Sunday, October 15. 2017
Every week since January has featured multiple stories about how
Donald Trump (and/or the Republicans) are corrupting government,
undermining democracy, degrading our short- and long-term economic
prospects, and quite often endangering world peace. Still, most of
those stories could be understood as some combination of the greed,
demagoguery, and narrow-minded ignorance that constitutes what passes
as the conservative world-view. But some things happened this week
that makes me think Trump has crossed a previously unknown line into
a qualitatively new level of, well, I'm groping for words, trying to
avoid "evil," so let's call it derangement. The US withdrawal from
UNESCO was the first such story, followed by the trashing of the
agreement with Iran to terminate their "nuclear program," but then
there was Trump's executive order to undermine Obamacare -- an act
of pure spite following the Republican failure to repeal the ACA.
As Ezra Klein's tweet explains:
Trump's new policy will increase premiums by 20%, cost the government
$194 billion, increase the deficit, destabilize insurance markets, and
increase the number of uninsured Americans. There is nothing it makes
better; it's pure policy nihilism.
Sure, I've often felt like Republicans generated their policy ideas
from a deep well of spite and vindictiveness, with scant concern for
consequences because deep down they really didn't give a shit about
anyone other than themselves (actually, a small subset of the fools
they manipulating into voting for them). But usually you could also
discern a positive slant, like their fondness for helping predatory
businesses rip everyone else off. Trump certainly isn't beyond that,
especially for his own businesses, but he mostly leaves such matters
to his subordinates -- after all, their experience in business and
lobbies gives them a command of detail he lacks, as well as motives
he doesn't disapprove of.
That's should have left Trump free to focus on "big picture" items,
but not understanding them either, he's been preoccupied with petty
feuds and tone-deaf publicity stunts, but his hatred for Obama is so
great that he'll gladly sign any executive order that wipes out any
hint of his predecessor's legacy. That's the source of much of his
policy nihilism, although he's occasionally broken new ground, as
with his UNESCO withdrawal -- ending 72 years of more/less trying to
work with the rest of the world's nations for the common good.
I suppose what this really means is that for the first time since
he took office, I've come around to the view that Trump is actually
worse than the run-of-the-mill Republicans in Congress and now in his
cabinet and office. I've long resisted that view, partly because the
media bend over backwards to excuse and legitimize the latter, and
partly because even though I disapprove of Trump's obvious character
flaws (e.g., racism, sexism, xenophobia, vanity, violence, mendacity,
ostentatiousness, sheer greed) I prefer to judge people on what they
do rather than what they think or believe. (Indeed, those flaws are
pretty common in America, but most people have enough of a superego
to try to limit their exposure and maintain social decorum -- Trump,
as is becoming more obvious every day, does not.)
On the other hand, let's not forget that Trump started to wander
off after giving his little rant about Obamacare, and it was Mike
Pence who grabbed him by the sleeve and dragged him back to actually
sign the executive order. That's an image to keep in mind if, say,
Trump is finally dispatched as too much of an embarrassment -- and
here I have to agree with Steve Bannon that the odds favor a cabinet
coup using the 25th amendment to Congress taking the more arduous
road to impeachment.
Some scattered links this week:
Aaron Blake: Almost half of Republicans want war with North Korea, a new
poll says. Is it the Trump Effect? Actually, a plurality, 46-41% in
favor of a preemptive strike against North Korea. Other polls produce
different results, possibly depending on how the question is phrased.
I doubt if even 1% of the Republicans polled have any understanding of
North Korea's preparations for responding to such an attack, hence of
the risks and likely costs of starting a war there. On the other hand,
one may expect Mattis, Tillerson, and the upper ranks of the uniformed
to at least have some idea: thousands of pieces of artillery that can
reach Seoul (population 10 million, metro area 25 million), the range
of rockets that can reach further (up to the US mainland), a few dozen
nuclear warheads (some with hydrogen boost), the vast array of defensive
tunnels, one of the largest military forces in the world. The latest
assessment I've seen is that the US would prevail in such a war (assuming
China does not intervene, as it did in 1950), but it wouldn't be easy
and the costs would be great. Tillerson was recently quoted as saying
he'll continue negotiating "until the first bomb falls" -- it's hard
to take much comfort in that given that Trump's been quoted as saying
his Secretary of State is wasting his time. Moreover, see
Choe Sang-Hun: North Korean Hackers Stole U.S.-South Korean Military
Plans, Lawmaker Says, including a "decapitation plan" for an
attack targeting Kim Jong-Un. Also note the report that
Trump Wanted Tenfold Increase in U.S. Nuclear Arsenal -- while
beyond ridiculous, such a report would play directly into North Korea's
paranoia. Indeed, Trump is playing Nixon's
Madman theory much more convincingly than the Trickster ever did.
(For a recent review, see
Garrett M Graff: The Madman and the Bomb. Among other things, this
article points out how elated Trump was in ordering the "Mother of All
Bombs" dropped in Afghanistan, adding "All the previous worries about
the potential of a deranged president to use a nuclear button irrationally
have been multiplied.") Lately Trump has made a number of bold unilateral
moves, evidently meant to reassure his base that he can act dramatically
on their prejudices. The more he senses support for striking North Korea,
the more likely he is to do it.
Tina Brown: What Harvey and Trump have in common: Harvey is Weinstein,
the movie mogul and current poster boy for serial sexual abuse. Brown left
her job at The New Yorker to work for him, and this is what she
What I learned about Harvey in the two years of proximity with him at
Talk was that nothing about his outward persona, the beguiling Falstaffian
charmer who persuaded -- or bamboozled -- me into leaving The New Yorker
and joining him, was the truth. He is very Trumpian in that regard.
He comes off as a big, blustery, rough diamond kind of a guy, the kind
of old-time studio chief who lives large, writes big checks and exudes
bonhomie. Wrong. The real Harvey is fearful, paranoid, and hates being
touched (at any rate, when fully dressed).
Winning, for him, was a blood sport. Deals never close. They are
renegotiated down to the bone after the press release. A business meeting
listening to him discuss Miramax deals in progress reminded me of the wire
tap transcripts of John Gotti and his inner circle at the Bergin Hunt and
Fish Club in Queens. "So just close it fast, then fuck him later with the
subsidiary rights." . . .
Harvey is an intimidating and ferocious man. Crossing him, even now,
is scary. But it's a different era now. Cosby. Ailes. O'Reilly, Weinstein.
It's over, except for one -- the serial sexual harasser in the White House.
For more Weinstein dirt, see
Ronan Farrow: From Aggressive Overtures to Sexual Assault: Harvey
Weinstein's Accusers Tell Their Stories. As for Trump, see:
Jessica Garrison/Kendall Taggart: Trump Given a Subpoena for All Documents
Relating to Assault Allegations.
Daniel José Camacho: Trump's marriage to the religious right reeks of
hypocrisy on both sides: Well, sure, but hypocrisy is an old friend
of Christianity in every stage of American history, and you can probably
find prime examples at least as far back as Constantine, who realized
how useful the religion could be for sanctifying his own political power.
Christianity is, above all else, a remarkably forgiving religion, as
long as you attest to its power by begging for its mercy. In country
music, for instance, whatever you do on Saturday Night can be atoned
for and made right on Sunday Morning, and the latter is all that really
matters to the clergy -- after all, confession confirms their authority.
The political right has never had a problem with that. They love the
idea of hierarchy so much they strive to emulate it on earth, ruled,
of course, by themselves, conferring favors upon their favored clergy.
Of course, if you don't buy into this arrangement, your cynicism may
lead you to charge them with hypocrisy. Indeed, the whole scam is as
easy to see through as "The Emperor's New Clothes," but that only makes
the believers more angry and vindictive -- hence, the rise of the
Religious Right parallels liberal secularization, with its increasing
militancy (and, looking at Trump, I'm inclined to add desperation)
bound up with a feeling of embattled isolation that right-wing media
and politicians have cynically encouraged. Still, the problem is less
Christian backlash against secular culture -- something that is real
but deeper and more complex than the political backlash it is often
confused with[*] -- than that con artists from Reagan to Trump have often
managed to wrap their scams up in various traditional pieties, as if
that excuses otherwise shameless behavior.
[*] Note that Christianity predates capitalism, so contains a strain
of anti-materialist sentiment that has never been fully reconciled with
modern commerce. It even predates Constantine's state religion, before
which it was resolutely anti-state and anti-war, so even today a large
segment of the peace movement finds its inspiration in religion (and
not just Christianity).
William D Hartung: Here's Where Your Tax Dollars for 'Defense' Are Really
The answer couldn't be more straightforward: It goes directly to private
corporations and much of it is then wasted on useless overhead, fat
executive salaries, and startling (yet commonplace) cost overruns on
weapons systems and other military hardware that, in the end, won't
even perform as promised. Too often the result is weapons that aren't
needed at prices we can't afford. If anyone truly wanted to help the
troops, loosening the corporate grip on the Pentagon budget would be
an excellent place to start.
The numbers are staggering. In fiscal year 2016, the Pentagon issued
$304 billion in contract awards to corporations -- nearly half of the
department's $600 billion-plus budget for that year. And keep in mind
that not all contractors are created equal. According to the Federal
Procurement Data System's top 100 contractors report for 2016, the
biggest beneficiaries by a country mile were Lockheed Martin ($36.2
billion), Boeing ($24.3 billion), Raytheon ($12.8 billion), General
Dynamics ($12.7 billion), and Northrop Grumman ($10.7 billion). Together,
these five firms gobbled up nearly $100 billion of your tax dollars,
about one-third of all the Pentagon's contract awards in 2016. . . .
The arms industry's investment in lobbying is even more impressive.
The defense sector has spent a total of more than $1 billion on that
productive activity since 2009, employing anywhere from 700 to 1,000
lobbyists in any given year. To put that in perspective, you're talking
about significantly more than one lobbyist per member of Congress, the
majority of whom zipped through Washington's famed "revolving door";
they moved, that is, from positions in Congress or the Pentagon to
posts at weapons companies from which they could proselytize their
The weapons systems are the big ticket items, but there is much more,
including some 600,000 private contractors doing all sorts of things,
with little effective management, while companies like Erik Prince's
Blackwater lobby to privatize more combat jobs.
Sean Illing: 20 of America's top political scientists gathered to discuss
our democracy. They're scared. Many interesting idea here; e.g.:
Nancy Bermeo, a politics professor at Princeton and Harvard, began her
talk with a jarring reminder: Democracies don't merely collapse, as that
"implies a process devoid of will." Democracies die because of deliberate
decisions made by human beings.
Usually, it's because the people in power take democratic institutions
for granted. They become disconnected from the citizenry. They develop
interests separate and apart from the voters. They push policies that
benefit themselves and harm the broader population. Do that long enough,
Bermeo says, and you'll cultivate an angry, divided society that pulls
apart at the seams. . . .
Due to wage stagnation, growing inequalities, automation, and a
shrinking labor market, millions of Americans are deeply pessimistic
about the future: 64 percent of people in Europe believe their children
will be worse off than they were; the number is 60 percent in America.
That pessimism is grounded in economic reality. In 1970, 90 percent
of 30-year-olds in America were better off than their parents at the
same age. In 2010, only 50 percent were. Numbers like this cause people
to lose faith in the system. What you get is a spike in extremism and
a retreat from the political center. That leads to declines in voter
turnout and, consequently, more opportunities for fringe parties and
candidates. . . .
Consider this stat: In 1960, 5 percent of Republicans and 4 percent
of Democrats objected to the idea of their children marrying across
political lines. In 2010, those numbers jumped to 46 percent and 33
percent respectively. Divides like this are eating away at the American
social fabric. . . .
But for all the reasons discussed above, people have gradually
disengaged from the status quo. Something has cracked. Citizens have
lost faith in the system. The social compact is broken. So now we're
left to stew in our racial and cultural resentments, which paved the
way for a demagogue like Trump.
One thing I would stress here is that "the erosion of democratic
norms" -- voter suppression, gerrymandering, obstruction tactics,
tolerance for "dirty tricks," the ever-increasing prerogatives of
money -- has largely been spawned within the Republican Party, which
is to say the party most desperately committed to inequality, order,
privilege, and hierarchy. The article offers stats about the growing
number of Americans who look favorably on a military dictatorship,
but neglects to break them down by party. Still, it's worth noting
that Democrats have often played into the hands of anti-democratic
forces, especially those who have been most successful at toadying
for donors. Although Obama, for instance, campaigned against the
baleful influence of money in 2008, he managed to raise so much more
of it than McCain, so Democrats didn't bother to use their majorities
to address the issue.
Sarah Jaffe: Bernie Sanders Isn't Winning Local Elections for the Left:
"Bernie Wins Birmingham" is convenient shorthand for those who have no idea
what actually goes on in Birmingham. But Bernie Sanders and the group his
2016 campaign inspired, Our Revolution, are not winning elections in places
like Birmingham or Jackson, Mississippi, which in June elected a mayor who's
promised, "I'll make Jackson the most radical city on the planet." Activists
in Birmingham and Jackson and Albuquerque and Long Island are winning them --
left-wing activists who've toiled for years in the trenches, working with a
new wave of organizers from Black Lives Matter and other insurgent groups,
who bring social-media savvy and fired-up young voters into the mix.
Still, the title leans too hard the opposite way. Bernie is helping,
especially to provide a nationwide support framework. Conversely, helping
build local power bases helps build the nationwide movement, either for
Bernie (who certainly could have used some local help in Mississippi and
Alabama during the 2016 primaries) or whoever vies most successfully for
his movement. Conversely, although Hillary may have given up her dream
of running in 2020, her crowd is still more focused on containing (or
combatting) the left than on winning elections: see
Bob Moser: Clintonian Democrats Are Peddling Myths to Cling to Power.
Anyone who bothers to remember McGovern's tragic 1972 loss to Nixon
should heap shame on those Democrats who betrayed their party's nominee
for the most devious and crooked politician in American history -- much
more numerous than the tiny fraction of Sanders supporters who couldn't
stomach Clinton in 2016. The so-called New Democrats have discredited
themselves doubly: first by repeatedly surrendering the Party's New
Deal/Great Society legacy to increasingly regressive Republicans in the
name of political expediency, then by losing to the vilest candidate
the GOP could muster.
Fred Kaplan: Certifiable Nonsense: As usual with Slate, the link
title is better: "President Trump's Most Dishonest Speech Yet," adding
"His announcement on the Iran deal might also be his most dangerous
speech yet." Certainly true about his dishonesty, even though there's
lots of competition. But most dangerous? More dangerous than his
taunting of North Korea, which actually has nuclear warheads as well
as more powerful missiles? Well, the two are related:
Pulling out would also damage our posture, and possibly trigger catastrophe,
in other global hot spots. If our face-off with North Korea is to end without
war, it will require some sort of diplomatic settlement. But who will want
to negotiate with the United States, and who would believe any deal Trump
would sign or guarantee he would make, if he pulls out of the Iran deal,
even though Iran is abiding by its terms?
Sarah Kliff: Trump's acting like Obamacare is just politics. It's people's
lives. This is the piece Klein linked to in his tweet above, so it
starts by spelling out the bottom line. One key thing Trump's order does
is to end payments to insurance companies protecting against losses due
to adverse selection. This wouldn't be a problem in a single-payer system
with truly universal coverage, but splitting the market into multiple
segments means that some will be cost more than others. If insurance
companies had to bear that risk, some would drop out and the rest would
raise their prices. And that's exactly what they will do under Trump's
Ending these payments raises premiums for anyone who uses Obamacare:
older people, younger people, sicker people, and healthy people. And
it puts an already fragile Obamacare marketplace at greater risk of
a last-minute exodus by health plans who assumed that the government
would pay these subsidies -- and don't think they can weather the
The Trump administration has, since taking office, cut the Obamacare
open enrollment period in half. Instead of 90 days to sign up, enrollees
will now get 45. The Trump administration has cut the Obamacare advertising
budget by 90 percent -- and reduced funding for in-person outreach by 40
percent. Regional branches of Health and Human Services abruptly pulled
out of the outreach events they have participated in over the last four
years. . . .
Trump's larger presidential agenda has focused on unwinding Barack
Obama's legacy. He's more focused on destroying his nemesis than trying
to replace, to fix, or to improve Obama's biggest accomplishments from
the Iran deal to environmental regulation.
On health care, there are going to be immediate and very real
consequences for Americans. There are real people who stand to be hurt
by an administration that has actively decided to make a public benefits
program function poorly.
Michael Kruse: The Power of Trump's Positive Thinking: Yet another
attempt to plumb Trump's psyche, trying to impose order on a mental
process that strikes most of us as supremely chaotic:
"I've had just about the most legislation passed of any president, in
a nine-month period, that's ever served," he said this week in an interview
with Forbes, contradicting objective metrics and repeating his
frequent and dubious assertion of unprecedented success throughout the
first year of his first term as president.
The reality is that Trump is in a rut. His legislative agenda is
floundering. His approval ratings are historically low. He's raging
privately while engaging in noisy, internecine squabbles. He's increasingly
isolated. And yet his fact-flouting declarations of positivity continue
unabated. For Trump, though, these statements are not issues of right or
wrong or true or false. They are something much more elemental. They are
a direct result of the closest thing the stubborn, ideologically malleable
celebrity businessman turned most powerful person on the planet has ever
had to a devout religious faith. This is not his mother's flinty Scottish
Presbyterianism but Norman Vincent Peale's "power of positive thinking,"
the utterly American belief in self above all else and the conviction that
thoughts can be causative, that basic assertion can lead to actual
achievement. . . .
What Peale peddled was "a certain positive, feel-good religiosity
that demands nothing of you and rewards you with worldly riches and
success," said Princeton University historian Kevin Kruse, the author
of One Nation Under God: How Corporate America Invented Christian
America. "It's a self-help gospel . . . the name-it-and-claim-it
gospel." . . .
Peale, then nearly 80 years old, officiated Trump's wedding in 1977.
In 1983, shortly after the opening of Trump Tower, Trump credited Peale
for instilling in him a can-do ethos.
The piece cites various critiques of various self-help pitches,
some of which fit Trump to a tee, then notes that no one who has
been studied has anywhere near the power Trump has, so "the Trump
presidency is uncharted territory." Of course, Peale is only one
significant influence on Trump's thinking and behavior. There's
also Roy Cohn, a very different and much more nefarious mentor.
And there's Trump's Nazi/KKK-aligned father, and probably a few
more. Some writer could build a great novel out of such clay.
Unfortunately, the real thing isn't a work of fiction.
Dara Lind: Leaked memos show Jeff Sessions's DOJ aims to undermine due
process for immigrants. Sessions is one of those "public servants" in
the Trump administration that's willing to overlook getting tweet-slapped
by Trump because he has important agenda work to do. This is one prime
example (others include ending civil rights and antitrust enforcement).
James Mann: The Adults in the Room: A piece on how the generals
(Kelly, Mattis, McMaster) and Boy Scout (Tillerson) Trump has surrounded
himself with are keeping the ship of state afloat, their "maturity" in
sharp contrast to the president's lack thereof:
Following the arrival of Donald Trump in the White House, the meaning
of the words "adult" and "grownup" has undergone a subtle but remarkable
shift. They now refer far more to behavior and character than to views
on policy. This is where Kelly, McMaster, Mattis, and (to a lesser extent)
Tillerson come in; "grownup" is the behavioral role that we have assigned
For the first time, America has a president who does not act like an
adult. He is emotionally immature: he lies, taunts, insults, bullies,
rages, seeks vengeance, exalts violence, boasts, refuses to accept
criticism, all in ways that most parents would seek to prevent in their
own children. Thus the dynamic was established in the earliest days of
the administration: Trump makes messes, or threatens to make them, and
Americans look to the "adults" to clean up for him. The "adults," in
turn, send out occasional little public signals that they are trying to
keep Trump from veering off course -- to educate him, to make him grow
up, to keep him under control. When all else fails, they simply distance
themselves from his tirades. Sometimes such efforts are successful; on
many occasions, they aren't.
Leaving aside the question whether Trump's immaturity is a matter
of his spoiled upbringing, sociopathy, or some kind of dementia (what
we usually mean when we speak of people his age undergoing "a second
childhood"), what I find most incongruous here is the notion that we
should consider generals to be grown-ups. We are, after all, talking
about people who dress up in uniforms with flashy medals, who prance
about and play with guns or, at their rank, maneuver soldiers around
battlefields. Those are all things that I enjoyed in my pre-teens but
rapidly grew out of, especially as I became conscious of the very grim
and senseless war my country was fighting in Vietnam. Ever since then,
I figured those who pursued military careers to be stuck in some kind
of adolescence, at least until PTSD disabuses them of their fantasies.
Maybe generals are different, although I don't see why, and I doubt
they often function well outside of the closed system that selected
them. (Tillerson, of course, didn't fall for the military fantasy, but
he got a taste of the worldview in the Boy Scouts, and his advancement
through the ranks of Exxon was every bit as cloistered -- something we
see in his performance as Secretary of State.)
I also couldn't help but notice this piece:
Eric Scigliano: The Book Mattis Reads to Be Prepared for War With
North Korea. The book is T.R. Fehrenbach's This Kind of War,
originally published in 1963, evidently focused on the importance of
putting "boots on the ground" while recognizing how little America's
scorched earth air bombardment had accomplished. No idea what lessons
Mattis draws from this, other than ego-stroking from a fellow Marine.
As I recall, the first thing I read about Mattis (back in early Iraq
War days) stressed what an intellectual he was, with his vast library
of war books. I flashed then on Robert Sherrill's book title, Military
Justice Is to Justice as Military Music Is to Music, and figured
"military intellectuals" were likely to be similarly debased.
Donald Macintyre: Tony Blair: 'We were wrong to boycott Hamas after its
election win': Only eleven years too late. I don't recall whether
Blair has issued his mea culpa for the Iraq War or any of the
dozens of other things he's famously screwed up, but it's worth noting
this one. One thing we should always work toward is getting groups to
lay down their arms and work to advance their cause through an electoral
framework. The Hamas electoral victory in 2006 offered an opportunity to
restart the "peace process" that Barak and Sharon aborted in 2000, with
broader Palestinian representation than was ever possible under Arafat.
Of course, Sharon wanted no part in any peace process, and Blair and
Bush sheepishly went along, not simply adding more than a decade to the
conflict but allowing Israel's illegal settlement actions to sink ever
deeper roots into the West Bank.
Andrew Restuccia: Bannon promises 'season of war' against McConnell, GOP
establishment: Specifically, "to challenge any Senate Republican who
doesn't publicly condemn attacks on President Donald Trump." On the one
hand, I'm tempted to say, "let the bloodletting begin"; on the other,
while it will be easy to characterize Bannon's insurgents as extremists,
his willingness to challenge oligarchy gives him a potential popularity
that establishment Republicans as Mitch McConnell lack. Bannon argues
here that "money doesn't matter anymore" -- while that's certainly not
true, his "grass roots organizing" was able to negate Hillary's huge
fundraising advantage. Seemingly unrelated, also note that:
[Bannon] also appeared to hint that the administration was planning to
soon declare that the Muslim Brotherhood is a terrorist organization
and move the U.S. embassy in Israel to Jerusalem, perhaps as soon as
But a senior administration official disputed that such an announcement
was in the works for next week.
Philip Rucker/Ed O'Keefe: Trump threatens to abandon Puerto Rico recovery
effort: Among the many things Trump has threatened to blow up this
past week, one of the most vexing is the quasi-colonial relationship of
the US to Puerto Rico. Trump has vacillated between taking responsibility
for recovery and attempting to disown the island, to write it off like
one of his bad debts. Here he declares Puerto Rico's infrastructure a
disaster before the storm. There he lectures on the sanctity of debts
accured by state and local government there. Political sentiment in the
US generally favors aid, but I suspect his base is more antagonistic.
The banks, on the other hand, would probably prefer a bailout before
anything drastic happens. Puerto Ricans recently voted for statehood,
which Republicans in Congress are likely to block if they think there's
any reason -- like a racist, xenophobic president -- doing so might not
add to the GOP majority. Indeed, Trump has already started to follow
through on his threats to withdraw aid by allowing a temporary waiver
to the Jones Act to expire.
Meanwhile, a couple recent reports from Puerto Rico:
Gabriel Sherman: "I Hate Everyone in the White House!": Trump Seethes as
Advisers Fear the President Is "Unraveling":
Stephen Colbert's comment on this headline was: "This means up until
now, he's been raveled." Inside you get lines like "One former official
even speculated that Kelly and Secretary of Defense James Mattis have
discussed what they would do in the event Trump ordered a nuclear first
strike." And: "According to a source, Bannon has told people he thinks
Trump has only a 30 percent chance of making it the full term." All very
gossipy. Too much smoke to tell where the fire actually is.
Emily Shugerman: US withdraws from Unesco over 'anti-Israel bias':
"The US helped found Unesco in the wake of the Second World War, with
the aim of ensuring peace through the free flow of ideas and education."
I found this shocking, even though it's long been clear that the US has
its most anti-education and anti-free speech administration in history,
and possibly its most anti-peace one as well. The most disturbing thing
here is the extent to which anti-UN prejudice has permeated Republican
ideology (and make no mistake about it, this is a purely partisan view).
But even as a go-it-alone (i.e., isolationist) "America first" stance,
it's pretty self-deprecating: if the stated rationale is true, this as
much as admits that tiny Israel has taken charge of US foreign policy;
the alternative theory, that "Mr Tillerson simply wanted to stem outgoings,"
also reflects poorly on the US, as much as admitting that "the richest
country in the world" can't afford to contribute to preserving heritage
and supporting education in poorer countries.
Pieces by Matthew Yglesias this week:
Special bonus link:
Dalia Mortada: A Taste of Syria: A recipe for a Syrian dish, fatteh,
"a hearty dish of crispy pita bread beneath chickpeas and a luscious
garlic-yogurt-tahini sauce." I should note that the picture appears to
have a sprinkling of ground sumac (or maybe Aleppo pepper) not listed
in the recipe.
Sunday, October 8. 2017
Very little time to work on this, but here are a few things I noted.
The big story of the week probably should be Puerto Rico, especially
how poorly America's quasi-benevolent gloss on colonialism has wound
up serving the people there, but that would take some depth to figure
out -- much easier to make fun of Trump pitching paper towels. Aside
from the Las Vegas massacre, the media's favorite story of the week
was Tillerson calling Trump a "fucking moron," then quasi-denying it,
followed by reports of his "suicide pact" with fellow embarrassed
secretaries Mattis and Mnuchim. Meanwhile the Caribbean cooked up
another hurricane, Nate, which landed midway between Harvey and
Irma, reported almost cavalierly after the previous panic stories.
How quickly even disaster becomes normalized these days!
Obviously, many more stories could have made the cut, if only I
had time to sort them out. Still, this is enough bad news for a taste,
especially since so much of it traces back to a single source.
Some scattered links this week:
Harry Enten: Trump's Popularity Has Dipped Most in Red States.
Thomas Frank: Are those my words coming out of Steve Bannon's mouth?
"My critique of Washington is distinctly from the left, and it's astonishing
to hear conservatives swiping it." I've long been bothered by how Frank's
taunting of the right-wing base got them to demand more from their political
heroes. It's also true that Frank's exposure of the neoliberal rot in the
heart of Washington's beltway has played into Trump rhetoric. Indeed, it's
probable that Frank's Listen, Liberal undercut Hillary much worse
than anything Bernie Sanders ever said or did -- a distinction that Hillary's
diehard fans don't make because most of Frank's readers supported Bernie.
Frank points out that Republicans offer no real fixes for his critiques.
So why don't Democrats pick up the same critique and flesh it out with
real solutions? Probably because Hillary and company were so content with
sucking up to their rich donors, but now that we know that doesn't work,
why can't they learn?
Josh Marshall: More Thoughts on the Externalities of Mass Gun Ownership:
This in turn cites
David Frum: The Rules of Gun Debate, which points out a basic truth
that hardly anyone wants to admit:
Americans die from gunfire in proportions unparalleled in the civilized
world because Americans own guns in proportions unparalleled in the
civilized world. More guns mean more lethal accidents, more suicides,
more everyday arguments escalated into murderous fusillades.
Marshall goes on to point out that the sheer popularity of guns is
making the problem worse for everyone -- he speaks of "externalities,"
although the game model is closer to an arms race. But Frum also notes:
o in a limited sense, the gun advocates are right. The promise of
"common sense gun safety" is a hoax, i.e. Americans probably will not
be able to save the tens of thousands of lives lost every year to gun
violence -- and the many more thousands maimed and traumatized -- while
millions of Americans carry guns in their purses and glove compartments,
store guns in their night tables and dressers. Until Americans change
their minds about guns, Americans will die by guns in numbers resembling
the casualty figures in Somalia and Honduras more than Britain or
It's truly hard to imagine that this change will be led by law. . . .
Gun safety begins, then, not with technical fixes, but with spreading
the truthful information: people who bring guns into their homes are
endangering themselves and their loved ones.
Specifically on Las Vegas, note
I'm not going to criticize Caleb Keeter -- the guitarist who "has
had a change of heart on guns."
Dylan Matthews: Trump reignites NFL protest controversy by ordering Mike
Pence to leave a Colts game: Pence showed up for a Colts game to
stand for the national anthem, then left in protest of players who took
a knee during the anthem. Pure PR stunt, and a huge insult to NFL fans,
who pay good money to watch the game, even if that means enduring the
pre-game pomp. Worse, Trump is so locked into his echo chamber he thinks
he's making a winning point.
Jeremy W Peters/Maggie Haberman/Glenn Trush: Erik Prince, Blackwater
Founder, Weighs Primary Challenge to Wyoming Republican: Billionaire
brother of Betsy DeVos, like her made his money inheriting the Amway
fortune but built a lucrative side business providing mercenaries for
the Global War on Terror, most recently in the news lobbying the Trump
administration to privatize the war in Afghanistan -- if you wanted to
write a new James Bond novel about a megalomaniacal privateer, you
wouldn't have to spruce his bio up much. He hails from Michigan, but
isn't the first to think Wyoming might be a cost-effective springboard
to the Senate and national politics (think Lynne Cheney). Behind the
scenes here is Steve Bannon, who's looking for Trump-like candidates
to disrupt the Republican Party. He's likely to come up with some
pretty creepy ones, but Prince is setting the bar awful high.
Andrew Prokop: Trump's odd and ominous "calm before the storm" comment,
not really explained: This followed Trump's dressing down of Secretary
of State Rex Tillerson for trying to talk to North Korea (not to mention
Tillerson's description of Trump as a "fucking moron"). As Prokop admits,
there is no real explanation for Trump's elliptical remarks, but as I see
it, he's doing a much more convincing act of Nixon's Madman Theory than
the Trickster ever managed.
David Roberts: Friendly policies keep US oil and coal afloat far more
than we thought.
Dylan Scott: How Trump is planning to gut Obamacare by executive
Matthew Yglesias: Puerto Rico is all our worst fears about Trump
To an extent, the United States of America held up surprisingly well
from Inauguration Day until September 20 or so. The ongoing degradation
of American civic institutions, at a minimum, did not have an immediate
negative impact on the typical person's life.
But the world is beginning to draw a straight line from the devastation
in Puerto Rico to the White House. Trump's instinct so far is to turn the
island's devastation into another front in culture war politics, a strategy
that could help his own political career survive.
One problem Trump has, even if it doesn't explain his administration
as a whole, has been the relative shortfall of news on Puerto Rico --
especially from the Trump whisperers at Fox (see
Druhmil Mehta: The Media Really Has Neglected Puerto Rico). A lot
of people, and not just immigration-phobes like Trump, have is seeing
Puerto Rico as part of the USA, even though everyone there has American
citizenship and are free to pick up and move anywhere in the country.
Harry Enten: Trump's Handling of Hurricane Maria Is Getting Really Bad
The notion that Trump hasn't done a lot of damage to the country
yet is mostly delayed perception. His regulatory efforts have allowed
companies to pollute more and engage in other predatory practices, but
it takes a while to companies to take advantage of their new license.
The defunding of CHIP (the Children's Health Insurance Program) didn't
immediately shot off insurance, but it will over several months. Those
who lose their insurance may not get sick for months or years, but
across the country these things add up. Trump's brinksmanship with
North Korea hasn't blown up yet, but it's made a disaster much more
likely. Some of these things will slowly degrade quality of life,
but some may happen suddenly and irreversibly. That people don't
notice them right away doesn't mean that they won't eventually.
One thing politicians hope, of course, is that bad things happen
they won't be traced back to responsible acts. Indeed, Republicans
have been extraordinarily lucky so far, to no small extent because
Democrats haven't been very adept as explaining causality. Yglesias
returns to this theme in
Trump's taste for flattery is a disaster for Puerto Rico -- and someday
The scary message of Puerto Rico -- like of the diplomatic row between
Qatar and Saudi Arabia before it -- is that a man who often seemed like
he wasn't up to the job of being president is, in fact, not up to the
job of being president.
At times, of course, his political opponents will find this comforting
or even to be a blessing. His inability to involve himself constructively
in the Affordable Care Act debate, for example, likely saved millions of
people's Medicaid coverage relative to what a more competent president
might have pulled off.
But when bad luck strikes, the president's problems become everyone's
problems. And in Puerto Rico we're seeing that the president's inability
to listen to constructive criticism -- and his unwillingness to incentive
people to give it to him -- transforms misfortune into catastrophe.
This tendency to cut himself off from uncomfortable information rather
than accept frank assessments and change course has impacted Trump's
legislative agenda, peripheral aspects of his foreign policy, and now
a part of the United States of America itself.
If we're lucky, maybe the global economy will hold up, we won't have
any more bad storms, foreign terrorists will leave us alone, and somehow
we'll skate past this North Korea situation. Maybe. Because if not, we're
going to be in trouble, and the president's going to be the last one to
Yglesias says "we'd better hope Trump's luck holds up," but he doesn't
sound very hopeful. I'm reminded of the famous Branch Rickey maxim, "luck
is the residue of design." Rickey was talking about winning baseball games,
but losing is the residue of its own kind of design. It was GW Bush's bad
luck that the economy imploded on his watch, but his administration and
his party deliberately did a lot of things that hastened that collapse,
so it's not simply that they were unlucky.
Other pieces by Yglesias last week:
The 4 stories that defined the week: Dozens were massacred in Las
Vegas; Trump flew to Puerto Rico; Tax reform is looking shaky; and
Morongate rocked the Cabinet. One aspect of the latter story: "due
to the structure of his compensation and certain quirks of tax law,
[Tillerson will] be hit with a $71 million tax bill on the proceeds
[of cashing out his Exxon stock] unless he stays with the government
for at least a year." Other pieces:
Meet Kevin Warsh, the man Trump may tap to wreck the American economy:
to replace Janet Yellen as chair of the Federal Reserve;
After Sandy Hook, Trump hailed Obama's call for gun control legislation;
Trump's reverse Midas touch is making everything he hates popular;
After a year of work, Republicans have decided nothing on corporate tax
Sunday, October 1. 2017
Hard to get psyched up for this week, what with my website woes,
having sunk a lot of time into yesterday's Streamnotes, and various
other malaises. Two pieces of relative good news this week: the
Graham-Cassidy bill to repeal-and-decimate Obamacare failed to
advance to a vote; and HHS Secretary Tom Price, one of the Cabinet's
most obnoxious secretaries, was forced to resign. Hurricane Marie
is much reduced and well out to sea, heading toward Ireland, and
no new Atlantic hurricanes have been named. On the other hand, that
just leaves the destruction Marie wrought in Puerto Rico in the
media spotlight, with the Trump administration all but cursing the
Spanish-American War (wasn't that the first great MAGA crusade?).
Meanwhile, Republicans are pushing "tax reform" with no evident
ability to make their numbers add up.
Some scattered links this week:
Karen DeYoung, et al: Trump signed presidential directive ordering actions
to pressure North Korea: This included extensive cyberwarfare operations
against North Korea. Not clear on exact chronology, but this suggests that
much of the confrontation with North Korea was precipitated by Trump's
Anne Gearan: The swamp rises around an administration that promised to
Candidate Trump would have been appalled.
"A vote for Hillary is a vote to surrender our government to public
corruption, graft and cronyism that threatens the very foundations of
our constitutional system," Trump said during an Oct. 29 speech.
He went on to describe his broader belief that public corruption
and cronyism were eating away at voters' faith in government -- a
situation he would remedy.
"I want the entire corrupt Washington establishment to hear and to
heed the words I am about to say," Trump said. "When we win on Nov. 8,
we are going to Washington, D.C., and we are going to drain the
swamp." . . .
Trump's critics say no one should be surprised that he hasn't followed
through on his campaign promise. They argue that the mere idea of a
flamboyantly rich New York real estate mogul as the champion of workaday
lunch buckets in Middle America was silly.
"The tone on this stuff gets set at the top," said Brian Fallon,
spokesman for Clinton's 2016 presidential campaign and a former Justice
Department official in the Obama administration.
"Tom Price's wasteful jet-setting is not causing Trump embarrassment
because it violates any kind of reform mind-set within the Trump
administration. No such mind-set exists," Fallon said. "It is simply
because Price got caught and is reminding everyone of how Trump has
turned Washington into an even bigger swamp than it was in the first
Of course, it was ridiculous to ever think that Trump, let alone
a Congress run by Republicans, would so much as lift a finger to try
to curtail the influence of money in Washington or more generally in
politics. It was easy to tar Hillary on this account, given how much
she seemed to prefer courting donors to voters, given how brazenly the
Clintons had cultivated influence peddling (going back to Arkansas,
when he was Governor and she sat on the WalMart board), and given how
they had risen from bankruptcy to considerable wealth cashing in their
chips after he left office in 2001. But while Democrats from Grover
Cleveland to Barack Obama provided a measure of background corruption
in government, it was the self-styled "party of greed" that hosted our
most notorious corruption scandals: Grant's Credit Mobilier, Harding's
Teapot Dome, Reagan's HUD scandals and Iran-Contra, and too many squalid
affairs under Bush-Cheney to name. But never before have the Republicans
nominated someone as rapacious and as shameless as Trump. Tom Price ran
into trouble not by offending Trump's ethics but his ego, by acting like
he's entitled to the same perks as the boss. If anyone ever doubted that
"public corruption, graft and cronyism that threatens the very foundations
of our constitutional system," Trump will show them.
David A Graham: Why Does Trump Keep Praising the Emergency Response in
Puerto Rico? "The president's insistence that he's doing a great
job sits uneasily with stories of desperation in the aftermath of
Part of this seems to be Trump's struggle to project empathy, which he
displayed in the early days after Hurricane Harvey, where he excelled
at the inspirational, rah-rah, we will rebuild aspects of presidential
response, but found it very hard to show he felt the pain of Gulf Coast
residents. (By contrast, he has expressed caution about what to do in
Puerto Rico, tweeting, "The fact is that Puerto Rico has been destroyed
by two hurricanes. Big decisions will have to be made as to the cost of
its rebuilding!") Another part is Trump's tendency toward puffery: In
all situations, for his entire career, his impulse has been to magnify
and celebrate his own prowess and success, and so he's doing that here
too. But that fake-it-till-you-make-it approach understandably rankles
people like Yulín.
Damning as this is, it's way too kind to Trump, already forgetting
that he did a completely dreadful job of showing empathy in Texas --
although at least there he made a little effort to fake it. AT least
he acknowledges that Texas is part of "his" America, something that
he doesn't feel with Puerto Rico. A couple more sample pieces on how
the Trump administration is handling the Puerto Rico crisis:
Trump Attacks Critics of Puerto Rico Aid Effort: 'Politically Motivated
FEMA Administrator Swipes at San Juan Mayor, Those Who 'Spout Off' About
Sarah Kliff: Obamacare repeal isn't dead as long as Republicans control
Congress: In fact, lots of horrible things will keep coming up as
long as Republicans control Congress. A couple weeks ago my cousin asked
me who I'd like to see the Democrats nominate in 2020, and my response
was that it doesn't matter until Democrats can start winning state and
local races, especially for Congress. One thing I continue to fault both
Clinton and Obama on is their loss of Congress two years into their first
terms, and their failure to build up effective coattails even when they
won second terms. Hillary Clinton spent a ton of time raising money, but
didn't build up any down-ticket strength to build her own candidacy on --
a big part of the reason she lost. Without Congressional support, neither
Clinton nor Obama got more than a tiny percentage of their platforms
implemented, and that failure in turn ate at the credibility of their
promises -- something Hillary paid dearly for, which in turn is why
we're suffering through Trump and the Republican Congress.
