Sunday, March 19. 2017
Chuck Berry died.
Jimmy Breslin died. My uncle, James Hull, died.
It's been one of those weeks.
The big thing Trump did this week was to release a new budget proposal.
Who Wins and Loses in Trump's Proposed Budget; also
The 62 agencies and programs Trump wants to eliminate.
A grim budget day for US science: analysis and reaction to Trump's
plan: E.g., "NIH cuts could mean no new grants in 2016."
Graham Bowley: What if Trump Really Does End Money for the Arts?
Public arts funding has been a political hot potato for many years now, so
it's not surprising that conservative churls would take this opportunity
to slash it, indeed to cut it out altogether. I could nitpick myself, but
I also recall that during the 1930s the WPA financed all sorts of public
art, some of which we're still fortunate enough to enjoy. One cannot even
imagine government funding programs like that today, but if you give it
a wee bit of thought, you might wonder why. Given today's technology, the
ability to digitize sound and vision, to reproduce and disseminate those
bits at zero marginal cost, there has never been a better time to make a
big public investment in the arts. Sure, we need to come up with a funding
scheme that isn't subject to arbitrary commissars, but the costs and risks
are almost trivial. Especially compared to the Defense Department; after
all, without art and entertainment, what is there left to defend?
David S Cohen: Trump's Budget Is Pure Cruel Conservatism
Jeff Daniels: Rural America and farm sector to take a hit with Trump's
Zaid Jilani: Trump the Outsider Outsources His Budget to Insider Think
Tank: Explores how "many of the White House proposal's ideas are
identical to a budget blueprint Heritage drew up last year." Also quotes
from a statement put out by Heritage praising the Trump budget, with one
little demur: "it complained that Trump's call for an additional $54
billion in defense spending just isn't big enough."
Eric Levitz: White House Says Cutting Meals on Wheels is 'Compassionate':
Quote comes from White House budget director Mick Mulvaney, who you'll
read more about elsewhere. Levitz also wrote
6 Promises That President Trump's Budget Betrays.
Charles Pierce: This Is the Ending Conservatives Always Wanted:
This budget is short-sighted, cruel to the point of being sadistic,
stupid to the point of pure philistinism, and shot through with the
absolute and fundamentalist religious conviction that the only true
functions of government are the ones that involve guns, and that the
only true purpose of government is to serve the rich. . . .
A lot of this is going to make the members of Congress choke, so
a lot of it may not pass. Its very existence is important, though,
as a document that lays out quite clearly the vision of government
shared almost everywhere in modern conservatism. This is a DeMint
Budget, a Heritage Budget, a Gingrich Budget, a Reagan Budget, and
a Tea Party Budget. It may be crude and lack a certain polish, but
its priorities and goals are clear. There is no modern Republican
Party without movement conservatism, and this budget is the most
vivid statement yet of that philosophy.
By the way, Piece also wrote:
Chuck Berry and Jimmy Breslin Reinvented the English Language.
Jordan Weissmann: Trump's Budget Director Has a Breathtakingly Cynical
Excuse for Cutting Aid to the Poor
Matthew Yglesias: Trump's budget blueprint is a war on the future of
the American economy: I caught a whiff here of Robert Reich's old
scheme for education transforming American workers into highly paid
"symbolic manipulators" -- sure, boring old manufacturing jobs get
stripped due to "free trade" deals, but we'll all wind up richer than
ever. That was bullshit then and is bullshit now, but that doesn't
mean the opposite is even close to right: you don't need Friedman to
realize that business today requires more technical skill than ever
before, and the future more so. So why would anyone push a government
budget that seriously undermines scientific research and education?
But Trump's rhetoric, and now his spending blueprint, don't just push
back against techno-utopianism. They constitute a denial of the obvious
truth that a prosperous society is necessarily going to be one that is
evolving and changing over time. . . .
One of the main things that was good about the "good old days" is
that they were a time of massive progress, expansion of higher education
opportunities into the middle class and rapid development of new products
and cures. This happened while the government invested more -- not less --
on health, education, science, and regional development.
Didn't Trump spend much of his campaign complaining about how we've
neglected essential investments in infrastructure? Science, research
and engineering are what infrastructure is built on, and education is
fundamental to all that.
Some scattered links this week in the Trumpiverse:
ZoŽ Carpenter/George Zornick: Everything Trump Did in His 8th Week That
- Released a very skinny budget.
- Moved to loosen fracking rules.
- Delayed chemical-safety regulations.
- Fired 46 US Attorneys nationwide.
- Made a formal apology to United Kingdom over wild spying claims.
- Put military action against North Korea on the table.
Doug Bandow: Why Is Trump Abandoning the Foreign Policy that Brought Him
Victory? Starts by pointing out that Trump was often critical of the
neoconservatives who had plunged America into endless war, quoting him
as saying, "unlike other candidates for the presidency, war and aggression
will not be my first instinct." Indeed, many single-issue neocons like
the Kagans were quick to flock to Hillary Clinton, trusting her record
for hawkishness. Still, although Trump has been able to torpedo much
bruited nominations for the likes of John Bolton and Elliott Abrams,
his administration has done a lot of sabre-rattling so far. But the
author ("a Senior Fellow at the Cato Institute and a former Special
Assistant to President Ronald Reagan") has a selective memory of Trump's
campaign -- he also insisted he'd crush ISIS and increase military
spending. Unlike anti-war conservatives (like Justin Raimondo) who
fell for Trump's promise, I actually considered him more bellicose
and more dangerous than Clinton (and I've repeatedly attacked her on
just this issue). The reasons: the Republicans Trump would surround
himself with would be more consistently hawkish (many Democrats have
better things to do), and Trump himself is ignorant of and prejudiced
about the world, and much given to macho posturing. A good example of
this is the rapidly developing crisis with North Korea; e.g., see two
recent Jason Ditz pieces:
Tillerson: North Korea Diplomacy Has Failed, and
Tillerson: Attacking North Korea Remains an Option;
Charles P Pierce: Don't Poke North Korea with a Stick Just to See What
Michelle Chen: Trump's Obsession With Cutting Regulations Will Make America
Julie Hirschfield Davis: Trump, Day After Merkel's Visit, Says Germany
Pays NATO and US Too Little: Trump's been complaining for some time
about NATO member not paying enough for their common defense, and he's
sent Rex Tillerson out to shake down America's supposed allies, so this
isn't exactly new. There's much Trump doesn't understand, but one thing
is that a big part of the reason the US has so many subservient allies
is that the US pays for the deference, not just in allowing the US to
base troops on foreign soil but in ways like generous trade deals that
help countries develop through exports. Take those perks away and won't
people start wondering whether it's all worth it?
Allegra Kirkland: Huck: Trump Should Ignore Travel Ban Ruling, Like
Jackson With Trail of Tears: Says a lot when you take inspiration
from one of the most shameful facts in American history, but that's
where many Republicans are at: until they manage to stock the courts
with like-minded conservatives, they invite like-minded executives to
run amuck over niceties like law and constitution. Not clear that
Trump, a man who has put a lot of stock into using the courts for his
own gains, is there yet, or that if he was he wouldn't be facing a
widespread revolt from civil servants forced to choose between the
legal system and his executive ego.
Ezra Klein: Does Donald Trump know what the GOP health bill does?
Conclusion: "maybe not"; more to the point: "the AHCA does literally
none of the things Trump says it does."
Nancy LeTourneau: Checking in on Trump's 'Contract With the American
Voter': This is becoming a staple piece on the left, dredging up
Trump campaign promises and showing how few of them -- especially the
relatively decent ones -- have been implemented, or even followed up
on. This doesn't seem to phase Trump's actual supporters yet: they
have, after all, almost by definition become jaded cynics about the
political process, leaving them more inclined to see Trump's failures
as subversion by unseen forces. On the other hand, LeTourneau's list
includes a lot of "not introduced" Acts, which goes to show how the
Republicans in Congress have proceeded their own agenda, regardless
of how that fits in with Trump's own promises. Ryan, in particular,
seems to view Trump as his stooge, aided by the fact that Trump is
too lazy to work on his own agenda, and too hamstrung by the people
he's allowed himself to be surrounded by. Still, I suspect the day
is coming when we'll consider ourselves lucky anytime Trump breaks
a campaign promise.
Josh Marshall: He Seems Nice: Irony still in plan: "he" is Greg
Knox, described in a Pence tweet as "a small biz owner hurting under
Obamacare." So here's some context: "It shows Knox to be what policy
specialists refer to as a 'toxic right wing asshole.'"
Ian Millhiser: Paul Ryan says he fantasized about cutting health care for
the poor at his college keggers: "Meet the most insufferable frat boy
in human history."
Tessa Stuart: Four Things We Learned About Trump's Tax Returns From
Rachel Maddow: Explained much more succinctly than what you got
from watching Maddow's program.
Amy B Wang: Why Trump's plan to slash UN funding could lead to global
Paul Woodward: Donald Trump's deceitful and misleading statements have
consequences: This keys off a long quote from
John Cassidy: Donald Trup Finally Pays a Price for His False and Reckless
Words, but I found Woodward's commentary more to the point:
Donald Trump could accurately assert: "I didn't get where I am today by
Like many people who believe in the supremacy of will power, he may
believe that being faithful to ones own interests and objectives is all
Trump is consistent in his unwillingness to bend to the will of others.
His America First policy is merely an inflation of his Trump
The idea that Trump might have the capacity to mend his ways -- to see
that his dishonesty no longer works -- derives, perhaps, from a misreading
of his pragmatism.
Trump isn't bound to any ideology. At the same time, he exhibits no
psychological flexibility whatsoever.
Trump believes in his own innate capabilities with which, in his own
imagining, he is so richly endowed he has no need to learn anything.
This reminds me a bit of another president not bound to any ideology:
Franklin Roosevelt. The difference, of course, was that Roosevelt did
learn from his mistakes. He saw, for instance, that his more conservative
impulses -- especially his fetish for balanced budgets -- were harmful,
while his more generous, more liberal, impulses worked much better. The
result was the most progressive administration in American history, but
few voters imagined that at the start. They simply wanted to try something
different, because the reign of Andrew Mellon and his three presidents
had been so disastrous. The election of Trump was based on much the same
reaction, but less decisive because disaster was much less universally
recognized (let alone commonly understood) in 2016, and because quite a
few people understood that Trump and/or the Republicans didn't offer any
real solutions -- indeed, they were major problems.
Also a few links less directly tied to Trump, though sometimes still
to America's bout of political insanity:
Patrick Cockburn: Yemen Is a Complicated and Unwinnable War. Trump Should
Stay Out. Should, but thus far Yemen is the war Trump has most
dramatically inserted himself in.
Tom Engelhardt: How the Invasion of Iraq Came Home: Actually, his
third-tier title, after "Walled In" and "President Blowback." I'm not
sure "blowback" is correct, because most of the damage done to America
since Trump took office has been self-inflicted: the problem is less
that others are attacking so much as we've internalized the scars of
fifteen-years of the shocks of war:
It's clear, however, that his urge to create a garrison state went far
beyond a literal wall. It included the build-up of the U.S. military to
unprecedented heights, as well as the bolstering of the regular police,
and above all of the border police. Beyond that lay the urge to wall
Americans off in every way possible. His fervently publicized immigration
policies (less new, in reality, than they seemed) should be thought of as
part of a project to construct another kind of "great wall," a conceptual
one whose message to the rest of the world was striking: You are not
welcome or wanted here. Don't come. Don't visit.
All this was, in turn, fused at the hip to the many irrational fears
that had been gathering like storm clouds for so many years, and that
Trump (and his alt-right companions) swept into the already looted
heartland of the country. In the process, he loosed a brand of hate
(including shootings, mosque burnings, a raft of bomb threats, and a
rise in hate groups, especially anti-Muslim ones) that, historically
speaking, was all-American, but was nonetheless striking in its
intensity in our present moment.
TomDispatch also published
Michael Klare: Winning World War II in the Twenty-First Century, on
Trump's nostalgia for the days when America actually won wars -- ignoring
that times have changed as pre-WWII empires have been rolled back on every
front, and that the US is no longer viewed as a country normally content
to mind its own business, that only joins wars when attacked, and that
doesn't plot to keep and plunder other nations. Indeed, the real problems
the US military face today aren't the sort that can be fixed with a few
more ships, planes, and troops.
Matea Gold: The Mercers and Stephen Bannon: How a populist power base was
funded and built: Robert Mercer is a hedge fund exec, the plural
evidently refers to daughter Rebekah, and the article goes into some
depth on how they've sowed their millions to promote right-wing causes,
especially through Trump strategist Steve Bannon.
While other donors gave more to support Trump's presidential bid last
year, the Mercers are now arguably the most influential financiers of
the Trump era. Bannon, who went on to manage the final months of Trump's
campaign before joining the White House, is the senior architect of the
president's policy vision. He is joined in the West Wing by counselor
Kellyanne Conway, a friend of Rebekah Mercer who led the family-funded
super PAC that backed first Cruz and then Trump in the 2016 race.
People who know them say the Mercers, who soured on traditional
political operatives, appreciated Bannon's business savvy and share
his belief that the conversation around politics must be changed for
their ideas to prevail. For all of their power and privilege, both the
family and their longtime adviser see themselves as outsiders, fighting
the grip of elite institutions.
One thing I was surprised by here was a $4 million donation to John
Bolton Super PAC. I wasn't aware of such a thing, but it probably explains
why such a useless and incompetent buffoon keeps managing to get his name
in the news.
Gold also wrote a comparable analysis of the Kochs (in 2014):
Koch-backed political network, built to shield donors, raised $400 million
in 2012 elections; also co-wrote one on the Clintons (in 2015):
Two Clintons. 41 Years. $3 Billion.
William Greider: Here's What You Need to Know About the Federal Reserve:
"We demand way too much from the central bank -- but that's because our
elected politicians have done almost nothing to revive the economy." The
Federal Reserve raised short-term interest rates last week, in an effort
to throttle back the economy lest it grow to the point where wages actually
start to rise. That would normally be bad news for a sitting president,
but not for the bankers who sit with this particular one.
Greider also wrote:
Trump Is Fighting a New Trade War -- and This One Is Intramural,
about the "nasty White House battle [that] has broken out between
right-wing nationalists and globalist financiers," asking the
question: "Who owns this president -- the folks who voted for him,
or the power hitters of big business and banking?" That's actually
a novel question for a Republican president: with leaders like the
Bushes, Republican voters were merely consenting to oligarchic rule,
but didn't Trump promise something else? I'm not sure, but given
how readily Clinton and Obama turned against their voters, I hardly
expect Trump to show much spine.
Eric Levitz: The Case for Countering Right-Wing Populism With 'Left-Wing
Economics': Article spends too much time rebutting a red herring from
Zack Beauchamp. My own suspicion is that the key to making an "Left-Wing
Economics" argument work is to name enemies and show how those enemies
take unfair advantage of working people, especially through their bought
influence on government, how their lobbying perverts the course of justice.
Not that we needed more examples, but the Trump administration is rife with
them. (Trump sure had a field day painting the Clintons that way.)
Richard Silverstein: Knesset Votes to Ban Palestinian Parties, Destroy
Israeli Democracy: In 1951 Palestinians still residing in Israel
were granted citizenship (a right that was not extended after 1967 as
Israel occupied and in some cases annexed additional Palestinian land),
and since then Palestinian political parties have been represented in
Israel's parliament (Knesset) -- to little effect, of course, as ruling
coalitions have very rarely even considered including them, but it's
always been a talking point, a big part of the Israel's claim to be a
This paragraph is meant as an aside, but is noteworthy:
Coincidentally, today a UN body issued a report
finding that Israel had become an apartheid state. It further urged
that the UN reactivate the methods, resolutions and commissions it used
to ostracize South Africa, when it too faced international opprobrium
for its racist policies. The new version of the Basic Law further
strengthens such findings.
Sunday, March 12. 2017
Donald Trump likes to talk about how he "inherited a mess": here's
one measure of that, a chart of private-sector payroll employment over
Obama's eight years:
Note first that the guy who really did inherit a mess was Obama,
following eight years of Republican misrule under GW Bush. Also, that
by ignoring cuts to public sector employment due to austerity measures
mostly (but not exclusively) pushed by Republicans, this overstates
the overall jobs gains a bit. Still, Trump's going to be hard-pressed
to sustain Obama's rate, given hat he's working with the same "wrecking
crew" that sunk Bush. Of course, you may not know all this, because
Obama spent very little time bitching about the hole Republicans dug
for him: he felt it important to recovery to project confidence, so
he consistently understated the recession early on. In doing so, he
did himself (and the country) a disservice, as he undercut the political
case for more emphatic reforms.
Dean Baker reviews the latest jobs figures:
Prime-Age Employment Rate Hits New High for Recovery in February.
On the other hand, no false modesty from Trump:
Trump keeps claiming he's created US jobs since Election Day. As
the title continues: "Not so." Also:
Spicer: Trump Says Formerly 'Phony' Jobs Numbers Are Now 'Very Real'
For more, see
Matthew Yglesias: Sean Spicer's appalling answer about economic data
shows how far we've lowered the bar for Trump. Spicer's quip: "They
may have been phony in the past, but it's very real now."
Some scattered links this week in the Trumpiverse:
ZoŽ Carpenter/George Zornick: Everything Trump Did in His 7th Week That
Really Matters: Sub-heads:
- Instituted a new travel ban.
- Sent 400 Marines into Syria.
- Bombed Yemen more in a week than Obama did in a year.
- Broke a federal rule about the jobs report.
I've featured these pieces every week since inauguration, but frankly
the "federal rule" broken in the last point is a really stupid one, on
the order of misusing a comma in a press release. As the rest of this
post shows, there was much more amiss in the Trump world this week --
the purge of federal prosecutors, for instance, which shows the extent
to which partisan politics has taken over law enforcement in the minds
of Republican strategists.
More fallout on the Paul Ryan's health care hack (graphic right from
ZoŽ Carpenter: The GOP's Health-Care Plan Could Strip Addiction and
Mental-Health Coverage From 1.3 Million: Part of the Republican
effort to roll back Medicaid expansion.
Esme Cribb: Trump Admin Keeps Up Attacks on CBO Before It Scores ACA
Jesse Drucker: Wealthy Would Get Billions in Tax Cuts Under Obamacare
Jessica Glenza: Trump supporters in the heartland fear being left behind
by GOP health plan
Ezra Klein: Is the Republican health plan designed to fail? This piece
has gotten a lot of attention for Klein's fawning portrait of Paul Ryan:
Paul Ryan isn't an amateur. He is, arguably, the most skilled policy
entrepreneur of his generation. He is known for winning support from
political actors and policy validators who normally reject his brand of
conservatism. The backing he's built for past proposals comes from
painstaking work talking to allies, working on plans with them, preparing
them for what he'll release, hearing out their concerns, constructing
processes where they feel heard, and so on. He's good at this kind of
The implication is that since he didn't do all that this time he
must not be serious about it.
Paul Krugman has a response:
But has Ryan ever put together major legislation with any real chance
of passage? Yes, he made a name for himself with big budget proposals
that received adoring press coverage. But these were never remotely
operational -- they were filled not just with magic asterisks -- tax
loophole closing to be determined later, cost savings to be achieved
via means to be determined later -- but with elements, like converting
Medicare into a voucher system, that would have drawn immense flack if
they got anywhere close to actually happening.
In other words, he has never offered real plans for overhauling
social insurance, just things that sound like plans but are basically
just advertisements for some imaginary plan that might eventually be
produced. Actually pulling together a coalition to get stuff done? Has
he ever managed that?
What I'd say is that Ryan is not, in fact, a policy entrepreneur.
He's just a self-promoter, someone who has successfully sold a credulous
media on a character he plays: Paul Ryan, Serious, Honest Conservative
Policy Wonk. This is really his first test at real policymaking, which
is a very different process. There's nothing strange about his inability
to pull off the real thing, as opposed to the act. . . .
In other words, maybe this looks like amateur hour because it is.
Ryan isn't a skilled politician inexplicably losing his touch, he's a
con artist who started to believe his own con; Republicans didn't hammer
out a workable plan because there is no such plan, and anyway they have
no idea what that would involve.
Or to put it another way, this could just be more malevolence tempered
Jordan Weissmann: Trumpcare's Only Fan Is a Massive Insurance Company That
Really Need a Favor Right Now
Matthew Yglesias: The Republican health plan is a huge betrayal of
Trump's campaign promises: As if anything Trump's done as president
Julia Belluz: Scott Gottlieb, Trump's FDA pick, explained: "Trump wants
to deregulate the Food and Drug Administration. He chose the right guy for
Anna Lenzer: Trump's Panama Problem And the Panama story didn't even
make Matthew Rosza's
This week in Donald Trump's conflicts of interest, the juiciest of
which was "Trump opened a hotel in the capital of Azerbaijan with 'The
Corleones of the Caspian' as his partners." Also this quote from Eric
Trump: "The stars have all aligned. I think our brand is the hottest
it has ever been." That quote was pulled from
Eric Lipton/Susanne Craig: With Trump in White House, His Golf Properties
Les Leopold: 6 reasons why Trump is too weak to save American jobs:
All six boil down to the fact that Trump, as a lifelong businessman,
inevitably winds up siding with investors in their pursuit of profits
over concerns for jobs and livelihoods. The "six reasons" are simply
examples of that, and are far from exhaustive.
Dahlia Lithwick: Is Trump's Second Immigration Ban Unconstitutional?
Yes, among other things at least as troubling.
Bill Moyers/Henry A Giroux: Our President Is Up to No Good:
Actually, two pieces. Giroux's is especially stirring (at least,
reading it right after writing the piece on the Olathe shootings
Trump's ascendancy has made visible a plague of deep-seated civic
illiteracy, a corrupt political system and a contempt for reason
that has been decades in the making. It also points to the withering
of civic attachments, the decline of public life and the use of
violence and fear to shock and numb everyday people. Galvanizing
his base of true-believers in post-election rallies, the country
witnesses how politics is transformed into a spectacle of fear,
divisions and disinformation. Under President Trump, the scourge
of mid-20th century authoritarianism has returned, not only in the
menacing plague of populist rallies, fear-mongering, hate and
humiliation, but also in an emboldened culture of war, militarization
and violence that looms over society like a rising storm.
Matthew Nussbaum/Josh Dawsey: Trump's in the White House bubble, and he
loves it: "He's a creature of habit . . . and it works for him."
Janet Reitman: Betsy DeVos' Holy War: Some things you may not know:
Betsy DeVos' father, Edgar Prince, made his fortune manufacturing auto
parts (including perhaps his greatest innovation, the lighted sun visor),
and was one of the single largest donors to the Christian right. "No one
in the United States gave more money to James Dobson's Focus on the Family,
its Michigan Family Forum affiliate or its Washington, D.C., arm, the
Family Research Council, than the late Edgar Prince," notes Russ Bellant,
a Michigan author who has written extensively about the religious right.
After Prince died in 1995, Betsy's mother, Elsa Prince Broekhuizen,
continued funding religious-right causes, as has Betsy's brother, Erik
Prince, founder of the military contractor Blackwater. Among the causes
the Dick and Betsy DeVos Family Foundation has supported is the Foundation
for Traditional Values, which produced multi-media seminars and presentations
on "America's Judeo-Christian heritage," including the "biblical roots" of
government and our education system.
And some stuff you probably did:
Neither Betsy DeVos, who is 59, nor any of her children have ever attended
a public school; her Cabinet post also marks her first full-time job in the
education system. Even before her nomination, she was a controversial figure
in education circles, a leading advocate of "school choice" through student
vouchers, which give parents public dollars to send their children to private
and parochial schools.
There is also a quote from Trump calling school choice the "civil rights
issue of our time." Admittedly, not a fellow well known for his devotion to
Alexandra Rosenmann: Trump supporters call for "liberal genocide" and
deportation of Jews at Arizona rally
Harry Siegel: Trump to US Attorney Preet Bahrara: You're Fired:
This followed a political purge as Trump and Sessions "ordered 46
United States attorneys to resign immediately." When Bahrara didn't,
he was fired. Also see:
US Attorney in NY Fired by DOJ After Trump Previously Promised He'd
Stay On; also
Cleve R Wootson Jr/Amy B Wang: Preet Bharara said he wanted to be a
US attorney 'forever.' Well, he was just fired. One unfortunate
thing here is that focus on Bharara, whose record on prosecuting Wall
Street was checkered at best, has distracted from the bigger story,
which is the extent Trump and Sessions have decided to use federal
prosecutors for their own political agenda. [PS: Belatedly found one
piece that picks up this thread:
Elizabeth Warren says Trump pushed out prosecutors to install
Mark Joseph Stern: Donald Trump and the Chamber of Secrets: "The
president's solicitor general nominee Noel Francisco thinks executive
privilege should shield pretty much everything."
Cary Wedler: US Drone Strikes Have Gone Up 432% Since Trump Took Office:
On a per/day basis, compared to Obama's much longer term.
Also a few links less directly tied to Trump, though sometimes still
to America's bout of political insanity:
Bernard Avishai: It's Not Too Early for the Next Democratic Ticket:
Dude, it's way too fucking early. In fact, the subject should be zipped
until way after the 2018 elections, and I wish we could put it off until
well into 2020: partly because it'll do nothing but distract the press
from the real issues, but mostly because the next candidate should
represent the party, not usurp the party to stroke her or his ego
(which is what being the designated leader would do).
