Trump is actually
worse than the run-of-the-mill Republicans in Congress and now in his
cabinet and office. I've long resisted that view, partly because the
media bend over backwards to excuse and legitimize the latter, and
partly because even though I disapprove of Trump's obvious character
flaws (e.g., racism, sexism, xenophobia, vanity, violence, mendacity,
ostentatiousness, sheer greed) I prefer to judge people on what they
do rather than what they think or believe. (Indeed, those flaws are
pretty common in America, but most people have enough of a superego
to try to limit their exposure and maintain social decorum -- Trump,
as is becoming more obvious every day, does not.)
On the other hand, let's not forget that Trump started to wander
off after giving his little rant about Obamacare, and it was Mike
Pence who grabbed him by the sleeve and dragged him back to actually
sign the executive order. That's an image to keep in mind if, say,
Trump is finally dispatched as too much of an embarrassment -- and
here I have to agree with Steve Bannon that the odds favor a cabinet
coup using the 25th amendment to Congress taking the more arduous
road to impeachment.
Some scattered links this week:
Aaron Blake: Almost half of Republicans want war with North Korea, a new
poll says. Is it the Trump Effect? Actually, a plurality, 46-41% in
favor of a preemptive strike against North Korea. Other polls produce
different results, possibly depending on how the question is phrased.
I doubt if even 1% of the Republicans polled have any understanding of
North Korea's preparations for responding to such an attack, hence of
the risks and likely costs of starting a war there. On the other hand,
one may expect Mattis, Tillerson, and the upper ranks of the uniformed
to at least have some idea: thousands of pieces of artillery that can
reach Seoul (population 10 million, metro area 25 million), the range
of rockets that can reach further (up to the US mainland), a few dozen
nuclear warheads (some with hydrogen boost), the vast array of defensive
tunnels, one of the largest military forces in the world. The latest
assessment I've seen is that the US would prevail in such a war (assuming
China does not intervene, as it did in 1950), but it wouldn't be easy
and the costs would be great. Tillerson was recently quoted as saying
he'll continue negotiating "until the first bomb falls" -- it's hard
to take much comfort in that given that Trump's been quoted as saying
his Secretary of State is wasting his time. Moreover, see
Choe Sang-Hun: North Korean Hackers Stole U.S.-South Korean Military
Plans, Lawmaker Says, including a "decapitation plan" for an
attack targeting Kim Jong-Un. Also note the report that
Trump Wanted Tenfold Increase in U.S. Nuclear Arsenal -- while
beyond ridiculous, such a report would play directly into North Korea's
paranoia. Indeed, Trump is playing Nixon's
Madman theory much more convincingly than the Trickster ever did.
(For a recent review, see
Garrett M Graff: The Madman and the Bomb. Among other things, this
article points out how elated Trump was in ordering the "Mother of All
Bombs" dropped in Afghanistan, adding "All the previous worries about
the potential of a deranged president to use a nuclear button irrationally
have been multiplied.") Lately Trump has made a number of bold unilateral
moves, evidently meant to reassure his base that he can act dramatically
on their prejudices. The more he senses support for striking North Korea,
the more likely he is to do it.
Tina Brown: What Harvey and Trump have in common: Harvey is Weinstein,
the movie mogul and current poster boy for serial sexual abuse. Brown left
her job at The New Yorker to work for him, and this is what she
What I learned about Harvey in the two years of proximity with him at
Talk was that nothing about his outward persona, the beguiling Falstaffian
charmer who persuaded -- or bamboozled -- me into leaving The New Yorker
and joining him, was the truth. He is very Trumpian in that regard.
He comes off as a big, blustery, rough diamond kind of a guy, the kind
of old-time studio chief who lives large, writes big checks and exudes
bonhomie. Wrong. The real Harvey is fearful, paranoid, and hates being
touched (at any rate, when fully dressed).
Winning, for him, was a blood sport. Deals never close. They are
renegotiated down to the bone after the press release. A business meeting
listening to him discuss Miramax deals in progress reminded me of the wire
tap transcripts of John Gotti and his inner circle at the Bergin Hunt and
Fish Club in Queens. "So just close it fast, then fuck him later with the
subsidiary rights." . . .
Harvey is an intimidating and ferocious man. Crossing him, even now,
is scary. But it's a different era now. Cosby. Ailes. O'Reilly, Weinstein.
It's over, except for one -- the serial sexual harasser in the White House.
For more Weinstein dirt, see
Ronan Farrow: From Aggressive Overtures to Sexual Assault: Harvey
Weinstein's Accusers Tell Their Stories. As for Trump, see:
Jessica Garrison/Kendall Taggart: Trump Given a Subpoena for All Documents
Relating to Assault Allegations.
Daniel José Camacho: Trump's marriage to the religious right reeks of
hypocrisy on both sides: Well, sure, but hypocrisy is an old friend
of Christianity in every stage of American history, and you can probably
find prime examples at least as far back as Constantine, who realized
how useful the religion could be for sanctifying his own political power.
Christianity is, above all else, a remarkably forgiving religion, as
long as you attest to its power by begging for its mercy. In country
music, for instance, whatever you do on Saturday Night can be atoned
for and made right on Sunday Morning, and the latter is all that really
matters to the clergy -- after all, confession confirms their authority.
The political right has never had a problem with that. They love the
idea of hierarchy so much they strive to emulate it on earth, ruled,
of course, by themselves, conferring favors upon their favored clergy.
Of course, if you don't buy into this arrangement, your cynicism may
lead you to charge them with hypocrisy. Indeed, the whole scam is as
easy to see through as "The Emperor's New Clothes," but that only makes
the believers more angry and vindictive -- hence, the rise of the
Religious Right parallels liberal secularization, with its increasing
militancy (and, looking at Trump, I'm inclined to add desperation)
bound up with a feeling of embattled isolation that right-wing media
and politicians have cynically encouraged. Still, the problem is less
Christian backlash against secular culture -- something that is real
but deeper and more complex than the political backlash it is often
confused with[*] -- than that con artists from Reagan to Trump have often
managed to wrap their scams up in various traditional pieties, as if
that excuses otherwise shameless behavior.
[*] Note that Christianity predates capitalism, so contains a strain
of anti-materialist sentiment that has never been fully reconciled with
modern commerce. It even predates Constantine's state religion, before
which it was resolutely anti-state and anti-war, so even today a large
segment of the peace movement finds its inspiration in religion (and
not just Christianity).
William D Hartung: Here's Where Your Tax Dollars for 'Defense' Are Really
The answer couldn't be more straightforward: It goes directly to private
corporations and much of it is then wasted on useless overhead, fat
executive salaries, and startling (yet commonplace) cost overruns on
weapons systems and other military hardware that, in the end, won't
even perform as promised. Too often the result is weapons that aren't
needed at prices we can't afford. If anyone truly wanted to help the
troops, loosening the corporate grip on the Pentagon budget would be
an excellent place to start.
The numbers are staggering. In fiscal year 2016, the Pentagon issued
$304 billion in contract awards to corporations -- nearly half of the
department's $600 billion-plus budget for that year. And keep in mind
that not all contractors are created equal. According to the Federal
Procurement Data System's top 100 contractors report for 2016, the
biggest beneficiaries by a country mile were Lockheed Martin ($36.2
billion), Boeing ($24.3 billion), Raytheon ($12.8 billion), General
Dynamics ($12.7 billion), and Northrop Grumman ($10.7 billion). Together,
these five firms gobbled up nearly $100 billion of your tax dollars,
about one-third of all the Pentagon's contract awards in 2016. . . .
The arms industry's investment in lobbying is even more impressive.
The defense sector has spent a total of more than $1 billion on that
productive activity since 2009, employing anywhere from 700 to 1,000
lobbyists in any given year. To put that in perspective, you're talking
about significantly more than one lobbyist per member of Congress, the
majority of whom zipped through Washington's famed "revolving door";
they moved, that is, from positions in Congress or the Pentagon to
posts at weapons companies from which they could proselytize their
The weapons systems are the big ticket items, but there is much more,
including some 600,000 private contractors doing all sorts of things,
with little effective management, while companies like Erik Prince's
Blackwater lobby to privatize more combat jobs.
Sean Illing: 20 of America's top political scientists gathered to discuss
our democracy. They're scared. Many interesting idea here; e.g.:
Nancy Bermeo, a politics professor at Princeton and Harvard, began her
talk with a jarring reminder: Democracies don't merely collapse, as that
"implies a process devoid of will." Democracies die because of deliberate
decisions made by human beings.
Usually, it's because the people in power take democratic institutions
for granted. They become disconnected from the citizenry. They develop
interests separate and apart from the voters. They push policies that
benefit themselves and harm the broader population. Do that long enough,
Bermeo says, and you'll cultivate an angry, divided society that pulls
apart at the seams. . . .
Due to wage stagnation, growing inequalities, automation, and a
shrinking labor market, millions of Americans are deeply pessimistic
about the future: 64 percent of people in Europe believe their children
will be worse off than they were; the number is 60 percent in America.
That pessimism is grounded in economic reality. In 1970, 90 percent
of 30-year-olds in America were better off than their parents at the
same age. In 2010, only 50 percent were. Numbers like this cause people
to lose faith in the system. What you get is a spike in extremism and
a retreat from the political center. That leads to declines in voter
turnout and, consequently, more opportunities for fringe parties and
candidates. . . .
Consider this stat: In 1960, 5 percent of Republicans and 4 percent
of Democrats objected to the idea of their children marrying across
political lines. In 2010, those numbers jumped to 46 percent and 33
percent respectively. Divides like this are eating away at the American
social fabric. . . .
But for all the reasons discussed above, people have gradually
disengaged from the status quo. Something has cracked. Citizens have
lost faith in the system. The social compact is broken. So now we're
left to stew in our racial and cultural resentments, which paved the
way for a demagogue like Trump.
One thing I would stress here is that "the erosion of democratic
norms" -- voter suppression, gerrymandering, obstruction tactics,
tolerance for "dirty tricks," the ever-increasing prerogatives of
money -- has largely been spawned within the Republican Party, which
is to say the party most desperately committed to inequality, order,
privilege, and hierarchy. The article offers stats about the growing
number of Americans who look favorably on a military dictatorship,
but neglects to break them down by party. Still, it's worth noting
that Democrats have often played into the hands of anti-democratic
forces, especially those who have been most successful at toadying
for donors. Although Obama, for instance, campaigned against the
baleful influence of money in 2008, he managed to raise so much more
of it than McCain, so Democrats didn't bother to use their majorities
to address the issue.
Sarah Jaffe: Bernie Sanders Isn't Winning Local Elections for the Left:
"Bernie Wins Birmingham" is convenient shorthand for those who have no idea
what actually goes on in Birmingham. But Bernie Sanders and the group his
2016 campaign inspired, Our Revolution, are not winning elections in places
like Birmingham or Jackson, Mississippi, which in June elected a mayor who's
promised, "I'll make Jackson the most radical city on the planet." Activists
in Birmingham and Jackson and Albuquerque and Long Island are winning them --
left-wing activists who've toiled for years in the trenches, working with a
new wave of organizers from Black Lives Matter and other insurgent groups,
who bring social-media savvy and fired-up young voters into the mix.
Still, the title leans too hard the opposite way. Bernie is helping,
especially to provide a nationwide support framework. Conversely, helping
build local power bases helps build the nationwide movement, either for
Bernie (who certainly could have used some local help in Mississippi and
Alabama during the 2016 primaries) or whoever vies most successfully for
his movement. Conversely, although Hillary may have given up her dream
of running in 2020, her crowd is still more focused on containing (or
combatting) the left than on winning elections: see
Bob Moser: Clintonian Democrats Are Peddling Myths to Cling to Power.
Anyone who bothers to remember McGovern's tragic 1972 loss to Nixon
should heap shame on those Democrats who betrayed their party's nominee
for the most devious and crooked politician in American history -- much
more numerous than the tiny fraction of Sanders supporters who couldn't
stomach Clinton in 2016. The so-called New Democrats have discredited
themselves doubly: first by repeatedly surrendering the Party's New
Deal/Great Society legacy to increasingly regressive Republicans in the
name of political expediency, then by losing to the vilest candidate
the GOP could muster.
Fred Kaplan: Certifiable Nonsense: As usual with Slate, the link
title is better: "President Trump's Most Dishonest Speech Yet," adding
"His announcement on the Iran deal might also be his most dangerous
speech yet." Certainly true about his dishonesty, even though there's
lots of competition. But most dangerous? More dangerous than his
taunting of North Korea, which actually has nuclear warheads as well
as more powerful missiles? Well, the two are related:
Pulling out would also damage our posture, and possibly trigger catastrophe,
in other global hot spots. If our face-off with North Korea is to end without
war, it will require some sort of diplomatic settlement. But who will want
to negotiate with the United States, and who would believe any deal Trump
would sign or guarantee he would make, if he pulls out of the Iran deal,
even though Iran is abiding by its terms?
Sarah Kliff: Trump's acting like Obamacare is just politics. It's people's
lives. This is the piece Klein linked to in his tweet above, so it
starts by spelling out the bottom line. One key thing Trump's order does
is to end payments to insurance companies protecting against losses due
to adverse selection. This wouldn't be a problem in a single-payer system
with truly universal coverage, but splitting the market into multiple
segments means that some will be cost more than others. If insurance
companies had to bear that risk, some would drop out and the rest would
raise their prices. And that's exactly what they will do under Trump's
Ending these payments raises premiums for anyone who uses Obamacare:
older people, younger people, sicker people, and healthy people. And
it puts an already fragile Obamacare marketplace at greater risk of
a last-minute exodus by health plans who assumed that the government
would pay these subsidies -- and don't think they can weather the
The Trump administration has, since taking office, cut the Obamacare
open enrollment period in half. Instead of 90 days to sign up, enrollees
will now get 45. The Trump administration has cut the Obamacare advertising
budget by 90 percent -- and reduced funding for in-person outreach by 40
percent. Regional branches of Health and Human Services abruptly pulled
out of the outreach events they have participated in over the last four
years. . . .
Trump's larger presidential agenda has focused on unwinding Barack
Obama's legacy. He's more focused on destroying his nemesis than trying
to replace, to fix, or to improve Obama's biggest accomplishments from
the Iran deal to environmental regulation.
On health care, there are going to be immediate and very real
consequences for Americans. There are real people who stand to be hurt
by an administration that has actively decided to make a public benefits
program function poorly.
Michael Kruse: The Power of Trump's Positive Thinking: Yet another
attempt to plumb Trump's psyche, trying to impose order on a mental
process that strikes most of us as supremely chaotic:
"I've had just about the most legislation passed of any president, in
a nine-month period, that's ever served," he said this week in an interview
with Forbes, contradicting objective metrics and repeating his
frequent and dubious assertion of unprecedented success throughout the
first year of his first term as president.
The reality is that Trump is in a rut. His legislative agenda is
floundering. His approval ratings are historically low. He's raging
privately while engaging in noisy, internecine squabbles. He's increasingly
isolated. And yet his fact-flouting declarations of positivity continue
unabated. For Trump, though, these statements are not issues of right or
wrong or true or false. They are something much more elemental. They are
a direct result of the closest thing the stubborn, ideologically malleable
celebrity businessman turned most powerful person on the planet has ever
had to a devout religious faith. This is not his mother's flinty Scottish
Presbyterianism but Norman Vincent Peale's "power of positive thinking,"
the utterly American belief in self above all else and the conviction that
thoughts can be causative, that basic assertion can lead to actual
achievement. . . .
What Peale peddled was "a certain positive, feel-good religiosity
that demands nothing of you and rewards you with worldly riches and
success," said Princeton University historian Kevin Kruse, the author
of One Nation Under God: How Corporate America Invented Christian
America. "It's a self-help gospel . . . the name-it-and-claim-it
gospel." . . .
Peale, then nearly 80 years old, officiated Trump's wedding in 1977.
In 1983, shortly after the opening of Trump Tower, Trump credited Peale
for instilling in him a can-do ethos.
The piece cites various critiques of various self-help pitches,
some of which fit Trump to a tee, then notes that no one who has
been studied has anywhere near the power Trump has, so "the Trump
presidency is uncharted territory." Of course, Peale is only one
significant influence on Trump's thinking and behavior. There's
also Roy Cohn, a very different and much more nefarious mentor.
And there's Trump's Nazi/KKK-aligned father, and probably a few
more. Some writer could build a great novel out of such clay.
Unfortunately, the real thing isn't a work of fiction.
Dara Lind: Leaked memos show Jeff Sessions's DOJ aims to undermine due
process for immigrants. Sessions is one of those "public servants" in
the Trump administration that's willing to overlook getting tweet-slapped
by Trump because he has important agenda work to do. This is one prime
example (others include ending civil rights and antitrust enforcement).
James Mann: The Adults in the Room: A piece on how the generals
(Kelly, Mattis, McMaster) and Boy Scout (Tillerson) Trump has surrounded
himself with are keeping the ship of state afloat, their "maturity" in
sharp contrast to the president's lack thereof:
Following the arrival of Donald Trump in the White House, the meaning
of the words "adult" and "grownup" has undergone a subtle but remarkable
shift. They now refer far more to behavior and character than to views
on policy. This is where Kelly, McMaster, Mattis, and (to a lesser extent)
Tillerson come in; "grownup" is the behavioral role that we have assigned
For the first time, America has a president who does not act like an
adult. He is emotionally immature: he lies, taunts, insults, bullies,
rages, seeks vengeance, exalts violence, boasts, refuses to accept
criticism, all in ways that most parents would seek to prevent in their
own children. Thus the dynamic was established in the earliest days of
the administration: Trump makes messes, or threatens to make them, and
Americans look to the "adults" to clean up for him. The "adults," in
turn, send out occasional little public signals that they are trying to
keep Trump from veering off course -- to educate him, to make him grow
up, to keep him under control. When all else fails, they simply distance
themselves from his tirades. Sometimes such efforts are successful; on
many occasions, they aren't.
Leaving aside the question whether Trump's immaturity is a matter
of his spoiled upbringing, sociopathy, or some kind of dementia (what
we usually mean when we speak of people his age undergoing "a second
childhood"), what I find most incongruous here is the notion that we
should consider generals to be grown-ups. We are, after all, talking
about people who dress up in uniforms with flashy medals, who prance
about and play with guns or, at their rank, maneuver soldiers around
battlefields. Those are all things that I enjoyed in my pre-teens but
rapidly grew out of, especially as I became conscious of the very grim
and senseless war my country was fighting in Vietnam. Ever since then,
I figured those who pursued military careers to be stuck in some kind
of adolescence, at least until PTSD disabuses them of their fantasies.
Maybe generals are different, although I don't see why, and I doubt
they often function well outside of the closed system that selected
them. (Tillerson, of course, didn't fall for the military fantasy, but
he got a taste of the worldview in the Boy Scouts, and his advancement
through the ranks of Exxon was every bit as cloistered -- something we
see in his performance as Secretary of State.)
I also couldn't help but notice this piece:
Eric Scigliano: The Book Mattis Reads to Be Prepared for War With
North Korea. The book is T.R. Fehrenbach's This Kind of War,
originally published in 1963, evidently focused on the importance of
putting "boots on the ground" while recognizing how little America's
scorched earth air bombardment had accomplished. No idea what lessons
Mattis draws from this, other than ego-stroking from a fellow Marine.
As I recall, the first thing I read about Mattis (back in early Iraq
War days) stressed what an intellectual he was, with his vast library
of war books. I flashed then on Robert Sherrill's book title, Military
Justice Is to Justice as Military Music Is to Music, and figured
"military intellectuals" were likely to be similarly debased.
Donald Macintyre: Tony Blair: 'We were wrong to boycott Hamas after its
election win': Only eleven years too late. I don't recall whether
Blair has issued his mea culpa for the Iraq War or any of the
dozens of other things he's famously screwed up, but it's worth noting
this one. One thing we should always work toward is getting groups to
lay down their arms and work to advance their cause through an electoral
framework. The Hamas electoral victory in 2006 offered an opportunity to
restart the "peace process" that Barak and Sharon aborted in 2000, with
broader Palestinian representation than was ever possible under Arafat.
Of course, Sharon wanted no part in any peace process, and Blair and
Bush sheepishly went along, not simply adding more than a decade to the
conflict but allowing Israel's illegal settlement actions to sink ever
deeper roots into the West Bank.
Andrew Restuccia: Bannon promises 'season of war' against McConnell, GOP
establishment: Specifically, "to challenge any Senate Republican who
doesn't publicly condemn attacks on President Donald Trump." On the one
hand, I'm tempted to say, "let the bloodletting begin"; on the other,
while it will be easy to characterize Bannon's insurgents as extremists,
his willingness to challenge oligarchy gives him a potential popularity
that establishment Republicans as Mitch McConnell lack. Bannon argues
here that "money doesn't matter anymore" -- while that's certainly not
true, his "grass roots organizing" was able to negate Hillary's huge
fundraising advantage. Seemingly unrelated, also note that:
[Bannon] also appeared to hint that the administration was planning to
soon declare that the Muslim Brotherhood is a terrorist organization
and move the U.S. embassy in Israel to Jerusalem, perhaps as soon as
But a senior administration official disputed that such an announcement
was in the works for next week.
Philip Rucker/Ed O'Keefe: Trump threatens to abandon Puerto Rico recovery
effort: Among the many things Trump has threatened to blow up this
past week, one of the most vexing is the quasi-colonial relationship of
the US to Puerto Rico. Trump has vacillated between taking responsibility
for recovery and attempting to disown the island, to write it off like
one of his bad debts. Here he declares Puerto Rico's infrastructure a
disaster before the storm. There he lectures on the sanctity of debts
accured by state and local government there. Political sentiment in the
US generally favors aid, but I suspect his base is more antagonistic.
The banks, on the other hand, would probably prefer a bailout before
anything drastic happens. Puerto Ricans recently voted for statehood,
which Republicans in Congress are likely to block if they think there's
any reason -- like a racist, xenophobic president -- doing so might not
add to the GOP majority. Indeed, Trump has already started to follow
through on his threats to withdraw aid by allowing a temporary waiver
to the Jones Act to expire.
Meanwhile, a couple recent reports from Puerto Rico:
Gabriel Sherman: "I Hate Everyone in the White House!": Trump Seethes as
Advisers Fear the President Is "Unraveling":
Stephen Colbert's comment on this headline was: "This means up until
now, he's been raveled." Inside you get lines like "One former official
even speculated that Kelly and Secretary of Defense James Mattis have
discussed what they would do in the event Trump ordered a nuclear first
strike." And: "According to a source, Bannon has told people he thinks
Trump has only a 30 percent chance of making it the full term." All very
gossipy. Too much smoke to tell where the fire actually is.
Emily Shugerman: US withdraws from Unesco over 'anti-Israel bias':
"The US helped found Unesco in the wake of the Second World War, with
the aim of ensuring peace through the free flow of ideas and education."
I found this shocking, even though it's long been clear that the US has
its most anti-education and anti-free speech administration in history,
and possibly its most anti-peace one as well. The most disturbing thing
here is the extent to which anti-UN prejudice has permeated Republican
ideology (and make no mistake about it, this is a purely partisan view).
But even as a go-it-alone (i.e., isolationist) "America first" stance,
it's pretty self-deprecating: if the stated rationale is true, this as
much as admits that tiny Israel has taken charge of US foreign policy;
the alternative theory, that "Mr Tillerson simply wanted to stem outgoings,"
also reflects poorly on the US, as much as admitting that "the richest
country in the world" can't afford to contribute to preserving heritage
and supporting education in poorer countries.
Pieces by Matthew Yglesias this week:
Special bonus link:
Dalia Mortada: A Taste of Syria: A recipe for a Syrian dish, fatteh,
"a hearty dish of crispy pita bread beneath chickpeas and a luscious
garlic-yogurt-tahini sauce." I should note that the picture appears to
have a sprinkling of ground sumac (or maybe Aleppo pepper) not listed
in the recipe.