Paul Krugman: Shifts Get Real: Understanding the GOP's Policy Quagmire:
I mentioned in the intro that Republican plans don't add up: they want
big cuts in tax brackets, especially for corporations from 35% to 20%,
and they want to eliminate the estate tax altogether, but even a few
of those things would bust the budget. "Reforms" to simplify the code
and eliminate current deductions could offset at least some of the cuts,
but those all look like tax increases to those who currently benefit,
and their lobbies are out in force to keep that from happening. Even
busting the budget is a problem given the Senate's no-filibuster
"reconciliation" path. So while everyone in the majority caucus is
sworn to cut taxes, getting there may prove difficult.
Right now it looks as if tax "reform" -- actually it's just cuts -- may
go the way of Obamacare repeal. Initial assessments of the plan are brutal,
and administration attempts to spin things in a positive direction will
suffer from loss of credibility on multiple fronts, from obvious lies
about the plan itself, to spreading corruption scandals, to the spectacle
of the tweeter-in-chief golfing while Puerto Rico drowns. . . .
One important goal of ACA repeal was to loosen those constraints, by
repealing the high-end tax hikes that paid for Obamacare, hence giving
a big break to the donor class. Having failed to do that, Rs are under
even more pressure to deliver the goods to the wealthy through tax cuts.
But deficits are a constraint, even if not a hard one. Now, Republicans
have always claimed that they can cut tax rates without losing revenue by
closing loopholes. But they've always avoided saying anything about which
loopholes they'd close; they promised to shift the tax burden away from
their donors onto [TK], some mystery group. It was magic asterisk city;
it was "Don't tax you, don't tax me, tax that fellow behind the tree" on
steroids. . . .
So what were they thinking? My guess is that they weren't thinking.
What we learned from health care was that after 8 years, Republicans
had never bothered to learn anything about the issues. There's every
reason to believe that the same is true for the distribution of tax
changes, which Paul Ryan called a "ridiculous" issue and presumably
nobody in his party ever tried to understand.
So now the lies and willful ignorance are catching up with them --
An earlier Krugman post
Unpopular Delusions and the Madness of Elites) notes some polling
There really is no clamor, even among Republicans, for tax cuts on the
wealthy and corporations. And overall public opinion is strongly against.
Nor is there a technocratic case for these cuts. There is no evidence
whatsoever that tax cuts produce great economic outcomes -- zero, zilch,
nada. The "experts" who claim otherwise are all hired guns, and notably
incompetent hired guns at that.
Yet faith in and demands for tax cuts remains; it's the ultimate zombie
idea. And it's obvious why: advocating tax cuts for the rich and inventing
rationales for those cuts is very lucrative.
Voodoo Gets Even Voodooier:
That said, Trumpcuts are an even worse idea than Reaganomics, and not
just because we start from much higher debt, the legacy of the financial
crisis, which cut deeply into revenue and temporarily boosted spending.
It also matters that we start from a much lower top tax rate than Reagan
did. . . . So even if you believed that voodoo economics worked under
Reagan -- which it didn't -- it would take a lot more voodoo, in fact
around 4 times as much, for it to work now.
Which makes you wonder: how can they possibly sell this as a
responsible plan? Oh, right: they'll just lie.
Peter O'Dowd: 18-Hour Vietnam Epic Is Lesson on Horror of 'Unleashing
Gods of War': Actually, the interview isn't that interesting, except
for a long quote on the Burns-Novick documentary from Daniel Ellsberg:
I think there were some some major omissions that are quite fundamental
that disturbed me quite a bit, although the overall thing is very
First of all, the repeated statement that this was a civil war on
which we were taking one side, I think it's profoundly misleading. It
always was a war in which one side is entirely paid, equipped, armed,
pressed forward by foreigners. Without the foreigners, no war. That's
not a civil war. And that puts -- it very much undermines, I'd say, a
fundamentally misleading statement at the very beginning in the first
five minutes or so of the first session.
I don't see anything in the Pentagon Papers, 7,000 pages, that could
be called good faith by anybody, in terms of the American people, our
values, our Constitution. This was a war, as I say initially, to keep
Vietnam a French colony. And that was not admitted to the American
people. It was well known inside. We preferred that they be at war,
and there was never a year that there would have been a war at all
without American money in the end. So I thought that was extremely
I'll probably write some more about Vietnam later, but I do want to
add one comment on the last episode, which features heavily the Vietnam
War Memorial in Washington DC. The design suggests a gash in the earth,
one side lined with black marble engraved with the names of 58,318
Americans who died perpetuating this war. I find it impossible to look
at this wall and not imagine extending it upward to include the three
million Vietnamese who also died. It seems extraordinarily conceited,
even more so misleading, to omit those names. Of course, if you want
to preserve the gash-in-the-earth visual effect, you could dig a deeper
hole instead of building the wall up hundreds of feet.
Alex Pareene: You Are Jonathan Chait's Enemy: Chait is complaining
"about the 'dangerous consequences' of the left's use of the label 'white
supremacist' to describe Donald Trump, the alt-right, and American
conservatism in general," in what Pareene describes as "just another
paint-by-numbers 'the greatest threat to free speech in the nation
today is college students heckling an asshole' column."
Chait is policing the way the left does politics because he does not
want the left-wing style of doing politics to gain prominence.
Something that is well-known to people who've read Chait for years,
but may not be apparent to those who just think of him as a standard-issue
center-left pundit who is sort of clueless about race, is that he is
engaged in a pretty specific political project: Ensuring that you and
people like you don't gain control of his party.
Pareene's getting a bit touchy here, but he's not the only one
suspicious that so-called centrists relish attacking the left while
offering the right undeserved respect and legitimacy -- which in the
long run works in their favor. The problem with centrism is that the
track record doesn't show that taking such a conciliatory stance
delivers much in the way of tangible benefits -- indeed, if anything
it shows retreats while the right grows stronger and more aggressive.
It seems time to ask whether stronger leftist critiques might turn
out to be more effective, especially with people who don't start out
with a strong political stance. For instance, why not refer to people
as white supremacists who may merely be garden variety racists? --
especially people like Trump who seem so comfortable aligned with
undoubted white supremacists like the KKK?
David Rothkopf: The NSC is 70 this week -- and the first thing it ever did
was meddle in a foreign election: In 1947, created by the National
Security Act, its first paper ("NSC 1") approved by Truman to covertly
meddle in elections in Italy, "trying to counter the effects of the
Soviets to support the rise of the Italian Communist Party," no mention
of the popularity the PCI gained by resisting Mussolini and the German
occupation. Of course, the CIA went on to do much more than merely game
foreign elections; e.g.:
Vincent Bevins: In Indonesia, the 'fake news' that fueled a Cold War
massacre is still potent five decades later:
Gen. Suharto, then the head of the army's strategic reserve command
and relying on support from the CIA, accused the powerful Communist
Party of orchestrating a coup attempt and took over as the military's
de facto leader. Over the next few months, his forces oversaw the
systematic execution of at least 500,000 Indonesians, and historians
say they may have killed up to 1 million. The massacre decimated the
world's third-largest Communist Party (behind those of the Soviet
Union and China), and untold numbers were tortured and killed simply
for allegedly associating with communists.
The military dictatorship that formed afterward, led by Suharto,
made wildly inaccurate anti-communist propaganda a cornerstone of
its legitimacy and ruled Indonesia with U.S. support until 1998.
Alex Thompson/Ryan Grim: Kansas Won't Expand Medicaid, Denying a Lifeline
to Rural Hospitals and Patients: Well, some, like the one in Independence,
are already dead. Gov. Brownback, who vetoed the bill to expand Medicaid,
has been nominated to a State Department post to hector the world on God,
but Lt. Gov. Colyer promises to veto future bills as well, so no relief
Zeynep Tufekci: Zuckerberg's Preposterous Defense of Facebook:
It's become clear that Russia created hundreds of clandestine Facebook
accounts and used them and Facebook's advertising system to spread
misinformation about the 2016 election. People are upset about that
because they don't like the idea of a foreign power attempting to
tilt an American election, possibly as a general principle but often
just because it's Russia attempting to undermine Hillary Clinton
and/or to elect Trump. Still, doesn't the US do the same thing to
other countries? And don't both parties and their donors do the
same thing to each other? I have no doubt that Facebook makes the
general problem much worse, mostly because it allows unprecedentely
precise, even intimate, targeting by whoever's willing to put the
money into it. Advertisers have been trying to refine targeting for
decades, but they've mostly been concerned with efficiency -- getting
the most cost-effective set of buyers to consider a standard product
pitch. Political advertising is different because votes are different
from purchases, and, given limited choices, negative advertising is
often more effective. Until recently, we could limit this damage by
requiring disclosure of whoever is buying the advertising. Facebook
undermines this paradigm in several ways: it helps advertisers hide
their identity, and thereby avoid responsibility for any damages; it
allows messages to be very narrowly tailored; its effect is amplified
by viral "sharing"; it precludes any systematic effort to recall or
correct misinformation. Americans have long been lulled into the lure
of advertising, which offers to pay for entertainment and news while
only demanding a small (and initially distinct) slice of your time.
And we've basically gone along with this scheme because we haven't
noticed what it's doing to us -- much like a lobster doesn't notice
heating water until it's much too late. It's going to be difficult
to unravel all these levels of duplicity and to restore any measure
of integrity to the democratic process. But two things should be
clear by now: the fact that someone like Donald Trump got elected
president shows that our system for informing ourselves about the
world is badly broken; and that as long as powerful forces -- I'd
start with virtually all corporations, most Republicans, and many
Democrats, and throw in a few more special interest groups (not
least the CIA and the post-KGB -- believe that they benefit from
this system there will be much resistance to changing it. Indeed,
it probably has to be defeated before it can be changed.
By the way, Matt Taibbi has a relevant piece:
Latest Fake News Panic Appears to Be Fake News, wherein he
The irony here is that the solution to so much of this fake news panic
is so simple. If we just spent more time outside, or read more books,
or talked in person to real human beings more often, we'd be less
susceptible to this sort of thing. But that would take effort, and
who has time for that?
Matthew Yglesias: 4 stories that really mattered this week:
i.e., more than Trump's spat with the NFL: Obamacare repeal died
again; Puerto Rico is in crisis; Republicans rolled
out a tax cut plan; Roy Moore won the GOP nomination in
Alabama. Other recent Yglesias posts:
Trump is proposing big tax hikes on vulnerable House Republicans'
constituents (ending deductability of state and local taxes [SALT],
a big deal in upscale suburban districts);
A House Republican explains why deficits don't matter anymore:
Mark Walker says "It's a great talking point when you have an
administration that's Democrat-led" -- this just confirms what we've
already observed, as when Nixon declared "we're all Keynesians now"
when he wanted more deficit spending to prop up his re-election
economy, or Cheney declared "deficits don't matter," yet Clinton
and Obama were constantly pounded over deficit spending;
Trump keeps saying Graham-Cassidy failed because a senator's in the
Nobody wants Donald Trump's corporate tax cut plan: "Americans
overwhelmingly want large businesses to pay more taxes rather than
The Jones Act, the obscure 1920 shipping regulation strangling Puerto Rico,
Trump's plan to sell tax cuts for the rich is to pretend they're not
Democrats ought to invest in Doug Jones's campaign against Roy Moore;
Angela Merkel won in a landslide -- now comes the hard part;
Donald Trump versus the NFL, explained.
Sunday, September 24. 2017
Biggest news for me is that the server I use for TomHull.com is
wedged, with no disk space available for uploading updates. I may
(or may not) be able to insert this post into the blog software
(which I've had problems with in the past, but evidently uses its
own separate storage), but cannot update the "faux blog" (which
I've been linking to for the last year-plus). The ISP, Addr.com,
seems to be on auto-pilot, with all of their support tools broken
and no one responding even to email. I know I've threatened this in
the past, but I suppose I have to bite the bullet and move the site.
That will be a pain for me, and disruptive for the world -- as if I
don't have enough problems already.
Some fairly large topics I have nothing on below: Hurricane Maria
and the mass destruction of Dominica and Puerto Rico; devastating
earthquakes in Mexico; elections in Germany which gave the far-right
AfD party seats in parliament; the never-ending Russia investigation
(starring Paul Manafort and Facebook this week); Betsy DeVos' latest
efforts to make college a safe haven for rapists; a revised anti-Muslim
travel ban; the ongoing protests against
police brutality and injustice in St. Louis (special hat tip to Greg
Magarian and Bronwen Zwirner on the ground there); and, of course, the
big deal of protesting the national anthem at NFL football games (and
Trump's hate tweets against those who do) -- the latter is the subject
of the first five articles at Slate, and evidently the top trending
hashtag(s) at Twitter (Jeffrey Goldberg tweet: "The President of
the United States is now in a war with Stephen Curry and LeBron
James. This is not a war Trump will win").
Some more reviews of Hillary Clinton's What Happened and
comments on the 2016 election:
Glenn Greenwald: The Clinton Book Tour Is Largely Ignoring the Vital Role
of Endless War in the 2016 Election Result:
Part of that is the discomfort of cognitive dissonance: the Democratic
branding and self-glorification as enemies of privilege, racism, and
violence are directly in conflict with the party's long-standing eagerness
to ignore, or even actively support, policies which kill large numbers of
innocent people from Pakistan, Libya, and Somalia to Yemen, Iraq, and Gaza,
but which receive scant attention because of the nationality, ethnicity,
poverty, distance, and general invisibility of their victims.
Actually, Hillary gets hurt in several ways: because she always rose
to support the wars, no one can identify with her as a war critic; because
she was actually in office during much of this time (as senator and especially
as secretary of state) she bears some responsibility for the failure of the
wars to accomplish their proclaimed goals; and the simple fact is that after
15 years of continuous war Americans are poorer and meaner than they would
have been otherwise, and Republicans feed on that.
Katherine Krueger: Hillary Clinton Will Never Understand What Happened:
Those looking for mea culpas will get them, but only up to a point,
and always closely followed by qualifications. . . . She then pivots
to consider the "strong headwinds" her scrappy little $623 million
campaign-that-couldn't was up against. . . .
Most of all, Clinton can't understand why young voters were won over by
Sen. Bernie Sanders. And it is here where the essential cynicism underlying
her worldview -- and which ultimately played a key role in her doom --
comes most sharply into focus. For Clinton, politics are fundamentally
about pragmatism, where strategic concessions and horse-trading with
Republicans necessarily means sacrificing ideals for the ultimate good
of Getting (Some) Things Done. To her, change within the system is needed
and worthy, but the system itself can never change. . . .
After a career built on steadfastly upholding the status quo, Clinton
didn't share the anger of the people she sought to govern, because, to
her, the state of the U.S. is not something to be angry about. Even as
she criss-crossed the country talking with veterans and moms and immigrants,
their problems were never her problems. As her fellow Americans continue
to lose their jobs and homes and fall into medical debt and struggle with
opioid addictions, the system Clinton has for years fought to keep intact
is humming along just fine. The fact that racism, militarism, inequality,
and religious fundamentalism pervade this country, or that poor people
are being consumed by the gears of our economy and left exhausted in its
dust, is not something to get "angry" about. In Clinton's words, "It's
always been thus."
Jon Schwartz: Hillary Clinton doesn't understand why the corporate media
is so bad:
The New York Times, CBS, NBC, ABC, CNN, et al., are gigantic corporations --
in most cases owned by even larger ones. And the job of giant corporations
is not to inform American citizens about reality. It's not to play a hallowed
role in the history of a self-governing republic. It's to make as much profit
as possible. That in turn means the corporate media will never, ever be
"liberal" in any genuine sense and will be hostile to all politicians who
feint in that direction.
From that perspective, the media's performance in 2016 was a shining,
glorious success. As Les Moonves effused just as the primaries were
starting, Donald Trump's campaign was "good for us economically. . . . Go
Donald! Keep getting out there!" The entire Hieronymus Bosch-like nightmare,
said Moonves, "may not be good for America, but it's damn good for CBS."
CNN made $1 billion in profits during the election year, far more than
Matthew Yglesias: What really happened in 2016, in 7 charts: The
key one is the monumental unpopularity of both candidates. Still, in
that comparison, the odd thing is that Trump ranks much worse than
Clinton, yet more people who disliked Trump voted for him than people
who disliked Clinton voted for her. Why was that? My best guess is
that having no real track record, people significantly underestimated
how damaging Trump would be, whereas she was much more of a known,
and one of the main things you knew was she would be dogged by and
endless procession of (mostly) fake scandals as long as she was in
the public eye. Trump exploited this by asking the question: "what
have you got to lose?"
Joshua Holland: How Right-Wing Media Played the Mainstream Press in
the 2016 Election: Not on Hillary's book, but this is the piece
she should have read before writing up her excuses.
Some scattered links this week:
Andrew J Bacevich: Past All Reason: Review of the 18-hour Ken
Burns-Lynn Novick documentary The Vietnam War and, to some
extent, the war itself. The series remains focused on its American
audience, going out of its way to stress the patriotism and idealism
of American soldiers (though less so of America's political leaders
and generals). But it shies away from war propaganda, mostly because
they make extensive use of Vietnamese voices (from all sides) and
video -- putting human faces on people long caricatured in American
Burns and Novick pay surprisingly little attention to why exactly
the United States insisted on butting in and why it subsequently
proved so difficult to get out. Their lack of interest in this
central issue is all the more striking given the acute misgivings
about a large-scale US intervention that Lyndon Johnson repeatedly
expressed in the fateful months between late 1964 and early 1965.
The anguished president doubted that the war could be won, didn't
think it was worth fighting, and knew that further expansion of US
involvement in Vietnam would put at risk his cherished Great Society
domestic-reform program. . . . Despite his reservations, Johnson --
ostensibly the most powerful man in the world -- somehow felt compelled
to go ahead anyway. Yet Burns and Novick choose not to explore why
exactly Johnson felt obliged to do what he did not want to do.
Our present situation makes the question all the more salient.
The US war in Afghanistan, although smaller in scale than the war
in Vietnam, has dragged on even longer. It too has turned out to be
a misbegotten enterprise. When running for the presidency, Donald
Trump said as much in no uncertain terms. But President Trump --
ostensibly the most powerful man in the world -- has not turned
his skepticism into action, allowing America's longest war to
continue. . . . As Trump has affirmed, even (or perhaps especially)
presidents must bow to this pernicious bit of secular theology.
According to Burns and Novick, the American war in Vietnam was
"begun in good faith, by decent people." It comes closer to the truth
to say that the war was begun -- and then prolonged past all reason --
by people who lacked wisdom and, when it was most needed, courage.
Whereas I found the first four episodes valuable, the biases in the
fifth (January-July 1967) started to get out of hand. It's not clear
yet whether Burns-Novick will wind up adopting the position that the
only reason the US lost in Vietnam was that the American people let
the Vietnamese down -- the early episodes seemed to recognize that
the American neo-colonial project never had a chance, but their take
on the Tet Offensive suggests the opposite. Also, as is still the
case in St. Louis today, their cameras love to seek out violence in
antiwar protests, and their narrative goes out of its way to stress
the that there was still much pro-war support -- what Nixon would
come to call "the silent majority" (something I expect we'll hear
much more about in later episodes).
Sarah Kliff: I've Covered the GOP repeal plans since day one.
Graham-Cassidy is the most radical. It surely says something
about rank-and-file Republicans these days that each and every
time their "repeal-and-replace" bills fail to pass, they go back
to the drawing board to come up with something even more damaging.
While other Republican plans essentially create a poorly funded version
of the Affordable Care Act, Graham-Cassidy blows it up. The bill offered
by Republican Sens. Lindsey Graham and Bill Cassidy takes money from
states that did a good job getting residents covered under Obamacare
and gives it to states that did not. It eliminates an expansion of the
Medicaid program that covers millions of Americans in favor of block
grants. States aren't required to use the money to get people covered
or to help subsidize low- and middle-income earners, as Obamacare does
Plus, the bill includes other drastic changes that appeared in some
previous bills. Insurers in the private marketplace would be allowed
to discriminate against people with preexisting conditions, for example.
And it would eliminate the individual mandate as other bills would have,
but this time there is no replacement. Most analysts agree that would
inject chaos into the individual market.
The right has employed the back-to-the-states scam before, but it
strikes me as especially explosive here: whereas now we have a unified
national debate about health care policy, this bill will turn health
care info a burning issue for fifty state political contests -- an
area where Republicans have gained considerable power recently not
least due to the widespread perception that states don't matter much.
That strikes me as a big political risk: both to their own control in
competitive states, and because at least some blue states will use
those block grants to implement single-payer schemes (not that they
won't be inhibited by cutbacks and other regulations).
More on the Graham-Cassidy health care bill:
Bob Cesca: Lisa Murkowski's bribe -- and the GOP's shameless health
Alan Fram: Graham-Cassidy Co-Sponsor's State Gets Special Medicaid
Carve-Out: That would be Ron Johnson, of Wisconsin.
Jimmy Kimmel: new Obamacare repeal bill flunks the Jimmy Kimmel Test:
Not a lot of jokes here, but a pretty strong description of the bill, and
why Bill Cassidy is a liar. Also see the follow up:
Jimmy Kimmel: Sen. Cassidy "either doesn't understand his own bill or he
lied to me", and
Jimmy Kimmel vs. Cassidy, round 3: "If these guys would tell the truth . . .
I wouldn't have to".
Anna North: The New Obamacare repeal bill is the worst yet for women's
Dylan Scott: Senate Republicans tweak Graham-Cassidy in latest bid to win
Kelly Swanson: What every major health group has said about Graham-Cassidy:
American Medical Association, American Academy of Pediatrics, AARP, Blue
Cross Blue Shield Association, eight more.
Matthew Yglesias: The staggering hypocrisy of Bill Cassidy and Lindsey
Graham: Points out that both Senators had previously established
themselves as voices for reason in the GOP's "repeal-and-replace" efforts,
but then: "Their bill brazenly casts aside all of their previous doubts,
featuring the most slipshod legislative process yet and no guarantee of
adequate coverage whatsoever. And neither of them has bothered to explain
why they changed their minds." Actually, Steven Rosenfeld has come up
with one explanation, at least for Graham: see
Senate Republicans want to provide a death blow to any future health
Simon Maloy: McCain saves the GOP: Then John McCain withdrew his
initial wobbly support for Graham-Cassidy and vowed to vote against
the bill, pretty much killing it (assuming at least one of Collins and
Murkowski, who have both voted against every "repeal-and-replace" bill
so far steps up). McCain, of course, has reaped much praise for his
independence and integrity here, but I suspect other Republicans (Jeff
Flake and Dean Heller seem likely) wanted to torpedo the bill without
being seen as the ones who did it. As I noted above, kicking health
insurance back to fifty states greatly magnifies the political impact,
turning races in each of those states into referendums on access to and
affordability of health care, while major federal funding cuts cripples
many options. McCain's crucial votes against "repeal-and-replace" would
seem to satisfy the Pareene test (see
Alex Pareene: I Don't Want to Hear Another Fucking Word About John McCain
Unless He Dies or Actually Does Something Useful for Once). Still:
Mehdi Hasan: Despite what the press says, "Maverick" McCain has a long
and distinguished record of horribleness.
Jordan Weissmann: Obamacare Repeal Might Be Dead. Trump's Effort to
Sabotage the Law Is Very Much Alive.
Fred Kaplan: Trump's Reasons for Scrapping the Iran Deal Are the Definition
of Self-Destructive. Also see the Trita Parsi pieces below.
John Nichols: Bernie Sanders Just Gave One of the Finest Speeches of
His Career: "Outlining a vision of an America on the side of peace
and justice, the senator shredded Trump's brutish foreign policies."
Sanders gave his speech at Westminster College in Fulton, Missouri --
the site of several famous world affairs speeches, including the one
in 1946 when Winston Churchill coined the term "iron curtain," to some
extent starting the Cold War. This is especially noteworthy because
Sanders has long shied away from challenging the precepts of American
foreign policy. Some more links:
Sanders' speech stands in especially stark contrast to Trump's UN
speech. For more on that, see:
Evan Osnos: The Risk of Nuclear War With North Korea: A long "letter
from Pyongyang," which Osnos recently visited for a tightly guided tour.
While he wasn't able to meet many people, or see many things, that
first-person experience gives him a leg up on Trump, his generals,
Nikki Haley, or pretty much anyone else in the administration. The
portrait he paints of Kim Jong Un is actually pretty scary, but the
balance of terror is firmly if cavalierly dominated by Washington.
There is also scattered support for a less confrontational option,
a short-term deal known as a "freeze for freeze." North Korea would
stop weapons development in exchange for a halt or a reduction in
U.S.-South Korean military exercises. Proponents say that a freeze,
which could be revoked if either side cheats, is hardly perfect, but
the alternatives are worse. Critics say that versions of it have been
tried, without success, and that it will damage America's alliance
with the South. Thus far the Trump Administration has no interest.
"The idea that some have suggested, of a so-called 'freeze for freeze,'
is insulting," Nikki Haley, the U.N. Ambassador, said before the
Security Council on September 4th. "When a rogue regime has a nuclear
weapon and an ICBM pointed at you, you do not take steps to lower your
Outside the Administration, the more people I talked to, the more
I heard a strong case for some level of diplomatic contact. When Obama
dispatched James Clapper to Pyongyang, in 2014, to negotiate the release
of two prisoners, Clapper discovered that North Korea had misread the
purpose of the trip. The government had presumed that he was coming in
part to open a new phase in the relationship. "They were bitterly
disappointed," he said. Clapper's visit convinced him that the absence
of diplomatic contact is creating a dangerous gulf of misperception.
"I was blown away by the siege mentality -- the paranoia -- that prevails
among the leadership of North Korea. When we sabre-rattle, when we fly
B-1s accompanied by jet escorts from the Republic of Korea and Japan,
it makes us feel good, it reassures the allies, but what we don't factor
in is the impact on the North Koreans."
The striking thing about the Haley quote is how easily North Korea
could justify taking the same stance. North Koreans surely recall that
prominent US generals advocating nuking Korea during the 1950-53 war.
And while it's only been since the 1960s that the US has had ICBMs
capable of hitting Korea, the US has had conventional bombers within
striking distance since that war. So what gives us the right to insist
that North Korea lower its guard? If it's that the US should be trusted,
that isn't a very convincing argument. Another quote:
Our grasp of North Korea's beliefs and expectations is not much better
than its grasp of ours. To go between Washington and Pyongyang at this
nuclear moment is to be struck, most of all, by how little the two
understand each other. In eighteen years of reporting, I've never felt
as much uncertainty at the end of a project, a feeling that nobody --
not the diplomats, the strategists, or the scholars who have devoted
their lives to the subject -- is able to describe with confidence how
the other side thinks. We simply don't know how Kim Jong Un really
regards the use of his country's nuclear arsenal, or how much North
Korea's seclusion and mythology has distorted its understanding of
American resolve. We don't know whether Kim Jong Un is taking ever-greater
risks because he is determined to fulfill his family's dream of retaking
South Korea, or because he is afraid of ending up like Qaddafi.
More on Korea this week:
John Feffer: It's Time to Make a Deal With North Korea.
David McNeill: Unknown to most Americans, the US 'totally destroyed' North
Korea once before.
Choe Sang-Hun: Kim's Rejoinder to Trump's Rocket Man: 'Mentally Deranged
U.S. Dotard': OK, most of us had to look up "dotard," but looks like
it's pretty apt. Kathleen Geier's tweet on this piece: "Honestly, the
Taylor Swift-Kim Kardashian feud is being conducted on a far higher
level than this."
Trita Parsi: Trump is conflating Pyongyang with Tehran. The results could
be catastrophic. If Trump had any good sense, he'd be trying to work
out a deal with North Korea patterned on Obama's Iran Deal, although it
might be harder now given that the US had a deal with North Korea like
that, negotiated by Jimmy Carter in the 1990s and trashed by GW Bush in
2002, shortly before Bush added insult to injury with his "axis of evil"
speech. Instead, Trump seems determined to drive Iran towards becoming
another North Korea. (Also see:
Jeffrey Lewis: If Trump kills the Iran deal, he may give the world
another Rocket Man.) Parsi also wrote
Netanyahu Is Meeting Trump to Push for War With Iran.
A recent poll shows that Trump is especially untrusted by Americans
to deal with North Korea (see
Trump seen by 66 percent in US as doing more to divide than united
country): the "trust to act responsibly handling North Korea"
is 37% favorable, 62% negative, compared to which US military leaders
score 72-27% favorable. The notion that military leaders are both
competent and trustworthy is widely held, though I'd be hard pressed
to cite any evidence showing it should be. One cautionary piece is:
Stephen Kinzer: America's Slow-Motion Military Coup. He notes that
"given the president's ignorance of world affairs, the emergence of a
military junta in Washington may seem like welcome relief," then goes
on to offer some reasons to worry. There's been much talk of a coup
since Trump took office, but that seems unlikely as long as Trump lets
the junta do whatever they want. The only time I've actually worried
that the military brass might move against civilian government was when
Clinton was elected in 1992, but his surrender to the chiefs was so
complete they didn't have to flex a muscle. Obama proved to be every
bit as supine, not even bothering to replace Bush's Secretary of
Defense (although after Gates quit, he went through a series of safe
names: Leon Panetta, Chuck Hagel, and Ash Carter).
Gary Rivlin/Michael Hudson: Government by Goldman: "Gary Cohn is
giving Goldman Sachs everything it ever wanted from the Trump
administration." Important, in-depth article, goes well beyond
explaining why Cohn hasn't resigned in disgust, which he certainly
felt after Trump's embrace of the Nazis in Charlottesville.
There's Ultimately no great mystery why Donald Trump selected Gary Cohn
for a top post in his administration, despite his angry rhetoric about
Goldman Sachs. There's the high regard the president holds for anyone
who is rich -- and the instant legitimacy Cohn conferred upon the
administration within business circles. Cohn's appointment reassured
bond markets about the unpredictable new president and lent his
administration credibility it lacked among Fortune 100 CEOs, none of
whom had donated to his campaign. Ego may also have played a role.
Goldman Sachs would never do business with Trump, the developer who
resorted to foreign banks and second-tier lenders to bankroll his
projects. Now Goldman's president would be among those serving in
his royal court.
Who can say precisely why Cohn, a Democrat, said yes when Trump
asked him to be his top economic aide? No doubt Cohn has been asking
himself that question in recent weeks. But he'd hit a ceiling at
Goldman Sachs. In September 2015, Goldman announced that Blankfein
had lymphoma, ramping up speculation that Cohn would take over the
firm. Yet four months later, after undergoing chemotherapy, Blankfein
was back in his office and plainly not going anywhere. Cohn was 56
years old when he was invited to Trump Tower. An influential job
inside the White House meant a face-saving exit -- and one offering
a huge financial advantage. . . .
The details of the president's "$1 trillion" infrastructure plan
are similarly favorable to Goldman. As laid out in the administration's
2018 budget, the government would spend only $200 billion on infrastructure
over the coming decade. By structuring "that funding to incentivize
additional non-Federal funding" -- tax breaks and deals that privatize
roads, bridges, and airports -- the government could take credit for
"at least $1 trillion in total infrastructure spending," the budget reads.
It was as if Cohn were still channeling his role as a leader of Goldman
Sachs when, at the White House in May, he offered this advice to executives:
"We say, 'Hey, take a project you have right now, sell it off, privatize
it, we know it will get maintained, and we'll reward you for privatizing
it.'" "The bigger the thing you privatize, the more money we'll give you,"
continued Cohn. By "we," he clearly meant the federal government; by "you,"
he appeared to be speaking, at least in part, about Goldman Sachs, whose
Public Sector and Infrastructure group arranges the financing on large-scale
public sector deals.
Jon Schwartz: The History Channel is finally telling the stunning secret
story of the War on Drugs: A four-part documentary. Much of it seems to
involve the CIA, which has repeatedly forged alliances with drug traffickers --
in Laos, Nicaragua, and most recently in Afghanistan.
That core truth is: The war on drugs has always been a pointless sham.
For decades the federal government has engaged in a shifting series of
alliances of convenience with some of the world's largest drug cartels.
So while the U.S. incarceration rate has quintupled since President
Richard Nixon first declared the war on drugs in 1971, top narcotics
dealers have simultaneously enjoyed protection at the highest levels
of power in America.
This might be a good place to mention
Sheelah Kolhatkar: The Cost of the Opioid Crisis -- an awful piece
which tries to quantify the economic costs of opioid overdoses by toting
up lost hours worked and similar metrics. I don't doubt that these deaths
add up to some kind of crisis, but you need to back up a bit and frame
this issue in terms of two much larger, less acute crises: one is the
"war on drugs," which has accomplished little other than to make people
really stupid about what drugs do; the other is the for-profit health
care system, which has veered inconsistently on pain management, doing
first too little then too much and probably, if the crisis-mongers get
their way, reverting to too little. The big money is in prescribing
pills, not in monitoring treatment.
Matt Taibbi: The Madness of Donald Trump: Starts by noting that
Trump's August 22 speech in Phoenix was "Trump's true coming-out party
as an insane person." Goes on to try to draw fine distinctions between
Campaign Trump, who was crazy in ways that seemed to work, and President
Trump, whose craziness is becoming more and more dysfunctional. After
considering the possibility that America deserves Trump, he pulls out
the DSM and comes up with a diagnosis:
Everyone with half a brain and a recent copy of the DSM (the
Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, used by
shrinks everywhere) knew the diagnosis on Trump the instant he joined
the race. Trump fits the clinical definition of a narcissistic personality
so completely that it will be a shock if future psychiatrists don't
rename the disorder after him.
Grandiosity, a tendency to exaggerate achievements, a preoccupation
with "fantasies of unlimited success, power, brilliance, beauty or ideal
love," a belief in one's specialness (which can only be understood by
other special people), a need for excessive admiration and a sense of
entitlement -- sound like anyone you know?
Trump's rapidly expanding list of things at which he's either a
supreme expert or the Earth's best living practitioner would shame
even great historical blowhards like Stalin or Mobutu Sese Seko.
Taibbi's points on Trump's losing war with the English language
are more to the point (though "he makes George W. Bush sound like
Vladimir Nabokov" shows how quickly we forget). He tries to take
some comfort by viewing Trump as just desserts for a country with
so much blood and oppression staining its history, but Trump's too
deranged to deliver a lesson on karma. For more on the madness, see:
Alex Morris: Trump's Mental Health: Is Pathological Narcissism the Key
to Trump's Behavior? One note here deserving caution is a study
that "found that 18 of the first 37 presidents met criteria for having
a psychiatric disorder," although some ailments, like depression, "do
not typically lead to psychosis or risky decision-making." More
interesting is this paragraph:
When it comes to presidents, and perhaps all politicians, some level
of narcissism is par for the course. Based on a 2013 study of U.S.
presidents from Washington to George W. Bush, many of our chief
executives with narcissistic traits shared what is called "emergent
leadership," or a keen ability to get elected. They can be charming
and charismatic. They dominate. They entertain. They project strength
and confidence. They're good at convincing people, at least initially,
that they actually are as awesome as they think they are. (Despite
what a narcissist might believe, research shows they are usually no
better-looking, more intelligent or talented than the average person --
though when they are, their narcissism is better tolerated.) In fact,
a narcissist's brash leadership has been shown to be particularly
attractive in times of perceived upheaval, which means that it
benefits a narcissist to promote ideas of chaos and to identify a
common enemy, or, if need be, create one.
I've long noted something like this: the tendency of people in
times of crisis to rally around whoever seemed to be the most
self-confident. I figure that's something we learned in our early
evolution, something that back in primitive times worked well
enough it didn't get erased through natural selection. However,
in modern times such "emergent leaders" rarely turn out to be
By the way, Taibbi has another piece out:
Steve Bannon Splits From Trump: Hilarity Ensues. This is about
the Republican Senatorial primary runoff between Luther Strange,
who was appointed to fill Jeff Sessions' seat and is backed by
Trump and McConnell, and Roy Moore, the former judge with the Moses
complex who is backed by Bannon. In this contest, you'd have to
say that Strange is the lesser evil, but the margin is so thin I
find it hard to care. I'm even tempted to think that we might be
better if they elect the greater embarrassment (Moore), although
that's pretty much what happened with Trump.
By the way, there are more Alabama races down ballot. See:
Christina Cauterucci: Some of the US's Creepiest Anti-Abortion Men
Are Running for Office in Alabama.
Sunday, September 17. 2017
This has been another week when I could have spent every waking
hour compiling stories and still not covered it all. There is nothing
below on Korea, where there have been new missile tests, new even more
vicious sanctions, and the usual threats of nuclear annihilation --
one story I was tempted by was on how the new UN sanctions attempt
to choke off North Korean exports of clothing (evidently one of their
major sources of foreign currency). Nothing on Nikki Haley's bluster,
nor on Trump's forthcoming UN speech. Nothing on Burma's attacks on
the Rohynga. (Wasn't opening up Burma Hillary Clinton's big coup as
Secretary of State?) Nothing on US threats to close the embassy in
Cuba. Only the most general comments on Yemen-Syria-Iraq. Nothing
on Israel/Palestine, which ever deeper into an abyss of inhumanity,
even while Netanyahu and family are in legal trouble. Nothing on
the latest ISIS bombing in London, nor on Trump's inane tweets about
it. Very little on the big hurricane season, other natural disasters,
and how well (or more likely miserably) the feds are dealing with
them. Nothing on voter suppression (although Kris Kobach has been
busy on that front). Nothing on Jeff Sessions refusal to investigate
civil rights abuse in St. Louis, nor on protests against same, nor
on Missouri's governor's preference for meeting protests with a show
of military force. Nothing on Harvard's failed chemistry experiment,
where they tried to mix Mike Pompeo and Chelsea Manning. Nothing
on the Russia investigation, where an interesting side-story has
developed over Facebook advertising. Very little on so-called tax
reform. Nothing on rape on college campuses, although Betsy De Vos
seems to be set on making it more difficult to punish. Nothing on
DACA, not even Trump's alleged DACA deal with Democrats nor the
way Republicans blew up after it was reported. And I'm sure there
were dozens of other stories I could have found worthy.
On the other hand, maybe there's too much on Hillary Clinton's
campaign memoir, What Happened, and also on the Democrats'
intra-party struggles. Perhaps that has something to do with our
preoccupation with talk-about-talk. But most other stories just
add to the cumulative weight of moral rot in the Trump regime.
The new books by Clinton (in her backhanded way) and Sanders
(much less reviewed, probably because it's much less gossipy)
point forward -- as does Sanders' new "Medicare for All" bill
(please stop calling it "Berniecare").
Just before posting, I noticed this piece by Jay Rosen:
Normalizing Trump: An incredibly brief explainer. It offers
a short list of things "most every journalist who covers Trump
- He isn't good at anything a president has to do.
- He doesn't know anything about the issues with which he must
- He doesn't care to learn.
- He has no views about public policy.
- Nothing he says can be trusted.
- His "model" of leadership is the humiliation of others.
He adds: "If nothing the president says can be trusted, reporting
what the president says becomes absurd." That reminded me of a piece
I noticed but didn't figure was worth pursuing -- until it became
Elliot Hannon: A Ranking of Trump's Sunday Morning Tweets From Least
to Most Insane.
Some scattered links this week:
Dean Baker: Adults in the Room: The Sordid Tale of Greece's Battle
Against Austerity and the Troika: Review of former Greek finance
minister Yanis Varoufakis's book, Adults in the Room. The Troika
is the European Commission (EC), the European Central Bank (ECB), and
the International Monetary Fund (IMF). Greece had run up large debts
then fell into a major depression after 2007, losing 25% of its GDP --
all the worse because Greece had joined the Eurozone, leaving it at
the mercy of an EU dominated by Germany. To make good on those debts,
the Troika was set on forcing Greece into extreme austerity, combined
with massive privatization of public assets -- a "solution" that
Varoufakis understood not merely to be vicious but untenable. What
happened is little short of gruesome.
Ross Barkan: Universal healthcare in America? Not a taboo now, thanks
to Bernie Sanders: Sanders introduced his "Improved Medicare for
All" last week, remarkably co-sponsored by sixteen Democratic Senators.