Dean Baker: Drugs Are Cheap: Why Do We Let Governments Make Them Expensive?
It's worth remembering that private health insurance was quick to add
pharmaceutical coverage to their plans because drug therapies were often
cheaper than medical interventions. Medicare was slow to follow suit,
and by the time they did drugs weren't so cheap any more. The price rise
was partly the effect of more money being available through insurance,
and partly the increasing callousness of the profit motive, but to cash
in the key has been government-granted patent monopolies, which give
companies the right to push patients (and insurers) to their limits --
a "right" they've lately been exploiting so universally it's become a
major driver of health care cost. There is an easy fix to this, and a
little public investment would more than make up for any reductions
companies might make to r&d.
Baker also wrote a major piece on the track record of his fellow
The Wrongest Profession.
Thomas Frank: The Revolution Will Not Be Curated: There must be a
better word for what he's getting at, but the people he's talking about
are those who sort and select things (originally art) to be presented
to larger groups of people (originally exhibitions). To call these people
filters suggests they're more passive than they in fact are. Another word
that comes to mind is experts, but that suggests they know more than most
seem to, and that they work by some relatively objective criteria which
we should respect -- in fact, many people who call themselves experts
are distinguished mostly by their partisan support for special interests.
Obviously, much can go wrong with all this curating, but it's impossible
to be broadly informed without tapping into intermediaries who pay much
more attention to specialists. Virtually all of the links in this post
came to my attention through curators I've found worthwhile, and if
you're reading this you're doing the same. Indeed, that makes me a
curator, as I suppose I am in other domains, such as recorded jazz.
Still not sure what Frank's title means, unless it's that in order to
break out of today's debilitating conventional wisdom you have to be
aware of how all this curating limits your options, and seek out info
beyond the commonplace. But as a practical matter, that just means
that you need to find better curators (and, I would add, hold them
Henry Grabar: Corporate Incentives Cost US $45 Billion in 2015,
Don't Really Work: Photo features Boeing, who recently extorted
$8.7 billion from Washington state for not (for now) moving jobs
Aamna Mohdin: The Dutch far right's election donors are almost exclusively
American: So rich Americans are trying to buy another election, something
they have a lot of practice doing at home, and as a little reporting would
easily reveal, abroad. For more on right-wing Dutch candidate Geert Wilders:
Michael Birnbaum: The peroxide-blonde crusader who could soon top Dutch
elections. Especially interesting is Wilders' experience of working
on an Israeli kibbutz ("a trip he described as transformative in shaping
his pro-Israel, anti-Muslim views"). Another American publicly supporting
Wilders is Rep. Steve King (R-IA):
Iowa congressman lauds far-right Dutch politician, warning over
'demographics'. Curious how chummy the International Fraternal
Order of Fascists is at the moment, because one lesson history
teaches us is that nationalists ultimately find themselves at war
with one another, or falling obediently into the orbit of stronger
nationalists (as Quisling, Petain, and others prostrated their
nations to Hitler's Germany). Do the Dutch really want to elect
Wilders (or the French Le Pen) to be even more under Trump's (or
Putin's) thumb? [PS: Also on Wilders' funding:
Max Blumenthal: The Sugar Mama of Anti-Muslim Hate.]
Rich Montgomery/Andian Cummings: Arcs of two lives intersect in tragedy
at Austins bar in Olathe: Profiles of the Trump-inspired shooter
(Adam W. Purinton: "51, had long since seen his career as an air traffic
controller come to an end, gaining a reputation as an unhappy drinker as
he drifted from one low-level job to another") and victim (Srinivas
Kuchibbotla, 32, an engineer who had immigrated from Hyderabad, India;
he "had the American dream in his grasp: great job, happy marriage,
new house and plans for children"). Of course, Trump's spokespeople
were quick to disavow the shooting, but aside from its ending (which
they'd prefer to leave ambiguous) the whole Trump campaign was based
on exploiting the frustrations of folks like Purinton and rallying
their furor against people like Kuchibbotla. And it certainly is the
case that American businesses prefer hiring brilliant and optimistic
foreign-born professionals to trying to train undereducated and aging
malcontents like Purinton. We live in a society where even such paltry
welfare efforts as we make are more meant to belittle beneficiaries
than to build them up, so it's easy to see how Trump's supporters can
think the system favors immigrants over natives. And Democrats, having
taken every side of the issue (including for the Clintons a leading
roll in "ending welfare as we know it"), have had no coherent message,
allowing Trump to exploit this simmering wrath -- and to stir it up,
as we see here.
Vijay Prashad: The Rehabilitation of George W. Bush, War Criminal
Paul Rosenberg: Stronger than Tea: The anti-Trump resistance is much
bigger than the Tea Party -- and it has to be.
Danielle Ryan: WikiLeaks CIA dump makes the Russian hacking story even
murkier -- if that's possible: I haven't followed the latest WikiLeaks
dump of confidential CIA documents enough to form an opinion on whether
it's a good or bad or mixed thing, and frankly don't much care. Clearly,
we already knew that the CIA was out of control, which we should have
expected simply due to the cloak of secrecy under which it works. Still,
this article makes some interesting points:
The Vault 7 leaks are not exactly a smoking gun for those who maintain
Russia's innocence where the DNC hacks and leaks are concerned -- but
they're not insignificant either. If anything, the new leaks should make
people think a little harder before putting their complete trust in the
CIA's public conclusions about the acts (or alleged acts) of enemy
states. . . .
The fact that the CIA -- an organization of professionals trained
in the most sophisticated methods of deception -- is front and center
promoting the idea that Assange is a Russian agent, should be enough
for anyone to take that idea with a pinch of salt.
Thursday, March 9. 2017
Top local story here has been wildfire, the predictable result of
a very dry winter and three or more days of high winds. On Wednesday,
the Wichita Eagle front page, above the fold, consisted of one huge
picture of fire and the headline "Unprecedented." The story revealed
that about 60% of
Clark County (WSW of Wichita, south and a bit east of Dodge City,
at population 2215 pretty much the definition of nowhere) has been
burnt. That fire spread east into Comanche County (pop. 1891), and
there have been more scattered fires near Hays and Hutchinson. For
a rundown as of Wednesday, see
Tim Potter: Over 650,000 acres burned so far, state says. The
wind died down a bit on Thursday, so presumably the worst is over.
Note, however, that the annual record broke last week (a bit early,
don't you think?) dates from just last year.
The big story of the week was that Paul Ryan, with Donald Trump's
evident blessing, unveiled his "repeal-and-replace" health care bill.
He's managed to disgust both the right and the left, and more than
a few people in between. Some reactions:
Jamelle Bouie: How Republicans Botched Their Health Care Bill: Title
from the link, better than "Trumpcare Is Already on Life Support" on the
David Dayen: The Republican Health-Care Bill Is the Worst of So Many
Worlds: it "fails on every score -- except cutting rich people's
Tim Dickinson: The Dark Strategy at the Core of the GOP Health Care
Richard Eskow: The American Health Care Act Is a Wealth Grab, Not a
Mike Konczal: The Truth About the GOP Health-Care Plan
Paul Krugman: A Plan Set Up to Fail
Josh Marshall: Let's Agree Not to Lie About GOPCare: Starts with a
rather striking lie: "Here is the simple secret of health insurance and
health care provision policy: You can create efficiencies and savings
by constructing functioning markets." Actually, it's been clear for
decades that health care markets are inherently dysfunctional -- i.e.,
that Marshall's assumption is horribly faulty. His next line is also
untrue: "But at the end of the day, more money equals more care." This
doesn't even demand theory: it implies that the US has 3-4 times more
care than France or Japan, which is empirically false. Marshall then
argues that when Ryan promises to reduce costs, he's really just saying
he'll be offering less care, which is, well, true, but that's mostly
because Ryan isn't trying to change any of the cost factors behind
health care (e.g., by limiting private party profits). He then seems
to endorse right-wing opponents of Ryan's plan, saying "the real way
to do this is simply to repeat the Affordable Care Act root and branch --
no pretending about making it better and 'access' and other nostrums,"
but he doesn't see that happening because "Republicans have essentially
accepted the premise of the ACA: which is to say, the people who got
coverage under the ACA should have coverage." But Republicans
refuse to admit to that position, so Ryan has tailored the program to
fit Republican biases, which is to say to protect the insurability of
people who can afford it and screw everyone else. Marshall ultimately
make some solid points ("The current plan also starts the phaseout of
Medicaid and preps for the phaseout of Medicare -- a key policy goal
for Paul Ryan"), but makes a lot of stupid blunders along the way.
John Nichols: Sean Spicer Is Lying About Trump's Health-Care Debacle:
Joy-Ann Reid: Donald Trump Signs On to Paul Ryan's Let-Them-Die 'Health-Care'
Michael Tomasky: It Sure Looks Like Paul Ryan Wants Ryancare to Fail:
"The tip-off to me came Tuesday around noon, when Heritage Action, the
political arm of the Heritage Foundation, issued a tweet condemning the
bill. If Ryan didn't even bother to grease this with Heritage, he's just
not being serious."
Matthew Yglesias: Republicans are now playing the price for a years-long
campaign of Obamacare lies: "Republican leaders and conservative
intellectuals, for the most part, didn't really believe nonsense about
death panels or that Obama was personally responsible for high-deductible
insurance plans. What they fundamentally did not like is that the basic
framework of the law is to redistribute money by taxing high-income
families and giving insurance subsidies to needy ones." I want to add
two points here: the first is that every health care reform going back
at least to Medicare protected industry profits and allowed the industry
to increase those profits by inflating costs, even though this quickly
price health care beyond what most families could afford; and second,
that the Republicans have always had to jump through hoops to pretend
that increasing industry profits was good for the people (at least the
ones they profess to care about). These positions have become increasingly
untenable over time, but Republicans have been able to make political hay
as long as they could get people to blame the Democrats, whose own policies
have only been marginally more viable, and whose reforms have saddled them
with the lion's share of blame for their shortcomings.
Some scattered links this week in the Trumpiverse:
Robert L Borosage: Foreign Policy Elites Have No Answer for Trump:
"Few entities have been more discombobulated by our madcap president
than the bipartisan foreign policy establishment, which former Obama
foreign-policy adviser Ben Rhodes once dubbed 'the blob.'" The Blob,
in the form of "a bipartisan committee of the impeccably credentialed --
eight men, two women, all white" working under the Brookings Institute
trademark, answered Trump with a report rehashing all the nostrums that
have worked so badly over the last 10-20-30 years:
The nabobs recommend a measured course, a posture more muscular than
"the detachment" of Barack Obama and less reckless than the "over-commitment"
of George W. Bush. They detail the elements. We will police the seas and
the heavens. We will allow no rival power to claim even a regional sphere
of influence. We will be dominant militarily in every theater from the
Russian border to the South China Sea to cyberspace.
This requires a major military buildup, including investments in
modernizing our nuclear weapons, "long-range strike capability, armed
unmanned aviation, ISR platforms, undersea warfare, directed energy,
space, and cyber security" and more. Yes, our allies should spend more
too, but we should "not ask to much of fragile Europe."
What does this mean on the ground? They recommend dispatching more
forces to the Russian border to counter "Russian revisionism," including
"a robust US and allied presence in the Baltic States, Central and
Eastern Europe and the Balkans." They want greater assistance to Ukraine
"to help ensure its prosperity and success," with a promise of "lethal
military aid" if Russia escalates its interference.
They propose "increasing engagement" to "restore stability" in the
Middle East, ramping up the fight against ISIS and Al Qaeda. They also
urge continued deployment of military forces in the Gulf "to keep the
oil flowing," even though the United States doesn't need it.
Trump's first erratic weeks in office have already created a horrifying
sense that the commander in chief is not in command of himself. But the
conventional wisdom of the bipartisan foreign-policy establishment is in
many ways even more disconnected from reality than Trump's tweets.
Jordan Charlton: Donald Trump's Hoodwinking of Working Class People Now
Stephen F Cohen: The 'Fog of Suspicion' and of Worsening Cold War. Also
Matt Taibbi: Why the Russia Story Is a Minefield for Democrats and the
Dan De Luce/Paul McCleary: Trump's Ramped-Up Bombing in Yemen Signals More
Aggressive Use of Military: Trump managed to sow enough ambiguity in
his campaign it wasn't clear whether he's dial back the reckless and often
pointless military adventures of the past 15 years, or escalate them like
crazy. Early evidence suggests the latter, which is why so many of these
links point to possible wars, but this one deals with an active front, a
harbinger of things to come. Also see:
Paul McLeary: More US Troops Bound for Afghanistan, as Marines, Comandos,
Arrive in Syria. The situation in Syria is further complicated by
warfare between ostensible US allies (Turks and Kurds); see:
Liz Sly: With a show of Stars and Stripes, US forces in Syria try to
keep warring allies apart.
Lawrence Douglas: President Donald Trump is the most powerful cornered
animal in the world: I'm not sure we should be reminding him how
powerful he is, and quoting Joseph Welch ("have you left no sense of
decency?") is rather beside the point.
Katelyn Fossett: The Trouble with Trump's Immigrant Crimes list:
Specifically, VOICE (Victims Of Immigrant Crime Engagement).
DD Guttenplan: How Donald Trump Speaks to Ohio's Autoworkers:
Some quotes: "When Barack Obama ran, people here were not afraid of
his blackness. They saw someone who talked about things that had
meaning: getting the health-care system to work. Less focus on
foreign wars." And: "I think the vote in Ohio was as much against
Hillary as it was for Trump." And: "People still perceive NAFTA
and TPP as the root of the problem. Until we say it will never be
profitable to oppress other workers, corporations will always
move for cheap labor."
Dhar Jamail: On Labor and Beyond, Trump Is Following Scott Walker's
Patrick Lawrence: Are We Drifting Toward War With North Korea?
Officially, the US is still at war with North Korea, and has been
ever since the "temporary" 1953 armistice, although it's gotten to
the point where it'd be awful costly to renew it, and there's hardly
any cost to maintaining the status quo. At least that's Washington's
view. North Korea is far more affected by sanctions and isolation,
and has been frustrated at every corner in their efforts to move the
status quo. About the only thing they've found that gets the world's
attention is threats, which have repeatedly given American hawks the
opportunity to advocate military actions. What's new, of course, is
Trump, who combines ignorance and antipathy and bully bluster to an
unprecedented degree. I doubt he came into office scheming, as Bush
did viz. Iraq, to start a war, but he's so unstable, and his security
and state picks put so little stock in diplomacy, that any number of
situation could flare up out of control. Korea is an obvious one,
and Iran is another, and some are even worried about China.
Jeffrey Lewis: North Korea Is Practicing for Nuclear War: More
inflamatory is the subhed: "It's preparing for a nuclear first strike."
This is a good example of how Washington foreign policy mandarins
exacerbate tension by inflating the threat North Korea poses.
Eric Lipton/Binyamin Appelbaum: Leashes Come Off Wall Street, Gun Sellers,
Polluters and More
Trita Parsi/Tyler Cullis: Trump Didn't Start the Anti-Iranian Fire:
The anti-Iran war lobby goes back many years.
Philip Rucker/Robert Costa/Ashley Parker: Inside Trump's fury: The president
rages at leaks, setbacks and accusations
Rucker and Costa also wrote:
Bannon vows a daily fight for 'deconstruction of the administrative
state': Not sure why he'd use an academic term for deep analysis
"a philosophical or critical method which asserts that meanings,
metaphysical constructs, and hierarchical oppositions . . . are
always rendered unstable by their dependence on ultimately arbitrary
signifiers") when he more likely means "dismantling" or "destruction" --
unless, that is, he's one of those all talk, no action guys.
Also a few links less directly tied to Trump, though sometimes still
to America's bout of political insanity:
Dean Baker: Progressives Should Support Policies That Help All Working-Class
People: This is all good; for example:
On trade this means policies designed to reduce the trade deficit. This
issue here is not "winning" in negotiations with our trading partners.
It's a question of priorities in trade negotiations.
Rather than demanding stronger and longer protections for Pfizer's
patents and Microsoft's copyrights, we should be getting our trading
partners to support a reduction in the value of the dollar in order to
make our goods and services more competitive. If we can reduce the trade
deficit by 1-2 percentage points of GDP ($180 billion to $360 billion)
it will create 1-2 million manufacturing jobs, improving the labor market
for the working class.
We should use trade to reduce the pay of doctors and other highly paid
professionals. If we open the door to qualified professionals from other
countries we can save hundreds of billions of dollars a year on health
care and other costs, while reducing inequality.
We should also support policies that rein in the financial sector,
such as reducing fees that pension funds pay to private equity and hedge
funds and their investment advisors. This money comes out of the pockets
of the rest of us and goes to some of the richest people in the country.
A financial transactions tax, which could eliminate tens of billions of
dollars spent each year on useless trades, would also be a major step
towards reducing inequality.
Policies that put downward pressure on the pay of CEOs and other top
executives would also help the working class. This could mean, for example,
making it easier for shareholders to reduce CEO pay. In the nonprofit
sector we could place a cap on the pay of employees for anyone seeking
tax-exempt status. Universities and nonprofit charities could still pay
their presidents whatever they wanted; they just wouldn't get a taxpayer
There is a long list of market-based policies that we can pursue to
reverse the upward redistribution of the last four decades. (For the
fuller list see
Rigged). These are policies that we should pursue because it is the
right thing to do. It will help the working class of all races, including
the white working class.
I've been reading Ira Katznelson's Fear Itself: The New Deal and
the Origins of Our Time, which puts a lot of emphasis on how white
Southern Democrats supported radical New Deal policies up to about 1938,
when many switched sides, most famously joining with Republicans to pass
the Taft-Hartley Act which halted the growth of unions and ultimately
did them great damage. The South was, at the time, by far the poorest
part of the country (well, still is), so as long as New Deal policies
were crafted not to upset the South's Jim Crow racial order politicians
were happy for the help. However, by the late 1930s, especially with
the Wagner Act supporting unionization in 1935, Southern whites started
to feel threatened, and decided they'd rather keep their racial order
pure and poor than do anything that might help both whites and blacks.
It is one of the great shames of American history that one of our few
major periods of progressivism was so fraught with racism. (Actually,
the same combination hampered Wilson's progressivism, and before that
the Populist Party, at least in the South. For that matter, the great
expansion of voting rights in the Jackson-Van Buren era was more often
than not accompanied by disenfranchisement of free blacks.)
Thomas Frank: Don't let establishment opportunists ruin the resistance
movement: I agree that there's a lot of similarity between the
anti-Trump resistance and the anti-Obama Tea Party, but there is very
little symmetry between left and right, either in the streets or among
the partisan establishment (although I suspect the Republicans were
more inclined to feed their protest movement because they considered
it less of a personal threat -- wrongly, perhaps, if you take Trump
to be a Tea Party champion, but for now let's just say that Democratic
party centrists have a lot more to feel guilty about).
Joseph P Fried: Lynne Stewart, Lawyer Imprisoned in Terrorism Case, Dies
Paul Glastris: Charles Peters on Recapturing the Soul of the Democratic
Rebecca Gordon: Forever War:
During the 2016 election campaign, Donald Trump often sounded like a
pre-World War II-style America First isolationist, someone who thought
the United States should avoid foreign military entanglements. Today,
he seems more like a man with a uniform fetish. He's referred to his
latest efforts to round up undocumented immigrants in this country as
"a military operation." He's similarly stocked his cabinet with one
general still on active duty, various retired generals, and other
military veterans. His pick for secretary of the interior, Montana
Congressman Ryan Zinke, served 23 years as a Navy SEAL.
Clearly, these days Trump enjoys the company of military men. He's
more ambivalent about what the military actually does. On the campaign
trail, he railed against the folly that was -- and is -- the (second)
Iraq War, maintaining with questionable accuracy that he was "totally
against" it from the beginning. It's not clear, however, just where
Trump thinks the folly lies -- in invading Iraq in the first place or
in failing to "keep" Iraq's oil afterward. It was a criticism he reprised
when he introduced Mike Pompeo as his choice to run the CIA. "Mike," he
explained, "if we kept the oil, you probably wouldn't have ISIS because
that's where they made their money in the first place." Not to worry,
however, since as he also suggested to Pompeo, "Maybe we'll have another
chance." Maybe the wrong people had just fought the wrong Iraq war, and
Donald Trump's version will be bigger, better, and even more full of win!
Perhaps Trump's objection is simply to wars we don't win. As February
ended, he invited the National Governors Association to share his nostalgia
for the good old days when "everybody used to say 'we haven't lost a war" --
we never lost a war -- you remember." Now, according to the president,
"We never win a war. We never win. And we don't fight to win. We don't
fight to win. So we either got to win, or don't fight it at all."
Well, if you'd just stop to give it a bit of thought, you'd realize
that no one ever wins a war. Maybe you lose less bad than the other
side does, but everyone comes out worse for the experience. Anyone who
thought we won the 20th century's two world wars simply didn't account
for everything we lost (admittedly, a pretty widespread problem, given
how much money some people who didn't fight made off those wars). And
anyone who tells you we won (or could have won if only we'd shown more
unity and resolve) wars in Korea or Vietnam or Afghanistan or Iraq
simply has their head wedged. What makes Trump so dangerous is his
obsession with winning, and worse still his conviction that's he such
a big winner -- that the only possible result of whatever he chooses
to do will be winning, and indeed that all it takes to "make America
great again" is leadership by a great winner like himself.
Danny Sjursen: I Was Part of the Iraq War Surge. It Was a Disaster.
Sunday, March 5. 2017
For a while there, I thought I had shot my wad on Thursday's
Midweek Roundup, but it didn't take long for the floodgates to open.
I thought I'd start this with a remarkable letter that appeared in the
Wichita Eagle by Gregory H. Bontrager, under the title "Trump on our
side" (emphasis added):
The same media that is hounding President Trump are the same ideological
malcontents that gave President Obama a free pass for eight lost years
of American history. Finally, the middle class has a friend in the White
If you like welfare, food stamps or unchecked borders, Obama is the
man for you. But if you work for a living or own your own business,
Trump is on your side. Despite media hype, the age of the working man
has arrived, as personified by Trump.
No more apologies will be accepted from America-hating elitists and
the clueless children they foster on college campuses.
The American worker will no longer be held hostage to insane
regulations by runaway bureaucracies such as the Environmental Protection
Agency or rogue tax collectors in the IRS who have been weaponized by
Democrats to suppress political opposition.
The Democratic Party cares more about the rights of illegal aliens
than your children being able to walk safely down the streets of their
Whether they sit on the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals or the city
councils of sanctuary cities, it is time to push aside these apostate
Americans and take our country back.
As someone who grew up in a union household, I can't help but be
moved by this "working man" rhetoric, although I recognize that close
to half of wage-earners in America are women, and that most of the
jobs people work at today are in the service sector, more or less
removed from the muscle and grime associated with the working men of
yore -- hardly a vanished species, but much less prevalent than in
my father's and grandfather's days. Nor do I begrudge the right of
some people "who own their own business" to think of themselves as
"working men" -- those, at least, who actually do some of their own
work, as opposed to the ones who merely bark orders and push papers,
but I know full well that nothing changes a person like controlling
a business' checkbook, especially politically.
Still, what I find unfathomable is how anyone who's not a real
estate magnate (or maybe a hedge fund manager) can imagine that
Donald Trump -- a man who's spent every waking moment in the last
fifty years pursuing his own wealth and celebrating his own ego --
would be on their side, or even give half a shit about them. Even
the author's laundry list of phobias doesn't justify his leap of
Most wage earners -- a more accurate if less romantic term than
"working man" -- understand that welfare and food stamps are part
of a safety net that, when properly supported, protects the lowest
earners from disaster. Even people who never directly make use of
such support benefit from living in a society which doesn't allow
abject poverty to fester. Similarly, most government regulation is
meant to protect workers and communities from the sort of abuses
that inevitably tempt profit-seeking private businesses. It's easy
to see why some short-sighted business owners may take umbrage at
inspectors and tax collectors, but aside from lost jobs when badly
managed businesses fail, workers generally benefit from policies
which keep businesses from cutting corners.
It is true that if you think your problems are caused by policies
which limit the greed and avarice of private companies, Trump will
(sometimes) be "on your side." And if you see "illegal aliens" as
some sort of plague, you may take some pleasure in Trump's callous
and cruel demonization of America's most downtrodden immigrants and
refugees. But neither of those stances makes you a "working man,"
nor does it guarantee that Trump will be your champion. For starters,
the man is a world class liar and demagogue, as should already be
clear from his selective memory of his campaign promises.
The stuff about Obama and the Democrats is harder to explain,
other than that the author appears to have indeed been held hostage
the last eight years, not by federal bureaucrats but by the right-wing
fantasy media. Although appeals to the vanishing middle class have
been a staple of both parties, few politicians in recent memory have
devoted so much of their rhetoric to the cause as has Barack Obama.
One might fault Obama for delivering so little to the middle class:
under him, despite a modest tax increase on the rich, income inequality
has continued to increase, the safety net has continued to fray, and
his signature health care program delivered at best a mixed blessing.
But the idea that with Trump replacing Obama "the middle class has a
friend in the White House" is patently absurd.