Sunday, October 8. 2017
Very little time to work on this, but here are a few things I noted.
The big story of the week probably should be Puerto Rico, especially
how poorly America's quasi-benevolent gloss on colonialism has wound
up serving the people there, but that would take some depth to figure
out -- much easier to make fun of Trump pitching paper towels. Aside
from the Las Vegas massacre, the media's favorite story of the week
was Tillerson calling Trump a "fucking moron," then quasi-denying it,
followed by reports of his "suicide pact" with fellow embarrassed
secretaries Mattis and Mnuchim. Meanwhile the Caribbean cooked up
another hurricane, Nate, which landed midway between Harvey and
Irma, reported almost cavalierly after the previous panic stories.
How quickly even disaster becomes normalized these days!
Obviously, many more stories could have made the cut, if only I
had time to sort them out. Still, this is enough bad news for a taste,
especially since so much of it traces back to a single source.
Some scattered links this week:
Harry Enten: Trump's Popularity Has Dipped Most in Red States.
Thomas Frank: Are those my words coming out of Steve Bannon's mouth?
"My critique of Washington is distinctly from the left, and it's astonishing
to hear conservatives swiping it." I've long been bothered by how Frank's
taunting of the right-wing base got them to demand more from their political
heroes. It's also true that Frank's exposure of the neoliberal rot in the
heart of Washington's beltway has played into Trump rhetoric. Indeed, it's
probable that Frank's Listen, Liberal undercut Hillary much worse
than anything Bernie Sanders ever said or did -- a distinction that Hillary's
diehard fans don't make because most of Frank's readers supported Bernie.
Frank points out that Republicans offer no real fixes for his critiques.
So why don't Democrats pick up the same critique and flesh it out with
real solutions? Probably because Hillary and company were so content with
sucking up to their rich donors, but now that we know that doesn't work,
why can't they learn?
Josh Marshall: More Thoughts on the Externalities of Mass Gun Ownership:
This in turn cites
David Frum: The Rules of Gun Debate, which points out a basic truth
that hardly anyone wants to admit:
Americans die from gunfire in proportions unparalleled in the civilized
world because Americans own guns in proportions unparalleled in the
civilized world. More guns mean more lethal accidents, more suicides,
more everyday arguments escalated into murderous fusillades.
Marshall goes on to point out that the sheer popularity of guns is
making the problem worse for everyone -- he speaks of "externalities,"
although the game model is closer to an arms race. But Frum also notes:
o in a limited sense, the gun advocates are right. The promise of
"common sense gun safety" is a hoax, i.e. Americans probably will not
be able to save the tens of thousands of lives lost every year to gun
violence -- and the many more thousands maimed and traumatized -- while
millions of Americans carry guns in their purses and glove compartments,
store guns in their night tables and dressers. Until Americans change
their minds about guns, Americans will die by guns in numbers resembling
the casualty figures in Somalia and Honduras more than Britain or
It's truly hard to imagine that this change will be led by law. . . .
Gun safety begins, then, not with technical fixes, but with spreading
the truthful information: people who bring guns into their homes are
endangering themselves and their loved ones.
Specifically on Las Vegas, note
I'm not going to criticize Caleb Keeter -- the guitarist who "has
had a change of heart on guns."
Dylan Matthews: Trump reignites NFL protest controversy by ordering Mike
Pence to leave a Colts game: Pence showed up for a Colts game to
stand for the national anthem, then left in protest of players who took
a knee during the anthem. Pure PR stunt, and a huge insult to NFL fans,
who pay good money to watch the game, even if that means enduring the
pre-game pomp. Worse, Trump is so locked into his echo chamber he thinks
he's making a winning point.
Jeremy W Peters/Maggie Haberman/Glenn Trush: Erik Prince, Blackwater
Founder, Weighs Primary Challenge to Wyoming Republican: Billionaire
brother of Betsy DeVos, like her made his money inheriting the Amway
fortune but built a lucrative side business providing mercenaries for
the Global War on Terror, most recently in the news lobbying the Trump
administration to privatize the war in Afghanistan -- if you wanted to
write a new James Bond novel about a megalomaniacal privateer, you
wouldn't have to spruce his bio up much. He hails from Michigan, but
isn't the first to think Wyoming might be a cost-effective springboard
to the Senate and national politics (think Lynne Cheney). Behind the
scenes here is Steve Bannon, who's looking for Trump-like candidates
to disrupt the Republican Party. He's likely to come up with some
pretty creepy ones, but Prince is setting the bar awful high.
Andrew Prokop: Trump's odd and ominous "calm before the storm" comment,
not really explained: This followed Trump's dressing down of Secretary
of State Rex Tillerson for trying to talk to North Korea (not to mention
Tillerson's description of Trump as a "fucking moron"). As Prokop admits,
there is no real explanation for Trump's elliptical remarks, but as I see
it, he's doing a much more convincing act of Nixon's Madman Theory than
the Trickster ever managed.
David Roberts: Friendly policies keep US oil and coal afloat far more
than we thought.
Dylan Scott: How Trump is planning to gut Obamacare by executive
Matthew Yglesias: Puerto Rico is all our worst fears about Trump
To an extent, the United States of America held up surprisingly well
from Inauguration Day until September 20 or so. The ongoing degradation
of American civic institutions, at a minimum, did not have an immediate
negative impact on the typical person's life.
But the world is beginning to draw a straight line from the devastation
in Puerto Rico to the White House. Trump's instinct so far is to turn the
island's devastation into another front in culture war politics, a strategy
that could help his own political career survive.
One problem Trump has, even if it doesn't explain his administration
as a whole, has been the relative shortfall of news on Puerto Rico --
especially from the Trump whisperers at Fox (see
Druhmil Mehta: The Media Really Has Neglected Puerto Rico). A lot
of people, and not just immigration-phobes like Trump, have is seeing
Puerto Rico as part of the USA, even though everyone there has American
citizenship and are free to pick up and move anywhere in the country.
Harry Enten: Trump's Handling of Hurricane Maria Is Getting Really Bad
The notion that Trump hasn't done a lot of damage to the country
yet is mostly delayed perception. His regulatory efforts have allowed
companies to pollute more and engage in other predatory practices, but
it takes a while to companies to take advantage of their new license.
The defunding of CHIP (the Children's Health Insurance Program) didn't
immediately shot off insurance, but it will over several months. Those
who lose their insurance may not get sick for months or years, but
across the country these things add up. Trump's brinksmanship with
North Korea hasn't blown up yet, but it's made a disaster much more
likely. Some of these things will slowly degrade quality of life,
but some may happen suddenly and irreversibly. That people don't
notice them right away doesn't mean that they won't eventually.
One thing politicians hope, of course, is that bad things happen
they won't be traced back to responsible acts. Indeed, Republicans
have been extraordinarily lucky so far, to no small extent because
Democrats haven't been very adept as explaining causality. Yglesias
returns to this theme in
Trump's taste for flattery is a disaster for Puerto Rico -- and someday
The scary message of Puerto Rico -- like of the diplomatic row between
Qatar and Saudi Arabia before it -- is that a man who often seemed like
he wasn't up to the job of being president is, in fact, not up to the
job of being president.
At times, of course, his political opponents will find this comforting
or even to be a blessing. His inability to involve himself constructively
in the Affordable Care Act debate, for example, likely saved millions of
people's Medicaid coverage relative to what a more competent president
might have pulled off.
But when bad luck strikes, the president's problems become everyone's
problems. And in Puerto Rico we're seeing that the president's inability
to listen to constructive criticism -- and his unwillingness to incentive
people to give it to him -- transforms misfortune into catastrophe.
This tendency to cut himself off from uncomfortable information rather
than accept frank assessments and change course has impacted Trump's
legislative agenda, peripheral aspects of his foreign policy, and now
a part of the United States of America itself.
If we're lucky, maybe the global economy will hold up, we won't have
any more bad storms, foreign terrorists will leave us alone, and somehow
we'll skate past this North Korea situation. Maybe. Because if not, we're
going to be in trouble, and the president's going to be the last one to
Yglesias says "we'd better hope Trump's luck holds up," but he doesn't
sound very hopeful. I'm reminded of the famous Branch Rickey maxim, "luck
is the residue of design." Rickey was talking about winning baseball games,
but losing is the residue of its own kind of design. It was GW Bush's bad
luck that the economy imploded on his watch, but his administration and
his party deliberately did a lot of things that hastened that collapse,
so it's not simply that they were unlucky.
Other pieces by Yglesias last week:
The 4 stories that defined the week: Dozens were massacred in Las
Vegas; Trump flew to Puerto Rico; Tax reform is looking shaky; and
Morongate rocked the Cabinet. One aspect of the latter story: "due
to the structure of his compensation and certain quirks of tax law,
[Tillerson will] be hit with a $71 million tax bill on the proceeds
[of cashing out his Exxon stock] unless he stays with the government
for at least a year." Other pieces:
Meet Kevin Warsh, the man Trump may tap to wreck the American economy:
to replace Janet Yellen as chair of the Federal Reserve;
After Sandy Hook, Trump hailed Obama's call for gun control legislation;
Trump's reverse Midas touch is making everything he hates popular;
After a year of work, Republicans have decided nothing on corporate tax
Sunday, October 1. 2017
Hard to get psyched up for this week, what with my website woes,
having sunk a lot of time into yesterday's Streamnotes, and various
other malaises. Two pieces of relative good news this week: the
Graham-Cassidy bill to repeal-and-decimate Obamacare failed to
advance to a vote; and HHS Secretary Tom Price, one of the Cabinet's
most obnoxious secretaries, was forced to resign. Hurricane Marie
is much reduced and well out to sea, heading toward Ireland, and
no new Atlantic hurricanes have been named. On the other hand, that
just leaves the destruction Marie wrought in Puerto Rico in the
media spotlight, with the Trump administration all but cursing the
Spanish-American War (wasn't that the first great MAGA crusade?).
Meanwhile, Republicans are pushing "tax reform" with no evident
ability to make their numbers add up.
Some scattered links this week:
Karen DeYoung, et al: Trump signed presidential directive ordering actions
to pressure North Korea: This included extensive cyberwarfare operations
against North Korea. Not clear on exact chronology, but this suggests that
much of the confrontation with North Korea was precipitated by Trump's
Anne Gearan: The swamp rises around an administration that promised to
Candidate Trump would have been appalled.
"A vote for Hillary is a vote to surrender our government to public
corruption, graft and cronyism that threatens the very foundations of
our constitutional system," Trump said during an Oct. 29 speech.
He went on to describe his broader belief that public corruption
and cronyism were eating away at voters' faith in government -- a
situation he would remedy.
"I want the entire corrupt Washington establishment to hear and to
heed the words I am about to say," Trump said. "When we win on Nov. 8,
we are going to Washington, D.C., and we are going to drain the
swamp." . . .
Trump's critics say no one should be surprised that he hasn't followed
through on his campaign promise. They argue that the mere idea of a
flamboyantly rich New York real estate mogul as the champion of workaday
lunch buckets in Middle America was silly.
"The tone on this stuff gets set at the top," said Brian Fallon,
spokesman for Clinton's 2016 presidential campaign and a former Justice
Department official in the Obama administration.
"Tom Price's wasteful jet-setting is not causing Trump embarrassment
because it violates any kind of reform mind-set within the Trump
administration. No such mind-set exists," Fallon said. "It is simply
because Price got caught and is reminding everyone of how Trump has
turned Washington into an even bigger swamp than it was in the first
Of course, it was ridiculous to ever think that Trump, let alone
a Congress run by Republicans, would so much as lift a finger to try
to curtail the influence of money in Washington or more generally in
politics. It was easy to tar Hillary on this account, given how much
she seemed to prefer courting donors to voters, given how brazenly the
Clintons had cultivated influence peddling (going back to Arkansas,
when he was Governor and she sat on the WalMart board), and given how
they had risen from bankruptcy to considerable wealth cashing in their
chips after he left office in 2001. But while Democrats from Grover
Cleveland to Barack Obama provided a measure of background corruption
in government, it was the self-styled "party of greed" that hosted our
most notorious corruption scandals: Grant's Credit Mobilier, Harding's
Teapot Dome, Reagan's HUD scandals and Iran-Contra, and too many squalid
affairs under Bush-Cheney to name. But never before have the Republicans
nominated someone as rapacious and as shameless as Trump. Tom Price ran
into trouble not by offending Trump's ethics but his ego, by acting like
he's entitled to the same perks as the boss. If anyone ever doubted that
"public corruption, graft and cronyism that threatens the very foundations
of our constitutional system," Trump will show them.
David A Graham: Why Does Trump Keep Praising the Emergency Response in
Puerto Rico? "The president's insistence that he's doing a great
job sits uneasily with stories of desperation in the aftermath of
Part of this seems to be Trump's struggle to project empathy, which he
displayed in the early days after Hurricane Harvey, where he excelled
at the inspirational, rah-rah, we will rebuild aspects of presidential
response, but found it very hard to show he felt the pain of Gulf Coast
residents. (By contrast, he has expressed caution about what to do in
Puerto Rico, tweeting, "The fact is that Puerto Rico has been destroyed
by two hurricanes. Big decisions will have to be made as to the cost of
its rebuilding!") Another part is Trump's tendency toward puffery: In
all situations, for his entire career, his impulse has been to magnify
and celebrate his own prowess and success, and so he's doing that here
too. But that fake-it-till-you-make-it approach understandably rankles
people like Yulín.
Damning as this is, it's way too kind to Trump, already forgetting
that he did a completely dreadful job of showing empathy in Texas --
although at least there he made a little effort to fake it. AT least
he acknowledges that Texas is part of "his" America, something that
he doesn't feel with Puerto Rico. A couple more sample pieces on how
the Trump administration is handling the Puerto Rico crisis:
Trump Attacks Critics of Puerto Rico Aid Effort: 'Politically Motivated
FEMA Administrator Swipes at San Juan Mayor, Those Who 'Spout Off' About
Sarah Kliff: Obamacare repeal isn't dead as long as Republicans control
Congress: In fact, lots of horrible things will keep coming up as
long as Republicans control Congress. A couple weeks ago my cousin asked
me who I'd like to see the Democrats nominate in 2020, and my response
was that it doesn't matter until Democrats can start winning state and
local races, especially for Congress. One thing I continue to fault both
Clinton and Obama on is their loss of Congress two years into their first
terms, and their failure to build up effective coattails even when they
won second terms. Hillary Clinton spent a ton of time raising money, but
didn't build up any down-ticket strength to build her own candidacy on --
a big part of the reason she lost. Without Congressional support, neither
Clinton nor Obama got more than a tiny percentage of their platforms
implemented, and that failure in turn ate at the credibility of their
promises -- something Hillary paid dearly for, which in turn is why
we're suffering through Trump and the Republican Congress.
Paul Krugman: Shifts Get Real: Understanding the GOP's Policy Quagmire:
I mentioned in the intro that Republican plans don't add up: they want
big cuts in tax brackets, especially for corporations from 35% to 20%,
and they want to eliminate the estate tax altogether, but even a few
of those things would bust the budget. "Reforms" to simplify the code
and eliminate current deductions could offset at least some of the cuts,
but those all look like tax increases to those who currently benefit,
and their lobbies are out in force to keep that from happening. Even
busting the budget is a problem given the Senate's no-filibuster
"reconciliation" path. So while everyone in the majority caucus is
sworn to cut taxes, getting there may prove difficult.
Right now it looks as if tax "reform" -- actually it's just cuts -- may
go the way of Obamacare repeal. Initial assessments of the plan are brutal,
and administration attempts to spin things in a positive direction will
suffer from loss of credibility on multiple fronts, from obvious lies
about the plan itself, to spreading corruption scandals, to the spectacle
of the tweeter-in-chief golfing while Puerto Rico drowns. . . .
One important goal of ACA repeal was to loosen those constraints, by
repealing the high-end tax hikes that paid for Obamacare, hence giving
a big break to the donor class. Having failed to do that, Rs are under
even more pressure to deliver the goods to the wealthy through tax cuts.
But deficits are a constraint, even if not a hard one. Now, Republicans
have always claimed that they can cut tax rates without losing revenue by
closing loopholes. But they've always avoided saying anything about which
loopholes they'd close; they promised to shift the tax burden away from
their donors onto [TK], some mystery group. It was magic asterisk city;
it was "Don't tax you, don't tax me, tax that fellow behind the tree" on
steroids. . . .
So what were they thinking? My guess is that they weren't thinking.
What we learned from health care was that after 8 years, Republicans
had never bothered to learn anything about the issues. There's every
reason to believe that the same is true for the distribution of tax
changes, which Paul Ryan called a "ridiculous" issue and presumably
nobody in his party ever tried to understand.
So now the lies and willful ignorance are catching up with them --
An earlier Krugman post
Unpopular Delusions and the Madness of Elites) notes some polling
There really is no clamor, even among Republicans, for tax cuts on the
wealthy and corporations. And overall public opinion is strongly against.
Nor is there a technocratic case for these cuts. There is no evidence
whatsoever that tax cuts produce great economic outcomes -- zero, zilch,
nada. The "experts" who claim otherwise are all hired guns, and notably
incompetent hired guns at that.
Yet faith in and demands for tax cuts remains; it's the ultimate zombie
idea. And it's obvious why: advocating tax cuts for the rich and inventing
rationales for those cuts is very lucrative.
Voodoo Gets Even Voodooier:
That said, Trumpcuts are an even worse idea than Reaganomics, and not
just because we start from much higher debt, the legacy of the financial
crisis, which cut deeply into revenue and temporarily boosted spending.
It also matters that we start from a much lower top tax rate than Reagan
did. . . . So even if you believed that voodoo economics worked under
Reagan -- which it didn't -- it would take a lot more voodoo, in fact
around 4 times as much, for it to work now.
Which makes you wonder: how can they possibly sell this as a
responsible plan? Oh, right: they'll just lie.
Peter O'Dowd: 18-Hour Vietnam Epic Is Lesson on Horror of 'Unleashing
Gods of War': Actually, the interview isn't that interesting, except
for a long quote on the Burns-Novick documentary from Daniel Ellsberg:
I think there were some some major omissions that are quite fundamental
that disturbed me quite a bit, although the overall thing is very
First of all, the repeated statement that this was a civil war on
which we were taking one side, I think it's profoundly misleading. It
always was a war in which one side is entirely paid, equipped, armed,
pressed forward by foreigners. Without the foreigners, no war. That's
not a civil war. And that puts -- it very much undermines, I'd say, a
fundamentally misleading statement at the very beginning in the first
five minutes or so of the first session.
I don't see anything in the Pentagon Papers, 7,000 pages, that could
be called good faith by anybody, in terms of the American people, our
values, our Constitution. This was a war, as I say initially, to keep
Vietnam a French colony. And that was not admitted to the American
people. It was well known inside. We preferred that they be at war,
and there was never a year that there would have been a war at all
without American money in the end. So I thought that was extremely
I'll probably write some more about Vietnam later, but I do want to
add one comment on the last episode, which features heavily the Vietnam
War Memorial in Washington DC. The design suggests a gash in the earth,
one side lined with black marble engraved with the names of 58,318
Americans who died perpetuating this war. I find it impossible to look
at this wall and not imagine extending it upward to include the three
million Vietnamese who also died. It seems extraordinarily conceited,
even more so misleading, to omit those names. Of course, if you want
to preserve the gash-in-the-earth visual effect, you could dig a deeper
hole instead of building the wall up hundreds of feet.
Alex Pareene: You Are Jonathan Chait's Enemy: Chait is complaining
"about the 'dangerous consequences' of the left's use of the label 'white
supremacist' to describe Donald Trump, the alt-right, and American
conservatism in general," in what Pareene describes as "just another
paint-by-numbers 'the greatest threat to free speech in the nation
today is college students heckling an asshole' column."
Chait is policing the way the left does politics because he does not
want the left-wing style of doing politics to gain prominence.
Something that is well-known to people who've read Chait for years,
but may not be apparent to those who just think of him as a standard-issue
center-left pundit who is sort of clueless about race, is that he is
engaged in a pretty specific political project: Ensuring that you and
people like you don't gain control of his party.
Pareene's getting a bit touchy here, but he's not the only one
suspicious that so-called centrists relish attacking the left while
offering the right undeserved respect and legitimacy -- which in the
long run works in their favor. The problem with centrism is that the
track record doesn't show that taking such a conciliatory stance
delivers much in the way of tangible benefits -- indeed, if anything
it shows retreats while the right grows stronger and more aggressive.
It seems time to ask whether stronger leftist critiques might turn
out to be more effective, especially with people who don't start out
with a strong political stance. For instance, why not refer to people
as white supremacists who may merely be garden variety racists? --
especially people like Trump who seem so comfortable aligned with
undoubted white supremacists like the KKK?
David Rothkopf: The NSC is 70 this week -- and the first thing it ever did
was meddle in a foreign election: In 1947, created by the National
Security Act, its first paper ("NSC 1") approved by Truman to covertly
meddle in elections in Italy, "trying to counter the effects of the
Soviets to support the rise of the Italian Communist Party," no mention
of the popularity the PCI gained by resisting Mussolini and the German
occupation. Of course, the CIA went on to do much more than merely game
foreign elections; e.g.:
Vincent Bevins: In Indonesia, the 'fake news' that fueled a Cold War
massacre is still potent five decades later:
Gen. Suharto, then the head of the army's strategic reserve command
and relying on support from the CIA, accused the powerful Communist
Party of orchestrating a coup attempt and took over as the military's
de facto leader. Over the next few months, his forces oversaw the
systematic execution of at least 500,000 Indonesians, and historians
say they may have killed up to 1 million. The massacre decimated the
world's third-largest Communist Party (behind those of the Soviet
Union and China), and untold numbers were tortured and killed simply
for allegedly associating with communists.
The military dictatorship that formed afterward, led by Suharto,
made wildly inaccurate anti-communist propaganda a cornerstone of
its legitimacy and ruled Indonesia with U.S. support until 1998.
Alex Thompson/Ryan Grim: Kansas Won't Expand Medicaid, Denying a Lifeline
to Rural Hospitals and Patients: Well, some, like the one in Independence,
are already dead. Gov. Brownback, who vetoed the bill to expand Medicaid,
has been nominated to a State Department post to hector the world on God,
but Lt. Gov. Colyer promises to veto future bills as well, so no relief
Zeynep Tufekci: Zuckerberg's Preposterous Defense of Facebook:
It's become clear that Russia created hundreds of clandestine Facebook
accounts and used them and Facebook's advertising system to spread
misinformation about the 2016 election. People are upset about that
because they don't like the idea of a foreign power attempting to
tilt an American election, possibly as a general principle but often
just because it's Russia attempting to undermine Hillary Clinton
and/or to elect Trump. Still, doesn't the US do the same thing to
other countries? And don't both parties and their donors do the
same thing to each other? I have no doubt that Facebook makes the
general problem much worse, mostly because it allows unprecedentely
precise, even intimate, targeting by whoever's willing to put the
money into it. Advertisers have been trying to refine targeting for
decades, but they've mostly been concerned with efficiency -- getting
the most cost-effective set of buyers to consider a standard product
pitch. Political advertising is different because votes are different
from purchases, and, given limited choices, negative advertising is
often more effective. Until recently, we could limit this damage by
requiring disclosure of whoever is buying the advertising. Facebook
undermines this paradigm in several ways: it helps advertisers hide
their identity, and thereby avoid responsibility for any damages; it
allows messages to be very narrowly tailored; its effect is amplified
by viral "sharing"; it precludes any systematic effort to recall or
correct misinformation. Americans have long been lulled into the lure
of advertising, which offers to pay for entertainment and news while
only demanding a small (and initially distinct) slice of your time.