Other related links:
Ariel Dorfman: A Tale of Two Donalds: Dorfman wrote a seminal
essay, a masterpiece of Marxist cultural criticism, back in 1971,
How to Read Donald Duck, one I read
avidly when it was translated (and, if memory serves, published in
Radical America). Here he updates his analysis to encompass
that other Donald. I suppose some times history repeats itself,
first as farce and then as tragedy. Other recent TomDispatch pieces:
Here's a sample quote from Sjursen:
Take a good, hard look at the region and it's obvious that Washington
mainly supports the interests of Israel, the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia,
Egypt's military dictator, and various Gulf State autocracies. Or
consider the actions and statements of the Trump administration and
of the two administrations that preceded it and here's what seems
obvious: the United States is in many ways little more than an air
force, military trainer, and weapons depot for assorted Sunni despots.
Now, that's not a point made too often -- not in this context anyway --
because it's neither a comfortable thought for most Americans, nor a
particularly convenient reality for establishment policymakers to
broadcast, but it's the truth. . . .
While President Trump enjoyed a traditional sword dance with his
Saudi hosts -- no doubt gratifying his martial tastes -- the air forces
of the Saudis and their Gulf state allies were bombing and missiling
Yemeni civilians into the grimmest of situations, including a massive
famine and a spreading cholera epidemic amid the ruins of their
impoverished country. So much for the disastrous two-year Saudi war
there, which goes by the grimly ironic moniker of Operation Restoring
Hope and for which the U.S. military provides midair refueling and
advanced munitions, as well as intelligence.
Engelhardt notes how a president supposedly obsessed with winning
has surrendered his administration to three of America's "losingest
generals": H.R. McMaster, John Kelly, and "Mad Dog" Mattis. For
instance, consider McMaster:
Then-Colonel H.R. McMaster gained his reputation in 2005 by leading
the 3rd Armored Cavalry Regiment into the Iraqi city of Tal Afar and
"liberating" it from Sunni insurgents, while essentially inaugurating
the counterinsurgency tactics that would become the heart and soul of
General David Petraeus's 2007 "surge" in Iraq.
Only one small problem: McMaster's much-publicized "victory," like
so many other American military successes of this era, didn't last.
A year later, Tal Afar was "awash in sectarian violence," wrote Jon
Finer, a Washington Post reporter who accompanied McMaster into that
city. It would be among the first Iraqi cities taken by Islamic State
militants in 2014 and has only recently been "liberated" (yet again)
by the Iraqi military in a U.S.-backed campaign that has left it only
partially in rubble, unlike so many other fully rubblized cities in
the region. In the Obama years, McMaster would be the leader of a
task force in Afghanistan that "sought to root out the rampant
corruption that had taken hold" in the American-backed government
there, an effort that would prove a dismal failure.
Meanwhile, see if you can discern any hope in these recent reports
Helene Cooper: US Says It Has 11,000 Troops in Afghanistan, More Than
Rod Nordland: US Expands Kabul Security Zone, Digging in the Next
Mujib Mashal: US Plan for New Afghan Force Revives Fear of Militia Abuses;
Max Fisher/Amanda Taub: Why Afghanistan's War Defies Solutions.
Thomas Frank: Hillary Clinton's book has a clear message: don't blame
me: Clinton's campaign memoir, What Happened, was released
last week, generating enough publicity to put her back in the spotlight.
Before publication we were treated to various sections where she tried
to blame Bernie Sanders and/or his supporters for her loss, which fit
in with the general perception that she's not one to take responsibility
for her own mistakes. I haven't looked at the book, and have no desire
to read it, so I don't know how fair those charges are. But really, one
could write a huge book about Hillary and all the ways the world has
treated her unfairly -- to her advantage as well as to her detriment.
Frank, too, tells us more about his own focus on populism, although
this seems likely to be a fair summary:
She seems to have been almost totally unprepared for the outburst of
populist anger that characterized 2016, an outburst that came under
half a dozen different guises: trade, outsourcing, immigration, opiates,
deindustrialization, and the recent spectacle of Wall Street criminals
getting bailed out. It wasn't the issues that mattered so much as the
outrage, and Donald Trump put himself in front of it. Clinton couldn't.
To her credit, and unlike many of her most fervent supporters, Hillary
Clinton doesn't deny that this web of class-related problems had some
role in her downfall. When she isn't repeating self-help bromides or
calumniating the Russians she can be found wondering why so many
working-class people have deserted the Democratic party.
This is an important question, and in dealing with it Clinton writes
a few really memorable passages, like her description of a grotesque
campaign stop in West Virginia where she was protested by a crowd that
included the former CEO of the company that owned the Upper Big Branch
mine, where 29 coal miners died in 2010.
But by and large, Clinton's efforts to understand populism always
get short-circuited, probably because taking it seriously might lead
one to conclude that working people have a legitimate beef with her
and the Democratic party.
Countless inconvenient items get deleted from her history. She only
writes about trade, for example, in the most general terms; Nafta and
the TPP never. Her husband's program of bank deregulation is photoshopped
out. The names Goldman Sachs and Walmart never come up.
Besides, to take populism seriously might also mean that Bernie
Sanders, who was "outraged about everything," might have had a point,
and much of What Happened is dedicated to blasting Sanders for
challenging Clinton in the Democratic primaries. Given that he later
endorsed her and even campaigned for her, this can only be described
as churlish, if not downright dishonest.
That Clinton might have done well to temper her technocratic style
with some populist outrage of her own only dawns on her towards the
end of the book, by which point it is too late.
Not to mention impossible. Hillary Clinton simply cannot escape
her satisfied white-collar worldview -- compulsively listing people's
academic credentials, hobnobbing with officers from Facebook and Google,
and telling readers how she went to Davos in 1998 to announce her
Other posts on Clinton's book:
James Fallows: Why Hillary Clinton's Book Is Actually Worth Reading:
"It's the rare interesting work by a politician -- and it offers an
important critique of the press." Fallows stresses how often Hillary
does take responsibility for losing, although when he quotes
her, you get this (Fallows' emphasis):
I don't understand why there's an insatiable demand in many quarters
for me to take all the blame for losing the election on my own shoulders
and quit talking about Comey, the Russians, fake news, sexism, or anything
else. Many in the political media don't want to hear about how those
things tipped the election in the final days. They say their beef is
that I'm not taking responsibility for my mistakes -- but I have, and
I do again throughout this book. Their real problem is that they
can't bear to face their own role in helping elect Trump, from
providing him free airtime to giving my emails three times more
coverage than all the issues affecting people's lives combined.
Hadley Freeman: America's vitriol towards Clinton reveals a nation
mired in misogyny: But is it really? No doubt there are pockets
of misogyny that somehow escaped the women's liberation movement of
the 1970s and the growing feminist consciousness which has largely
settled into common sense, much as there are pockets of racism left
untouched by the 1960s civil rights movement. And clearly, Clinton
brings misogynistic slurs to the forefront, if only because those
who most hate her lack the imagination to craft anything new --
much as many of those who hated Obama reverted to racist vitriol.
On the other hand, had she won -- which she would have if only the
constitution's framers put a little more care into how elections
work -- we'd be complimenting ourselves for how enlightened we've
become (much as we did with Obama's election in 2008). Granted,
that Donald Trump, as unreconstructed a racist/sexist as we can
imagine these days, sure looks like a setback, but could there
be some other reason?
Sarah Leonard: What Happened by Hillary Clinton review -- entertainingly
mean but essentially wrong-headed: For example:
It feels tiresome to explain this, but many Americans consider bankers
the enemy, and voters wanted her to pick a side. The fact that she
couldn't see that reveals a fundamental problem with her politics. And
it isn't symbolic -- America's particular form of political corruption
is rarely a simple exchange of cash for laws. Instead, as a famous
Princeton study has shown, wealthy institutions like banks exercise
substantial influence over legislative outcomes through the softer
power of lobbying and campaign donations, while average people and
their institutions exercise almost none. It is laughable that an
American politician would be indignant about her right to accept
money from banks. . . .
She primarily attributes her loss to what she calls "tribal
politics" -- a blend of racism, sexism and economic discontent --
and FBI director James Comey's press conference days before the
election. She may be right about Comey shifting enough white swing
voters to ultimately cost her the race. But Clinton's relationship
to populism is more complicated.
"Tribal" isn't the word I would choose for racism and sexism,
but there is something primitive about those traits. However,
economic discontent is something quite different, something that
only looks quaint and irrational if you're able to make ten years
average wages for a single speech to bankers.
Sophia A McClennen: The great Hillary Clinton paradox:
As Clinton blames Sanders for disrupting the party and causing
"lasting damage" to her campaign she fails to notice the various
advantages she had. From her biased treatment by the DNC to the
superdelegates to her $150 million war chest (twice Trump's) to
the backing of mega-stars from Bruce Springsteen to Beyoncé to
Oprah to her massive list of media endorsements, Clinton had
plenty of support. She had more endorsements from newspapers
than either Reagan or Obama.
This brings me back to the paradox. There is no doubt that
Trump ran a sexist campaign, but that doesn't mean that the
Sanders campaign was sexist too. And there is no doubt that
some of those who voted for Trump are sexist, but not all of
McClennan then cites
Emily Ekins: The Five Types of Trump Voters: the type Ekins dubs
American Preservationists are closest to the racist/sexist/xenophobic
stereotype, but they only number 20% of Trump voters (not that such
views don't lap over into other "types"). Still, the "lasting damage"
Sanders wrought has an Emperor's New Clothes air: it assumes
that no one would have noticed that Hillary wasn't an immaculate
progressive if only Sanders hadn't pointed out her shortcomings.
There is some truth to this: I, for instance, had early on resigned
myself to her inevitability, mostly because I thought that she alone
among Democrats could raise the sort of money necessary to compete
with the Kochs. Obviously, her fundraising prowess came at a cost,
which had been painfully evident over the last four Democratic
presidential terms, but it wasn't hard to imagine how much worse
any name Republican would be. Sanders changed my calculus, not by
telling me anything I didn't already know about Clinton, but simply
by offering better policies, and backing them up with a credible
history of integrity that Clinton lacked.
Still, this raises an interesting question: if Clinton actually
thought that Sanders had undermined her in the primaries, why didn't
she make a more dramatic effort to heal the chasm, specifically by
making Sanders her running mate? Granted, she did give up some ground
on the platform, but personnel is a more serious predictor of policy
than campaign platitudes. It wouldn't have been an unusual move, and
Sanders would have been an asset to the campaign (unlike Tim Kaine,
who at best helped a little in Virginia). Like Gore in 2000 when he
picked Joe Lieberman, and like Bill Clinton in 1992 when he picked
Gore, Hillary signaled with her VP pick that she was going to go
her own way, paying no heed and owing no debts to the "democratic
wing of the Democratic Party." So, again like Gore, she now finds
herself blaming the left for her own campaign's shortfall after her
bad bet that there were more money and votes to be had by snubbing
the left than by embracing it.
McClennan also wrote:
A tale of two leaders of the left: New books by Bernie Sanders and
Hillary Clinton emphasize their differences.
Jeff Spross: This Hillary Clinton would've won: Specifically,
this hinges on the book's revelation that Hillary considered pushing
for a Universal Basic Income (UBI) scheme.
David Roberts: Hillary Clinton's "coal gaffe" is a microcosm of her
twisted treatment by the media: Even more than her "basket of
deplorables" comment, Hillary singles her taken-out-of-context "We're
going to put a lot of coal miners and coal companies out of business"
as the one comment she regrets most. Still, had the media put the one
line in its actual context (even just its paragraph), and noted that
Clinton was proposing a $30 billion plan to help communities hit by
the declining coal market rebuild their economies, her comment may
not have been interesting, but shouldn't have been crippling. Still,
the media, prodded by right-wing agitators, made it so:
There is one and only one reason to pluck out that sentence and make
a story of it: to try to hurt Clinton politically by lying about her
meaning and intentions. . . .
From the media's perspective, "Clinton garbled a sentence" is true
but not particularly newsworthy. "Clinton boasted about putting coal
miners out of work" is false but definitely newsworthy (and damaging
to Clinton) if it were true. In other words, there's no honest reason
to make this "gaffe" a story at all. . . .
Right-wing operatives and media figures watch Clinton intensely.
Anything she says or does that can be plausibly (or implausibly) spun
to appear maleficent, they spin. A vast echo chamber of blogs, "news"
sites, radio stations, cable news shows, and Facebook groups takes
each one of these mini faux scandals and amplifies the signal.
If one of the faux scandals catches on enough and dominates
right-wing media long enough, then a kind of alchemy occurs. The
question facing mainstream outlets is not, "Why aren't you writing
about what Clinton said?" That question is easy to answer: It's a
nothingburger. The question becomes, "Why aren't you writing about
the scandal over what Clinton said?"
Reputable mainstream journalists don't have to pretend that
Clinton meant the ridiculous thing right-wing media says she meant.
They can just report that "some interpreted Clinton to mean
[ridiculous thing]," and hey, that's technically true. The fact
that a bunch of right-wing political and media hacks feigned
outrage becomes the story.
Jon Schwarz: Hillary Clinton Doesn't Understand Why the Corporate
Media Is So Bad:
Then there's Clinton's peculiar affection for the New York Times. Yes,
she says, it has often viewed her "with hostility and skepticism," but
"I've read the Times for more than 40 years and still look forward to
it every day. I appreciate much of the paper's terrific non-Clinton
reporting." . . .
Since Clinton has no structural critique of the press, why does she
believe she was so badly mauled in 2016? The only explanation she
presents is that the rules are different for her personally. . . .
In the end, Clinton's ideas about the media demonstrate that, more
than anything, she badly needed to watch the Noam Chomsky documentary
"Manufacturing Consent" or get a subscription to the Fairness and
Accuracy in Reporting newsletter. Then she could have approached her
campaign with fewer illusions, and with a much greater chance of winning.
Instead, she's left with the bitter observation that the press "want
me to stop talking. If it's all my fault, then the media doesn't need
to do any soul searching." But that's the whole point: The corporate
media doesn't have a soul. It just has a balance sheet.
Jeffrey St. Clair: Hillary Happened: The late Alexander Cockburn's
Mini-Me, better known recently for his virulent, supposedly left-wing
attacks on Bernie Sanders, manages to save some bile for Hillary and
her book, occasionally managing to be witty -- to no small part because
Hillary's never looked much good from the left, even against the vile
backdrop of attacks from the right. Favorite line: "Clinton was miscast
from the beginning as a political candidate for elected office. Her
skills and temperament were more suited to the role of political
enforcer in the mode of Thomas Cromwell or John Ehrlichman."
Rebecca Traister: Hillary Clinton Is Finally Expressing Some Righteous
Anger. Why Does That Make Everyone Else So Mad?
People have been reacting with atavistic censure to Hillary Clinton
for decades, and she's been expected to simply absorb it all without
returning fire. There are shirts, as she writes in What Happened,
that feature an image of Trump holding her bloody severed head aloft;
others, which she doesn't mention, read "Hillary Sucks, But Not Like
You can disagree with Clinton; you can reasonably acknowledge that
some of her pique does sound defensive. But she's not lying; she's not
inciting violence. She's not freaking out about crowd size or claiming
that antifa protesters are as bad as neo-Nazis or suggesting that
protesters be taken away on stretchers.
Shea Wong: Let's talk for a second about #ImWithHer . . .: I
was steered to this twitter thread by Robert Christgau (via
DailyKos), who tweeted:
Hillary haters owe it to history and their own integrity to read this.
She's not perfect. You're totally fucked up.
I'm not sure Bob would count me among the "Hillary haters" -- I
voted against her in two caucuses, but voted for her against Trump,
and didn't consider any of those choices to be close calls. To say
"she's not perfect" omits volumes of serious detail -- although
nothing I couldn't personally overlook compared to Trump. On the
other hand, I do know people who swear they'd never vote for her --
not that any of them hated her enough to vote for Trump. Still, I
take offense that they, let alone we, are "totally fucked up." They
are, for starters, people who can be counted on to oppose senseless,
fruitless wars that Hillary has always been eager to support -- and
that one might reasonably expect her to start in the future. I don't
agree with their voting decision, but I have to respect them: at the
end of the day, they're comrades, while Hillary skews somewhere
between "lesser evil" and "lesser good." Still, I'm open to reading
something that makes a case for her -- indeed, many of the reviews
I've cited in this section give her credit. But this thread is
something quite different. This isn't "excellent" (as hpg put it),
or enlightening, or even coherent, and I have to wonder about sane.
Obviously much of problem is twitter, both for chunking and for the
nine distracting and irrelevant videos Wong inserted. As best I can
discern, Wong's rant boils down to two salient points: Hillary was
the victim of a vile and unrelenting torrent of misogynistic smears,
and that was mostly the fault of Bernie and the left ("We watched
progbros parrot trump talking points, and vice versa, to the point
if you covered avatar/bio you couldn't tell the difference"). Wong
then concludes: "If she could be torn down that easily. So could
any of us." I'm not sure Wong is right even on the first point. By
far the most effective attack was the "Crooked Hillary" meme. One
might dispute this, especially in comparison to Trump, but it has
nothing to do with her gender. The second point is certainly false,
running opposite to the very principles that define the left, and
continued harping on it by diehard Hillary fans reeks of old-fashioned
liberal red baiting.
Josh Marshall: More Thoughts on the Intra-Democratic Divide: Meant
as a follow-up to his commentary on Ta-Nehisi Coates'
The First White President
Thoughts on the First White President). To oversimplify a bit,
Coates argues that racism remains the fundamental dividing line in
American politics, one that cannot be erased by cleverly attempting
to fashion a class-based appeal to working class Trump supporters.
Marshall looks to have it both ways: agreeing that Coates is right
on racism, but still stressing the need to recapture some Trump
supporters, probably by appealing to them on economic grounds --
but he kind of makes a muddle out of it. Let's try to clear up
- "Identity politics" will always be with us: it's the default
mode of most voters -- not necessarily just "low information" but
it's especially prevalent there. Unless you know better, the safe
and sensible vote is to follow the people you identify with --
usually people most like yourself. Everyone does it. I know a
good deal more about politicians than most folk, but every now
and then I find myself choosing between two people I don't know
anything substantial about, so I fall back on my prejudices --
the most common identity there is partisan, and while I don't
especially identify with Democrats, I've learned that Republicans
are dangerous (and often demented).
- Of course, it's just as easy to vote against categories you
don't identify with, and political parties have found it efficient
to focus on that. The Republican Party was founded on the interests
of independent farmers and manufacturers ("vote yourself a homestead,
vote yourself a tariff") but given its solid Northern protestant
homogeneity soon took to rallying against its opponents, deriding
the Democrats as the party of "rum, Romanism and rebellion." In
the 1970s, Richard Nixon and the architects of The Emerging
Republican Majority saw an opportunity to expand the party's
base to pick up two major blocks of white Democrats: protestants
in the South and catholics (mostly) in the North. They used coded
appeals to racism, but wrapped them up with God and guns and sheer
avarice into a package that was very flattering to their targets,
and repulsive to the groups they rallied against. The latter had
little choice but to align with the Democrats, even if it wasn't
clear what they were supporting. The key point here is that the
Democrats didn't deliberately build their recent coalition: as
with their late-nineteenth-century coalition, they got the odds
and ends after the Republicans had seized the middle ground.
- In both centuries, it appeared as though Republican efforts
to rally its chosen people against the margins was destined to
run against demographic trends -- mostly driven by immigration.
Republican identity politics found its greatest success in the
1920s, with prohibition and a hard turn against immigration. In
recent years, some Democratic Party strategists have started to
flirt with their own identity politics, calculating that the
groups the Republicans have left them with will grow into a new
Democratic majority. This idea is attractive to Democratic Party
elites because it lets them think they can bank on winning votes
without having to offer the voters tangible value.
- As usual, the Republicans have been on the leading edge of
this dynamic. As Thomas Frank pointed out in What's the Matter
With Kansas?, Republican elites had constructed a scam where
the base would vote for causes they were passionate about (guns,
anti-abortion, anti-immigrant) but all elected Republicans would
do is to cater to their donor class. Since Frank wrote, the GOP
has seen an upheaval as the base have forced their concerns onto
the party agenda. Nowhere has this been more drmatic, much to our
detriment, than here in Kansas. As Frank pointed out in Listen,
Liberal, the same elite/mass split exists in the Democratic
Party -- it's easy to note Democratic governors and majors who are
every bit as deep in donor pockets as the most corrupt Republicans
(e.g., Andrew Cuomo and Rahm Emmanuel). And indeed, what we saw in
2016 was a rank-and-file revolt against the elites of both parties --
unsuccessful, sure, because Clinton was still able to keep enough
Democrats in line, and because Trump was a fraud, but both served
notice that the gap between what parties run on and what they try
to deliver needs to close.
- Republican identity politics never recognized as such because
the white protestants (and later catholics) that made up their core
were so ubiquitous -- until recently, when they've become minorities
in many urban areas, including the nation's most booming economies.
This added a sense of fear, urgency, and despair to the Trump vote,
and the result was a small but significant shift in the white vote
against the Democrats, especially away from the coasts. Democrats
are divided on this: some argue that Democrats should focus more on
class (economics, inequality) to broaden their base to bring back
some of those white voters; others regard the white voters as lost
causes, atavisms, who will fade away as the nation becomes ever more
urban and globalized. Some of the former have characterized the
latter as "engaging in identity politics" -- this strikes me as
misguided and self-destructive.
- At this point we can dispense with the Republicans, aside from
noting that Republican rule invariably ends not from demographic
misjudgments but from corruption and disastrous economic crashes
that (temporarily anyhow) expose the folly of their pro-business
ideology -- on the other hand, Democratic rule usually ends when
people get a sense of recovery and stability, and grow reckless
and fickle again.
- The Democratic Party is divided today, with the emergence of
a faction which focuses on reducing inequality and securing real
economic gains for the vast majority of the American people, and
another which caters to wealthy urban liberals and promises to
somehow protect various targets from vicious Republican attacks.
The former still lack power in the party, although their grass
roots visibility has grown significantly over the past year. The
latter still has their rich donor base and a grip on the levers
of party power, but they also have a track record of failure --
most embarrassingly to Trump in 2016. It is unlikely that this
divide will heal soon, but they do have dangerous enemies in
common -- which should help focus the mind.
- I am getting to where I have very little patience for the
still-prevalent internecine sniping between these camps. But
that doesn't mean we shouldn't argue about important matters
of policy, like the tendency of the Clinton and Obama admins
to undermine unions, to promote job-killing trade deals, to
allow financiers to take over our industries and run them to
ground, to increase mass incarceration, to allow the national
security state to withdraw ever further from the purview of
the people they're supposed to serve -- and one should add
the global war on anything that affronts American egos, which
is an issue that even Bernie Sanders has treated as a sort of
- Whereas Republicans can at least make short-term gains merely
by cranking up the volume of their social polarization, Democrats
have to respond rationally and systematically. First thing they
(especially the elites) need to do is to shift their program to
emphasize a tangible return to the people they expect and hope
will vote for them -- even if that means becoming less responsive
to their donors. Second, they need to make the donors realize that
the viability of the party depends on the party delivering benefits
to its base -- and in fact that the country as a whole would gain
by forging a more equitable economy and society. And third, those
who wish to appeal to the more white workers need to convince them
that they cannot prosper without helping everyone -- that Republican
demagoguery offers them nothing but ruin, and that only the Democrats
are offering them a hand up.
Josh Marshall: The Real Problem With Equifax:
It now seems clear that the massive data breach at Equifax was caused
not simply by aggressive hackers but by clear and potentially negligent
security errors by Equifax itself. But fundamentally, this isn't a
security problem. It's a market failure and a legal and regulatory
failure. . . .
In some cases consumers would rebel. That would solve the problem.
But that's actually a key part of the problem: consumers aren't
Equifax's customers. They're the product. You're the product.
Banks and other lenders like credit agencies because they offer a
systematized and standardized way of evaluating risk. The banks are
the customers. Credit rating agencies would prefer never to deal
with consumers at all. They only do so when forced to or, more
recently, as they've developed a secondary business in selling
consumers services to help them protect themselves against errors
or security breaches by credit rating agencies.
Bill McKibben: Stop talking right now about the threat of climate
change. It's here; it's happening: Massive hurricanes, record
high temperatures and wildfires on the west coast, drought in North
Dakota -- and that's just seven days in the US. Other related links:
Matthew Yglesias: The 4 most important stories in politics this week:
Senate Republicans threw an Obamacare repeal Hail Mary: Senators
Cassidy and Graham proposed repealing ACA and replacing it with that
old standby: block grants to the states; DREAMer deal: Trump's
over-dinner deal with Shumer/Pelosi; Berniecare: kiss-of-death
label for Sanders' "Medicare for All" bill; Tax reform is coming
soon, maybe. Other Yglesias pieces this week (skipping the ones
on Apple's product announcements, which would only be of interest
if they explained the predatory nature of Apple hype, which they
Berniecare leaves enormous discretion to the executive branch;
Trump should actually do what he's pretending he'll do on tax reform;
The Trump administration's big new anti-leak memo leaked last night;
Medicare-for-all is nothing like "repeal and replace";
Donald Trump is making the single-payer push inevitable. I'm
not happy Yglesias keeps referring to "Berniecare," but he does
offer a pretty fair description of the Republican alternatives:
Repeal and replace wasn't just a slogan that covered up some internal
disagreements. It was a lie. Repeal and replace was an effort to bridge
a fundamentally unbridgeable gap between the American people's complaints
about the ACA -- premiums, deductibles, and copayments that were too
high -- and the Republican Party donor class's complaints about the ACA:
that it levied too much in taxes. This left Republican legislators not
just with some difficult trade-offs to grapple with, but with the
difficult question of how to break the news to the American people that
the outcome of their legislation was going to bear no resemblance
whatsoever to what had been promised.
Sunday, September 10. 2017
Back in 2001, I knew that most of my friends in New York didn't like
Mayor Rudy Giuliani, but I couldn't tell you why. (Well, I had heard
about his stop-and-frisk policies, but that hadn't really sunk in.) I
was visiting a friend, Liz Fink, in Brooklyn on 9/11, so I wound up
spending a lot of time over the next week watching Giuliani, and I
noticed something interesting. At every press conference, Giuliani
managed to convey the right tones: sympathy, concern, dedication,
and competent management in the face of crisis. He was, in short,
both a professional and a human being -- a stark contrast to most
of the country's politicians (most memorably GW Bush and Hillary
Clinton), who had nothing tangible to do so they spent all of their
time posturing. Even Liz granted my point. Of course, Giuliani's
spell didn't last. After the immediate crisis waned, he started
reading his press. It swelled his head, and he turned (returned?)
to being an asshole, but it was interesting to watch at the time.
Hurricanes Harvey and Irma have given some other Republicans the
opportunity to put their vicious ideological programs aside and come
out as human beings. Governors Greg Abbott and Rick Scott seem to
have mostly passed that test. Donald Trump failed, painfully and
pathetically. (If you doubt me, read
Josh Marshall: He Can't Even Fake It.)
But even he managed to have one decent moment this
week: he negotiated a deal with the Democratic leadership in Congress
to pass $15.3 billion in aid to rebuild after Harvey, and to extend
the federal debt ceiling to allow that money to be spent. Of course,
there never was any doubt that Democrats would vote to extend the
debt ceiling or to fund disaster relief. Trump needed the deal to
bypass the Republican right-flank, with ninety House Republicans
opposed. I haven't looked at the vote list, so don't know how many
of the curmudgeons hail from Texas or Florida. I didn't see enough
of Ted Cruz this week to answer
Is Ted Cruz Human? but I understand he no longer thinks the
reasons he voted against Sandy aid should apply to Harvey. It might
not matter if Trump or Cruz are sociopaths if their politics showed
some empathy and concern, but it doesn't -- making their personality
defects all the more glaring.
With the Republicans solidly in control of government all across
the disaster zone, the one silver lining is that none of them are
quoting Ronald Reagan this week, who famously said:
The most terrifying words in the English language are: I'm from the
government and I'm here to help.
The fact is that when disaster strikes, no one can be heard saying
"the markets are going to fix this in no time." Their first instinct
is to look to the government for help, because deep down they understand
that in a democratic republic, government belongs to, is accountable to,
and works for the people and their general welfare. The old joke is that
"there are no atheists in foxholes"; equally so, there are no libertarians
in hurricanes. I'm not going to slam anyone for looking to socialize the
costs of natural disasters. Rather, I'd argue that socialism would be a
good thing, not just for such extraordinary events but for everyday life.
And if you only come to realize that now, well, that's better than never.
Some scattered links this week:
Ross Barkan: Trump cut a deal with the Democrats. Is a new era upon us?
Probably not. Trump takes his policy cues from Fox & Friends,
plus whatever Paul Ryan throws his way. In theory he has some in-house
experts, but they turn out to be guys like Nick Mulvaney, who lie and
con him, then go out and brag about it to the media. Nothing any of them
want can get any Democratic support at all -- which given how corrupt
Democrats are regarded as being is a pretty astonishing statement -- so
he has little option except to depend on the narrow Republican majority,
and that is constantly endangered by a right-wing faction that doesn't
care what they wreck so long as they can push the party to the right.
The Harvey aid/debt ceiling deal worked because Democrats have no desire
to do what Republicans did for eight years: sabotaging the government
hoping folks would blame Obama. And Trump had to do it because Texas
is his turf, because federal disaster aid mostly supports the business
class that voted so heavily for him, because letting government spending
halt in the middle of a disaster recovery would be insane, and because
he couldn't trust Republicans to get the job done. There may be similar
cases where sanity dictates that he offer something to get Democrats on
board: if he really does want to legitimize DACA, that's a possibility,
but it's going to be hard to do any broader immigration legislation
without tripping over many red lines. Health care and taxes are other
issues where the Republican desire to do something insanely destructive
is too great to compromise. The other question is whether Democrats
should make a habit of bailing Trump out of his own partisan chasms.
Democrats have had a terrible track record with such "grand bargains"
in the past, and they should be extra wary now.
Bryan Bender: Trump review leans toward proposing mini-nuke:
Back around 1950, Robert Oppenheimer was asked why he was opposed to
developing "the super" (the hydrogen bomb). His answer was because
the targets were too small. In the following decades, ever-larger
hydrogen bombs became all the rage, until their wholesale use
threatened to cause something called "nuclear winter." At the same
time, the US and Russia worked hard on miniaturizing nuclear weapons,
producing mini-nukes that could be lobbed by artillery (hoping, like
WWI's poison gas, that the wind didn't shift to blow the radiation
back on your own troops). The fear about small ("tactical") nuclear
weapons has always been that we wouldn't fear them enough to not use
them. Precisely this reasoning made them prime targets for arms talks,
with Bush I agreeing to remove tactical nukes from Europe and Korea,
for the time de-escalating the Cold War. This news is especially
alarming because Trump has long seemed to be fascinated with using
such weapons: indeed, this article is about a review "which Trump
established by executive order his first week in office" -- as if
he had nothing better to do.
Ta-Nehisi Coates: The First White President: Of course, many other
presidents have happened to be white -- a streak that ran up to 41 until
Barack Obama was elected in 2008 -- but what makes Trump unique isn't
the color of his skin so much as his resolve to restore the office's
racial identity, especially by obliterating any trace of Obama: "The
fact of a black president seemed to insult Donald Trump personally.
He has made the negation of Barack Obama's legacy the foundation of
his own." Various things here I'd quibble with -- the paragraph on
Mark Lilla's "The End of Identify Liberalism," followed by three on
George Packer's "The Unconnected," could support a whole post -- but
this is a view that deserves respect. For instance, his overly succinct
summary of the last decade:
When Barack Obama came into office, in 2009, he believed that he could
work with "sensible" conservatives by embracing aspects of their policy
as his own. Instead he found that his very imprimatur made that impossible.
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell announced that the GOP's primary
goal was not to find common ground but to make Obama a "one-term president."
A health-care plan inspired by Romneycare was, when proposed by Obama,
suddenly considered socialist and, not coincidentally, a form of reparations.
The first black president found that he was personally toxic to the GOP
base. An entire political party was organized around the explicit aim of
negating one man. It was thought by Obama and some of his allies that this
toxicity was the result of a relentless assault waged by Fox News and
right-wing talk radio. Trump's genius was to see that it was something
more, that it was a hunger for revanche so strong that a political novice
and accused rapist could topple the leadership of one major party and
throttle the heavily favored nominee of the other.
I would add three notes to this: (1) conservatives were never serious
about their wonk schemes, which were never more than red herrings meant
to distract and derail real reforms; (2) the right-wing would have fought
back against any white Democrat elected president in 2008 in much the
same terms, although it may have resonated differently (oddly enough, the
fact that Americans had elected a black president seemed to loosen some
of the political inhibitions against overt racism, encouraging racists to
come out into the open -- a trend Trump's election has only increased);
(3) the "hunger for revanche" was real but not broad enough to elect
Trump; that was only possible because the Democrat was so compromised
and reviled, and Republicans were so united in their opportunism.
It has long been an axiom among certain black writers and thinkers that
while whiteness endangers the bodies of black people in the immediate
sense, the larger threat is to white people themselves, the shared
country, and even the whole world. There is an impulse to blanch at
this sort of grandiosity. When W.E.B. Du Bois claims that slavery was
"singularly disastrous for modern civilization" or James Baldwin claims
that whites "have brought humanity to the edge of oblivion: because
they think they are white," the instinct is to cry exaggeration. But
there really is no other way to read the presidency of Donald Trump.
The first white president in American history is also the most dangerous
president -- and he is made more dangerous still by the fact that those
charged with analyzing him cannot name his essential nature, because
they too are implicated in it.
The Atlantic's print magazine cover story is "The Trump
Presidency: A Damage Report": Jeffrey Goldberg sets the tone:
The Autocratic Element: Can America recover from the Trump administration?,
interviews David Frum ("The thing I got most wrong is that I did not
anticipate the sheer chaos and dysfunction and slovenliness of the Trump
operation . . . We'd be in a lot worse shape if he were a more meticulous,
serious-minded person."), and introduces pieces by Eliot A. Cohen, Jack
Goldsmith, and Coates.
Sarah Kliff: This is the most brazen act of Obamacare sabotage yet:
The Trump administration has let funding for Obamacare's $63 million
in-person outreach program lapse, leading to layoffs and confusion
among nonprofits that enroll vulnerable populations in coverage. . . .
The sudden funding halt comes at a critical time for the Affordable
Care Act. Navigator groups were just beginning to ramp up outreach for
the health law's open enrollment period, which begins November 1. Now,
some have done an about-face: They've canceled outreach work and
appointments with potential enrollees because they have no budget
to cover those costs.
No outreach should translate into fewer sign-ups, hence more adverse
selection in the insured population, which threatens to cut into insurer
profits, who will respond by raising prices, demanding more subsidies.
Trump will argue that this proves Obamacare is imploding. Kliff also
Trump has found another way to undermine Obamacare. Kliff regularly
includes links at the bottom to other health care pieces. Notable here is
Elana Schor: Chris Murphy's stealthy single-payer pitch. Sen. Murphy
is proposing that all individuals and business be able to buy Medicare
through the Obamacare exchanges -- i.e., Medicare becomes the "public
option," but more notable is that this allows an easy migration from
business group plans.
Caitlin MacNeal: Haley Says North Korea 'Begging for War': Isn't this
what psychologists like to call projection? That's when you attribute your
own thoughts to someone else (projecting yourself onto the other person).
This happens a lot, especially to people who lack self-awareness, even
more so to those who lack respect, empathy, and concern for others, who
can't be bothered with even trying to understand them. As a social trait,
this sort of thing is annoying, but the misunderstandings it leads to
rarely matter. Among the powerful, it can be dangerous, and in this case
can lead to nuclear war. Of course, Haley is not the only one in Trump's
administration spouting ignorant bluster. Mattis has promised to respond
to "any threat" with "massive military response": the problem there is
that "any threat" is a very low threshold, especially given that Trump's
administration takes such umbrage over North Korea's missile and bomb
tests, repeatedly describing them as threats. Most of all there's Trump,
with his "hell and fury like never seen before" and "we'll see." Frankly,
this is a crisis which wouldn't exist if the US simply ignored it, but
having made such a big deal out of missile and bomb tests in the past,
they see continued tests as an insult and challenge to their superpower
egos -- again, they're projecting their own world-hegemonic ambitions
onto another state, one that the US has tried to destroy for 67 years
now (not so literally since 1953, more passive-aggressively, but while
the conflict drifted in and out of American consciousness, it's always
been a pressing fact-of-life in North Korea).
Several other thoughts here: long ago American presidents generally
appointed UN Ambassadors that reflected favorably on the country --
Adlai Stevenson and Andrew Young come to mind -- but at some point that
changed, the result being a string of ambassadors whose job seemed to
be to display contempt for the UN and the principles it was founded on
(Madeline Albright, John Bolton, and Nikki Haley are examples). As this
happened, American speeches at the UN ceased being honest attempts to
engage with the world and were increasingly focused for domestic political
consumption. Although several others have had notable politican careers,
Haley is relatively unique in the baldness of her political ambitions --
indeed, one suspects that she came up with the idea of campaigning for
the post by watching House of Cards, where First Lady Claire
Underwood (Robin Wright) hopes to launch her own political career by
getting her husband to nominate her for UN Ambassador.
Some more pieces on North Korea:
Andrew J Bacevich: Seven Steps to a Saner US Policy Towards North
Korea: A few quibbles, though. First, I don't see this, even
with his later carve-out "apart from Fox and a handful of outliers":
"The national media is obsessed with Trump and is determined to
bring him down." Obsessed maybe: he's a buffoon and a public menace,
which makes him news/entertainment-worthy, and they certainly love
that, but I don't see the media pressuring or panicking Trump into
starting a war. I also think he overestimates the value of deterrence
and ignores the desperation induced by ever-tightening sanctions.
The greatest risk is becoming too successful at boxing North Korea
in, leaving them with no alternatives.
Robert Parry: How 'Regime Change' Wars Led to Korea Crisis:
Specifically Iraq and Libya, which were wars the US felt safe to
pursue because neither target had sufficient power -- atom bombs
and the missiles to deliver them -- to deter US aggression. But
more generally, from WWII on, the US goal in war has always been
to unconditionally destroy its enemies and replace them with new
states subverient to America.
Jacob G Hornberger: Sanctions Are an Act of War: I'd qualify
this by saying that certain limited sanctions, like the BDS campaigns
against South Africa and Israel, are a useful means of highlighting
deplorable behavior without even suggesting the threat of war. On the
other hand, US sanctions against North Korea, Cuba, Iran, and several
others were clearly meant as low-intensity proxies of war, backed up
by threat of destruction and designed in such a way that the targets
may find no recourse. South Africa, for instance, was able to escape
sanctions by allowing free and democratic elections, and lifting the
sanctions did not depend on the result.
Ariane Tabatabai: What the Iran Deal Can Teach America About North
Korea: "If credibility depends in part on a country's willingness
to follow through on military threats, surely it also depends on
whether it abides by diplomatic commitments." It seems pretty obvious
that Obama's Iran Deal could serve as a model for North Korea: both
are countries long isolated, marginalized, and threatened by the US,
and both decided to defend themselves by developing nuclear power
and missile technology into a deterrent against American attack; in
both cases the US responded with sanctions and even graver threats.
With Iran, this was resolved diplomatically, and there seems little
reason why the same couldn't be done with North Korea (in fact, the
same dispute flared up in the 1990s and was resolved by Jimmy Carter,
acting independent of the Clinton administration; Carter's agreement
was accepted by Clinton, but broke down as the US, especially under
GW Bush, failed to keep its end of the deal, resulting in North Korea
restarting its nuclear program). Unfortunately, Trump seems committed
to scuttling the Iran deal, learning nothing from it. If he does so,
he will signal to North Korea that the US cannot be trusted to follow
through with its diplomatic commitments. Indeed, the US decision to
attack Libya after it had agreed to dismantle its own nuclear program
has already been noted by North Korea's leaders.