To be clear, the "middle class" most of my generation grew up in --
we're talking 1950s here -- was the product of two things: a strong
union movement which lifted both blue- and white-collar wage-earners
to the level where they could own houses and send their kids to public
colleges, and near-confiscatory (up to 90%) income tax rates on the
still well-to-do managers and owners. (Paul Krugman called this "the
great compression" -- see The Conscience of a Liberal.) Look
for anything like this in Trump's platform: there's not even a hint
of anything comparable. Rather, what the Republicans -- and this is
certainly why Trump chose to become one -- have pushed ever since
Reagan (or Calvin Coolidge or William McKinley or the robber barons
who took over the GOP in the 1870s) is the notion that we'll all be
better off if only we let businesses pursue profits unfettered by
any sense of social responsibility. It should be clear by now that
only the very rich have benefited from that theory, and only to the
extent that they've been able to isolate themselves from the world
they've left behind. The "middle class" is not a natural condition
in capitalist society: it exists only because policies have forced
a more equal distribution of the national wealth. Take those policies
away, and, sure, a few people can become much richer, while a great
many slip into increasing poverty. And that's not just theory. That's
what has actually happened, to the extent that Republicans have been
able to seize power since 1980.
So there's nothing in Trump's platform to make him "a friend of the
middle class." But it's just as incredible to think he might be a friend
of anyone. Friendship is based on empathy, common understanding, and
mutual respect. To achieve that usually requires familiarity, engagement,
and interaction. But how much opportunity does someone like Trump get
to interact with even "middle class" (much less poor) people when he
lives in the penthouse on top of Trump Tower, is chauffeured around
town, and flies on private planes around the world -- at least to the
few spots where he owns luxury resorts full of deferential employees
and frequented by guests as rarefied as he himself is? Even leaving
aside his personality, charitably described as narcissistic, no one
can reasonably expect him to relate to, much less empathize with, the
everyday problems of most Americans.
The letter contains more absurdities, both of fact -- Obama, rather
notoriously, deported more undocumented immigrants than any previous
president -- and of interpretation -- I can't even imagine the "free
pass" he thinks Obama was granted, or what "eight lost years of American
history" even means. (Although thanks to Bush and Republican obstruction
of Obama we've wasted sixteen years. and counting, that could have been
used to counter global warming -- something future generations are sure
to judge us harshly for.)
The Kansas State Legislature passed a law repealing Gov. Sam Brownback's
income tax exemption for business owners, at long last promising to fill
a budgetary hole that has plagued Kansas since 2011. Brownback vetoed,
the House overrode, but the Senate barely sustained the veto, primarily
thanks to Republican Majority Leader Susan Wagle switching her position.
Richard Crowson drew the cartoon at right to mark the occasion. Sedgwick
County Commissioner Richard Ranzau took exception to the cartoon, noting
that depicting Wagle as a "female dog" was tantamount to calling her a,
well, you know. Ranzau is probably the most outrageously reactionary
politician in Kansas, at least in recent years. Of course, it isn't his
fault that his name resonates as some lesser known Nazi extermination
camp, one you can't quite put your finger on. Still, one would be less
likely to make the connection if he had somewhat more moderate take on
Crowson thanks Ranzau for showcasing cartoon.
Robert Christgau forwarded this tweet by
James F Haning II, proclaiming it "perfect":
Donald Trump is a stupid man's idea of a smart man, a poor man's idea
of a rich man, a weak man's idea of a strong man.
There certainly is a lot of projection concerning Trump. There is
scant evidence to support many of the traits his fans attribute to
him (although, even without tax returns, he does a fairly good job of
passing for rich, even compared to the bottom of the top percentile).
And rich seems to buttress the notions of smart and strong, especially
given that they don't stand up all that well on their own. He has a
bully aspect, but that's mostly exercised through lawyers; other than
that he talks big, but is known to tone it down when faced with likely
opposition (as during his campaign stop in Mexico, where he offered
none of the slander and fury of his post-visit immigration rant). As
for smart, he's clearly not even remotely a smart man's idea of smart.
Whether stupid men are that stupid is another question: he clearly has
a knack for exploiting some people's insecurities, and for projecting
himself as their savior. Part of that comes from a very instinctual,
almost bred-in, sense humans have that in crisis they should rally
behind the guy who looks strongest -- an instinct that's likely to
give you a Napoleon, a Churchill, or a Hitler (most of whom turned
out to be disasters). Part is that many Americans have way too much
admiration for the rich. And part is the luck of running against
people who hardly inspire anyone at all. But much of it is that with
Trump we have a man who is extraordinarily self-centered and immodest,
so much so he doesn't betray any lack of confidence in his abilities,
even though they are manifest to anyone who bothers to look.
Some scattered links this week in the Trumpiverse:
George Zornick/ZoŽ Carpenter: Everything Trump Did in His 6th Week That
Really Matters: A regular series that goes beyond chasing tweets.
- Halted a probe into airline-price transparency. "Stocks in
major airlines increased 2 percent."
- Absolved senior adviser Kellyanne Conway of wrongdoing. Re
her promotion of Ivanka Trump's clothing line, contrary to federal
ethics rules. "The White House concluded that Conway acted 'without
nefarious motive,' and did not announce any disciplinary actions."
- Swore in a commerce secretary with serious conflicts of
interest. Multi-billionaire Wilbur Ross, who among other things
"served as the vice-chair of the Bank of Cyprus, 'one of the key
offshore havens for illicit Russian finance.'"
- His attorney general recused himself from Russia inquiries.
Jeff Sessions, who falsely testified to the US Senate during confirmation
that he had no contact with Russian officials.
- Announced a special exemption for the Keystone XL pipeline.
He also ordered that all pipelines be made with American steel "to the
maximum extent possible," which turns out to be not at all. (See
Keystone Pipeline Won't Use US Steel Despite Trump Pledge.)
- Ordered a review of water regulations. The first step
toward undoing clean water rules developed by the EPA under Obama.
Julia Edwards Ainsley: Trump administration considering separating women,
children at Mexico border
Eric Alterman: The Media's Addiction to False Equivalencies Has Left
Them Vulnerable to Trump: "Decades of conservative efforts to work
the press are paying off handsomely." I've described this as the "Earl
Weaver effect": you always argue with the umps, not so much to convince
them now as to make them more likely to give you a call later on (thus
avoiding another scarifying encounter).
Coral Davenport; Trump to Undo Vehicle Rules That Curb Global Warming:
"The E.P.A. will also begin legal proceedings to revoke a waiver for
California that was allowing the state to enforce tougher tailpipe
standards for its drivers." Also by Davenport:
Top Trump Advisers Are Split on Paris Agreement on Climate Change.
A few, like Rex Tillerson, recognize that withdrawal will have adverse
impact on how the US is viewed throughout the world. After all, it's
a pretty clear message: to protect our industry profits, we don't care
what the impact is to the rest of the world: fry, drown, whatever.
Note that even if the US doesn't formally withdraw, Trump's EPA is
already working hard to make climate catastrophe irreversible. Also
Steven Mufson/Jason Samenow/Brady Dennis: White House proposes steep
budget cut to leading climate science agency: maybe if we stop
studying the problem, we won't notice when it happens, so won't know
who to blame.
Josh Dawsey: Trump's advisers push him to purge Obama appointees:
Well, actually they'd like to purge much of the civil service as well
as a few dozen holdovers still trying to do their jobs. ("Candidates
for only about three dozen of 550 critical Senate-confirmed positions
have even been nominated.") A big part of the problem here is that
Trump campaigned by totally misrepresenting what Obama's administration
had been doing, treating it as all bad and therefore all in need of
radical change. But the election didn't change any laws, and policy
changes are subject to many checks and balances. No past administration
started with a clean slate, and most saw continuity as a virtue. Trump
is different partly because he set up the expectation of radical change,
and partly because his people have proven unusually incompetent -- I'd
say that's largely due to his party having made obstruction its norm
for eight years (after making destruction the norm for two terms under
GW Bush). Still, the immediately burning issue is that they're steamed
about leaks revealing their incompetence. A better solution would be
to try to behave in ways that aren't embarrassing to the public, but
that's a level of maturity they haven't grown into yet (if indeed they
Paul Feldman: A deadly pattern: States that went red during 2016 election
saw more workplace fatalities: Chart is pretty starkly amazing, with
only two states above 3.0 (New Mexico and Nevada) voting Democratic, and
only one state below 3.0 (Arizona) voting Republican.
Jon Finer/Robert Malley: How Our Strategy Against Terrorism Gave Us
Trump: Actually, the US doesn't have a strategy against terrorism
any more, and hasn't since it became clear that reconstructing Iraq
along Texas lines wasn't going to pay off. What passes for one is no
more than whacking all the terrorists we notice, or people in their
vicinity -- the sort of knee-jerk spasms dead chickens are noted for.
What gave us Trump was the callousness and ignorance of continuing a
hopeless and hapless war despite clear proof that of having no clue.
In early Bush days the US could present itself as some kind of friend,
and occasionally find acceptance and support, but those days are long
gone as the frustration of losing has turned Americans into haters of
all things Islamic. I think it was predictable from the start that
this approach would fail, but the authors are still committed to the
mission no matter how badly it fails.
Todd C Frankel: How Foxconn's broken pledges in Pennsylvania cast doubt
on Trump's jobs plan: One thing I'm struck by is how many of the
companies Trump's counting on to "invest in America" are Chinese -- not
just that their offers are subject to political ploys but that their
bottom line depends on getting lower labor costs in the US than they
are already getting in China. This doesn't seem like much of a golden
Jonathan Freedland: Donald Trump isn't the only villain -- the Republican
party shares the blame
David Cay Johnston: Trump's Lament That He 'Inherited a Mess' of an
Economy? False! Sad! Various measures of the economy were actually
up for the last months of Obama's second term, with the median wage
"began rising in 2013 after 15 years of being in the doldrums." This
momentum, a far cry from the "mess" Trump has already started blaming
for his own incompetence, will likely continue to buoy Trump for months
or even a couple years to come, until Trump (like Bush before him)
blows it all to hell. For more on this, see:
Christian Weller: The truth about Obama's economic legacy and Trump's
Paul Krugman: Goodbye Spin, Hello Raw Dishonesty:
At this point it's easier to list the Trump officials who haven't been
caught lying under oath than those who have. This is not an accident.
[ . . . ]
In part, of course, the pervasiveness of lies reflects the character
of the man at the top: No president, or for that matter major U.S.
political figure of any kind, has ever lied as freely and frequently
as Donald Trump. But this isn't just a Trump story. His ability to get
away with it, at least so far, requires the support of many enablers:
almost all of his party's elected officials, a large bloc of voters
and, all too often, much of the news media.
[ . . . ]
But then you watch something like the way much of the news media
responded to Mr. Trump's congressional address, and you feel despair.
It was a speech filled with falsehoods and vile policy proposals, but
read calmly off the teleprompter -- and suddenly everyone was declaring
the liar in chief "presidential."
The point is that if that's all it takes to exonerate the most
dishonest man ever to hold high office in America, we're doomed.
Krugman also wrote
Coal Is a State of Mind: Trump keeps insisting that he'll bring back
coal mining jobs, but nothing -- not technology and not economics --
suggests he can, no matter how much political will he puts behind it:
The answer, I'd guess, is that coal isn't really about coal -- it's a
symbol of a social order that is no more; both good things (community)
and bad (overt racism). Trump is selling the fantasy that this old order
can be restored, with seemingly substantive promises about specific jobs
mostly just packaging.
One thought that follows is that Trump may not be as badly hurt by
the failure of his promises as one might expect: he can't deliver coal
jobs, but he can deliver punishment to various kinds of others.
Laila Lalami: Donald Trump Is Making America White Again: The detail
points are worth reading, but file this under really bad titles. For
one thing, America has never been white, no matter how marginalized
the political system made non-whites. For another, while Trump will
make America more hurtful for non-whites, nothing he can do will change
the racial, religious, and/or ethnic demography of the nation to any
meaningful degree. The most he and his fans can hope for is to slow
down what they view as a demographic disaster, and perhaps to jigger
the system a bit to politically marginalize what they view as undesirable
Americans -- that is, after all, the point of the voter suppression laws
that are all the rage in Republican legislatures.
Jefferson Morley: Who wins? Donald Trump vs. the Koch Brothers on jobs:
I had to read down the article to even find out what Trump was thinking
of as his jobs program: turns out it's the BAT (Border Adjustment Tax),
which is really just a tariff. The Kochs are organizing against BAT, and
they have things Trump doesn't have, like a grass roots organization
that has been very successful at getting Republicans elected to Congress.
(In many ways Trump sailed to the presidency on their coat tails.) So
no, it's pretty much dead in Congress, and there's damn little Trump
can do about that.
Paul Rosenberg: America's infrastructure disaster -- and why Donald Trump
will do nothing to fix it:
The last time it was issued, back 2013, our infrastructure got an overall
grade of D+, with a projected $3.6 trillion investment needed by 2020 --
more than 3 1/2 times the amount that President Donald Trump has promised
(mostly from private investors) over a much longer period. Grades ranged
from a high of a single B- for solid waste to a low of D- in two categories --
levees and inland waterways. There were more straight Ds than anything else --
for schools, dams, aviation, roads, transit, wastewater, drinking water and
hazardous waste. Rail and bridges both rated C+, ports a straight C, public
parks and recreation a C- and energy a D+. Even Bart wouldn't be proud of
The key problem is that we let business ideologues (mostly but not
exclusively Republicans) convince us that government can't do anything
competently (except wage war, which kind of proved their point) so
we're better off not wasting our money -- just wait for the private
sector to fill the need. This is, of course, exactly not how we got
all our infrastructure in the first place (the whole point of Jacob
S Hacker/Paul Pierson: American Amnesia: How the War on Government
Led Us to Forget What Made America Prosper).
Matthew Rozsa: This week in Donald Trump's conflicts of interest:
Favoritism from Vancouver to New York City. Rosza also wrote
President Pence's problems: Indiana Democrats say VP was "the worst
governor we ever had" -- something to bear in mind before you
Katy Waldman: We All Talk Like Donald Trump Now: Sad! Oh, dear!
Even when we satirize him the mental rot is contagious! As if we didn't
have enough to worry about already!
Matthew Yglesias: Trump is Mad Online at Obama, Schwarzenegger, and
the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court: This day (March 4)
in tweets. Personally, I'm just gratified that when Trump refers to
"McCarthyism" and "Nixon/Watergate" he's treating them as bad things.
Nor do I especially mind him dissing Schwarzenegger, recently departed
from Trump's former reality show. For more on the latter (possibly
the week's least momentus "news") see:
Todd VanDerWerff: Arnold Schwarzenegger is leaving The Celebrity
Apprentice. He blames President Trump.
Also a few links less directly tied to Trump, though sometimes still
to America's broader bout of political insanity:
William Astore: In Afghanistan, America's Biggest Foe Is Self-Deception:
Actually, that's true in America as well. When future generations look
back on America today (assuming they should be so lucky), one big thing
they will puzzle over is how so many people could have believed in so
much really crazy shit.
Tony Blair, Who Brought US the War in Iraq, Lectures on the Evils of
Populism: Or more to the point, "he criticizes the left for abandoning
centrist politicians," like himself -- where centrism means pretending
to have a social conscience while serving the advancement of "clean"
businesses like high-tech and finance. ("Tony Blair has worked as an
advisor to JP Morgan and Zurich Financial Services, since retiring as
James Carden: Why Does the US Continue to Arm Terrorists in Syria?
Well, because the US doesn't have a clue what it's doing in Syria, or
for that matter all across the Middle East. Because US strategists feel
the need to choose sides in a contest where no sides are viable let
alone right. Because they can't contemplate of resolving problems but
by force of arms. And because they, like the "terrorists" they claim
to oppose, see terror as a tactic for advancing political goals.
Ian Cummings: FBI undercover stings foil terrorist plots -- but how many
are agency-created? I think it's pretty clear that Terry Loewen here
in Wichita would never have done anything but for FBI prodding. Several
other cases mentioned here are similar. I think the Garden City case
where three guys planned an attack on a Somali neighborhood was real,
but the FBI has a long history of trying to provoke crimes, and that
has probably gotten worse with all the "war on terror" nonsense.
Nelson Denis: After a Century of American Citizenship, Puerto Ricans
Have Little to Show for It
Richard J Evans: A Warning From History: Review of Volker Ullrich's
recent biography, Hitler: Ascent, 1889-1939, by the author of
The Coming of the Third Reich and two massive sequels. I can
see the fascination, but I'm more struck by the dissimilarities between
then and now -- one is reminded of Marx's quip about the arrival of
Napoleon III: "history repeats itself, first as tragedy then as farce."
Nor do I mean to downplay the real people hurt by Trump's policies and
acts. But Germany faced a real crisis in 1928-32, and Hitler presented
a plausible (albeit totally wrong-headed) solution until his absolute
self-confidence and ruthlessness drove the nation over a cliff. Trump's
demons are almost totally imaginary (his 40% unemployment rates, the
rampaging crime wave, hordes of demented illegal aliens, more hordes
of fanatical Muslims), and despite a modest Defense Department budget
bump (that will quickly be sopped up by graft) one doubts that he or
his anti-government henchmen will ever be able to turn the state into
a truly ominous force. Still, his impulses and tendencies are so bad
it helps to be reminded how catastrophically they've failed in the
Still, if you want to go further down this rathole:
Anis Shivani: Trump and Mussolini: Eleven key lessons from historical
fascism. Some key points:
- Fascism rechannels economic anxiety: key thing
is that it doesn't relieve it, it just redirects blame.
- Liberal institutions have already been fatally
weakened: I wouldn't say it's fatal here (yet), but Trump
wouldn't have risen without the discrediting of key institutions,
like the military in the Middle East and bankers everywhere.
- Of course it's a minority affair: The Tea Party
and the alt-right are every bit as vanguardist as the Bolsheviks,
but are rooted in venerable Americanisms, like Nixon's "dirty tricks"
and Lombardi's "winning is the only thing."
- Its cultural style makes no sense to elites:
which in turn makes it hard to counter; it's easy to prove that
Trump isn't smart but you won't impress his fans by doing so --
they've spent every moment of the last eight years loathing Obama,
suspecting that his brains are merely the engine of deviousness.
(Nor did Meryl Streep dissing football gain any traction.)
- No form of resistance works: Have fascists
ever been voted out of office, given that one thing they've always
been quick to do is to rig the system (much like the Republicans
with their voter restriction laws, though often even more brutal).
"Nothing ever works until fascism's logic, the logic of empire,
stands discredited to the point where no denial and no media
coverup is possible anymore." Actually the Axis was only "discredited"
by the most brutal military counterattack in history.
Daniel Politi: Pentagon Has Been Waging Secret Cyberwar Against North
Korea Missiles for Years: Perhaps this has something to do with why
North Korea is so paranoid, so erratic, and ultimately so dangerous?
We have thus far failed to develop the sort of taboo that inhibits
other forms of war, like chemical weapons -- in fact, cyberwar usually
doesn't even get recognized as such. In a better world, our recent brush
with Russian hacking would lead the US and Russia to work toward mutual
controls, including suppressing their own independent hackers. But as
long as we all think this sort of thing is OK it continues, sometimes
with dire consequences.
Thursday, March 2. 2017
Some weeks the shit's piling up so fast you have to get the shovel
out a few days early. I have little doubt that there will be this much
more by the weekend. Less sure I have the time and energy to keep up
Some scattered links this week in the Trumpiverse:
Glenn Kessler/Michelle Ye Hee Lee: Fact-checking President Trump's address
to Congress: The "fake news" media was, of course, much taken with
Trump's tone ("so presidential"), which as far as I can tell means he
refrained from pooping on stage and flinging it at the Democrats (and
for good measure Paul Ryan).
More on the speech:
Michelle Chen: Donald Trump's War on Science: Mostly focused
on environmental science, which is a big enough subject, but most
likely nowhere near the sum. Stiff upper lip at the end: "At the
dawn of the Trumpocene, even under a regime fueled by contempt for
truth, facts will still matter." Even more so laws of physics, such
as the one that points out that every molecule of carbon dioxide
added to the atmosphere increases the amount of heat from sunlight
that is retained by the atmosphere.
David Dayen: Crony Capitalism at Work? Trump Adviser Carl Icahn Strong-Arms
Ethanol Lobby to Save His Company Millions
William Greider: Is Our President Bonkers?: Maybe, but he came up with
a clever con and sold it to just enough Americans.
Fred Kaplan: Money for Nothing: Trump is following through on his
campaign promise to increase Defense Department spending, submitting a
$54 billion increase over Obama's 2016 budget. Other pieces on the
Anne Kim: Why Trumpism Is Here to Stay: The author's antidote is
"broadly shared economic expansion," as this "puts more Americans in
a generous mood." But isn't that one thing that we can be sure will
not happen under Republican rule? After all, their prime directive
is to increase the concentration of wealth among the already rich,
even if that means producing less of it overall. You'd think that
Trump (if not Trumpism) would lose all credibility soon, but for now
they seem to figure they can hang on by decrying the "fake news"
that might rat them out.
Daoud Kuttab: US and Israel join forces to bury Palestinian statehood:
A point made clear by Netanyahu's very early visit to see Trump, who
knows little about the conflict, has no respect for America's customary
(albeit hapless) advocacy of international law, nor any concern that
the world view the US as a fundamentally friendly world power. Still,
could be worse: in 2008 Israel feared that Obama might make a serious
effort to pressure Israel into accepting a two-state partition, so
started a war against Gaza. Netanyahu knows better than to fear Trump,
who's so eager to please he's willing to do things that Israel only
says they want (tearing up the Iran deal, moving the US embassy to
Jerusalem) that he needs to be gently nudged back to sanity. Still,
Netanyahu has a problem: for the next four years, no one will look
toward the US to ineptly muddle up the "peace process" -- the idea
that Trump will be "an honest broker" is beyond laughable -- but in
the meantime people (especially in Europe) will see Israel as it
actually is: a deeply racist society and unjust oppressor state.
Aaron David Miller: Trump's New Ambassador to Israel Heralds a Radical
Change in Policy;
Jonathan Cook: Trump shows his hand on Israel-Palestine.
Jessica Lipsky: Ben Carson, Rick Perry confirmed to Cabinet posts:
On the same day, two of Trump's more ridiculous picks.
Lachlan Markay: Big Steel Sees Gold in Trump's Commerce Secretary
Wilbur Ross: Well, of course: after all, Ross made his billions
in big steel.
Jennifer Rubin: Why Jeff Sessions is in deep trouble: Sure, he
met with Russians, and sure, he lied about it. The former bothers
me far less than Nixon's efforts to sabotage Vietnam War negotiations
in 1968, or even Reagan's ploy to keep Iran from releasing hostages
to Jimmy Carter. After all, what Trump's people were telling Putin
is "keep your cool and don't overreact to Obama's sanctions -- when
we win we'll be more reasonable." There are innumerable things wrong
with Trump and his posse, but his Russia stance was actually saner
than what Obama and Clinton were offering. Of course, it's hard not
to applaud any scandal that undermines Jeff Sessions, but I'd rather
focus on real reasons for getting rid of him, like
Sophia Tesfaye: Jeff Sessions drops DOJ lawsuit against discriminatory
Texas voter ID case, reverses 6 years of litigation. Not that I
condone his lying, but it's no victory for progressives if the only
lying anyone gets sacked over is offending the neocon anti-Russia lobby
(cf. Flynn, Manafort, etc.) -- in fact, it's fucked up.
By the way, see
Glenn Greenwald: The New Yorker's Big Cover Story Reveals Five Uncomfortable
Truths About US and Russia. Number one on that list is how much more
hawkish against Russia Clinton was than Obama. Way back I argued that she
would lose if people came to perceive her as the more dangerous warmonger,
and I think that's a big part of what's happening. Of course, her fans
didn't think that, nor did more critically balanced observers like myself,
but all of her campaign talk about "the Commander-in-Chief test" and her
obsession with nuclear launch codes may well have unnerved less informed
voters. In any case, until Democrats get over their obsession with
vanquishing foes abroad and focus on the real ones that are robbing us
bind, they won't be able to mount a credible defense against the class
war the rich are still winning within America.
Reihan Salam: Paul Ryan Could Kill Donald Trump's Political Future:
"If the president accedes to congressional Republicans' wishes to slash
the social safety net, he'll pay a very hefty price." While lots of
liberal-leaning pundits have been imploring the so-called sane regular
Republicans to rein in the patently insane president, I've been saying
all along that the most ominous threat comes from empowering Ryan and
his ilk in Congress -- a perception that is finally beginning to sink
in. For all their bluster, conservatives have always had to fall back
on the promise that their crackpot theories would ultimately be good
for all (well, most) people -- and not just the 1% (give or take a
little) they shill for. Still, now they have enough power to do some
real damage, and the more they exercise that power the more they will
Jordan Weissmann: Republicans Are Trying to Build a Welfare State That
Sucks for Everyone but Mutual Fund Managers
Richard Wolffe: Steve Bannon lifted his mask of death at CPAC; also
Sarah Posner: How the Conservative Movement Went All in for
Matthew Yglesias: What Trump has done (and mostly not done) from his
first 100 days agenda
Also a few links less directly tied to the ephemeral in America's
bout of political insanity:
Dean Baker: Bill Gates Is Clueless on the Economy
R Mike Burr: The Self-Serving Hustle of "Hillbilly Elegy": On J.D. Vance's
book, widely acclaimed as a book you should read to understand "Trump's
America" (well, not Trump, really, but some of the fools who voted for
Juan Cole: Sorry, Trump, China's cut-back on Coal Dooms Industry:
A few years ago China was poised to build so many coal-fired electricity
generators that it became likely that one nation, at the time a nation
in complete denial about global warming, would wind up frying the rest
of us. Since then at least half of those coal plants have been canceled.