And we've basically gone along with this scheme because we haven't
noticed what it's doing to us -- much like a lobster doesn't notice
heating water until it's much too late. It's going to be difficult
to unravel all these levels of duplicity and to restore any measure
of integrity to the democratic process. But two things should be
clear by now: the fact that someone like Donald Trump got elected
president shows that our system for informing ourselves about the
world is badly broken; and that as long as powerful forces -- I'd
start with virtually all corporations, most Republicans, and many
Democrats, and throw in a few more special interest groups (not
least the CIA and the post-KGB -- believe that they benefit from
this system there will be much resistance to changing it. Indeed,
it probably has to be defeated before it can be changed.
By the way, Matt Taibbi has a relevant piece:
Latest Fake News Panic Appears to Be Fake News, wherein he
The irony here is that the solution to so much of this fake news panic
is so simple. If we just spent more time outside, or read more books,
or talked in person to real human beings more often, we'd be less
susceptible to this sort of thing. But that would take effort, and
who has time for that?
Matthew Yglesias: 4 stories that really mattered this week:
i.e., more than Trump's spat with the NFL: Obamacare repeal died
again; Puerto Rico is in crisis; Republicans rolled
out a tax cut plan; Roy Moore won the GOP nomination in
Alabama. Other recent Yglesias posts:
Trump is proposing big tax hikes on vulnerable House Republicans'
constituents (ending deductability of state and local taxes [SALT],
a big deal in upscale suburban districts);
A House Republican explains why deficits don't matter anymore:
Mark Walker says "It's a great talking point when you have an
administration that's Democrat-led" -- this just confirms what we've
already observed, as when Nixon declared "we're all Keynesians now"
when he wanted more deficit spending to prop up his re-election
economy, or Cheney declared "deficits don't matter," yet Clinton
and Obama were constantly pounded over deficit spending;
Trump keeps saying Graham-Cassidy failed because a senator's in the
Nobody wants Donald Trump's corporate tax cut plan: "Americans
overwhelmingly want large businesses to pay more taxes rather than
The Jones Act, the obscure 1920 shipping regulation strangling Puerto Rico,
Trump's plan to sell tax cuts for the rich is to pretend they're not
Democrats ought to invest in Doug Jones's campaign against Roy Moore;
Angela Merkel won in a landslide -- now comes the hard part;
Donald Trump versus the NFL, explained.
Sunday, September 24. 2017
Biggest news for me is that the server I use for TomHull.com is
wedged, with no disk space available for uploading updates. I may
(or may not) be able to insert this post into the blog software
(which I've had problems with in the past, but evidently uses its
own separate storage), but cannot update the "faux blog" (which
I've been linking to for the last year-plus). The ISP, Addr.com,
seems to be on auto-pilot, with all of their support tools broken
and no one responding even to email. I know I've threatened this in
the past, but I suppose I have to bite the bullet and move the site.
That will be a pain for me, and disruptive for the world -- as if I
don't have enough problems already.
Some fairly large topics I have nothing on below: Hurricane Maria
and the mass destruction of Dominica and Puerto Rico; devastating
earthquakes in Mexico; elections in Germany which gave the far-right
AfD party seats in parliament; the never-ending Russia investigation
(starring Paul Manafort and Facebook this week); Betsy DeVos' latest
efforts to make college a safe haven for rapists; a revised anti-Muslim
travel ban; the ongoing protests against
police brutality and injustice in St. Louis (special hat tip to Greg
Magarian and Bronwen Zwirner on the ground there); and, of course, the
big deal of protesting the national anthem at NFL football games (and
Trump's hate tweets against those who do) -- the latter is the subject
of the first five articles at Slate, and evidently the top trending
hashtag(s) at Twitter (Jeffrey Goldberg tweet: "The President of
the United States is now in a war with Stephen Curry and LeBron
James. This is not a war Trump will win").
Some more reviews of Hillary Clinton's What Happened and
comments on the 2016 election:
Glenn Greenwald: The Clinton Book Tour Is Largely Ignoring the Vital Role
of Endless War in the 2016 Election Result:
Part of that is the discomfort of cognitive dissonance: the Democratic
branding and self-glorification as enemies of privilege, racism, and
violence are directly in conflict with the party's long-standing eagerness
to ignore, or even actively support, policies which kill large numbers of
innocent people from Pakistan, Libya, and Somalia to Yemen, Iraq, and Gaza,
but which receive scant attention because of the nationality, ethnicity,
poverty, distance, and general invisibility of their victims.
Actually, Hillary gets hurt in several ways: because she always rose
to support the wars, no one can identify with her as a war critic; because
she was actually in office during much of this time (as senator and especially
as secretary of state) she bears some responsibility for the failure of the
wars to accomplish their proclaimed goals; and the simple fact is that after
15 years of continuous war Americans are poorer and meaner than they would
have been otherwise, and Republicans feed on that.
Katherine Krueger: Hillary Clinton Will Never Understand What Happened:
Those looking for mea culpas will get them, but only up to a point,
and always closely followed by qualifications. . . . She then pivots
to consider the "strong headwinds" her scrappy little $623 million
campaign-that-couldn't was up against. . . .
Most of all, Clinton can't understand why young voters were won over by
Sen. Bernie Sanders. And it is here where the essential cynicism underlying
her worldview -- and which ultimately played a key role in her doom --
comes most sharply into focus. For Clinton, politics are fundamentally
about pragmatism, where strategic concessions and horse-trading with
Republicans necessarily means sacrificing ideals for the ultimate good
of Getting (Some) Things Done. To her, change within the system is needed
and worthy, but the system itself can never change. . . .
After a career built on steadfastly upholding the status quo, Clinton
didn't share the anger of the people she sought to govern, because, to
her, the state of the U.S. is not something to be angry about. Even as
she criss-crossed the country talking with veterans and moms and immigrants,
their problems were never her problems. As her fellow Americans continue
to lose their jobs and homes and fall into medical debt and struggle with
opioid addictions, the system Clinton has for years fought to keep intact
is humming along just fine. The fact that racism, militarism, inequality,
and religious fundamentalism pervade this country, or that poor people
are being consumed by the gears of our economy and left exhausted in its
dust, is not something to get "angry" about. In Clinton's words, "It's
always been thus."
Jon Schwartz: Hillary Clinton doesn't understand why the corporate media
is so bad:
The New York Times, CBS, NBC, ABC, CNN, et al., are gigantic corporations --
in most cases owned by even larger ones. And the job of giant corporations
is not to inform American citizens about reality. It's not to play a hallowed
role in the history of a self-governing republic. It's to make as much profit
as possible. That in turn means the corporate media will never, ever be
"liberal" in any genuine sense and will be hostile to all politicians who
feint in that direction.
From that perspective, the media's performance in 2016 was a shining,
glorious success. As Les Moonves effused just as the primaries were
starting, Donald Trump's campaign was "good for us economically. . . . Go
Donald! Keep getting out there!" The entire Hieronymus Bosch-like nightmare,
said Moonves, "may not be good for America, but it's damn good for CBS."
CNN made $1 billion in profits during the election year, far more than
Matthew Yglesias: What really happened in 2016, in 7 charts: The
key one is the monumental unpopularity of both candidates. Still, in
that comparison, the odd thing is that Trump ranks much worse than
Clinton, yet more people who disliked Trump voted for him than people
who disliked Clinton voted for her. Why was that? My best guess is
that having no real track record, people significantly underestimated
how damaging Trump would be, whereas she was much more of a known,
and one of the main things you knew was she would be dogged by and
endless procession of (mostly) fake scandals as long as she was in
the public eye. Trump exploited this by asking the question: "what
have you got to lose?"
Joshua Holland: How Right-Wing Media Played the Mainstream Press in
the 2016 Election: Not on Hillary's book, but this is the piece
she should have read before writing up her excuses.
Some scattered links this week:
Andrew J Bacevich: Past All Reason: Review of the 18-hour Ken
Burns-Lynn Novick documentary The Vietnam War and, to some
extent, the war itself. The series remains focused on its American
audience, going out of its way to stress the patriotism and idealism
of American soldiers (though less so of America's political leaders
and generals). But it shies away from war propaganda, mostly because
they make extensive use of Vietnamese voices (from all sides) and
video -- putting human faces on people long caricatured in American
Burns and Novick pay surprisingly little attention to why exactly
the United States insisted on butting in and why it subsequently
proved so difficult to get out. Their lack of interest in this
central issue is all the more striking given the acute misgivings
about a large-scale US intervention that Lyndon Johnson repeatedly
expressed in the fateful months between late 1964 and early 1965.
The anguished president doubted that the war could be won, didn't
think it was worth fighting, and knew that further expansion of US
involvement in Vietnam would put at risk his cherished Great Society
domestic-reform program. . . . Despite his reservations, Johnson --
ostensibly the most powerful man in the world -- somehow felt compelled
to go ahead anyway. Yet Burns and Novick choose not to explore why
exactly Johnson felt obliged to do what he did not want to do.
Our present situation makes the question all the more salient.
The US war in Afghanistan, although smaller in scale than the war
in Vietnam, has dragged on even longer. It too has turned out to be
a misbegotten enterprise. When running for the presidency, Donald
Trump said as much in no uncertain terms. But President Trump --
ostensibly the most powerful man in the world -- has not turned
his skepticism into action, allowing America's longest war to
continue. . . . As Trump has affirmed, even (or perhaps especially)
presidents must bow to this pernicious bit of secular theology.
According to Burns and Novick, the American war in Vietnam was
"begun in good faith, by decent people." It comes closer to the truth
to say that the war was begun -- and then prolonged past all reason --
by people who lacked wisdom and, when it was most needed, courage.
Whereas I found the first four episodes valuable, the biases in the
fifth (January-July 1967) started to get out of hand. It's not clear
yet whether Burns-Novick will wind up adopting the position that the
only reason the US lost in Vietnam was that the American people let
the Vietnamese down -- the early episodes seemed to recognize that
the American neo-colonial project never had a chance, but their take
on the Tet Offensive suggests the opposite. Also, as is still the
case in St. Louis today, their cameras love to seek out violence in
antiwar protests, and their narrative goes out of its way to stress
the that there was still much pro-war support -- what Nixon would
come to call "the silent majority" (something I expect we'll hear
much more about in later episodes).
Sarah Kliff: I've Covered the GOP repeal plans since day one.
Graham-Cassidy is the most radical. It surely says something
about rank-and-file Republicans these days that each and every
time their "repeal-and-replace" bills fail to pass, they go back
to the drawing board to come up with something even more damaging.
While other Republican plans essentially create a poorly funded version
of the Affordable Care Act, Graham-Cassidy blows it up. The bill offered
by Republican Sens. Lindsey Graham and Bill Cassidy takes money from
states that did a good job getting residents covered under Obamacare
and gives it to states that did not. It eliminates an expansion of the
Medicaid program that covers millions of Americans in favor of block
grants. States aren't required to use the money to get people covered
or to help subsidize low- and middle-income earners, as Obamacare does
Plus, the bill includes other drastic changes that appeared in some
previous bills. Insurers in the private marketplace would be allowed
to discriminate against people with preexisting conditions, for example.
And it would eliminate the individual mandate as other bills would have,
but this time there is no replacement. Most analysts agree that would
inject chaos into the individual market.
The right has employed the back-to-the-states scam before, but it
strikes me as especially explosive here: whereas now we have a unified
national debate about health care policy, this bill will turn health
care info a burning issue for fifty state political contests -- an
area where Republicans have gained considerable power recently not
least due to the widespread perception that states don't matter much.
That strikes me as a big political risk: both to their own control in
competitive states, and because at least some blue states will use
those block grants to implement single-payer schemes (not that they
won't be inhibited by cutbacks and other regulations).
More on the Graham-Cassidy health care bill:
Bob Cesca: Lisa Murkowski's bribe -- and the GOP's shameless health
Alan Fram: Graham-Cassidy Co-Sponsor's State Gets Special Medicaid
Carve-Out: That would be Ron Johnson, of Wisconsin.
Jimmy Kimmel: new Obamacare repeal bill flunks the Jimmy Kimmel Test:
Not a lot of jokes here, but a pretty strong description of the bill, and
why Bill Cassidy is a liar. Also see the follow up:
Jimmy Kimmel: Sen. Cassidy "either doesn't understand his own bill or he
lied to me", and
Jimmy Kimmel vs. Cassidy, round 3: "If these guys would tell the truth . . .
I wouldn't have to".
Anna North: The New Obamacare repeal bill is the worst yet for women's
Dylan Scott: Senate Republicans tweak Graham-Cassidy in latest bid to win
Kelly Swanson: What every major health group has said about Graham-Cassidy:
American Medical Association, American Academy of Pediatrics, AARP, Blue
Cross Blue Shield Association, eight more.
Matthew Yglesias: The staggering hypocrisy of Bill Cassidy and Lindsey
Graham: Points out that both Senators had previously established
themselves as voices for reason in the GOP's "repeal-and-replace" efforts,
but then: "Their bill brazenly casts aside all of their previous doubts,
featuring the most slipshod legislative process yet and no guarantee of
adequate coverage whatsoever. And neither of them has bothered to explain
why they changed their minds." Actually, Steven Rosenfeld has come up
with one explanation, at least for Graham: see
Senate Republicans want to provide a death blow to any future health
Simon Maloy: McCain saves the GOP: Then John McCain withdrew his
initial wobbly support for Graham-Cassidy and vowed to vote against
the bill, pretty much killing it (assuming at least one of Collins and
Murkowski, who have both voted against every "repeal-and-replace" bill
so far steps up). McCain, of course, has reaped much praise for his
independence and integrity here, but I suspect other Republicans (Jeff
Flake and Dean Heller seem likely) wanted to torpedo the bill without
being seen as the ones who did it. As I noted above, kicking health
insurance back to fifty states greatly magnifies the political impact,
turning races in each of those states into referendums on access to and
affordability of health care, while major federal funding cuts cripples
many options. McCain's crucial votes against "repeal-and-replace" would
seem to satisfy the Pareene test (see
Alex Pareene: I Don't Want to Hear Another Fucking Word About John McCain
Unless He Dies or Actually Does Something Useful for Once). Still:
Mehdi Hasan: Despite what the press says, "Maverick" McCain has a long
and distinguished record of horribleness.
Jordan Weissmann: Obamacare Repeal Might Be Dead. Trump's Effort to
Sabotage the Law Is Very Much Alive.
Fred Kaplan: Trump's Reasons for Scrapping the Iran Deal Are the Definition
of Self-Destructive. Also see the Trita Parsi pieces below.
John Nichols: Bernie Sanders Just Gave One of the Finest Speeches of
His Career: "Outlining a vision of an America on the side of peace
and justice, the senator shredded Trump's brutish foreign policies."
Sanders gave his speech at Westminster College in Fulton, Missouri --
the site of several famous world affairs speeches, including the one
in 1946 when Winston Churchill coined the term "iron curtain," to some
extent starting the Cold War. This is especially noteworthy because
Sanders has long shied away from challenging the precepts of American
foreign policy. Some more links:
Sanders' speech stands in especially stark contrast to Trump's UN
speech. For more on that, see:
Evan Osnos: The Risk of Nuclear War With North Korea: A long "letter
from Pyongyang," which Osnos recently visited for a tightly guided tour.
While he wasn't able to meet many people, or see many things, that
first-person experience gives him a leg up on Trump, his generals,
Nikki Haley, or pretty much anyone else in the administration. The
portrait he paints of Kim Jong Un is actually pretty scary, but the
balance of terror is firmly if cavalierly dominated by Washington.
There is also scattered support for a less confrontational option,
a short-term deal known as a "freeze for freeze." North Korea would
stop weapons development in exchange for a halt or a reduction in
U.S.-South Korean military exercises. Proponents say that a freeze,
which could be revoked if either side cheats, is hardly perfect, but
the alternatives are worse. Critics say that versions of it have been
tried, without success, and that it will damage America's alliance
with the South. Thus far the Trump Administration has no interest.
"The idea that some have suggested, of a so-called 'freeze for freeze,'
is insulting," Nikki Haley, the U.N. Ambassador, said before the
Security Council on September 4th. "When a rogue regime has a nuclear
weapon and an ICBM pointed at you, you do not take steps to lower your
Outside the Administration, the more people I talked to, the more
I heard a strong case for some level of diplomatic contact. When Obama
dispatched James Clapper to Pyongyang, in 2014, to negotiate the release
of two prisoners, Clapper discovered that North Korea had misread the
purpose of the trip. The government had presumed that he was coming in
part to open a new phase in the relationship. "They were bitterly
disappointed," he said. Clapper's visit convinced him that the absence
of diplomatic contact is creating a dangerous gulf of misperception.
"I was blown away by the siege mentality -- the paranoia -- that prevails
among the leadership of North Korea. When we sabre-rattle, when we fly
B-1s accompanied by jet escorts from the Republic of Korea and Japan,
it makes us feel good, it reassures the allies, but what we don't factor
in is the impact on the North Koreans."
The striking thing about the Haley quote is how easily North Korea
could justify taking the same stance. North Koreans surely recall that
prominent US generals advocating nuking Korea during the 1950-53 war.
And while it's only been since the 1960s that the US has had ICBMs
capable of hitting Korea, the US has had conventional bombers within
striking distance since that war. So what gives us the right to insist
that North Korea lower its guard? If it's that the US should be trusted,
that isn't a very convincing argument. Another quote:
Our grasp of North Korea's beliefs and expectations is not much better
than its grasp of ours. To go between Washington and Pyongyang at this
nuclear moment is to be struck, most of all, by how little the two
understand each other. In eighteen years of reporting, I've never felt
as much uncertainty at the end of a project, a feeling that nobody --
not the diplomats, the strategists, or the scholars who have devoted
their lives to the subject -- is able to describe with confidence how
the other side thinks. We simply don't know how Kim Jong Un really
regards the use of his country's nuclear arsenal, or how much North
Korea's seclusion and mythology has distorted its understanding of
American resolve. We don't know whether Kim Jong Un is taking ever-greater
risks because he is determined to fulfill his family's dream of retaking
South Korea, or because he is afraid of ending up like Qaddafi.
More on Korea this week:
John Feffer: It's Time to Make a Deal With North Korea.
David McNeill: Unknown to most Americans, the US 'totally destroyed' North
Korea once before.
Choe Sang-Hun: Kim's Rejoinder to Trump's Rocket Man: 'Mentally Deranged
U.S. Dotard': OK, most of us had to look up "dotard," but looks like
it's pretty apt. Kathleen Geier's tweet on this piece: "Honestly, the
Taylor Swift-Kim Kardashian feud is being conducted on a far higher
level than this."
Trita Parsi: Trump is conflating Pyongyang with Tehran. The results could
be catastrophic. If Trump had any good sense, he'd be trying to work
out a deal with North Korea patterned on Obama's Iran Deal, although it
might be harder now given that the US had a deal with North Korea like
that, negotiated by Jimmy Carter in the 1990s and trashed by GW Bush in
2002, shortly before Bush added insult to injury with his "axis of evil"
speech. Instead, Trump seems determined to drive Iran towards becoming
another North Korea. (Also see:
Jeffrey Lewis: If Trump kills the Iran deal, he may give the world
another Rocket Man.) Parsi also wrote
Netanyahu Is Meeting Trump to Push for War With Iran.
A recent poll shows that Trump is especially untrusted by Americans
to deal with North Korea (see
Trump seen by 66 percent in US as doing more to divide than united
country): the "trust to act responsibly handling North Korea"
is 37% favorable, 62% negative, compared to which US military leaders
score 72-27% favorable. The notion that military leaders are both
competent and trustworthy is widely held, though I'd be hard pressed
to cite any evidence showing it should be. One cautionary piece is:
Stephen Kinzer: America's Slow-Motion Military Coup. He notes that
"given the president's ignorance of world affairs, the emergence of a
military junta in Washington may seem like welcome relief," then goes
on to offer some reasons to worry. There's been much talk of a coup
since Trump took office, but that seems unlikely as long as Trump lets
the junta do whatever they want. The only time I've actually worried
that the military brass might move against civilian government was when
Clinton was elected in 1992, but his surrender to the chiefs was so
complete they didn't have to flex a muscle. Obama proved to be every
bit as supine, not even bothering to replace Bush's Secretary of
Defense (although after Gates quit, he went through a series of safe
names: Leon Panetta, Chuck Hagel, and Ash Carter).
Gary Rivlin/Michael Hudson: Government by Goldman: "Gary Cohn is
giving Goldman Sachs everything it ever wanted from the Trump
administration." Important, in-depth article, goes well beyond
explaining why Cohn hasn't resigned in disgust, which he certainly
felt after Trump's embrace of the Nazis in Charlottesville.
There's Ultimately no great mystery why Donald Trump selected Gary Cohn
for a top post in his administration, despite his angry rhetoric about
Goldman Sachs. There's the high regard the president holds for anyone
who is rich -- and the instant legitimacy Cohn conferred upon the
administration within business circles. Cohn's appointment reassured
bond markets about the unpredictable new president and lent his
administration credibility it lacked among Fortune 100 CEOs, none of
whom had donated to his campaign. Ego may also have played a role.
Goldman Sachs would never do business with Trump, the developer who
resorted to foreign banks and second-tier lenders to bankroll his
projects. Now Goldman's president would be among those serving in
his royal court.
Who can say precisely why Cohn, a Democrat, said yes when Trump
asked him to be his top economic aide? No doubt Cohn has been asking
himself that question in recent weeks. But he'd hit a ceiling at
Goldman Sachs. In September 2015, Goldman announced that Blankfein
had lymphoma, ramping up speculation that Cohn would take over the
firm. Yet four months later, after undergoing chemotherapy, Blankfein
was back in his office and plainly not going anywhere. Cohn was 56
years old when he was invited to Trump Tower. An influential job
inside the White House meant a face-saving exit -- and one offering
a huge financial advantage. . . .
The details of the president's "$1 trillion" infrastructure plan
are similarly favorable to Goldman. As laid out in the administration's
2018 budget, the government would spend only $200 billion on infrastructure
over the coming decade. By structuring "that funding to incentivize
additional non-Federal funding" -- tax breaks and deals that privatize
roads, bridges, and airports -- the government could take credit for
"at least $1 trillion in total infrastructure spending," the budget reads.
It was as if Cohn were still channeling his role as a leader of Goldman
Sachs when, at the White House in May, he offered this advice to executives:
"We say, 'Hey, take a project you have right now, sell it off, privatize
it, we know it will get maintained, and we'll reward you for privatizing
it.'" "The bigger the thing you privatize, the more money we'll give you,"
continued Cohn. By "we," he clearly meant the federal government; by "you,"
he appeared to be speaking, at least in part, about Goldman Sachs, whose
Public Sector and Infrastructure group arranges the financing on large-scale
public sector deals.
Jon Schwartz: The History Channel is finally telling the stunning secret
story of the War on Drugs: A four-part documentary. Much of it seems to
involve the CIA, which has repeatedly forged alliances with drug traffickers --
in Laos, Nicaragua, and most recently in Afghanistan.
That core truth is: The war on drugs has always been a pointless sham.
For decades the federal government has engaged in a shifting series of
alliances of convenience with some of the world's largest drug cartels.
So while the U.S. incarceration rate has quintupled since President
Richard Nixon first declared the war on drugs in 1971, top narcotics
dealers have simultaneously enjoyed protection at the highest levels
of power in America.
This might be a good place to mention
Sheelah Kolhatkar: The Cost of the Opioid Crisis -- an awful piece
which tries to quantify the economic costs of opioid overdoses by toting
up lost hours worked and similar metrics. I don't doubt that these deaths
add up to some kind of crisis, but you need to back up a bit and frame
this issue in terms of two much larger, less acute crises: one is the
"war on drugs," which has accomplished little other than to make people
really stupid about what drugs do; the other is the for-profit health
care system, which has veered inconsistently on pain management, doing
first too little then too much and probably, if the crisis-mongers get
their way, reverting to too little. The big money is in prescribing
pills, not in monitoring treatment.