Sophia A McClennen: A tale of two leaders of the left: New books by Bernie
Sanders and Hillary Clinton emphasize their differences: Clinton finally
finished her campaign memoir, What Happened; Sanders published his
memoir Our Revolution: A Future to Believe In before 2016 expired,
and now has a slimmed-down primer, Bernie Sanders' Guide to Political
The contrast between high priced VIP tickets to an event for a memoir
about losing the election and a down-to-earth how-to guide for progressive
politics aimed at young readers offers us clear evidence of the vastly
different ways that Clinton and Sanders see their roles as national
Sanders is looking forward and Clinton is looking back. Sanders is
engaging the young and working to build momentum for his progressive
agenda. Clinton is naming names, bristling at her unfair loss and
cashing in. . . .
And, while Clinton mocks Sanders for his idealistic desire to think
big, Sanders starts his book reminding readers that his views are those
of the bulk of Americans: "On major issue after major issue, the vast
majority of Americans support a progressive agenda." For Clinton, though,
the progressive agenda wanted by the majority is nothing more than the
hocus pocus of magic abs or the dreams of those who want a pony. . . .
She literally sees political vision as nothing but a fantasy. She has
so thoroughly imbibed the corporatist, pro-status quo version of the
Democratic party that she can't even notice how pathetically uninspiring
her positions are for those young voters she referred to as basement
dwellers on the campaign trail.
Against the snarky, negative tone of Clinton's book, Sanders offers
his readers a combination of political passion and practical advice.
When it refers to him personally, it does so by quoting a Sanders tweet
that links to the issue being covered. The tweets are used to show how
Sanders has been standing up for these issues for years. It is a
technique that privileges the cause, not the ego.
This is one thing that separates Sanders from the political pack.
I was talking to my cousin last week and she complained that with
Elizabeth Warren it's always "I'll fight for you," somehow making
the it all about her. She noted that Sanders wasn't like that, nor
was Obama. None of us mentioned Clinton. Some things are too obvious
to speak of.
Michael Paarlberg: Why Verrit, a pro-Clinton media platform, is doomed
to fail: "The website has been blasted for its unsubtle propaganda.
There is a reason it works for Republicans and not Democrats."
Brainchild of Clinton hyper-loyalist Peter Daou, the "media venture for
the 65.8 million" (referring to Clinton's popular vote tally) offers up
treacly quotes and random factoids, readymade for social media and
"verified" by the site, so that you can be sure Clinton really did say
"America is once again at a moment of reckoning."
Within days, it won the endorsement of Madame Secretary herself and
the mockery of everyone else, due in part to its founder's fondness for
all caps and getting in fights on Twitter. . . .
Thus there's far less appetite among Democrats for the type of
unsubtle propaganda that Verrit traffics. One can see it in the way
Fox News trounces MSNBC in viewership: Republicans see Fox as the only
news source they can trust in media landscape that does not align with
their values. Democrats would rather just read the New York Times. . . .
In theory, Democrats could be open to more ideological conflict, now
that they are shut out of all three branches of government, the majority
of statehouses, and have little to lose. And a smarter media outlet might
be able to tap into that demand. But it would be one catering to a very
different party than the Democrats currently are, one that sees itself
as a social movement, with a broader vision for how the world should
look, and a willingness to use media as a blunt instrument to get there.
One that looks curiously like what Clinton's main rival for the nomination
But if there's one group that Daou hates more than Republicans, it's
Bernie Sanders supporters.
I followed Daou's blog for a while, citing him once in 2006, then
maybe a dozen times in 2010-12, but I wasn't aware that he worked for
Clinton in 2008, and haven't noticed him since 2012. I wouldn't have
expected him as a "Hillary superfan," but clearly she does have some
kind of cult (cf.
Abby Ohlheiser: Inside the huge, 'secret' Facebook group for Hillary
Clinton's biggest fans; Ohlheiser also got stuck with investigating
What even is Verrit, the news source endorsed by Hillary Clinton?),
and the timing here coincides with Clinton's campaign memoir, which
evidently features a number of attempts to blame Bernie for her loss.
All of this is happening at a time when there are literally hundreds
of stories each week about how Trump and the Republicans are scheming
and acting against the majority of Americans: you'd think that would
be reason enough to bury the hatchet and unite Hillary and Bernie
supporters, but Daou seems more intent on smearing Bernie than on
resisting Trump (see
Who's Paying Peter Daou to Smear Bernie Sanders and the Left?).
I wouldn't discount the power of money here, but I'll also note that
it's pretty much inevitable that centrists will spend more of their
time attacking and distancing themselves from the left, because that's
how they curry favor with their well-to-do patrons. For another view:
Jack Shafer: This Pro-Hillary Website Looks Like North Korea
Matthew Yglesias: The 4 stories that defined the week, explained:
Hurricane Irma battered the Caribbean; Donald Trump ended DACA; Donald
Trump changed his tune on DACA; Democrats stuck a deal with the White
House. Other Yglesias links:
The debt ceiling deal is a template for how Trump can get things done;
Trump is souring on his top economic aide for the worst possible reason
("Gary Cohn is too tough on Nazis");
5 different things people mean when they say we need to revive antitrust --
more like different aspects of the general problem of concentrating corporate
Stanley Fischer announces resignation, opening yet another Fed vacancy for
Trump ("good news for people who like risky banking");
Trump's arguments on DACA contradict his position on the travel ban;
Trump isn't delivering his own DACA policy because he's cowardly and
The looming fight over "tax reform," explained ("in the end, it's
about a tax cut for the rich");
The case for immigration ("America's openness to people who want
to move here and make a better life for themselves is fuel for that
greatness" -- how ironical, or dumb, does that make a anti-immigrant
politician so obsessed with the nation's greatness?);
Seattle should make a pitch to be Amazon's 2nd headquarters -- this
skirts the real issue of why Amazon needs a second corporate headquarters
in these times when every company is looking to make management leaner
(and meaner), though he does offer this:
And from the company's point of view, the best part is that it will
also set off an irresistible race to the bottom as cities compete to
shower subsidies on the company in hopes of luring the proposed 50,000
jobs spread across 8 million square feet of offices at an average
compensation of $100,000 a piece.
I'd like to see federal legislation to make it illegal (or at least
prohibitive) for states and local entities to bid for corporate favors.
Boeing, in particular, has engaged in this peculiar combination of
bribery and extortion so regularly you'd think they had decided that
their "core competency" was political influence peddling, not airframes.
This process damages losing states and cities without notably helping
the winning bidders.
The "Case for Immigration" piece is long and covers a lot of good
points. I suspect one could construct a counter-argument, a "Case
Against Immigration," but it couldn't argue for economic growth --
indeed, it would try to make a virtue out of conservation that can
only be achieved with zero or negative growth -- and it certainly
wouldn't bruit the word "greatness" anywhere. Indeed, it would call
for dismantling America's world hegemony, which both pushes and pulls
Took a quick look at some Hurricane Irma news before posting. The
storm is moving north at about 14 mph, so its crawl up Florida's Gulf
Coast is pretty slow. I saw some live broadcasts while the eye was
over Naples about 6PM EST, and I've seen some later video showing
Naples pretty severely flooded. I suppose it's good that the eye has
moved inland: almost straight north through Fort Myers to about 35
miles east of Sarasota at 10PM EST, but the current forecast track
has it shifting northwest to pass straight through Tampa, then
briefly out to sea before landing again west of Ocala. It should
weaken faster over land, regenerate some over water, but the storm
is so large it's producing storm surges and tropical-storm-force
winds along the east coast as well as the west. Looks like it will
move into Georgia around 2PM Monday, and Tennessee 2PM Tuesday,
stalling there and dumping a lot of rain.
Sunday, September 3. 2017
At some point I need to write about the book I just finished, Rosa
Brooks' How Everything Became War and the Military Became Everything:
Tales From the Pentagon (2016; paperback, 2017, Simon & Schuster).
I didn't bother with this when it came out in hardcover last year, but
I noticed the paperback about the time Gen. Kelly replaced Reince Priebus,
which got me to wondering what is was people see in flag officers that
makes them seem to be uniquely capable functionaries. This mindset seems
to be especially widespread on the right, though perhaps by default as
their more fundamental belief is that all other bureaucrats are incapable
of doing anything worthwhile, or perhaps they mean just up to no good.
Still, liberals have grown increasingly fond of brass, and politicians
of all stripes trip all over themselves in prostrating themselves to
America's sainted heroes.
Unfortunately, while Brooks sometimes gets caught up in such idolatry,
she never offers much elucidation. The closest she comes is to point out
that the military has increasingly tended to take over functions that
previously belonged to the State Department because the military has so
much more money to work with. Even that gets very little analysis beyond
the "day everything changed" 9/11 cliché. But the disturbing thing about
9/11 wasn't what changed then but what had changed sometime earlier. The
objective facts of 9/11 meant we should at least have considered the
option of responding to crimes through law enforcement (FBI and Interpol,
maybe drawing on "intelligence" from CIA and NSA) as opposed to declaring
war and sending the military to invade distant countries. Clearly, Brooks'
title described something real: in the mindsets of the Bush administration,
and evidently with the Clintons before, and possibly much further back,
the default worldview of America's politicians had become militarized.
So how, and why, had that happened? Brooks doesn't tell us.
Well, she does provide a couple of hints, starting with a critique
of "metaphorical wars" -- basically, political campaigns that attempted
to recruit the sort of public unity and support, including self-sacrifice,
that WWII had achieved: the "war on poverty" and "war on drugs" perhaps
the most famous examples, with cancer, crime, AIDS, and terror getting
various degrees of attention. Even going back to the 1950s, something
as basic and benign as building interstate highways could only make it
through Congress if rationalized as national defense. Brooks provides
other examples where people (businesses and non-profits as well as
politicians) tried selling us things by invoking the military -- e.g.,
we were told that obesity is bad because it reduces the recruitment
pool of possible soldiers. What she doesn't seem to notice is that
every one of these conceptualizations failed, often because they
were laughably stupid, more so because they were inappropriate and
misguided, and I suspect ultimately because, regardless of what you
might think WWII proved, war never really accomplishes its original
goals nor redeems its initial reasoning.
I've tried to formulate this before, and Brooks has only, albeit
inadvertently, increase my conviction. The first thing to understand
about war is that you lose the moment it begins. Arguably, you may
cause the other side to lose more than you do, but the misfortune of
others never compensates for your own losses, especially what the
experience of war does to your own psyche. The second thing is that
war isn't "an extension of politics by other means" but the abject
failure of politics to resolve potential conflicts short of war.
Brooks spends much of her book delving into anthropology, trying
to convince herself that war is a constant, inevitable feature of
humanity, even though she'd like to subject it to a system of law
to manage it better, to limit some of the atrocities that seem to
mess up so many wars. Her big innovation here is to push the idea
that war/peace represent a continuum with many intermediate "gray"
areas as opposed to the dichotomy or negation we are used to thinking
in terms of. Here's a sample quote (pp. 353-354):
What would it mean, in practice, to manage this churning, changing
"space between" -- to develop laws, politics, and institutions
premised on the assumption that we will forever remain unable to draw
sharp boundaries between war and peace, and that we will frequently
find ourselves in the space between?
This will be the work of many minds and many years. But the task is
surely not impossible if we remind ourselves that we human beings can
make and unmake categories and rules. And it is surely not
inconsistent with the core principles enshrined both in America's
founding documents and in human rights law: that life and liberty are
unalienable rights, that no person should be arbitrarily deprived of
these rights, and that no one -- no individual, no organization, no
government, and no state -- should be permitted to exercise power
without being held accountable for mistakes or abuses.
If we take these principles seriously, we might, for instance,
develop better mechanisms to prevent arbitrariness, mistake, and abuse
in targeted killings.
Thus she inches up to the edge of a chasm, then plunges in. Why isn't
it obvious that "if we take these principles seriously" we wouldn't be
doing any "targeted killings"? All you have to do is to reverse the
case examples to see that the problem is the idea of targeted killing,
not the likelihood of "arbitrariness, mistake, and abuse." In larger
terms, the problem isn't that war is very probably compounded by all
manner of mistake and abuse, but that war is practiced at all. After
all, what is war but an elaborate moral charade meant to justify all
sorts of slaughter and havoc? -- things that are sensibly prohibited
under law in the domain of peace. And isn't Brooks' campaign to map
out gray areas just a ruse for allowing war (and the military) to seep
into civil society, spoiling peace?
One odd thing here is that while Brooks seems to be a big fan of
international laws which prohibit many common practices of war and which
promote broad notions of human rights, she doesn't seem to grasp that
the intention behind those laws is to outlaw war. Moreover, that very
point is obvious to the conservatives, nationalists, and militarists
who instinctively reject such international law -- and at least in the
former case, any notion of human rights based on equality. Way back in
1945 when the UN was founded, it was at least an aspirational goal of
the liberals who then ran the US government to prevent future wars by
establishing a mutually acceptable creed of equal rights for nations
and for people within nations. Obviously, the real nations of the time
had some work to do to achieve those aspirations, but at least they
pretty much all recognized the need to avoid a repeat (or escalation)
of the just-concluding world war. And they understood that by putting
their best ideals forward, they could inspire one another to do better.
However, since that date, many Americans, including virtual all working
politicians, have discarded those ideals and instead embraced the US
military -- its power to terrify and cower the rest of the world -- as
the root of their security, and therefore their sense of justice.
I'm not really sure why that happened, but certainly the seeds were
all present before the end of the Korean War (1953). Part of it was
that many Americans found WWII to be exhilarating, the source both of
community and prosperity. Part was the hatchet job done on the working
class by the Red Scare and the Cold War. (Conveniently, many American
workers were temporarily shielded by anti-communist unions, but we all
know how that eventually turned out.) Part was the way we fought the
Cold War, especially by embracing right-wing dictators against their
own people. One thing America's emerging militarism cannot be blamed
on was actual wartime successes by the US military: Korea was a bloody
stalemate; Vietnam an unequivocal loss; Iraq an expensive, tainted and
temporary technical win; Afghanistan not even that. Sure, the Soviet
Union folded, but the nations we struggled hardest against have proven
the most resistant to our hegemony -- notably including Russia. All
the while, the US has sunk to the bottom of the list of "rich nations"
in every measure of widespread prosperity -- something we should blame
on extravagant military budgets and the right-wing political factions
which benefit from continuous hostility and war.
It's probably unfair to blame all of this on Brooks and the liberal
hawks of her generation -- the lawyers and policy wonks who felt so
much shame over inaction in Rwanda and who counted Bosnia and Kosovo
as big successes for a military juggernaut they idealized and came to
love (Brooks actually marrying a Green Beret). It is especially sad
that Brooks fell for this con, given that
her mother (Barbara Ehrenreich) is one of the most incisive social
and political critics of our time -- one who, among many other things,
wrote her own insightful anthropology of war, the 1997 book Blood
Rites: Origins and History of the Passions of War. The difference
was that Ehrenreich strove to raise myths and primeval emotions to a
level of consciousness, where we could rationally encounter them and
consciously change. Brooks does the opposite, starting with reason
and remythologizing it, turning war from a conscious option back into
a quasi-religious belief.
Well, that's the gist of what I wanted to say. Someone should write
a big book on how and why American political figures lost their faith
and interest in international cooperation, law, justice, and peace.
When I searched for "america turns against international law" the
first piece that came up was from 2015:
Alfred W McCoy: You Must Follow International Law (Unless You're
American). It's not as if no one notices American contempt for
international law, but it's so ensconced it's hardly even an issue
for politicians here. At most it's a nuissance, an inconsequential
way other people have of insulting us. The serious question of how
this attitude limits our options in dealing with the world never
seems to come up.
So I guess the best thing about Brooks' book is the title. Too
bad she didn't write a better book on its subject.
Some scattered links this week:
Michael Arria: In Attacking Overtime Pay, Trump Is Hurting His Biggest
Fans: In his campaign to make sure no good deed is allowed to stand,
Trump continues to reverse Obama-era regulations, especially where they
limit his favorite business interests:
In 1975, Gerald Ford set the income threshold above which employees
could be exempt from overtime to around $58,000 in today's dollars,
but this number was never updated to reflect inflation or wage growth.
That means the number is now $23,660. In May 2016 Obama announced that
he was doubling the annual salary threshold to $47,476, effectively
giving millions of salaried employees making less than that a raise.
Obama's move was hardly radical. In fact, it wasn't even as progressive
as Ford's. The new rule would have covered 34 percent of full-time
salaried workers in the United States; in the 1970s, 50 percent of
them were covered. Nonetheless, according to the Department of Labor
(DOL), it was poised to raise wages for an estimated 4.2 million
Helaine Olen: The Rollback of Pro-Worker Policies Since Trump Took
Office Is Staggering.
Eric Holthaus: Harvey Is What Climate Change Looks Like:
Houston has been sprawling out into the swamp for decades, largely
unplanned and unzoned. Now, all that pavement has transformed the
bayous into surging torrents and shunted Harvey's floodwaters toward
homes and businesses. Individually, each of these subdivisions or
strip malls might have seemed like a good idea at the time, but in
aggregate, they've converted the metro area into a flood factory.
Houston, as it was before Harvey, will never be the same again.
Harvey is the third 500-year flood to hit the Houston area in the
past three years, but Harvey is in a class by itself. By the time the
storm leaves the region on Wednesday, an estimated 40 to 60 inches of
rain will have fallen on parts of Houston. So much rain has fallen
already that the National Weather Service had to add additional colors
to its maps to account for the extreme totals. . . .
Climate change is making rainstorms everywhere worse, but particularly
on the Gulf Coast. Since the 1950s, Houston has seen a 167 percent
increase in the frequency of the most intense downpours. Climate
scientist Kevin Trenberth thinks that as much as 30 percent of the
rainfall from Harvey is attributable to human-caused global warming.
That means Harvey is a storm decades in the making.
While Harvey's rains are unique in U.S. history, heavy rainstorms
are increasing in frequency and intensity worldwide. One recent study
showed that by mid-century, up to 450 million people worldwide will
be exposed to a doubling of flood frequency. This isn't just a Houston
problem. This is happening all over. A warmer atmosphere enhances
evaporation rates and increases the carrying capacity of rainstorms.
Harvey drew its energy from a warmer-than-usual Gulf of Mexico, which
will only grow warmer in the decades to come.
Other links on Texas, Hurricane Harvey, and related issues:
Kate Aronoff: Now Comes the Uncomfortable Question: Why Gets to Rebuild
After Harvey? Mostly about the National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP),
which underwrites most flood insurance at below-market rates, and thanks
to Katrina, Sandy, and lesser flood events is pretty much bankrupt -- or
at least will be later this month, unless Congress acts.
Alleem Brown: Harvey Victims Face Toxic Pollution as Hurricane Recovery
Naomi Klein: Harvey Didn't Come Out of the Blue. Now Is the Time to
Talk About Climate Change.
George Monbiot: Why are the crucial questions about Hurricane Harvey
not being asked?
Steven Mufson: ExxonMobil refineries are damaged in Hurricane Harvey,
releasing hazardous pollutants.
Eliza Relman: Trump reversed regulations to protect infrastructure
against flooding just days before Hurricane Harvey: Part of his
effort to obliterate everything Obama did, especially regarding the
threats of climate change.
But because of Trump's rollback of President Barack Obama's Federal
Flood Risk Management Standard, experts across the political spectrum
say much of the federal money sent to Texas is likely to be wasted on
construction that will insufficiently protect against the next
storm. . . .
Lehrer called Trump's decision to revoke the standards "the biggest
step backwards that has ever been taken in flood-management policy" and
said the move would waste taxpayer money, harm the environment, and cost
Neena Satija et al: Houston is a sitting duck for the next big hurricane.
Why isn't Texas ready? Published March 2016, with a photo from a 2006
hurricane that has now been totally eclipsed.
Dylan Scott: A perfect Hurricane Harvey response is impossible.
David Sirota et al: Texas Republicans Helped Chemical Plant That Exploded
Lobby Against Safety Rules.
Wen Stephenson: Houston's Human Catastrophe Started Long Before the
Joan Walsh: Everyone's a Socialist After a Natural Disaster: Even
Ted Cruz, who voted against federal aid to the New York area following
Sandy on principles he'll gladly give up when his own state has been
George Zornick: Trump Budget Cuts Could Halt the Investigation Into the
Texas Chemical Plant Explosion: "Trump wants to eliminate the US
Chemical Safety Board, which is looking into the Arkema explosion."
Anup Kaphle: South Asia Is Also Experiencing the Worst Flooding in Decades
and the Photos Are Horrifying.
Hank Johnson: President Trump is giving police forces weapons of war.
This is dangerous: "The president has signed an executive order
that will reopen the floodgates of military-grade weaponry entering
American streets." Again, Trump is reversing an Obama executive order
from 2015 -- not sure when the surplus program began, but it had
already caused a lot of problems. Coming shortly after a Trump
speech encouraging local police to abuse prisoners, Trump's "many
sides" reaction to Charlottesville, and his pardon of Arpaio, this
looks to be a step toward creating some kind of fascist police
state, more focused on controlling a disgruntled population than
on serving and protecting against crime. A big part of the problem
is that the military has been massively involved in setting up and
training police in Iraq and Afghanistan along this very model. Add
to that the fact that many police officers in the US have military
backgrounds, that a large percentage of veterans have PTSD issues,
and that lax gun laws have greatly increased the risks of police
work in the US. For more, equally ominous, see:
Attorney General Jeff Sessions: Hurricane Harvey Is Proof We Need to
Militarize Our Police Forces. Also consider another of Trump's
John Nichols: Scandal-Plagued Sheriff David Clarke Would Make a Bad
Trump Administration Even Worse.
Mike Konczal: Well-off "helicopter" parents are super annoying, but
they didn't create economic inequality: Reviews Richard Reeves'
book Dream Hoarders, which charges the upper 20 percent ("the
professional class") as the main beneficiaries and perpetrators of
increasing inequality in America, especially for how their zealous
parenting practices seek to hoard opportunity for their own children,
rather than allowing meritocracy to rebalance itself. Most critics,
including Konczal, would rather discuss inequality in terms of the
top 1% (or even 0.1%), because that's where the changes have been
most dramatic -- Konczal provides a chart of "share of GDP by income
level, 1979 to 2014" showing no visible change from 79-94 percentile,
slanting up to about a 35% rise at 98 and 90% at 99. Beyond demolishing
Reeves' arguments, Konczal offers some practical proposals:
Here are more practical ideas: We know how to start draining the rents
from the upper middle class. An aggressive public option and governmental
price-setting in health care would deflate medical sector rents. Free
college would force private schools to compete on price rather than
continue to feed off people's desperation to climb illusory status
ladders. Deeper transparency in financial markets, more comprehensive
prudential regulations, and enforcement of financial crimes would make
it harder for financiers to profit off the systemic risk they create.
Enforcing antitrust and public utility rules more aggressively would
open up bottlenecks in economic activity. Higher progressive taxation
reduces the incentives to rent seek in the first place. . . .
If you want to go after the upper-middle-class's 401(k) deductions,
you're going to have to strengthen Social Security. If you want to go
after employer provided health care, it matters greatly whether or not
there will be Medicare for All or a serious "public option" as an
alternative. And if you want to go after college savings accounts,
you need to have broadly accessible free public colleges.
Paul Krugman: Fascism, American Style: Fascism in each country
has its own style: while Mussolini looked back to Rome, Hitler used
two previous German Reichs, while Franco was fond of the Inquisition.
America doesn't have anything quite like those, but Trump's slogan
implies a similar mythic past. Still, what makes fascism a coherent
political ideology isn't aesthetics. It starts by denouncing groups
of people, and uses the hatred it generates as a springboard to power,
moving on to use state violence to attack supposed enemies, while its
elite cadres help themselves to the spoils. I haven't seen a lot of
value in describing Trump as a fascist, mostly because I still see
more mainstream Republican conservatives as more dangerous, but no
doubt that he colors himself fascist, even when he doesn't have the
more expert Steve Bannon to touch up the details. One thing that
helps Trump out is that conservatives have already done much of the
intellectual work in creating a view of a fallen past greatness
Trump can promise to restore: think of Scalia's "originalism," the
distorted Founding Father images invoked by the Tea Party, and most
effectively how the cult of the "lost cause" was used to reestablish
white supremacy (although most Americans have grown weary of making
a fetish out of slavery). Krugman doesn't work this out. What pushed
him into using the F-word was Trump's Arpaio pardon:
Let's call things by their proper names here. Arpaio is, of course,
a white supremacist. But he's more than that. There's a word for
political regimes that round up members of minority groups and send
them to concentration camps, while rejecting the rule of law: What
Arpaio brought to Maricopa, and what the president of the United
States has just endorsed, was fascism, American style.
Trump's motives are easy to understand. For one thing, Arpaio,
with his racism and authoritarianism, really is his kind of guy.
For another, the pardon is a signal to those who might be tempted
to make deals with the special investigator as the Russia probe
closes in on the White House: Don't worry, I'll protect you.
Finally, standing up for white people who keep brown people down
pleases Trump's base, whom he's going to need more than ever as the
scandals creep closer and the big policy wins he promised keep not
I haven't been reading Krugman's columns lately, nor his blog
(which he seemed to be abandoning as his attention span moved to
Twitter), but here are some recent columns:
Trump and Pruitt, Making America Polluted Again (Aug. 25).
What Will Trump Do to American Workers?
Trump Makes Caligula Look Pretty Good (Aug. 18).
Who Ate Republicans' Brains? (July 31):
The Republican health care debacle was the culmination of a process
of intellectual and moral deterioration that began four decades ago,
at the very dawn of modern movement conservatism -- that is, during
the very era anti-Trump conservatives now point to as the golden age
of conservative thought.
A key moment came in the 1970s, when Irving Kristol, the godfather
of neoconservatism, embraced supply-side economics -- the claim,
refuted by all available evidence and experience, that tax cuts pay
for themselves by boosting economic growth. Writing years later, he
actually boasted about valuing political expediency over intellectual
integrity: "I was not certain of its economic merits but quickly saw
its political possibilities." In another essay, he cheerfully conceded
to having had a "cavalier attitude toward the budget deficit," because
it was all about creating a Republican majority -- so "political
effectiveness was the priority, not the accounting deficiencies of
The problem is that once you accept the principle that it's O.K.
to lie if it helps you win elections, it gets ever harder to limit
the extent of the lying -- or even to remember what it's like to
seek the truth.
The Sanctimony and Sin of G.O.P. 'Moderates' (July 27).
Meanwhile, Krugman's blog has a useful post on
Monopoly Rents and Corporate Taxation (Wonkish); also
How Bad Will It Be If We Hit the Debt Ceiling?, and the post-Bannon
So if Bannon is out, what's left? It's just reverse Robin Hood with
On real policy, in other words, Trump is now bankrupt.
But he does have the racism thing. And my prediction is that with
Bannon and economic nationalism gone, he will eventually double down
on that part even more. If anything, Trumpism is going to get even
uglier, and Trump even less presidential (if such a thing is possible)
now that he has fewer people pushing for trade wars.
Jim Lyons: The Rush to Develop Oil and Gas We Don't Need: The
Trump administration is going apeshit in its eagerness to do favors
for the oil and gas industry, even at a time when oversupply undercuts
prices and companies are loathe to develop the properties they already
have. Also see:
Alison Rose Levy: Who's Behind Fossil Fuel Extraction? It's Not Just
Danielle Ofri: 'No Apparent Distress' Tackles the Distress of the Sick,
Poor and Uninsured: Book review of Rachel Pearson: No Apparent
Distress: A Doctor's Coming-of-Age on the Front Lines of American
Medicine, about what happens to people who can't get (mostly
because they can't afford) decent health insurance:
This is the blossoming truth of No Apparent Distress -- that
a segment of American society has been casually cast aside, left to
scavenge on the meager scraps of volunteer health services, and
failing that, left to die. Such abdication is no mere oversight, as
Pearson outlines. The president of U.T.M.B. later publicly stated
that care for those without means was no longer part of the school's
"core mission." The same can be said for much of the United States.
Pearson describes a homeless man whom the students diagnosed with
throat cancer. (Texas chose not to expand Medicaid under the Affordable
Care Act so is now home to 25 percent of the adult Americans who fall
into the coverage gap between private insurance and Medicaid.) It took
eight cruel months until a hospital accepted the patient into its
indigent program for treatment. To satisfy a requirement that the man
live nearby, a relative was found who bought him a tiny trailer home.
Just after the first scans were done, though, the hospital got wind
of the trailer. This "asset" disqualified him as indigent and he was
promptly kicked out of the program. The cancer was never removed or
Matthew Rozsa: Missouri Republican: People who vandalize Confederate
statues should be lynched: Well, that's certainly in the spirit
of the people who put them up. I normally don't bother with
stupid-things-stupid-people-say articles, otherwise I'd wind up
linking to things like
This pastor thinks that Houston deserved Hurricane Harvey because of
its "pro-homosexual mayor".
Gershon Shafir: Why has the Occupation lasted this long? A slice
from the author's new book: A Half Century of Occupation: Israel,
Palestine, and the World's Most Intractable Conflict. Mostly stuff
you should know by now, but it's worth recalling that settlements in
the Occupied Territories were driven from two distinct movements, each
operating from their own peculiar logic. The first was the LSM (Labor
Settler Movement), driven by habit from the earliest days of Zionism
but couched in terms of defense and security, and implemented by a
state and military controlled by Labor until 1977. The other was led
by Gush Emunim (Bloc of the Faithful), a messianic cult led by Rabbi
Kook, which was adopted by the Revisionist camp after Likud (Menachem
Begin) came to power in 1977. The following quote sums up this change
nicely, underscoring that the latter settler movement always intended
to dominate the Palestinians, even though that formula precluded any
possible peace. One should also note that because Labor was genetically
disposed toward settlement, Labor politicians have never been able to
check the expansion of the settlements, even if they realized how much
they were an obstacle to peace and ultimately to the defense of Israel.
In short, to gain national legitimation, Gush Emunim made the great legacy
of colonization its own even as it reinterpreted it through a religious
lens. After a conversation with Gush Emunim representatives in July 1974,
Shimon Peres concluded: "We are living in two separate countries. You live
in a country that needs to be settled, while I live in a country that needs
to be defended." Porat rejected the assertion that the role of Zionism was
to constitute a safe haven for Jews so they could hold their own in the
world. Gush Emunim viewed Zionism differently, as "the process of redemption
in its concrete sense -- the redemption of the people, and the redemption
of the land -- and in its divine sense -- the redemption of the godhead,
the redemption of the world." Just how far Gush Emunim had distanced itself
from the idea of maintaining a "military frontier" may be seen from its
rejection not only of the principle of security but also of the goal of
peace. "A secular peace," said another founder of Gush Emunim, "is not our
goal." Its starting point with regard to peace was religious and messianic,
so it saw peace as attainable only in the end of days.
Third, Gush Emunim colonization rejected demographic criteria for
choosing the location of Jewish colonies. The odd "N"-shaped pattern of
colonization during the Yishuv -- running from Upper Galilee down to the
Bet Shean Valley and then diagonally across the Jezreel Valley (Marj
Ibn-Amer) up to Haifa and Nahariya, and down again to Gedera -- followed
the layout of the valleys and coastal areas, less secure during Ottoman
times and consequently less densely inhabited by Palestinians. Gush Emunim
colonization, in contrast, was aimed at the mountainous regions where the
vast majority of Palestinians resided (see map 2). As Gush Emunim saw it,
Jewish settlements up to the 1948 War had spread out over the "wrong" part
of the Palestine, the coastal region that in antiquity was inhabited not
by the Jews but by the Philistines. Gush Emunim wanted not only to correct
this pattern and restore history by moving Jews into the lands they had
held in biblical times but to join the ancient homeland to Israel within
the Green Line. In the process, Gush Emunim tossed overboard the LSM's
goal of creating an ethnically homogeneous colony. It advocated pushing
settlement into the locations of ancient Jewish towns and villages that
had a dense Palestinian population in order to undermine the possibility
of territorial partition. It also raised the Israeli-Palestinian conflict's
stakes by leaving little contiguous territory for a potential Palestinian
state, increasing friction, and producing higher levels of violence in
which the settlers themselves played the role of both vigilantes and
soldiers drafted into regional military units that protected their
In case you've wondered about Jared Kushner's "peace mission" to
Israel-Palestine, note that he's actually showed up for work, then
refused to do any. Richard Silverstein explains:
Trump Trashes Two-States . . . and 30 Years of U.S. Policy on
Israel-Palestine. By giving up on the "two state solution" Trump
and Kushner are admitting they're not even going to go through the
motions of pretending that they have any interest or intent on
resolving the conflict peacefully. Maybe they imagine that Abbas
will eventually surrender to an Israeli diktat, but I doubt the
Israeli leadership can even come up with one. As we've seen from
fifty years now, they'd much prefer the status quo -- and that's
not about to change as long as the US continues to provide them
unquestioning support and cover:
It's vitally important to understand the broader implications: there
will be no advances in the peace process as long as Trump is president.
We knew this implicitly. But now we see it plain as day. . . .
I hate to repeat myself, as I've written something like this before:
we are in for a wicked few years of chaos and violence given this policy
vacuüm caused by Trump's absconding from a meaningful role. A people
with no hope has nothing to lose. If you think you've seen violence,
it can and will get worse. And in ways we can't now foresee.
Even Peter Beinart, who first noticed the import of the quotation
in the Post article, calls the Trump position "absurd." The only thing
I could add is to call it criminally absurd. That is because of this
atrocious policy position tens of thousands are likely to die. Among
them will be scores, if not hundreds of Israelis (this last statement
is meant for the hasbarafia who will likely cheer this development in
the comment threads).
I'll add that the world -- and I don't just mean the "Arab world"
or "Muslim world," although there's that too -- already sees the US
as culpable for Israel's repression, cruelty, and violence, and the
more evidence the world sees, the more resentment will build up. At
the same time Trump is more directly engaged in murderous wars against
ISIS and other Islamist groups from Afghanistan through Syria to Libya
and Somalia, while US proxies are committing mass murder in Yemen --
and Trump has largely ceded direction of those wars to narrow-minded
generals. Moreover, Trump is closely aligned to Islamophobes in the
US and Europe, who would like nothing better than to impose their
injustice and bigotry in the harshest terms possible.
Eileen Sullivan/Mark Landler: Trump Says US Is Paying 'Extortion Money'
to North Korea: Nobody knows what he's talking about, possibly
because they were more terrified by his next line: "Talking is not
the answer!" Over recent months I've taken some solace when I've
taken the "nothing is off the table" cliché as meaning that talks
are still possible, but Trump seems determined to exclude the only
thing that might actually work, even though he really doesn't have
any other option. As for "extortion," from the start of his campaign
he's been clear that other countries should be paying the US more --
including South Korea and Japan, whose "defense" has the US has long
Kenneth P Vogel: Google Critic Ousted From Think Tank Funded by Tech
Giant: Decades ago the right-wing laid the foundations of their
power by funding so-called think tanks to give their agenda a bit of
intellectual spit and polish. In the 1990s, liberals realized they
needed to play that game too, founding a number of groups, including
the "non-partisan" New America Foundation in 1999. Google's Eric
Schmidt is chairman of a board which includes finance capitalists,
some fairly well-known middle-of-the-road authors (James Fallows,
Atul Gawande, Zachary Karabell, Daniel Yergin, Fareed Zakaria) and
some token conservatives (David Brooks, Walter Russell Mead, Reihan
Salam), with liberal hawk Anne-Marie Slaughter president. [By the
way, Rosa Brooks is a fellow there. One of her articles cited there,
published back in October, is:
The Importance of Working in the Trump Administration.] The fired
researcher is Barry C. Lynn, director of their Open Markets project,
author of two important books: End of the Line: The Rise and
Coming Fall of the Global Corporation (2005) and Cornered:
The New Monopoly Capitalism and the Economics of Destruction.
As his New America bio notes:
Lynn's writings on the political and economic effects of the extreme
consolidation of power in the United States have influenced the
thinking of policymakers and antitrust professionals on both sides
of the Atlantic.
Google was recently found guilty of violating EU antitrust law
and fined 2.42 billion Euros ($2.7 billion) for rigging its search
results in favor of its advertisers -- offhand, that sounds more
like racketeering than antitrust, but it's their de facto search
engine monopoly that makes such a racket possible. Lynn's statement
on this appeared in a
New America press release:
The Open Markets Team congratulates European Commissioner for Competition
Margrethe Vestager and the European competition authority for this important
decision. Google's market power is one of the most critical challenges for
competition policymakers in the world today. By requiring that Google give
equal treatment to rival services instead of privileging its own, Vestager
is protecting the free flow of information and commerce upon which all
democracies depend. We call upon U.S. enforcers, including the Federal
Trade Commission, the Department of Justice, and states attorneys general,
to build upon this important precedent, both in respect to Google and to
other dominant platform monopolists including Amazon. U.S. enforcers
should apply the traditional American approach to network monopoly,
which is to cleanly separate ownership of the network from ownership
of the products and services sold on that network, as they did in the
original Microsoft case of the late 1990s.
Some more pieces on Google, New America, and Lynn's firing:
Sam Biddle/David Dayen: Google-Funded Think Tank Fired Google Critics
After They Dared Criticize Google.
Alexis C Madrigal: The Dumb Fact of Google Money.
Dominic Rushe: Google-funded thinktank fired scholar over criticism of
Matthew Yglesias: A leading Google critic's firing from a Google-funded
think tank, explained: Most useful for its background on Google's
lobbying efforts and political alignments. For example:
Google has been especially an especially aggressive player at deep
influence. The Wall Street journal reported in July, for example, that
they've spent millions of dollars subsidizing academic research that
backs Google policy positions, often mapping out the thesis to be
proven and then shopping to find the scholar to do the work. Google's
money, not always disclosed, has backed donations to think tanks
across the ideological spectrum as well as more prosaic forms of
influence peddling like campaign contributions.
What makes Google somewhat unusual for such a big company is that
it's fairly closely aligned with the Democratic Party. Dozens of
people moved from jobs at Google to jobs in the Obama administration,
and vice versa, over its eight-year span. Schmidt was a major Hillary
Clinton donor. More tellingly, Schmidt owns a company called Civis
Analytics that does an enormous amount of behind-the-scenes data work
for Democratic Party campaigns. This alignment grows out of both
cultural affinity between Democrats and Google on social issues, and
also years of regulatory struggle that often saw Google, Democrats,
and consumer groups on one side pitted against telecommunications
David Dayen: New Think Tank Emails Show "How Google Wields Its Power"
Zephyr Teachout: How I Got Fired From a D.C. Think Tank for Fighting
Against the Power of Google.
Evidently Open Markets will be spun off as an independent outfit,
Citizens Against Monopoly, so at least this gives them some
much needed publicity. For more on Google, see
Jonathan Taplin: Why is Google spending record sums on lobbying
Given the increased antitrust scrutiny that is coming from the Democrats'
new "Better Deal" policy platform, Donald Trump's random tweets attacking
Google's fellow tech giant Amazon for its connection to the Washington
Post, and his adviser Steve Bannon's recent comments that Google and
Facebook should be regulated as utilities, it is likely Google will only
increase its lobbying expenditure in the next few months.
The largest monopoly in America, Google controls five of the top six
billion-user, universal web platforms -- search, video, mobile, maps and
browser -- and leads in 13 of the top 14 commercial web functions,
according to Scott Cleland at Precursor Consulting. . . .
It is important to understand that Google is not politically neutral.
Though its executives may signal liberal stances on gay rights and
immigration, it is at heart a libertarian firm which believes above
all that corporations should not be regulated by the government. Just
as extreme lobbying by the bank industry led to a loosening of
regulations, which then resulted in the great mortgage scam of 2008,
Google's efforts to keep the government out of its business may have
deep implications for the next 10 years. . . .
But now, for the first time in their histories, the possibility of
regulation may be on the horizon. Google's response will be to spend
more of its $90bn in cash on politicians. K Street is lining up to help.
It's probably dated by now, but the first taste that I got that Google
was potentially dangerous came from Siva Vaidhyanathan's 2011 book, The
Googlization of Everything (And Why We Should Worry). I'm still less
bothered by Google than I was by Microsoft when I followed the antitrust
case closely circa 1999, but their profits, power, and potential for
abuse are comparable. Moreover, Schmidt's chuminess with Obama and the
Clintons doesn't make any of them better public servants. Also, one of
the most sobering facts I've run across lately is how Trump's massive
buy of last-minute YouTube advertising probably tipped the election --
that's one of Google's platforms, an effective monopoly that he had no
problem selling to the highest (or in many ways, the lowest) bidder.