Since then, it's become clear that if you consider the externalities --
which for China includes the good will of other nations fearful of being
fried -- coal is already an inefficient energy source. That's increasingly
obvious in the US as well, even though thanks to fossil fuel industry
clout most of those externalities go uncharged. And the trendline for
coal is getting worse, even with the President and Congress securely
in the industry's pocket.
Stanley L Cohen: Jim Crow is alive and well in Israel: The analogy
hits closer to home than "apartheid" (although that was merely the
South African term for a legal code of segregation inspird by and
borrowed from America's Jim Crow laws). Of course, the analogy is not
quite precise: the US and SA systems were meant primarily to preserve
a low worker caste their respective economies were built on, whereas
the Israeli system seeks to make Palestinian labor (hence Palestinians)
superfluous, and as such is an even more existential threat. Article
does a good job of reminding you not just that separate is inherently
unequal but that segregated systems are sustained with violence and
Cohen also wrote
Trump's 'Muslim ban' is not an exception in US history, rubbing it
in a little when it might be more effective to explain how such bans
are inimical to American ideals even if they've recurred frequently
throughout American history.
Mark Lawrence Schrad: Vladimir Putin Isn't a Supervillain: This
seems like a fairly realistic evaluation of Russia, after first
positing two strawman arguments and showing how neither is all that
true. I'll add that there are a few countries what once had larger
empires and have never quite shaken the mental habit of thinking
they should still be more powerful than they are: this is true of
Russia and China, would-be regional powers like Iran and Turkey,
and several ostensible US allies (notably Britain, France, and
Saudi Arabia), and if you possess the ability to look cleary in
a mirror, the United States as well. (Germany and Japan were
largely cured of this by the crushing weight of defeat in WWII,
although you see glimpses in, e.g., Germany's role in breaking
up Yugoslavia and Japan's weird dread of North Korea.) What has
thus far passed for Russian aggression has so far been limited
to adopting breakaway regions of now independent former SSRs --
Crimea from Ukraine, Abkhazia and South Ossetia from Georgia.
On the other hand, the US has been extending its NATO umbrella
into previously neutral former SSRs, building up its Black Sea
fleet, installing anti-missle systems focused on Russia, and
imposing sanctions to undermine the Russian economy, and trying
to influence elections in places like Ukraine and Georgia to
heighten anti-Russian sentiments. Given all this, who's really
Of course, were I a Russian, I'm quite certain that I'd have
no shortage of
political disagreements with Vladimir Putin. But the US doesn't
have (or deserve) a say in who runs Russia. At best we can refer
to standards of international law, but only if we ourselves are
willing to live by them -- which, as was made clear by Bush's
refusal to join the ICC we clearly are not. An old adage is that
you should clean up your own house first, and that's the thing
that American politicians should focus on.
Sunday, February 26. 2017
Another week, so here we go again.
Some scattered links this week in the Trumpiverse:
Kevin Carey: Dismal Voucher Results Surprise Researchers as DeVos Era
Tom Engelhardt: A Trumpian Snapshot of America: The list of things
gone wrong in America is trenchant as usual, but his nutshell conclusion
leaves something to be desired:
We're living, that is, in an ever more chaotic and aberrant land run
(to the extent it's run at all) by billionaires and retired generals,
and overseen by a distinctly aberrant president at war with aberrant
parts of the national security state. That, in a nutshell, is the
America created in the post-9/11 years. Put another way, the U.S. may
have failed dismally in its efforts to invade, occupy, and remake Iraq
in its own image, but it seems to have invaded, occupied, and remade
itself with remarkable success.
Not sure what the last part even means, but the state we're in is
clearly due to two inadequately checked notions: one is the fact that
we've allowed the rich in America (and throughout much of the world)
to become utterly shameless in their pursuit of ever greater wealth;
the other is that we've allowed the US and its "allies" to engage in
perpetual war. Unfortunately, it's not just the Republicans who have
invested in those notions. A large segment of the Democratic Party has
too -- notably Barack Obama, Hillary Clinton, and new DNC Chairman Tom
Julie Hirschfield Davis/Michael M Grynbaum: Trump Intensifies His Attacks
on Journalists and Condemns FBI 'Leakers'
Max Paul Friedman: Trump's Refugee Ban Is Even Crueler Than You Think.
Michelle Goldberg: It's Bad: "The first month of the Trump presidency
has been more cruel and destructive than the majority of Americans feared.
The worst is yet to come." More (although I would have picked a totally
different laundry list, emphasizing how mainstream Republicans loom as
the real threat to most people):
Every day there's a new Trumpian outrage that in an ordinary presidency
would be a multiday scandal: an ostensibly light-hearted threat to invade
Mexico, a casual dismissal of a potential Palestinian state, a feud with
a reporter or an actor or a department store. Trump lies so much it's as
if he's intentionally mocking the impotence of truth. He shamelessly
profits off his office, reveling in our powerlessness to stop him. His
closest aide is an unkempt racist who has described Nazi propagandist
Leni Riefenstahl as a role model. A senior adviser uses her administration
perch to hawk the president's daughter's line of polyester-blend workwear
in a blatant violation of ethics rules. Trump himself is either enmeshed
in a subversive relationship with Vladimir Putin, or he's willing to appear
to be. He and his coterie make a fetish of patriotism yet take a perverse
antinomian pleasure in defiling the presidency.
I count Goldberg among those left-leaning liberals who actually thought
Hillary Clinton promised good progressive policy, as opposed to those of
us who saw her as a marginal (but clear) alternative to the vicious slime
that other party was offering. Scapegoating Putin and Russia is ridiculous
on its face, and wrapped up with the sort of imperialist and belligerent
jargon Democrats should know better than spouting, but evidently Clinton's
most dead-end supporters still find that preferable to admitting her faults
and starting to correct for them.
Glenn Greenwald: The Increasingly Unhinged Russia Rhetoric Comes From a
Long-Standing US Playbook. Also see:
Katrina vanden Heuvel: Neo-McCarthyite furor around Russia is
Nicholas Kulish/et al: Immigration Agents Discover New Freedom to Deport
Under Trump. Another example:
Australian children's author Mem Fox detained by US border control.
Josh Marshall: Tourism Industry Hit by Trumpism Bigly, also
Anne Kim: The Long-Term Economic Wreckage of Trump's Travel Ban.
Oliver Milman: Scott Pruitt vows to slash climate and water pollution
regulations at CPAC: Pruitt is Trump's new EPA head -- one of the
very worst imaginable people for the job, and likely to be one of the
most destructive forces in our near future.
Sarah Posner: CPAC's Flirtation With the Alt-Right Is Turning Awkward.
Steven Simon/Daniel Benjamin: The Islamophobic Huckster in the White
House: Specifically, Sebastian Gorka, "an itinerant instructor in
the doctrine of irregular warfare and former national security editor
at Breitbart," which is, of course, the rock Steve Bannon found him
lurking under. Also see:
Jacky Fortin: Who Is Sebastian Gorka? A Trump Adviser Comes Out of the
Shadows. If you're keeping track of such things, note that Gorka
is an immigrant (born in the UK of Hungarian parents, although he is
now a US citizen) and was recently arrested (for carrying a gun into
an airport, but the charge was later dropped).
Jessica Valenti: Milo Yiannopoulos isn't the only bigot Republicans
are cozy with.
Olathe shooting: Friend and widow on US shooting: Surprised not
to see any coverage of this in the Wichita Eagle, but BBC is all
over it. Olathe is near Kansas City. The shooter targeted several
people of Indian descent, first asking if they were "in the United
States illegally, questioning where he'd come from." Of course,
White House: 'Absurd' to Suggest KS Shooting Linked to Trump's
Jamelle Bouie: A Deafening Silence.
Paul Woodward collected this and similar links, including other events
following the same pattern.
The Eagle did have a lot of coverage of the one-year
anniversary of a mass shooting in Hesston, northwest of Wichita.
One tidbit there was that the shooter explained he did meth rather
than marijuana because his company (the scene of the shooting)
drug-tested employees and meth was harder to detect.
Also a few links less directly tied to the ephemeral in America's
bout of political insanity:
Andrew Bacevich: At the Altar of American Greatness: There's a line
deep into this piece about how "it's the politics that's gotten smaller,"
and indeed this piece is a good deal smaller than at first advertised --
see the subtitle: "David Brooks on Making America Great Again." Brooks
is normally an easy target, but Bacevich stumbles, declaring "among
contemporary journalists, he is our Walter Lippmann, the closest thing
we have to an establishment-approved public intellectual." Lippmann
retired in 1967, so for me was a famous name that signified little --
even today most of what I know about him I had gleaned from Walter
Karp's The Politics of War, which featured him as a prominent
hawk behind the so-called Great War, but while he often catered to
political power, the main thing he's remembered for was his cynicism
about the ignorance and gullibility of the American people. Brooks,
on the other hand, is little more than a partisan hack with a bit of
cosmopolitan make up to pass muster with New York/Washington elites.
Still, it's interesting that Bacevich digs up a Brooks column from
1997 prefiguring Donald Trump (cue Marx's joke about tragedy/farce),
titled "A Return to National Greatness" -- a title Brooks reiterated
in 2017. Especially precious is the line: "The things Americans do
are not for themselves only, but for all mankind." He should pinch
himself to recall that he's talking about a country which positively
worships the ideal of individuals pursuing their self-interest -- as
witnessed by the fact that we just elected as president a guy who has
done nothing but for more than fifty years.
Under the circumstances, it's easy to forget that, back in 2003, he
and other members of the Church of America the Redeemer devoutly
supported the invasion of Iraq. They welcomed war. They urged it.
They did so not because Saddam Hussein was uniquely evil -- although
he was evil enough -- but because they saw in such a war the means
for the United States to accomplish its salvific mission. Toppling
Saddam and transforming Iraq would provide the mechanism for affirming
and renewing America's "national greatness."
Anyone daring to disagree with that proposition they denounced as
craven or cowardly. Writing at the time, Brooks disparaged those
opposing the war as mere "marchers." They were effete, pretentious,
ineffective, and absurd. [ . . . ]
In refusing to reckon with the results of the war he once so
ardently endorsed, Brooks is hardly alone. Members of the Church of
America the Redeemer, Democrats and Republicans alike, are demonstrably
incapable of rendering an honest accounting of what their missionary
efforts have yielded.
Brooks belongs, or once did, to the Church's neoconservative branch.
But liberals such as Bill Clinton, along with his secretary of state
Madeleine Albright, were congregants in good standing, as were Barack
Obama and his secretary of state Hillary Clinton. So, too, are putative
conservatives like Senators John McCain, Ted Cruz, and Marco Rubio, all
of them subscribing to the belief in the singularity and indispensability
of the United States as the chief engine of history, now and forever.
[ . . . ]
That Donald Trump inhabits a universe of his own devising, constructed
of carefully arranged alt-facts, is no doubt the case. Yet, in truth,
much the same can be said of David Brooks and others sharing his view of
a country providentially charged to serve as the "successor to Jerusalem,
Athens, and Rome." In fact, this conception of America's purpose expresses
not the intent of providence, which is inherently ambiguous, but their own
arrogance and conceit. Out of that conceit comes much mischief. And in the
wake of mischief come charlatans like Donald Trump.
Srecko Horvat: Tom Hardy's Taboo goes to the heart of our new imperialist
darkness: Not sure the series is that coherent, but the asides like how
"colonialism doesn't cause misery only in poorer countries, it boomerangs
back to rich countries with their rising inequality" are spot on. Also he
notes how today private companies, much like the "honourable" British East
India Company two centuries ago, have become far-from-benign forces all
around the world (and he didn't even cite Exxon Mobil as an example).
Robin McKie: Biologists say half of all species could be extinct by end
of century: Not really a new story: I read a lot about mass extinction
back in the 1990s and maybe earlier, when the Alvarez theory of the K-T
extinction event became popular and Carl Sagan came up with the notion of
"nuclear winter." So, no surprise that it's gotten worse. Still, I'm struck
by how the threat has receded in our consciousness as our politicians keep
coming up with more urgent short-term crises. Thinking about the end of
the century has started to look like a luxury.
John Nichols: Tom Perez Narrowly Defeats Keith Ellison for DNC Chair:
Margin over Keith Ellison was 35 votes. It's tempting to regard Perez
as a corporate stooge, but
Esme Cribb has him saying some useful things, like: "I heard from rural
America that the Democratic Party hasn't been there for us recently"; "We
also have to redefine our mission"; and "Our unity is our greatest strength,
and frankly our unity is Donald Trump's greatest nightmare." Underscoring
that unity, he named Ellison "deputy chair" (see
Trump Claims DNC Chair Race Was 'Totally Rigged,' Offers No Evidence.
Sunday, February 19. 2017
Trump's crazy, disjointed press conference had me thinking: I doubt
that Donald Trump has ever read David Ogilvy, but he's done a bang-up
job of following Ogilvy's main piece of advice on living one's life:
Develop your eccentricities while you are young. That way, when you
get old, people won't think you're going gaga.
Trump's biography is chock full of such peculiarities, and indeed
that's given him a certain protection against anything he does now --
a way of making excuses, rationalizing his tirades and outrages.
Still, I think the most important lesson from last week is the
extent to which Trump has chosen to vilify the media. Admittedly,
that's a tactic that has served him well in the past, but there is
a fundamental difference between attacking the system from outside
and defending the system he's gained control of. The media has
always been eager to kowtow to power, but that's partly because
they expect some stroking in return. Trump's characterization of
everything they say as "fake news" is an affront (and a challenge)
to their self-image.
On the other hand, Trump's emergence as crazy-in-chief has thus
far worked out nicely for the Republican party regulars, both in
Congress and increasingly in the administration (and eventually in
the courts). As any con artist knows, the key is to get the marks
to pay attention elsewhere while they pull off their manipulations
unseen, and Trump is a marvelous distraction. Isn't it interesting
that Trump's own staunchest campaign supporters have failed to get
job offers in the new regime: Rudy Giulliani, Chris Christie, Newt
Gingrich? Even Kris Kobach, the only Republican in Kansas to endorse
Trump before the caucuses here, was passed over despite a couple of
high-profile photo ops with Trump. The only exception I can think
of is former Senator, new Attorney General Jeff Sessions. Trump has
managed to keep a couple pet advisers like Steve Bannon and Kellyanne
Conway in non-policy positions, but that's about it. He's well on
his way to becoming the loneliest and most expendable man in his
administration. I can't say as I'm surprised.
Some scattered links this week in the Trumpiverse:
ZoŽ Carpenter/George Zornick: Everything Trump Did in His 4th Week That
Actually Matters: e.g., "it was a bad week for clean water."
- Fired National Security Adviser Michael Flynn.
- Signed a bill to allow coal-mining operations to put more pollution
- Allowed oil companies to hide bribes to foreign governments.
- Pulled back a defense of an Obama-era transgender protection
- Nominated a new secretary of labor. Alex Acosta, after
Andrew Puzder withdrew.
- Issued a new Obamacare rule that makes getting coverage more
- Stepped up immigration raids.
Trump's Mar-a-Lago insecure Situation Room where club members and staff
can eavesdrop freely: Actually, I thought it somewhat charming that a
president can operate in such a public setting, until I remembered that
the other guests had to pay Trump $200K to join his club -- "pay for
access" at a level the Clintons can only dream of.
Albert Burneko: Donald Trump Stunned to Learn Presidency Is an Actual
Job, his First
Zach Cartwright: Here's the stunning number of White House staffers who
quit or got fired this week: Michael Flynn, of course, but he merely
heads the list.
Stephen F Cohen: Kremlin-Baiting President Trump (Without Facts) Must
Stop: This is a little weird in that Cohen, who's been one of the
saner "Russia experts" of the last couple decades, refers to himself
in the third person. He provides a six-point debunking of various
charges leveled about Trump's (and Flynn's) relationship to Russia,
and I reckon he's mostly right there -- even where he seems to excuse
Trump. What he doesn't do is explain why such misinformation "must
stop": it may seem easy to score points against Trump by playing on
decades of Cold War myth -- basically the old McCarthyite red-baiting
smear tactic, but even less specific about the evil Putin putatively
represents -- but it should be embarrassing for Democrats to fall
back on clichťs that were then and still are meant to undermine world
peace. (Isn't a peaceful world subject to international law and order
and norms of justice something Democrats still believe in?) It also
belies any notion that Democrats are the "reality-based" party --
they're so hepped up on the jargon of American exceptionalism they
can't begin to see how America and the world have changed. Moreover,
they've fallen behind the American people, who no longer appreciate
such sabre-rattling against "evil empires": not that Trump himself
has turned realist -- he still sees plenty of evil to vanquish, but
his reluctance to demonize Russia is at least one step in the right
Tom Boggioni: Michael Flynn's Replacement Turned Down the Job After
Watching Trump's 'Unhinged' Press Conference: Admiral (and
Lockheed-Martin executive) Robert Harward was next in line for the
job. Fred Kaplan also wrote about this:
Robert Harward Just Gave Cover to Every Competent Professional Who Wants
to Turn Down Trump. On Flynn, see
Nicholas Schmidle: Michael Flynn, General Chaos.
John Feffer: Steven Bannon's Real Vision Isn't America First. It's America
Alone. Isn't that always the problem with nationalists? Their appeal
is limited to one favored country, and sooner or later -- and any measure
of success means sooner -- they repel all other countries. The US built
its world-straddling pre-eminence less by dealing harshly with enemies
than by cultivating allies, sometimes playing on fear of other powers but
more often by offering generous rewards (like free trade for export-minded
Asian countries, and cheap defense for war-weary Europe). Take the carrots
away, or worse still demand tribute from your former allies, and they'll
eventually turn away, or even retaliate. America Alone is likely to turn
into a much poorer place. Feffer also wrote
Killer Presidents, on the current political popularity of tough guys
like Rodrigo Duterte in the Philippines, or indeed Trump himself. It's
no accident that Trump ordered a botched Seal Team 6 raid in his first
weeks. He want to show the world he's eager to kill too -- indeed, it
seems like a rite of passage for all American presidents. For another
take on the self-limits of nationalism, see (hard to believe I'm
Max Boot: Trump's Big Mouth Has Already Weakened America:
After detailing many examples, he admits:
In fairness to Trump, it's true that Rome wasn't
destroyed in a day, and it will take him more than three weeks to
undo 70 years of American foreign policy and trade relations.
[ . . . ]
But for the time being the 54 percent of Americans who didn't
vote for Trump -- and the roughly 95 percent of the world that was
horrified by his campaign -- should be breathing a sigh of relief
that his actions are not turning out to be quite as radical as his
rhetoric. [ . . . ]
[Why?] Because his words are so immoderate. He continues to engage
in fraudulent rhetoric and unhinged personal attacks -- he especially
loves to tweet in UPPERCASE LETTERS! -- that create an unsettled
environment of crisis, uncertainty, and concern. His own babble and
bluster does more than any critic to discredit him.
Larry Fink: The Faces of the Women's March on Washington
Thomas Frank: How Steve Bannon captured America's spirit of revolt
Olivia Golden: The Trump Agenda Poses a Major Threat to America's
Jacob Heilbrunn: The Most Dangerous Man in Trump World? Profile of
Peter Navarro, nominally head of Trump's National Trade Council -- like
so many Trump officials, he was given a job he doesn't believe in just
so he can wreck it -- and a long-time crackpot anti-China hawk.
Allegra Kirkland: The 8 Craziest Moments of Trump's Impromptu Press
Esme Cribb: Reporter: I've 'Never' Seen Anything Like Trump's Press
Conference in 20 Years.
David Ferguson: Trump's Constant Lies and 'Endless Self-Pity' Are Unlike
Any Other American President: So says Steve Schmidt, who ran McCain's
Kali Holloway: 21 Facts That Explain Exactly Who Stephen Miller Is:
A "White House adviser," recently emerged as a Trump spokesman.
Richard Lardner: Trump's Plan for Spike in Defense Spending Faces Big
Hurdles: I'm especially struck by this:
Senior U.S. commanders have flatly warned that the spending caps set
by the Budget Control Act are squeezing the armed forces so hard that
the number of ready-to-fight units is dwindling. That means beating
powers such as Russia or China is tougher than it used to be as aging
equipment stacks up, waiting to be repaired, and troops don't get
Uh, someone actually thinks the US can "beat" Russia or China in
a war? Or that that should be a goal of the US "Defense" Department?
Nancy LeTourneau: Trump Is Proving to Be the Embodiment of Everything
Republicans Have Stood For:
To expect anything different from Trump than the worst Republicans
have put forward over the last few decades is a fool's errand. They
share a world view that just so happens to be antithetical to what
most of us mean when we refer to democracy.
Amanda Marcotte: Michael Flynn, right-wing hero: Will conservatives
embrace him the way they did Ollie North: I doubt it, mostly
because I doubt Flynn has ever been coherent enough to develop the
sort of consistency that attracts believers. Nor can Flynn claim
to be a martyr to the cause -- North and G. Gordon Liddy (Marcotte's
other example) both did jail time, and Marcotte notes "These two men
are beloved by conservatives because of their criminal histories,
not despite them." Flynn just seems to be political roadkill, and
while there were plenty of good reasons for getting rid of him, the
one that worked wasn't one of them. (Unfortunately, this only helps
reinforce the Democrats' notion that the best way to counter Trump
is to play up the "soft on Russia" card, as opposed to hammering
him on any of dozens or hundreds of policies that really do harm
to working Americans.)
Heather Digby Parton: Donald Trump's disastrous reality show: Master
trash-talker turned flailing president searches for a new villain
Matt Taibbi: Trump's Repeal of Bipartisan Anti-Corruption Measure Proves
He's a Fake; also
The End of Facts in the Trump Era.
Sophia Tesfaye: Republicans rush to confirm Trump's EPA nominee Scott
Pruitt after federal judge orders release of fossil fuel emails:
one of Trump's worse nominees, having spent most of his career trying
to keep the EPA from doing its job. One Republican voted against, two
Democrats for. "After Friday's vote, the Republican chair of the Senate
Committee on Environment and Public Works -- John Barrasso, R-Wyoming --
attend a high-dollar fundraiser hosted by energy lobbyists at a Capitol
Along the way, I wandered across a lot of liberal links critical
of Trump but obsessed with Russia, including posts by John Cassidy,
Paul Krugman, George Packer, and David Remnick. In particular,
Packer complains about "the heads of key House and Senate committees
who are doing as little as possible to expose corruption and possible
treason in the White House." The word that sticks in my craw there is
"treason." I can't overstate how sick and tired I am of that word --
not least because it implies that we're obligated to be loyal to some
hidden, unknowable, and unquestionable power. Packer goes on to describe
"an authoritarian and erratic leader" -- I mean, which is it? Doesn't
the latter subvert the former? He also names John McCain and Lindsey
Graham as among "the few critical Republican voices" -- the only thing
they've been critical of is that Trump hasn't started any new wars yet
(and the word for that isn't "critical" -- it's "impatient").
Also a few links less directly tied to the ephemeral in America's
bout of political insanity:
Dean Baker: The Job Cremators: "If folks are worried about automation
killing jobs, why don't they care about the Federal Reserve Board killing
jobs?" Basically, a quarter-point rate hike costs us "0.1 to 0.2 percentage
points off the economy's growth rate over the course of 2017. That would
likely mean 100,000 to 200,000 fewer jobs than would otherwise be
Michael Kimmelman: Mexico City, Parched and Sinking, Faces a Water Crisis:
It's a city of nearly nine million people built on a dried lake bed 7300
feet above sea level, every aspect of which put strain on the city's
viability -- and global warming is no exception, just not in the same
way that it threatens coastal cities. Also see
Ioan Grillo: Climate change is making Mexico City unbreathable.
Alex Pareene: I Don't Want to Hear Another Fucking Word About John McCain
Unless He Dies or Actually Does Something Useful for Once: Ever the
gentleman, Pareene: I would have flipped the last two clauses and changed
the conjunction to "and." But Pareene does note that the only Trump nominee
McCain objected to was the budget director who supported defense budget
cuts: for some time now, the only thing McCain has really believed in is
Paul Rosenberg: Beyond fact-checking: After the catastrophic media failure
of 2016, the press must master "crucial evidence": Mostly an interview
with William Berkson, who's specialty is philosophy of science. The history
of science offers many examples where "crucial evidence" led scientists to
radically revise their views -- Thomas Kuhn called them "paradigm shifts."
I'm skeptical that you can do the same thing for news, because we have no
real common framework for evaluating policies. Still, you can certainly do
better than the present system, where competing political interests have
taken over the news and turned journalism into propaganda operations. A
start might be to work out broadly agreeable criteria for judging whether
various policies are working as intended.
James Traub: Marine Le Pen Is Donald Trump Without the Crazy:
a portrait of the leader of France's ultra-nationalist party, who
is gaining ground for reasons similar to Trump's triumph. Traub
The Death of the Most Generous Nation on Earth, about Sweden's
problems integrating an exceptionally large number of refugees --
the issue that is fueling the rise of Le Pen and other nationalists
Sunday, February 12. 2017
Running the image again. I doubt I'll really keep that up for four years,
but for now it inspires me to dig up this shit.