Matt Taibbi: The Madness of Donald Trump: Starts by noting that
Trump's August 22 speech in Phoenix was "Trump's true coming-out party
as an insane person." Goes on to try to draw fine distinctions between
Campaign Trump, who was crazy in ways that seemed to work, and President
Trump, whose craziness is becoming more and more dysfunctional. After
considering the possibility that America deserves Trump, he pulls out
the DSM and comes up with a diagnosis:
Everyone with half a brain and a recent copy of the DSM (the
Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, used by
shrinks everywhere) knew the diagnosis on Trump the instant he joined
the race. Trump fits the clinical definition of a narcissistic personality
so completely that it will be a shock if future psychiatrists don't
rename the disorder after him.
Grandiosity, a tendency to exaggerate achievements, a preoccupation
with "fantasies of unlimited success, power, brilliance, beauty or ideal
love," a belief in one's specialness (which can only be understood by
other special people), a need for excessive admiration and a sense of
entitlement -- sound like anyone you know?
Trump's rapidly expanding list of things at which he's either a
supreme expert or the Earth's best living practitioner would shame
even great historical blowhards like Stalin or Mobutu Sese Seko.
Taibbi's points on Trump's losing war with the English language
are more to the point (though "he makes George W. Bush sound like
Vladimir Nabokov" shows how quickly we forget). He tries to take
some comfort by viewing Trump as just desserts for a country with
so much blood and oppression staining its history, but Trump's too
deranged to deliver a lesson on karma. For more on the madness, see:
Alex Morris: Trump's Mental Health: Is Pathological Narcissism the Key
to Trump's Behavior? One note here deserving caution is a study
that "found that 18 of the first 37 presidents met criteria for having
a psychiatric disorder," although some ailments, like depression, "do
not typically lead to psychosis or risky decision-making." More
interesting is this paragraph:
When it comes to presidents, and perhaps all politicians, some level
of narcissism is par for the course. Based on a 2013 study of U.S.
presidents from Washington to George W. Bush, many of our chief
executives with narcissistic traits shared what is called "emergent
leadership," or a keen ability to get elected. They can be charming
and charismatic. They dominate. They entertain. They project strength
and confidence. They're good at convincing people, at least initially,
that they actually are as awesome as they think they are. (Despite
what a narcissist might believe, research shows they are usually no
better-looking, more intelligent or talented than the average person --
though when they are, their narcissism is better tolerated.) In fact,
a narcissist's brash leadership has been shown to be particularly
attractive in times of perceived upheaval, which means that it
benefits a narcissist to promote ideas of chaos and to identify a
common enemy, or, if need be, create one.
I've long noted something like this: the tendency of people in
times of crisis to rally around whoever seemed to be the most
self-confident. I figure that's something we learned in our early
evolution, something that back in primitive times worked well
enough it didn't get erased through natural selection. However,
in modern times such "emergent leaders" rarely turn out to be
By the way, Taibbi has another piece out:
Steve Bannon Splits From Trump: Hilarity Ensues. This is about
the Republican Senatorial primary runoff between Luther Strange,
who was appointed to fill Jeff Sessions' seat and is backed by
Trump and McConnell, and Roy Moore, the former judge with the Moses
complex who is backed by Bannon. In this contest, you'd have to
say that Strange is the lesser evil, but the margin is so thin I
find it hard to care. I'm even tempted to think that we might be
better if they elect the greater embarrassment (Moore), although
that's pretty much what happened with Trump.
By the way, there are more Alabama races down ballot. See:
Christina Cauterucci: Some of the US's Creepiest Anti-Abortion Men
Are Running for Office in Alabama.
Sunday, September 17. 2017
This has been another week when I could have spent every waking
hour compiling stories and still not covered it all. There is nothing
below on Korea, where there have been new missile tests, new even more
vicious sanctions, and the usual threats of nuclear annihilation --
one story I was tempted by was on how the new UN sanctions attempt
to choke off North Korean exports of clothing (evidently one of their
major sources of foreign currency). Nothing on Nikki Haley's bluster,
nor on Trump's forthcoming UN speech. Nothing on Burma's attacks on
the Rohynga. (Wasn't opening up Burma Hillary Clinton's big coup as
Secretary of State?) Nothing on US threats to close the embassy in
Cuba. Only the most general comments on Yemen-Syria-Iraq. Nothing
on Israel/Palestine, which ever deeper into an abyss of inhumanity,
even while Netanyahu and family are in legal trouble. Nothing on
the latest ISIS bombing in London, nor on Trump's inane tweets about
it. Very little on the big hurricane season, other natural disasters,
and how well (or more likely miserably) the feds are dealing with
them. Nothing on voter suppression (although Kris Kobach has been
busy on that front). Nothing on Jeff Sessions refusal to investigate
civil rights abuse in St. Louis, nor on protests against same, nor
on Missouri's governor's preference for meeting protests with a show
of military force. Nothing on Harvard's failed chemistry experiment,
where they tried to mix Mike Pompeo and Chelsea Manning. Nothing
on the Russia investigation, where an interesting side-story has
developed over Facebook advertising. Very little on so-called tax
reform. Nothing on rape on college campuses, although Betsy De Vos
seems to be set on making it more difficult to punish. Nothing on
DACA, not even Trump's alleged DACA deal with Democrats nor the
way Republicans blew up after it was reported. And I'm sure there
were dozens of other stories I could have found worthy.
On the other hand, maybe there's too much on Hillary Clinton's
campaign memoir, What Happened, and also on the Democrats'
intra-party struggles. Perhaps that has something to do with our
preoccupation with talk-about-talk. But most other stories just
add to the cumulative weight of moral rot in the Trump regime.
The new books by Clinton (in her backhanded way) and Sanders
(much less reviewed, probably because it's much less gossipy)
point forward -- as does Sanders' new "Medicare for All" bill
(please stop calling it "Berniecare").
Just before posting, I noticed this piece by Jay Rosen:
Normalizing Trump: An incredibly brief explainer. It offers
a short list of things "most every journalist who covers Trump
- He isn't good at anything a president has to do.
- He doesn't know anything about the issues with which he must
- He doesn't care to learn.
- He has no views about public policy.
- Nothing he says can be trusted.
- His "model" of leadership is the humiliation of others.
He adds: "If nothing the president says can be trusted, reporting
what the president says becomes absurd." That reminded me of a piece
I noticed but didn't figure was worth pursuing -- until it became
Elliot Hannon: A Ranking of Trump's Sunday Morning Tweets From Least
to Most Insane.
Some scattered links this week:
Dean Baker: Adults in the Room: The Sordid Tale of Greece's Battle
Against Austerity and the Troika: Review of former Greek finance
minister Yanis Varoufakis's book, Adults in the Room. The Troika
is the European Commission (EC), the European Central Bank (ECB), and
the International Monetary Fund (IMF). Greece had run up large debts
then fell into a major depression after 2007, losing 25% of its GDP --
all the worse because Greece had joined the Eurozone, leaving it at
the mercy of an EU dominated by Germany. To make good on those debts,
the Troika was set on forcing Greece into extreme austerity, combined
with massive privatization of public assets -- a "solution" that
Varoufakis understood not merely to be vicious but untenable. What
happened is little short of gruesome.
Ross Barkan: Universal healthcare in America? Not a taboo now, thanks
to Bernie Sanders: Sanders introduced his "Improved Medicare for
All" last week, remarkably co-sponsored by sixteen Democratic Senators.
Other related links:
Ariel Dorfman: A Tale of Two Donalds: Dorfman wrote a seminal
essay, a masterpiece of Marxist cultural criticism, back in 1971,
How to Read Donald Duck, one I read
avidly when it was translated (and, if memory serves, published in
Radical America). Here he updates his analysis to encompass
that other Donald. I suppose some times history repeats itself,
first as farce and then as tragedy. Other recent TomDispatch pieces:
Here's a sample quote from Sjursen:
Take a good, hard look at the region and it's obvious that Washington
mainly supports the interests of Israel, the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia,
Egypt's military dictator, and various Gulf State autocracies. Or
consider the actions and statements of the Trump administration and
of the two administrations that preceded it and here's what seems
obvious: the United States is in many ways little more than an air
force, military trainer, and weapons depot for assorted Sunni despots.
Now, that's not a point made too often -- not in this context anyway --
because it's neither a comfortable thought for most Americans, nor a
particularly convenient reality for establishment policymakers to
broadcast, but it's the truth. . . .
While President Trump enjoyed a traditional sword dance with his
Saudi hosts -- no doubt gratifying his martial tastes -- the air forces
of the Saudis and their Gulf state allies were bombing and missiling
Yemeni civilians into the grimmest of situations, including a massive
famine and a spreading cholera epidemic amid the ruins of their
impoverished country. So much for the disastrous two-year Saudi war
there, which goes by the grimly ironic moniker of Operation Restoring
Hope and for which the U.S. military provides midair refueling and
advanced munitions, as well as intelligence.
Engelhardt notes how a president supposedly obsessed with winning
has surrendered his administration to three of America's "losingest
generals": H.R. McMaster, John Kelly, and "Mad Dog" Mattis. For
instance, consider McMaster:
Then-Colonel H.R. McMaster gained his reputation in 2005 by leading
the 3rd Armored Cavalry Regiment into the Iraqi city of Tal Afar and
"liberating" it from Sunni insurgents, while essentially inaugurating
the counterinsurgency tactics that would become the heart and soul of
General David Petraeus's 2007 "surge" in Iraq.
Only one small problem: McMaster's much-publicized "victory," like
so many other American military successes of this era, didn't last.
A year later, Tal Afar was "awash in sectarian violence," wrote Jon
Finer, a Washington Post reporter who accompanied McMaster into that
city. It would be among the first Iraqi cities taken by Islamic State
militants in 2014 and has only recently been "liberated" (yet again)
by the Iraqi military in a U.S.-backed campaign that has left it only
partially in rubble, unlike so many other fully rubblized cities in
the region. In the Obama years, McMaster would be the leader of a
task force in Afghanistan that "sought to root out the rampant
corruption that had taken hold" in the American-backed government
there, an effort that would prove a dismal failure.
Meanwhile, see if you can discern any hope in these recent reports
Helene Cooper: US Says It Has 11,000 Troops in Afghanistan, More Than
Rod Nordland: US Expands Kabul Security Zone, Digging in the Next
Mujib Mashal: US Plan for New Afghan Force Revives Fear of Militia Abuses;
Max Fisher/Amanda Taub: Why Afghanistan's War Defies Solutions.
Thomas Frank: Hillary Clinton's book has a clear message: don't blame
me: Clinton's campaign memoir, What Happened, was released
last week, generating enough publicity to put her back in the spotlight.
Before publication we were treated to various sections where she tried
to blame Bernie Sanders and/or his supporters for her loss, which fit
in with the general perception that she's not one to take responsibility
for her own mistakes. I haven't looked at the book, and have no desire
to read it, so I don't know how fair those charges are. But really, one
could write a huge book about Hillary and all the ways the world has
treated her unfairly -- to her advantage as well as to her detriment.
Frank, too, tells us more about his own focus on populism, although
this seems likely to be a fair summary:
She seems to have been almost totally unprepared for the outburst of
populist anger that characterized 2016, an outburst that came under
half a dozen different guises: trade, outsourcing, immigration, opiates,
deindustrialization, and the recent spectacle of Wall Street criminals
getting bailed out. It wasn't the issues that mattered so much as the
outrage, and Donald Trump put himself in front of it. Clinton couldn't.
To her credit, and unlike many of her most fervent supporters, Hillary
Clinton doesn't deny that this web of class-related problems had some
role in her downfall. When she isn't repeating self-help bromides or
calumniating the Russians she can be found wondering why so many
working-class people have deserted the Democratic party.
This is an important question, and in dealing with it Clinton writes
a few really memorable passages, like her description of a grotesque
campaign stop in West Virginia where she was protested by a crowd that
included the former CEO of the company that owned the Upper Big Branch
mine, where 29 coal miners died in 2010.
But by and large, Clinton's efforts to understand populism always
get short-circuited, probably because taking it seriously might lead
one to conclude that working people have a legitimate beef with her
and the Democratic party.
Countless inconvenient items get deleted from her history. She only
writes about trade, for example, in the most general terms; Nafta and
the TPP never. Her husband's program of bank deregulation is photoshopped
out. The names Goldman Sachs and Walmart never come up.
Besides, to take populism seriously might also mean that Bernie
Sanders, who was "outraged about everything," might have had a point,
and much of What Happened is dedicated to blasting Sanders for
challenging Clinton in the Democratic primaries. Given that he later
endorsed her and even campaigned for her, this can only be described
as churlish, if not downright dishonest.
That Clinton might have done well to temper her technocratic style
with some populist outrage of her own only dawns on her towards the
end of the book, by which point it is too late.
Not to mention impossible. Hillary Clinton simply cannot escape
her satisfied white-collar worldview -- compulsively listing people's
academic credentials, hobnobbing with officers from Facebook and Google,
and telling readers how she went to Davos in 1998 to announce her
Other posts on Clinton's book:
James Fallows: Why Hillary Clinton's Book Is Actually Worth Reading:
"It's the rare interesting work by a politician -- and it offers an
important critique of the press." Fallows stresses how often Hillary
does take responsibility for losing, although when he quotes
her, you get this (Fallows' emphasis):
I don't understand why there's an insatiable demand in many quarters
for me to take all the blame for losing the election on my own shoulders
and quit talking about Comey, the Russians, fake news, sexism, or anything
else. Many in the political media don't want to hear about how those
things tipped the election in the final days. They say their beef is
that I'm not taking responsibility for my mistakes -- but I have, and
I do again throughout this book. Their real problem is that they
can't bear to face their own role in helping elect Trump, from
providing him free airtime to giving my emails three times more
coverage than all the issues affecting people's lives combined.
Hadley Freeman: America's vitriol towards Clinton reveals a nation
mired in misogyny: But is it really? No doubt there are pockets
of misogyny that somehow escaped the women's liberation movement of
the 1970s and the growing feminist consciousness which has largely
settled into common sense, much as there are pockets of racism left
untouched by the 1960s civil rights movement. And clearly, Clinton
brings misogynistic slurs to the forefront, if only because those
who most hate her lack the imagination to craft anything new --
much as many of those who hated Obama reverted to racist vitriol.
On the other hand, had she won -- which she would have if only the
constitution's framers put a little more care into how elections
work -- we'd be complimenting ourselves for how enlightened we've
become (much as we did with Obama's election in 2008). Granted,
that Donald Trump, as unreconstructed a racist/sexist as we can
imagine these days, sure looks like a setback, but could there
be some other reason?
Sarah Leonard: What Happened by Hillary Clinton review -- entertainingly
mean but essentially wrong-headed: For example:
It feels tiresome to explain this, but many Americans consider bankers
the enemy, and voters wanted her to pick a side. The fact that she
couldn't see that reveals a fundamental problem with her politics. And
it isn't symbolic -- America's particular form of political corruption
is rarely a simple exchange of cash for laws. Instead, as a famous
Princeton study has shown, wealthy institutions like banks exercise
substantial influence over legislative outcomes through the softer
power of lobbying and campaign donations, while average people and
their institutions exercise almost none. It is laughable that an
American politician would be indignant about her right to accept
money from banks. . . .
She primarily attributes her loss to what she calls "tribal
politics" -- a blend of racism, sexism and economic discontent --
and FBI director James Comey's press conference days before the
election. She may be right about Comey shifting enough white swing
voters to ultimately cost her the race. But Clinton's relationship
to populism is more complicated.
"Tribal" isn't the word I would choose for racism and sexism,
but there is something primitive about those traits. However,
economic discontent is something quite different, something that
only looks quaint and irrational if you're able to make ten years
average wages for a single speech to bankers.
Sophia A McClennen: The great Hillary Clinton paradox:
As Clinton blames Sanders for disrupting the party and causing
"lasting damage" to her campaign she fails to notice the various
advantages she had. From her biased treatment by the DNC to the
superdelegates to her $150 million war chest (twice Trump's) to
the backing of mega-stars from Bruce Springsteen to Beyoncé to
Oprah to her massive list of media endorsements, Clinton had
plenty of support. She had more endorsements from newspapers
than either Reagan or Obama.
This brings me back to the paradox. There is no doubt that
Trump ran a sexist campaign, but that doesn't mean that the
Sanders campaign was sexist too. And there is no doubt that
some of those who voted for Trump are sexist, but not all of
McClennan then cites
Emily Ekins: The Five Types of Trump Voters: the type Ekins dubs
American Preservationists are closest to the racist/sexist/xenophobic
stereotype, but they only number 20% of Trump voters (not that such
views don't lap over into other "types"). Still, the "lasting damage"
Sanders wrought has an Emperor's New Clothes air: it assumes
that no one would have noticed that Hillary wasn't an immaculate
progressive if only Sanders hadn't pointed out her shortcomings.
There is some truth to this: I, for instance, had early on resigned
myself to her inevitability, mostly because I thought that she alone
among Democrats could raise the sort of money necessary to compete
with the Kochs. Obviously, her fundraising prowess came at a cost,
which had been painfully evident over the last four Democratic
presidential terms, but it wasn't hard to imagine how much worse
any name Republican would be. Sanders changed my calculus, not by
telling me anything I didn't already know about Clinton, but simply
by offering better policies, and backing them up with a credible
history of integrity that Clinton lacked.
Still, this raises an interesting question: if Clinton actually
thought that Sanders had undermined her in the primaries, why didn't
she make a more dramatic effort to heal the chasm, specifically by
making Sanders her running mate? Granted, she did give up some ground
on the platform, but personnel is a more serious predictor of policy
than campaign platitudes. It wouldn't have been an unusual move, and
Sanders would have been an asset to the campaign (unlike Tim Kaine,
who at best helped a little in Virginia). Like Gore in 2000 when he
picked Joe Lieberman, and like Bill Clinton in 1992 when he picked
Gore, Hillary signaled with her VP pick that she was going to go
her own way, paying no heed and owing no debts to the "democratic
wing of the Democratic Party." So, again like Gore, she now finds
herself blaming the left for her own campaign's shortfall after her
bad bet that there were more money and votes to be had by snubbing
the left than by embracing it.
McClennan also wrote:
A tale of two leaders of the left: New books by Bernie Sanders and
Hillary Clinton emphasize their differences.
Jeff Spross: This Hillary Clinton would've won: Specifically,
this hinges on the book's revelation that Hillary considered pushing
for a Universal Basic Income (UBI) scheme.
David Roberts: Hillary Clinton's "coal gaffe" is a microcosm of her
twisted treatment by the media: Even more than her "basket of
deplorables" comment, Hillary singles her taken-out-of-context "We're
going to put a lot of coal miners and coal companies out of business"
as the one comment she regrets most. Still, had the media put the one
line in its actual context (even just its paragraph), and noted that
Clinton was proposing a $30 billion plan to help communities hit by
the declining coal market rebuild their economies, her comment may
not have been interesting, but shouldn't have been crippling. Still,
the media, prodded by right-wing agitators, made it so:
There is one and only one reason to pluck out that sentence and make
a story of it: to try to hurt Clinton politically by lying about her
meaning and intentions. . . .
From the media's perspective, "Clinton garbled a sentence" is true
but not particularly newsworthy. "Clinton boasted about putting coal
miners out of work" is false but definitely newsworthy (and damaging
to Clinton) if it were true. In other words, there's no honest reason
to make this "gaffe" a story at all. . . .
Right-wing operatives and media figures watch Clinton intensely.
Anything she says or does that can be plausibly (or implausibly) spun
to appear maleficent, they spin. A vast echo chamber of blogs, "news"
sites, radio stations, cable news shows, and Facebook groups takes
each one of these mini faux scandals and amplifies the signal.
If one of the faux scandals catches on enough and dominates
right-wing media long enough, then a kind of alchemy occurs. The
question facing mainstream outlets is not, "Why aren't you writing
about what Clinton said?" That question is easy to answer: It's a
nothingburger. The question becomes, "Why aren't you writing about
the scandal over what Clinton said?"
Reputable mainstream journalists don't have to pretend that
Clinton meant the ridiculous thing right-wing media says she meant.
They can just report that "some interpreted Clinton to mean
[ridiculous thing]," and hey, that's technically true. The fact
that a bunch of right-wing political and media hacks feigned
outrage becomes the story.
Jon Schwarz: Hillary Clinton Doesn't Understand Why the Corporate
Media Is So Bad:
Then there's Clinton's peculiar affection for the New York Times. Yes,
she says, it has often viewed her "with hostility and skepticism," but
"I've read the Times for more than 40 years and still look forward to
it every day. I appreciate much of the paper's terrific non-Clinton
reporting." . . .
Since Clinton has no structural critique of the press, why does she
believe she was so badly mauled in 2016? The only explanation she
presents is that the rules are different for her personally. . . .
In the end, Clinton's ideas about the media demonstrate that, more
than anything, she badly needed to watch the Noam Chomsky documentary
"Manufacturing Consent" or get a subscription to the Fairness and
Accuracy in Reporting newsletter. Then she could have approached her
campaign with fewer illusions, and with a much greater chance of winning.
Instead, she's left with the bitter observation that the press "want
me to stop talking. If it's all my fault, then the media doesn't need
to do any soul searching." But that's the whole point: The corporate
media doesn't have a soul. It just has a balance sheet.
Jeffrey St. Clair: Hillary Happened: The late Alexander Cockburn's
Mini-Me, better known recently for his virulent, supposedly left-wing
attacks on Bernie Sanders, manages to save some bile for Hillary and
her book, occasionally managing to be witty -- to no small part because
Hillary's never looked much good from the left, even against the vile
backdrop of attacks from the right. Favorite line: "Clinton was miscast
from the beginning as a political candidate for elected office. Her
skills and temperament were more suited to the role of political
enforcer in the mode of Thomas Cromwell or John Ehrlichman."
Rebecca Traister: Hillary Clinton Is Finally Expressing Some Righteous
Anger. Why Does That Make Everyone Else So Mad?
People have been reacting with atavistic censure to Hillary Clinton
for decades, and she's been expected to simply absorb it all without
returning fire. There are shirts, as she writes in What Happened,
that feature an image of Trump holding her bloody severed head aloft;
others, which she doesn't mention, read "Hillary Sucks, But Not Like
You can disagree with Clinton; you can reasonably acknowledge that
some of her pique does sound defensive. But she's not lying; she's not
inciting violence. She's not freaking out about crowd size or claiming
that antifa protesters are as bad as neo-Nazis or suggesting that
protesters be taken away on stretchers.
Shea Wong: Let's talk for a second about #ImWithHer . . .: I
was steered to this twitter thread by Robert Christgau (via
DailyKos), who tweeted:
Hillary haters owe it to history and their own integrity to read this.
She's not perfect. You're totally fucked up.
I'm not sure Bob would count me among the "Hillary haters" -- I
voted against her in two caucuses, but voted for her against Trump,
and didn't consider any of those choices to be close calls. To say
"she's not perfect" omits volumes of serious detail -- although
nothing I couldn't personally overlook compared to Trump. On the
other hand, I do know people who swear they'd never vote for her --
not that any of them hated her enough to vote for Trump. Still, I
take offense that they, let alone we, are "totally fucked up." They
are, for starters, people who can be counted on to oppose senseless,
fruitless wars that Hillary has always been eager to support -- and
that one might reasonably expect her to start in the future. I don't
agree with their voting decision, but I have to respect them: at the
end of the day, they're comrades, while Hillary skews somewhere
between "lesser evil" and "lesser good." Still, I'm open to reading
something that makes a case for her -- indeed, many of the reviews
I've cited in this section give her credit. But this thread is
something quite different. This isn't "excellent" (as hpg put it),
or enlightening, or even coherent, and I have to wonder about sane.