Real competition would save us from that kind of power.
Odd Arne Westad: The Cold War and America's Delusion of Victory:
Excerpt from the author's book, The Cold War: A World History.
a broad picture with many things I'd quibble with (e.g., he says
"Stalin's policies" made conflict with the US inevitable, and he
dismisses Mao's entire rule as "out of tune with its needs").
America's post-Cold War triumphalism came in two versions. First was
the Clinton version, which promoted a prosperity agenda of market values
on a global scale. Its lack of purpose in international affairs was
striking, but its domestic political instincts were probably right:
Americans were tired of foreign entanglements and wanted to enjoy
"the peace dividend."
As a result, the 1990s was a lost opportunity for international
cooperation, particularly to combat disease, poverty and inequality.
The most glaring examples of these omissions were former Cold War
battlefields like Afghanistan, Congo and Nicaragua, where the United
States could not have cared less about what happened -- once the Cold
War was over.
The second was the Bush version. Where President Bill Clinton
emphasized prosperity, President George W. Bush emphasized predominance.
In between, of course, stood Sept. 11. . . .
As America entered a new century, its main aim should have been to
bring other nations into the fold of international norms and the rule
of law, especially as its own power diminishes. Instead, the United
States did what declining superpowers often do: engage in futile,
needless wars far from its borders, in which short-term security is
mistaken for long-term strategic goals. The consequence is an America
less prepared than it could have been to deal with the big challenges
of the future: the rise of China and India, the transfer of economic
power from West to East, and systemic challenges like climate change
and disease epidemics.
Gradually between the founding of the UN in 1945 and the mid-1990s
American politicians lost all faith in international institutions and
law, and that's ultimately a big story. The first stage was when the
US started creating captive alliances to exclude the Soviet Union and
launch the Cold War (Marshall Plan, NATO, etc.). The second was when
the US formed alliances with imperial powers (like France in Vietnam)
and local despots (like Iran's Shah and Indonesia's Suharto) against
popular movements, democracy, and human rights. Along the way the US
developed an instrumental view of the UN, trying to use it to advance
exclusive interests and eventually finding it to be more of an obstacle
than a subordinate. In this regard, Israel has been pivotal: the more
Israel become ostracized in the UN, the more the US seeks to obstruct
and marginalize the UN. By the 1990s, liberal hawks came to prefer US
unilateral military action to international stalemate. The neocons
brought all of these tendencies together, insisting that world order
be dictated by the US as the "sole superpower." Early on US foreign
policy was captured by globalized corporations and arms merchants,
and while they didn't necessarily see eye-to-eye, their compromises
turned the US into the dangerously conceited rogue state we see
today. It's easy enough to see that anti-communism was at the root
of all this, and that the contempt it held for workers has not only
turned the US imperious abroad, it has flooded back into domestic
politics, its promotion of inequality rendering government, business,
and society ever more careless and cruel.
Matthew Yglesias: Four Stories That Actually Mattered This Week:
Devastating floods hit Texas and Louisiana; Congress is facing a busy
September; Trump is cutting Obamacare marketing to the bone; DACA is
hanging in the balance. Other Yglesias posts:
Mick Mulvaney brags that he tricked Trump into proposing Social Security
Trump is looking to revive a discredited Bush-era tax gimmick;
Paul Ryan's postcard tax return is really dumb;
It's time for Democrats' wonk class to write some single-payer plans.
The "postcard tax return" piece has some interesting points -- some gleaned
from T.R. Reid's book A Fine Mess, a survey of how other nations run
their tax collection systems. He points out that in Japan, for example, the
government collects tax input information continuously and automatically
adjusts withholding so that most people wind up paying exactly the right
amount each year. At year end, the government sends out a notice of what
it did, which taxpayers can amend, but otherwise they needn't file returns.
Such a system is pretty easy for most wage earners, even with interest
and other currently tracked earnings. I can imagine it being developed
further to handle more complex cases, like small businesses. Yglesias
points out that things like tax brackets have no real effect on form
complexity. Virtually all of the complication in the income tax system
comes from income determination, mostly deciding what expenses to allow
in offsetting gross receipts. (Itemized deductions to personal income
have largely been phased out in favor of a relatively generous "standard
deduction," although it wouldn't be too hard to track them in real time
either.) Moreover, the government could start an open source software
project to implement all of this, adding accounting and personal finance
features that would reduce the cost for businesses while collecting all
the necessary inputs. Of course, politicians like Ryan don't want to do
any of this: they want to keep taxation painful so it will be easy to
rile people up against the tax system. And, of course, making sure the
government doesn't do useful or helpful things for most people makes
taxes look like expenses instead of investments.
The big breaking story as I was writing all of this is that North
Korea has tested some sort of hydrogen-booster nuclear warhead, one
reportedly small enough that it can be delivered by one of their
recently tested ICBMs. This has resulted in a lot of typically
unguarded and occasionally insane threats from Trump and company:
Trump: North Korea Is a 'Rogue Nation' for Conducting a 'Major Nuclear
After Reported H-Bomb Test, Trump Mulls Attacking North Korea;
Trump: Maybe we'll end all trade with countries that trade with North Korea;
Mnuchin Says He Will 'Draft a Sanctions Package' Against North Korea;
Mattis: US Will Meet 'Any Threat' With 'Massive Military Response';
Trump Says He'll Meet With 'Military Leaders' to Discuss North Korea.
Also note that Trump has lately become increasingly hostile to China
and Russia, the most obvious diplomatic channels to Pyongyang -- e.g.,
US Plans More South China Sea Patrols to 'Challenge China';
Jim Mattis, in Ukraine, Says U.S. Is Thinking of Sending Weapons;
US Seizes Russian Diplomatic Posts in San Francisco, Washington, New York;
Russia to 'Respond Harshly' to Latest US Measures;
Putin Warns US-North Korea Standoff Risks Starting Large-Scale Conflict.
When asked whether he intends to attack North Korea, Trump's response was
"we'll see." I've written enough about this I shouldn't have to rehash
the risks and follies of US policy. Indeed, most knowledgeable people
in Washington -- a group that excludes the president -- seem to grasp
the basic issues, but their minds are stuck in the rut that sees the
military as the only answer to every problem. So, I guess, we'll see.
Sunday, August 27. 2017
The big story, one I have nothing on below, is probably what Hurricane
Harvey is doing to Texas as I write -- and as I look at the forecast map,
will keep doing through Wednesday. I watched one woman on Fox News going
on about how this disaster will finally give Trump the chance to appear
presidential and gain back some of his lost support. I noted how the
governor of Texas was thanking the federal government for their support.
Evidently this won't be the week when Republicans go around quoting
Ronald Reagan on how the scariest words in the English language are
"I'm from the government, and I'm here to help." In point of fact, the
party that wants to reduce government so small it can be drowned in a
bathtub doesn't have a very good record in responding to natural
disasters (or, really, any kind of disaster -- cf. 9/11 as well as
This week's scattered links:
Zeeshan Aleem: Nikki Haley's path to the presidency runs right past
Trump: Notes that "The UN ambassador's profile is rising as she
runs her own show," and quotes Sen. Lindsey Graham as saying, "She
sounds more like me than Trump." I wonder if Haley didn't get the
idea that UN Ambassador would be a plum presidential stepping stone
from House of Cards. It certainly gives her opportunities to
poise bellicose for the press. Of course, if people start talking
her up, Trump might get jealous and sack her. On the other hand,
that's probably in her plan as the next step.
Randall Balmer: Under Trump, evangelicals show their true racist colors.
Zack Beauchamp: Sebastian Gorka, Trump's most controversial national
security aide, is out: Obviously the next to go after Bannon got
sacked, at least he took the time to write a blustery resignation
letter, vowing to fight on against the administration's "globalists"
in Trump's name -- as the old joke goes, now he'll be outside the
tent pissing in.
Alvin Chang: We analyzed 17 months of Fox & Friends transcripts.
It's far weirder than state-run media.
Since Trump was elected, Fox & Friends has taken a special
place in the media landscape. It's clear that the program is in something
of a feedback loop with the president. But contrary to what CNN president
Jeff Zucker says, this isn't state-run television "extolling the line out
of the White House." Scholars tend to say state-run media usually aims to
keep the rank and file in line, while demobilizing the populace and
deflating political opposition. Most of it is very boring. Watch some
live Chinese state-run media and you'll immediately understand. . . .
What we found is that Fox & Friends has a symbiotic
relationship with Trump that is far weirder and more interesting than
state media. Instead of talking for Trump, they are talking to
The regular hosts -- Steve Doocy, Brian Kilmeade, and Ainsley Earhardt --
and their rotating cast of guests increasingly view their role as giving
advice to the president. They prognosticate on what the president, his
staff, or his party should do. And it's all couched in language that makes
it seem they are on his side -- that the damning news reports from
mainstream media were unfair obstacles to his presidency.
That is in contrast to what Fox & Friends was before Trump.
In 2013, media scholar Jeffrey P. Jones argued that Fox & Friends
creates an ideologically homogeneous community and reinforces it by creating
a high school-like atmosphere. "The show is designed to thrust the viewer
into a common-sense groupthink, complete with all the rumours, smears,
innuendo, fear-mongering, thinly veiled ad hominem attacks, and lack of
rational discourse they can muster -- you know, just like high school,"
But in the 2016 election, the man who loves their show and listens
to their political and cultural ruminations became the leader of the
Fox & Friends went from being the bully on the periphery
to the prom king's posse.
Esme Cribb: Trump's Afghan Strategy: 'Killing Terrorists,' Not Nation
Building: Quick summary of Trump's Monday night "Afghanistan Strategy"
speech. Despite all the "pillars" and "multi-pronged strategy," what this
sounds like is that he's shelving the COIN theory -- all that stuff about
protecting Afghan communities and helping them develop -- and returning
to the core competency of the US military, which is wholesale slaughter
of anyone who gets in our way (aka, "killing terrorists"; who are these
"terrorists"? well, the people we kill). To accomplish this he'll allow
the generals to requisition whatever forces they want, with no review
from the White House let alone Congress. And he's set the standard for
ending the war so high that it's become a moot point. In effect, he's
put the war on autopilot, where the only real goal is to punish the
Afghan people for America's failure to secure any form of stability.
This approach is not unprecedented in American history: Nixon did the
same thing in Vietnam when he reduced US troop levels while winding
up with a murderous rampage, hoping to impress on the world that while
a people may defy the United States, they will suffer mightily for the
affront. The only word that described this is sadism: having failed
to impose American will, the only way Trump can recover his sense of
power is by inflicting suffering on others. Trump's concept of "America
First" doesn't seem to extend much beyond "fuck everyone else" (nor
does his concept of America extend to many people living here).
Some more links on Trump and Afghanistan:
Andrew J Bacevich: The conflict in Afghanistan is Trump's war now:
True enough, in the sense that Trump could have stuck to his campaign
rhetoric and ordered withdrawal, ending America's 16-year (or, actually,
38-year) war in Afghanistan. Failure to do that stamps the war with his
hand, much as Obama's 2009 "surge" added to his personal responsibility
for the war. On the other hand, saying "From this point forward, blaming
President Obama for whatever happens in Kabul or Kandahar or the Hindu
Kush won't work," won't work either. No matter how poorly Trump's generals
perform, Trump will never give up blaming Obama.
David Faris: Why Trump's Afghanistan plan will end in utter failure.
Emran Feroz: Fearful Villagers See the US Using Afghanistan as a "Playground
for Their Weapons".
Rod Nordland: What an Afghanistan Victory Looks Like Under the Trump
Plan: Allegedly, this show of force sets the stage for talks that
reconcile the Kabul government with the Taliban, but also note: "The
last Taliban leader to espouse peace talks, Mullah Akhtar Muhammad
Mansour, was killed in an American drone strike last year." And despite
President Trump mentioned "victory" four times and "defeat" of the
enemy seven times in his speech. But it remains unclear what victory
would even look like.
In another New York Times article,
Julie Hirschfeld Davis/Matthew Rosenberg: Trump Seeks a Clear Victory
in a Murky War, the best they can offer is: "For Mr. Trump, winning
looks a lot like a very long war."
Daniel Larison: Trump's Awful Afghanistan Speech.
Mark Perry: How the Brass Talked Another President Into a Losing
John Feffer: Avoiding War With Pyongyang: alternate title, "Trump
and the Geopolitics of Crazy." Good in-depth article, which points out
that the US (Jimmy Carter, at least) has successfully negotiated with
the DPRK before, that in terms of crazy vs. crazy Trump and Kim Jong-un
have little if anything on Nixon and Mao in 1970, and that despite all
those sanctions North Korea has been cautiously changing toward the sort
of market economy corporations love doing business with in China. Now,
if only someone in Washington was listening. Another report suggesting
that Kim Jong-un might not be the crazier of the adversaries is:
Jon Schwarz: North Korea Keeps Saying It Might Give Up Its Nuclear Weapons --
but Most News Outlets Won't Tell You That.
Rebecca Gordon: Is Anything the Moral Equivalent of War? Reading the
title, I recognized the phrase but couldn't place it, perhaps because it
never made sense to me: at least from the early Americanization of the
Vietnam War I never saw anything moral in war, so couldn't imagine any
virtuous activity as being its "moral equivalent." The phrase turns out
to have been coined by
William James in 1906 attempting to find an alternative activity to
the "martial spirit" that warmongers like Theodore Roosevelt were so keen
on promoting. The phrase was then popularized in a
1977 speech by President Jimmy Carter where he tried to marshall
America's militarist spirits to tackle the "energy crisis." As you no
doubt recall, the American people responded by voting Carter out of
office, choosing instead to bury their heads in Reagan's "morning in
America" fantasy. Probably didn't help that the acronym militarists
gave the speech was MEOW, but the fact is that by 1977 even real war
didn't satisfy James' MEOW demands. A couple years earlier the Army
had given up on the draft because way too many of those impressed into
service could be trusted to carry out orders -- the obvious advantage
of the no-draft army is that volunteers were much less likely to "frag"
their officers. On the other hand, even "professional" soldiers are
likely to have joined for purely economic reasons, which only made
sense if their risk was minimal. Gordon plays a bit with MEOW theory,
noting that war "requires from whole populations a special kind of
heroic focus, a willingness to mobilize and sacrifice, a commitment
to community or country . . . it also requires people to relinquish
their own petty interests in the service of a greater whole." That,
at least, is the idea behind America's many metaphorical wars -- on
crime, poverty, drugs, cancer -- none of which have been particularly
successful, possibly because Americans no longer seek MEOWs -- or, in
most cases, let real shooting wars impose much on their everyday lives.
But it's also because our conventional thinking about war corrupts and
perverts these metaphorical wars, which is something Gordon does go
into at more depth. She also suggests that the War on Terror is itself
yet another metaphorical war, even though this one is fought with bombs
Josh Marshall: Thoughts on Trump's Speech: On Tuesday's rally in
Aside from the rambling weirdness, the big things are these. President
Trump spent something like forty-five minutes in a wide-ranging primal
scream about Charlottesville, ranting at the press, giving what might
generously be called a deeply misleading and dishonest summary of what
he actually said. It all amounted to one big attack on the press for
supposedly lying about him.
There were some other points that were momentary and perhaps easy
to miss but quite important.
- Trump essentially promised he would pardon Sheriff Joe Arpaio, a
major sop to the anti-immigrant, white nationalist base.
- Trump suggested he would probably end up withdrawing from NAFTA
because negotiations will fail. That statement will have major
- Trump threatened to shut down the government to force Congress's
hand on getting his border wall.
- While grandiosely not mentioning the names of Jeff Flake or John
McCain, he nonetheless went after them and made his opposition to both
quite clear. Presidents don't generally attack members of their own
party going into a midterm elections.
More links related to Trump's speech in Arizona:
Jenna Johnson: As Trump ranted and rambled in Phoenix, his crowd slowly
Just before President Trump strolled onto the rally stage on Tuesday
evening, four speakers took turns carefully denouncing hate, calling
for unity and ever so subtly assuring the audience that the president
is not racist. . . . Meanwhile, a supporter seated directly behind
stage even wore a T-shirt that stated: "Trump & Republicans are
Then Trump took the stage.
He didn't attempt to continue the carefully choreographed messaging
of the night or to narrow the ever-deepening divide between the thousands
of supporters gathered in the convention center hall before him and the
thousands of protesters waiting outside.
Instead, Trump spent the first three minutes of his speech -- which
would drag on for 75 minutes -- marveling at his crowd size, claiming
that "there aren't too many people outside protesting," predicting that
the media would not broadcast shots of his "rather incredible" crowd
and reminiscing about how he was "center stage, almost from day one,
in the debates."
Dara Lind: Joe Arpaio, the anti-immigrant sheriff That Trump wants to
save from prison, explained. Also on Arpaio, see:
Noah Feldman: Arpaio Pardon Would Show Contempt for Constitution.
Heather Digby Parton: Trump in Arizona: Threats, paranoia and a dark
lesson in white history.
Charles P Pierce: I Have No More Patience for Trump Supporters:
Before we get to the other stuff, and there was lots of other stuff, I'd
like to address myself to those people represented by the parenthetical
notation (Applause) in the above transcript, those people who
waited for hours in 105-degree heat so that they could have the G-spot
of their irrationality properly stroked for them. You're all suckers.
You're dim and you're ignorant and you can't even feel yourself sliding
toward something that will surprise even you with its fundamental
ugliness, . . .
A guy basically went mad, right there on the stage in front of you,
and you cheered and booed right on cue because you're sheep and because
he directed his insanity at all the scapegoats that your favorite radio
and TV personalities have been creating for you over the past three
On Friday, Joe Arpaio became the first person Trump issued a
presidential pardon for. See:
Dara Lind: The real reason Trump pardoned Joe Arpaio:
[Arpaio's contempt of court conviction ] was a predictable consequence
of the way he'd run his department -- guided by a philosophy that as
long as law-enforcement officials were grabbing headlines by going after
undesirable people, the public wouldn't care so much about how it was
The Trump administration has turned that philosophy into a matter of
federal rhetoric (such as Trump's "joke" urging officers to be rough
with suspects when shoving them into the backs of police cars) and policy
(in walking back court-enforced federal oversight of police departments).
President Trump himself is liable to tweet angrily about "so-called"
judges when he doesn't get his way.
Joe Arpaio is lucky that he was convicted under a president who cares
more about the order Arpaio professed to maintain than the laws to which
he was supposed to adhere. But Donald Trump is far luckier that he had,
in Arpaio, a model for how such a politician could operate.
Lind also wrote:
Trump's Arpaio pardon sends a message to sheriffs: I'm your
get-out-of-jail-free card; also see:
Lawrence Douglas: Why Donald Trump pardoned the unpardonable Joe Arpaio;
Andrew Rudalevige: Why Trump's pardon of Joe Arpaio isn't like most
Conor Friedersdorf: The Arpaio Pardon Is a Flagrant Assault on Civil
Scott Lemieux: The disturbing lessons of Trump's shameful Arpaio pardon.
Douglas may have the best quote:
What unites these acts of teardown are their cheapness, cynicism and
recklessness. They are cheap: requiring nothing in the way of the hard
work of shaping and negotiating policy. This is a politics of fatigue,
indolence elevated to administrative practice. They are cynical: the
performance of a president-cum-snake-oil-salesman, working to dupe his
credulous audience that his bogus recipes constitute the promised potent
tonic. And they are reckless, profoundly reckless, as they represent a
contempt for the rule of law and for the norms of constitutional
In pardoning Arpaio, our unpresident has undone the principle that
informs the practice of pardon; he has sided with the lawless renegade
against our federal judiciary and the constitution itself.
Also on Arpaio, here's a link to a 2008 story, about how
taxpayers had to pay $1.1 million "to settle another of Sheriff Joe
Arpaio's lawsuits," also "on top of the more than $43 million the
county has paid for the jail lawsuits":
Matt Shuham: 'Arizona Republic' Slams Arpaio Pardon: Trump Made It
Clear Racism 'Is a Goal';
A Phony Murder Plot Against Joe Arpaio Winds Up Costing Taxpayers
By the way, there is a case for presidential pardons. Here's a story
where the power was used constructively:
Ted Gioia: The Jazz Pianist That John F. Kennedy Saved.
Josh Marshall: Trump Is Killing McConnell in Kentucky: Latest PPP
poll gives McConnell an 18% approval rating vs. 74% disapproval -- a
drop which necessarily includes a lot of Republicans who have followed
Trump's lead in blaming McConnell for Senate inaction on Trump agenda
items. Also note that Trump's approval rating in Kentucky is still up
at 60%, so he has way more sway there than nationwide. Still unlikely,
I think, that Trump can convert such dissatisfaction into a viable
primary challenge, but these numbers don't prove that he can't.
Corey Robin: Will Steve Bannon's war tear apart the Republican party?
The right-wing racial populism that once served the conservative cause
so well is now, as even the most conservative Republicans are acknowledging,
getting in its way. Whatever the outcome of the civil war Bannon intends
to fight, it'll be waged against the backdrop of a declining rather than
an ascendant movement, with the tools of yesterday rather than tomorrow.
That is why, having had seven months in the White House to prosecute
his populist war on the Republican establishment -- something Buckley and
his minions could only dream of in 1955 -- Bannon now finds himself staring
into the abyss of a website, hoping to find there a power he couldn't find
in the most powerful office of the world.
Robin also wrote
When Political Scientists Legitimate Torturers, about John Yoo's
featured role in next week's American Political Science Association
get together. Yoo was one of lawyers who rationalized the Bush-Cheney
craving for torture, in a series of legal briefs that were pretty
sadly tortured themselves. Robin cites Victor Klemperer arguing that
the intellectuals who celebrated the Third Reich should be held as
more guilty than the henchmen who merely carried out the crimes.
Indeed, as I recall, there was a special session of the Nuremberg
trials that focused on lawyers and judges. Lawyers like Yoo were
in a position to prevent crimes from happening, and their failure
to do so -- indeed, their active efforts as enablers -- should
never be forgotten.
Dylan Scott: Why Obamacare didn't implode: Specifically, why every
county in the country has at least one insurance company offering private
coverage under ACA, contrary to recently raised alarms. Still lots of
money to be made out there, at least as long as the federal government
keeps paying subsidies. And while counties with no coverage are simply
wasted, being the only insurer in a county is especially profitable.
Matt Taibbi: The Media Is the Villain -- for Creating a World Dumb Enough
for Trump: More on how constant chaos and disaster has been good for
business. The more general charge -- that the media have created the very
conditions in which someone like Trump could become president -- could
use a little more sharpening, but he does get this far:
We learned long ago in this business that dumber and more alarmist
always beats complex and nuanced. Big headlines, cartoonish morality,
scary criminals at home and foreign menaces abroad, they all sell.
We decimated attention spans, rewarded hot-takers over thinkers, and
created in audiences powerful addictions to conflict, vitriol, fear,
self-righteousness, and race and gender resentment.
There isn't a news executive alive low enough to deny that we use
xenophobia and racism to sell ads. Black people on TV for decades were
almost always shirtless and chased by cops, and the "rock-throwing
Arab" photo was a staple of international news sections even before
9/11. And when all else fails in the media world, just show more
cleavage somewhere, and ratings go up, every time.
Donald Trump didn't just take advantage of these conditions. He
was created in part by them. What's left of Trump's mind is like a
parody of the average American media consumer: credulous, self-centered,
manic, sex-obsessed, unfocused, and glued to stories that appeal to his
sense of outrage and victimhood.
We've created a generation of people like this: anger addicts who
can't read past the first page of a book. This is why the howls of
outrage from within the ranks of the news media about Trump's election
ring a little bit false. What the hell did we expect would happen? Who
did we think would rise to prominence in our rage-filled, hyper-stimulated
media environment? Sensitive geniuses?
We spent years selling the lowest common denominator. Now the lowest
common denominator is president. How can it be anything but self-deception
to pretend this is an innocent coincidence?
Paul Woodward comments
much responsibility does the media have for creating Trump?), but
doesn't really get to the heart of the problem. I don't have time to
start unpacking this here.
Jean M Twenge: Have Smartphones Destroyed a Generation? "More comfortable
online than out partying, post-Millennials are safer, physically, than
adolescents have ever been. But they're on the brink of a mental-health
crisis." I've long been impressed with arguments about how technological
change shapes how we view the world -- most memorable was John Berger's
"Moment of Cubism," which attributed the sudden emergence of abstract
art to the extraordinary mechanization circa 1900. As a "baby boomer"
(b. 1950), I noted that all generations had their gaps, but ours seemed
to be exceptionally large, contrasting the despair of depression and war
my parents came of age in to the relative prosperity and security of my
youth -- and, of course, I noted the technological factors, especially
television. Indeed, it's tempting to blame nearly everything bad that's
happened since on television (and, I'd add, its advertising) -- although
more recent social critics have moved on to blaming computers and the
internet, which have become vastly more immersive with the advent of
smart phones. On the other hand, I've learned to lean against most claims
of generational change, recognizing that continuity has a powerful way
of reasserting itself. For instance, when I read this:
My friends and I plotted to get our driver's license as soon as we could,
making DMV appointments for the day we turned 16 and using our newfound
freedom to escape the confines of our suburban neighborhood. . . .
But the allure of independence, so powerful to previous generations,
holds less sway over today's teens, who are less likely to leave the
house without their parents. The shift is stunning: 12th-graders in
2015 were going out less often than eighth-graders did as recently
I think the anomaly here was back in the 1950s/60s, when cars (and,
belatedly, roads) seemed to open up vast new vistas to explore and to
experience. Since then cars have become ordinary and so utilitarian,
while their maintenance costs have become more onerous -- something
to be put off as long as possible. Meanwhile, air travel has become
the portal to new vistas. I suspect her data on dating can be given
a similar explanation. Still, I was struck by this, partly because
the statistics given seem to be so significant:
Girls have also borne the brunt of the rise in depressive symptoms
among today's teens. Boys' depressive symptoms increased by 21 percent
from 2012 to 2015, while girls' increased by 50 percent -- more than twice
as much. The rise in suicide, too, is more pronounced among girls.
Although the rate increased for both sexes, three times as many
12-to-14-year-old girls killed themselves in 2015 as in 2007, compared
with twice as many boys. The suicide rate is still higher for boys, in
part because they use more-lethal methods, but girls are beginning to
close the gap.
If total numbers are very small such a sudden jump might not be
significant, but I suspect it is. I'd be more inclined to look for
causes in the politico-economic sphere: increasing inequality chokes
off opportunity for most people, persistent war generates terror,
and American stupidity on things like climate change is enough to
bum out any sentient being, but those things will hit the young much
longer and harder than I can relate to. I grew up in a time when it
was easy to be optimistic, yet even then my teen years were the most
depressing of my life. Smart phones obviously steal time away from
other things teens used to do, but as someone who had no appreciable
social life back then I'm tempted to think the change may be for the
better. But like all change, the blessings are mixed, and it would
be better if we understood and appreciated that.
Matthew Yglesias: 4 stories that actually mattered this week:
Trump announced a "new" strategy for Afghanistan; Republicans were
consumed with weird infighting; Obamacare's empty counties all got
filled; Health care at a crossroads.
Trump's big mistake on health care was not realizing Republicans were
Democrats' 2018 gerrymandering problem is really bad ("a leading
forecast says they'll get 54% of the votes -- and only 47% of the
Justin Trudeau, unlike Trump, is taking NAFTA renegotiation really
After embracing orthodox Republicanism on all fronts, what's the point
Steve Bannon's "economic nationalism" is total nonsense. The
latter piece could, I think, be better argued, but it's not like
Trump (or even Bannon) has given us anything very substantial to
work with. About the only idea I've heard to advance this thing
called "economic nationalism" was a big tax on selected imports --
what we used to call a tariff -- but that's been squelched by
lobbyists for companies that import lots of stuff, like WalMart.
More simplistically, no one doubts that globalization has both
winners and losers, both inside America and outside. The problem
is our political system caters to winners and deplores losers.
Trump was able to get some votes in 2016 by appearing less part
of that system, but he never offered anything concrete to help
the victims of globalization, and the lobbyists and millionaires
he stocked his administration with aren't going to come up with
I also have problems with "Trump's big mistake," which tries
to credit Trump with wanting something better, at least during
On the campaign trail, he outlined some humane and politically popular
ideas about health care policy like that Medicaid shouldn't be cut and
that the United States should have a system that covers everybody even
if that means the government needs to pay for it. A responsible president
would move beyond peevish anger at congressional Republicans for failing
to help him fulfill that vision and start reaching out to people who can
help him. McConnell and Ryan aren't going to get the job done, but Trump's
failure to even try to work across party lines on health policy is
staggering -- and his anger at Republican leaders only makes it more
The plainly obvious fact is that Trump doesn't care what's in the
Republican Congressional bills, nor did he care what positions he took
during the campaign. Remember his victory celebration when the House
passed the second iteration of Ryan's bill, tweaked to gain right-wing
votes even though it was obvious then that the bill would have to be
scrapped and retooled to have a prayer in the Senate? If Trump cared
about his campaign promises, he would have worked to make the bill
less (not more) malevolent, but he didn't. And quite plainly, the
only complaint he has about McConnell is that his bill failed, making
Trump and the Republicans look weak. This matters not just for his
ego, but because the idea that he's some kind of juggernaut helps
to keep his business allies in line.
For background on the Confederate monuments issue,
Paul Woodward points us to a 2001 book review by
James M McPherson: Southern Comfort, which makes it crystal clear
that the Confederate states seceded to buttress and defend (and ultimately
to promote) their system of race-based slavery. That's shown well in the
quote Woodward plucked out. That much has been clear to me for a long time,
but I was struck by the timeliness (or timelessness) of the following:
As Richards makes clear, Southern politicians did not use this national
power to buttress states' rights; quite the contrary. In the 1830s Congress
imposed a gag rule to stifle antislavery petitions from Northern states.
The Post Office banned antislavery literature from the mail if it was sent
to Southern states. In 1850 Southerners in Congress, plus a handful of
Northern allies, enacted a Fugitive Slave Law that was the strongest
manifestation of national power thus far in American history. In the
name of protecting the rights of slave owners, it extended the long arm
of federal law, enforced by marshals and the army, into Northern states
to recover escaped slaves and return them to their owners.
Senator Jefferson Davis, who later insisted that the Confederacy
fought for the principle of state sovereignty, voted with enthusiasm
for the Fugitive Slave Law. When Northern state legislatures invoked
states' rights and individual liberties against this federal law, the
Supreme Court with its majority of Southern justices reaffirmed the
supremacy of national law to protect slavery (Ableman v. Booth, 1859).
Many observers in the 1850s would have predicted that if a rebellion
in the name of states' rights were to occur, it would be the North
that would rebel.
Of course, having grown up in the '50s and '60s when Senate filibusters
were almost exclusively used to frustrate majority-supported civil rights
bills, it's always been clear to me that "states rights" was never more than
an opportunistic ruse. More recently, it's become clear that Republicans
will exalt the use of any jurisdiction they happen to hold power over --
the most obvious example is how they have taken to using their state
legislative powers to overturn city and county statutes they dislike
(Missouri vs. St. Louis is a leading case-in-point). Most recently, we
see Trump and Sessions attempting to impose broad federal powers on
"sanctuary cities" -- ostensibly to force them to help enforce federal
anti-immigration law, which come to think of it isn't far removed from
the 1850s Fugitive Slave Law.
Sunday, August 20. 2017
Tina Fey got flack for
this skit on Thursday's Saturday Night Live
news special, where she advised people to skip Nazi/White Supremacist
counter-protests and express their frustration by eating cake instead.
I followed her advice and made a pan of extra-rich brownies, but I had
an occasion to honor: Frank Smith was passing through Kansas, returning
home after an AFSCME conference in DC, where he also found time for a
demonstration outside the White House. I fixed a little vegetarian (not
vegan) dinner in his honor: a leek-goat cheese quiche, three Ottolenghi
salads -- spinach with dates, onions, toasted pitas and almonds; roast
eggplant with tahini sauce; sweet potatoes with maple syrup and pecans --
and the brownies. I was so exhausted afterwards I went to bed early and
slept eleven hours. It wasn't so much the work as general world-weariness.
I remember a sense of unease back in 2001 when a friend chirped "we
survived one George Bush; we can survive another." Well, lots of folks
didn't survive that second one, and hardly anyone came out better from
the ordeal. And as you get older, you start to wonder whether you're
ever going to see a better world. Still, cake tastes good. Brownies
with 6 oz. premium unsweetened chocolate even better.
[PS: Also see
Tom Carson: The Brilliance of Tina Fey's Cake Satire, Explained.]
Meanwhile, I offer these links and comments because I don't really
feel up to working on anything more creative or constructive.
The usual scattered links:
Kurt Andersen: How America Lost Its Mind: I can't argue with the
conclusion -- clearly, a huge swath of Americans have lost their minds --
but I'd offer a simpler explanation than the '60s and the internet.
In fact, I'd argue that the '60s at least opened up a vein of critical
thinking in stark contrast to the rampant hypocrisy of the 1950s. That
led directly to the most important revolutions of the post-WWII era:
civil rights and liberties, women's liberation, rejection of war, the
movement for the environment, consumer and worker protections. Also,
the internet help break out of the corporate media stranglehold that
had consolidated in the 1980s. The problem was the 1980s, when a cabal
of conservative businessfolk somehow convinced most people to ignore
reality and pretend it's "morning in America again" -- a deception
that has become increasingly unhinged as right-wing and/or neoliberal
control has proved ever more dysfunctional. Indeed, it's gotten so
bad that the naïveté (and relative egalitarianism) of the 1950s has
started to look good again, not that anyone seriously wants to go
back there. But there's more wrong now than just the notion that
reality and truth are subject to political interpretation. It's
that the political agenda of the upper crust demands deception,
and they have the means to mass-propagate it. All we have to fight
back is critical thinking and what's left of the decentralized
David Dayen: More Trump Populism: DOJ Shuts Down an Operation That Was
Successfully Combatting Consumer Fraud:
The justice department plans to terminate Operation Choke Point, an
Obama-era law enforcement crackdown on scam consumer transactions
that conservatives characterized as an attack on gun sellers and
legal businesses. It concludes one of the more brazen misinformation
efforts in recent political history -- with misinformation triumphing.
. . .
Karl Frisch, executive director of Allied Progress, a consumer
rights group, said in a statement: "Ending this program will make
it easier for financial predators and other unscrupulous industries
to get the resources they need to carry out their deceptive and
frequently unlawful business practices."
Jason Ditz: Trump: Afghan War Decisions Made: Trump's promising
a major speech revealing his Afghanistan strategy on Monday, following
a round of meetings at Camp David mostly attended by hawks, including
mercenary mogul Erik Prince, and excluding Steve ("skeptic of military
escalation") Bannon. I could probably dig up some speculation on this,
but we might as well wait for the ball to drop. Then on Tuesday Trump
flies to Phoenix for his big rally there, a chance to meet up with his
old pal Joe Arpaio and, one assumes, talk about The Wall.
Tara Golshan: Anti-racism protesters totally eclipsed Boston's right-wing
Free Speech rally: I've seen reports of up to 40,000 anti-racism
Mehdi Hasan: Donald Trump Has Been a Racist All His Life -- and He Isn't
Going to Change After Charlottesville:
Consider the first time the president's name appeared on the front page
of the New York Times, more than 40 years ago. "Major Landlord Accused
of Antiblack Bias in City," read the headline of the A1 piece on Oct. 16,
1973, which pointed out how Richard Nixon's Department of Justice had
sued the Trump family's real estate company in federal court over alleged
violations of the Fair Housing Act. . . .
Over the next four decades, Trump burnished his reputation as a bigot:
he was accused of ordering "all the black [employees] off the floor" of
his Atlantic City casinos during his visits; claimed "laziness is a trait
in blacks" and "not anything they can control"; requested Jews "in
yarmulkes" replace his black accountants; told Bryan Gumbel that "a
well-educated black has a tremendous advantage over a well-educated
white in terms of the job market"; demanded the death penalty for a
group of black and Latino teenagers accused of raping a jogger in
Central Park (and, despite their later exoneration with the use of
DNA evidence, has continued to insist they are guilty); suggested a
Native American tribe "don't look like Indians to me"; mocked Chinese
and Japanese trade negotiators by doing an impression of them in broken
English; described undocumented Mexican immigrants as "rapists";
compared Syrian refugees to "snakes"; defended two supporters who
assaulted a homeless Latino man as "very passionate" people "who love
this country"; pledged to ban a quarter of humanity from entering the
United States; proposed a database to track American Muslims that he
himself refused to distinguish from the Nazi registration of German
Jews; implied Jewish donors "want to control" politicians and are all
sly negotiators; heaped praise on the "amazing reputation" of conspiracy
theorist Alex Jones, who has blamed America's problems on a "Jewish
mafia"; referred to a black supporter at a campaign rally as "my
African-American"; suggested the grieving Muslim mother of a slain
U.S. army officer "maybe . . . wasn't allowed" to speak in public
about her son; accused an American-born Hispanic judge of being "a
Mexican"; retweeted anti-Semitic and anti-black memes, white supremacists,
and even a quote from Benito Mussolini; kept a book of Hitler's collected
speeches next to his bed; declined to condemn both David Duke and the Ku
Klux Klan; and spent five years leading a "birther" movement that was bent
on smearing and delegitimizing the first black president of the United
States, who Trump also accused of being the founder of ISIS.
For another background piece on Trump as racist:
Klaus Brinkbäumer: The True Face of Donald Trump.
Janine Jackson: "Trump TV": How the Sinclair Merger Would Move Media
Further Right: Sinclair is looking to take over Tribune Media.
Sarah Jones: Liberals Helped Create Trump's New Bogeyman, the
"Alt-Left": Centrists assume that there must be some mirror-image
faction on the left for every horror they see on the right, hence an
"alt-left" to the white nationalist "alt-right." So when Trump needed
to expand on his "many sides" Charlottesville claim, his apologists
started looking for words to describe his hypothetical villains, and
"alt-left" offered the symmetry they desired, allowing their guarded
denials of the right to serve double duty as attacks on the left. By
the way, self-proclaimed alt-rightists were more likely to refer to
their opponents (a subset of their enemies) as "antifas" (short for
anti-fascists). That at least is a label we can live with. However,
what rankles most about "alt-left" is that it's primarily used by
centrists/liberals trying to score points with conservatives for
their willingness to throw their more principled allies under the
bus (much like a previous generation's red-baiting).
Unlike the term "alt-right," which was coined by white supremacists
to give their age-old movement a modern edge, the "alt-left" is an
insult. As my colleague Clio Chang
wrote in March of liberals who choose to use the term: "A graver
sin is the adoption of a term that was created by conservatives to
smear the left and discredit criticisms of the growing clout of the
It should go without saying, but the left does not promote hate
crimes or commit them. It does not strive for an ethno-state. It is
explicitly anti-racist and feminist. It demands the redistribution of
wealth. You may find that terrifying, but it's not actually terrorism.
And when a horde of white supremacists overran Charlottesville with
their tiki torches and Confederate flags, the left was at the front
lines, defending everyone else's right to freedom. A member of the
left died for those rights. . . .
Liberals often use "alt-left" to describe progressives they consider
rude or with whom they have Twitter beef; it is personal animus disguised
as politics. . . . The function of the term "alt-left" is to collapse the
distinction between the activist left and the racist right. That's why
reactionaries like Sean Hannity use it. That's why Donald Trump has taken
it up. We are likely to hear a lot more about the alt-left in the coming
months and years -- and if liberals continue to use it, they will be doing
the right-wing's work.
Shawn McCreesh, in
Antifa and the 'Alt-Left', traces out the long history of leftists
who specifically focused on opposing Fascist movements, a concern which
dates back to the early days of Fascism and Nazism, and which in the
late 1930s led some Americans to travel to Spain to aid in the fight
against Franco there. I don't know whether there were counter-protests
at pro-Nazi rallies in the US (such as the famous one Trump's father
attended at Madison Square Garden), but there were certainly many people
offended by and opposed to those rallies -- anti-fascism is a stance
which many more people agree with than act upon. After Germany declared
war on the US (and vice versa), American officials started referring to
those individuals as "premature anti-fascists" (I've long thought that
would be a good blog title, although the window of opportunity seems to
be closing). Ever since WWII it's been pretty much impossible to hold an
explicitly Nazi rally in the US (or Europe) without counter-protests.