Still need to write up something about Matt Taibbi's Insane Clown
President: Dispatches From the 2016 Circus -- recently read, although
it recycles a lot that I had previously read, including a sizable chunk
of Taibbi's 2009 book The Great Derangement: A Terrifying True Story
of War, Politics, and Religion at the Twilight of the American Empire --
an excavation so profound that Maureen Dowd snarfed up a keyword for her
own regurgitation of campaign columns, The Year of Voting Dangerously:
The Derangement of American Politics (a title which makes me wonder
how she would have faired in Taibbi's 2004 Wimblehack -- see Spanking
the Donkey: Dispatches From the Dumb Season).
Still, I suspect that the weakness of both Taibbi and Dowd books is
their focus on the more obvious story: how ridiculous the Republicans
were (a subject that served Taibbi best in 2008 when he compiled his
brief Smells Like Dead Elephants before taking the time to craft
The Great Deformation). In retrospect, the real story wasn't
how Trump won, but how Hillary Clinton lost. Looking ahead, books by
Jonathan Allen and Amie Parnes (Shattered: Inside Hillary Clinton's
Doomed Campaign, out April 18) and/or Doug Wead (Game of Thorns:
The Inside Story of Hillary Clinton's Failed Campaign and Donald Trump's
Winning Strategy, February 28) promise some insight (or at least
insider dope). Still, I doubt anyone is going to write something that
satisfactorily explains the whole election for some time.
One thing that keeps eating at me about the election is that while
Trump's polls oscillated repeatedly, falling whenever voters got a
chance to compare him side-by-side (as in the debates, or even more
strongly comparing the two conventions), then bouncing back on the
rare weeks when he didn't say something scandalous, Clinton's polls
never came close to topping 50%. She was, in short, always vulnerable,
and all Trump needed to get close was a couple weeks where he seemed
relatively sane (on top of all that Koch money organizing down ballot,
especially in Pennsylvania, Florida, North Carolina, and the Midwest).
I doubt if any other Republican could have beat Clinton: Trump's ace
in the hole was his antithesis to Washington insider-dom, which gave
him credibility she couldn't buy (despite massive evidence that he was
the crooked one). But just as importantly, Trump suckered her into
campaigning on high-minded centrism (including support from nearly
everyone in the permanent defense/foreign affairs eatablishment),
which weakened her support among traditional Democrats. Any other
Republican would have forced her to run as a Democrat, and she would
have been better off for that.
Again, it's not that working people rationally thought they'd be
better off with Trump. It's just that too many didn't feel any affinity
for or solidarity with her. Of course, those who discovered their own
reasons for voting against the Republicans -- which includes the
left, blacks, Latinos, immigrants, single women, and others the
Democrats bank on but don't invest in -- voted for her anyway. But
others needed to be reminded of the differences between the parties,
and Clinton didn't do a good job at that (nor did Obama give her much
to build on, as he almost never blamed Republicans for undermining his
Meanwhile, Trump's net favorability polling is down to -15.
Some links on the Trump world this week:
80,000 March in Raleigh for Voting Rights, Democracy &
Andrew Bacevich: Conservatism After Trump: Still identifying as a
conservative, he hates Trump's populism (even conceding that Bernie
Sanders' would be better). Bacevich is often an astute critic of the
American militarism, but his efforts to map himself onto a left-right
political line are often embarrassing. Also his effort to salvage the
old fascist slogan "America First" -- he argues that Trump "seem[s]
determined to gut the concept" without grasping that the main thing
the concept tries to do is advance an abstract America above and
beyond any actual Americans. Same problem with "Make America Great"
which exalts and projects a hypothetical empire that actually does
nothing for most Americans.
Peter Bergen: Trump's terrorism claim is baloney: Searching a media
database shows that "78 terrorist incidents the White House cited as
under-covered by the media" were the subject of over 80,000 articles.
Ari Berman: House Republicans Just Voted to Eliminate the Only Federal
Agency That Makes Sure Voting Machines Can't Be Hacked
Michelle Chen: Donald Trump's Real Plan for Coal-Mine Workers:
"Safety protections are standing in the way of making coal great
Bryce Covert: Trump's Obsession With Manufacturing Is About Politics,
Not Jobs: "Most of us work in the service sector, but you won't
hear the president talk about that."
James Crabtree: Steve Bannon's War on India's High-Tech Economy. Also,
John Feffer: Steven Bannon's Real Vision Isn't America First. It's
Amy Davidson: The Ninth Circuit Rejects Trumpism
Justin Elliott: Inside Trump's watered-down ethics rules: Now a lobbyist
helps run federal agency he lobbied: Geoff Burr, who used to lobby
"opposing wage standards for federal construction contracts and working
against an effort to limit workers' exposure to dangerous silica dust,"
not works for Trump's Labor Department.
Philip Giraldi: Iran Hawks Take the White House: Specifically,
Michael Flynn ("well known for what his staff referred to as "Flynn
facts," things he would say that were demonstrably untrue"). I'm a
bit surprised that Trump has come out of the gate so belligerent
over Iran. In Syria, for instance, Iran has been allied with Russia
in support of Assad and in opposition to ISIS, and Trump and Flynn
seem to favor a less antagonistic approach to Russia. It would also
make sense for a president who (or so he claims) thought invading
Iraq to be a mistake would like to put a little distance between
the US and Saudi Arabia's military adventurism (with its obsession
Interesting that David Atkins is already complaining,
Why Won't Trump Fire Michael Flynn? Atkins is more worried that
Flynn is soft on Russia than too hard on Iran, but in his own lame
way this sort of highlights how unsuited Flynn is for a position
which has historically required the intellectual flexibility and
moral laxity of a McGeorge Bundy or a Condoleezza Rice. Flynn's only
qualification was his rabidly hysterical antipathy to everything
Obama said or did, so his usefulness to Trump is likely to be very
short-lived. Although most likely Flynn will be pushed out by the
"intelligence community" itself: see
CIA Denies Security Clearance for Top Flynn Aide, and
Cummings: It Would Be 'Appropriate' to Revoke Flynn's Security
Clearance. The New York Times reports further:
Turmoil at the National Security Council, From the Top Down, with
the Editorial Board adding its two cents:
America's So-Called National Security Adviser.
Dino Grandoni: Exxon's Seven-Year Campaign to Kill an Anti-Corruption
Rule Finally Worked
Sean McElwee: Trump's supporters believe a false narrative of white
victimhood -- and the data proves it: that they believe it, not
that it's true:
Trumpism is a movement built around the loss of privilege and perceived
social status and a desire to re-create social hierarchy. It is one that
requires its adherents to live in a state of constant fear and victimization.
This mythology requires extensive ideological work and media filtering to
remain true. Conservatives must create an ideological bubble in which crime
is out of control (instead of hovering near historic lows), the rate of
abortion is rising (instead of falling), refugees are committing terrorist
attacks en masse (they aren't at all) and immigrants are taking jobs (it's
the capitalists), all while the government is funneling money to undeserving
black people (black people receive government support in accordance with
their share of the population, despite making up a disproportionately large
share of the poor). Conservatives, and many in the general public, believe
that Muslims and immigrants (both legal and unauthorized) make up a
dramatically larger share of the population than they actually do.
Bill McKibben: Trump's Pipeline and America's Shame: Trump's decision
to restart the Dakota Access Pipeline seen as a renewal of centuries of
attacks on Native Americans.
Kristin Salaky: Spicer: Nordstrom Dropping Ivanka Trump's Line Is 'Direct
Attack' on Prez: So the White House press secretary, supposedly a
public servant (at least he draws a government paycheck) is working as
a lobbyist for the First Daughter's personal business interests? Pretty
clear that Trump hasn't separated himself from his family's business
interests (as well as that he continues to focus on the petty). Seems
to me like this is just the free market in action, and that Ivanka will
wind up with new, more demographically appropriate partners -- Cabella's,
maybe, or Hobby Lobby?
Paul Woodward: Trump family brand losing its value noted that
Nordstrom's stock closed higher after dumping Ivanka. He also linked
to an article,
Melania Trump Inc. Imperiled, about how Mrs. Trump is suing the
Daily Mail for defamation, claiming that their story undermined her
opportunity to cash in on her newfound fame. As the New York Times
noted, "President Donald Trump and his family have done little to
assuage concerns that they see the White House as a cash cow."
Michelle Goldberg argues that Kellyanne Conway violated the law
by endorsing Ivanka's products on TV, and quotes the relevant section
of law, which is indeed pretty clearly applicable. She winds up
quoting Larry Noble, general counsel of the Campaign Legal Center:
"The system is based on the assumption that people are going to want
to follow the law or enforce it," he says. In 20 days, this administration
has exploded that assumption. "They are stress-testing our democracy,"
says Noble. "What happens if the administration just refuses to follow
the laws and Congress doesn't want to do anything about it?"
Speaking of Spicer, also see
Esme Cribb: Spicer: Questioning Success of Yemen Raid Does 'Disservice'
to KIA Commando: I would have thought that being sent on that
ill-conceived and botched raid was the real disservice to the commando,
but you know, when threatened, terrorists always try to hide behind
Richard Silverstein: As Bibi Readies for Trump Summit, He Dumps Two-States
for "State-Minus": Sounds like a revival of the Bantustan project,
although I doubt it's that benign. Also see
Ayman Odeh: Israel Bulldozes Democracy:
Like Mr. Trump, Mr. Netanyahu used blatant race-baiting tactics to win
his last election, in 2015. Since then, he has made discrimination
against Palestinian citizens of Israel central to his agenda. This
takes many forms; a particularly painful one is his government's
racist, unjust land use and housing policies.
Jacob Sugarman: Officials heate each other: 5 disturbing revelations about
what's happening inside Trump's White House: Not a lot of red meat
here, but it's totally plausible that factions around Reince Priebus,
Steve Bannon, and Jared Kushner have very different agendas and are prone
to sabotaging one another. Also that Trump himself doesn't have a clue.
Matt Taibbi: The End of Facts in the Trump Era:
A primary characteristic of any authoritarian situation, from East Germany
to high school, is the total uselessness of facts and evidence as a defense
against anything. Trump is in the White House because he and his people
understood this from the start. His movement isn't about facts. All that
matters to his followers is that blame stays fixed in the right direction.
Glad he mentioned high school, although most of corporate America is
even worse (i.e., more authoritarian, or we leftists like to call it,
Glenn Thrush/Jennifer Steinhauer: Stephen Miller Is a 'True Believer' Behind
Core Trump Policies: Former aide to former Senator Jeff Sessions,
now a White House aide "at the epicenter of some of the administration's
most provocative moves, from pushing hard for the construction of a wall
along the border with Mexico to threatening decades-long trade deals at
the heart of Republican economic orthodoxy, to rolling out Mr. Trump's
travel ban on seven largely Muslim nations, whose bungled introduction
Zoe Tillman: Gorsuch Would Join the Supreme Court Millionaires' Club if
Jordan Weissmann: The Hot New Corporate PR Strategy? Giving Trump Credit
for Stuff He Didn't Do. Like Intel deciding to build a plant in
Arizona it was going to build there anyway.
Matthew Zeitlin: Republicans Are Moving to Scrap Rules That Limit Overdraft
Also a few links not so directly tied to America's bout of political
TomDispatch this week:
Tom Engelhardt: Crimes of the Trump Era (a Preview);
Raja Menon: Is President Trump Headed for a War with China?.
Menon, by the way, has a book called The Conceit of Humanitarian
Intervention (2016). Regarding China, I'm reminded of a scenario
sketched out by the late Chalmers Johnson: suppose a country launched
a dumptruck-load of gravel into earth orbit (something well within
China's capability); it would in short order destroy every satellite
(including China's, but most are American or owned by corporations).
Without killing any people, the economic effects would be devastating,
and it would cripple America's ability to spy on friend and foe, or
indeed to direct foreign wars. I'd argue that this capability all by
itself makes China too big to attack (Russia, of course, could do the
same, at more cost to itself; moreover, the technology isn't far out
for emerging rocket builders, notably Iran and North Korea). Given
these realities, the US would be well advised to work on cooperation
instead of intimidation. Still, that's not Trump's style, nor is it
China's: "Xi Jinping, like Trump, presents himself as a tough guy,
sure to trounce his enemies at home and abroad. Retaining that image
requirse that he not bend when it comes to defending China's land
and honor." Neocon Robert Kagan has his own alarming scenario:
Backint Into World War III. But then he's arguing to march
forward into conflict, rather than back into it -- which, by the
way, he sees Trump doing in his "further accommodation of Russia"
(as opposed to his "tough" stance against China).
Stan Finger: Police seek answers, reversal as aggravated assaults surge:
Could a 50% increase in aggravated assault cases since the 2013 passage
of Kansas' "open carry" gun law have anything to do with that law? Minds
boggle, especially as the delayed opening up of open gun carry on college
campuses is looming. One complaint is new gun toters haven't been "properly
trained," but wasn't a big part of the 2013 law the elimination of training
Also in the Eagle today:
Dion Lefler/Stan Finger: Race to replace Pompeo in Congress is down to
three candidates: Republicans nominated Brownback crony Ron Estes,
while the Democrats are backing civil rights attorney James Thompson,
who will hopefully turn the election to replace CIA Director Mike Pompeo
into a referendum on the Trump and Brownback administrations. (Salon
has a piece by
Rosana Hegeman on Thompson.) Also:
Dion Lefler: 1,500 Sanders tickets sold so far, leading to move to a
bigger venue, who will be speaking in Topeka on February 25.
Sayed Kashua: Preparing My Kids for the New America: One thing I've
long noted is how much the right-wing, traditionally the last bastion of
anti-semitism, has grown to admire Israel. So as they consolidate their
power, it shouldn't be surprising that they're starting to make America
look more like Israel, or that the first to notice would be Palestinians
who lived in (and fled from) Israel.
John McQuaid: Coastal cities in danger: Florida has seen bad effects
from Trump-like climate gag orders: North Carolina, too. Also,
John Upton: Coastal Cities Could Flood Three Times a Week by 2045.
Daniel Oppenheimer: Not Yet Falling Apart: "Two thinkers on the left
offer a guide to navigating the stormy seas of modernity." Quasi-review of
Mark Lilla's The Shipwrecked Mind: On Political Reaction, trying
to contrast it with Corey Robin's The Reactionary Mind: Conservatism
From Edmund Burke to Sarah Palin (due for a new edition, with Trump
eclipsing Palin, as indeed it does get worse, not to mention dumber).
Oppenheimer make much of Lilla reviewing (and panning) Robin's book,
then not including the review in his short collection (like Robin,
the book stakes out the terrain of a broad, systematic study but
falls short by recycling old book reviews -- in this case "thinkers"
such as Franz Rosenzweig, Leo Strauss, Eric Vogelin, and Michel
Sunday, February 5. 2017
Picked up this image off Twitter. Looks like we've found our Weekend
Roundup motto, for the next four years anyways. More links than usual
because so much shit's been happening. Less commentary than in the
old days because it's all so straightforwardly obvious.
I had meant to write about Matt Taibbi's book Insane Clown President:
Dispatches From the 2016 Circus, but should hold off and do that later.
I will say that the big problems with the book are due to the concept: it
mostly a compilation of previously published pieces, so tends to preserve
the moment's misconceptions in amber rather than taking the time to rethink
the story from its conclusion in a way that might make more sense of it all.
On the other hand, it didn't make sense, and still doesn't make sense, and
as the consequences of the election unfold becomes more and more surreal.
In Taibbi's defense, he probably had a better grasp both of Trump's appeal
and of Clinton's repulsion than any journalist I can think of. Also does
a heroic job of not mincing words, and remains exceptionally conscious of
how presidential campaigns warp the media space around them. Still, he
can't quite believe how it turned out, and neither can I.
A short bit from a New York Times "By the Book" interview with Viet
Tranh Nguyen (wrote a novel, The Sympathizer, which my wife read
I've been reading news and opinion pieces on Facebook and
Twitter. They're utterly terrifying and depressing, since my social
circle basically thinks that a Trump presidency spells the end of the
world. To get out of the echo chamber, I read Donald Trump's Twitter
feed. It's utterly terrifying and depressing, and I run back into the
I take comfort in the children's literature that I read to my
3-year-old son. He will tolerate the tales of Beatrix Potter, which I
find soothing, but mostly he wants to hear about Batman, Superman,
Ghostbusters and Star Wars. The moral clarity is comforting not just
for a 3-year-old, but also for many adults. This is why they are
relevant to our divided age, where most people identify with the
rebels but so many in fact are complicit with the Empire.
The links below, of course, come from the left-liberal echo
chamber (well, plus some anti-war paleo-conservatives). They're
the ones paying attention (in some cases a welcome change after
sleepwalking through the Obama years).
I picked this up off Twitter, but I also saw the video clip (OK, on
Saturday Night Live, but it sure looked authentic. Comes from
Bill O'Reilly interviewing Trump:
O'REILLY: But he's a killer though. Putin's a killer.
TRUMP: There are a lot of killers. We've got a lot of killers.
What do you think -- our country's so innocent?
There are a lot of things one can say about this. For one thing it's
true, which isn't often the case with Trump. But it's hardly a revelation.
It's just something that no politician would say -- least of all someone
like Obama or the Clintons who have personally signed off on execution
orders then gone on to gloat about their killings in public. So you can
chalk Trump's admission up to his anti-PC ethic: his willingness to call
out truths in blunt language. But more specifically, he's denying O'Reilly
resort to a PC clichť. He's saying you can't dismiss working with Putin
out of hand because he's a killer. We're all killers here -- Trump joined
the club last week in ordering a Seal Team 6 assault in Yemen -- so that
hardly disqualifies Putin. The disturbing part is that being a killer is
probably something Trump admires in Putin. Back during the campaign, Trump
not only vowed to kill ostensible enemies like ISIS, he talked on several
occasions about shooting random people on Fifth Avenue, like the ability
to do that and not be held accountable would be the pinnacle of freedom.
Being elected president doesn't quite afford him that latitude, but it
does offer plenty of opportunities to indulge his blood lust. Worse still,
Trump's championing of killers helps establish murder as a political and
social norm. Sure, assassination has been sanctioned as expedient politics
by US presidents at least as far back as Kennedy, but Trump threatens to
make it a uniquely new bragging point.
As this and similar stories play out, all sorts of nonsense is likely
to ensue. I don't know whether to laugh or cry at
Adam Gopnik: Trump's Radical Anti-Americanism. The truth is that
America has a long history of split-personality disorder, at once
touting lofty progressive intentions while having committed a long
series of inexcusable atrocities. So will the real America stand up?
At least with the exceptionalist cant you knew they'd try to put on
a kind and honorable face. But with Trump and his more bloodthirsty
followers, you're liable to get something else: a celebration of the
underside of American history, a legacy that celebrates brutal and
Some scattered links this week:
ZoŽ Carpenter/George Zornick: Everything Donald Trump Did in His Second
Week as President
Dean Baker: A Trade War Everyone Can Win: Argues a way Mexico can
respond to Trump's tariff threats: "announce that it would no longer
enforce U.S. patents and copyrights on its soil." He gives some examples
where this would save Mexico tons of money, but doesn't go back over
some key history. First, the US refused to recognize foreign patents
while we were developing our own industrial economy. Second, a major
aim of US trade policy for decades now has been our willingness to
sacrifice domestic jobs in exchange for more patent/copyright rents.
Since jobs mostly affect working people and rents accrue to the already
rich, US trade policy has contributed mightily to increasing inequality
in America. Also see Baker's
End Patent and Copyright Requirements in NAFTA.
Stephen Burd: How the GOP Became For-Profit College Abuse Deniers:
As the piece points out, "for-profit" schools have been plagued with
fraud as far back as the GI Bill in the 1950s, despite periodic efforts
at regulation. Republicans hate it when regulation gets in the way of
profit-making, even when profits are fueled mostly by fraud -- cf. many
other examples from many other industries -- and education has become
something many conservatives feel we need less of, so they can hardly
object to it not being done well.
Ira Chernus: Now Who's the Enemy?: "The terror inside Trump's White
Susanne Craig/Eric Lipton: Trust Records Show Trump Is Still Closely Tied
to His Empire
Yasmeen El Khoudary: Israel: An Inspiration for Trump: "Israel has
set a great example of racist bans and walls for Trump to follow." I've
said for some time now neocons suffer from an acute case of Israel Envy:
all they want is to see America flaunt its power as capriciously and
unilaterally as Israel does. The alt-right may be just as envious, but
Israel's apartheid policies will be harder for Americans to swallow --
indeed, it's not something many Israelis like to talk about. Also, see
William Parry: Donald Trump is wrong about Israel's 'security'
James P Rooney: What Trump Doesn't Understand About Immigration From
Jonathan Freedland: First on the White House agenda -- the collapse of the
global order. Next, war? Trying to predict where Trump is going by
following Steve Bannon: "Bannon is not destroying the old, clunky post-1945
order for the sake of a fairer, more equal, more interdependent world. He
seems instead to dream of a bloody, fiery war that will kill millions --
out of which will be forged a new, cleansed and even more dominant America."
Greg Grandin: About That Kissinger Quote Neil Gorsuch Likes . . . :
About Trump's Supreme Court nominee, highly touted as a devotee of Antonin
Scalia's mystical "originalism" doctrine. The Kissinger quote, which
Gorsuch picked to go with his Columbia yearbook photo: "The illegal we
do immediately, the unconstitutional takes a little longer." Also see:
David S Cohen: Meet Trump's Supreme Court Nominee, Neil Gorsuch.
Of course, I've also seen
Neal K Katyal: Why Liberals Should Back Neil Gorsuch: suggests to
me that it could have been worse, but I'm not sure how you square the
nominee's "commitment to judicial independence" with the guy who wrote
the Hobby Lobby decision.
William Hartung: Trump's 5th Bankruptcy: Budget-Busting Trillions to US
Department of War Originally from
TomDispatch, but Juan Cole's title
is more apt. Also:
Nick Turse: Will Trump Really Be Isolationist? Or Will He March Us to
Fred Kaplan: What Happened Behind the Scenes Before the Yemen Raid? I
referred to this assault above.
Anne Kim: The Long-Term Economic Wreckage of Trump's Travel Ban.
Mike Konczal: Trump Picks Wall Street Over Main Street: Trump's first
executive order on finance starts to unravel the Dodd-Frank reforms --
any campaign suggestions that he would be tough on banks to the contrary.
No big surprise, given that he's already handed the Treasury Department
over to Goldman-Sachs. Konczal also wrote:
Trump Is Capitalizing on the Anxiety Caused by the End of Steady
Paul A Kramer: Now Who We Are: "Our xenophobic impulses and loftiest
ideals have been in conflict since the founding." And behind the magic
word, unsurprisingly, is Frank Luntz.
Nancy LeTourneau: How Can We Believe Anything This Administration Says?
Kellyanne Conway, the "Bowling Green massacre," and other "alternative
Daniel Larison: Elliott Abrams Will Be Deputy Secretary of State:
Most of Trump's nominees are merely terrible, but sometimes he manages
to pick the worst person imaginable. This is one of those cases. Also:
Eric Alterman: An Actual American War Criminal May Become Our Second-Ranking
Martin Longman: This Situation Is More Dire Than I Want to Admit and,
a day later, his more detailed
The 12 Early Warning Signs of Fascism. Not sure I'd call it Fascism,
but the sign reads like the GOP platform (not just Trump's agenda).
Simon Maloy: Trump's "amazing" ignorance: The president's Black History
Month celebration was embarrassing.
Jim Newell: The GOP Has No Obamacare Bill. It Does Have a New Buzzword:
"Repeal and replace is out. Repair is in.
Sarah Posner: Leaked Draft of Trump's Religious Freedom Order Reveals
Sweeping Plans to Legalize Discrimination. Also:
Adele Stan: Trump Leads the Religious Right to the Promised Land:
"Evangelicals' alignment with Trump shows their affinity for power over
Bernie Sanders; Trump 'Is a Fraud' Sending Nation in 'Authoritarian
Richard Silverstein: Steve Bannon's Romance with Hollywood Islamophobia,
Steve Bannon, the Church Militant and Global War Against Islam.
Mark Joseph Stern: Why Judge Robart Blocked the Muslim Ban: "There's
no constitutional way to implement an unconstitutional order."
Matt Taibbi: Extreme Vetting, but Not for Banks, as well as
The Anti-Refugee Movement Is America at Its Most Ignorant.
Ben Walsh: A Citigroup Lawyer Helped Trump Pick Bank Regulators, Then
Returned to Work at the Bank: See, it isn't all Goldman-Sachs.
Stephen M Walt: America's New President Is Not a Rational Actor, and
Trump Has Already Blown It. Before inauguration Walt also wrote:
Trump Doesn't Know What He Doesn't Know About Foreign Policy, where
he noted "The president-elect sometimes says the right things, but always
does the wrong ones." On the other hand, Walt's been hard to please, as
is clear from his final word on Trump's predecessor:
Barack Obama Was a Foreign-Policy Failure.
One of the most alarming things Trump has done so far has been
his campaign to impose sanctions on Iran amidst much sabre-rattling.
Phyllis Bennis: The Trump Administration Is Recklessly Escalting Tensions
Juan Cole: Here We Go Again: Trump Admin Threatens Iran;
Dan De Luce/Paul McCleary: Yemen Is the First Battleground in Trump's
Confrontation With Iran;
Ben Norton: Trump and the Saudi king discuss major pact to confront Iran;
Patrick Cockburn: Trump's Comments Toward Iran Could Deepen Conflict in
Trita Parsi: What Flynn Could Learn From Kerry About Iran;
Daniel Larison: The Trump Administration's Lies About Iran;
Muhammad Sahimi: Do Iran's Missile Tests Violate the Nuclear Agreement?