Obviously much of problem is twitter, both for chunking and for the
nine distracting and irrelevant videos Wong inserted. As best I can
discern, Wong's rant boils down to two salient points: Hillary was
the victim of a vile and unrelenting torrent of misogynistic smears,
and that was mostly the fault of Bernie and the left ("We watched
progbros parrot trump talking points, and vice versa, to the point
if you covered avatar/bio you couldn't tell the difference"). Wong
then concludes: "If she could be torn down that easily. So could
any of us." I'm not sure Wong is right even on the first point. By
far the most effective attack was the "Crooked Hillary" meme. One
might dispute this, especially in comparison to Trump, but it has
nothing to do with her gender. The second point is certainly false,
running opposite to the very principles that define the left, and
continued harping on it by diehard Hillary fans reeks of old-fashioned
liberal red baiting.
Josh Marshall: More Thoughts on the Intra-Democratic Divide: Meant
as a follow-up to his commentary on Ta-Nehisi Coates'
The First White President
Thoughts on the First White President). To oversimplify a bit,
Coates argues that racism remains the fundamental dividing line in
American politics, one that cannot be erased by cleverly attempting
to fashion a class-based appeal to working class Trump supporters.
Marshall looks to have it both ways: agreeing that Coates is right
on racism, but still stressing the need to recapture some Trump
supporters, probably by appealing to them on economic grounds --
but he kind of makes a muddle out of it. Let's try to clear up
- "Identity politics" will always be with us: it's the default
mode of most voters -- not necessarily just "low information" but
it's especially prevalent there. Unless you know better, the safe
and sensible vote is to follow the people you identify with --
usually people most like yourself. Everyone does it. I know a
good deal more about politicians than most folk, but every now
and then I find myself choosing between two people I don't know
anything substantial about, so I fall back on my prejudices --
the most common identity there is partisan, and while I don't
especially identify with Democrats, I've learned that Republicans
are dangerous (and often demented).
- Of course, it's just as easy to vote against categories you
don't identify with, and political parties have found it efficient
to focus on that. The Republican Party was founded on the interests
of independent farmers and manufacturers ("vote yourself a homestead,
vote yourself a tariff") but given its solid Northern protestant
homogeneity soon took to rallying against its opponents, deriding
the Democrats as the party of "rum, Romanism and rebellion." In
the 1970s, Richard Nixon and the architects of The Emerging
Republican Majority saw an opportunity to expand the party's
base to pick up two major blocks of white Democrats: protestants
in the South and catholics (mostly) in the North. They used coded
appeals to racism, but wrapped them up with God and guns and sheer
avarice into a package that was very flattering to their targets,
and repulsive to the groups they rallied against. The latter had
little choice but to align with the Democrats, even if it wasn't
clear what they were supporting. The key point here is that the
Democrats didn't deliberately build their recent coalition: as
with their late-nineteenth-century coalition, they got the odds
and ends after the Republicans had seized the middle ground.
- In both centuries, it appeared as though Republican efforts
to rally its chosen people against the margins was destined to
run against demographic trends -- mostly driven by immigration.
Republican identity politics found its greatest success in the
1920s, with prohibition and a hard turn against immigration. In
recent years, some Democratic Party strategists have started to
flirt with their own identity politics, calculating that the
groups the Republicans have left them with will grow into a new
Democratic majority. This idea is attractive to Democratic Party
elites because it lets them think they can bank on winning votes
without having to offer the voters tangible value.
- As usual, the Republicans have been on the leading edge of
this dynamic. As Thomas Frank pointed out in What's the Matter
With Kansas?, Republican elites had constructed a scam where
the base would vote for causes they were passionate about (guns,
anti-abortion, anti-immigrant) but all elected Republicans would
do is to cater to their donor class. Since Frank wrote, the GOP
has seen an upheaval as the base have forced their concerns onto
the party agenda. Nowhere has this been more drmatic, much to our
detriment, than here in Kansas. As Frank pointed out in Listen,
Liberal, the same elite/mass split exists in the Democratic
Party -- it's easy to note Democratic governors and majors who are
every bit as deep in donor pockets as the most corrupt Republicans
(e.g., Andrew Cuomo and Rahm Emmanuel). And indeed, what we saw in
2016 was a rank-and-file revolt against the elites of both parties --
unsuccessful, sure, because Clinton was still able to keep enough
Democrats in line, and because Trump was a fraud, but both served
notice that the gap between what parties run on and what they try
to deliver needs to close.
- Republican identity politics never recognized as such because
the white protestants (and later catholics) that made up their core
were so ubiquitous -- until recently, when they've become minorities
in many urban areas, including the nation's most booming economies.
This added a sense of fear, urgency, and despair to the Trump vote,
and the result was a small but significant shift in the white vote
against the Democrats, especially away from the coasts. Democrats
are divided on this: some argue that Democrats should focus more on
class (economics, inequality) to broaden their base to bring back
some of those white voters; others regard the white voters as lost
causes, atavisms, who will fade away as the nation becomes ever more
urban and globalized. Some of the former have characterized the
latter as "engaging in identity politics" -- this strikes me as
misguided and self-destructive.
- At this point we can dispense with the Republicans, aside from
noting that Republican rule invariably ends not from demographic
misjudgments but from corruption and disastrous economic crashes
that (temporarily anyhow) expose the folly of their pro-business
ideology -- on the other hand, Democratic rule usually ends when
people get a sense of recovery and stability, and grow reckless
and fickle again.
- The Democratic Party is divided today, with the emergence of
a faction which focuses on reducing inequality and securing real
economic gains for the vast majority of the American people, and
another which caters to wealthy urban liberals and promises to
somehow protect various targets from vicious Republican attacks.
The former still lack power in the party, although their grass
roots visibility has grown significantly over the past year. The
latter still has their rich donor base and a grip on the levers
of party power, but they also have a track record of failure --
most embarrassingly to Trump in 2016. It is unlikely that this
divide will heal soon, but they do have dangerous enemies in
common -- which should help focus the mind.
- I am getting to where I have very little patience for the
still-prevalent internecine sniping between these camps. But
that doesn't mean we shouldn't argue about important matters
of policy, like the tendency of the Clinton and Obama admins
to undermine unions, to promote job-killing trade deals, to
allow financiers to take over our industries and run them to
ground, to increase mass incarceration, to allow the national
security state to withdraw ever further from the purview of
the people they're supposed to serve -- and one should add
the global war on anything that affronts American egos, which
is an issue that even Bernie Sanders has treated as a sort of
- Whereas Republicans can at least make short-term gains merely
by cranking up the volume of their social polarization, Democrats
have to respond rationally and systematically. First thing they
(especially the elites) need to do is to shift their program to
emphasize a tangible return to the people they expect and hope
will vote for them -- even if that means becoming less responsive
to their donors. Second, they need to make the donors realize that
the viability of the party depends on the party delivering benefits
to its base -- and in fact that the country as a whole would gain
by forging a more equitable economy and society. And third, those
who wish to appeal to the more white workers need to convince them
that they cannot prosper without helping everyone -- that Republican
demagoguery offers them nothing but ruin, and that only the Democrats
are offering them a hand up.
Josh Marshall: The Real Problem With Equifax:
It now seems clear that the massive data breach at Equifax was caused
not simply by aggressive hackers but by clear and potentially negligent
security errors by Equifax itself. But fundamentally, this isn't a
security problem. It's a market failure and a legal and regulatory
failure. . . .
In some cases consumers would rebel. That would solve the problem.
But that's actually a key part of the problem: consumers aren't
Equifax's customers. They're the product. You're the product.
Banks and other lenders like credit agencies because they offer a
systematized and standardized way of evaluating risk. The banks are
the customers. Credit rating agencies would prefer never to deal
with consumers at all. They only do so when forced to or, more
recently, as they've developed a secondary business in selling
consumers services to help them protect themselves against errors
or security breaches by credit rating agencies.
Bill McKibben: Stop talking right now about the threat of climate
change. It's here; it's happening: Massive hurricanes, record
high temperatures and wildfires on the west coast, drought in North
Dakota -- and that's just seven days in the US. Other related links:
Matthew Yglesias: The 4 most important stories in politics this week:
Senate Republicans threw an Obamacare repeal Hail Mary: Senators
Cassidy and Graham proposed repealing ACA and replacing it with that
old standby: block grants to the states; DREAMer deal: Trump's
over-dinner deal with Shumer/Pelosi; Berniecare: kiss-of-death
label for Sanders' "Medicare for All" bill; Tax reform is coming
soon, maybe. Other Yglesias pieces this week (skipping the ones
on Apple's product announcements, which would only be of interest
if they explained the predatory nature of Apple hype, which they
Berniecare leaves enormous discretion to the executive branch;
Trump should actually do what he's pretending he'll do on tax reform;
The Trump administration's big new anti-leak memo leaked last night;
Medicare-for-all is nothing like "repeal and replace";
Donald Trump is making the single-payer push inevitable. I'm
not happy Yglesias keeps referring to "Berniecare," but he does
offer a pretty fair description of the Republican alternatives:
Repeal and replace wasn't just a slogan that covered up some internal
disagreements. It was a lie. Repeal and replace was an effort to bridge
a fundamentally unbridgeable gap between the American people's complaints
about the ACA -- premiums, deductibles, and copayments that were too
high -- and the Republican Party donor class's complaints about the ACA:
that it levied too much in taxes. This left Republican legislators not
just with some difficult trade-offs to grapple with, but with the
difficult question of how to break the news to the American people that
the outcome of their legislation was going to bear no resemblance
whatsoever to what had been promised.
Sunday, September 10. 2017
Back in 2001, I knew that most of my friends in New York didn't like
Mayor Rudy Giuliani, but I couldn't tell you why. (Well, I had heard
about his stop-and-frisk policies, but that hadn't really sunk in.) I
was visiting a friend, Liz Fink, in Brooklyn on 9/11, so I wound up
spending a lot of time over the next week watching Giuliani, and I
noticed something interesting. At every press conference, Giuliani
managed to convey the right tones: sympathy, concern, dedication,
and competent management in the face of crisis. He was, in short,
both a professional and a human being -- a stark contrast to most
of the country's politicians (most memorably GW Bush and Hillary
Clinton), who had nothing tangible to do so they spent all of their
time posturing. Even Liz granted my point. Of course, Giuliani's
spell didn't last. After the immediate crisis waned, he started
reading his press. It swelled his head, and he turned (returned?)
to being an asshole, but it was interesting to watch at the time.
Hurricanes Harvey and Irma have given some other Republicans the
opportunity to put their vicious ideological programs aside and come
out as human beings. Governors Greg Abbott and Rick Scott seem to
have mostly passed that test. Donald Trump failed, painfully and
pathetically. (If you doubt me, read
Josh Marshall: He Can't Even Fake It.)
But even he managed to have one decent moment this
week: he negotiated a deal with the Democratic leadership in Congress
to pass $15.3 billion in aid to rebuild after Harvey, and to extend
the federal debt ceiling to allow that money to be spent. Of course,
there never was any doubt that Democrats would vote to extend the
debt ceiling or to fund disaster relief. Trump needed the deal to
bypass the Republican right-flank, with ninety House Republicans
opposed. I haven't looked at the vote list, so don't know how many
of the curmudgeons hail from Texas or Florida. I didn't see enough
of Ted Cruz this week to answer
Is Ted Cruz Human? but I understand he no longer thinks the
reasons he voted against Sandy aid should apply to Harvey. It might
not matter if Trump or Cruz are sociopaths if their politics showed
some empathy and concern, but it doesn't -- making their personality
defects all the more glaring.
With the Republicans solidly in control of government all across
the disaster zone, the one silver lining is that none of them are
quoting Ronald Reagan this week, who famously said:
The most terrifying words in the English language are: I'm from the
government and I'm here to help.
The fact is that when disaster strikes, no one can be heard saying
"the markets are going to fix this in no time." Their first instinct
is to look to the government for help, because deep down they understand
that in a democratic republic, government belongs to, is accountable to,
and works for the people and their general welfare. The old joke is that
"there are no atheists in foxholes"; equally so, there are no libertarians
in hurricanes. I'm not going to slam anyone for looking to socialize the
costs of natural disasters. Rather, I'd argue that socialism would be a
good thing, not just for such extraordinary events but for everyday life.
And if you only come to realize that now, well, that's better than never.
Some scattered links this week:
Ross Barkan: Trump cut a deal with the Democrats. Is a new era upon us?
Probably not. Trump takes his policy cues from Fox & Friends,
plus whatever Paul Ryan throws his way. In theory he has some in-house
experts, but they turn out to be guys like Nick Mulvaney, who lie and
con him, then go out and brag about it to the media. Nothing any of them
want can get any Democratic support at all -- which given how corrupt
Democrats are regarded as being is a pretty astonishing statement -- so
he has little option except to depend on the narrow Republican majority,
and that is constantly endangered by a right-wing faction that doesn't
care what they wreck so long as they can push the party to the right.
The Harvey aid/debt ceiling deal worked because Democrats have no desire
to do what Republicans did for eight years: sabotaging the government
hoping folks would blame Obama. And Trump had to do it because Texas
is his turf, because federal disaster aid mostly supports the business
class that voted so heavily for him, because letting government spending
halt in the middle of a disaster recovery would be insane, and because
he couldn't trust Republicans to get the job done. There may be similar
cases where sanity dictates that he offer something to get Democrats on
board: if he really does want to legitimize DACA, that's a possibility,
but it's going to be hard to do any broader immigration legislation
without tripping over many red lines. Health care and taxes are other
issues where the Republican desire to do something insanely destructive
is too great to compromise. The other question is whether Democrats
should make a habit of bailing Trump out of his own partisan chasms.
Democrats have had a terrible track record with such "grand bargains"
in the past, and they should be extra wary now.
Bryan Bender: Trump review leans toward proposing mini-nuke:
Back around 1950, Robert Oppenheimer was asked why he was opposed to
developing "the super" (the hydrogen bomb). His answer was because
the targets were too small. In the following decades, ever-larger
hydrogen bombs became all the rage, until their wholesale use
threatened to cause something called "nuclear winter." At the same
time, the US and Russia worked hard on miniaturizing nuclear weapons,
producing mini-nukes that could be lobbed by artillery (hoping, like
WWI's poison gas, that the wind didn't shift to blow the radiation
back on your own troops). The fear about small ("tactical") nuclear
weapons has always been that we wouldn't fear them enough to not use
them. Precisely this reasoning made them prime targets for arms talks,
with Bush I agreeing to remove tactical nukes from Europe and Korea,
for the time de-escalating the Cold War. This news is especially
alarming because Trump has long seemed to be fascinated with using
such weapons: indeed, this article is about a review "which Trump
established by executive order his first week in office" -- as if
he had nothing better to do.
Ta-Nehisi Coates: The First White President: Of course, many other
presidents have happened to be white -- a streak that ran up to 41 until
Barack Obama was elected in 2008 -- but what makes Trump unique isn't
the color of his skin so much as his resolve to restore the office's
racial identity, especially by obliterating any trace of Obama: "The
fact of a black president seemed to insult Donald Trump personally.
He has made the negation of Barack Obama's legacy the foundation of
his own." Various things here I'd quibble with -- the paragraph on
Mark Lilla's "The End of Identify Liberalism," followed by three on
George Packer's "The Unconnected," could support a whole post -- but
this is a view that deserves respect. For instance, his overly succinct
summary of the last decade:
When Barack Obama came into office, in 2009, he believed that he could
work with "sensible" conservatives by embracing aspects of their policy
as his own. Instead he found that his very imprimatur made that impossible.
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell announced that the GOP's primary
goal was not to find common ground but to make Obama a "one-term president."
A health-care plan inspired by Romneycare was, when proposed by Obama,
suddenly considered socialist and, not coincidentally, a form of reparations.
The first black president found that he was personally toxic to the GOP
base. An entire political party was organized around the explicit aim of
negating one man. It was thought by Obama and some of his allies that this
toxicity was the result of a relentless assault waged by Fox News and
right-wing talk radio. Trump's genius was to see that it was something
more, that it was a hunger for revanche so strong that a political novice
and accused rapist could topple the leadership of one major party and
throttle the heavily favored nominee of the other.
I would add three notes to this: (1) conservatives were never serious
about their wonk schemes, which were never more than red herrings meant
to distract and derail real reforms; (2) the right-wing would have fought
back against any white Democrat elected president in 2008 in much the
same terms, although it may have resonated differently (oddly enough, the
fact that Americans had elected a black president seemed to loosen some
of the political inhibitions against overt racism, encouraging racists to
come out into the open -- a trend Trump's election has only increased);
(3) the "hunger for revanche" was real but not broad enough to elect
Trump; that was only possible because the Democrat was so compromised
and reviled, and Republicans were so united in their opportunism.
It has long been an axiom among certain black writers and thinkers that
while whiteness endangers the bodies of black people in the immediate
sense, the larger threat is to white people themselves, the shared
country, and even the whole world. There is an impulse to blanch at
this sort of grandiosity. When W.E.B. Du Bois claims that slavery was
"singularly disastrous for modern civilization" or James Baldwin claims
that whites "have brought humanity to the edge of oblivion: because
they think they are white," the instinct is to cry exaggeration. But
there really is no other way to read the presidency of Donald Trump.
The first white president in American history is also the most dangerous
president -- and he is made more dangerous still by the fact that those
charged with analyzing him cannot name his essential nature, because
they too are implicated in it.
The Atlantic's print magazine cover story is "The Trump
Presidency: A Damage Report": Jeffrey Goldberg sets the tone:
The Autocratic Element: Can America recover from the Trump administration?,
interviews David Frum ("The thing I got most wrong is that I did not
anticipate the sheer chaos and dysfunction and slovenliness of the Trump
operation . . . We'd be in a lot worse shape if he were a more meticulous,
serious-minded person."), and introduces pieces by Eliot A. Cohen, Jack
Goldsmith, and Coates.
Sarah Kliff: This is the most brazen act of Obamacare sabotage yet:
The Trump administration has let funding for Obamacare's $63 million
in-person outreach program lapse, leading to layoffs and confusion
among nonprofits that enroll vulnerable populations in coverage. . . .
The sudden funding halt comes at a critical time for the Affordable
Care Act. Navigator groups were just beginning to ramp up outreach for
the health law's open enrollment period, which begins November 1. Now,
some have done an about-face: They've canceled outreach work and
appointments with potential enrollees because they have no budget
to cover those costs.
No outreach should translate into fewer sign-ups, hence more adverse
selection in the insured population, which threatens to cut into insurer
profits, who will respond by raising prices, demanding more subsidies.
Trump will argue that this proves Obamacare is imploding. Kliff also
Trump has found another way to undermine Obamacare. Kliff regularly
includes links at the bottom to other health care pieces. Notable here is
Elana Schor: Chris Murphy's stealthy single-payer pitch. Sen. Murphy
is proposing that all individuals and business be able to buy Medicare
through the Obamacare exchanges -- i.e., Medicare becomes the "public
option," but more notable is that this allows an easy migration from
business group plans.
Caitlin MacNeal: Haley Says North Korea 'Begging for War': Isn't this
what psychologists like to call projection? That's when you attribute your
own thoughts to someone else (projecting yourself onto the other person).
This happens a lot, especially to people who lack self-awareness, even
more so to those who lack respect, empathy, and concern for others, who
can't be bothered with even trying to understand them. As a social trait,
this sort of thing is annoying, but the misunderstandings it leads to
rarely matter. Among the powerful, it can be dangerous, and in this case
can lead to nuclear war. Of course, Haley is not the only one in Trump's
administration spouting ignorant bluster. Mattis has promised to respond
to "any threat" with "massive military response": the problem there is
that "any threat" is a very low threshold, especially given that Trump's
administration takes such umbrage over North Korea's missile and bomb
tests, repeatedly describing them as threats. Most of all there's Trump,
with his "hell and fury like never seen before" and "we'll see." Frankly,
this is a crisis which wouldn't exist if the US simply ignored it, but
having made such a big deal out of missile and bomb tests in the past,
they see continued tests as an insult and challenge to their superpower
egos -- again, they're projecting their own world-hegemonic ambitions
onto another state, one that the US has tried to destroy for 67 years
now (not so literally since 1953, more passive-aggressively, but while
the conflict drifted in and out of American consciousness, it's always
been a pressing fact-of-life in North Korea).
Several other thoughts here: long ago American presidents generally
appointed UN Ambassadors that reflected favorably on the country --
Adlai Stevenson and Andrew Young come to mind -- but at some point that
changed, the result being a string of ambassadors whose job seemed to
be to display contempt for the UN and the principles it was founded on
(Madeline Albright, John Bolton, and Nikki Haley are examples). As this
happened, American speeches at the UN ceased being honest attempts to
engage with the world and were increasingly focused for domestic political
consumption. Although several others have had notable politican careers,
Haley is relatively unique in the baldness of her political ambitions --
indeed, one suspects that she came up with the idea of campaigning for
the post by watching House of Cards, where First Lady Claire
Underwood (Robin Wright) hopes to launch her own political career by
getting her husband to nominate her for UN Ambassador.
Some more pieces on North Korea:
Andrew J Bacevich: Seven Steps to a Saner US Policy Towards North
Korea: A few quibbles, though. First, I don't see this, even
with his later carve-out "apart from Fox and a handful of outliers":
"The national media is obsessed with Trump and is determined to
bring him down." Obsessed maybe: he's a buffoon and a public menace,
which makes him news/entertainment-worthy, and they certainly love
that, but I don't see the media pressuring or panicking Trump into
starting a war. I also think he overestimates the value of deterrence
and ignores the desperation induced by ever-tightening sanctions.
The greatest risk is becoming too successful at boxing North Korea
in, leaving them with no alternatives.
Robert Parry: How 'Regime Change' Wars Led to Korea Crisis:
Specifically Iraq and Libya, which were wars the US felt safe to
pursue because neither target had sufficient power -- atom bombs
and the missiles to deliver them -- to deter US aggression. But
more generally, from WWII on, the US goal in war has always been
to unconditionally destroy its enemies and replace them with new
states subverient to America.
Jacob G Hornberger: Sanctions Are an Act of War: I'd qualify
this by saying that certain limited sanctions, like the BDS campaigns
against South Africa and Israel, are a useful means of highlighting
deplorable behavior without even suggesting the threat of war. On the
other hand, US sanctions against North Korea, Cuba, Iran, and several
others were clearly meant as low-intensity proxies of war, backed up
by threat of destruction and designed in such a way that the targets
may find no recourse. South Africa, for instance, was able to escape
sanctions by allowing free and democratic elections, and lifting the
sanctions did not depend on the result.
Ariane Tabatabai: What the Iran Deal Can Teach America About North
Korea: "If credibility depends in part on a country's willingness
to follow through on military threats, surely it also depends on
whether it abides by diplomatic commitments." It seems pretty obvious
that Obama's Iran Deal could serve as a model for North Korea: both
are countries long isolated, marginalized, and threatened by the US,
and both decided to defend themselves by developing nuclear power
and missile technology into a deterrent against American attack; in
both cases the US responded with sanctions and even graver threats.
With Iran, this was resolved diplomatically, and there seems little
reason why the same couldn't be done with North Korea (in fact, the
same dispute flared up in the 1990s and was resolved by Jimmy Carter,
acting independent of the Clinton administration; Carter's agreement
was accepted by Clinton, but broke down as the US, especially under
GW Bush, failed to keep its end of the deal, resulting in North Korea
restarting its nuclear program). Unfortunately, Trump seems committed
to scuttling the Iran deal, learning nothing from it. If he does so,
he will signal to North Korea that the US cannot be trusted to follow
through with its diplomatic commitments. Indeed, the US decision to
attack Libya after it had agreed to dismantle its own nuclear program
has already been noted by North Korea's leaders.
Sophia A McClennen: A tale of two leaders of the left: New books by Bernie
Sanders and Hillary Clinton emphasize their differences: Clinton finally
finished her campaign memoir, What Happened; Sanders published his
memoir Our Revolution: A Future to Believe In before 2016 expired,
and now has a slimmed-down primer, Bernie Sanders' Guide to Political
The contrast between high priced VIP tickets to an event for a memoir
about losing the election and a down-to-earth how-to guide for progressive
politics aimed at young readers offers us clear evidence of the vastly
different ways that Clinton and Sanders see their roles as national
Sanders is looking forward and Clinton is looking back. Sanders is
engaging the young and working to build momentum for his progressive
agenda. Clinton is naming names, bristling at her unfair loss and
cashing in. . . .