One might construct a similar history of white supremacists, except
that the immediate threat of violence (at least in the US, especially
in the ex-Confederate states, was always much greater, so there were
fewer direct challenges to the KKK and its ilk. (And while the most
dependable opponents of lynching in the pre-WWII period were American
Communists, I've never heard anyone called a "premature anti-racist.")
The thing is, anti-fascism and anti-racism aren't factions of the left --
those are widespread beliefs and sympathies, and to some extend spread
even beyond the left.
As for the "Alt-Left" in Charlottesville,
Dahlia Lithwick: Here's What Witnesses Saw.
Fred Kaplan: Ugly History Shouldn't Be Beautiful: "What Germany can
teach the US about remembering an ugly past without glorifying it."
Olga Khazan: The Dark Minds of the 'Alt-Right': Draws on an academic
psychology paper surveying "447 self-proclaimed members of the alt-right."
The article doesn't refer to the late-1940s work of Adorno and Horkheimer
that created the "F-scale" -- a measure of affinity to fascism -- but
that's essentially what they reinvented. If you hear about this study,
it will probably be to argue that self-identified "alt-right" members
don't suffer from economic anxiety -- they're mostly just racists with
a persecution complex, and therefore a paranoia about others they see
as being unjustly privileged by the system. That may be true, but the
alt-right in its various guises is a small and marginal splinter of the
public. What Democrats need to worry about is that people who do feel
economic anxiety will buy into the alt-right's paranoia instead of more
reasonable programs. Of course, it would be a big help there to actually
develop some more reasonable programs, and to make them more credible
by not sucking up so shamelessly to the very rich.
Kevin M Levin: Why I Changed My Mind About Confederate Monuments:
This is as good a place as any to start as any. I was ten when the
Civil War centennial started and I was very interested in history,
so the Civil War made a big impression on me. As a dutiful Kansan,
I never doubted the justness of the Union cause, and by then I was
beginning to comprehend the evils the South had perpetrated, both
in slavery and in the later Jim Crow period. Still, we frequently
visited Arkansas and Oklahoma back then -- my mother's grandfather
and great-grandfather had fought for the Union but after the war
settled in Arkansas, so I had relatives both there and in Oklahoma.
And one thing that always puzzled me was why there seemed to be a
Southern cannon or other monument in every town square in Oklahoma,
which wasn't part of the Confederacy nor even a state until 1908.
I knew that monuments were signposts of history, and respected that,
but in Oklahoma that history was clearly fake. It took me a while
to understand that the monuments were part of a political movement,
one that could be called the Counter-Reconstruction but these days
is more quaintly known as Jim Crow -- the often-violent restoration
of white supremacy in the former slave states (more than just the
Confederate states, which is why you see so many Southern markers
in border states like Maryland, Kentucky, Missouri, and Oklahoma).
But the great era of Southern monument-building ebbed long ago,
and has been in retreat along with the racist policies it was
meant to foster. As Southern racists switched political parties
from Goldwater on, their fetishism for the Confederate flag and
generals should have waned, but we saw little evidence of that
until 2015, when a flag-waver massacred nine in a South Carolina
church, and Governor Nikki Haley took the lead on lowering the
Confederate flag. Since then there's been a broad push to mop up
all sorts of racist trash left over from the Civil War/Jim Crow
eras, to the extent that nowadays the last folks defending the
stuff are unregenerate racists -- a group that sadly features
I might not have cared either way before, but
the crowd that came out to defend Robert E. Lee in Charlottesville
convinced me that all such monuments have to come down, and the
sooner the better: these are people way beyond deplorable, and
they should be denied any hint of victory. [Note that former
Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson says pretty much the
Confederate Statues Are Now 'Rallying Points' for Hate Groups.]
As Levin notes: "The
national debate over the monuments' future is not unlike what
happened in Prague and other cities at the end of the Cold War.
And I hope they meet the same fate." He could just as easily
have mentioned Saddam Hussein's statues.
For another example of how monuments and naming are used to
shape (pervert really) political space, look at the group that
has been working nonstop to institutionalize Ronald Reagan's
name in every nook and cranny of the country. Hopefully some
day he, too, will be as stripped from the current world as
Joseph Stalin. Of course, like Stalin (and Robert E. Lee)
he'll never be erased from history -- which, for students, is
full of such cautionary tales.
Robinson Meyer: What Kind of Monuments Does President Trump Value?
Obviously, he likes those Confederate statues -- mementos of a past
when most white people were as racist as he still is. But it's more
than a little ironic that at the same time he's defending monuments
to notorious Americans, he's also "threatening to undo as many as 40
conservation parks" -- aka, National Monuments. Thanks to a law that
Teddy Roosevelt signed in 1906, the president can designate any piece
of public land as a National Monument. Clinton and Obama used this
law a number of times (as did both Roosevelts), but occasionally
land so designated is coveted by oil and/or mining companies, and
nothing seems to rival profits in Trump's aesthetic sense. By the
way, the article includes some gorgeous pictures of endangered
National Monuments, plus one picture of a Nathan Bedford Forrest
that must count among the world's ugliest (without even factoring
its subject in).
Justin Miller: Paying for Trump's Tax Cuts Would Devastate the Poor:
It's not just who pays less taxes ("90 percent of the taxpayers in the
top 1 percent will get a pretty big tax cut") but also who loses out in
the inevitable spending cuts needed to offset the tax cuts.
Jonathan Ofir: Trump uses Barcelona attacks for incitement to mass murder
of Muslims: While Trump struggled with the facts when a white right-wing
terrorist struck in Charlottesville, he had no problems at all identifying
Muslim terrorists in Barcelona, nor did he make any effort to blame the
victims there, as he had in Virginia. Ofir's title is more sensational
than the one Yglesias uses below, but it does capture the gist of his
Alex Pareene: Charlottesville Was a Preview of the Future of the Republican
Party: Key argument here is that the alt-right is the only group
successfully recruiting young people to the Republican Party, so that's
where future party leaders will come from. I'm not sure I buy that,
given that the rich have never had much trouble hiring help, and they
have a nice patronage system even if they can't get you elected.
Aja Romano: The President's Committee on the Arts and Humanities
resigns, urging resistance against Trump: All 17 members signed
the resignation letter. Not a major rebuke, as all were appointed by
Obama, so Trump may not have realized that PCAH even existed.
Heather Boushey: How the Radical Right Played the Long Game and Won:
Book review of Nancy McLean's Democracy in Chains: The Deep History
of the Radical Right's Stealth Plan for America -- primarily about
economist James McGill Buchanan. I've picked up a copy. Hope to get to
Mark Joseph Stern: Joe Arpaio Illegally Tortured Latinos. Of Course
Trump Wants to Pardon Him. The former Republican Sheriff of
Maricopa County, Arizona (Phoenix), a long-time grandstanding
anti-Latino bigot, was recently convicted of criminal contempt
for repeatedly failing to respect civil rights. He was an early
Trump supporter, and several reports have Trump granting him a
pardon -- perhaps at Trump's planned big rally in Phoenix next
[Arpaio] set up "tent cities" to house overflowing jail population
and boasted that they were actual "concentration camps." In the summer,
the heat in these facilities reached 145 degrees Fahrenheit; inmates'
shoes literally melted. Arpaio told the inmates not to complain,
declaring: "It's 120 degrees in Iraq and the soldiers are living in
tents and they didn't commit any crimes, so shut your mouths."
In fact, many of these inmates had not yet been convicted of a
crime -- but Arpaio treated all detainees as though they had already
been found guilty. He introduced a number of schemes designed to
humiliate inmates, including chain gangs for women and juveniles,
and a live webcast that broadcast video of jailed pretrial detainees
on the internet. One camera captured the toilet in the women's holding
cell. The 9th Circuit ultimately blocked these webcasts, but not
before millions of people had tuned in.
Arpaio also worked with former Maricopa County Attorney Andrew
Thomas to investigate and prosecute their political enemies. Together,
Arpaio and Thomas went after judges who ruled against them, attorneys
who opposed them in court, and even a journalist who covered them
critically for a local paper. The county wound up paying out tens of
millions of dollars in settlement money to Arpaio and Thomas' victims,
and Thomas was disbarred. Arpaio famously investigated President
Barack Obama's birth certificate, as well, and concluded that it
A pardon for Arpaio not only condones this sort of behavior,
it promises a "get out of jail card" to others who break the law
in ways that align with Trump's prejudices.
Matt Taibbi: Fire Steve Bannon: This came out on Thursday, a day
before Bannon was actually fired. His reasoning is sound, although
that doesn't really explain why Bannon was actually fired.
The list of nitwits in the Trump administration is long. Betsy DeVos,
in charge of education issues, seems capable of losing at tic-tac-toe.
Ben Carson thought the great pyramids of Egypt were grain warehouses.
Rick Perry, merely in charge of the nation's nuclear arsenal, probably
has post-it notes all over his office to remind him what things are:
telephone, family photo, souvenir atomic-reactor paperweight, etc.
Lots of dunces, but chief strategist Steve Bannon, sadly, isn't one
of them. The intellectual leader of the alt-right movement is no genius --
nobody with his political views could be -- but neither is he an idiot.
He's one of the few people in that White House with even a primitive
grasp of long-term strategy, . . .
But Bannon is the one person in that White House who we know for
sure both embraces a white supremacist ideology and has a vision for
how to implement it. The mere threat of that, that Trump's political
energy might somehow be married to a sober strategy, is terrifying
and unacceptable. Bannon saved Trump's political career once. He can't
be allowed to do it again; he has to go, and finally let Trump drown
on his own.
Taibbi had two stories to report on. One was to review how Bannon
helped turn Trump's campaign around, leading it to improbable victory.
The other was a report by
Robert Kuttner: Steve Bannon, Unrepentant, which is probably
what got Bannon fired, not so much for any particular gaffe as
because Bannon stuck his neck out just enough to get it chopped
off. We started hearing rumors about Bannon being out back on
Monday, which seemed odd because Trump's off-the-rails appearance
that day seemed like his most Bannon moment ever. Bannon clearly
had enemies within the White House: especially the Goldman-Sachs
crowd running the NEC and Treasury, and the hawks trying to dig
a deeper hole in Afghanistan (and Syria and Korea and so forth).
Sure, any of them could also have found Bannon's racism a little
too uncircumspect, but those other issues affected business, not
just optics -- and frankly they had given up any claim to shame
when they signed up to work for Trump.
Two takeaways from the Kuttner article: first, Bannon's main
preoccupation is starting a major trade war with China, and he's
willing to rattle sabres against China to get his way (on the
other hand, he views military action against North Korea as
hopeless and foolish, and he doesn't see China helping there --
he cites a recent Kuttner article,
US vs. North Korea: The Winner? China, as the reason for
his call; and second, he trashes the Charlottesville alt-right
("it's losers. It's a fringe element. . . . These guys are a
collection of clowns"). The latter may make you wonder why he
was reportedly elated when Trump came out defending Nazis and
white supremacists, but I suspect that's because he thinks that
a big part of Trump's appeal is his readiness to say things that
piss off the mainstream media -- to his base, that establishes
him as honest and forthright, as someone unwilling to read canned
bullshit from a teleprompter.
Some more Steve Bannon links:
Ashley Parker et al.: Trump gets rid of Stephen Bannon, a top proponent
of his nationalist agenda: Stresses that Kelly got Bannon fired for
being divisive, but here are some interesting quotes on divisions:
[Bannon] became fixated in recent months on trade and immigration issues,
and he had a large dry-erase board in his office that served as a checklist
for promises in those areas. But some of his ideas -- such as a proposal
to raise the top tax rate on the wealthiest Americans -- were easily batted
away by other senior advisers in the White House.
Bannon had been advocating internally against sending additional troops
to Afghanistan, putting him at odds with national security adviser H.R.
McMaster and others. Yet he was excluded from a South Asia strategy session
Trump convened at Camp David on Friday with nearly two dozen senior
Bannon has told associates in recent days that if he were to leave
the White House, the conservative populist movement that lifted Trump
in last year's campaign would be at risk. One person close to him said
that the coalition would amount to "Democrats, bankers and hawks."
Bannon also predicted that Trump would eventually turn back to him and
others who share the president's nationalist instincts, especially on
There's a link here to an important article that came out in March,
essential for understanding Bannon and his political vision:
Matea Gold: The Mercers and Stephen Bannon: How a populist power base
was funded and built. During his campaign, Trump essentially became
a vehicle for Mercer and Bannon and had a knack for selling their vision,
but he never built any supporting organization, so once he was elected
he fell back on whatever the Republicans already had, which idea-wise
was a complete betrayal of Bannon's populist promise.
Zack Beauchamp: Steve Bannon tried to destroy "globalism." It destroyed
Tara Golshan: With Bannon out, will Breitbart News go to war with the
Trump administration? Threats abound, and there will certainly be
some kind of push against Bannon's enemies in the White House, who
will be blamed as Trump continues to fail to deliver on many of his
alt-right campaign promises. Still, my guess is that what happens
depends mostly on Bannon's billionaire sugar daddy, Robert Mercer --
no reason to think he won't continue to be influential in the Trump
administration as long as he wants to be (or thinks it worthwhile --
it's already beginning to look like a lost cause). [PS: Bannon was
welcomed back at Breitbart; see:
Bannon Returns to Breitbart Where He Plans to Keep Boosting Trump; also
Trump Thanks Steve Bannon, Cheers On His Return to Breitbart News.
Key quote there: "Bannon said that he will continue to fight for Trump's
agenda from the outside." Of course, Bannon's view of "Trump's agenda"
is uniquely his own -- literally -- and the "real" Trump is bound to
disappoint him, though he'll have plenty of opportunities to blame the
people surrounding Trump. Expect to hear a lot about how it's better
to have someone like Bannon "inside the tent pissing out, vs. outside
Rosie Gray: Bannon Is 'Going Nuclear'
Mehdi Hasan: Steve Bannon Is Gone, but His Bigotry Stays in the White
House: Argues that Bannon's fatal flaw wasn't in-fighting and sure
wasn't ideological, just an ego clash with "the Narcissist-in-Chief":
Thanks to relentless leaking from inside the White House, we have known
for some time that Trump has been bothered by the rise and rise of
Bannon. He was annoyed by the Time magazine cover story that asked
whether the chief strategist was now "the second most powerful man
in the world." He was irritated by the #PresidentBannon hashtag on
Twitter and upset over the SNL sketch showing Bannon running the
White House while the president sits at a kid's desk playing with
toys. And, in recent days, Trump was angered by the much-discussed
new book by Joshua Green, Devil's Bargain, which suggests
that it was the former Breitbart boss who paved the way for Trump's
shock victory over Hillary Clinton. "That fucking Steve Bannon
taking credit for my election," Trump recently told a friend,
according to BuzzFeed News.
Ryan Lizza: The Rise and Fall of Steve Bannon: Interesting bit
of background here, with Bannon in Shanghai in 2008 giving up on a
failed business venture:
Bannon was looking for his next reinvention. "I came back right before
the 2008 election and saw this phenomenon called Sarah Palin," he told
me last year. The neo-populist movement that Trump eventually rode to
victory was being born in the waning days of that campaign. Bannon
thought that Republicans, who had become the party of tax cuts and
free-market libertarian philosophy, exemplified by people like Paul
Ryan, didn't yet have the right vocabulary to speak to its own base.
"The Republicans would not talk about anything related to reality,"
he told me. "There was all this fucking Austrian school of economic
Bannon started making what are essentially crude propaganda films
about people and issues on the new populist right, including ones
about Palin, Ronald Reagan, Michele Bachmann, Phyllis Schlafly, and
the Tea Party. He became a fixture on the conservative-conference
circuit and befriended Andrew Breitbart, a former blogger and then
a new-media entrepreneur who was the hidden talent behind the success
of both the Drudge Report and the Huffington Post. Bannon helped
Breitbart raise money for Breitbart News Network, including a
ten-million-dollar investment from the Mercer family, which during
this period emerged as a crucial patron for the populist right.
When Breitbart died, in March, 2012, Bannon took over editorial
control as well. Traffic exploded, from eleven million page views
per month to two hundred million. "Frankly that's why, when Breitbart
puts its fucking gun sights on you, your life changes," Bannon
bragged to me once.
In 2013, Bannon and Steven Miller were pushing Jeff Sessions to
run for president. The piece doesn't explain how the trio settled
on Trump. By the way, I'm pretty sure that Mercer's real politics
are closer to the Kochs and the Austrians, but that he supports
Bannon (and Trump) because he recognizes the need to cater to the
Republican base, and because he's sure he can shut his hirelings
down before they do any real harm to the rich. I'm reminded here
of Robert Paxton's argument in The Anatomy of Fascism: that
fascist movements rise in democratic countries by offering a popular
base to the aristocratic/antidemocratic right. The rub there is that
no matter how subservient they promise to be, fascists have their
own agenda, one that can totally wreck nations. Bannon fits this
model perfectly -- not least in thinking of Trump and Mercer not
as patrons but as tools for his own glory. Lizza has written several
other pieces on Bannon:
How Steve Bannon Conquered CPAC -- and the Republican Party (Feb. 24),
Can Steve Bannon Save Trumpcare? (Mar. 17), and
Firing Steve Bannon Won't Change Donald Trump (Aug. 15).
Pter Maass: Steve Bannon said he learned to fear Muslime when he
visited Pakistan. Except he was probably in Hong Kong.
Jeremy W Peters/Michael M Grynbaum: Steve Bannon, Back on the Outside,
Prepares His Enemies List: Of course he has an enemies list. He
defines his very being by who he hates.
Wil S Hylton: Down the Breitbart Hole: Long Sunday Times
article, probably seemed like a good idea when it was commissioned
but has been more/less overtaken by events, now that Bannon is out
of the White House and returning to Breitbart.
Asawin Suebsaeng: Seb Gorka's Fate 'Extremely Uncertain' as His Boss
Bannon Is Ousted: I'd say it's pretty much inevitable that Gorka,
who worked for Bannon at Breitbart, will be axed soon. Some people
think Steven Miller has deeper ties to Trump so may last longer. I'd
say Miller's more salient trait is his extreme idolatry of Trump and
how readily he's able to contort himself to Trump's every whim, but
those traits also make him redundant and superfluous.
Matthew Yglesias: Donald Trump's tumultuous week, explained.
The real driver of regional inequality in America;
Trump calls for the United States to imitate fake war crimes to
The huge problem with Trump comparing Robert E. Lee to George
7 things Republicans could do to check Trump without ditching
The Trump Tango is tiresome and pointless;
Rich CEOs are the big winners of Trump's race war;
The real "deep state" sabotage is happening at the Fed.
From the "Rich CEOs" piece:
Trump embraces a politics of racial conflict because it works for him.
As Bloomberg's Joshua Green recounts in his new book Devil's Bargain:
Steve Bannon, Donald Trump, and the Storming of the Presidency,
candidate Trump shrugged off media and political attention to his
dalliances with the unsavory racist elements of the alt-right. "We
polled the race stuff and it doesn't matter," Bannon told Green in
September; "it doesn't move anyone who isn't already in [Clinton's]
The fundamental issue is that the United States contains very few
committed and vocal white supremacists (turnout for the Virginia rally
was dwarfed by counterprotests nationwide). But it does contain an
awful lot of white people. To the extent that politics is seen as a
crude zero-sum struggle between racial groups, most of them are going
to back the side they perceive as supporting the interests of white
Yet the reality is that while Trump is inflicting tangible
disproportionate harm to racial minorities across the country, he's
not doing anything substantive to advance the interests of his typical
white supporter either. He's loudly embraced a brand of toxic racial
politics while quietly creating a narrow winner's circle of C-suite
executives and inheritors of vast fortunes. And it's the loyalty of
the business class, not of neo-Nazi street brawlers, that ultimately
ensures Trump's position of power and is in turn receiving its due
rewards. . . .
Trump and congressional Republicans, for example, deployed the
Congressional Review Act to roll back many of the Obama administration's
2016 regulatory actions. Thanks to Trump:
- It's easier for mining companies to dump pollution into streams.
- It's easier for oil companies to bribe foreign governments.
- It's easier for broadband internet providers to sell their customers'
- But it's now harder for state governments to set up low-fee retirement
accounts so people could save money without getting ripped off.
Trump doesn't tweet about it much, but it turns out that making it
harder for people to avoid financial rip-offs is something of a passion
for the Trump administration. He has, for example, gutted enforcement
of an Obama-era rule that would have made it illegal for financial
advisers to deliberately rip off their customers.
None of this, obviously, has anything to do with helping white
people any more than the Trump Federal Communications Commission's
ongoing efforts to dismantle net neutrality or the Trump Treasury's
efforts to reopen corporate tax loopholes are motivated by concern
for the welfare of the European-American population. At the behest
of the chemical industry, the Trump Environmental Protection Agency
has approved the continued sale of a pesticide that poisons children's
brains, and at the behest of for-profit colleges, the Trump Education
Department is rolling back regulations offering debt relief to students
misled by scam schools.
The winners here are not "anxious" working-class heartlanders, but
the owners and managers of big companies who have the government off
their backs and barely even need to defend their stances in public
with Trump's antics sucking up the bulk of attention.
Angelo Young: After more executives flee, Trump's advisory board, White
House claims he planned to disband the council anyway. Related:
Matthew Sheffield: Trump's big business CEOs are horrified by his Confederate
excuses -- but his religious advisers have nothing but praise.
I wrote a bit recently about how my parents voted for George Wallace
in 1968 (not a post, probably in the notebook): they had soured on the
Vietnam War (after the next-door neighbor kid was killed there, and my
brother and I turned hard against the war), intensely distrusted Dick
Nixon, and had no particular fondness for Hubert Humphrey. They weren't
particularly racist -- my father still resented the South from the Civil
War (his grandfather was named Abraham Lincoln Hull, his father Robert
Lincoln), and my mother hailed from an all-white Republican stronghold
in Arkansas (her grandfather fought for the union before moving from
Ohio to the Ozarks) but they weren't very sensitive about race either,
and Wallace's "little guy" message appealed to them. I grew up with
Republican leanings, but the war pushed me away from conventional
politics. In 1968 I was very enthusiastic about Gene McCarthy's primary
challenge to LBJ, and continued to support him through the convention.
So I was trying to remember who I preferred in the 1968 election --
certainly not Nixon or Wallace, and while I probably wound up hoping
Humphrey would win, I never thought of myself as supporting him. The
most likely answer to my question died last week: Dick Gregory. I had
long enjoyed his stand-up comedy, and when he ventured into politics
in 1967-68, I bought and read his book Write Me In. I was too
young to vote in 1968, but certainly would have written him in. He
would have made a better "first black president" than the one we
wound up having. I never noticed him much after 1968, but according
Wikipedia page he remain active politically. And I'm sure he
could still be funny (when he wasn't dead serious, and sometimes
when he was). Here's an
I also see that
Jerry Lewis has died. I was a huge fan, starting
about as far back as I can remember. By that time Lewis had already
split from Dean Martin (who I later loved for other reasons). I can't
say as I ever noticed him much after his 1968-69 talk show (aside
from The King of Comedy in 1982), but he was the funniest
person in the world for the first decade I was conscious of.
Sunday, August 13. 2017
Laura came downstairs yesterday playing
Chris Hedges Best Speech in 2017 so I wound up listening to a fair
chunk of it. We all know that Hedges in 2007 was a Premature Antifascist --
a term US "intelligence agencies" used to describe Americans who turned
against Hitler before Pearl Harbor -- when he published his book
American Fascists: The Christian Right and the War on America,
but is he still "premature" in 2017? The world he decries sounds an
awful like the one we have come to live in. If there is a common theme
to the stories below, it's that Trump and his crew have moved decisively
into a fascist orbit: one that worships naked power while practicing
shameless greed. Of course, Trump didn't invent this world. He's just
risen to the top, like scum in a stockpot.
Brief scattered links this week:
Andrew J Bacevich: Yes Congress, Afghanistan Is Your Vietnam.
Also by Bacevich:
The Great Hysteria. The latter piece goes beyond his specialty area
(losing hopeless wars) to spell out a political agenda which in its
diagnosis of the symptoms afflicting America is remarkably similar to
that of Hedges above (except, being a conservative, he doesn't blame
Yet these advances have done remarkably little to reduce the alienation
and despair pervading a society suffering from epidemics of chronic
substance abuse, morbid obesity, teen suicide, and similar afflictions.
Throw in the world's highest incarceration rate, a seemingly endless
appetite for porn, urban school systems mired in permanent crisis, and
mass shootings that occur with metronomic regularity, and what you have
is something other than the profile of a healthy society.
He then follows this up with a ten-point political wish list, including
a couple proposals I disagree with (mandate a balanced federal budget,
return to a draft-based military) and other more sensible points sure to
be rejected by his fellow "conservatives" (e.g., "enact tax policies
that will promote greater income equality").
Dean Baker: The Zika Vaccine: The Miracle of Government-Funded Research.
Also by Baker:
Breitbart Strikes Out in Trying to Give Donald Trump Credit for Stock Market
Run Up. And this tweet, introducing:
Why Is It So Hard for Intellectuals to Envision Alternative Forms of
The upward redistribution from globalization was not an accidental outcome;
it was the point of globalization.
Doug Bandow: North Korea Does Not Trust America for a Pretty Good
Reason. For more history, see:
Bruce Cummings: Americans once carpet-bombed North Korea. It's time
to remember that past.
Celisa Calacal: These two Supreme Court cases protect police who use
Marjorie Cohn: A Preemptive Strike on North Korea Would Be Catastrophic
and Illegal: Well, the second point is bound to fall on deaf ears
in Washington, where hardly anyone has any fear of or respect for
international law. I'm not sure that Americans ever had any such fear,
but for many years after 1945 they at least gave lip service to the
idea of international law, and took some effort to pretend to respect
it. I think this shift started with the developing Cold War in the
late-1940s, as the US found it couldn't use the UN to automatically
rubber-stamp its policies, but it was in the 1990s when the US stopped
going through the motions. The obvious signal point was when Bush
refused to sign the International Criminal Court treaty, but Bush's
failure to even consider responding to the 9/11 terror attack via
international law shows us how far Washington had already crawled
up its own asshole. The two world wars led many people to believe
that a strong system of international law was necessary to prevent
further wars and genocides -- a goal which stalled under the Cold
War, but should have been rekindled after the Soviet Union ended
and the free market capitalism had become ubiquitous. Indeed, the
mass slaughters in Yugoslavia and Rwanda spurred many nations in
that direction, but the neocon ascendancy in the US derailed those
efforts, and it's rare today even to find Democrats standing up
for the UN, the World Court, and (especially) the ICC.
There are still people in Washington who recognize Cohn's point
about "catastrophic" -- and they're the only real defense we have
against Trump's impulsiveness and recklessness. Possibly the most
definitive statement of the hopelessness of Trump's evident policy
of huffing and bluffing North Korea into submission is
Jeffrey Lewis: The Game Is Over, and North Korea Has Won.
Esme Cribb: Trump TV Ad Attacks Democrats, Media as 'The President's
Enemies': Several things about this ad campaign are unprecedented:
I've never before seen a president actively campaigning for re-election
six months after taking office, but Trump started a few months back --
especially raising money, in stark contrast to his "self-financed" 2016
campaign; Trump is actively building a "cult of personality" while at
the same time claiming a false equivalency between his supporters and
the nation; he takes every criticism of his program as a personal attack
and tries to turn it into an attack on the nation, who in turn are at
least implicitly implored to lash back; he adds an air of whininess,
pleading to be allowed to be the dictator he imagined being president
to be. In some ways I wish Obama had taken this tack -- if anyone ever
had just cause to complain about vilification and obstructionism it was
he, but he never would have proclaimed himself "our president," even
though his efforts to be "a president of all the people" left his own
Yochi Dreazen: The North Korean crisis won't end until Donald Trump
John Feffer: Welcome to 2050. The 'Climate Monster' Has Arrived.
Katie Fite: Grouse Down: Focuses mostly on the sage grouse population
in California, but her description of the political pressures has also
been echoed here in Kansas, where Republicans have all but campaigned
for the extermination of prairie hens -- a nuisance, evidently, to
the local oil industry. Also, note that grouse hunting is a controversy
in the UK:
Mark Avery: Grouse shooting: half a million reasons why time's up
for this appalling 'sport'.
Margaret Flowers: Improved Medicare for All Is the Answer: A
rebuttal to the recent Nation article,
Joshua Holland: Medicare for All Isn't the Solution for Universal
Health Care. Flowers answers many point by positing an Improved
Medicare for All Act. The real differences have to do with political
will, especially in the face of special interests that make a lot of
money off the current system, and stand to keep making more and more.
One may critique Single Payer/Medicare for All schemes for not being
able to fix all of America's many health care problems. But private
insurance companies add very little value for their cut of the pie,
which makes them the easiest target for reform, and therefore the
obvious place to start. But also see:
Steven Rosenfeld: Eleven Steps for States to Rein in Health Care
Costs While Building Toward Single-Payer. Even if you support
single-payer, here is a list of things that can be done (many at
the state level) to help manage cost -- things that contribute to
providing more/better actual care, which is what we're really
- Create a state-chartered body to process all medical bills with
a single form.
- Require all private insurers to offer three uniform plans with
- Create a single state agency to buy drugs for pharmacies and
- Restore hospital price regulation so all facilities charge the
- File anti-trust legal actions against monopolistic hospital
- Put price controls in medical group contracts with private
- Reject spending caps for hospitals and patients as that hurts
- Ban drug company payments to doctors by their sales reps.
- Issue public reports on the few doctors causing most medical
- Integrate other social safety net services with providing
- Give the state subpoena power to review claims and find fraud.
Also note what's going on in Maryland:
Ann Jones: Medicare for All in One State.
Thomas Frank: Finally, Democrats are looking in the mirror. That's
reason for optimism.
Ryan Grim: Gulf Government Gave Secret $20 Million Gift to DC Think
Tank: That would be the UAE (United Arab Emirates) and the MEI
(Middle East Institute).
Gabriel Hetland: Venezuela May Be on the Brink of Civil War:
I'm having a tough time getting a coherent explanation of just what's
the problem with Venezuela these days, and this doesn't answer many
of my questions, but it's a start. (There's also Hetland's
Why Is Venezuela in Crisis?, which cites government blundering but
also a violent opposition supported by Washington, and the pre-election
Greg Grandin: What Is to Be Done in Venezuela?) Of course, never
underestimate the power of Donald Trump to make things even worse:
Ben Jacobs: Trump threatens 'military option' in Venezuela as crisis
David Leonhardt: Our Broken Economy, in One Simple Chart:
The chart measures income growth at every percentile starting with 5th,
with additional subdivisions for the 99th, at two points in time: 1980
and 2014. There's also an animated chart showing the intervening years,
which the lower percentiles being depressed before the top percentile
really spikes after 2000. A third chart shows that average income
growth dropped from 2.0% in 1980 to 1.4% in 2014, with the median
dropping far more than that -- they don't pull the number out, but
the median in 2014 is so depressed that only the top 15 percentile
receive even the reduced average income growth.
Conor Lynch: Emmanuel Macron's Sudden Collapse: French 'Radical
Centrist' Now as Unpopular as Trump: Oh my, that was an awfully
short honeymoon. Could it be that shameless neoliberalism isn't all
that popular? I've seen columns by so-called centrists speculating
that Macron's model could be translated to the UK and even to the
US. If the US had a top-two runoff like France, I could imagine a
fairly charismatic independent (someone like a younger Ross Perot,
say, but not Michael Bloomberg) getting close to Macron's first
round vote (23.8%), then beating either Trump or Clinton in the
runoff (although it's unlikely that either Trump or Clinton would
sink that low).
Bill McKibben: The Trump administration's solution to climate change:
ban the term. And for more on language chance on Trump government
Oliver Milman/Sam Morris: Trump is deleting climate change, one site
at a time.
David McCoy: Even a 'Minor' Nuclear War Would Be an Ecological Disaster
Felt Throughout the World: Just in case you were wondering.
Peter Montgomery: Trump's dominionist prayer warriors: Inside the
"Prophetic Order of the United States":
In the early morning hours of November 9, 2016, God told Frank Amedia
that with Donald Trump having been elected president, Amedia and his
fellow Trump-supporting "apostles" and "prophets" had a new mission.
Thus was born POTUS Shield, a network of Pentecostal leaders devoted
to helping Trump bring about the reign of God in America and the
world. . . .
POTUS Shield's leaders view politics as spiritual warfare, part of
a great struggle between good and evil that is taking place continuously
in "the heavenlies" and here on earth, where the righteous contend with
demonic spirits that control people, institutions and geographic regions.
They believe that Trump's election has given the church in America an
opportunity to spark a spiritual Great Awakening that will engulf the
nation and world. And they believe that a triumphant church establishing
the kingdom of God on earth will set the stage for Christ's return. Amedia
says that the "POTUS" in the group's name does not refer only to the
president of the United States, but also to a new "prophetic order of
the United States" that God is establishing.
Chris Hedges: What Trump Owes America's Christian Fascists.
Sarah Newell: Is Foxconn a Fantasy? The High Cost of Bringing
Manufacturing Jobs to Wisconsin. Trump and Gov. Scott Walker
are bully on a deal where giant Chinese electronics Foxconn
would build a factory, adding 3000 jobs in Wisconsin, maybe
13000 eventually. All they need in return:
In order for this plan to become a reality, the Wisconsin state
legislature would need to approve $3 billion in corporate incentives
to defray capital costs and workforce development costs. The math is
startling: Wisconsin will pay out $230,000 in tax dollars for each
one of the 13,000 jobs. This means Wisconsin taxpayers will shell
out $66,000 per year to subsidize jobs that will pay less than the
state average income.
Trita Parsi: For Netanyahu and the Saudis, Opposing Diplomacy With
Iran Was Never About Enrichment: An excerpt from Parsi's new
book, Losing an Enemy: Obama, Iran and the Triumph of Diplomacy.
I suspect that the real reason both Israel and Saudi Arabia decided
to take such rejectionist stands against Iran was that they realized
that they could push American buttons by doing so -- most Americans
have harbored deep-seated grudges against Iran ever since the fall
of the Shah and the Hostage Crisis -- thereby elevating their own
importance in Washington's eyes. They've doubled down since the Iran
deal, and while leaving the deal intact (so far), both countries have
effectively increased their influence in Washington (especially with
William Rivers Pitt: We Have Been at War in Iraq for 27 Years:
It started in 1990, when Saddam Hussein misinterpreted ambiguous
signals from a US ambassador as a go-ahead to invade Kuwait, an
oil-rich sheikdom that, following American inclinations, had made
large loans to Iraq for its war against Iran -- loans it then
insisted Iraq must repay. The first George Bush thought he'd get
a nice political boost from a quick little war, but sold it by
comparing Saddam to Hitler, digging a hole for political himself
when the initial Gulf War came up short -- a hole which Clinton
defended and deepend through his sanctions and no-fly zones until
the Bush II decided to fix it by plunging the US into a massive
occupation morphing into a civil war which led to ISIS and Obama
re-entering Iraq. Throughout this whole quarter-century, official
Washington doctrine has blocked out any and all dissent against
the ever-expanding sinkhole of Middle Eastern carnage fed by the
massive introduction of US troops in 1990. Actually, one can
point to a few earlier signs of the wars to come: US inheritance
of British outposts around the Gulf, Carter's declaration that
the Persian Gulf is an US security area, Reagan's installation
of American troops in Lebanon, and US support for proxy wars
against Afghanistan and Iran. Any way you slice this, the only
Americans with any clue as to how this might go awry were the
antiwar protesters. And note that while Pitt focuses on Iraq,
US involvement in Afghanistan started in 1979 -- 38 years ago --
and is at least as far from resolution (never mind success)
there as it is in Iraq, Syria, Libya, Yemen, Somalia, anywhere
else you find American drones and/or special forces.
Aja Romano: Google fird "politically incorrect" engineer has
sparked a broad ideological debate: Actually, I only see a
relatively narrow debate here, which is corporations can fire
employees for what we would otherwise deem constitutionally
protected free speech. I would favor more such protections,
but these days it's hard to stop a company -- especially one
without a union -- from firing anyone for any reason. The two
most obvious reasons for firing this particular engineer are
that he's very stupid, and that by exposing that stupidity
he's embarrassed the company. But I don't see him engendering
any serious debate on his claim that women aren't competent
at software engineering. More on this:
Cynthia Lee: I'm a woman in computer science. Let me ladysplain
the Google memo to you.
Anis Shivani: How we got from George W. Bush to Donald Trump: Liberals
had more to do with it than we'd like to think: Big thought piece
which is probably a bit harsh on Obama but reminds us how extreme the
Bush-Cheney agenda was, and how little of it was rolled back by Obama.
We need to remind ourselves that the early years of the Bush administration
felt utterly radical, that the defense of freedom of speech and mobility,
of the civility and respect that make a constitutional democracy work, never
felt so threatened, never felt more precious and worth saving, as in those
years. That feeling, unfortunately, is gone now, despite Trumpism and
whatever else will follow, because the anti-constitutional innovations
have become normalized. This happened particularly because the succeeding
Democratic administration did not take any steps to counter, philosophically,
any of the constitutional violations, or even the disrespect for science,
reason and empiricism that had deeply saturated the public discourse.
I think it's fair to say that Obama left most of his anti-Bush critique
on the campaign trail. I'm not sure how to partition the blame for that
between his wholesale adoption of Clintonites in his administration and
his innate conservatism, with its emphasis on projecting continuity and
stability. Clearly, he missed the opportunity to do important things:
to roll back the corrosive effects of money on politics; to return to
a previous American belief in international law and institutions; and
to lean back against increasing inequality. One might counter that he
had difficulty enough with more modest efforts on health care, finance
reform, and climate change.
Still, the main difference between the Bush-Cheney agenda and Trump's
is the relative shamelessness of the latter -- the garrish greed, the
naked lust for power, and the absence of any scruples over how to get
the riches they crave. You'd think that would blow up in their face --
that if nothing else the American people and media are still capable of
being shocked by corruption. But then why hasn't that already happened?
Can you mark that all down to "normalization"?
Richard Silverstein: Bibi: "This is the End, My Friend": On the
corruption scandal that threatens to bring down Israeli Prime Minister
Netanyahu, with sideward glances toward Trump's own nest feathering.
Silverstein also wrote
Israel to Shutter Al Jazeera, Join Ranks of Arab Authoritarian Regimes
Suppressing Press Freedom. As for everyday life in Israel-Palestine,
see Kate's latest news clip compendium:
Settler violence against Palestinians nearly doubled from 2016 to 2017.
This includes a quote from Gideon Levy about how certain nations have
held themselves to be above international law and norms:
More than 100 states signed the international treaty banning the use
of cluster bombs; Israel, as usual, isn't one of them. What has Israel
to do with international treaties, international law, international
organizations -- it's all one big unnecessary nuisance. Israel's fellow
rejectionists are, as usual, Russia, Pakistan, China, India and of
course the United States, the world's greatest spiller of blood since
World War II. This is the company Israel wants to keep, the club it
belongs to. Cluster bombs are an especially barbarous weapon, a bomb
that turns into countless bomblets, spreading over a wide area, killing
and wounding indiscriminately. They sometimes explode years after were
fired. The world was appalled and disgusted by such a weapon of mass
destruction, and for good reason. The world -- but not Israel. We're
a special case, as is commonly known. We're allowed to do anything.
Why? Because we can. This has been proved. We used cluster bombs in
the Second Lebanon War and the world was silent. We also use flechettes,
unmercifully. In 2002 I saw a soccer field in Gaza hit by IDF flechette
shells, which spray thousands of potentially lethal metal darts. All
the children playing on it had been hit.
Matt Taibbi: Is LIBOR, Benchmark for Trillions of Dollars in Transactions,
a Lie? Well, sure.
Clara Torres-Spelliscy: Trump Is Already Profiting From His 2020
Jason Wilson/Edward Helmore: Charlottesville: one dead after car rams
counter-protesters at far-right gathering: I skipped over several
articles leading up to Saturday's right-wing rally to oppose removing
a statue of Confederate General Robert E. Lee from a park in Virginia,
and "counter-protests" against those defending the pro-slavery icon.