(short answer: no).
Also a few links not so directly tied to America's bout of political
Sunday, January 22. 2017
Just brief links this week. For what it's worth, about 3,000 people
showed up for Wichita's edition of the anti-Trump Women's March. As
someone who's always wanted politics to be boring and irrelevant, I'm
clearly not going to enjoy the next four years. On the other hand, I
voted for Hillary Clinton knowing full well that she, too, would bring
us four years or war and financial mayhem to protest against. But she's
boring enough we'd be hard pressed to get 30 people out to a march.
Whatever else you think, Trump is much more effective at moving us to
Women's March was the largest protest in US history as an estimated 3.6
to 4.5 million marched; also
Millions join women's marches in an historic international rebuke of
Tom Cahill: Trump's new slogan is copied verbatim from horror film 'The
Purge': The article claims "You can't make this shit up," but if
the movie in question was, as the article also claims, based on Trump's
2016 campaign slogan, they already have. Of course, The Purge
isn't the only imaginable Trumpian future. When I saw 2015's Mad
Max: Fury Road, its fetishes struck me as so literally Trumpian
I half-expected the GOP to adopt it as an infomercial.
Ben Casselman: Stop Saying Trump's Win Had Nothing to Do With
Noah Charney: No deal for the arts: It's no surprise that Donald Trump
wants to tell the arts and humanities "you're fired": Reminds me of
a Facebook meme I recently saw, that pointed out that when Winston Churchill
was asked to cut arts funding to help the war effort, his reply was "Then
what are we fighting for?"
William DeBuys: Election rigging 101: Donald Trump's crash course in
Jonathan Chait: Donald Trump to America: I Won, Accountability Is
It is impossible to know what course American democracy will take under
Trump's presidency. The fears of authoritarianism may prove overblown,
and Trump may govern like a normal Republican. But the initial signs are
quite concerning. Trump believes he can demolish normal standards of
behavior, like the expectation of disclosing tax returns, and placing
assets in a blind trust. He has received the full cooperation of his
party, which controls Congress and has blocked any investigation or
other mechanism for exerting pressure. His dismissal of the news media
might simply be a slightly amped-up version of the conservative tradition
of media abuse, but it seems to augur something worse. Rather than making
snide cracks about liberal bias, Trump escalated into abuse and total
delegitimization. Will the abuse of the media be seen as an idiosyncratic
episode, or the beginning of something worse to come? We don't know. His
early behavior is consistent with (though far from proof of) the thesis
that he is an emerging autocrat. The people have granted him license to
steal and hide as he wishes. The bully has his pulpit.
The phrase that catches in my throat here is "normal Republican."
The fact is Republicans haven't been "normal" since they accepted
Richard Nixon's rewriting the rules on campaign ethics. Since then
they've hosted two of the most corrupt and ideologically corrosive
administrations in American history, while their efforts to spoil
(by any means possible) the Clinton and Obama administrations have
set new standards for political cynicism. The Trump administration
starts with no real popular legitimacy, and the Republican agenda
has even less popular support, so the big question will be whether
they can leverage their current grasp of institutional power to do
things contrary to the welfare and desires of most Americans. The
United States has a long and hallowed tradition of popular rule,
which has never before been challenged severely as Trump and his
party are doing.
Mike Konczal: The Austerity of the Obama Years: This is an important
piece. Even though it's not entirely Obama's fault, his inability either
to fix the problem or properly assign blame for his failures is what let
The economic landscape adjusted to the missing prosperity, with economic
power concentrating at the highest levels. Trillions of dollars simply
went into mergers and acquisitions, leaving the economy more concentrated
than at any point in decades. Yet this power also seeped into everyday
life. Work became even more precarious and disintermediated towards
smaller, weak firms attached through contracts to rich flagships. Over
the past ten years workers in traditional employment declined slightly,
with contract and independent workers driving the increases. Beyond
making activism and regulations much more difficult, this shift greatly
accelerated inequality as corporate profits skyrocketed. People became
contract workers and took on boarders in their homes again, like those
trying to survive the nineteenth century, and elites celebrated it as
an entrepreneurial wonderland.
That the Democrats could never figure out what to do about this gap
in our economy showed up in the Democratic primary. An economist named
Gerald Friedman argued that Bernie Sanders's proposals would fix the gap,
that if his large expansion of public works, taxes, and spending had a
chance, the economy would get to and go far beyond its full potential.
He walked into a bandsaw of Democratic economists attacking his argument
as voodoo economics. Friedman's analysis did have serious flaws, but the
Democratic economists counter was that where we were was just the reality,
that there was little-to-no room to grow further and faster. This output
gap, introduced during Obama's years, was a permanent reduction in our
potential that we would have to live with. It was the economic equivalent
of the Democrats' "America is Already Great," a messaging that delivered
our country to Trump.
Richard Silverstein: America First, Israel First: the Lobby Loves
James Thindwa/Kathleen Geier: Does the Left Bear Any Blame for Donald
Trump? More waffling than I'd really like. I wasn't asked, but have
two answers: the first is no (if, as stated, 90 percent of Sanders
supporters backed Clinton she did better on the left than she did with
"locked in" constituencies like blacks, Latinos, and labor), and second,
it doesn't matter, because now and in the near future the Democrats need
the left even more than ever -- for activism, and for a more acute and
resonant critique of what Trump and the Republicans are doing. The real
shame is that there are still some mainstream Democrats who seem to be
much more ready to attack the left than to stand up against the right.
They need to change their priorities, and they can start by letting up
on their Cold War dogma about the left.
Zephyr Teachout: Donald Trump Will Violate the Constitution on Day
Nathan Wellman: Trump just deleted the White House's website on protecting
people with disabilities
China's winding down coal use continues -- the country just canceled 104
new coal plants: Meanwhile, Trump plans to ramp up coal burning in
Don't think of a rampaging elephant: Linguist George Lakoff explains how
the Democrats helped elect Trump: Paul Rosenberg interviews Lakoff.
Also links to Lakoff's own analysis:
A Minority President: Why the Polls Failed, and What the Majority Can
Do. Reiterates much of what Lakoff has been saying for several
decades now. Still, I have trouble thinking of Trump as a "strict
father" conservative archetype. I have to wonder if we haven't mutated
into something far more ominous.
Some Colleges Have More Students From the Top 1 Percent Than the Bottom
Trump gives 'most disastrous speech ever given at CIA' says former CIA
WH Staffers Pile on Former CIA Head for Criticizing Trump's Off-the-Rails
Robin Wright: Trump's Vainglorious Affront to the CIA.
Again, very important for readers to contribute to the project to
Help Us Save the Elizabeth M. Fink Attica Archive. Please go there,
read about what's being done, and contribute some money. And pass this
note on to other people who might. Thanks.
Also a reminder that you can read Dean Baker's new book, Rigged:
How Globalization and the Rules of the Modern Economy Were Structured
to Make the Rich Richer free,
Sunday, January 15. 2017
Odd that this week intellectuals promoting Trump had more interesting
things to say than intellectuals still defending Hillary Clinton. Not
necessary truer things, but less hackneyed and disturbing, even if the
overall trend is a race toward complete stupor.
Some scattered links this week:
Michelle Goldberg: Democrats Should Follow John Lewis' Lead: I have
considerable respect for Lewis, a long-time civil rights leader before
he became (thanks to gerrymandering) Georgia's token black Democrat in
the House, and it doesn't bother me in the least that he's decided not
to attend Trump's inaugural. I don't see why his presence is in any way
necessary, and I sure can't think of anything more stupefying a person
can do on that day than attend. But according to Goldberg, this all
turns on the Clinton Democrats' favorite scapegoat, Vladimir Putin:
Lewis was speaking for many of us who are aghast at the way Trump benefited
from Russian hacking and now appears to be returning the favor by taking
a fawning stance toward Putin. He spoke for those of us who are shocked by
the role of the FBI, which improperly publicized the reopening of its
investigation into Hillary Clinton's emails but refuses to say whether
it is investigating Trump's ties with Russia. Trump lost the popular vote;
he is president-elect only because the country values fidelity to the
democratic process over popular democracy itself. (The Constitution, it
turns out, may in fact be a suicide pact.) If the process itself was
crooked -- if Trump's campaign colluded in any way with Russia -- his
legitimacy disappears. If he scorns the Constitution by, say, violating
the Emoluments Clause, it disappears as well. A president who lost the
popular vote, who may have cheated to win the Electoral College, and who
will be contravening the Constitution the second he's sworn in is due
neither respect nor deference.
I suppose there's a focus group somewhere that says anti-Putin rants
are politically effective, but really, this has got to stop. The fact is
Hillary Clinton lost for dozens of reasons, and the fact that WikiLeaks
(with or without Russian help) exposed John Podesta and Donna Brazile
as political hacks didn't help but is surely way down the list. They
must realize as much because they never mention the substance of Russian
interference: they focus on Putin as an evil manipulator who will wind
up dominating a submissive US president because Trump owes his election
not to the millions of Americans who voted for him but to a foreign ogre
who orchestrated some dirty tricks -- a ruse they can only get away with
by replaying cold war stereotypes (e.g., Putin is a dictator, although
he's been elected several times by large margins in reasonably fair and
competitive elections, and his background in the KGB proves he's always
been anti-US); and secondly, they posit Trump as a dissenter from the
consensus views of the American "intelligence community" -- the secret
clan of spooks who have one of the world's worst track records for truth
Worse still, I think, are the practical consequences: they are demanding
that the US ramp up its hostility toward Russia, including sanctions that
were previously in place for other supposed affronts, threatening a war
that unlike America's recent attacks on marginal or failed states could
be genuinely disastrous. And why should we risk world peace? To revenge
Podesta's tarnished reputation? Because Clinton Democrats can bear to
take responsibility for blowing the election to Donald Trump? There's
plenty of blame to go around for the latter, and it's well nigh time for
Clinton and her career to admit that they should have done a better job
campaigning. And when they do so, they should realize that obsessing
over the Trump-Putin connection was one of the things they did wrong.
The first fact is that people don't care. The second is that it's not
healthy for Democrats to be seen as the war party (and bear in mind that
Hillary, given her past hawkishness, is already so tainted).
Still, if you have to blame someone else, there are real ogres much
closer to home. Look first at the Republican laws aimed at suppressing
the vote, and gerrymandering congress. Look especially at the billion
dollars or so that the Koch network and other GOP mega-financiers spent
on getting their vote out. I think it's quite clear that there was a
sustained, methodical effort to undermine democracy in 2016, but it
wasn't the Russians who were behind it. It was the Republicans. Maybe
if you hack some emails -- seems like fair play at this point -- you
might even find a smoking gun showing that the Russians were working
for the Republicans (a much more credible story than vice versa; it
would, in fact, be reminiscent of finding out that Nixon interfered
with the talks to end the Vietnam War, or that Reagan kiboshed Carter's
efforts to negotiate the release of hostages in Tehran).
And by all means, note that Trump lost the popular vote to Clinton
by nearly three million votes, yet through a 227-year-old quirk in the
constitution is being allowed to install the most extreme right-wing
oligarchy ever. Then, if you like, you can point out that Putin enjoys
a similar relationship to Russia's oligarchy -- I never said he was
beyond reproach, let alone a saint, but has to be respected as leader
of a major nation, and (unlike Trump) a democratically-elected one at
As for John Lewis, bless him: after spending his life working hard
to make this country a better place for all who live here, he's earned
the right to take a day off, especially when the alternative is having
to witness such tragedy.
Patrick Lawrence: Trump, Russia, and the Return of Scapegoating, a
Timeless American Tradition.
Tony Karon: The US media is not equipped to handle a Trump White
House: There's an old adage that generals always prepare to refight
the last war, and as such are always surprised when a new war happens.
Something similar has been happening in media coverage of politics, but
in many ways the media landscape has changed over the last 4-8-16 years,
yet veterans of past campaigns (and clearly HRC fits this mold) still
seem to believe that what worked in the past must still work today. Not
clear whether Trump was smart or lucky -- I'd say he was selected from
the large Republican field because he fit the evolving right-wing media
model remarkably well, and he merely lucked out over Clinton due to a
wide range of factors, including an electoral structure which allowed
him to squeak out a win despite losing the popular vote by nearly three
million votes. Still, his election was especially astonishing to those
of us who thought, based on long experience, we understood how the
system works. In the end, his biggest assets were a vast electorate
willing to believe anything and the opportunistic and unscrupulous
media that indulged them with all manner of fantastic innuendo.
Mr Trump emerged as a public figure by mastering this fractured landscape,
where distinctions between news and entertainment were increasingly blurred
and where the business model's reliance on "click-bait" favours provocation.
He connects instinctively with a public likely to judge the veracity of
information not on its own merits, but according to existing attitudes
towards the news outlets publishing it. Thus the logic behind his
off-the-cuff remark last summer that "I could stand in the middle of 5th
Avenue and shoot somebody and I wouldn't lose voters."
But while painting him as a pawn of Moscow is certainly unlikely to
weaken Mr Trump's political base, his empty promises on health care and
job creation are a real weakness, because failure to deliver will increase
the pain of many people who voted for him.
It's critically important, therefore, for the media to focus on what
Mr Trump's government and their allies on Capitol Hill are actually doing --
not simply what they say about what they're doing.
The problem is that sort of journalism hardly exists anymore, anywhere,
and certainly not on the 24-hour news torrents. And while the election
seemed to set new qualitative lows practically every week, post-election
coverage has been even lamer: even for "reporters" who never delve any
deeper than sifting quotes for gotchas, the only Washington source sure
to get reported on is Trump's latest tweetstorm -- and that's more for
entertainment than insight. You'd think that as America goes to hell the
vested interests that own big media would realize that they actually need
to better know and understand what's happening, but recent experience
suggests that groupthink (the Bushies used to call it "message discipline")
Paul Krugman: There Will Be No Obamacare Replacement: Read past the
snark about Comey and Putin, and look at the policy analysis.
From the beginning, those of us who did think it through realized
that anything like universal coverage could only be achieved in one
of two ways: single payer, which was not going to be politically
possible, or a three-legged stool of regulation, mandates, and
subsidies. [ . . . ]
It's actually amazing how thoroughly the right turned a blind eye
to this logic, and some -- maybe even a majority -- are still in denial.
But this is as ironclad a policy argument as I've ever seen; and it
means that you can't tamper with the basic structure without throwing
tens of millions of people out of coverage. You can't even scale back
the spending very much -- Obamacare is somewhat underfunded as is.
Will they decide to go ahead anyway, and risk opening the eyes of
working-class voters to the way they've been scammed? I have no idea.
But if Republicans do end up paying a big political price for their
willful policy ignorance, it couldn't happen to more deserving people.
I have little faith that sanity will save the Republicans at this
late date, but to destroy Obamacare they're going to run afoul of some
powerful special interests, and while they may try to assuage them by
permitting them to operate even more fraudulently than before the ACA
was passed, the result will be millions of people screwed, and most
likely the health care industry itself will lurch into contraction.
David Dayen: Trump Just Stumbled Into a Canyon on Obamacare.
Kelefa Sanneh: Intellectuals for Trump: I must admit that I never
liked the idea of intellectuals -- I always thought that learning and
reasoning were things that everyone did, so dividing people between
a self-defining intellectual elite and the ignorant masses never set
well with my democratic instincts (not to mention that those same
self-identified intellectuals tended to exclude me, not because I
didn't know or think but because I often knew and thought the wrong
things -- elites, as ever, being jealous guardians of their ranks).
But I was also quick to realize that thinking doesn't always work
out right: indeed, that clever people could contort their command
of history, logic, and rhetoric to justify almost anything, most
often whatever their interests and upbringing (which is to say,
class identity) favored. So perhaps we're best off characterizing
intellectualism as a style with no intrinsic merit. Throughout
history, political leaders have had little trouble gaining the
rationalizing support of intellectuals, just as intellectuals
have struggled to raise their baser instincts to fine principles.
Donald Trump makes for a fine case in point. He has so little
cred and rapport with liberal intellectuals that some scurried off
to re-read Richard Hofstadter's Anti-Intellectualism in American
Life for a refresher course on how willfully stupid the people
can be. Even conservatives with intellectual pretensions were almost
unanimous in their dismay over Trump: his early vocal supporters were
almost exclusively limited to professional bigots like Ann Coulter
and Michael Savage. Still, what finally made Trump palatable to
Republican elites was the only thing they really cared about:
winning. So, as Sanneh chronicles, of late right-wing intellectuals
have started flocking to Trump. Two varieties have emerged. One,
including Heritage Foundation chief honcho Jim DeMint and his crew,
are ordinary conservatives continuing to spout their usual nostrums
while claiming validation by Trump's victory. The others, including
an anonymous group which evidently started "The Journal of American
Greatness" as "'an inside joke,' which in the course of a few months,
attracted a large following, and 'ceased to be a joke.'" The website
was subsequently deleted, but blogger Publius Decius Mus, the main
subject of Sanneh's piece, is still attempting to develop a coherent
Decius is a longtime conservative, though a heterodox one. He had grown
frustrated with the Republican Party's devotion to laissez-faire economics
(or, in his description, "the free market Łber alles"), which left
Republican politicians ill-prepared to address rising inequality. "The
conservative talking point on income inequality has always been, It's
the aggregate that matters -- don't worry, as long as everyone can afford
food, clothing, and shelter," he says. "I think that rising income
inequality actually has a negative effect on social cohesion." He
rejects what he calls "punitive taxation" -- like many conservatives,
he suspects that Democrats' complaints about inequality are calculated
to mask the Party's true identity as the political home of the cosmopolitan
ťlite. But he suggests that a government might justifiably hamper
international trade, or subsidize an ailing industry, in order to
sustain particular communities and particular jobs. A farm subsidy,
a tariff, a targeted tax incentive, a restrictive approach to immigration:
these may be defensible, he thought, not on narrowly economic grounds
but as expressions of a country's determination to preserve its own ways
of life, and as evidence of the fundamental principle that the citizenry
has the right to ignore economic experts, especially when their track
records are dubious. (In this respect, Trumpism resembles the ideologically
heterogeneous populist-nationalist movements that have lately been ascendant
in Europe.) Most important, he thinks that conservatives should pay more
attention to the shifting needs of the citizens whom government ought to
serve, instead of assuming that Reagan's solutions will always and
everywhere be applicable. "In 1980, after a decade of stagnation, we
needed an infusion of individualism," he wrote. "In 2016, we are too
fragmented and atomized -- united for the most part only by being
equally under the thumb of the administrative state -- and desperately
need more unity."
Decius takes perverse pride in having been late to come around to
Trump; as a populist, he likes the fact that everyday American voters
recognized Trump's potential before he did. When Decius started paying
serious attention, around January, he discerned the outlines of a simple
and, in his view, eminently sensible political program: "less foreign
intervention, less trade, and more immigration restrictions."
[ . . . ] In his "Flight 93" essay, Decius called
Trump "the most liberal Republican nominee since Thomas Dewey," and he
didn't mean it as an insult. Trump argues that the government should do
more to insure that workers have good jobs, speaks very little about
religious imperatives, and excoriates the war in Iraq and wars of
occupation in general. Decius says that he isn't concerned about Trump's
seeming fondness for Russia; in his view, thoughtless provocations would
be much more dangerous. In his telling, Trump is a political centrist
who is misconstrued as an extremist.
Emphasis added, the rare insight a conservative's focus on social
order is likely to latch onto that liberals, whether individualistic
or utilitarian, tend to miss. Of course, what pushes conservatives in
that direction is the belief that cohesion involves acceptance of the
traditional pecking order.
The "Flight 93" post, by the way, comes off as a sick joke: he's
arguing that folks should vote for Trump for the same reason that
Flight 93 passengers committed suicide by rushing their hijackers
rather than wait for the hijackers to kill them (and presumably
others). No rational person can claim that Obama or Hillary would
affect much change, much less destroy the country, and no Republican
(much less a Trump partisan) can plausibly claim to care about the
effects of America's self-destruction on the rest of the world. The
post tacitly admits that electing Trump would be suicidal, yet like
suicide bombers all around the world (indeed, like their old "better
dead than red" slogan) were so convinced of their righteousness they
no longer cared about the consequences.
The rest of Decius' argument is more interesting, but still deeply
confused. He's not the first Republican to recognize that inequality
is a serious problem, not just because it hurts the people who get
pushed aside and makes the so-called winners look callous and unjust,
but because it threatens to undermine the entire fabric of society.
Kevin Phillips, who back around 1970 plotted out The Emerging
Republican Majority, wrote three remarkable books in 2004-08 --
American Dynasty, American Theocracy, and Bad
Money -- which recognized the problem squarely. And there have
been others, but the only policies that would mitigate inequality
are ones that move the nation to the left, and the mindset of the
conservative movement is constructed like a valve which only permits
policy to flow ever further to the right.
I think the key to Trump's primary victory was in how he reinforced
the party base's prejudices, thus showing he was one with them, without
embracing the slashed earth destruction of the liberal state which has
become unchallenged gospel among conservatives -- therefore the base
didn't find him either alarming (like Ted Cruz) or callow (like Marco
Rubio). On the other hand, to win the election Trump had to keep the
support of dogmatic conservatives and moneyed elites, which he paid for
by basically delivering the administration to their hands (cf. Pence
and the cabinet of billionaires and their hired guns). The dream that
Trump might blaze a new path that breaks from conservative orthodoxy
while avoiding the taint of liberal-baiting, even assuming he had the
imagination and desire to do so, has thus been foreclosed. The only
question is the extent to which he can act as a brake on the damage
his administration might cause, not least to him. And he really doesn't
strike me as sharp enough to keep himself out of trouble, much less to
help anyone else out.
Yet "intellectuals" will keep constructing fantasies about what a
truly Trumpist Trump might do, and in the end will wind up blaming his
failures on him not being Trumpist enough. After all, nothing defines
an intellectual like one's commitment to pursue unfounded assumptions
to ridiculous ends.
Justin Talbot-Zorn: Will Donald Trump Be the Most Pro-Monopoly President
in History? Given the competition, it's going to be hard to tell.
I can't recall any big cases either for Bush or Obama. The Clinton DOJ
mounted (and won) a case against Microsoft, which Ashcroft settled as
soon as he took over, achieving virtually nothing. But it's becoming
more widely recognized that mergers and lack of competition not only
drive profits up, increasing inequality, but also kill jobs.
While Republicans have been skeptical of antitrust enforcement since
Robert Bork came on the scene in the late 1970s, Democrats have been
part of the problem too. Bill Clinton took antitrust out of the party
platform in 1992, and, only in 2016 -- with a push from Bernie Sanders --
was the plank restored.
This also ties into
Brian S Feldman: How to Really Save Jobs in the Heartland.
Also, a few links for further study (briefly noted:
Dean Baker: Weak Labor Market: President Obama Hides Behind Automation:
Actually, I think Obama is right at the big picture level -- the main
source of losses in most job categories is automation rather than trade
or finance, but Baker is right at a more detailed level: it's political
policies that shape how automation, trade, and finance wreak their havoc,
and for a half-century or so those policies have favored capital over
labor, to an extent that has gone beyond unjust to downright cruel.
Baker has some of his pet examples, and points to a new book he has
written, available as a free PDF or Ebook:
Rigged: How Globalization and the Rules of the Modern Economy Were
Structured to Make the Rich Richer.
Tom Cahill: Democrats Lock Hands with Republicans and Big Pharma to
Screw Over Americans: Bernie Sanders and Amy Klobuchar offered
an amendment to allow imports of prescription drugs, which would
undercut the industry's monopoly pricing in the US. Twelve Republicans
voted for the amendment, so its loss can squarely be blamed on thirteen
Democrats -- notably Cory Booker, who's raised over $400K from drug
companies. Also see:
Zach Cartwright: Bernie Sanders Shreds Fellow Democrats Who Voted with
Big Pharma, and, what the hell, Martin Longman's defensive brief,
The Stupid War on Cory Booker..
Patrick Cockburn: The Dodgy Trump Dossier Reminds Me of the Row Over
Matthew Cole: The Crimes of SEAL Team 6: I've been reading Jeremy
Scahill's Dirty Wars: The World Is a Battlefield, so I'm already
familiar with some of this.
Michelle Goldberg: "This Evil Is All Around Us": On Trump's future
CIA Director, Mike Pompeo ("amid the fire hose of lunacy that is the
Trump transition, however, Pompeo's extremism has been overlooked").
Personally, I've always found him much less of a religious fanatic than
Todd Tiahrt, the truly horrible man he replaced, but that's an awfully
low bar. Unrelated aside: The Eagle ran a piece on Pompeo's finances,
characterizing him as
"an average American" in contrast to Trump's billionaires, disclosing
that assets only add up to $345K -- not much for a guy who campaigns on
his record of building businesses, or even for a guy who draws $174K/year
as a member of Congress. Makes you wonder how good of a manager he really
Greg Grandin: Why Did the US Drop 26,171 Bombs on the World Last Year?
Moreover, I doubt that counts the ones "allies" like Israel and Saudi
Arabia dropped with our blessing.
John Judis: America's Failure -- and Russia and Iran's Success -- in
Syria's Cataclysmic Civil War: Interview with Joshua Landis, who
knows more than Judis does.