And, while Clinton mocks Sanders for his idealistic desire to think
big, Sanders starts his book reminding readers that his views are those
of the bulk of Americans: "On major issue after major issue, the vast
majority of Americans support a progressive agenda." For Clinton, though,
the progressive agenda wanted by the majority is nothing more than the
hocus pocus of magic abs or the dreams of those who want a pony. . . .
She literally sees political vision as nothing but a fantasy. She has
so thoroughly imbibed the corporatist, pro-status quo version of the
Democratic party that she can't even notice how pathetically uninspiring
her positions are for those young voters she referred to as basement
dwellers on the campaign trail.
Against the snarky, negative tone of Clinton's book, Sanders offers
his readers a combination of political passion and practical advice.
When it refers to him personally, it does so by quoting a Sanders tweet
that links to the issue being covered. The tweets are used to show how
Sanders has been standing up for these issues for years. It is a
technique that privileges the cause, not the ego.
This is one thing that separates Sanders from the political pack.
I was talking to my cousin last week and she complained that with
Elizabeth Warren it's always "I'll fight for you," somehow making
the it all about her. She noted that Sanders wasn't like that, nor
was Obama. None of us mentioned Clinton. Some things are too obvious
to speak of.
Michael Paarlberg: Why Verrit, a pro-Clinton media platform, is doomed
to fail: "The website has been blasted for its unsubtle propaganda.
There is a reason it works for Republicans and not Democrats."
Brainchild of Clinton hyper-loyalist Peter Daou, the "media venture for
the 65.8 million" (referring to Clinton's popular vote tally) offers up
treacly quotes and random factoids, readymade for social media and
"verified" by the site, so that you can be sure Clinton really did say
"America is once again at a moment of reckoning."
Within days, it won the endorsement of Madame Secretary herself and
the mockery of everyone else, due in part to its founder's fondness for
all caps and getting in fights on Twitter. . . .
Thus there's far less appetite among Democrats for the type of
unsubtle propaganda that Verrit traffics. One can see it in the way
Fox News trounces MSNBC in viewership: Republicans see Fox as the only
news source they can trust in media landscape that does not align with
their values. Democrats would rather just read the New York Times. . . .
In theory, Democrats could be open to more ideological conflict, now
that they are shut out of all three branches of government, the majority
of statehouses, and have little to lose. And a smarter media outlet might
be able to tap into that demand. But it would be one catering to a very
different party than the Democrats currently are, one that sees itself
as a social movement, with a broader vision for how the world should
look, and a willingness to use media as a blunt instrument to get there.
One that looks curiously like what Clinton's main rival for the nomination
But if there's one group that Daou hates more than Republicans, it's
Bernie Sanders supporters.
I followed Daou's blog for a while, citing him once in 2006, then
maybe a dozen times in 2010-12, but I wasn't aware that he worked for
Clinton in 2008, and haven't noticed him since 2012. I wouldn't have
expected him as a "Hillary superfan," but clearly she does have some
kind of cult (cf.
Abby Ohlheiser: Inside the huge, 'secret' Facebook group for Hillary
Clinton's biggest fans; Ohlheiser also got stuck with investigating
What even is Verrit, the news source endorsed by Hillary Clinton?),
and the timing here coincides with Clinton's campaign memoir, which
evidently features a number of attempts to blame Bernie for her loss.
All of this is happening at a time when there are literally hundreds
of stories each week about how Trump and the Republicans are scheming
and acting against the majority of Americans: you'd think that would
be reason enough to bury the hatchet and unite Hillary and Bernie
supporters, but Daou seems more intent on smearing Bernie than on
resisting Trump (see
Who's Paying Peter Daou to Smear Bernie Sanders and the Left?).
I wouldn't discount the power of money here, but I'll also note that
it's pretty much inevitable that centrists will spend more of their
time attacking and distancing themselves from the left, because that's
how they curry favor with their well-to-do patrons. For another view:
Jack Shafer: This Pro-Hillary Website Looks Like North Korea
Matthew Yglesias: The 4 stories that defined the week, explained:
Hurricane Irma battered the Caribbean; Donald Trump ended DACA; Donald
Trump changed his tune on DACA; Democrats stuck a deal with the White
House. Other Yglesias links:
The debt ceiling deal is a template for how Trump can get things done;
Trump is souring on his top economic aide for the worst possible reason
("Gary Cohn is too tough on Nazis");
5 different things people mean when they say we need to revive antitrust --
more like different aspects of the general problem of concentrating corporate
Stanley Fischer announces resignation, opening yet another Fed vacancy for
Trump ("good news for people who like risky banking");
Trump's arguments on DACA contradict his position on the travel ban;
Trump isn't delivering his own DACA policy because he's cowardly and
The looming fight over "tax reform," explained ("in the end, it's
about a tax cut for the rich");
The case for immigration ("America's openness to people who want
to move here and make a better life for themselves is fuel for that
greatness" -- how ironical, or dumb, does that make a anti-immigrant
politician so obsessed with the nation's greatness?);
Seattle should make a pitch to be Amazon's 2nd headquarters -- this
skirts the real issue of why Amazon needs a second corporate headquarters
in these times when every company is looking to make management leaner
(and meaner), though he does offer this:
And from the company's point of view, the best part is that it will
also set off an irresistible race to the bottom as cities compete to
shower subsidies on the company in hopes of luring the proposed 50,000
jobs spread across 8 million square feet of offices at an average
compensation of $100,000 a piece.
I'd like to see federal legislation to make it illegal (or at least
prohibitive) for states and local entities to bid for corporate favors.
Boeing, in particular, has engaged in this peculiar combination of
bribery and extortion so regularly you'd think they had decided that
their "core competency" was political influence peddling, not airframes.
This process damages losing states and cities without notably helping
the winning bidders.
The "Case for Immigration" piece is long and covers a lot of good
points. I suspect one could construct a counter-argument, a "Case
Against Immigration," but it couldn't argue for economic growth --
indeed, it would try to make a virtue out of conservation that can
only be achieved with zero or negative growth -- and it certainly
wouldn't bruit the word "greatness" anywhere. Indeed, it would call
for dismantling America's world hegemony, which both pushes and pulls
Took a quick look at some Hurricane Irma news before posting. The
storm is moving north at about 14 mph, so its crawl up Florida's Gulf
Coast is pretty slow. I saw some live broadcasts while the eye was
over Naples about 6PM EST, and I've seen some later video showing
Naples pretty severely flooded. I suppose it's good that the eye has
moved inland: almost straight north through Fort Myers to about 35
miles east of Sarasota at 10PM EST, but the current forecast track
has it shifting northwest to pass straight through Tampa, then
briefly out to sea before landing again west of Ocala. It should
weaken faster over land, regenerate some over water, but the storm
is so large it's producing storm surges and tropical-storm-force
winds along the east coast as well as the west. Looks like it will
move into Georgia around 2PM Monday, and Tennessee 2PM Tuesday,
stalling there and dumping a lot of rain.
Sunday, September 3. 2017
At some point I need to write about the book I just finished, Rosa
Brooks' How Everything Became War and the Military Became Everything:
Tales From the Pentagon (2016; paperback, 2017, Simon & Schuster).
I didn't bother with this when it came out in hardcover last year, but
I noticed the paperback about the time Gen. Kelly replaced Reince Priebus,
which got me to wondering what is was people see in flag officers that
makes them seem to be uniquely capable functionaries. This mindset seems
to be especially widespread on the right, though perhaps by default as
their more fundamental belief is that all other bureaucrats are incapable
of doing anything worthwhile, or perhaps they mean just up to no good.
Still, liberals have grown increasingly fond of brass, and politicians
of all stripes trip all over themselves in prostrating themselves to
America's sainted heroes.
Unfortunately, while Brooks sometimes gets caught up in such idolatry,
she never offers much elucidation. The closest she comes is to point out
that the military has increasingly tended to take over functions that
previously belonged to the State Department because the military has so
much more money to work with. Even that gets very little analysis beyond
the "day everything changed" 9/11 cliché. But the disturbing thing about
9/11 wasn't what changed then but what had changed sometime earlier. The
objective facts of 9/11 meant we should at least have considered the
option of responding to crimes through law enforcement (FBI and Interpol,
maybe drawing on "intelligence" from CIA and NSA) as opposed to declaring
war and sending the military to invade distant countries. Clearly, Brooks'
title described something real: in the mindsets of the Bush administration,
and evidently with the Clintons before, and possibly much further back,
the default worldview of America's politicians had become militarized.
So how, and why, had that happened? Brooks doesn't tell us.
Well, she does provide a couple of hints, starting with a critique
of "metaphorical wars" -- basically, political campaigns that attempted
to recruit the sort of public unity and support, including self-sacrifice,
that WWII had achieved: the "war on poverty" and "war on drugs" perhaps
the most famous examples, with cancer, crime, AIDS, and terror getting
various degrees of attention. Even going back to the 1950s, something
as basic and benign as building interstate highways could only make it
through Congress if rationalized as national defense. Brooks provides
other examples where people (businesses and non-profits as well as
politicians) tried selling us things by invoking the military -- e.g.,
we were told that obesity is bad because it reduces the recruitment
pool of possible soldiers. What she doesn't seem to notice is that
every one of these conceptualizations failed, often because they
were laughably stupid, more so because they were inappropriate and
misguided, and I suspect ultimately because, regardless of what you
might think WWII proved, war never really accomplishes its original
goals nor redeems its initial reasoning.
I've tried to formulate this before, and Brooks has only, albeit
inadvertently, increase my conviction. The first thing to understand
about war is that you lose the moment it begins. Arguably, you may
cause the other side to lose more than you do, but the misfortune of
others never compensates for your own losses, especially what the
experience of war does to your own psyche. The second thing is that
war isn't "an extension of politics by other means" but the abject
failure of politics to resolve potential conflicts short of war.
Brooks spends much of her book delving into anthropology, trying
to convince herself that war is a constant, inevitable feature of
humanity, even though she'd like to subject it to a system of law
to manage it better, to limit some of the atrocities that seem to
mess up so many wars. Her big innovation here is to push the idea
that war/peace represent a continuum with many intermediate "gray"
areas as opposed to the dichotomy or negation we are used to thinking
in terms of. Here's a sample quote (pp. 353-354):
What would it mean, in practice, to manage this churning, changing
"space between" -- to develop laws, politics, and institutions
premised on the assumption that we will forever remain unable to draw
sharp boundaries between war and peace, and that we will frequently
find ourselves in the space between?
This will be the work of many minds and many years. But the task is
surely not impossible if we remind ourselves that we human beings can
make and unmake categories and rules. And it is surely not
inconsistent with the core principles enshrined both in America's
founding documents and in human rights law: that life and liberty are
unalienable rights, that no person should be arbitrarily deprived of
these rights, and that no one -- no individual, no organization, no
government, and no state -- should be permitted to exercise power
without being held accountable for mistakes or abuses.
If we take these principles seriously, we might, for instance,
develop better mechanisms to prevent arbitrariness, mistake, and abuse
in targeted killings.
Thus she inches up to the edge of a chasm, then plunges in. Why isn't
it obvious that "if we take these principles seriously" we wouldn't be
doing any "targeted killings"? All you have to do is to reverse the
case examples to see that the problem is the idea of targeted killing,
not the likelihood of "arbitrariness, mistake, and abuse." In larger
terms, the problem isn't that war is very probably compounded by all
manner of mistake and abuse, but that war is practiced at all. After
all, what is war but an elaborate moral charade meant to justify all
sorts of slaughter and havoc? -- things that are sensibly prohibited
under law in the domain of peace. And isn't Brooks' campaign to map
out gray areas just a ruse for allowing war (and the military) to seep
into civil society, spoiling peace?
One odd thing here is that while Brooks seems to be a big fan of
international laws which prohibit many common practices of war and which
promote broad notions of human rights, she doesn't seem to grasp that
the intention behind those laws is to outlaw war. Moreover, that very
point is obvious to the conservatives, nationalists, and militarists
who instinctively reject such international law -- and at least in the
former case, any notion of human rights based on equality. Way back in
1945 when the UN was founded, it was at least an aspirational goal of
the liberals who then ran the US government to prevent future wars by
establishing a mutually acceptable creed of equal rights for nations
and for people within nations. Obviously, the real nations of the time
had some work to do to achieve those aspirations, but at least they
pretty much all recognized the need to avoid a repeat (or escalation)
of the just-concluding world war. And they understood that by putting
their best ideals forward, they could inspire one another to do better.
However, since that date, many Americans, including virtual all working
politicians, have discarded those ideals and instead embraced the US
military -- its power to terrify and cower the rest of the world -- as
the root of their security, and therefore their sense of justice.
I'm not really sure why that happened, but certainly the seeds were
all present before the end of the Korean War (1953). Part of it was
that many Americans found WWII to be exhilarating, the source both of
community and prosperity. Part was the hatchet job done on the working
class by the Red Scare and the Cold War. (Conveniently, many American
workers were temporarily shielded by anti-communist unions, but we all
know how that eventually turned out.) Part was the way we fought the
Cold War, especially by embracing right-wing dictators against their
own people. One thing America's emerging militarism cannot be blamed
on was actual wartime successes by the US military: Korea was a bloody
stalemate; Vietnam an unequivocal loss; Iraq an expensive, tainted and
temporary technical win; Afghanistan not even that. Sure, the Soviet
Union folded, but the nations we struggled hardest against have proven
the most resistant to our hegemony -- notably including Russia. All
the while, the US has sunk to the bottom of the list of "rich nations"
in every measure of widespread prosperity -- something we should blame
on extravagant military budgets and the right-wing political factions
which benefit from continuous hostility and war.
It's probably unfair to blame all of this on Brooks and the liberal
hawks of her generation -- the lawyers and policy wonks who felt so
much shame over inaction in Rwanda and who counted Bosnia and Kosovo
as big successes for a military juggernaut they idealized and came to
love (Brooks actually marrying a Green Beret). It is especially sad
that Brooks fell for this con, given that
her mother (Barbara Ehrenreich) is one of the most incisive social
and political critics of our time -- one who, among many other things,
wrote her own insightful anthropology of war, the 1997 book Blood
Rites: Origins and History of the Passions of War. The difference
was that Ehrenreich strove to raise myths and primeval emotions to a
level of consciousness, where we could rationally encounter them and
consciously change. Brooks does the opposite, starting with reason
and remythologizing it, turning war from a conscious option back into
a quasi-religious belief.
Well, that's the gist of what I wanted to say. Someone should write
a big book on how and why American political figures lost their faith
and interest in international cooperation, law, justice, and peace.
When I searched for "america turns against international law" the
first piece that came up was from 2015:
Alfred W McCoy: You Must Follow International Law (Unless You're
American). It's not as if no one notices American contempt for
international law, but it's so ensconced it's hardly even an issue
for politicians here. At most it's a nuissance, an inconsequential
way other people have of insulting us. The serious question of how
this attitude limits our options in dealing with the world never
seems to come up.
So I guess the best thing about Brooks' book is the title. Too
bad she didn't write a better book on its subject.
Some scattered links this week:
Michael Arria: In Attacking Overtime Pay, Trump Is Hurting His Biggest
Fans: In his campaign to make sure no good deed is allowed to stand,
Trump continues to reverse Obama-era regulations, especially where they
limit his favorite business interests:
In 1975, Gerald Ford set the income threshold above which employees
could be exempt from overtime to around $58,000 in today's dollars,
but this number was never updated to reflect inflation or wage growth.
That means the number is now $23,660. In May 2016 Obama announced that
he was doubling the annual salary threshold to $47,476, effectively
giving millions of salaried employees making less than that a raise.
Obama's move was hardly radical. In fact, it wasn't even as progressive
as Ford's. The new rule would have covered 34 percent of full-time
salaried workers in the United States; in the 1970s, 50 percent of
them were covered. Nonetheless, according to the Department of Labor
(DOL), it was poised to raise wages for an estimated 4.2 million
Helaine Olen: The Rollback of Pro-Worker Policies Since Trump Took
Office Is Staggering.
Eric Holthaus: Harvey Is What Climate Change Looks Like:
Houston has been sprawling out into the swamp for decades, largely
unplanned and unzoned. Now, all that pavement has transformed the
bayous into surging torrents and shunted Harvey's floodwaters toward
homes and businesses. Individually, each of these subdivisions or
strip malls might have seemed like a good idea at the time, but in
aggregate, they've converted the metro area into a flood factory.
Houston, as it was before Harvey, will never be the same again.
Harvey is the third 500-year flood to hit the Houston area in the
past three years, but Harvey is in a class by itself. By the time the
storm leaves the region on Wednesday, an estimated 40 to 60 inches of
rain will have fallen on parts of Houston. So much rain has fallen
already that the National Weather Service had to add additional colors
to its maps to account for the extreme totals. . . .
Climate change is making rainstorms everywhere worse, but particularly
on the Gulf Coast. Since the 1950s, Houston has seen a 167 percent
increase in the frequency of the most intense downpours. Climate
scientist Kevin Trenberth thinks that as much as 30 percent of the
rainfall from Harvey is attributable to human-caused global warming.
That means Harvey is a storm decades in the making.
While Harvey's rains are unique in U.S. history, heavy rainstorms
are increasing in frequency and intensity worldwide. One recent study
showed that by mid-century, up to 450 million people worldwide will
be exposed to a doubling of flood frequency. This isn't just a Houston
problem. This is happening all over. A warmer atmosphere enhances
evaporation rates and increases the carrying capacity of rainstorms.
Harvey drew its energy from a warmer-than-usual Gulf of Mexico, which
will only grow warmer in the decades to come.
Other links on Texas, Hurricane Harvey, and related issues:
Kate Aronoff: Now Comes the Uncomfortable Question: Why Gets to Rebuild
After Harvey? Mostly about the National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP),
which underwrites most flood insurance at below-market rates, and thanks
to Katrina, Sandy, and lesser flood events is pretty much bankrupt -- or
at least will be later this month, unless Congress acts.
Alleem Brown: Harvey Victims Face Toxic Pollution as Hurricane Recovery
Naomi Klein: Harvey Didn't Come Out of the Blue. Now Is the Time to
Talk About Climate Change.
George Monbiot: Why are the crucial questions about Hurricane Harvey
not being asked?
Steven Mufson: ExxonMobil refineries are damaged in Hurricane Harvey,
releasing hazardous pollutants.
Eliza Relman: Trump reversed regulations to protect infrastructure
against flooding just days before Hurricane Harvey: Part of his
effort to obliterate everything Obama did, especially regarding the
threats of climate change.
But because of Trump's rollback of President Barack Obama's Federal
Flood Risk Management Standard, experts across the political spectrum
say much of the federal money sent to Texas is likely to be wasted on
construction that will insufficiently protect against the next
storm. . . .
Lehrer called Trump's decision to revoke the standards "the biggest
step backwards that has ever been taken in flood-management policy" and
said the move would waste taxpayer money, harm the environment, and cost
Neena Satija et al: Houston is a sitting duck for the next big hurricane.
Why isn't Texas ready? Published March 2016, with a photo from a 2006
hurricane that has now been totally eclipsed.
Dylan Scott: A perfect Hurricane Harvey response is impossible.
David Sirota et al: Texas Republicans Helped Chemical Plant That Exploded
Lobby Against Safety Rules.
Wen Stephenson: Houston's Human Catastrophe Started Long Before the
Joan Walsh: Everyone's a Socialist After a Natural Disaster: Even
Ted Cruz, who voted against federal aid to the New York area following
Sandy on principles he'll gladly give up when his own state has been
George Zornick: Trump Budget Cuts Could Halt the Investigation Into the
Texas Chemical Plant Explosion: "Trump wants to eliminate the US
Chemical Safety Board, which is looking into the Arkema explosion."
Anup Kaphle: South Asia Is Also Experiencing the Worst Flooding in Decades
and the Photos Are Horrifying.
Hank Johnson: President Trump is giving police forces weapons of war.
This is dangerous: "The president has signed an executive order
that will reopen the floodgates of military-grade weaponry entering
American streets." Again, Trump is reversing an Obama executive order
from 2015 -- not sure when the surplus program began, but it had
already caused a lot of problems. Coming shortly after a Trump
speech encouraging local police to abuse prisoners, Trump's "many
sides" reaction to Charlottesville, and his pardon of Arpaio, this
looks to be a step toward creating some kind of fascist police
state, more focused on controlling a disgruntled population than
on serving and protecting against crime. A big part of the problem
is that the military has been massively involved in setting up and
training police in Iraq and Afghanistan along this very model. Add
to that the fact that many police officers in the US have military
backgrounds, that a large percentage of veterans have PTSD issues,
and that lax gun laws have greatly increased the risks of police
work in the US. For more, equally ominous, see:
Attorney General Jeff Sessions: Hurricane Harvey Is Proof We Need to
Militarize Our Police Forces. Also consider another of Trump's
John Nichols: Scandal-Plagued Sheriff David Clarke Would Make a Bad
Trump Administration Even Worse.
Mike Konczal: Well-off "helicopter" parents are super annoying, but
they didn't create economic inequality: Reviews Richard Reeves'
book Dream Hoarders, which charges the upper 20 percent ("the
professional class") as the main beneficiaries and perpetrators of
increasing inequality in America, especially for how their zealous
parenting practices seek to hoard opportunity for their own children,
rather than allowing meritocracy to rebalance itself. Most critics,
including Konczal, would rather discuss inequality in terms of the
top 1% (or even 0.1%), because that's where the changes have been
most dramatic -- Konczal provides a chart of "share of GDP by income
level, 1979 to 2014" showing no visible change from 79-94 percentile,
slanting up to about a 35% rise at 98 and 90% at 99. Beyond demolishing
Reeves' arguments, Konczal offers some practical proposals:
Here are more practical ideas: We know how to start draining the rents
from the upper middle class. An aggressive public option and governmental
price-setting in health care would deflate medical sector rents. Free
college would force private schools to compete on price rather than
continue to feed off people's desperation to climb illusory status
ladders. Deeper transparency in financial markets, more comprehensive
prudential regulations, and enforcement of financial crimes would make
it harder for financiers to profit off the systemic risk they create.
Enforcing antitrust and public utility rules more aggressively would
open up bottlenecks in economic activity. Higher progressive taxation
reduces the incentives to rent seek in the first place. . . .
If you want to go after the upper-middle-class's 401(k) deductions,
you're going to have to strengthen Social Security. If you want to go
after employer provided health care, it matters greatly whether or not
there will be Medicare for All or a serious "public option" as an
alternative. And if you want to go after college savings accounts,
you need to have broadly accessible free public colleges.
Paul Krugman: Fascism, American Style: Fascism in each country
has its own style: while Mussolini looked back to Rome, Hitler used
two previous German Reichs, while Franco was fond of the Inquisition.
America doesn't have anything quite like those, but Trump's slogan
implies a similar mythic past. Still, what makes fascism a coherent
political ideology isn't aesthetics. It starts by denouncing groups
of people, and uses the hatred it generates as a springboard to power,
moving on to use state violence to attack supposed enemies, while its
elite cadres help themselves to the spoils. I haven't seen a lot of
value in describing Trump as a fascist, mostly because I still see
more mainstream Republican conservatives as more dangerous, but no
doubt that he colors himself fascist, even when he doesn't have the
more expert Steve Bannon to touch up the details. One thing that
helps Trump out is that conservatives have already done much of the
intellectual work in creating a view of a fallen past greatness
Trump can promise to restore: think of Scalia's "originalism," the
distorted Founding Father images invoked by the Tea Party, and most
effectively how the cult of the "lost cause" was used to reestablish
white supremacy (although most Americans have grown weary of making
a fetish out of slavery). Krugman doesn't work this out. What pushed
him into using the F-word was Trump's Arpaio pardon:
Let's call things by their proper names here. Arpaio is, of course,
a white supremacist. But he's more than that. There's a word for
political regimes that round up members of minority groups and send
them to concentration camps, while rejecting the rule of law: What
Arpaio brought to Maricopa, and what the president of the United
States has just endorsed, was fascism, American style.