However, the events were interrupted when someone droves his car into
the "counter-protest" crowd, killing one and injuring 19, then managed
to drive off. A police helicopter later crashed in the area, adding
two to the death toll.
Sheryl Gay Stolberg/Brian H Rosenthal: Man Charged After White Nationalist
Rally in Charlottesville Ends in Deadly Violence;
Summer Concepcion: David Duke: Charlottesville Rally 'Fulfills the
Promises of Donald Trump;
Esme Cribb: What We Know About the Man Accused of Ramming Car Into
Michael Eric Dyson: Charlottesville and the Bigotocracy;
Josh Matshall: "I'm Not the Angry Racist They See in That Photo"
(complains a misunderstood white guy; but when you go around complaining
about "the slow replacement of white heritage within the United States" --
when you even think "white heritage" is a thing -- you're racist);
Colbert L King: These are your people, President Trump;
Glenn Thrush/Maggie Haberman: Trump Is Criticized for Not Calling Out
Esme Cribb: Trump Didn't Want to 'Dignify' White Supremacy by Condemning
It (but he has no qualms about dignifying "radical Islamic terror"
or Rosie O'Donnell?);
German Lopez: We need to stop acting like Trump isn't pandering to white
supremacists; and, just for historical context:
Philip Bump: In 1927, Donald Trump's father was arrested after a Klan
riot in Queens. One thing I noticed during the campaign was that
Trump was quick to reverse himself whenever he inadvertently blurted
out something contrary to conservative doctrine -- as when he initially
argued that women seeking abortions should be punished -- but he never
apologized for the violence of his supporters, nor did he ever disown
the white supremacists who rallied to his cause.
Jana Winter/Elias Groll: Here's the Memo That Blew Up the NSC:
The author was Rich Higgins, a Flynn acolyte who has since been fired:
The full memo, dated May 2017, is titled "POTUS & Political Warfare."
It provides a sweeping, if at times conspiratorial, view of what it
describes as a multi-pronged attack on the Trump White House.
Trump is being attacked, the memo says, because he represents "an
existential threat to cultural Marxist memes that dominate the prevailing
cultural narrative." Those threatened by Trump include "'deep state'
actors, globalists, bankers, Islamists, and establishment Republicans."
Zak Witus: To Combat Trump's Attacks on Democracy, We Must Understand
Precedents Set by Obama: "Seven months into the Trump presidency,
many people still deny how some of Donald Trump's most regressive and
harmful policies directly continue the legacy of Barack Obama." That's
true in a number of cases ranging from prosecution of "leakers" to
brutal ICE tactics to Saudi arms sales and drone murders around the
world, though the bigger problem is that Obama failed "to change the
way we think about war" and many more things -- race, equality, the
culture of corruption. Part of that was his "no drama" pledge to
restore competency to government after the politicized corruption
of the Bush years -- something he rarely claimed credit for, and
which few Americans even noticed. One thing about Trump is that he
has no quibbles about taking credit for "good" things, regardless
of how little he was actually involved, while chalking all of his
obvious failures up to "fake news."
Matthew Yglesias: What to know about the biggest stories of the
week: We had a lot of loose talk about nuclear war; Trump feudud
with Mitch McConnell; the opioid crisis gets an official "state of
emergency"; Paul Manafort seems to be in legal trouble. Other Yglesias
pieces this week:
Trump's new immigration plan would make Americans poorer;
Big business wants you to think a tax cut for big business will stop
The looming debt ceiling fight, explained;
Donald Trump gets a daily briefing all about how great he is.
When I looked at
Crooked Timber I noticed that Laura Tillem had one of the recent
comments. It was in response to Henry Farrell's
Five Books, listing five novels:
- John Le Carré, A Perfect Spy
- Charles Dickens, Our Mutual Friend
- Dennis Lehane, The Given Day
- Marlon James, A Brief History of Seven Killings
- Hilary Mantel, Bring Up the Bodies
I had to look up the authors (although I guessed 3/5, maybe 4).
We were recently talking about how much I enjoyed the 1998 BBC/PBS
series of Our Mutual Friend, and we had recently watched
the 1987 TV rendition of A Perfect Spy (which I didn't much
care for). I doubt I've read enough novels (probably about 50,
which wouldn't last my wife a year) to construct such a list --
only obvious one is Thomas Pynchon, V., though the unfinished
Gravity's Rainbow might have wound up even better.
I probably could offer a list of non-fiction:
- George P Brockway, The End of Economic Man: Principles of Any
- Geert Mak, In Europe: Travels Through the Twentieth Century
- John McPhee, Annals of the Former World
- Jan Myrdal, Angkor: An Essay on Art and Imperialism
- David Quammen, The Song of the Dodo: Island Biogeography in
an Age of Extinctions
My "recent books" roll currently runs 552 books, so that at least
is a sample (roughly from 2003 to the present), although only one of
the books listed above comes from it (Mak's magnificent
Thursday, August 3. 2017
Took a break today and glanced at the Internet and came up with the
usual load. Noted a tweet from Kathleen Geier: "No one will look back
at this era in American politics and remember it fondly. Absolutely no
Peter Beaumont: Former Netanyahu chief of staff 'in negotiations to become
state witness': In a world increasingly run by the very rich, I reckon
it's no surprise that merely powerful politicians should strive to become
rich themselves. Of course, sometimes they get caught.
Julian Borger: Leaked Trump transcripts show his incoherent, ill-informed
narcissism: not that you expected anything else.
Esme Cribb: NSC's Senior Intelligence Director Ezra Cohen-Watnick Fired:
Reported a Flynn protégé, survived McMasters' previous efforts to fire him
thanks to intervention by Steve Bannon and Jared Kushner.
Cohen-Watnick was the latest casualty in a string of firings at the NSC.
McMaster (pictured above) replaced Fox News commentator K.T. McFarland
as his deputy in May, reportedly without seeking White House approval
first. He also reportedly fired Rich Higgins, a staffer who worked in
the council's strategic planning office on July 21, after Higgins
authored a memo claiming Trump was under attack by "globalists and
Islamists" and "cultural Marxists." McMaster also fired Derek Harvey,
Trump's top Middle East adviser, in late July.
Also see Josh Marshall on
The Deeper Story on Cohen-Watnick.
Esme Cribb: Mueller Impanels Grand Jury in Federal Russia Probe.
Bob Dreyfuss: What Did Trump and Kushner Know About Russian Money Laundering,
and When Did They Know It?
Joshua Holland: Medicare-for-All Isn't the Solution for Universal Health
Care: I haven't worked my way through this piece, so for now will
just note its existence. I was aware of the article before, but steered
to it from
Dylan Scott: What you need to know about the Senate's "right-to-try"
bill. The latter was a broadly bipartisan bill that somewhat
streamlines the options of terminally ill patients to try unproven
treatments: Republicans evidently like the bill either because it
gives patients more freedom/choice or because it helps doctors and
drug companies commit fraud.
Sharon Lerner: EPA Staffers Are Being Forced to Prioritize Energy Industry's
Wish List, Says Official Who Resigned in Protest.
Jeffrey Lewis: Scuttling the Iran Deal Will Lead to Another North Korea:
"Tehran can already make an ICBM anytime it wants, and there's nothing
Donald Trump can do about it." Still, isn't that the wrong way to look
at the problem? The real problem with North Korea isn't that they have
rockets and nuclear warheads that could be used against us. The problem
is that the regime and people there suffered through a horrific war
that devastated everything, and since then they've been isolated and
paranoid, prevented from functioning as a normal country by the sheer
spite of the United States. One forgets that Iran's interest in rockets
grew out of their own horrific decade-long war with Iraq, where Tehran
was regularly subjected to rocket attacks (which Iran reciprocated,
unlike Iraq's use of poison gas). Clearly, Iraq isn't the threat it
once was, but Iran is still surrounded by hostile regimes, with the
US and Israel actively engaging in various plots of sabotage and/or
insurrection. Scuttling the nuclear deal may or may not force Iran to
develop nuclear-armed ICBMs -- doing so wouldn't give them an effective
tool for attacking the US, but it might deter the US from attacking
Iran -- but it will certainly leave Iran more isolated, paranoid, and
repressive, much as the same sanctions regime has left North Korea.
If Trump's people had any sense, they'd not only embrace the Iran deal,
but seek to build on it, and use it as a model for opening up a modus
vivendi with North Korea.
Paul Mason: Democracy is dying -- and it's startling how few people
are worried; also
Yascha Mounk: The Past Week Proves That Trump Is Destroying Our
Democracy: These two articles came up in a row at WarInContext,
on a day when I was already thinking not just tha democracy has
been taking a bruising but that it's likely to get worse before
(if ever) it gets better. Still, Democracy is in the eye of the
beholder, so we get Mason worrying about Putin, Erdogan, and Trump
(also Poland, Hungary, Venezuela, India, the Philippines, and
China, but not Egypt or Saudi Arabia or Israel), while Mounk
sticks to Trump.
Andrew Prokop: As Trump takes aim at affirmative action, let's remember
how Jared Kushner got into Harvard: "a lot of money, and two US
senators, were involved." By the way, the two senators were Democrats,
albeit also multi-millionaires.
Jedediah Purdy: A Billionaire's Republic: Review of Ganesh Sitaraman's
new book, The Crisis of the Middle-Class Constitution. As noted
above, many of us are worried about the fate of democracy in the near
future. There are various theories about various threats, but the most
basic threat is that posed by significant inequality.
Bernie Sanders: Nissan dispute could go down as most vicious anti-union
crusade in decades:
Nissan is no stranger to trade unions. It has union representation in
42 out of 45 of its plants throughout the world -- from Japan to France,
Australia to Britain. But the company does not want unions in the US
south, because unions mean higher wages, safer working conditions,
decent healthcare and a secure retirement.
Corporations like Nissan know that if they stop workers in Mississippi
from forming a union, wages will continue to be abysmally low in this
state. Further, if workers are unable to form unions and engage in
collective bargaining, Americans throughout this country will continue
to work for longer hours for lower wages. As Americans, our goal must
be to raise wages in Mississippi and all over this country, not engage
in a destructive race to the bottom.
Nissan is not a poor company. It is not losing money. Last year, it
made a record-breaking $6.6bn in profits and it gave its CEO more than
$9.5m in total compensation.
Those kinds of obscene profits are a direct result of corporations'
decades-long assault on workers and their unions. Forty years ago, more
than a quarter of all workers belonged to a union. Today, that number
has gone down to just 11%, and in the private sector it is less than
7%. And as corporations and Republican politicians succeed in decimating
the right of workers to bargain collectively for better wages and benefits,
the American middle class, once the envy of the world, is disappearing
while income and wealth inequality is soaring. We have got to turn that
I proudly support Nissan workers' fight to form a union.
I wonder if any other Democrats have taken a stand on this. Also:
John Nichols: A Nissan Victory Could Usher in a New Era of Southern
Organizing. I've heard that the Games of Thrones showrunners
want to do a new fantasy history series that posits what would have
happened had the South won the Civil War. If you want to indulge in
alternative history, a more promising precept would have been what if
Taft-Hartley had failed in 1947 and the AFL and CIO had launched mass
organizing drives in the South, as they had planned but chickened out
on after Taft-Hartley -- and, of course, had they been successful. At
the very least, that would have advanced the civil rights movement a
decade or more, and prevented the decline of union membership, which
would have kept the Democratic Party, and ultimately the country, from
drifting far to the right.
Matt Taibbi: There Is No Way to Survive the Trump White House:
"The tenures of Reince Priebus and Anthony Scaramucci represent two
opposite, but equally ineffective, strategies for surviving the Trump
Some see in all these maneuverings an effort to purge GOP loyalists
like Spicer and Priebus. Others see a Nixonian lunge to hire thugs
in a crisis. This to me is all overthinking things. There is no
strategy. This White House is just a succession of spasmodic Trump
failures, with a growing line of people taking the fall for each of
them. You can fall with honor, or without, entertainingly or not.
But if you join this White House, fall you will. It's only a matter
Sophia Tesfaye: Trump's next military scapegoat: Foreign-born service
members targeted by Pentagon.
Sam Thielman: Stinger Missiles and Shady Deals: Ex-Biz Partner to Trump
Has a Tall Tale to Tell: Felix Sater, whose CV includes a conviction
for stock fraud as well business ties to Trump, as well as a stint as a
Trump "senior adviser."
Matthew Yglesias: Democrats' push for a new era of antitrust enforcement,
explained: Antitrust legislation, still on the books, was one of the
great achievements of the Progressive movement, even if it could be (and
mostly was) viewed as a way to defend capitalism from the capitalists.
However, it has been little enforced since then, especially under the
Reagan-Bush-Bush-Trump administrations, but Clinton's administration
is mostly remembered for its antitrust case against Microsoft (on
behalf of other high tech companies), and I can't think of any cases
filed by Obama. However, Democratic-leaning economists like Joseph
Stiglitz have lately noted the role of monopoly rents in generating
skyrocketing inequality, and other researchers -- many summarized
here -- have broadened that view. I suspect one reason many Democrats
have gone along with new antitrust planks is that they've long been
spouting the cause of competitive free markets, which is the primary
goal of antitrust. However, the forces against antitrust enforcement
are lobbyists working for dealmakers and brokers, who regardless of
their general principles will invariably argue that their sponsor
companies should be excepted. Still, an important plank, and not just
because competition is good. You should also consider how industry
consolidation destroys and undermines jobs.
Yglesias also wrote
Anthony Scaramucci, explained, as if you couldn't figure that one
out yourself. Still, worth being reminded of this:
Trump, who is very fond of zero-sum thinking, one-sided deals, and
sketchy business ethics, would naturally find [Scaramucci's] background
Some people make money by providing mutually beneficial win-win
arrangements. . . . Trump doesn't really do that. His early real
estate ventures in Manhattan and Atlantic City ended up being failures
that went bankrupt.
But in the mid-1990s, he started the process of spinning shit into
gold by launching a publicly traded company, Trump Casino Hotels &
Resorts, and bilking his investors for all they were worth.
TCHR never made any money for shareholders. "A shareholder who bought
$100 of DJT shares in 1995 could sell them for about $4 in 2005,"
according to Drew Harwell's analysis of the company. "The same investment
in MGM Resorts would have increased in value to about $600." But it did
make lots of money for Donald Trump. It spent more than $6 million on
entertaining high-end clients on Trump's golf courses. It spent $2
million more on renting Trump's plane. It bought $1.7 million of
Trump-branded merchandise. It bought a bankrupt casino from Donald
Trump for $490 million. It paid Trump millions in salary for his
work as CEO. And most lucratively of all, Trump was able to offload
debts he had personally guaranteed onto the publicly traded company.
From there, Trump hopped to starring in a reality television
programming and then into a lucrative celebrity brand licensing
business. He also launched a fake university that had to pay out
$25 million to settle fraud claims.
Trump is, in short, the kind of guy who'd look up to SkyBridge's
"make money selling bad products" business model, not down on it.
Let me also note this trip down memory lane:
Carl Boggs: The Other Side of War: Fury and Repression in St. Louis.
I moved to St. Louis and Washington University after the events described
here, and didn't know Howard Mechanic or anyone else mentioned in the
article, but did know Boggs -- a political science professor at Washington
Sunday, July 30. 2017
I shot most of my war back on Thursday's
have had limited time since then. But still I couldn't ignore these
Some scattered links:
Tariq Ali: Nawaz Sharif has gone. But Pakistan's high-level corruption
Sharif's party, the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz, is fighting back,
accusing the court of a vendetta -- which usually means that his
billions could not buy a single judge. This is truly exceptional.
Life in Pakistan has not been morally salutary for any of its citizens.
The family politics represented by the Bhutto-Zardaris and their rivals,
the Sharifs, is swathed in corruption. Each has learned from the other
how best to conceal it, minimising paperwork and juggling accounts.
Many years ago, when Benazir Bhutto was prime minister, she asked me
what people were saying about her. "They're saying your husband is
totally corrupt, but are not sure about how much you know . . ."
She knew all right, and was not in the least embarrassed: "You're
so prudish. Times have changed. This is the world we live in. They're
all doing it. Politicians in every western country . . ." Her husband,
the president-to-be Asif Ali Zardari, was imprisoned by Sharif, but no
actual proof of corruption was discovered: Zardari's loyalty to his
cronies was legendary, and they remained loyal in return. Sharif, it
appears, has been less fortunate.
Dean Baker: How about a little accountability for economists when they
Robert A Blecker: Trump's "America first" strategy for NAFTA talks
won't benefit US workers
Carole Cadwalladr: Al Gore: 'The rich have subverted all reason':
Ten years after his documentary An Inconvenient Truth, Gore
is back with a sequel and goes beyond simply remind us, "I told you
so." One thing he's started looking at is the money:
"I mean that those with access to large amounts of money and raw power,"
says Gore, "have been able to subvert all reason and fact in collective
decision making. The Koch brothers are the largest funders of climate
change denial. And ExxonMobil claims it has stopped, but it really hasn't.
It has given a quarter of a billion dollars in donations to climate denial
groups. It's clear they are trying to cripple our ability to respond to
this existential threat."
One of Trump's first acts after his inauguration was to remove all
mentions of climate change from federal websites. More overlooked is
that one of Theresa May's first actions on becoming prime minister --
within 24 hours of taking office -- was to close the Department for
Energy and Climate Change; subsequently donations from oil and gas
companies to the Conservative party continued to roll in. And what is
increasingly apparent is that the same think tanks that operate in the
States are also at work in Britain, and climate change denial operates
as a bridgehead: uniting the right and providing an entry route for
other tenets of Alt-Right belief. And, it's this network of power that
Gore has had to try to understand, in order to find a way to combat it.
Alexia Fernandez Campbell: What McCain did was hard. What Murkowski and
Collins did was much harder. I suppose McCain's vote to sink the
so-called "skinny repeal" does qualify as "something useful for once"
(a prospect I doubted when I cited Alex Pareene's
I Don't Want to Hear Another Fucking Word About John McCain Unless He
Dies or Actually Does Something Useful for Once). But McCain couldn't
have cast the killing vote without Collins and Murkowski consistently
voting against all of McConnell's ploys to repeal Obamacare -- in large
part because they seem to be the only Republicans who actually care
about the bottom-line assessments that the bills would deprive upwards
of twenty million Americans of health insurance.
Through all of this, the backlash against these two women senators was
severe. Two House Republicans threatened them with violence.
President Trump publicly shamed Murkowski on Twitter:
Senator @lisamurkowski of the Great State of Alaska really let the
Republicans, and our country, down yesterday. Too bad!
Murkowski then got a call from Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke, who
reportedly threatened to punish Alaska's economy based on her health
care vote, according to the Alaska Dispatch News.
You might recall that Murkowski actually lost the Republican primary
last time out to Tea Party fanatic Joe Miller, then beat Miller with
a write-in campaign, so she's entitled to some independence (or maybe
she's already written off the hardcore right). It will be interesting
to see how much internecine blood is spilt over "repeal-and-replace"
and other supposed Republican failures, but Reagan's so-called "eleventh
commandment" has long vanished: it seems almost certain that each and
every Republican who broke ranks even once will face right-wing primary
challengers. Even more amusing is the pouting tantrum from
John Daniel Davidson: I'm a conservative -- and I now see voting
Republican is a waste of time: "The Obamacare fiasco reveals
that once they are in power, Republicans in Washington refuse to
deliver on their promises."
Tom Engelhardt: Bombing the Rubble: "Precision warfare? Don't
make me laugh." Also:
William D Hartung: The Hidden Costs of "National Security":
"Ten ways your tax dollars pay for war -- past, present, and future>"
William G Gale: The Kansas tax cut experiment: Now that Sam Brownback's
moving on to become Trump's Ambassador at Large for Religious Freedom,
a position that will better fit his sanctimonious twaddle and hopefully
is powerless enough to limit how much real damage (as opposed to mere
embarrassment) he does, the Brookings Institute is finally getting around
to looking at his late, great signature tax scam (blessed in the beginning
by none other than Arthur Laffer, his paid consultant). Some of the bullet
- Under his plan, the tax rate on pass-through business income fell to
0. The idea was to boost investment, raise employment, and jump-start the
- The Kansas economy did not grow faster than neighboring states, the
country itself, or even Kansas' own growth in previous years.
- The experiment with tax policy was such a failure that a Republican
controlled legislature not only voted to raise taxes, but did so over
the veto of the governor.
- Second, a lowered business income tax can be manipulated. While
Kansas cut the tax rate on pass-through income to 0 in hopes of
promoting economic activity, the growth simply didn't happen. In
reality, many people in Kansas re-characterized income from labor
into business-form in order to take advantage of the 0 percent
- There are other, more general, takeaways from the tax cut experiment.
When Kansas cut taxes, its bond rating went down, and it had to cut
central services such as education and infrastructure. After seeing
this, a majority of Kansans decided they would not prefer to keep the
- Therefore, another implication is that tax reform is not just about
taxes, rather what taxes pay for. Taxes and spending are linked.
The tax cuts threw the state into a permanent budget crisis, forcing
spending cuts (and other desperate measures which ultimately weakened
the state's credit rating) at a time when courts consistently found the
state to be violating the requirement (part of the state constitution)
to adequately fund local schools. As Republicans try to pass federal
"tax reform" they'll be recycling many of the same nostrums Brownback
used in Kansas, so beware.
Jack Gross: The American Model: Book review of James Q Whitman:
Hitler's American Model: The United States and the Making of
Nazi Race Law. "What appears to be still difficult, even as
it gets told in ever finer detail, is the simple and immense
situation that America and Nazi Germany are two instantiations
of a single history of white supremacist rule." It's well known
that South Africa based its Apartheid legal system on America's
Jim Crow laws. The Nazi case is less clear, but Hitler admired
America in several respects -- white supremacy is the one detailed
here. As I recall, he also saw America's advance across the
continent as a model for his own Eastern conquests -- what we
proclaimed as Manifest Destiny he called Lebensraum.
Jim Hightower: Fight for your right to fix your own iPhone:
I'm not surprised that Apple is in the forefront of companies
seeking to maximize their profits and control of customers by
"repair prevention." Actually, I was recently was looking at a
Microsoft Surface computer and read that you can't get into it
to repair it without destroying the case -- one, I suspected,
of many traits they copied from Apple. We live in an age where
is it often cheaper to replace something than to repair it,
which may be good for various companies but as a society it is
wasteful and degrading.
Mike Konczal: This Small Regulation Shows Us How the Economy Could Work
for Everybody: Part of Dodd-Frank the Republicans want to get rid
of, because all that regulation limits the ability of big banks to
goose up their profits by price-gouging and other fraudulent means.
Peggy Noonan: Trump Is Woody Allen Without the Humor: Unfair to
Allen, of course -- I'd rather watch Interiors (possibly the
most unfunny movie ever made, not merely the unfunniest by Allen)
than a Trump rally speech -- but no one ever looked to Noonan for
fair, or for that matter for insight. But as a piece of anti-Trump
snark this rivals Maureen Dowd:
He's not strong and self-controlled, not cool and tough, not low-key
and determined; he's whiny, weepy and self-pitying. He throws himself,
sobbing, on the body politic. He's a drama queen. It was once said,
sarcastically, of George H.W. Bush that he reminded everyone of her
first husband. Trump must remind people of their first wife. Actually
his wife, Melania, is tougher than he is with her stoicism and grace,
her self-discipline and desire to show the world respect by presenting
herself with dignity.
Half the president's tweets show utter weakness. They are plaintive,
shrill little cries, usually just after dawn. "It's very sad that
Republicans, even some that were carried over the line on my back,
do very little to protect their president." The brutes. . . .
His public brutalizing of Attorney General Jeff Sessions isn't
strong, cool and deadly; it's limp, lame and blubbery. "Sessions
has taken a VERY weak position on Hillary Clinton crimes," he
tweeted this week. Talk about projection. . . .
His inability -- not his refusal, but his inability -- to embrace
the public and rhetorical role of the presidency consistently and
constructively is weak.
"It's so easy to act presidential but that's not gonna get it
done," Mr. Trump said the other night at a rally in Youngstown,
Ohio. That is the opposite of the truth. The truth, six months in,
is that he is not presidential and is not getting it done. His mad,
blubbery petulance isn't working for him but against him. . . .
We close with the observation that it's all nonstop drama and
queen-for-a-day inside this hothouse of a White House.
Noonan closes with Anthony Scaramucci ("He seemed to think this
diarrheic diatribe was professional"), without making the obvious
point: that he's Trump's perfect "communications director" because
he recapitulates Trump's own communications style -- just classed
up a bit by extending Trump's third-grade vocabulary and grammar
into puberty, as if that's all it's going to take to get the snooty
sophisticates to stop laughing at him. Noonan cites historian Joshua
Zeitz's comment: "It's Team of Rivals but for morons."
Still, there is no reason to think that Noonan is transitioning
into some kind of satirist. It's safe to say she's the same paid
political hack she's been since Ronald Reagan signed her checks.
What happened last week was that Trump, aided by Scaramucci, found
a way to escape from his orthodox Republican chapperones and go
out on a joyride. They did manage to ditch Reince Priebus, but
while John Kelly will no doubt prove a sterner nanny, his job of
containing Trump will likely prove taxing. Meanwhile, it's not
just Noonan among the party hacks who are sounding alarms about
Charles Krauthammer: Longing for a self-contained, impenetrable
Transparency, thy name is Trump, Donald Trump. No filter, no governor,
no editor lies between his impulses and his public actions. He tweets,
therefore he is.
Ronald Reagan was so self-contained and impenetrable that his
official biographer was practically driven mad trying to figure him
out. Donald Trump is penetrable, hourly.
Wrong metaphor. Trump and Reagan were similar in one respect: neither
had anything coherent going on between their ears, just chaos and bestial
desires. The difference was that Reagan was an actor (and more importantly,
a paid corporate spokesman) who could credibly read the scripts he was
given, whereas Trump just improvises (often making shit up)-- not because
he's any good at it but because all his life he's been a boss surrounded
by ego-stroking sycophants. Krauthammer, like many conservatives, is upset
over Trump's taunting of Jeff Sessions, who's been hard at work implementing
the conservative agenda to undermine democracy and rig the justice system
while Trump's been throwing his juvenile tantrums.
Given how rare it is for such committed Republican cronies as Noonan
and Krauthammer to break ranks, their attacks on Trump may mark the end
of the honeymoon. Orthodox Republicans may not have liked Trump back in
the primary season, but they figured he'd be manageable once he got the
nomination, and they were suddenly delighted with him once he did the
one thing they most coveted: winning. And indeed he has proven pliable
in terms of policy and personnel, abandoning every shred of independent
thinking he displayed during the campaign. As long as he was helping
them get what they wanted, they could tolerate his idiosyncrasies. But
evidently something has changed: not just that he's proving ineffective
and unpopular -- the health care debacle is really more their fault
than it is Trump's -- but that he's becoming needlessly dangerous and
Trita Parsi: The Mask Is Off: Trump Is Seeking War With Iran:
President Donald Trump has made it clear, in no uncertain terms and
with no effort to disguise his duplicity, that he will claim that
Tehran is cheating on the nuclear deal by October -- the facts be
damned. In short, the fix is in. Trump will refuse to accept that
Iran is in compliance and thereby set the stage for a military
confrontation. His advisers have even been kind enough to explain
how they will go about this. Rarely has a sinister plan to destroy
an arms control agreement and pave the way for war been so openly
The unmasking of Trump's plans to sabotage the nuclear deal began
two weeks ago when he reluctantly had to certify that Iran indeed was
in compliance. Both the US intelligence as well as the International
Atomic Energy Agency had confirmed Tehran's fair play. But Trump threw
a tantrum in the Oval Office and berated his national security team
for not having found a way to claim Iran was cheating. According to
Foreign Policy, the adults in the room -- Secretary of State Rex
Tillerson, Secretary of Defense Jim Mattis, and National Security
Advisor H. R. McMaster -- eventually calmed Trump down but only on the
condition that they double down on finding a way for the president to
blow up the deal by October.
Matt Shuham: Trump Calls for 'Rough' Policing, Gives Blessing to Law
Enforcement Abuses: Probably one of the ten scariest articles of
the Trump era. Sure, there have been many instances where Trump looked
to be endorsing ad-hoc violence against protesters, foreigners, other
minorities -- why not suspected criminals? Well, because abuses eat at
and eventually destroy the very notion that we live under a fair and
equitable system of law and justice. And has become very clear over the
past few years, what we have now is already way too permissive of police
abuses. Indeed, quite a few police superintendents have come to recognize
that bringing their forces under control is a major public relations
concern. So what Trump is saying undermines responsible police as well
as the entire system of justice, and helps to make American civil society
coarser and more hateful.
On the same speech:
Dara Lind: Trump just delivered the most chilling speech of his
presidency. In reaction, see:
Cleve R Wootson Jr/Mark Berman: US police chiefs blast Trump for
endorsing 'police brutality'.
Matt Taibbi: The Anthony Scaramucci Era Will Be Freakish, Embarrassing
and All Too Short:
In the space of a week, Trump's new press expert demonstrated that he
a) didn't know how to hold off-the-record conversations b) didn't
understand that cameras and microphones keep rolling even when the
red light is off and c) doesn't bother to check the other public
statements made by administration officials before he makes statements
of his own. An alien crashed on earth and given a two-minute tutorial
on dealing with reporters would have done a better job. . . .
The Communications Director job in the Trump administration is a
no-win job, because the real Communications Director is Trump's
Twitter feed. The job that Scaramucci technically occupies is a
thankless and redundant position that involves standing before
reporters and reconciling avalanches of already-circulated lies,
contradictions, and insulting/ignorant statements.
Even a genius of the highest order couldn't make this work.
Of course, Trump hasn't had geniuses available to him. The
fourth-rate minds he has instead had in his employ just started
raging trash-fires whenever they tried to logically explain
They gave us statements like Kellyanne Conway's "alternative
facts," or Katrina Pierson's bit about how Trump wasn't changing
his position on immigration, but rather "changing the words that
he is saying."
Matthew Yglesias: The most important stories of the week, explained:
The Senate rejected three versions of ACA repeal; Trump named a
new Chief of Staff; Trump kind of banned transgender military
service; Trump feuded with his attorney general.
Reuters: US flies B-1B bombers over Korean peninsula after missile
test: Not clear from the article whether they actually flew into
North Korean air space, which would be daring the Koreans to shoot
a plane down, dramatically escalating America's snit fit over North
Korea's missile tests. Also:
Tom Phillips: China and Russia have 'responsibility' for North Korea
nuclear threat, says US. Reminds me that Casey Stengel once said
that the secret to successful managing was keeping the guys who hate
you (like North Korea) away from the ones on the fence (like Russia
and China) -- a lesson Rex Tillerson never learned. The odds of Trump
(or one of those generals he gives carte blanche to) doing something
profoundly stupid over Korea have been steadily increasing -- much as
it has with Iran (see Trita Parsi, above).
Thursday, July 27. 2017
Accumulated all this in half a week, and no doubt missed lots
along the way. Will catch up a bit on Sunday, but I don't see
much free time between now and then, and the supply seems to be
fucking endless. My fellow Americans: you should be ashamed of
Dean Baker: Obamacare Isn't Just Dying, Trump and Republicans Are Trying
to Kill It: Title could be phrased better. Although there is much
room for improvement, Obamacare is only failing where political sabotage
has kept it from being fully implemented (especially Medicaid expansion).
Trump's predictions of failure depend mostly on his own administration's
Dean Baker/Arjun Jayadev/Joseph Stiglitz: Innovation, Intellectual Property,
and Development: A Better Set of Approaches for the 21st Century:
Nina Burleigh: Alex Jones and Other Conservatives Call for Civil War
Chris Cillizza: The 29 most cringe-worthy lines from Donald Trump's
hyper-political speech to the Boy Scouts.
Esme Cribb: Scaramucci Vows to 'Kill All the F*cking Leakers' in
Profanity-Laced Rant: And to think I was feeling uncomfortable
watching Colbert doing his Italian mobster voices to paraphrase
the new White House Communications Director, but once again satire
gets gobsmacked by reality. Targets of the profanities include
Steve Bannon and Reince Preibus as well as unnamed little people.
For more, see
Ryan Lizza: Anthony Scaramucci Called Me to Unload About White
House Leakers, Reince Preibus, and Steve Bannon. Also:
Amy Davidson Sorkin: When Anthony Scaramucci Fell in Love With
Perhaps Scaramucci admires Trump's knowledge of bankruptcy, perhaps
especially moral bankruptcy, not as a degraded state but one in which
some unprofitable principles can be written off and new, more marketable
ones acquired. . . .
Radical honesty doesn't seem like an option. Neither does actually
useful information on the workings of the executive branch, or of
Congress. When he was asked, on Friday, why he believed that the
President would get "a win" on health care, he said, "The President
has really good karma, O.K.? And the world turns back to him. He's
genuinely a wonderful human being, and I think, as the members of
Congress get to know him better and get comfortable with him, they're
going to let him lead them to the right things for the American people.
So, I think we're going to get the health care done."
Lucia Graves: John McCain had the chance to do the right thing on
healthcare. He failed. I don't particularly begrudge the bipartisan
standing ovation McCain received on returning to the Senate following
surgery and a diagnosis of brain cancer. It is, after all, a famously
collegial institution, and nothing counters ideological prejudices like
personal contact. However, his purpose in returning was to advance a
partisan scheme to deprive millions of Americans of affordable and
effective health insurance while treating the richest Americans with
a sizable tax break. And while McCain said that he was opposed to the
act he voted to advance, he proved his bad faith both then and in a
later vote (see
Tara Golshan: McCain said he wouldn't vote for the Senate health care
bill. 6 hours later, he did. The fact is that McCain is one of the
great con artists in American political history, something the media
have fallen for repeatedly. If you need a refresher, see Alex Pareene's
post from February 17:
I Don't Want to Hear Another Fucking Word About John McCain Unless He
Dies or Actually Does Something Useful for Once -- since then the
odds of him dying vs. doing something useful have gone up, but even
then the odds of the latter were vanishingly slim. The only "useful
thing" I can recall him doing was to derail Boeing's original tanker
lease scam, but Boeing eventually managed to get their tankers bought --
after at least one Boeing executive went to jail. McCain's career low
point was probably his sabre-rattling against Russia over South Ossetia
in 2008 (while he was running for president), but the fact is that he's
long been the most dangerous hawk in the Senate. As for everything
else, he's just an ordinary right-wing Republican hack. David Foster
Wallace missed an opportunity when he reprinted his McCain essay as
a separate book instead of folding it into his previous collection,
Interviews With Hideous Men.
Charles P Pierce: The Price of John McCain's Republican Loyalty:
It was an ugly day in the United States Senate on Tuesday, as ugly a
day as has been seen in that chamber since the death of Strom Thurmond,
who used to make a day ugly simply by showing up. The Senate took up
the Motion To Proceed on whatever the hell hash Mitch McConnell wants
to make out of the American healthcare system. . . . But the ugliest
thing to witness on a very ugly day in the United States Senate was
what John McCain did to what was left of his legacy as a national
figure. He flew all the way across the country, leaving his high-end
government healthcare behind in Arizona, in order to cast the deciding
vote to allow debate on whatever ghastly critter emerges from what has
been an utterly undemocratic process. He flew all the way across the
country in order to facilitate the process of denying to millions of
Americans the kind of medical treatment that is keeping him alive, and
to do so at the behest of a president who mocked McCain's undeniable
As the last line indicates, and the rest of the article elaborates,
Pierce is one of many who previously succumbed to an exaggerated opinion
of McCain's forthrightness or integrity or heroism -- there is plenty of
reason to deny all three. Still, Pierce may be right about where this
thing ends. It is, as ever, a case where an ounce of prevention (or at
least forethought) could have prevented a whole world of hurt:
The Republicans have the votes now. Dean Heller and Rob Portman and
Shelley Moore Capito have lined up with their party once, and the
likelihood is their respective prices will be met again because this
is not a policy issue any more, it is pure politics now, a promise
made by an extremist majority to its unthinking base. That's what
the end of this ugly day looked like, a day on which the final bloody
death of Barack Obama's legacy was placed on the fast track by people
who know better, and on which Susan Collins of Maine was more of a
maverick than John McCain ever was. It was an ugly day in the U.S.
Senate, and there was nothing but ruin everywhere you looked.
Mehdi Hasan: Despite What the Press Says, "Maverick" McCain Has a
Long and Distinguished Record of Horribleness. By the way, here's
Tracking Congress in the Age of Trump vote card. To be fair,
he has wavered a bit since getting diagnosed with brain cancer.
Ryan Grim: Steve Bannon Wants Facebook and Google Regulated Like
Utilities: That actually makes a fair amount of sense, although
I could come up with a better scheme based on non-profit public
entities which would provide the same services without imposing
ads on users. My favorite quote from the article:
In 2011, Sen. Pat Leahy, D-Vt., then the chairman of the Judiciary
Committee, complained that Google had waited too long to hire an
armada of lobbyists. . . . They have since caught up: In the first
few months of the Trump administration, tech firms set new lobbying
spending records in Washington.
The latter probably became necessary because so many of them bet
heavily on Hillary -- no need for lobbyists when you've already got
the politicians in your pocket.
Cameron Joseph: Dem's New Slogan Is Lame, but GOP Is Giving Them a
Populist Opening: Slogan is "A Better Deal," introduced by Chuck
Shumer in (where else?) a New York Times Op-Ed, followed up by a
press event involving Shumer and Nancy Pelosi. Unclear from this
piece how the whole thing came about, but it starts to suggest some
thinking along the lines of Newt Gingrich's 1994 "Contract" -- a
hint of serious ambitions from a crew that more often seems bent
on self-sabotage. I don't mind the slogan, but the actual platform
could use some sharpening (see Corey Robin below), and it wouldn't
hurt to come up with some more credible leadership than Shumer and
Pelosi. (From a
NYT letter: "Can it be a better deal, with the same familiar
One comment on this is
Lee Drutman: The Real Civil War in the Democratic Party. He points
out that it was relatively easy to find an agenda that Shumer, Pelosi,
and left-favorite Elizabeth Warren could agree on, but that rank-and-file
Democrats are much more divided -- he says:
Among the Democratic rank-and-file, the more consequential divide is
between those willing to trust the existing establishment and those
who want entirely new leadership. It's a divide that Democratic Party
leaders ignore at their peril.
He goes on to babble nonsense about "political institutions" and
the "pragmatism" of the Democratic Party establishment, but the real
crux of the issue is that the Clintons and Obama, Shumer and Pelosi,
cannot be trusted to deliver on their campaign promises, and indeed
don't seem to be bothered by their repeated failures. On the other
hand, they're quite effective at delivering favors to the interests
that finance them.
Jamiles Lartey: 'I am livid': Donald Trump criticized for odd,
disjointed speech to Boy Scouts.
Charlie May: Judge: Kris Kobach, vice chair of Trump's voter fraud
commission, has been "misleading the Court": Much notice has
been paid recently to how Trump's treated Jeff Sessions, the first
member of the Senate to endorse Trump. Less so about Trump's other
early endorsers -- with Sessions they'd pass for the four horsemen
of the apocalypse: Newt Gingrich, Rudy Giuliani, and Chris Christie --
none given positions in the new administration. But among lesser
figures, take Kris Kobach, KS Secretary of State and the only
elected Republican to endorse Trump before state caucuses here.
Kobach famously showed up on Trump's doorstep with a binder of
his brilliant ideas for running the country, but all he got was
co-chair with Mike Pence on Trump's Election Integrity Commission,
designed to play up Kobach's most scurrilous projects. That got
him sued, in a case that he's repeatedly bumbled. And while he's
also intent on running for governor of Kansas in 2018, Trump's
appointment of Sam Brownback as pope of the State Department
means Kobach will be running against an incumbent, Jeff Colyer.
As the late Molly Ivins like to say, "lie down with dogs, get
up with fleas" -- except with Trump it's worse, more like rats
and bubonic plague (the fleas are just intermediary).
By the way, the first clue about Trump was the nepotism.