Allegra Kirkland: GOP Senator: 'Yeah,' Trump's Cabinet Picks Should Be
Treated Differently: James Inhofe (R-OK), but he only has the least
filter between what passes for his brain and the orifice he utters his
thoughts through. But Republicans have always supported double standards,
much like they always support the powerful beating down on those they
perceive as week. Only Democrats believe in fair play, equal treatment,
or underdogs. Don't you know that?
Dahlia Lithwick: Jason Chaffetz Doesn't Care About Ethics: Chafetz
is a Republican congressman, head of the House Oversight Committee, and
the one ethical issue he seems to be concerned about is Walter Shaub (of
"the nonpartisan Office of Government Ethics") being at all critical of
Trump's numerous conflicts of interest.
Nancy LeTourneau: Being Outnumbered Doesn't Have to Mean Losing:
Posted back in August, before the prime example of its thesis became
infamous. Book review of Zachary Roth's The Great Suppression:
Voting Rights, Corporate Cash, and the Conservative Assault on
Democracy. Recommended to all you Democrats out there who're
wondering whether you need to bone up on Putin to better understand
Melissa Murray/Kathleen Geier/Catherine Powell: What Happens to a
Feminist Dream Deferred?
Matt Taibbi: Trump Nominee Jay Clayton Will Be the Most Conflicted SEC
Chair Ever: Taibbi doesn't seem to consider FDR's SEC pick, Joseph
Kennedy Sr., who had some pretty huge conflicts of interest, but back
in the 1930s tigers were expected to change their stripes when they
became public servants -- an expectation that seems completely alien
to this hyperindividualistic revolving door era. Also helped that FDR
himself was devoted to the public interest, something that never seems
to have occurred to Trump.
Sunday, January 8. 2017
After a couple weeks I had enough open tabs to think I should hack
out another links-plus-comments column. Nothing systematic here, just
a few things that caught my fancy.
Some scattered links this week:
Jamelle Bouie: The Most Extreme Party Coalition Since the Civil War:
The first book I read on alternative politics back in the 1960s was called
The New Radicals, a survey of various thinkers and activists on the
New Left. In it, radicals were people who looked for root causes and core
principles, as opposed to those who casually wandered from one compromise
to another. While it's certainly true that radicals can be wrong, and that
they can become obsessed by their insights and oblivious to consequences,
the problem there is picking bad principles, not radical ones. In fact,
the only other time when "radical" was commonly used to describe politics
was after the Civil War, when the GOP was dominated by so-called radicals
like Thaddeus Stevens who advocated a deep-seated reconstruction of the
former Slave South. Bouie is right that today's GOP is chock full of folks
who hold very dangerous views, but those people are not radicals -- they're
just wrong. Indeed, in terms of their eagerness to impose their ideology
on a world that has moved way past it, they share much more than attitude
with pro-slavery activists like John Calhoun than with Republicans like
Stevens. But as Corey Robin has pointed out, the proper term for Calhoun
and his ilk isn't radical -- it's conservative. The first thing Bouie must
do to get smarter is to disabuse himself of the notion that conservatism
is a respectable political philosophy. Leftists learned this lesson long
ago, which is why they readily identify people who are willing to wreck
the world to save the rich -- people like Trump, Pence, and Ryan -- as
fascists. That may seem reflexive and excessive, but it serves us well.
Gorbachev: US Was Short-Sighted After Soviet Collapse: So true,
but America's effective policy toward the former Soviet Union was to
rub their faces in the dirt. We helped turn their collectivist economy
into a Mafia-run kleptocracy. The result was near-total economic collapse --
so severe that even life expectancy dipped by as much as a decade. And
to add insult to injury, the US started picking off former satellite
nations and SSRs that formerly propped up the Russian economy and turned
them westward, hugely expanding both NATO and the EU. This produced a
huge backlash in Russia, and its face is Vladimir Putin, a guy we fear
and loathe as a nationalist strongman, but who Russians flock to precisely
because he doesn't look like as an American flunky. Sure, it's not clear
why the US didn't handle the situation more adroitly, but from the start
American Cold Warriors did everything they could to prevent any form of
free/open/humane socialism from securing a foothold anywhere. Americans
always preferred to work through corrupt strongmen, and even if Yeltsin
didn't qualify as strong, he more than made it up as corrupt. Those who
complain so much about Putin today should bear this history in mind,
but the lesson they draw is inevitably wrong, because we are incapable
of considering what would be good for the welfare of people in other
nations -- Republicans, especially, don't even care about people living
here. And the only thing the foreign policy mandarins consider is whether
foreign leaders follow or challenge America's power dictates.
Bradley Klapper/Josef Federman/Edith M Lederer: US Rebukes and Allows
UN Condemnation of Settlements: Widely interpreted as a "parting shot"
rebuke of Netanyahu by the Obama administration, the fact is that it's
been US policy since 1967 that Israel must retreat to its pre-1967
armistice borders as part of a "land-for-peace" deal, a scheme which
later came to be described as "the two-state solution." That was,
after all, the basis for George Mitchell's mission to restart final
status talks between Israel and the Palestinian Authority, and before
that was the official expectation for Bush's Roadmap, for the Clinton-era
Oslo Accords, and for Carter's peace treaty between Egypt and Israel.
Mitchell himself spent most of his mission time trying to convince
Israel to halt settlement construction, and his complete failure to
limit Israel destroyed any hope for an American-brokered peace. In
past years, the intransigence of an Israeli PM like Yitzhak Shamir
would have led to a breach with the US, rectified by Israel electing
a more flexible leader (Yitzhak Rabin). Even GW Bush was able to put
pressure on Israel, at the time led by Ariel Sharon (not a pushover),
to dismantle settlements as part of his poisoned Gaza withdrawal. But
Obama never did anything like that, and over eight years Netanyahu
discovered he could walk all over Obama, ensuring that the US would
never challenge Israel in an international forum. Given that the
UNSCR resolution does nothing more than reiterate four decades of
US policy, the real question isn't why Obama didn't veto it. It's
why Obama didn't direct his ambassador to vote for it, indeed why
he didn't sponsor the resolution eight years ago, when it might have
been more effective -- when at least it would have served notice
that the US is serious about peace and justice in the Middle East.
Rather, Obama wasted eight years digging ever deeper holes in the
region, obliterating any doubts that the US could ever be a force
for peace, security, and equitable prosperity.
Of course, Netanyahu and his American political lackeys and
allies have gone ballistic over Obama's affront to Israeli power,
but that is less to punish him than to threaten Trump, who despite
his vaguer "America first" rhetoric has promised to be the most
servile American president ever. The vote stands, and hopefully
will help Palestinians seek justice in the international courts
system, but the intensity of the political rebuke that Obama's
belated gesture has raised, along with the imminent inauguration
of Trump, only goes to show how far the United States has strayed
from the ideals of international law and order, and cooperation,
that were once our best hope for world peace and prosperity. Trump
has, for instance, vowed to move the US embassy to Jerusalem, in
flagrant disregard for international law -- although that's pretty
minor compared to the practices Jeremy Scahill documents in Dirty
Wars: The World Is a Battlefield -- his big book on how Bush
and Obama ran roughshod over international law to prosecute their
misguided "war on terror." The significance of the 14-0 UNSCR vote
isn't just that it shows how isolated and delegitimized Israel has
become in the eyes of the world. It also shows how marginal the US
has become after decades pursuing policies Israel has pioneered.
One clear conclusion must be that any notion the US might once
have had of being an "honest broker" for peace have vanished. If
Europe, Russia, China, etc., really want to do something to bring
peace and justice to Israel-Palestine, they're going to start with
the recognition that the US is a big part of the problem and no or
little part of the solution. Obama, Trump, and Netanyahu, each in
his own way, have helped clarify that point.
Richard Silverstein: Kerry's Speech: America Lost in Two-State Ether,
Israel Spied on Nations Supporting UN Vote.
Dennis Laumann: The first genocide of the 20th century happened in
Namibia: The party responsible was Germany, the time 1904-07,
the territory South-West Africa, the target the Herero, a tribe of
herders who got on the colonial power's wrong side mostly by just
being in the way. Laumann describes the Ottoman genocide against
the Armenians in 1915 as "indisputable" but it was nowhere near as
clear cut as Lt. Gen. Lothar von Trotha's Vernichtungsbefehl, which
specified: "Within the German borders, every Herero, whether armed
or unarmed, with or without cattle, shall be shot." Oddly enough, I
first learned about this event from a novel, Thomas Pynchon's V.,
where it appears as a key link in a chain of increasingly mechanized
slaughter. Also worth seeking out is Sven Lindqvist's book "Exterminate
All the Brutes": One Man's Odyssey Into the Heart of Darkness and the
Origins of European Genocide, which puts the Herero genocide into
the broader context of European colonial brutality, making it more
the culmination of the 19th century than a harbinger of the 20th.
Reihan Salam: Will Donald Trump Be FDR or Jimmy Carter? Sub-hed:
"We're on the cusp of either a transformative presidency or a party-killing
failure" -- oddly conflating Ronald Reagan with the former and Herbert
Hoover with the latter. I've never doubted that it's important to know
of and learn from history, but this sort of muddying makes me wonder.
The pairings suggest that Salam is uncertain whether Trump will be seen
as a winner (like Roosevelt-Reagan) or a loser (Hoover-Carter), so that's
one level of ignorance he brings to the table. Another is that while
Roosevelt is properly viewed as "transformational" that status is rooted
in his unique time period (the depression, which forced the state to
become a major economic factor, and the war, which transformed the state
into empire). On the other hand, there was nothing distinctive about
the Carter-Reagan years, and the myth of Reagan's success was largely
based on ignoring reality and engaging in fantasy -- the bankruptcy of
which would have long been obvious had not Democrats like Clinton, Gore,
and Obama not built their own careers on indulging that same fantasy.
At most, this article might have exposed the hollowness of this PoliSci
paradigm, but Salam rarely offers more than lines like "Trump will put
a candy-covered nationalist shell over Reaganism's chocolate-covered
peanut." Peanut? Wasn't Carter the peanut guy? Wasn't Reagan more into
Actually, Salam does try to make a case that some sort of Trumpian
nationalism might be politically successful enough to move Trump into
the winners column, but this would involve building on ideas from the
center-left, including embracing and defending the safety net. Whether
even such a hypothetical program might work isn't analyzed, but the
more obvious problems are touched on: that Republican regulars would
sabotage any gestures he might make toward the center, and that Trump
himself isn't really serious about the platform he ran on (as evidenced,
for instance, by his cabinet). Of course, someone who knows a little
history might help out here. One might argue that Hoover, for instance,
would actually have preferred to move toward what became the New Deal
but that he was checked at every step by the dead-enders within his
own administration (e.g., Andrew Mellon). One might equally argue that
Carter wanted to move toward what eventually became Reaganism -- he
did in fact start the recession that broke the back of the American
labor movement, and his anti-regulation schemes and anti-communist
militancy paved the way for Reagan, but he too faced a debilitating
revolt from his own party. Whatever people thought when they voted
for Trump, what they wound up with was a politician deep in hock to
his party and the insatiable greed of their donors, and that's more
or less the only thing he'll ever be able to deliver. If you think
that's going to be some kind of booming, transformational success,
well, you're fucking nuts.
Steven Waldman: The Strangest Winner on Election Night Was Not Trump:
He means the Republican Congress, enjoying an approval rating of just
15%, yet they only lost two Senate and six House seats, retaining a
thin but anomalous and ominous majority.
And yet the Republican Party has more power now than it has in decades,
and is acting as if the party received a tidal-wave mandate.
How did this happen? While Trump occasionally clashed with Republican
leaders during the campaign -- leading to the impression that he was at
war with the GOP establishment -- it was always over lack of fealty more
than policy. The main exception was trade but so as long as the Republican's
are "saying nice things" to Trump, he was perfectly happy to embrace almost
all of their policies. The rift with the GOP establishment was always less
Second, as has been often noted, Trump's lack of knowledge and curiosity
about policy has meant he is totally reliant on the people who have the
plans -- who are congressional republicans, K street lobbyists and industry
groups. There is no shadow world of public policy centers crafting a Trumpian
alternative to Republican orthodoxy. With the exception of trade and
immigration, Trump's views are standard issue Republican policies, albeit
sprinkled with extra bile.
Finally, because so much of the GOP power is safeguarded by gerrymandering,
congressional Republicans can act like they have a mandate without much fear
that swing voters will punish them.
All in all, it adds up to an odd situation: the Republican party is less
popular than its been in ages -- and has more power.
One part of why this happened was that the GOP donor network focused
on down-ballot races, which had the effect of lifting Trump up without
having to bear all his dead weight. Indeed, all they needed to close
the deal was to convince their voters that Hillary was a tad worse, or
that they had nothing to lose by giving Trump a chance. Indeed, they
seemed to understand that in the end Trump would turn into the party
toady he's since become. The other part is that the Democrats focused
on supporting Hillary over, and free from, their party -- all those
appeals to "moderate suburban Republican housewives" and neocons and
other chimerical groups. The biggest gripe I've had against Obama and
the Clintons is how they've neglected building a party to compete with
the Republicans, instead usurping the party apparatus for their own
cult of personality (and appeals to elite donors).
Also, a few links very briefly noted:
Andrew J Bacevich: Barack Obama's Crash Course in Foreign Policy
Phyllis Bennis: Remembering the Costs of the Iraq War in the Age of
Anthony Bourdain: The Post-Election Interview
Nate Cohn: How the Obama Coalition Crumbled, Leaving an Opening for
David Dayen: Trump's Transition Team Is Stacked With Privatization
Enthusiasts: "If these officials get their way, America's schools,
roads, prisons, immigrant-detention centers, and critical social-insurance
programs will soon fall into private hands."
Eric Foner: American Radicals and the Change We Could Believe In
Paul Glastris/Nancy LeTourneau: Obama's Top 50 Accomplishments,
Revisited: Useful, but still when I read most of these I find
myself thinking "but"; e.g., number seven is "Ended U.S. Combat
Missions in Iraq and Afghanistan," but then he restarted both of
them, so it's unclear exactly what he accomplished there. And in
many more cases, he did such a poor job of defending them politically
that they are likely to be undone rather easily by Trump and the
Republican Congress. Still, the most remarkable item on the list,
one Trump is certain to reverse but unable to repeal, is: "50.
Avoided Scandal: Became the first president since Dwight Eisenhower
to serve two terms with no serious personal or political scandal."
Michelle Goldberg: Why Did Planned Parenthood Supporters Vote
Tony Karon: Trump's challenge is to reflect the people's will
Mike Konczal: Trump Is Capitalizing on the Anxiety Caused by the End of
Steady Employment: Refers to a recent book by David Weil: The
Fissured Workplace: Why Work Became So Bad for So Many and What Can Be
Dont to Improve It. This reminds me that one of the biggest political
losses in recent years has been the idea of countervailing power: that we
need counterbalances against any concentration of power. The worst trend
in recent years has been the increasing dominance of corporations over
their employees. Indeed, many people get a glimpse of what life under
fascist dictatorship is like every day they go to work.
Laila Lalami: What Happened to the Change We Once Believed In
Martin Longman: Why the GOP Can't Repeal Obamacare
Barry C Lynn: Democrats Must Become the Party of Freedom:
Actually, he means the party that brings antitrust enforcement back
into play, to break up monopolies and end the rents they charge that
are one of the leading causes of economic inequality.
One of the by-products of monopolization is the concentration of
economic growth in a few metro areas, mainly along the coasts, while
heartland areas fall behind. It is no coincidence that this pattern
of growing regional inequality looks remarkably like the 2016 electoral
Lynn has been harping on this theme for quite a while. See,
especially, his book Cornered: The New Monopoly Capitalism and
the Economics of Destruction (2010).
Karl Marlantes: Vietnam: The War That Killed Trust
Paul Offit: The Very Real Threat of Trump's Climate Denialism:
As someone who owns some very expensive beachfront property, you'd
think Donald Trump would be more concerned about the global warming
which is almost certain to wipe out his investment, but in fact he's
nominated petro-industry shills Scott Pruitt and Rick Perry to the
most relevant government positions.
Jeremy Scahill: Alleged Target of Drone Strike That Killed American
Teenager Is Alive, According to State Department: Target was
Ibrahim al Banna. The collateral damage was Abdulrahman Awlaki, the
son of US-born cleric Anwar al Awlaki, who was also killed by an
Obama drone in 2009.
Daniel Stid: Why the GOP Congress Will Stop Trump From Going Too
Far: Maybe once in a blue moon, but the fact that an article
like this can even be written shows that pundits have yet to face
up to the fact that the real loonies in the Republican government
are the ones in Congress. I'd take more seriously a title like
"Will Trump Stop the GOP Congress From Going Too Far?" -- I think
the answer is no, basically because he's too lazy and careless
and doesn't really give a shit, but at least that's a question
one should think about -- if only to be conscious when he fails.
Steven Strauss: The Clintons have done enough damage: "Let me
make a suggestion to Bill and Hillary Clinton: You've done quite
enough damage. Keep your money and stay out of politics."
Matt Taibbi: Late Is Enough: On Thomas Friedman's New Book:
This is great satire, but I find it interesting that what Taibbi
sees as Friedman's only real idea -- "that technology was racing
past humanity's ability to govern itself wisely" -- is actually
true and important, so I'm left wondering why Friedman has never
managed to write anything insightful or interesting about it. Of
course, I haven't actually read much Friedman -- satire seems
to cover that need quite well -- but my own reflection is that
living in a world where we depend more and more on technology
that we rarely understand means that it is ever more important
that we develop trust, which means creating social constraints
so that the few people who do master this technology won't use
it against us. This flies directly in the face of actual policies
such as patents and protection of corporate trade secrets. This,
of course, never occurs to Friedman because he already trusts
the masters of technology to use their greed for public good.
Matt Taibbi: The Vampire Squid Occupies Trump's White House:
Even though they spent all that money to weasel their way into Hillary
Clilnton's White House, you must have suspected that Goldman Sachs
would have a Plan B. This is it.
Jordan Weissmann: Trump Taps Bear Stearns Economist Who Said Not to
Worry About Credit Crisis for Key Treasury Job: "Talk about
Set Freed Wessler: Donald Trump's Looming Mass Criminalization
Laura Tillem forwarded one of those Facebook image/memes that I can't
share anywhere else due to devious Facebook programming, but it's all
text so I'll just retype it (originally from The Other 98%):
TOP 10 REASONS FOR SINGLE PAYER
- Everybody in, nobody out
- Portability: Change jobs, get divorced, lose your job, etc. - won't lose coverage
- Uniform benefits for everyone
- Enhance Prevention
- Choose your physician
- Ends insurance industry interference with care
- Reduces administrative waste
- Saves money
- Common Sense Budgeting - set fair reimbursements and apply them equally
- Public oversight, public ownership
This could be spelled out a little better, but is all basically true,
and for sound reasons. However, single-payer only gets at part of the
problem -- basically the easy one, as insurance companies are mostly
parasitical, hence it's easy to imagine a scenario where everything is
better once they're gone. The bigger piece of the problem is for-profit
health care providers, and dealing with their conflicts of interest and
inefficiencies is more complex.
Sunday, December 18. 2016
I have better things to do than to continue documented this entirely
predictable trainwreck. Still, a few links and brief notes if you're
David Atkins: Democrats Should Hope the Economic Populists Are
More than a month after the election, a war of words and ideas still
rages on the left between the Sanders-leaning economic populists and
the more establishment defenders of the Clinton campaign. Broadly
speaking, the contours of the argument center around whether Clinton
could have done more from a populist messaging standpoint to appeal
to white working class Rust Belt voters and to disaffected voters who
stayed home, or whether Clinton's overall approach was good, but that
she was overwhelmed by the prejudices of white voters and stabbed in
the back by Comey, Russia, and various parts of the progressive left.
I suppose I quoted this because the last clause led me to react:
well, the progressive leftists I know gave her a lot more support
than she would have given us over the next four years had she won.
And I say that even though I know a few Stein supporters (probably,
even, a couple folks who voted for Johnson), and I know a lot of
people who voted for Clinton but weren't happy with her. I voted
for her, fully understanding that we'd wind up spending the next
four years protesting and organizing against much of her platform,
because I was also every bit as aware that putting the Republicans
into power would be far worse for virtually all of us. That's what
we call a rational decision, and that's something we on the left
weigh carefully and practice more or less consistently. Clinton's
problem in the 2016 election wasn't with rational people, ergo it
wasn't with "progressive leftists." Her problem was with crazy
people, or effectively the same thing, people who were willing
to put aside reason and vote on some emotional whim, a belief
backed with no more than a scintilla of evidence.
There are, of course, two approaches to this problem: one is to
make voters more conscious of real problems and to better articulate
real solutions. The other is to do a better job of identifying the
emotions that can be made to work for you, and to hit them in ways
that move voters to your side. (The Republicans are quite good at
the latter, and have the much easier job doing the opposite of the
former: all they need to do is to convince voters that problems are
beyond political remedy, and ignorance helps as much as mendacity
there.) As much as we'd like to see reason win out, that's a long
term project. For right now, suffice it to say that wasn't especially
effective at picking her issues, and was vulnerable to precisely the
sort of attacks Republicans specialize in.
Lauren Fox: Obama: 'Reagan Would Roll Over in His Grave' Over GOP
Support for Russia: One of Obama's strangest quirks is his
continuing affection for Ronald Reagan, even to the point of
imagining he's some sort of kindly national father-figure far
removed from his actual history and legacy. It's not as if Obama
wasn't conscious during the Reagan administration -- he was 18
when it started -- but he didn't have the Vietnam War to inform
his politics at that age (like I did), so maybe he's normalized
his memory in some way those of us who can recall Reagan from
his days as governor of California in the 1960s cannot. (Maybe
he's conflated Reagan with his first experiences of getting high
and getting laid?) In any
case, his comment reflects a simpler misunderstanding. Reagan's
wailing about the Soviet Union was purely ideological -- even
when he framed it as some sort of Manichaean struggle between
good and evil -- he never went off on nationalist rants against
the Russians, nor did he grasp the neoconservative doctrine that
seeks to punish any nation that isn't sufficiently obsequious
to American power. Moreover, like all conservatives of his era
(and for that matter today), he appreciated the efficient order
that dictators abroad offered -- one might even say he preferred
them to the risks of unruly democracy America itself posed. So
why on earth would Reagan be disturbed by Trump's fondness for
Putin? -- a fellow plutocrat who's willing to cut corners when
it comes to democratic niceties to consolidate the power of his
favored cronies? It's not like conservatives care any more about
ordinary Russians than they do about ordinary Americans.
Liberals (and leftists), at least, can offer a plausible claim
to caring about iniquities around the world, because they care
about them at home, and recognize that the rest of the world isn't
that different. Still, nothing Obama (nor any of the Democrats who
have lately been obsessed with Russian meddling in our election)
has said indicates any concern for the Russian people. Rather, he
has simply fallen for the post-Cold War neoconservative line that
demonizes any nation outside of America's "security" umbrella --
especially any political leaders who think they have any interests
beyond their own borders (as Russia does with Syria and Ukraine).
The neocons motives are pretty transparent: they like to puff up
Russia and China as rivals and enemies to justify America's expensive
indulgence in world-threatening arms. On the other hand, it's just
plain ignorant and lazy for Democrats like Obama (and the Clintons)
to take up the neocon cudgel against Russia. It leads to greater
militarization, less diplomacy, a world torn into hostile camps
where America rules by brute intimidation, and has ceded any
motivation except for self-interest.
As for the "Russian hack" of the election, which is presumably
the imagined (if not the real) inspiration for Obama's attempt at
Sam Kriss: The Rise of the Alt-Center, or as the subhed put
it, "Why did establishment liberals fall in love with a deranged
Twitter thread?" Or as the link I followed read: "Establishment
Liberals Have Lost Their Damn Minds." The tweet thread was by
Eric Garland, and Kriss adds a full paragraph of liberal praise,
including "if there were a Pulitzer for tweeting -- this thread
would be the updisputed winner of 2016." Kriss continues:
Clearly something horrifying has happened to America's great liberal
intellects. One moment they were yapping along in the train of a
historic political movement; now, ragged and destitute, they wander
with lolling tongues in search of anything that might explain their
new world to them. This is, after all, how cults get started. Cultists
will venerate any messianic mediocrity and any set of half-baked
spiritual dogmas; it's not the overt content that matters but the
security of knowing. If Trump's devoted hype squad of pustulent,
oleaginous neo-Nazis can now be euphemized as the "alt-right," the
Eichenwalds and Jefferys of the world might have turned themselves
into something similar: an alt-center, pushing its own failed
political doctrine with all the same vehemence, idiocy, and spleen.
So it's strange, but not surprising, that so many people would sing
the praises of Garland's masterpiece, because it is absolutely the
worst piece of political writing ever inflicted on any public in
human history. [ . . . ]
Whatever Russia did or didn't do, the idea that its interference
is what cost Hillary Clinton the election is utterly ludicrous and
absolutely false. What cost Hillary Clinton the election can be
summed up by a single line from Sen. Chuck Schumer, soon to be the
country's highest-ranking Democrat: "For every blue-collar Democrat
we lose in western Pennsylvania, we will pick up two moderate
Republicans in the suburbs in Philadelphia, and you can repeat that
in Ohio and Illinois and Wisconsin." As it turned out, he was fatally
wrong. It wasn't the Russians who told the Democratic Party to abandon
the working-class people of all races who used to form its electoral
base. It wasn't the Russians who decided to run a presidential campaign
that offered people nothing but blackmail -- "vote for us or Dangerous
Donald wins." The Russians didn't come up with awful tin-eared catchphrases
like "I'm with her" or "America is already great." The Russians never
ordered the DNC to run one of the most widely despised people in the
country, simply because she thought it was her turn. The Democrats did
that all by themselves.