Trump's motives are easy to understand. For one thing, Arpaio,
with his racism and authoritarianism, really is his kind of guy.
For another, the pardon is a signal to those who might be tempted
to make deals with the special investigator as the Russia probe
closes in on the White House: Don't worry, I'll protect you.
Finally, standing up for white people who keep brown people down
pleases Trump's base, whom he's going to need more than ever as the
scandals creep closer and the big policy wins he promised keep not
I haven't been reading Krugman's columns lately, nor his blog
(which he seemed to be abandoning as his attention span moved to
Twitter), but here are some recent columns:
Trump and Pruitt, Making America Polluted Again (Aug. 25).
What Will Trump Do to American Workers?
Trump Makes Caligula Look Pretty Good (Aug. 18).
Who Ate Republicans' Brains? (July 31):
The Republican health care debacle was the culmination of a process
of intellectual and moral deterioration that began four decades ago,
at the very dawn of modern movement conservatism -- that is, during
the very era anti-Trump conservatives now point to as the golden age
of conservative thought.
A key moment came in the 1970s, when Irving Kristol, the godfather
of neoconservatism, embraced supply-side economics -- the claim,
refuted by all available evidence and experience, that tax cuts pay
for themselves by boosting economic growth. Writing years later, he
actually boasted about valuing political expediency over intellectual
integrity: "I was not certain of its economic merits but quickly saw
its political possibilities." In another essay, he cheerfully conceded
to having had a "cavalier attitude toward the budget deficit," because
it was all about creating a Republican majority -- so "political
effectiveness was the priority, not the accounting deficiencies of
The problem is that once you accept the principle that it's O.K.
to lie if it helps you win elections, it gets ever harder to limit
the extent of the lying -- or even to remember what it's like to
seek the truth.
The Sanctimony and Sin of G.O.P. 'Moderates' (July 27).
Meanwhile, Krugman's blog has a useful post on
Monopoly Rents and Corporate Taxation (Wonkish); also
How Bad Will It Be If We Hit the Debt Ceiling?, and the post-Bannon
So if Bannon is out, what's left? It's just reverse Robin Hood with
On real policy, in other words, Trump is now bankrupt.
But he does have the racism thing. And my prediction is that with
Bannon and economic nationalism gone, he will eventually double down
on that part even more. If anything, Trumpism is going to get even
uglier, and Trump even less presidential (if such a thing is possible)
now that he has fewer people pushing for trade wars.
Jim Lyons: The Rush to Develop Oil and Gas We Don't Need: The
Trump administration is going apeshit in its eagerness to do favors
for the oil and gas industry, even at a time when oversupply undercuts
prices and companies are loathe to develop the properties they already
have. Also see:
Alison Rose Levy: Who's Behind Fossil Fuel Extraction? It's Not Just
Danielle Ofri: 'No Apparent Distress' Tackles the Distress of the Sick,
Poor and Uninsured: Book review of Rachel Pearson: No Apparent
Distress: A Doctor's Coming-of-Age on the Front Lines of American
Medicine, about what happens to people who can't get (mostly
because they can't afford) decent health insurance:
This is the blossoming truth of No Apparent Distress -- that
a segment of American society has been casually cast aside, left to
scavenge on the meager scraps of volunteer health services, and
failing that, left to die. Such abdication is no mere oversight, as
Pearson outlines. The president of U.T.M.B. later publicly stated
that care for those without means was no longer part of the school's
"core mission." The same can be said for much of the United States.
Pearson describes a homeless man whom the students diagnosed with
throat cancer. (Texas chose not to expand Medicaid under the Affordable
Care Act so is now home to 25 percent of the adult Americans who fall
into the coverage gap between private insurance and Medicaid.) It took
eight cruel months until a hospital accepted the patient into its
indigent program for treatment. To satisfy a requirement that the man
live nearby, a relative was found who bought him a tiny trailer home.
Just after the first scans were done, though, the hospital got wind
of the trailer. This "asset" disqualified him as indigent and he was
promptly kicked out of the program. The cancer was never removed or
Matthew Rozsa: Missouri Republican: People who vandalize Confederate
statues should be lynched: Well, that's certainly in the spirit
of the people who put them up. I normally don't bother with
stupid-things-stupid-people-say articles, otherwise I'd wind up
linking to things like
This pastor thinks that Houston deserved Hurricane Harvey because of
its "pro-homosexual mayor".
Gershon Shafir: Why has the Occupation lasted this long? A slice
from the author's new book: A Half Century of Occupation: Israel,
Palestine, and the World's Most Intractable Conflict. Mostly stuff
you should know by now, but it's worth recalling that settlements in
the Occupied Territories were driven from two distinct movements, each
operating from their own peculiar logic. The first was the LSM (Labor
Settler Movement), driven by habit from the earliest days of Zionism
but couched in terms of defense and security, and implemented by a
state and military controlled by Labor until 1977. The other was led
by Gush Emunim (Bloc of the Faithful), a messianic cult led by Rabbi
Kook, which was adopted by the Revisionist camp after Likud (Menachem
Begin) came to power in 1977. The following quote sums up this change
nicely, underscoring that the latter settler movement always intended
to dominate the Palestinians, even though that formula precluded any
possible peace. One should also note that because Labor was genetically
disposed toward settlement, Labor politicians have never been able to
check the expansion of the settlements, even if they realized how much
they were an obstacle to peace and ultimately to the defense of Israel.
In short, to gain national legitimation, Gush Emunim made the great legacy
of colonization its own even as it reinterpreted it through a religious
lens. After a conversation with Gush Emunim representatives in July 1974,
Shimon Peres concluded: "We are living in two separate countries. You live
in a country that needs to be settled, while I live in a country that needs
to be defended." Porat rejected the assertion that the role of Zionism was
to constitute a safe haven for Jews so they could hold their own in the
world. Gush Emunim viewed Zionism differently, as "the process of redemption
in its concrete sense -- the redemption of the people, and the redemption
of the land -- and in its divine sense -- the redemption of the godhead,
the redemption of the world." Just how far Gush Emunim had distanced itself
from the idea of maintaining a "military frontier" may be seen from its
rejection not only of the principle of security but also of the goal of
peace. "A secular peace," said another founder of Gush Emunim, "is not our
goal." Its starting point with regard to peace was religious and messianic,
so it saw peace as attainable only in the end of days.
Third, Gush Emunim colonization rejected demographic criteria for
choosing the location of Jewish colonies. The odd "N"-shaped pattern of
colonization during the Yishuv -- running from Upper Galilee down to the
Bet Shean Valley and then diagonally across the Jezreel Valley (Marj
Ibn-Amer) up to Haifa and Nahariya, and down again to Gedera -- followed
the layout of the valleys and coastal areas, less secure during Ottoman
times and consequently less densely inhabited by Palestinians. Gush Emunim
colonization, in contrast, was aimed at the mountainous regions where the
vast majority of Palestinians resided (see map 2). As Gush Emunim saw it,
Jewish settlements up to the 1948 War had spread out over the "wrong" part
of the Palestine, the coastal region that in antiquity was inhabited not
by the Jews but by the Philistines. Gush Emunim wanted not only to correct
this pattern and restore history by moving Jews into the lands they had
held in biblical times but to join the ancient homeland to Israel within
the Green Line. In the process, Gush Emunim tossed overboard the LSM's
goal of creating an ethnically homogeneous colony. It advocated pushing
settlement into the locations of ancient Jewish towns and villages that
had a dense Palestinian population in order to undermine the possibility
of territorial partition. It also raised the Israeli-Palestinian conflict's
stakes by leaving little contiguous territory for a potential Palestinian
state, increasing friction, and producing higher levels of violence in
which the settlers themselves played the role of both vigilantes and
soldiers drafted into regional military units that protected their
In case you've wondered about Jared Kushner's "peace mission" to
Israel-Palestine, note that he's actually showed up for work, then
refused to do any. Richard Silverstein explains:
Trump Trashes Two-States . . . and 30 Years of U.S. Policy on
Israel-Palestine. By giving up on the "two state solution" Trump
and Kushner are admitting they're not even going to go through the
motions of pretending that they have any interest or intent on
resolving the conflict peacefully. Maybe they imagine that Abbas
will eventually surrender to an Israeli diktat, but I doubt the
Israeli leadership can even come up with one. As we've seen from
fifty years now, they'd much prefer the status quo -- and that's
not about to change as long as the US continues to provide them
unquestioning support and cover:
It's vitally important to understand the broader implications: there
will be no advances in the peace process as long as Trump is president.
We knew this implicitly. But now we see it plain as day. . . .
I hate to repeat myself, as I've written something like this before:
we are in for a wicked few years of chaos and violence given this policy
vacuüm caused by Trump's absconding from a meaningful role. A people
with no hope has nothing to lose. If you think you've seen violence,
it can and will get worse. And in ways we can't now foresee.
Even Peter Beinart, who first noticed the import of the quotation
in the Post article, calls the Trump position "absurd." The only thing
I could add is to call it criminally absurd. That is because of this
atrocious policy position tens of thousands are likely to die. Among
them will be scores, if not hundreds of Israelis (this last statement
is meant for the hasbarafia who will likely cheer this development in
the comment threads).
I'll add that the world -- and I don't just mean the "Arab world"
or "Muslim world," although there's that too -- already sees the US
as culpable for Israel's repression, cruelty, and violence, and the
more evidence the world sees, the more resentment will build up. At
the same time Trump is more directly engaged in murderous wars against
ISIS and other Islamist groups from Afghanistan through Syria to Libya
and Somalia, while US proxies are committing mass murder in Yemen --
and Trump has largely ceded direction of those wars to narrow-minded
generals. Moreover, Trump is closely aligned to Islamophobes in the
US and Europe, who would like nothing better than to impose their
injustice and bigotry in the harshest terms possible.
Eileen Sullivan/Mark Landler: Trump Says US Is Paying 'Extortion Money'
to North Korea: Nobody knows what he's talking about, possibly
because they were more terrified by his next line: "Talking is not
the answer!" Over recent months I've taken some solace when I've
taken the "nothing is off the table" cliché as meaning that talks
are still possible, but Trump seems determined to exclude the only
thing that might actually work, even though he really doesn't have
any other option. As for "extortion," from the start of his campaign
he's been clear that other countries should be paying the US more --
including South Korea and Japan, whose "defense" has the US has long
Kenneth P Vogel: Google Critic Ousted From Think Tank Funded by Tech
Giant: Decades ago the right-wing laid the foundations of their
power by funding so-called think tanks to give their agenda a bit of
intellectual spit and polish. In the 1990s, liberals realized they
needed to play that game too, founding a number of groups, including
the "non-partisan" New America Foundation in 1999. Google's Eric
Schmidt is chairman of a board which includes finance capitalists,
some fairly well-known middle-of-the-road authors (James Fallows,
Atul Gawande, Zachary Karabell, Daniel Yergin, Fareed Zakaria) and
some token conservatives (David Brooks, Walter Russell Mead, Reihan
Salam), with liberal hawk Anne-Marie Slaughter president. [By the
way, Rosa Brooks is a fellow there. One of her articles cited there,
published back in October, is:
The Importance of Working in the Trump Administration.] The fired
researcher is Barry C. Lynn, director of their Open Markets project,
author of two important books: End of the Line: The Rise and
Coming Fall of the Global Corporation (2005) and Cornered:
The New Monopoly Capitalism and the Economics of Destruction.
As his New America bio notes:
Lynn's writings on the political and economic effects of the extreme
consolidation of power in the United States have influenced the
thinking of policymakers and antitrust professionals on both sides
of the Atlantic.
Google was recently found guilty of violating EU antitrust law
and fined 2.42 billion Euros ($2.7 billion) for rigging its search
results in favor of its advertisers -- offhand, that sounds more
like racketeering than antitrust, but it's their de facto search
engine monopoly that makes such a racket possible. Lynn's statement
on this appeared in a
New America press release:
The Open Markets Team congratulates European Commissioner for Competition
Margrethe Vestager and the European competition authority for this important
decision. Google's market power is one of the most critical challenges for
competition policymakers in the world today. By requiring that Google give
equal treatment to rival services instead of privileging its own, Vestager
is protecting the free flow of information and commerce upon which all
democracies depend. We call upon U.S. enforcers, including the Federal
Trade Commission, the Department of Justice, and states attorneys general,
to build upon this important precedent, both in respect to Google and to
other dominant platform monopolists including Amazon. U.S. enforcers
should apply the traditional American approach to network monopoly,
which is to cleanly separate ownership of the network from ownership
of the products and services sold on that network, as they did in the
original Microsoft case of the late 1990s.
Some more pieces on Google, New America, and Lynn's firing:
Sam Biddle/David Dayen: Google-Funded Think Tank Fired Google Critics
After They Dared Criticize Google.
Alexis C Madrigal: The Dumb Fact of Google Money.
Dominic Rushe: Google-funded thinktank fired scholar over criticism of
Matthew Yglesias: A leading Google critic's firing from a Google-funded
think tank, explained: Most useful for its background on Google's
lobbying efforts and political alignments. For example:
Google has been especially an especially aggressive player at deep
influence. The Wall Street journal reported in July, for example, that
they've spent millions of dollars subsidizing academic research that
backs Google policy positions, often mapping out the thesis to be
proven and then shopping to find the scholar to do the work. Google's
money, not always disclosed, has backed donations to think tanks
across the ideological spectrum as well as more prosaic forms of
influence peddling like campaign contributions.
What makes Google somewhat unusual for such a big company is that
it's fairly closely aligned with the Democratic Party. Dozens of
people moved from jobs at Google to jobs in the Obama administration,
and vice versa, over its eight-year span. Schmidt was a major Hillary
Clinton donor. More tellingly, Schmidt owns a company called Civis
Analytics that does an enormous amount of behind-the-scenes data work
for Democratic Party campaigns. This alignment grows out of both
cultural affinity between Democrats and Google on social issues, and
also years of regulatory struggle that often saw Google, Democrats,
and consumer groups on one side pitted against telecommunications
David Dayen: New Think Tank Emails Show "How Google Wields Its Power"
Zephyr Teachout: How I Got Fired From a D.C. Think Tank for Fighting
Against the Power of Google.
Evidently Open Markets will be spun off as an independent outfit,
Citizens Against Monopoly, so at least this gives them some
much needed publicity. For more on Google, see
Jonathan Taplin: Why is Google spending record sums on lobbying
Given the increased antitrust scrutiny that is coming from the Democrats'
new "Better Deal" policy platform, Donald Trump's random tweets attacking
Google's fellow tech giant Amazon for its connection to the Washington
Post, and his adviser Steve Bannon's recent comments that Google and
Facebook should be regulated as utilities, it is likely Google will only
increase its lobbying expenditure in the next few months.
The largest monopoly in America, Google controls five of the top six
billion-user, universal web platforms -- search, video, mobile, maps and
browser -- and leads in 13 of the top 14 commercial web functions,
according to Scott Cleland at Precursor Consulting. . . .
It is important to understand that Google is not politically neutral.
Though its executives may signal liberal stances on gay rights and
immigration, it is at heart a libertarian firm which believes above
all that corporations should not be regulated by the government. Just
as extreme lobbying by the bank industry led to a loosening of
regulations, which then resulted in the great mortgage scam of 2008,
Google's efforts to keep the government out of its business may have
deep implications for the next 10 years. . . .
But now, for the first time in their histories, the possibility of
regulation may be on the horizon. Google's response will be to spend
more of its $90bn in cash on politicians. K Street is lining up to help.
It's probably dated by now, but the first taste that I got that Google
was potentially dangerous came from Siva Vaidhyanathan's 2011 book, The
Googlization of Everything (And Why We Should Worry). I'm still less
bothered by Google than I was by Microsoft when I followed the antitrust
case closely circa 1999, but their profits, power, and potential for
abuse are comparable. Moreover, Schmidt's chuminess with Obama and the
Clintons doesn't make any of them better public servants. Also, one of
the most sobering facts I've run across lately is how Trump's massive
buy of last-minute YouTube advertising probably tipped the election --
that's one of Google's platforms, an effective monopoly that he had no
problem selling to the highest (or in many ways, the lowest) bidder.
Real competition would save us from that kind of power.
Odd Arne Westad: The Cold War and America's Delusion of Victory:
Excerpt from the author's book, The Cold War: A World History.
a broad picture with many things I'd quibble with (e.g., he says
"Stalin's policies" made conflict with the US inevitable, and he
dismisses Mao's entire rule as "out of tune with its needs").
America's post-Cold War triumphalism came in two versions. First was
the Clinton version, which promoted a prosperity agenda of market values
on a global scale. Its lack of purpose in international affairs was
striking, but its domestic political instincts were probably right:
Americans were tired of foreign entanglements and wanted to enjoy
"the peace dividend."
As a result, the 1990s was a lost opportunity for international
cooperation, particularly to combat disease, poverty and inequality.
The most glaring examples of these omissions were former Cold War
battlefields like Afghanistan, Congo and Nicaragua, where the United
States could not have cared less about what happened -- once the Cold
War was over.
The second was the Bush version. Where President Bill Clinton
emphasized prosperity, President George W. Bush emphasized predominance.
In between, of course, stood Sept. 11. . . .
As America entered a new century, its main aim should have been to
bring other nations into the fold of international norms and the rule
of law, especially as its own power diminishes. Instead, the United
States did what declining superpowers often do: engage in futile,
needless wars far from its borders, in which short-term security is
mistaken for long-term strategic goals. The consequence is an America
less prepared than it could have been to deal with the big challenges
of the future: the rise of China and India, the transfer of economic
power from West to East, and systemic challenges like climate change
and disease epidemics.
Gradually between the founding of the UN in 1945 and the mid-1990s
American politicians lost all faith in international institutions and
law, and that's ultimately a big story. The first stage was when the
US started creating captive alliances to exclude the Soviet Union and
launch the Cold War (Marshall Plan, NATO, etc.). The second was when
the US formed alliances with imperial powers (like France in Vietnam)
and local despots (like Iran's Shah and Indonesia's Suharto) against
popular movements, democracy, and human rights. Along the way the US
developed an instrumental view of the UN, trying to use it to advance
exclusive interests and eventually finding it to be more of an obstacle
than a subordinate. In this regard, Israel has been pivotal: the more
Israel become ostracized in the UN, the more the US seeks to obstruct
and marginalize the UN. By the 1990s, liberal hawks came to prefer US
unilateral military action to international stalemate. The neocons
brought all of these tendencies together, insisting that world order
be dictated by the US as the "sole superpower." Early on US foreign
policy was captured by globalized corporations and arms merchants,
and while they didn't necessarily see eye-to-eye, their compromises
turned the US into the dangerously conceited rogue state we see
today. It's easy enough to see that anti-communism was at the root
of all this, and that the contempt it held for workers has not only
turned the US imperious abroad, it has flooded back into domestic
politics, its promotion of inequality rendering government, business,
and society ever more careless and cruel.
Matthew Yglesias: Four Stories That Actually Mattered This Week:
Devastating floods hit Texas and Louisiana; Congress is facing a busy
September; Trump is cutting Obamacare marketing to the bone; DACA is
hanging in the balance. Other Yglesias posts:
Mick Mulvaney brags that he tricked Trump into proposing Social Security
Trump is looking to revive a discredited Bush-era tax gimmick;
Paul Ryan's postcard tax return is really dumb;
It's time for Democrats' wonk class to write some single-payer plans.
The "postcard tax return" piece has some interesting points -- some gleaned
from T.R. Reid's book A Fine Mess, a survey of how other nations run
their tax collection systems. He points out that in Japan, for example, the
government collects tax input information continuously and automatically
adjusts withholding so that most people wind up paying exactly the right
amount each year. At year end, the government sends out a notice of what
it did, which taxpayers can amend, but otherwise they needn't file returns.
Such a system is pretty easy for most wage earners, even with interest
and other currently tracked earnings. I can imagine it being developed
further to handle more complex cases, like small businesses. Yglesias
points out that things like tax brackets have no real effect on form
complexity. Virtually all of the complication in the income tax system
comes from income determination, mostly deciding what expenses to allow
in offsetting gross receipts. (Itemized deductions to personal income
have largely been phased out in favor of a relatively generous "standard
deduction," although it wouldn't be too hard to track them in real time
either.) Moreover, the government could start an open source software
project to implement all of this, adding accounting and personal finance
features that would reduce the cost for businesses while collecting all
the necessary inputs. Of course, politicians like Ryan don't want to do
any of this: they want to keep taxation painful so it will be easy to
rile people up against the tax system. And, of course, making sure the
government doesn't do useful or helpful things for most people makes
taxes look like expenses instead of investments.
The big breaking story as I was writing all of this is that North
Korea has tested some sort of hydrogen-booster nuclear warhead, one
reportedly small enough that it can be delivered by one of their
recently tested ICBMs. This has resulted in a lot of typically
unguarded and occasionally insane threats from Trump and company:
Trump: North Korea Is a 'Rogue Nation' for Conducting a 'Major Nuclear
After Reported H-Bomb Test, Trump Mulls Attacking North Korea;
Trump: Maybe we'll end all trade with countries that trade with North Korea;
Mnuchin Says He Will 'Draft a Sanctions Package' Against North Korea;
Mattis: US Will Meet 'Any Threat' With 'Massive Military Response';
Trump Says He'll Meet With 'Military Leaders' to Discuss North Korea.
Also note that Trump has lately become increasingly hostile to China
and Russia, the most obvious diplomatic channels to Pyongyang -- e.g.,
US Plans More South China Sea Patrols to 'Challenge China';
Jim Mattis, in Ukraine, Says U.S. Is Thinking of Sending Weapons;
US Seizes Russian Diplomatic Posts in San Francisco, Washington, New York;
Russia to 'Respond Harshly' to Latest US Measures;
Putin Warns US-North Korea Standoff Risks Starting Large-Scale Conflict.
When asked whether he intends to attack North Korea, Trump's response was
"we'll see." I've written enough about this I shouldn't have to rehash
the risks and follies of US policy. Indeed, most knowledgeable people
in Washington -- a group that excludes the president -- seem to grasp
the basic issues, but their minds are stuck in the rut that sees the
military as the only answer to every problem. So, I guess, we'll see.
Sunday, August 27. 2017
The big story, one I have nothing on below, is probably what Hurricane
Harvey is doing to Texas as I write -- and as I look at the forecast map,
will keep doing through Wednesday. I watched one woman on Fox News going
on about how this disaster will finally give Trump the chance to appear
presidential and gain back some of his lost support. I noted how the
governor of Texas was thanking the federal government for their support.
Evidently this won't be the week when Republicans go around quoting
Ronald Reagan on how the scariest words in the English language are
"I'm from the government, and I'm here to help." In point of fact, the
party that wants to reduce government so small it can be drowned in a
bathtub doesn't have a very good record in responding to natural
disasters (or, really, any kind of disaster -- cf. 9/11 as well as
This week's scattered links:
Zeeshan Aleem: Nikki Haley's path to the presidency runs right past
Trump: Notes that "The UN ambassador's profile is rising as she
runs her own show," and quotes Sen. Lindsey Graham as saying, "She
sounds more like me than Trump." I wonder if Haley didn't get the
idea that UN Ambassador would be a plum presidential stepping stone
from House of Cards. It certainly gives her opportunities to
poise bellicose for the press. Of course, if people start talking
her up, Trump might get jealous and sack her. On the other hand,
that's probably in her plan as the next step.
Randall Balmer: Under Trump, evangelicals show their true racist colors.