I should dig up Robert Townsend's quote on nepotism, but
it's something like: if you practice nepotism, no first-rate
people will ever work for you, because they'll know you're
prejudiced against them, and you'll be stuck with your fucking
Also see, from the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund:
Sherrilyn Ifill: President Trump's Election Integrity Commission
is illegal and unconstitutional -- that's why we filed a lawsuit.
Alex Pareene: It's Not Mitch McConnell's Fault That Your Ideas Are Bad
and Hated: Written before McConnell engineered his vote to open
Senate discussion of his secret Trumpcare bill, so his impulse to
pardon McConnell may have been premature.
Perhaps it is related to the mental block that causes them to regularly
forget that the only reason a Republican is currently president is
because he constantly and loudly promised not to be a conservative on
issues like social insurance. Instead of confronting the implications
of that victory, conservatives instead have responded like Trump's own
budget director, who regularly brags that he is tricking the president
into exchanging his (popular) non-conservative ideas for (unpopular)
This is why it's absurd to blame Mitch McConnell. The role of the
Senate is to be the place where popular things go to die -- in the
popular (albeit fictional) account of our Founders' intentions, it
acts as the "cooling saucer," where a good thing everyone likes (hot
tea) becomes something you dump down the drain (old, room temperature
tea). The rules of the Senate were perfected over many decades to turn
it into a place where the will of the people is easily frustrated. It
is extraordinarily difficult to get large, popular bills through the
Senate. Imagine, then, how hard it must be to pass incredibly
Well, maybe not so hard, because Pareene seriously underestimates
the contempt that Republican politicians have for voters they've found
so easy to manipulate, and the fear they have of movement conservatives
itching to primary them.
Heather Digby Parton: Trump's cynical jobs program: Dump your house,
move somewhere else and work for less: "Maybe Trump supporters
are glimpsing the truth: He has no plan to bring back high-paying
jobs, and never did."
The bottom line is that Trump doesn't care about American workers.
His issue is with foreign competition for American companies, which
isn't exactly the same thing. He said in a Republican primary debate,
"We are a country that is being beaten on every front. Taxes too high,
wages too high, we're not going to be able to compete against the world."
His supporters had to pretend they didn't hear that: Their wages were
Charles P Pierce: Sam Brownback Is Your New Ambassador at Large for
Religious Freedom: Remember The Peter Principle? It was
a bestselling business book back in the 1970s that argued that people
rise in organizations until they meet their level of incompetence,
then they stay there. Brownback's appointment is evidence of an
opposite corollary which rarely occurs in real life, but the only
safety net Republicans believe in is one for their own failures,
so the Trump administration sorted through all of their positions
until they found the highest one where Brownback's incompetence
will probably prove inconsequential. On the other hand, I suspect
they've underestimated the Kansas governor, former senator, and
almost instantly failed presidential aspirant. I mean, until now
it's unlikely you've ever even heard that the US has an Ambassador
at Large for Religious Freedom (the result of a 1998 law), so his
acceptance has already made the US (and, let's face it, Trump)
look more ridiculous. Brownback's chief qualification for this
post is the fervor with which he's attempted to impose his own
conservative Catholic religious beliefs on everyone else. But
the cause of "religious freedom" has most often been invoked to
defend bigotry and discrimination -- an interpretation that
Brownback will be thrilled to adopt.
Corey Robin: A Party That Wants to Die but Can't Pull the Plug:
"The Democratic Party is offering tax giveaways for corporations.
So much for learning from its mistakes." Probably unfair to write
the Democrats off for this one gaffe, but worth pointing out that
it is wrong in multiple ways: it subordinates workers to business
instead of giving them skills (as education would) they can use
to get better jobs wherever suits them best; it sends the wrong
message to business -- namely that politicians are eager to bribe
them to do things they should be doing anyway; and it doesn't give
workers the leverage they need to convert their training into
better paying jobs (as, e.g., helping them join unions would).
One problem that Democrats like Chuck Shumer have is that they're
so used to sucking up to business they don't have any other ideas.
Marshall Steinbaum: Congressional Democrats Get Serious About
Antitrust: Which would be a marked change from the Clinton
and Obama administrations -- and, I agree, a necessary one:
Antitrust must be a core component of any agenda that would address
the slow economic growth, rising inequality, and wage stagnation that
are our most pressing economic problems. At the root of all of these
is the consolidation of corporate power. Corporate profits now account
for over 15% of the economy's gross value-added, up from 5% in the
Hiroko Tabuchi: Rooftop Solar Dims Under Pressure From Utility
Lobbyists: Just in the last couple years it's started looking
like renewable electrical sources will get the upper hand over
coal and gas (and for that matter nuclear), primarily due to
dramatic cost reductions in solar panels. However, utility
companies don't like distributed solar, coal and gas companies
don't like competition, nor do domestic producers of solar panels
(the cheapest are made in Asia). A government concerned about
climate change would lean against those pressures, but Trump
is likely to respond favorably to such lobbying. Those who
laughed when Trump promised to bring coal jobs back might
Matt Taibbi: Newly Released Documents Show Government Misled Public on
Trevor Timm: If Trump wants to fire Jeff Sessions, let him -- it would
be a gift to America. One of the week's more popular stories has
been Trump's tweet attacks on his attorney general for recusing himself
from the Russia investigation instead of doing the right thing and
protecting the president and his family. Trump's too self-absorbed to
care, but after Sessions lied about his own Russia meetings, recusal
was literally the least he could do. Still, Timm is right: although
there'd be little change in replacing most of Trump's appointees with
anyone else likely to get Trump's approval, Sessions is one appointee
with his own well-defined agenda, and he's working hard to leave a
huge gash through all of our previous expectations of what justice
in America means. Also see:
Jon Swaine: Why did Donald Trump turn on attorney general Jeff
Shaun Walker: Putin: Russia will retaliate if 'insolent' US lawmakers
pass sanctions bill: Of course, American politicians think there's
no risk in voting against Russia (not to mention Iran and North Korea),
and maybe that's true as far as their own election prospects go. But
they're making the world a more dangerous place.
Sunday, July 23. 2017
I'm having a lot of trouble with websites making demands: that I
pay them money, or sign up for things, or other demands I don't have
the patience to parse. I understand that internet media businesses
have a tough time making ends meet, and I'm not unsympathetic, but
I'm not rich, and I'm not in the business of reporting on media,
and I really hate where this is going: a world where information
is locked up behind a handful of companies, where people have to
decide something is worth paying for before they can find out
whether it's worth anything at all. In such a world many people
will only be able to read things that they value because they
agree with, and most people will never read anything because the
practical value of most information is vanishingly small. This
is a hideous prospect promising a world that only grows more and
more dysfunctional. Allowing paywalls to be bypassed by agreeing
to look at tons of advertising only makes the information more
untrustworthy and unappealing. Advertising may not be the root of
all evil in America, but it's certainly contributed, especially
by raising consumer manipulation to the level of a science.
I should probably compile a list of websites I'm boycotting --
or, effectively, that are boycotting me -- but I find the practice
too annoying to obsess over. Looks like I should add the Washington
Post to the list -- clicked on several pieces and all I get now are
subscription screens. (The ad there started "I see you like great
journalism" but the WP has rarely met that mark; e.g., see
The Washington Post's War on Disability Programs Continues,
and ask yourself: why should anyone pay these people money?) I'm
especially annoyed at
The Nation blocking me out,
and have decided to stop linking to their articles. (We actually
subscribe to the print edition of The Nation, which as I
understand it entitles us to "full digital access" but I've never
set that up before -- indeed, never had to.) I've started to avoid
The New York Times and The New Yorker -- again, we
pay them money for print editions, but they have "free article"
counters, and I'd hate to waste my quota by looking at something
stupid by David Brooks. We actually pay for quite a bit of print
media, and my wife subscribes to digital things I don't even know
about (and probably wouldn't be happy about if I did know). Still,
we don't read so much or so widely because we find it entertaining
or necessary for business. We do it because we're trying to be
concerned, responsible citizens. And it sure looks like the goal
of business in America is to make citizenship cost-prohibitive.
I'll add that I don't have paywalls, advertisements, or even
any form of begware on my websites. I'm not paid for what I write,
nor do I make any money off the occasional music discs I'm sent.
I do this for free, and find that at least a few people find my
analysis and information to be useful and worthwhile -- I guess
that's my reward (that plus satisfaction in my craft). I even
spend some money to make this possible, but I do feel the need
to limit my losses. In this current media environment, that may
mean limiting the sources I consult.
PS: Add Foreign Policy to that list, demanding
about $90/year under the unsavory slogan, "Today, truth comes at
a cost." The link I was following came from
Trump assigns White House team to target Iran nuclear deal, sidelining
State Department. This probably complements several links on Iran
Binta Baxter: How the Student Loan Industry Is Helping Trump Destroy
American Democracy: Also, how Trump's helping the student loan
Cristina Cabrera: Ivanka Trump and Jared Kushner Have Raked in $212
Million Since 2016.
Daniel José Camacho: Hillary Clinton is more unpopular than Donald Trump.
Let that sink in: At least before the election, she polled better
than Trump. You'd think she'd do even better after six months of Trump's
non-stop scandals, but many recent polls show she'd still lose, and the
Democrats have yet to register tangible gains by targeting Trump --
despite Trump's own favorability polling sinking into "worst ever"
territory. Still, I'd take these polls with a grain of salt. Clinton's
own favorability ratings have taken a hit partly because people who
voted for her -- mostly people who would never have voted for Trump --
are still pissed at her for losing. As for the Democrats, they've yet
to move on from her -- something that probably won't happen until the
2018 campaigns get seriously under way. Meanwhile, for all the scandal
in Washington, there hasn't been a lot of evident everyday damage that
most people can blame directly on Trump (immigrants are the exception
here). Those things will compound over the next year -- something
Democrats need to position themselves for.
Jonathan Cohn: Only 32 House Democrats Voted Against Reauthorizing Trump's
Deportation Machine: Note, however, 9 Republicans also voted no.
Thomas Frank: The media's war on Trump is destined to fail. Why can't
it see that? Wait, there's a "media war on Trump"? How can you
tell? Didn't mainstream media gave Trump ten times as much coverage
in 2016 as they did anyone else? The New York Times gave him an
interview sandbox just last week. Sure, it made him look stupid,
but doesn't that just play into his appeal? One might argue that
Steven Colbert and Seth Myers are waging something like a war on
Trump, but they're also catering to large niche market of people
who can't stand Trump (and who have insomnia, possibly related).
But mainstream media -- the so-called objective reporters -- are
fatally compromised by corporate direction and an eye towards
entertainment, and both of those factors have played into Trump
while leaving the right-wing takeover of the Republican Party
largely unexamined. One could imagine a responsible media going
after Trump's administration, examining in depth the conflicts
of interest, the money trails, the intense lobbying both of
business fronts and other interests like the NRA and AIPAC --
and they needn't be partisan (all the better if they catch a
few corrupt Democrats along the way). But that's not going to
happen as long as the media is owned by a handful of humongous
conglomerates. On the other hand, Trump's own war on the "fake
news" media does seem to be working, if not to deter them from
serious reporting, to reinforce the tendency of his believers
to disregard anything critical they may come up with.
Glenn Greenwald/Ryan Grim: US Lawmakers Seek to Criminally Outlaw Support
for Boycott Campaign Against Israel:
The Criminalization of political speech and activism against Israel has
become one of the gravest threats to free speech in the West. In France,
activists have been arrested and prosecuted for wearing T-shirts advocating
a boycott of Israel. The U.K. has enacted a series of measures designed
to outlaw such activism. In the U.S., governors compete with one another
over who can implement the most extreme regulations to bar businesses
from participating in any boycotts aimed even at Israeli settlements,
which the world regards as illegal. On U.S. campuses, punishment of
pro-Palestinian students for expressing criticisms of Israel is so
commonplace that the Center for Constitutional Rights refers to it as
"the Palestine Exception" to free speech.
But now, a group of 43 senators -- 29 Republicans and 14 Democrats --
wants to implement a law that would make it a felony for Americans
to support the international boycott against Israel, which was launched
in protest of that country's decades-old occupation of Palestine. The
two primary sponsors of the bill are Democrat Ben Cardin of Maryland
and Republican Rob Portman of Ohio. Perhaps the most shocking aspect
is the punishment: Anyone guilty of violating the prohibitions will
face a minimum civil penalty of $250,000 and a maximum criminal penalty
of $1 million and 20 years in prison.
Philip Weiss: Critics of US 'Israel Anti-Boycott Act' say even requests
for information could expose citizens to penalties. For an example
of a similar state bill, see
Heike Schotten/Elsa Auerbach: National movement to silence BDS disguises
itself in MA legislature as 'No Hate in Bay State' act.
As this is happening, there are dozens of articles on the unfolding
human catastrophe in Gaza; e.g.
Gaza on Verge of Collapse as Israel Sends 2.2 Million People "Back to
Middle Ages" in Electricity Crisis. There is also renewed violence
in the West Bank; see:
Jason Ditz: Six Killed, Hundreds Wounded as Violence Rages Across West
Sheren Khalel: Three settlers stabbed to death and three Palestinians
shot dead in turmoil over security measures at al-Aqsa mosque compound;
also always useful to check out
Kate's latest press compilation.
Benjamin Hart: Obamacare and the Limits of Propaganda:
But now, Republicans control every lever of the federal government,
and any illusion that replacing Obamacare would be simple has been
well and truly shattered. Instead, the relentless news coverage
around health care has finally revealed Republicans' philosophy on
the issue: nothing more than knee-jerk opposition to the previous
president combined with an overwhelming desire to cut taxes for
And by thus far rejecting any reasonable fixes to the law, the
GOP has inadvertently helped drag the American public to the left.
A recent Pew survey found that 60 percent of Americans now believe
that government has a responsibility to ensure health care for its
citizens, the highest number in a decade. That includes 52 percent
of Republicans with family incomes below $30,000, up from 31 percent
a year ago.
Propaganda works best when the enemy it conjures is hazy and
easily caricatured; it works less well when everyday reality intrudes.
Americans have now gotten a taste of what citizens in other
industrialized nations have long become accustomed to, and they don't
want less of it. They want more.
John Judis: The Conflict Tearing Apart British Politics: An Interview
With David Goodhart: Judis' interviews have generally been interesting,
but this one gets pretty stupid. Goodhart's distinction between Somewheres
and Anywheres isn't ridiculous -- certainly they're more neutral terms
than Provincials and Cosmopolitans, but that's pretty much what they boil
down to. On the other hand, the way he maps British partisan politics onto
his concepts is scattered and arbitrary, obviously intent primarily on
marginalizing Jeremy Corbyn, who he clearly detests on all levels:
Jeremy Corbyn probably represents the view of about five percent of the
British people, but a lot of naïve people don't remember the 1970s and
the 1980s and the thing called the Soviet Union. They live in this
ahistorical world. Even older people who are not so naïve and realize
that Jeremy Corbyn was not to their taste in almost every respect
nonetheless planned to vote for him as a protest against Brexit on
the assumption that he was not going to be prime minister. The things
that pushed him up, gave him twelve points more than were expected,
were the very high turnout of the blob youth left, the hard core
Remainers, and enough of the blue collar voters coming back to Labour
on anti-austerity grounds. . . .
I think the traditional Labour coalition has blown apart, but on a
one-off basis Jeremy Corbyn has managed to stitch it back together
sufficiently to give him the uplift of ten percent in the vote. By
going helter skelter for the educated or semi-educated youth vote
and playing on the soft left ideology that so many kids come out of
the university with, combined with this bribe to abolish student
tuition fees, he is shoring up for his own political ends, the
middle class welfare state. So he has this huge uplift of the student
vote and enough of the blue-collar vote, but it's a one-off and I
think Labour is still on the road to oblivion as a party.
I don't know anything more about Goodhart -- e.g., I have no idea
why he should be considered some sort of expert on UK politics --
but he seems like a prime example of neoliberalism, especially in
his disdain for "the middle class welfare state" and his painting
anything government might do to help out any but the poorest of
citizens as a "bribe" -- and needless to say the poor who still
do get some paltry dole will also face a substantial helping of
shame. The left's counter to this is to establish a set of rights
which raise everyone up.
Goldhart's view of Labour as a declining, obsolescent political
force seems to be stuck in the "end of history" fantasies prevalent
in the US/UK after the collapse of Communism. Until the fall, the
ruling capitalists in the West at least had a healthy fear of worker
revolution, and therefore sought to make society and economy more
palatable. After the collapse, they lost that fear, and went on a
binge of greed that still hasn't subsided, even though they seemed
to trip up severely with the 2008 meltdown. Meanwhile, the left
tried to rethink and regroup. A recent, interesting piece on this is:
Tim Barker: The Bleak Left. I haven't finished it, and have my
own ideas which gradually formed as I was trying to write about
post-capitalism in the late 1990s. One of the first things I did
was to jettison Marx, reinterpreting his revolutionary impulses
not as early-proletarian but as late-bourgeois. Paraphrasing
Benjamin on Baudellaire, I saw him (and later Marxists) as "secret
agents, of the bourgeoisie's discontent with its own rule." That
brought me back to equality as the foundation seed both of liberal
politics and any just society. No way to properly unpack this here,
but given recent trends toward extreme inequality (thanks mostly
to neoliberalism, although inherited money also has much to do
with it, especially on the US right) it isn't at all surprising
that the left would reform to countervail, and that it would draw
both on liberal and on socialist traditions to do so.
Sam Knight: Trump's Environmental Protection Pick Is BP's Former Lawyer --
and May Preside Over Cases Involving BP.
Mike Konczal: "Neoliberalism" isn't an empty epithet. It's a real,
powerful set of ideas. Centrist Democrats are getting touchy
about being called "neoliberal" -- even in The Nation I've
seen Danny Goldberg (link, if you can read it,
here) insist that the left stop using the term. He doesn't
offer an alternative, but the first one that pops into my mind
is "corporate stooges" -- "neoliberal" at least suggests some
degree of coherence and integrity. Konczal tries to sketch out
how that ideology developed historically, going back to Charles
Peters' 1983 "A Neoliberal's Manifesto." Since then, adherents
have preferred to call themselves New Democrats (or New Labour
in Britain), while British critics have tended to use neoliberal
for macroeconomic policies that promoted free flow of capital
and trade while forcing governments to adopt austerity, with
no linkages to other issues (thus, for instance, one could be
neoliberal on economic policy, neoconservative on war, and
either liberal or conservative on social issues). However, at
present neoliberalism is a cleavage line that splits Democrats --
even if Clinton had to compromise on trade and college tuition
to secure the 2016 nomination. Indeed, neoliberal only became
an epithet as it became clear that its promises of widespread
prosperity turned out to be not just hollow but fraudulent.
Richard Lardner: Lawmakers Announce Bipartisan Deal on Sweeping
Russia Sanctions Bill: Proves two things: (1) nothing brings
a nation together like a shared enemy, even a phony one; and (2)
the Democrats have still not made a serious review of America's
habit of imperial power projection, even though it objectively
hurts both their base and their political message. A crude way
to understand the latter point is that the only times Republicans
join with Democrats is when they intuit that doing so hurts (and
helps disillusion) the Democratic Party base. Democrats wouldn't
have to go full isolationist to turn the corner on the neocon
fetish with single-power projection that has dominated US policy
since the mid-1990s. (The Iraq regime change vote marked their
ascendancy, again keyed to take advantage of an enemy Democrats
wouldn't doubt.) Democrats could, for instance, revert to their
early beliefs in international law and institutions -- a belief
that led to the UN, an organization the neocons have managed to
totally marginalize (except when they can use it). That reminds
me of a third point: this bill again testifies to the singular
anomaly of US subservience to Israel. You'd think at the very
least that Democrats would defend Obama's nuclear deal with Iran,
but their allegiance to Israel trumps party loyalty.
One should note that while Congress is limiting Trump's power
to reduce international tensions by curtailing sanctions, that
same body is evidently giving Trump a free hand to start any war
that strikes his fancy. See (if you can):
John Nichols: Paul Ryan Hands Donald Trump a Blank Check for
Dylan Matthews: President Trump's essentially unlimited pardon power,
explained: Reports are that Trump has already started discussing
using his pardon powers to obstruct the Russia investigation. Can he
do that? Yes. Would that be grounds for impeachment? Probably. Will
the Republican congress act on that? Nope. Also, where early reports
merely stated that Trump was asking about his pardon powers, now he
seems to have gotten the answer he wants:
Cristina Cabrera: Trump Asserts His 'Complete Power' to Pardon.
On the other hand, Laurence Tribe argues
No, Trump can't pardon himself. The Constitution tells us so.
Caitlin MacNeal: Spicey's Greatest Hits: Trump spokesman Sean Spicer
resigned this week, after Anthony Scaramucci was appointed as White House
Communications Director. Link has videos of some of Spicer's more famous
gaffes, but his root problem was the material he had to work with, and
the so-called journalists who cover the presidency and can't seem to dig
deeper than press briefings and Trump's twitter feed. Scaramucci is a
hedge fund guy, which makes you wonder what he's doing slumming in the
White House staff. His first job, of course, was to clean up his own
Cristina Cabrera: Scaramucci on Twitter Deletion Spree.
Tom McKay: Trump Nominates Sam Clovis, a Dude Who Is Not a Scientist,
to be Department of Agriculture's Top Scientist: But he did work
as host of a right-wing talk show back in Iowa.
Heather Digby Parton: Trump rejects his poll numbers as fake news --
but even his voters are starting to notice the scam.
John Quiggin: Can we get to 350ppm? Yes we can: A relatively
optimistic forecast on climate change, based largely on recent
technological trends like much cheaper solar power, but noting
various risks, and assuming "the absence of political disasters
such as a long-running Trump presidency." Links to a contrasting,
downright apocalyptic view, not specifically linked to Trump:
David Wallace-Wells: The Uninhabitable Earth.
Lisa Rein: Interior Dept. ordered Glacier park chief, other climate
expert pulled from Zuckerberg tour
Sam Sacks: Trump Kicks Off Voter Fraud Commission With Innuendo That
States Are Hiding Something. Kris Kobach's voter suppression
racket is one of the most disgusting of Trump's programs. Still,
it's rather a shock to see Trump so personally involved with it.
Matt Taibbi: What Does Russiagate Look Like to Russians? Kind
of like Americans are war-crazed fanatics whose hatred of Russia
is less ideological than genetic?
For journalists like me who have backgrounds either working or living
in Russia, the new Red Scare has been an ongoing freakout. A lot of
veteran Russia reporters who may have disagreed with each other over
other issues in the past now find themselves in like-minded bewilderment
over the increasingly aggressive rhetoric.
Many of us were early Putin critics who now find ourselves in the
awkward position of having to try to argue Americans off the ledge,
or at least off the path to war, when it comes to dealing with the
There's a lot of history that's being glossed over in the rush to
restore Russia to an archenemy role.
For one, long before the DNC hack, we meddled in their elections.
This was especially annoying to Russians because we were ostensibly
teaching them the virtues of democracy at the time.
The case in point was Boris Yeltsin's 1966 campaign, where "three
American advisers [were] sent to help the pickling autocrat Yeltsin
devise campaign strategy." Yeltsin then created the corrupt oligarchy
we like to blame on Putin.
Evidently, one of the rarest skills in the world is the ability to
imagine how other people view us.
Trevor Timm: ICE agents are getting out of control. And they are only
getting worse: Immigration and Customs Enforcement (not sure
why the article refers to them as "Ice" rather than "ICE"). They've
had the legal authority, for some time, so all Trump had to do to
crank them up was "take the shackles off" ("eerily echoing the CIA's
comments post-9/11 that they would 'take the gloves off' in response
to the terrorist attack"). Of course, Trump is doing more: "stripping
away due process protections for arrested immigrants via executive
order, the US justice department has even attempted to cut off legal
representation for some immigrants."
Robin Wright: Is the Nuclear Deal With Iran Slipping Away?
Also on Iran:
Trita Parsi: War with Iran is back on the table -- thanks to Trump.
By the way, Parsi, who wrote the definitive book on why Israel decided
to pump Iran up as "an existential threat" (Treacherous Alliance:
The Secret Dealings of Israel, Iran, and the United States) has
a new book
Losing an Enemy: Obama, Iran, and the Triumph of Diplomacy.
Matthew Yglesias: The most important stories of the week, explained:
the Obamacare repeal push died, then came back; John McCain has brain
cancer; Donald Trump said some things; House Republicans released a
Other Yglesias pieces:
Trump's new communications director used to call him an anti-American
hack politician (not any more: see
Cristina Cabrera: Scaramucci on Twitter Deletion Spree);
Trumpcare still isn't dead;
A new interview reveals Trump's ignorance to be surprisingly wide-ranging;
The latest Trump interview once again reveals total disregard for the rule
Trump is mad Democrats didn't work with him on health care, but he never
tried. Also, here's a Yglesias tweet:
Look, just because Sessions hasn't actually been convicted of a crime is
no reason we can't start seizing his property now.
Sunday, July 16. 2017
Might as well go back to my original title, since this week I have
more comments (albeit fewer than usual links), and "Week Links" never
was a very good title. Browser limits are still keeping me from seeing
as much as I used to, but now that I've figured out how to work around
a couple serious bugs in Chromium I'm getting more done. Mostly rounded
these up on Saturday -- good thing since I chewed up most of Sunday
cooking a small dinner-for-two (a cut-back version of
jambalaya) and doing some
tree trimming (much too hot here to do that).
Getting very close to the end of Bernie Sanders' Our Revolution:
A Future to Believe In. First half is a campaign journal where it
turns out he was as delighted meeting us as we were finding him. Second
is a policy manual which doesn't venture as far as I would but strikes
me as a well-reasoned merger of the viable and the practical. I really
don't get people who see him as too idealistic, or as too compromised.
One thing that's missing is any real treatment of foreign policy. Some
ambitious Democrat needs to stake out a radical shift there, returning
to the belief in international law that Wilson and Roosevelt advocated,
while paring back America's penchant for military and/or clandestine
intervention. But while he touches most other bases, I do believe that
Bernie is correct that inequality is the central political issue of our
times, and the more we do on that, the better most other things will
Dean Baker: Obamacare is only 'exploding' in red states: Most of
the problems with ACA private insurance exchanges are concentrated in
states with Republican governors/legislatures, who were also culpable
for failing to expand Medicaid, leaving millions of poorer Americans
without health care insurance. "Where Republican governors have sought
to sabotage the program, they have largely succeeded. Where Democratic
governors have tried to make the ACA work, they too have largely
succeeded." That Trump thinks ACA is a disaster says more about the
bubble he gets his information from.
Dean Baker: How Rich Would Bill Gates Be Without His Copyright on
Windows? Gates' personal fortune is estimated at $70 billion,
and the copyright is at the root of that, followed by various
patents and business practices that led to Microsoft's conviction
for violating antitrust laws -- the last major antitrust case any
administration in Washington bothered to prosecute. As so-called
intellectual property goes, copyright is a minor problem, as long
as we're talking about works of art -- the latest extended terms
are way too long, and we would be better off with a program to buy
up older copyrights and move work into the public domain. Copyright
of software code has rarely proved a problem: what killed Novell's
efforts to produce a compatible DOS wasn't copyright: Microsoft's
illegal/predatory business practices protected their monopoly. The
real alternative is free software, which has been very successful
even without public funding -- fairly modest investments there
would pay huge dividends to the public. Baker also talks about
patents, which are a much more daunting problem, even beyond their
obvious costs. ("The clearest case is prescription drugs where we
will spend over $440 billion this year for drugs that would likely
sell for less than $80 billion in a free market.") Patents allow
owners to stake out broad claims and sue others for infringement
even when the latter developed innovations completely independently.
Patents made more sense when they protected capital investments for
manufacturing, but that's never the case for software patents --
they exist purely to line corporate pockets by harassing potential
competition (including from free software).
Cristina Cabrera: Poll: Majority of Republicans Now Say Colleges Are
Bad for America: The poll question is are colleges and universities
having a "negative effect on the way things are going in the country."
In 2015, 37% of Republicans thought that; today 58%. Before 2015, the
Republican figures were relatively stable (56% favorable in 2010, 54%
in 2015), and Democrats have become slightly more favorable, 65% in
2010, 72% today. The shift in Republican views coincided with the
realization that the Republican presidential primaries would turn
into contests between dumb and dumber, where candidates competed to
show how little they understood the modern world and how everything
worked (or, increasingly often, didn't work). As I recall, the first
to stake out an anti-college position was Rick Santorum, and at the
time I found his position shocking. For starters, it ignores the
fact that we completely depend on science and advanced technology
for nearly every aspect of our way of life -- what happens to us
when we stop educating smart people to develop and maintain that
technology? Nor is it just technology: the right's prejudices have
a tough time surviving any form of open debate -- which is why
conservatives have increasingly retreated into their own private
institutions. Still, this is anomalous: colleges have always been
institutions of, by, and for the elites, dominated by old money
while occasionally opening the doors to exceptionally talented
outsiders -- especially ones eager to join the system (Clinton
and Obama are obvious examples, ones that have left an especially
bitter taste for Republicans). And while the post-WWII expansion
opened those doors wider for middle class Americans, if anything
the trend has reversed lately, as prohibitive pricing is making
college more elitist again. Still, this shows an increasingly
common form of disconnect between Republican elites and masses:
the latter are driven mostly by pushing their hot buttons, and
all they have to do is get people so worked up they won't realize
the incoherency of anti-elite and anti-diversity positions, or
the fact that the rich still have their legacy privileges, so
will be the last to be deprived of higher education's blessings.
Jason Ditz: House Approves $696 Billion Military Spending Bill:
Includes $75 billion for Overseas Contingency Operations, which is
subject to change if Trump approves more "surges." Of all Trump's
budget changes, more Defense spending struck me as the easiest to
pass, because the War Lobby extends beyond Republicans and well into
the Democratic Party. More Ditz pieces:
House NDAA Amendments Would Limit US Participation in Yemen War;
Trump Wants Authority to Build New Bases in Iraq, Syria.
Dahlia Lithwick: Trump's election commission has been a disaster. It's
going exactly as planned.
As Kobach put it to Ari Berman last month, his whole master plan for
world dominion was so simple: to create in Kansas -- where he is running
for governor and has been secretary of state for a number of years --
a template for programmatic vote suppression nationwide. If he created
"the absolute best legal framework," other states and the federal
government would follow. Somehow, though, Trump's "election integrity"
commission turned into one of the most colossal cockups in an
administration already overflowing with them.
Marc Lynch: Three big lessons of the Qatar crisis.
Reza Marashi/Tyler Cullis: Trump Is Violating the Iran Deal
Josh Marshall: A Theory of the Case [07-08]:
During the election I frequently referenced one of my favorite quotes
and insights from the insight, which came from Slate's Will Saletan:
"The GOP is a failed state. Donald Trump is its warlord." To me this
clever turn of phrase captures at a quite deep level why Trump was
able to take over the GOP. The key though is that once Trump secured
the Republican nomination, once he became the Republican and Hillary
Clinton the Democrat, all the forces of asymmetric partisan polarization
kicked into place and ensured that essentially all self-identified
Republicans and Republican-leaning independents fell into line and
supported Trump. . . .
Trump embodies what I've come to think of as a "dominationist"
politics which profoundly resonates with the base of the GOP and has
an expanding resonance across the party. Party leaders made the
judgment that since they couldn't defeat Trump they should join him,
hoping he would deliver on a policy agenda favoring money and using
public policy to center risk on individuals. That hope has been
Jack O'Donnell: Trump put family first when I worked for him. It was
Julianne Schultz: The world we have bequeathed to our children feels
darker than the one I knew
Tim Shorrock: Kushner and Bannon Team Up to Privatize the War in
Afghanistan: Also Erik Prince and Stephen Feinberg, who stand
to make most of the money in the deal.
Tierney Sneed: Insurers Torch New Cruz Provision in TrumpCare: 'Simply
Unworkable': The Cruz amendment that was supposed to save McConnell's
Obamacare repeal/replace bill would allow insurance companies to offer
lower-priced plans that don't meet minimal federal guidelines for health
insurance. Of course, what makes such plans cheaper is that they don't
adequately insure the people who buy them.
Timothy Snyder: Trump is ushering in a dark new conservatism: A
historian stuck in Eastern Europe's "Bloodlands" between Hitler and
Stalin tries to drive a wedge between conservatives and Trump:
In his committed mendacity, his nostalgia for the 1930s, and his acceptance
of support from a foreign enemy of the United States, a Republican president
has closed the door on conservatism and opened the way to a darker form of
politics: a new right to replace an old one.
Conservatives were skeptical guardians of truth. . . .
The contest between conservatives and the radical right has a history
that is worth remembering. Conservatives qualified the Enlightenment of
the 18th century by characterizing traditions as the deepest kind of
fact. Fascists, by contrast, renounced the Enlightenment and offered
willful fictions as the basis for a new form of politics. The
mendacity-industrial complex of the Trump administration makes
conservatism impossible, and opens the floodgates to the sort of
drastic change that conservatives opposed.
Pace Snyder, I'm not inclined to equate Trump with Hitler, but I'm
also unwilling to credit "conservatives" with the moral or intellectual
conscience or coherence to oppose either. The one constant in the whole
history of conservatism is the belief that some people should rule over
others, and more often than not they're willing to discard any principles
they may previously have found convenient to accomplish their goal. You
see that in how willingly pretty much the whole right, and not just in
Germany and Italy, admired Hitler and Mussolini. Trump, too, captured
the right by offering the one thing it most wished for: victory. But
there is a difference: Hitler had his own agenda, one rooted in the
smoldering resentments of the Great War and the collapse of Germany's
Empire. Trump's notion of America the Great may not be much different,
but his ideas and plans are strictly derivative, a parroted, almost
cartoonish distillation of recent conservative propaganda -- a bundle
of clichés and incoherent rage, selected purely because that's what
seems to work. No doubt some Trump supporters, especially among the
"alt-right" white nationalists, can dress this up darkly. One thing
we can be sure of is that we won't be saved by conservatives.
Jeff Stein: The Kodiak Kickback: the quiet payoff for an Alaska senator
in the Senate health bill: Looks like the fix is in for "moderate"
Alaska senator Lisa Murkowski:
Buried in Senate Republicans' new health care bill is a provision to
throw about $1 billion at states where premiums run 75 percent higher
than the national average.
Curiously, there's just one state that meets this seemingly arbitrary
designation: Alaska. . . .
Republicans' health care bill will cost Alaska Medicaid recipients
about $3 billion. In exchange, they're trying to buy off Murkowski with
far less in funding for the Obamacare exchanges. We'll know soon if it
Jonathan Swan: Scoop: Bannon pushes tax hike for wealthy: Technically,
Bannon fills the same role as Karl Rove, but I've never seen anyone refer
to him as "Trump's Brain," even though Trump clearly needs one. Rove was
a political strategist in the conventional sense, a role that became more
prominent under Bush than under Clinton or Obama because it was clearer
that Bush needed one. So does Trump, but whereas Rove had a pretty good
sense of public opinion even if only to manipulate it, Bannon seems to
pull his ideas straight out of his arse. Besides, Trump's subcontracted
every policy issue to his straight conservative fellow travelers, leaving
Bannon isolated. So that Bannon wants something doesn't clearly mean a
thing. Still, higher taxes on the superrich would be a popular (and for
that matter populist) move, but don't stand a chance in a Republican
Congress almost exclusively dedicated to the opposite. Besides, as this
piece makes clear, Trump has others -- Gary Cohn and Steven Mnuchin are
prominent names here -- pulling in the other direction. Biggest
non-surprise in the article: "They're becoming far less wedded to
Matt Taibbi: Russiagate and the Magnitsky Affair, Linked Again:
Much interesting background on the Magnitsky thing, which goes a long
way to explaining why Putin remains so suspicious and ominous even if
you reject the neocons' "new cold war" aspirations. I personally think
the Trump Jr. meeting/emails are "no big deal" but also suspect that
the Trumps would love to get in on Putin's corruption scams.
Jonathan Taplin: Can the Tech Giants Be Stopped? WSJ story, but
you can read more of it in the link I provided. E.g.:
The precipitous decline in revenue for content creators has nothing to
do with changing consumer preferences for their content. People are not
reading less news, listening to less music, reading fewer books or
watching fewer movies and TV shows. The massive growth in revenue for
the digital monopolies has resulted in the massive loss of revenue for
the creators of content. The two are inextricably linked.
The numbers cited for internet ad revenue are much larger than I
expected, and seem to be almost exclusively concentrated in a handful
of companies. Meanwhile, we need a new and different model, both for
content creation and for internet services. What we have now is little
more than a siphon for draining our money and concentrating it in the
hands of a few vultures. I suppose WSJ thinks they're fighting this
with their paywall, but they're just adding to the problem.
Kenneth P Vogel/Rachel Shorey: Trump's Re-Election Campaign Doubles Its
spending on Legal Fees: So does this mean the campaign is at this
stage mostly a slush fund to defray Trump's legal costs? Too bad Clinton
couldn't run in 2000 when he needed something like to handle that sordid
impeachment affair. As it was, he had to go bankrupt, then recoup his
losses making post-presidential speeches.
Melissa Batchelor Warnke: Democrats are doubling down on the same
vanilla centrism that helped give us President Trump.
Matthew Yglesias: The most important stories of the week, explained:
Senate Republicans released a new health bill; Donald Trump Jr. has a
problem; Christopher Wray is set to be the next FBI director; the CBO
scored Trump's budget. Yglesias previously covered the same stories in
The revised health bill cuts taxes less without doing anything to boost
I don't believe Donald Trump Jr., and neither should you; and
CBO: Trump plan won't balance the budget even with his fake revenue-neutral
Poddy looks into the Kristol Ball of Counterfactuals [No More Mister
Nice Blog]: Attempts to counter an op-ed from John Podhoretz (link in
article) called "Hillary's White House would be no different from
Trump's," which argues:
Trump hasn't done anything in office, other than nominating a Supreme
Court justice and sending a raid to Syria, and Clinton wouldn't have
been able to do anything either, with both Houses of Congress run by
Republicans. Of course she would be more boring than Trump, since she
is evil but not a sower of chaos, but we wouldn't know what we were
missing. The Clinton family melodrama would resemble that of the
Trumps in its ethical compromises, with Clinton Foundation donors
hovering around the White House, which is identical to President
Trump spending every weekend hovering around the golfers and hotel
guests filling his personal coffers.
Podhoretz has one valid point here: that Clinton was going to
have a hard time separating herself and her administration from
the taint of corruption surrounding the Clinton Foundation. Nor
can we really credit much her promises to do so, given how Trump
has found it impossible to fulfill his own promises to isolate
himself from his business interests. Even so, with Clinton the
thicket of corruption complaints would be mostly laughable, blown
up by the hysterical "right-wing noise machine," whereas Trump's
numerous conflicts of interest alrealdy seem to try the patience
of mainstream journalists who'd rather play "gotcha" with Russia.
As for everything else, what Trump has actually managed to do --
even discounting things that Clinton might also have done, like
escalating the wars in Syria and Afghanistan -- has actually been
pretty astonishing. Trump has signed dozens of executive orders
reversing hard-won gains from Obama. He's signalled that the US
government won't be enforcing its civil rights laws anymore. He's
reversed some key openness protections for the Internet. He's
launched a monstrous commission on "voting fraud" that's already
having the effect of reducing voter registration. He's raising
money for a "re-election campaign" four years off, and using that
money to pay his legal bills. His Supreme Court pick is already
paying dividends for the extreme right. He may not have a lot of
legislative accomplishments yet, but he's perilously close on a
measure to repeal Obamacare that will cost more than 20 million
Americans their health insurance, while making health care more
expensive and less accessible for pretty much everyone. That
measure would be a tax bonanza for the very rich, and Republicans
are working on more of those.
The article also posits that a Clinton win would also have tipped
the Senate to the Democrats. Perhaps, but I'd shift the focus a bit:
a Democratic win in the Senate (and even more so one in the House)
would have tipped the presidential election to Clinton. Perhaps she
should have run on that, instead of trying to appeal to suposedly
moderate suburban Republicans to split their ballots and let Clinton
save us from that ogre Trump. Turns out Republicans are too shameless
to care -- anything to get their tax breaks and patronage favors and
to grind workers and their spouses and children to dust.
Still, one lesson Democrats should draw is to never again nominate
anyone so easily viewed as compromised and corrupt.