Barack Obama's presidency will be defined by his failure to face
down Assad: No, Obama's presidency has been defined by his
failure to face down the real threat to the security and welfare
of the American people: the Republicans. He's done this by not
blaming them for their misdeeds. He's done this by not breaking
with their failed policies -- above all the wars against Muslims,
but also much of their domestic policy. And he's done this by
not offering real alternatives, and by not supporting his party
or its voters. As for Syria, sure, he screwed up, but not for
backing away from the "red line" over chemical weapons -- pace,
the author, he won the only meaningful resolution of that issue,
and did it diplomatically (the only way that would stick). But
in his early rejection of Assad, his congenital antipathy to
Russia and Iran, his willingness to give supposed allies (like
Israel, Turkey, and Saudi Arabia) a free hand to pursue radically
opposed goals), and his general belief in the effectiveness of
military might (and his continued support for the most clandestine
and irresponsible American warmakers), he made sure the US would
be a much bigger part of the problem than of the solution.
And briefly noted:
Eli Clifton: John Bolton's Cozy Relationship With Anti-Muslim Hate Groups
Should Disqualify Him From Public Service: Sure, but even when the
people pick up his paycheck he's never worked a day of public service in
his life. As a diplomat who refuses to negotiate (or even meet), he is a
prime example of how Republicans undermine government by undermining
Pedro Nicolai Da Costa: Why the Trump Economic Boom Will Never Come:
"subsidized deal-making and tax cuts for the rich are the surest sign
of a bubble."
Susan McWilliams: This Political Theorist Predicted the Rise of Trumpism.
His Name Was Hunter S. Thompson
Aaron David Miller: Trump's New Ambassador to Israel Heralds a Radical
Change in Policy: By a former US ambassador to Israel, not someone
you'd ever take to be anti-Israel. The new guy is David Friedman, a
real piece of work.
Albert Mohler: The Post-Truth Era -- Welcome to the Age of Dishonesty:
review of Ralph Keyes' book, The Post-Truth Era: Dishonesty and
Deception in Contemporary Life. I found this while trying to track
down a 1992 article by Steve Tesich called "A Government of Lies" --
evidently the original source for the "post-truth" meme, but seems to
only be available through subscription services.
Mark Joseph Stern: North Carolina Republicans' Legislative Coup Is an
Attack on Democracy: Republican Gov. Pat McCrory finally conceded
his defeat in the North Carolina gubernatorial race this year after
drawing out the ugliest recount tantrums in recent history. Then, with
the Republican legislature, he schemed to change the game so incoming
Democratic governor Roy Cooper will have as little power as possible.
This is a textbook case of how the Republicans accept losing: mean and
ugly, totally devoid of faith in or respect for democracy.
Benjamin Wallace-Wells: Ryan Zinke, Donald Trump's Pick for Interior
Secretary, and the Rising American Land Movements
Matthew Yglesias: Trump is going to be mad when he hears what his
appointees think about the TPP: "His top economic and foreign
policy advisers love it (as do his other advisers)." Well, you'd
think he'd be mad, but you didn't really believe anything he said
during the campaign? Now did you?
Sunday, December 11. 2016
I woke up yesterday morning thinking about how America, if little
else, has become something of a consumer paradise over the last 30-40
years. I often wonder why it is that so many people are so uncritical
of the established order, and that seems to be a big part of why. Sure,
one can nitpick, and if you know much about how business, marketing
in particular, works, you'll realize that the real gains still fall
way short of what's possible or desirable. You may also may feel some
qualms about what has actually been achieved by all this consumption.
And, of course, like everything else the gains have not been equally
distributed. But for those who can afford today's markets, life has
never been better.
I count Trump's voters among them. Sure, many gripe about economic
fears, some even about hardships, but somehow they overlook their own
bosses and the businesses who take most of their money while perceiving
others as threats. I'm aware of lots of reasons why they think that,
but I can't say that any of them make real sense to me. What I am sure
of is that the incoming Trump administration isn't going to solve any
of their imaginary (let alone real) problems. Trump's cabinet is going
to have more ultrarich (say, half-billionaires and up) than any other
in history. In fact, this represents a new plateau in the history of
American plutocracy: even as recently as the Shrub administration,
titans of industry and finance were happy to stock the government with
their lobbyists and retainers, but Trump is tapping "the doers, not
the talkers" -- people who don't just take orders but who intimately
know how to convert public influence into private gain. In the past,
the most notoriously corrupt administrations (Grant, Harding, Reagan)
combined indifferent leadership with underlings imbued in a culture
of greed. Yet today, Trump not only hasn't divested himself of his
business entanglements; he's actively continued to work his deals,
nakedly using his newly acquired leverage. Unlike the others, he
won't just turn a blind eye to corruption; he's ideally positioned
to be the plunderer-in-chief.
One thing Trump's election has spared us was being plagued with
four years of non-stop Clinton scandals -- sure, mostly likely as
bogus and conflated as the ones she's endured for 24 years, but
still catnip to the press. Instead, Trump promises to give us real
scandals, huge scandals, the kind of scandals that expose the rotten
core of American Greatness. One hardly knows where to begin, or when
to stop, but this will necessarily be brief.
Some scattered links this week:
Peter Beinart: Trump Excuses the White Working Class From the Politics of
Personal Responsibility: The author has been reading JB Vance's
Hillbilly Elegy and detects some manner of irony:
Under Reagan, Republicans demanded personal responsibility from African
Americans and ignored the same cultural problems when displayed by whites.
Under Trump, Republicans acknowledge that whites exhibit those same
pathologies. Trump, for instance, spoke frequently during the campaign
about drug addiction in white, rural states like New Hampshire. But
instead of demanding personal responsibility, Trump's GOP promises
state protection. Unlike Vance, who speaks about his poor white neighbors
in the way Reagan-era conservatives spoke about poor blacks, Trump-era
conservatives describe the white working class as the victims of political
and economic forces beyond their control. Sounding a bit like Jesse Jackson
defending the black underclass in the 1980s, Trump Republicans say that
what the white underclass needs today is not moralistic sermonizing but
government assistance and cultural respect.
Of course, there is a simpler reason why Republicans would present
different sets of standards and prescriptions for white and blacks:
it's called racism. Such double standards are hardly novel. Nor was
"separate but equal" merely ironic. But Beinart is also wrong when he
thinks Trump intends to solve the problems of poor whites through
state actions. Like all Republicans since Reagan, his solution is to
reduce the political options of the state, reserving it for violence
against any challenges to authority, while allowing the private sector
to expand its power over workers, customers, and mere bystaders.
Rosa Brooks: Don't Freak Out About Trump's Cabinet Full of Generals:
I doubt I'd take Brooks seriously without knowing that her mother is
the brilliant left journalist Barbara Ehrenreich, as Brooks' own resume
paints her as an insider in Washington's foreign policy establishment,
a perch from which she's observed the creeping hegemonic encroachment
of military brass (her recent book is How Everything Became War and
the Military Became Everything: Tales From the Pentagon). So, yeah,
she's uncommonly comfortable with generals and admirals running things,
even respects and admires them. Still, she may be right that the problem
with all Trump's generals isn't that they'll upset the intricate checks
and balances the founding fathers devised, but she misses the real point:
that Trump's generals consummates a steady drift that started back in
WWII transforming the US military from a rarely-used last resort to an
everyday implement of world-hegemonic imperial policy. And sure, all
that (so far) happened before Trump, but in hiring those generals Trump
is demonstrating that his own foreign policy thinking is nothing more
than an echo of that long (and frankly disastrous) drift. Of course,
that should come as no surprise to anyone who paid attention to him
during the long campaign. They only thing that doesn't alarm me about
the generals is the fact that I can think of even worse civilians to
hand power over to. (Brooks herself contrasts State candidates Rudy
Giuliani and David Petraeus, and she's got a point there, but I'm
still drawing a blank on who Michael Flynn is saving us from.)
Martin Longman: Breitbart Does Not Like Trump's Labor Pick:
So, if you
go look at the Breitbart website right now, you'll see an anti-Trump
headline that accuses him of nominating a Labor Secretary that prefers
foreign labor to American workers. And if you actually go ahead and read
the article, you'll see that it lashes out at Andy Puzder for standing
"diametrically opposed to Trump's signature issues on trade and
As an example, they cite his decision to "join forces with Michael
Bloomberg, Bob Iger, and Rupert Murdoch's open borders lobbying firm,
the Partnership for a New American Economy, to call for 'free-market
solutions' to our immigration system." They also question Puzder's
support for "amnesty" and overall view him as a poster-boy for what
they oppose, which is bringing in low-wage immigrants that take jobs
from white Americans and suppress their wages.
The man Trump nominated to be Labor Secretary,
is CEO of a chain of fast food restaurants (Hardee's, Carl's Jr.), so
his labor expertise is in how to hire minimum wage, no benefit workers.
(His business experience includes taking his firm through a private
equity deal valued at more than $1 billion. The company generates $1.4
billion in revenues, operating in the US and 40 foreign countries.)
I'm not sure whether Puzder counts as one of Trump's billionaires, but
he comes pretty close.
One thing that worried me about the prospect of Sanders becoming
president was that the Democratic Party regulars -- the people he'd
have to draw on for appointments and support -- weren't ready to back
his "revolution." I never believed that Trump would veer significantly
from Republican Party orthodoxy, but I can see how those who did think
he offered something different -- notably the Breitbart crowd, and as
many "white populists" as you can count -- are likely to belatedly
discover the same problem. Much as Trump went with impeccably demented
Mike Pence as his VP, he's stocking his cabinet from the same stock of
Daniel Politi: Trump Explains Why He Rejects Daily Intelligence Briefings:
"I'm, Like, a Smart Person": I saw Michael Moore on Seth Myers the
other night making a big stink about how Trump has sloughed off going
to CIA briefings, and for once I thought, "good for Trump." As far as
I know, the first president to receive daily briefings was Shrub, and
the chemical reaction of misinformation-meets-ignorance there didn't
do anyone any good. Supposedly Obama tried to fix this by laying down
a rule -- "don't do stupid shit" -- but his own daily briefings allowed
all sorts of loopholes to that rule, backed by presidential authority.
The fact is that the "war on terror" isn't important enough to require
daily input and direction from the so-called Commander-in-Chief. A sane
president would simply, quietly wind it down, mostly by not encouraging
"stupid shit" to happen. The fact that Trump isn't a reasonable person,
that he pretty much campaigned on doing "stupid shit" all the time,
makes it even more important to steer him away from meetings about
killing people and embarrassing the country.
Nomi Prins: The Magnitude of Trump's Cronyism Is Off the Charts -- Even
for Washington: "The President-elect's incomplete cabinet is already
the richest one ever."
There is, in fact, some historical precedent for a president
surrounding himself with such a group of self-interested
power-grabbers, but you'd have to return to Warren G. Harding's
administration in the early 1920s to find it. The "Roaring Twenties"
that ended explosively in a stock market collapse in 1929 began,
ominously enough, with a presidency filled with similar figures, as
well as policies remarkably similar to those now being promised under
Trump, including major tax cuts and giveaways for corporations and the
deregulation of Wall Street. . . .
Harding's other main contributions to American history involved two
choices he made. He offered businessman Herbert Hoover the job of
secretary of commerce and so put him in play to become president in
the years just preceding the Great Depression. And in a fashion that
now looks Trumpian, he also appointed one of the richest men on Earth,
billionaire Andrew Mellon, as his treasury secretary. Mellon, a
Pittsburgh industrialist-financier, was head of the Mellon National
Bank; he founded both the Aluminum Company of America (Alcoa), for
which he'd be accused of unethical behavior while treasury secretary
(as he still owned stock in the company and his brother was a close
associate), and the Gulf Oil Company; and with Henry Clay Frick, he
co-founded the Union Steel Company.
He promptly set to work -- and this will sound familiar today --
cutting taxes on the wealthy and corporations. At the same time, he
essentially left Wall Street free to concoct the shadowy "trusts"
that would use borrowed money to purchase collections of shares in
companies and real estate, igniting the 1929 stock market crash.
After Mellon, who had served three presidents, left Herbert Hoover's
administration, he fell under investigation for unpaid federal taxes
and tax-related conflicts of interest.
Prins goes on to run down the wealth and interest conflicts of
several Trump picks, including Wilbur Ross ($2.9 billion, Commerce),
Betsy DeVos ($5.1 billion, Education), and Steven Mnuchin (up to $1
billion, Treasury, from Goldman Sachs). If, as reported, Trump picks
Exxon CEO Rex Tillerson to be Secretary of State, he's not going to
lower the average much.
Theda Skocpol/Alexander Hertel-Fernandez/Caroline Tervo: Behind "Make
America Great," the Koch Agenda Returns With a Vengeance: The Koch
network spent about $750 million on the 2016 elections, mostly on
down-ballot races that saved and shaped the Republican Congress,
and that is rapidly becoming the framework that shapes the Trump
presidency, even on issues where Trump publicly differed from the
Kochs and their cronies (like Scott Walker and Mario Rubio).
Publicly available numbers suggest that AFP's grassroots organizing
made a real difference -- and indirectly helped Trump, who had little
campaign capacity of his own. In Wisconsin, for instance, AFP claims
that it reached over 2.5 million voters in phone banking and canvassing
efforts. In North Carolina, AFP claimed over 1.2 million calls and
120,000 door-to-door efforts, or nearly the entire reported margin of
victory for Trump. And in Pennsylvania, AFP claims it made over 2.4
million phone calls and knocked on over 135,000 doors, more than twice
Trump's margin of victory in that state. AFP's grassroots efforts were
especially pronounced in Florida, where AFP boasts that its people
knocked on a record-breaking one million doors throughout the state
to help re-elect Senator Marco Rubio. Hillary Clinton lost the state
by just over 100,000 votes. In all four of these states AFP helped to
re-elect the incumbent Republican Senator and make important down
ballot gains. Obviously, given what we know about the decline of
split ticking voting, most of the same citizens AFP mobilized for
state and Congressional contests also cast ballots for Donald Trump.
Jared Bernstein/Dean Baker: Why Trade Deficits Matter
Ben Castleman: Inequality Is Killing the American Dream
Sarah Chayes: It Was a Corruption Election. It's Time We Realized
Steve Coll: Rex Tillerson, From a Corporate Oil Sovereign to the State
David Dayen: Donald Trump Is Just Another Handmaiden to Capital
Rebecca Gordon: It's 2016, Do You Know Where Your Bombs Are
Greg Grandin: The Strange Career of American Exceptionalism: "and
Barack Obama's curious role as its most ardent recent champion and
Carl Levin/Jay Rockefeller: The Torture Report Must Be Saved:
"However, after Republicans took control of the Senate, the new
chairman, Senator Richard Burr of North Carolina, took the unusual
step of trying to recall the full report that Senator Feinstein
had distributed -- to prevent it from ever being widely read or
declassified. . . . Given the rhetoric of President-elect Trump,
there is a grave risk that the new administration will return the
Senate report to Senator Burr, after which it could be hidden
indefinitely, or destroyed."
Jeff Madrick: How Much Did Alan Greenspan Really Know?: Review
of Sebastian Mallaby's book, The Man Who Knew: The Life and Times
of Alan Greenspan.
Josh Marshall: Maybe the Answer Is That He Can't Divest; also the
He Won't Because He Can't. I'll add that the fact that Trump managed
to get away without releasing his tax returns simply because he never
did it sets a precedent for him not divesting or in any way distancing
himself from his business interests -- even though there are various
laws and some wording in the constitution that imply he has to. Even
if he did, his family is wrapped up in his business, and his business
is built around his name.
Sean McElwee/Jesse Rhodes/Brian Schaffner: Big Republican donors are
even more extreme than their party -- and they drive its agenda:
It strikes me that Trump has turned the tables on big party donors:
instead of doing their bidding, which is normal practice in Washington,
he's setting them up to take charge directly. (Betsy DeVos, Trump's
nominee for HEW Secretary, is perhaps the most flagrant example.)
Andrew McGill: Many of Trump's Own Supporters Don't Think He'll Fix
America: "Half expect their local communities to stay the same,
or get worse." That still strikes me as unreasonably optimistic, but
this report does damper what I had hoped would be the silver lining
of the election: that given complete power, people will finally
blame the Republicans for failing utterly.
William Saletan: Donald Trump's Locker Room: "he's always in the
locker room. He's always trying to endear himself to some people by
insulting others. If you're in the room, he's your buddy. If you're
not, you're just another pussy."
Bernie Sanders: Where We Go From Here.
Alana Semuels: How to Kill the Middle Class: in Wisconsin, you do
it by killing off public sector unions.
Nobel Laureate Economist Says American Inequality Didn't Just Happen.
It Was Created: interview with Joseph E Stiglitz.
Jeffrey Toobin: The First Amendment After Hogan V. Gawker: "Sex
tapes, the Web site's demise, and what the Trump era means for press
Josh Voorhees: Pruitt's Plan to Make Climate Denialism Law: On
Trump's EPA pick, Oklahoma Attorney General Scott Pruitt. Also see:
Chris Mooney/Brady Dennis/Steven Mufson: Trump names Scott Pruit,
Oklahoma attorney general suing EPA on climate change, to head the
Stephen M Walt: 10 Ways to Tell if Your President Is a Dictator:
On Trump, and more like "wants to be a dictator," which is really
the more relevant question.
Matthew Yglesias: Donald Trump is running the least popular transition
Trump's fast-food CEO Labor Department pick teaches us a lot about
Goldman Sachs alumni will likely have the 2 top Trump economic policy
jobs: the hits keep on coming.
One last note: I just finishing reading Peter Frase's Four
Futures: Life After Capitalism (Verso). He sets up a 2x2 matrix,
one axis determined by plenty/scarcity, the other inequality/equality.
Needless to say, only one quadrant reads like something we're already
in the midst of: scarcity/inequality, the one he calls "exterminism" --
not a very euphonious term, but one which underscores how the rich,
as they increasingly automate labor come to view the workers they
discharge as expendable, and ultimately as threats. (Frase never uses
the term "useless eaters" but you may recall how that terminology paved
the way for the Nazi genocide.) Needless to say, aside from branding,
"exterminism" sounds more than a little like the Trump agenda. More
blatantly, there's increasing inequality while progressively stripping
the poor and marginal of any semblance of rights.
Sunday, November 27. 2016
I didn't really plan on posting a Roundup this week, but when I
looked at Salon's politics section way too may red flags jumped out
at me. I'm generally inclined to give Trump a little rope to hang
himself, but I'm surprised by the speed with which he's set about
the task. I realized that Trump was a guy who spent every waking
moment conniving to make money (well, aside from the time spent
plotting sexual conquests), and thought it unlikely that he'd
change for a moment. But these pieces are mostly self-explanatory,
so at least I don't have to annotate them.
Some scattered links this week on all things Trump:
Donald Trump's Caldron of Conflicts
Yoni Appelbaum: Donald Trump's Revival of 'Honest Graft'
Dan Bacher: Trump Appoints Big Oil Think Tank Director to Lead Interior
Thor Benson: Donald Trump's surveillance state: All the tools to suppress
dissent and kill free speech are already in place: Thanks to 9/11 and
the permanent state of war.
Jamelle Bouie: Government by the Worst Men: Bannon, Flynn, Sessions --
but isn't that only the beginning?
Donald Brownstein: Donald Trump's Fragile Hold on America
Matthew Daly: Donald Trump's stock in Dakota Access oil pipeline company
Amy Davidson: The Real Concerns of the Trump Transition
Joe Emersberger: How the Rich Are Getting Richer: Interview with
Garrett Epps: Donald Trump Has Broken the Constitution
Henry Farrell: Kissing the Ring: After considering Trump as Cosimo
de Medici, a prediction:
If this is right, the key qualities of presidential politics over the
next four years will be instability, frequent policy change, palace
intrigues, and Trump looking to reign triumphant above it all, not
particularly caring (a la Padgett and Ansell's Cosimo) about attaining
specific goals, but instead looking to preserve his position at the
center of an ever shifting spider web of political relations, no matter
what consequences this has for the integrity of the web.
Dana Goldstein: How Trump Could Gut Public Education: First clue
is his pick of fellow billionaire Betsy DeVos as Secretary of
Education. Also note that Trump has some previous experience in
the business of education.
William Hartung: Trump for the Defense
Joshua Holland: Struggling White Voters Who Helped Elect Trump Are Headed
for Some Serious Pain
Paul Krugman: Infrastructure Build or Privatization Scam?
Gary Legum: Peak "crony captialism": Donald Trump indulging in corrupt
favoritism isn't surprising -- but so much of it so soon?!
Simon Maloy: The Trump sleaze factor: Let the GOP own the new, expanded
"culture of corruption" Trump promises
Josh Marshall: Must Reads on the Coming Privatization of Everything and
The Historic Cash-In Continues. Marshall has also been on top of Paul
Ryan's scheme to wreck Medicare -- for all the world it sounds like he's
trying to replace the popular and effective program with something similar
to but a bit shadier than Obamacare -- including this piece on the politics:
Medicare for the Win.
Richard C Paddock, et al: Potential Conflicts Around the Globe for
Trump, the Businessman President
Phil Plait: Trump's Plan to Eliminate NASA Climate Research Is Ill-Informed
Joy-Ann Reid: Already Happening: Media Normalization of Trumpism
Matthew Rozsa: This week in Donald Trump's conflicts of interest: What
was the president-elect doing this week to possibly make himself
David Swanson: Michael Flynn Should Remember Truths He Blurted Out Last
Year: like criticizing Obama for his obsession with death-by-drone.
Jim Tankersley: Trump can't revive industry. But his voters might still
get raises. Unfortunately, that depends on Trump sustaining growth
rates comparable to Clinton in the 1990s, and assuming that the labor
market hasn't deteriorated in the meantime -- I'm pretty doubtful on
both counts. On the other hand, if Trump succeeds in deporting virtually
all undocumented workers, that could tighten labor markets a bit (but
probably not enough).
Jeremy Venook: Donald Trump's Conflicts of Interest: A Crib Sheet
Matthew Yglesias: Don't let Donald Trump's antics distract you from what's
really important, following up on
We have 100 days to stop Donald Trump from systemically corrupting our
Also a couple things not exactly on the incoming disaster, although
not exactly unrelated either:
I don't have much to say about Fidel Castro. I've never held any
romantic attachment for Cuba's communist regime, and I don't doubt
that it has sometimes been repressive and that its planned economy
could have been more dynamic. However, I can't begrudge their early
expropriation of foreign (mostly American) assets, and must admit
that they've built a literate, highly educated, and for the most
part egalitarian society, while maintaining a vibrant culture, all
despite cruel economic hardships imposed variously by America and
Russia. It's worth remembering that Cuba was the last slaveholder
society in the Americas, and the last of Spain's colonial outposts,
and after the US seized it in America's 1898 imperialist expansion
was only granted "independence" because it was thought easier to
run it through local puppet strongmen -- a scandalous series that
was only ended by Castro's revolution.
I've long thought that the vitriolic reaction of American politicos
to Cuba's real independence and defiance reflected a deep-seated guilt
(and embarrassment) about how badly we had mishandled our power there.
But it manifested itself as sheer spite, ranging from the CIA's Bay of
Pigs invasion and numerous assassination plots the CIA tried to mount
against Castro to the long-running blockade -- all of which reinforced
Castro's anti-Americanism and made him a hero for underdogs all around
the world. Obama's recent normalization of US-Cuban relations finally
gives us a chance to be less of an ogre -- although the reflexive
instinct is still apparent in recent comments by
Trump, Rubio, and others. Hopefully they'll blow this jingoistic
thinking out of their systems.
Here are a few scattered comments on Castro from:
Tony Karon (2008);
Stephen Gibbs/Jonathan Watts: Havana in mourning: 'We Cubans are Fidelista
even if we are not communist';
Kathy Gilsinan: How Did Fidel Castro Hold On to Cuba for So Long?.
One quote, from the Karon piece above:
There's been predictably little interesting discussion in the United
States of Fidel Castro's retirement as Cuba's commandante en jefe,
maximo etc. That's because in the U.S. political mainstream,
Cuba policy has for a generation been grotesquely disfigured by a
collective kow-towing -- yes, collective, it was that craven Mr.
Clinton who signed into law the Draconian Helms-Burton act that made
it infinitely more difficult for any U.S. president to actually lift
the embargo, and the equally craven Mrs. Clinton appears to pandering
to the same crowd -- to the Cuban-American Ahmed Chalabi figures of
Miami, still fantasizing about a day when they'll regain their
plantations and poor people of color will once again know their place.
[ . . . ]
What fascinates me, however, is the guilty pleasure with which so
many millions of people around the world revere Fidel Castro -- revere
him, but wouldn't dream of emulating his approach to economics or
governance. People, in other words, who would not be comfortable
actually living in Castro's Cuba, much as they like the idea of him
sticking it the arrogant yanqui, his physical and political
survival a sure sign that Washington's awesome power has limits --
and can therefore be challenged.