Zack Beauchamp: Sebastian Gorka, Trump's most controversial national
security aide, is out: Obviously the next to go after Bannon got
sacked, at least he took the time to write a blustery resignation
letter, vowing to fight on against the administration's "globalists"
in Trump's name -- as the old joke goes, now he'll be outside the
tent pissing in.
Alvin Chang: We analyzed 17 months of Fox & Friends transcripts.
It's far weirder than state-run media.
Since Trump was elected, Fox & Friends has taken a special
place in the media landscape. It's clear that the program is in something
of a feedback loop with the president. But contrary to what CNN president
Jeff Zucker says, this isn't state-run television "extolling the line out
of the White House." Scholars tend to say state-run media usually aims to
keep the rank and file in line, while demobilizing the populace and
deflating political opposition. Most of it is very boring. Watch some
live Chinese state-run media and you'll immediately understand. . . .
What we found is that Fox & Friends has a symbiotic
relationship with Trump that is far weirder and more interesting than
state media. Instead of talking for Trump, they are talking to
The regular hosts -- Steve Doocy, Brian Kilmeade, and Ainsley Earhardt --
and their rotating cast of guests increasingly view their role as giving
advice to the president. They prognosticate on what the president, his
staff, or his party should do. And it's all couched in language that makes
it seem they are on his side -- that the damning news reports from
mainstream media were unfair obstacles to his presidency.
That is in contrast to what Fox & Friends was before Trump.
In 2013, media scholar Jeffrey P. Jones argued that Fox & Friends
creates an ideologically homogeneous community and reinforces it by creating
a high school-like atmosphere. "The show is designed to thrust the viewer
into a common-sense groupthink, complete with all the rumours, smears,
innuendo, fear-mongering, thinly veiled ad hominem attacks, and lack of
rational discourse they can muster -- you know, just like high school,"
But in the 2016 election, the man who loves their show and listens
to their political and cultural ruminations became the leader of the
Fox & Friends went from being the bully on the periphery
to the prom king's posse.
Esme Cribb: Trump's Afghan Strategy: 'Killing Terrorists,' Not Nation
Building: Quick summary of Trump's Monday night "Afghanistan Strategy"
speech. Despite all the "pillars" and "multi-pronged strategy," what this
sounds like is that he's shelving the COIN theory -- all that stuff about
protecting Afghan communities and helping them develop -- and returning
to the core competency of the US military, which is wholesale slaughter
of anyone who gets in our way (aka, "killing terrorists"; who are these
"terrorists"? well, the people we kill). To accomplish this he'll allow
the generals to requisition whatever forces they want, with no review
from the White House let alone Congress. And he's set the standard for
ending the war so high that it's become a moot point. In effect, he's
put the war on autopilot, where the only real goal is to punish the
Afghan people for America's failure to secure any form of stability.
This approach is not unprecedented in American history: Nixon did the
same thing in Vietnam when he reduced US troop levels while winding
up with a murderous rampage, hoping to impress on the world that while
a people may defy the United States, they will suffer mightily for the
affront. The only word that described this is sadism: having failed
to impose American will, the only way Trump can recover his sense of
power is by inflicting suffering on others. Trump's concept of "America
First" doesn't seem to extend much beyond "fuck everyone else" (nor
does his concept of America extend to many people living here).
Some more links on Trump and Afghanistan:
Andrew J Bacevich: The conflict in Afghanistan is Trump's war now:
True enough, in the sense that Trump could have stuck to his campaign
rhetoric and ordered withdrawal, ending America's 16-year (or, actually,
38-year) war in Afghanistan. Failure to do that stamps the war with his
hand, much as Obama's 2009 "surge" added to his personal responsibility
for the war. On the other hand, saying "From this point forward, blaming
President Obama for whatever happens in Kabul or Kandahar or the Hindu
Kush won't work," won't work either. No matter how poorly Trump's generals
perform, Trump will never give up blaming Obama.
David Faris: Why Trump's Afghanistan plan will end in utter failure.
Emran Feroz: Fearful Villagers See the US Using Afghanistan as a "Playground
for Their Weapons".
Rod Nordland: What an Afghanistan Victory Looks Like Under the Trump
Plan: Allegedly, this show of force sets the stage for talks that
reconcile the Kabul government with the Taliban, but also note: "The
last Taliban leader to espouse peace talks, Mullah Akhtar Muhammad
Mansour, was killed in an American drone strike last year." And despite
President Trump mentioned "victory" four times and "defeat" of the
enemy seven times in his speech. But it remains unclear what victory
would even look like.
In another New York Times article,
Julie Hirschfeld Davis/Matthew Rosenberg: Trump Seeks a Clear Victory
in a Murky War, the best they can offer is: "For Mr. Trump, winning
looks a lot like a very long war."
Daniel Larison: Trump's Awful Afghanistan Speech.
Mark Perry: How the Brass Talked Another President Into a Losing
John Feffer: Avoiding War With Pyongyang: alternate title, "Trump
and the Geopolitics of Crazy." Good in-depth article, which points out
that the US (Jimmy Carter, at least) has successfully negotiated with
the DPRK before, that in terms of crazy vs. crazy Trump and Kim Jong-un
have little if anything on Nixon and Mao in 1970, and that despite all
those sanctions North Korea has been cautiously changing toward the sort
of market economy corporations love doing business with in China. Now,
if only someone in Washington was listening. Another report suggesting
that Kim Jong-un might not be the crazier of the adversaries is:
Jon Schwarz: North Korea Keeps Saying It Might Give Up Its Nuclear Weapons --
but Most News Outlets Won't Tell You That.
Rebecca Gordon: Is Anything the Moral Equivalent of War? Reading the
title, I recognized the phrase but couldn't place it, perhaps because it
never made sense to me: at least from the early Americanization of the
Vietnam War I never saw anything moral in war, so couldn't imagine any
virtuous activity as being its "moral equivalent." The phrase turns out
to have been coined by
William James in 1906 attempting to find an alternative activity to
the "martial spirit" that warmongers like Theodore Roosevelt were so keen
on promoting. The phrase was then popularized in a
1977 speech by President Jimmy Carter where he tried to marshall
America's militarist spirits to tackle the "energy crisis." As you no
doubt recall, the American people responded by voting Carter out of
office, choosing instead to bury their heads in Reagan's "morning in
America" fantasy. Probably didn't help that the acronym militarists
gave the speech was MEOW, but the fact is that by 1977 even real war
didn't satisfy James' MEOW demands. A couple years earlier the Army
had given up on the draft because way too many of those impressed into
service could be trusted to carry out orders -- the obvious advantage
of the no-draft army is that volunteers were much less likely to "frag"
their officers. On the other hand, even "professional" soldiers are
likely to have joined for purely economic reasons, which only made
sense if their risk was minimal. Gordon plays a bit with MEOW theory,
noting that war "requires from whole populations a special kind of
heroic focus, a willingness to mobilize and sacrifice, a commitment
to community or country . . . it also requires people to relinquish
their own petty interests in the service of a greater whole." That,
at least, is the idea behind America's many metaphorical wars -- on
crime, poverty, drugs, cancer -- none of which have been particularly
successful, possibly because Americans no longer seek MEOWs -- or, in
most cases, let real shooting wars impose much on their everyday lives.
But it's also because our conventional thinking about war corrupts and
perverts these metaphorical wars, which is something Gordon does go
into at more depth. She also suggests that the War on Terror is itself
yet another metaphorical war, even though this one is fought with bombs
Josh Marshall: Thoughts on Trump's Speech: On Tuesday's rally in
Aside from the rambling weirdness, the big things are these. President
Trump spent something like forty-five minutes in a wide-ranging primal
scream about Charlottesville, ranting at the press, giving what might
generously be called a deeply misleading and dishonest summary of what
he actually said. It all amounted to one big attack on the press for
supposedly lying about him.
There were some other points that were momentary and perhaps easy
to miss but quite important.
- Trump essentially promised he would pardon Sheriff Joe Arpaio, a
major sop to the anti-immigrant, white nationalist base.
- Trump suggested he would probably end up withdrawing from NAFTA
because negotiations will fail. That statement will have major
- Trump threatened to shut down the government to force Congress's
hand on getting his border wall.
- While grandiosely not mentioning the names of Jeff Flake or John
McCain, he nonetheless went after them and made his opposition to both
quite clear. Presidents don't generally attack members of their own
party going into a midterm elections.
More links related to Trump's speech in Arizona:
Jenna Johnson: As Trump ranted and rambled in Phoenix, his crowd slowly
Just before President Trump strolled onto the rally stage on Tuesday
evening, four speakers took turns carefully denouncing hate, calling
for unity and ever so subtly assuring the audience that the president
is not racist. . . . Meanwhile, a supporter seated directly behind
stage even wore a T-shirt that stated: "Trump & Republicans are
Then Trump took the stage.
He didn't attempt to continue the carefully choreographed messaging
of the night or to narrow the ever-deepening divide between the thousands
of supporters gathered in the convention center hall before him and the
thousands of protesters waiting outside.
Instead, Trump spent the first three minutes of his speech -- which
would drag on for 75 minutes -- marveling at his crowd size, claiming
that "there aren't too many people outside protesting," predicting that
the media would not broadcast shots of his "rather incredible" crowd
and reminiscing about how he was "center stage, almost from day one,
in the debates."
Dara Lind: Joe Arpaio, the anti-immigrant sheriff That Trump wants to
save from prison, explained. Also on Arpaio, see:
Noah Feldman: Arpaio Pardon Would Show Contempt for Constitution.
Heather Digby Parton: Trump in Arizona: Threats, paranoia and a dark
lesson in white history.
Charles P Pierce: I Have No More Patience for Trump Supporters:
Before we get to the other stuff, and there was lots of other stuff, I'd
like to address myself to those people represented by the parenthetical
notation (Applause) in the above transcript, those people who
waited for hours in 105-degree heat so that they could have the G-spot
of their irrationality properly stroked for them. You're all suckers.
You're dim and you're ignorant and you can't even feel yourself sliding
toward something that will surprise even you with its fundamental
ugliness, . . .
A guy basically went mad, right there on the stage in front of you,
and you cheered and booed right on cue because you're sheep and because
he directed his insanity at all the scapegoats that your favorite radio
and TV personalities have been creating for you over the past three
On Friday, Joe Arpaio became the first person Trump issued a
presidential pardon for. See:
Dara Lind: The real reason Trump pardoned Joe Arpaio:
[Arpaio's contempt of court conviction ] was a predictable consequence
of the way he'd run his department -- guided by a philosophy that as
long as law-enforcement officials were grabbing headlines by going after
undesirable people, the public wouldn't care so much about how it was
The Trump administration has turned that philosophy into a matter of
federal rhetoric (such as Trump's "joke" urging officers to be rough
with suspects when shoving them into the backs of police cars) and policy
(in walking back court-enforced federal oversight of police departments).
President Trump himself is liable to tweet angrily about "so-called"
judges when he doesn't get his way.
Joe Arpaio is lucky that he was convicted under a president who cares
more about the order Arpaio professed to maintain than the laws to which
he was supposed to adhere. But Donald Trump is far luckier that he had,
in Arpaio, a model for how such a politician could operate.
Lind also wrote:
Trump's Arpaio pardon sends a message to sheriffs: I'm your
get-out-of-jail-free card; also see:
Lawrence Douglas: Why Donald Trump pardoned the unpardonable Joe Arpaio;
Andrew Rudalevige: Why Trump's pardon of Joe Arpaio isn't like most
Conor Friedersdorf: The Arpaio Pardon Is a Flagrant Assault on Civil
Scott Lemieux: The disturbing lessons of Trump's shameful Arpaio pardon.
Douglas may have the best quote:
What unites these acts of teardown are their cheapness, cynicism and
recklessness. They are cheap: requiring nothing in the way of the hard
work of shaping and negotiating policy. This is a politics of fatigue,
indolence elevated to administrative practice. They are cynical: the
performance of a president-cum-snake-oil-salesman, working to dupe his
credulous audience that his bogus recipes constitute the promised potent
tonic. And they are reckless, profoundly reckless, as they represent a
contempt for the rule of law and for the norms of constitutional
In pardoning Arpaio, our unpresident has undone the principle that
informs the practice of pardon; he has sided with the lawless renegade
against our federal judiciary and the constitution itself.
Also on Arpaio, here's a link to a 2008 story, about how
taxpayers had to pay $1.1 million "to settle another of Sheriff Joe
Arpaio's lawsuits," also "on top of the more than $43 million the
county has paid for the jail lawsuits":
Matt Shuham: 'Arizona Republic' Slams Arpaio Pardon: Trump Made It
Clear Racism 'Is a Goal';
A Phony Murder Plot Against Joe Arpaio Winds Up Costing Taxpayers
By the way, there is a case for presidential pardons. Here's a story
where the power was used constructively:
Ted Gioia: The Jazz Pianist That John F. Kennedy Saved.
Josh Marshall: Trump Is Killing McConnell in Kentucky: Latest PPP
poll gives McConnell an 18% approval rating vs. 74% disapproval -- a
drop which necessarily includes a lot of Republicans who have followed
Trump's lead in blaming McConnell for Senate inaction on Trump agenda
items. Also note that Trump's approval rating in Kentucky is still up
at 60%, so he has way more sway there than nationwide. Still unlikely,
I think, that Trump can convert such dissatisfaction into a viable
primary challenge, but these numbers don't prove that he can't.
Corey Robin: Will Steve Bannon's war tear apart the Republican party?
The right-wing racial populism that once served the conservative cause
so well is now, as even the most conservative Republicans are acknowledging,
getting in its way. Whatever the outcome of the civil war Bannon intends
to fight, it'll be waged against the backdrop of a declining rather than
an ascendant movement, with the tools of yesterday rather than tomorrow.
That is why, having had seven months in the White House to prosecute
his populist war on the Republican establishment -- something Buckley and
his minions could only dream of in 1955 -- Bannon now finds himself staring
into the abyss of a website, hoping to find there a power he couldn't find
in the most powerful office of the world.
Robin also wrote
When Political Scientists Legitimate Torturers, about John Yoo's
featured role in next week's American Political Science Association
get together. Yoo was one of lawyers who rationalized the Bush-Cheney
craving for torture, in a series of legal briefs that were pretty
sadly tortured themselves. Robin cites Victor Klemperer arguing that
the intellectuals who celebrated the Third Reich should be held as
more guilty than the henchmen who merely carried out the crimes.
Indeed, as I recall, there was a special session of the Nuremberg
trials that focused on lawyers and judges. Lawyers like Yoo were
in a position to prevent crimes from happening, and their failure
to do so -- indeed, their active efforts as enablers -- should
never be forgotten.
Dylan Scott: Why Obamacare didn't implode: Specifically, why every
county in the country has at least one insurance company offering private
coverage under ACA, contrary to recently raised alarms. Still lots of
money to be made out there, at least as long as the federal government
keeps paying subsidies. And while counties with no coverage are simply
wasted, being the only insurer in a county is especially profitable.
Matt Taibbi: The Media Is the Villain -- for Creating a World Dumb Enough
for Trump: More on how constant chaos and disaster has been good for
business. The more general charge -- that the media have created the very
conditions in which someone like Trump could become president -- could
use a little more sharpening, but he does get this far:
We learned long ago in this business that dumber and more alarmist
always beats complex and nuanced. Big headlines, cartoonish morality,
scary criminals at home and foreign menaces abroad, they all sell.
We decimated attention spans, rewarded hot-takers over thinkers, and
created in audiences powerful addictions to conflict, vitriol, fear,
self-righteousness, and race and gender resentment.
There isn't a news executive alive low enough to deny that we use
xenophobia and racism to sell ads. Black people on TV for decades were
almost always shirtless and chased by cops, and the "rock-throwing
Arab" photo was a staple of international news sections even before
9/11. And when all else fails in the media world, just show more
cleavage somewhere, and ratings go up, every time.
Donald Trump didn't just take advantage of these conditions. He
was created in part by them. What's left of Trump's mind is like a
parody of the average American media consumer: credulous, self-centered,
manic, sex-obsessed, unfocused, and glued to stories that appeal to his
sense of outrage and victimhood.
We've created a generation of people like this: anger addicts who
can't read past the first page of a book. This is why the howls of
outrage from within the ranks of the news media about Trump's election
ring a little bit false. What the hell did we expect would happen? Who
did we think would rise to prominence in our rage-filled, hyper-stimulated
media environment? Sensitive geniuses?
We spent years selling the lowest common denominator. Now the lowest
common denominator is president. How can it be anything but self-deception
to pretend this is an innocent coincidence?
Paul Woodward comments
much responsibility does the media have for creating Trump?), but
doesn't really get to the heart of the problem. I don't have time to
start unpacking this here.
Jean M Twenge: Have Smartphones Destroyed a Generation? "More comfortable
online than out partying, post-Millennials are safer, physically, than
adolescents have ever been. But they're on the brink of a mental-health
crisis." I've long been impressed with arguments about how technological
change shapes how we view the world -- most memorable was John Berger's
"Moment of Cubism," which attributed the sudden emergence of abstract
art to the extraordinary mechanization circa 1900. As a "baby boomer"
(b. 1950), I noted that all generations had their gaps, but ours seemed
to be exceptionally large, contrasting the despair of depression and war
my parents came of age in to the relative prosperity and security of my
youth -- and, of course, I noted the technological factors, especially
television. Indeed, it's tempting to blame nearly everything bad that's
happened since on television (and, I'd add, its advertising) -- although
more recent social critics have moved on to blaming computers and the
internet, which have become vastly more immersive with the advent of
smart phones. On the other hand, I've learned to lean against most claims
of generational change, recognizing that continuity has a powerful way
of reasserting itself. For instance, when I read this:
My friends and I plotted to get our driver's license as soon as we could,
making DMV appointments for the day we turned 16 and using our newfound
freedom to escape the confines of our suburban neighborhood. . . .
But the allure of independence, so powerful to previous generations,
holds less sway over today's teens, who are less likely to leave the
house without their parents. The shift is stunning: 12th-graders in
2015 were going out less often than eighth-graders did as recently
I think the anomaly here was back in the 1950s/60s, when cars (and,
belatedly, roads) seemed to open up vast new vistas to explore and to
experience. Since then cars have become ordinary and so utilitarian,
while their maintenance costs have become more onerous -- something
to be put off as long as possible. Meanwhile, air travel has become
the portal to new vistas. I suspect her data on dating can be given
a similar explanation. Still, I was struck by this, partly because
the statistics given seem to be so significant:
Girls have also borne the brunt of the rise in depressive symptoms
among today's teens. Boys' depressive symptoms increased by 21 percent
from 2012 to 2015, while girls' increased by 50 percent -- more than twice
as much. The rise in suicide, too, is more pronounced among girls.
Although the rate increased for both sexes, three times as many
12-to-14-year-old girls killed themselves in 2015 as in 2007, compared
with twice as many boys. The suicide rate is still higher for boys, in
part because they use more-lethal methods, but girls are beginning to
close the gap.
If total numbers are very small such a sudden jump might not be
significant, but I suspect it is. I'd be more inclined to look for
causes in the politico-economic sphere: increasing inequality chokes
off opportunity for most people, persistent war generates terror,
and American stupidity on things like climate change is enough to
bum out any sentient being, but those things will hit the young much
longer and harder than I can relate to. I grew up in a time when it
was easy to be optimistic, yet even then my teen years were the most
depressing of my life. Smart phones obviously steal time away from
other things teens used to do, but as someone who had no appreciable
social life back then I'm tempted to think the change may be for the
better. But like all change, the blessings are mixed, and it would
be better if we understood and appreciated that.
Matthew Yglesias: 4 stories that actually mattered this week:
Trump announced a "new" strategy for Afghanistan; Republicans were
consumed with weird infighting; Obamacare's empty counties all got
filled; Health care at a crossroads.
Trump's big mistake on health care was not realizing Republicans were
Democrats' 2018 gerrymandering problem is really bad ("a leading
forecast says they'll get 54% of the votes -- and only 47% of the
Justin Trudeau, unlike Trump, is taking NAFTA renegotiation really
After embracing orthodox Republicanism on all fronts, what's the point
Steve Bannon's "economic nationalism" is total nonsense. The
latter piece could, I think, be better argued, but it's not like
Trump (or even Bannon) has given us anything very substantial to
work with. About the only idea I've heard to advance this thing
called "economic nationalism" was a big tax on selected imports --
what we used to call a tariff -- but that's been squelched by
lobbyists for companies that import lots of stuff, like WalMart.
More simplistically, no one doubts that globalization has both
winners and losers, both inside America and outside. The problem
is our political system caters to winners and deplores losers.
Trump was able to get some votes in 2016 by appearing less part
of that system, but he never offered anything concrete to help
the victims of globalization, and the lobbyists and millionaires
he stocked his administration with aren't going to come up with
I also have problems with "Trump's big mistake," which tries
to credit Trump with wanting something better, at least during
On the campaign trail, he outlined some humane and politically popular
ideas about health care policy like that Medicaid shouldn't be cut and
that the United States should have a system that covers everybody even
if that means the government needs to pay for it. A responsible president
would move beyond peevish anger at congressional Republicans for failing
to help him fulfill that vision and start reaching out to people who can
help him. McConnell and Ryan aren't going to get the job done, but Trump's
failure to even try to work across party lines on health policy is
staggering -- and his anger at Republican leaders only makes it more
The plainly obvious fact is that Trump doesn't care what's in the
Republican Congressional bills, nor did he care what positions he took
during the campaign. Remember his victory celebration when the House
passed the second iteration of Ryan's bill, tweaked to gain right-wing
votes even though it was obvious then that the bill would have to be
scrapped and retooled to have a prayer in the Senate? If Trump cared
about his campaign promises, he would have worked to make the bill
less (not more) malevolent, but he didn't. And quite plainly, the
only complaint he has about McConnell is that his bill failed, making
Trump and the Republicans look weak. This matters not just for his
ego, but because the idea that he's some kind of juggernaut helps
to keep his business allies in line.
For background on the Confederate monuments issue,
Paul Woodward points us to a 2001 book review by
James M McPherson: Southern Comfort, which makes it crystal clear
that the Confederate states seceded to buttress and defend (and ultimately
to promote) their system of race-based slavery. That's shown well in the
quote Woodward plucked out. That much has been clear to me for a long time,
but I was struck by the timeliness (or timelessness) of the following:
As Richards makes clear, Southern politicians did not use this national
power to buttress states' rights; quite the contrary. In the 1830s Congress
imposed a gag rule to stifle antislavery petitions from Northern states.
The Post Office banned antislavery literature from the mail if it was sent
to Southern states. In 1850 Southerners in Congress, plus a handful of
Northern allies, enacted a Fugitive Slave Law that was the strongest
manifestation of national power thus far in American history. In the
name of protecting the rights of slave owners, it extended the long arm
of federal law, enforced by marshals and the army, into Northern states
to recover escaped slaves and return them to their owners.
Senator Jefferson Davis, who later insisted that the Confederacy
fought for the principle of state sovereignty, voted with enthusiasm
for the Fugitive Slave Law. When Northern state legislatures invoked
states' rights and individual liberties against this federal law, the
Supreme Court with its majority of Southern justices reaffirmed the
supremacy of national law to protect slavery (Ableman v. Booth, 1859).
Many observers in the 1850s would have predicted that if a rebellion
in the name of states' rights were to occur, it would be the North
that would rebel.
Of course, having grown up in the '50s and '60s when Senate filibusters
were almost exclusively used to frustrate majority-supported civil rights
bills, it's always been clear to me that "states rights" was never more than
an opportunistic ruse. More recently, it's become clear that Republicans
will exalt the use of any jurisdiction they happen to hold power over --
the most obvious example is how they have taken to using their state
legislative powers to overturn city and county statutes they dislike
(Missouri vs. St. Louis is a leading case-in-point). Most recently, we
see Trump and Sessions attempting to impose broad federal powers on
"sanctuary cities" -- ostensibly to force them to help enforce federal
anti-immigration law, which come to think of it isn't far removed from
the 1850s Fugitive Slave Law.